Saturday, October 25, 2014

GURPS Magic: What if nothing was free?

Just idly wondering here.

What if the standard GURPS Magic system was tweaked so:

- there was no penalty for cumulative spells "on."

- but no spell could ever be maintained completely for free.

So you could have, say, 10 spells on with no penalty, but a Cost 2 to cast, 1 to maintains spell at skill 15 would be 1 to cast, 1 to maintain?

I'd expect you'd see skills stay close to their default levels a bit more often, and most of the saved costs put towards FP, Energy Reserve, and so on. Socially, you'd probably find Enchantments even more prized and Power Items/Power Stones even more critical.

In combat, you'd get a lot more buff spells cast and attack spells used, since "spells up" wouldn't reduce the cost. But you'd also have less spells kept up, because they'd run down your energy eventually.

Actually, you could probably get away with saying any spell reduce to 0 cost instead had the cost halved to 1 FP per 2 durations maintained. You could extend that to higher levels, so skill 20 would put a 1 to maintain spell down to 1 to maintain every 4 durations. Basically, pay your 1 and get up to 4x the duration. A 1 minute spell with cost 1 to maintain would be 4 minutes (or any fraction thereof) for 1 FP. Or just track fractional FP, I suppose, and say anything reduced to 0 is 0.5, reduced to -1 is 0.25, anything reduced to -2 is 0.125, etc. to maintain. Probably not worth the headache.

Just a random thought here - it would radically change magic as a power, with only a fairly simple change to the rules themselves.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Free Stuff: Chris Gonnerman's RPG Primer

Chris "Basic Fantasy Role-Playing" Gonnerman has written an RPG Primer.

You can find it in print at Amazon, here:

Or download vers. 16 for free here:

Basic Fantasy Forums

I've gone with the free version, since I rarely need to refer back to print versions. But it might round a nice "boxed set" gift to someone just getting into (or interested in getting into) RPGs.

It's good advice in general and worth the time to read it.

And if you're interested, I reviewed the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing game here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade

Part 2 of a 5-part look at the Slavers series.

Here is my review of A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity.

For my reviews in general, please check out the reviews page.

A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade
by Harold Johnson with Tom Moldvay
Levels 4-7
40 pages, including one page of maps, plus maps inside the cover
TSR 9040

A2 is the second in the Slavers series of adventures for AD&D. Like the rest of the series, it was originally a tournament adventure. Also like A1, it seems to have been two rounds - one above ground, one below.

It takes place in and under a stockaded keep. The setup is that the group found that this fortress is a front and a way station for slavers, not just, er, innocent caravans of evil humanoids going through a dangerous land. The group is tasked with finding out what's going on there, and to find out the next step on the path that leads to to the nefarious slave lords.

Once again, an escaped slave gives you a way in - a slave climbed out of the gatehouse's second floor via a rope of rags, and as the escape wasn't detected the rag is still there. The lack of aggressive patrolling (or cleaning, or housekeeping of any kind) is blamed on the humanoids being pretty lax about security. Either way, done by the tournament, you get right up into an abandoned section of the gatehouse and then need to work your way into the keep proper. The tournament basically bypasses one of the big problems with a fortress - it's not meant to let you access the interior easily.

From there, the party has to deal with a number of monsters, lots of guards, the usual traps and set-pieces that this series features prominently. Like A1, you get a lot of excellent traps and very tactically interesting set-piece battles. One thing I forgot to mention in my review of A1 is that they give zoomed in tactical maps of those set-piece battles, so you can see exactly how the various combatants are arrayed from the start (and, possibly, show to the players to make it even more clear.) The foes use the terrain and special weapons and combined-arms tactics well. None of the big fights are solvable with just a single fireball and some good damage rolls. A few come with pre-determined starts and unavoidable NPC actions, though, which can be annoying. But not all of them, and tactically clever players versus tactically clever foes using their surroundings to give them home field advantage can't help but be fun.

The traps as equally good, and make sense in a fortress - they're generally manned traps, or ones you can see being a minor annoyance to the occupants but a major problem for unprepared attackers even if they're careful and wary. Traps backed by troops is the norm here.

The evil leaders in the adventure are given just enough development to make them stand out and interesting. Markessa, the mad scientist-wizard (and yes, there is an owlbear nearby - it's the zeppelin and monocle of magic-using mad scientists), a blind swordsman, disguised monsters, named weapons (even if non-magical) - there is a lot of flavor here. The leaders are also described in a special section up at the front of the module, too, making it easy to know who you'll need to deal with if the adventurers make repeated delves. The strategy of the fort to repeated attacks is also covered, as is what they'll do with you if you surrender (my advice is - don't.) It is sadly lacking an overall roster and notes about reinforcements, something that would be extremely valuable to a GM trying to actually deal with multiple delves without a lot of prep time in between to figure out who is left and where they go.

Also, the adventure comes with four new monsters - weirdly out of alphabetical order (Phantom, Boggle, Cloaker, Haunt.)

"EXAMPLE VI: The party discovers a fortress and attacks."
- Gary Gygax, The Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 105.

Ever wonder what fortress the DMG is talking about?

It's very possibly the one in A2.

The expanded, non-tournament version is much more lethal. In the tournament foes won't pursue and an alerted fortress merely triggers a few (admittedly nasty) traps, and the fortress is reduced to a narrow path of set encounters. In the expanded version, there are more guards, more encounter areas, wandering monsters (including strong patrols), and pursuit will be active. So there are more enemies, more places to deal with, and they are more alert and more active. Not only that, but a few minor encounters in tournament play (like an haunted section of the fortress) are expanded to be full, and quite dangerous, encounters.

In short, the fortress is bigger (more areas to explore), had more active occupants, and what is there is often more directly lethal and complex.

There are some very cool encounters, too - a madman, slaves, the "caveling" cast-offs of Markessa, and more like that. There are some ways to bypass the traps (since the occupants might need an easier way around), and some chances to avoid combat. A few folks will live an let live, if you do so first. Others will actually ally with you, including some (at first) seemingly unlikely ones.

It all makes sense together, and it's a very cohesive fortress with a lot going on in it.

But generally, a group of 9 3rd/3rd-6th level tournament adventurers can handle the tournament portion, but no way that same group will handle the expanded fortress.

War Stories

For most of the reasons aboven, this adventure was one my players never cleared. It was just too much for the levels and their numbers. No one even got down to level two, few people got far into level one. Considering the age of the guys I was playing with at the time I ran this, it's not a surprise. Mostly people dithered around on the upper levels, alerted guards, got shot up, ran away. No one really got interested in continuing the adventure.

This was also the place where Playing D&D with Juvenile Delinquents happened.

In fact, when I later ran the slaver series, I just skipped this and went right to the later bits.

This isn't to say it's a bad adventure. It's not. It's just that the numbers make it so lethal, the setpieces are so dangerous, that you probably can't get through it at low levels. I'd use this - and I have used pieces of it! - but it's a rough module for its supposed actual use unless you run it strictly as a two-part tournament run. As a ready-to-go evil fortress with secret horribleness underneath it, or something to mine from, it's excellent.

How is it for GURPS?

Like a lot of AD&D modules, it's not bad, but you'll need to adjust the numbers or raise the power level of the PCs. A fortress in GURPS is going to be extremely lethal instead of merely lethal like in D&D. But the set-piece fights and traps will be possibly more interesting since both sides have so many more tactical options. You just need to be extremely careful running this "as written" but with GURPS because of the sheer number of foes. A smart party will sneak in a back way, if they can, and get out - or bring an army and lay siege to it. A straight-up assault is likely to fail. And as usual with AD&D modules, the opponents need a little more access to magical support to prevent simple spells from being win buttons - but not all of them. The leaders generally have some magical support, and unlike many adventures they don't fight one-on-many.

Overall: Good stuff. The art is excellent, too. Better for plunder than run as written for the levels listed. But for those of you who eye the Keep on the Borderlands and think it's better to plunder the Keep, well, try this stockade on for size.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dying in Traveller chargen, analyzed

I really enjoyed reading this post:

Traveller And Dying Before You Play

For what it's worth, back in the day we generally:

- skipped the death roll
- treated the death roll as "injured and left the service"
- fudged the death roll

I'm not sure how much we really did of the whole dying in chargen thing. It seemed odd. It made for a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon, rolling up guys I'd never play. But at the same time I think it had zero effect on our actual rolled up and played characters.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Secret GURPS Project: Into the finishing first draft edits

This past weekend I finished my "specifics" editing on my draft. Pretty much, this means that all of the "this should be 7 points, not 6" or "You got this wording wrong" or "these aren't in alphabetic order" or "the page reference is to page 21-22, not just 21" kind of edits are done.

Now, I'm re-passing through the draft for the general errors - formatting errors, Rampant Capitalization, missing page refs, ensuring alphabetical order, etc.

So it's coming along nicely. Lots of very specific and extremely sharp comments by Sean Punch have helped immensely, and the draft that goes up for a larger review will be much better for it.

The general edits begin right now, so it's post this post and get back to the GURPS mines to chip out more quality formatting.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

DF Felltower Languages

So what languages do I have in my DF game?

I've studied linguistics, but what I find fascinating about languages would bore my players, so none of that shows here. It's purely color, and it's surprisingly easy to get good at languages in Felltower. It's mostly grossly simple stuff.

Common: The main language of the area. Not actually called Common but I haven't named it. It surprisingly matches English word for word. Odd, that. Alphabetical writing.

Dwarvish/Dwarven: A defunct language. It's like Yiddish in East Coast US English - it's not a language so much as words that pepper speech. You can learn it and use it, especially to read older dwarven books, but it's not a common means of communication anymore. Might be worth schlepping a Dwarven dictionary with you, but it might not. Only your dwarven grandmother uses this anymore, and whichever thing you call it - Dwarven, or Dwarfish - is the term she doesn't use and it breaks her heart to hear you say it that way. Rune-like writing.

Elder Tongue: An old language, out of current use. Used back in the day by evil wizards, ancient scholars, and still used today by ancient beings, usually of great evil. Not a great way to impress your local clergy, who might report you to the Inquisitors if you walk around showing you know this. Of course some Inquisitors will know it well, to better fight their enemies! Ancient magic books are often written in this language. Wizards sometimes (okay, often) learn this in its written form only, to read forbidden texts and learn dark secrets.

Elvish: A lyrical, beautiful language, with lots of gentle and extended sounds. Used by elves.

Goblin: A fast, liquid language - tonal, like Mandarin. Fluid script, like Thai, Arabic, or Burmese. Used by goblins, largely, and some humans who trade with goblins.

Gnomic: The language of gnomes, this is a very difficult language to follow, deliberately obscure. It's full of ambiguous terms and pithy aphorisms and maxims and sayings, none of which are really clear. It almost seems like gnomes are trying to not communicate with you. Or each other.

Halflinglish: Another "dead" language. Mostly its terms survive in halfling speech in Common much as dwarven terms are used in dwarven speech. Its written form is very obscure and mostly shows up in cookbooks, housekeeping advice books, and halfling mafia coded messages.

Molotovian: The dialect of common spoken in the troll-plagued east.

Orcish: A harsh, guttural language that has more swear words than any two other languages combined. Mostly used by orcs, ogres, trolls, and other folks who socialize with orcs. The written form is crude but workable.

So far, that's it. There are hints of other languages, and some races clearly speak their own, but they haven't been named or described yet. No one knows what the six-fingered beings speak, for example, and no one tried to talk to the lizardmen (who have civilization but lack telepathy, so they must have some kind of speech.) Lots of underdwellers use one or more of the above. Gargoyles often speak common, for example, although it's not clear why. Others use Orcish or Goblin, depending on who they hang out near.
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