Sunday, August 28, 2016

DF Felltower: No Quests!

I've talked about keeping my Sunday beer-and-pretzels, hack-and-slash game exactly that - beer-and-pretzels, hack-and-slash.

I've talked about campaign creep, too, and how I avoid that.

Part of this is, no quests.

No quests!

There is a wizard in my campaign named Black Jans. He/she/it has a mysterious nature, a tower that appears and disappears from Stericksburg seemingly randomly (actually randomly - I roll dice for appearance), and strange servants.

Black Jans buys weird items, can enchant anything in one week for twice the cost (violating all sorts of rules about economics and how enchantment works), and provides a good excuse for the market of Stericksburg accepting cursed items and blacklisted books for cash.

We also have a big church that can perform Resurrection and cast Remove Curse, a bevy of nobles, cultists the players have clashed with (and even, once, arranged a deal with), and guilds of every stripe needed to justify in-town rolls.

Occasionally, though, the players wonder - does Black Jans have anything he/she/it needs done in the dungeon? Does the Thieves' Guild have any quests for us? Can we ask the church if they have sometime they want done in the dungeon in exchange for money?

My answer to all of these is, basically, NO.

If the answer becomes yes, then the game shifts from a player-driven sandbox to a GM-driven sandbox.

It's one thing for people to offer special rewards - way, way, way back early in the game one noble offered to pay more than the cash value of good from one of the draugr for its return. Prince Vlashkalabash the III of Cashamash has a reward out for finding and giving unto him Gram, the dragon-slaying sword. Sometimes people offer a bounty for specific goods or items.

Those are okay because the PCs can act on them or not. They're just bait from me, the GM, to the players, to incentivize certain activities or to up the potential awards from those actions. Or to hint that certain things exist. Or to put up a choice - do they keep Gram when they find it again, or sell it for a fortune?

But once the PCs can go to town and start asking around for quests, then it's really up to me, the GM, what they should do in the dungeon. Its an easy out from making your own plans and decisions to saying, hey, GM, tell us what to do. Even if that's not what is intended, it is inevitable it will happen.

After all, quests will come with additional awards. Or come with punishments for not doing them. This limits your actions and gives an incentive to seek them out. Why make your own plans and own decisions when someone in town can tell you what to do, possibly tell you things you didn't know, and then give you extra money for getting it done?

Failure - which is fairly common - means complications. Those complications must be town-centered since the quest origin is town-centered. That means town suddenly acquires more depth because the PCs are having trouble in the dungeon. Social relationships in town acquire more depth with failure. Say Black Jans sends you on a quest and you fail. Either services in town end, or you have to avoid town, or you have to make up for it with another quest. What if - and this has happened in games I've run before - the PCs fail or just find out it's harder than they thought and demand more support or more loot? Social relationships in town deepen or end. Town becomes more important.

You can still seek sponsors and find people and propose special awards, if you're confident of your skill roll results. But you are generally better off doing your own thing. No one helps you for free, and that is not only realistic but helps drive player-centered play.

And yes, you can find people in the dungeon and do things for them. You can ask them what to do. Because any complications that result from this are directly impacting the fun part of play (the dungeon). Bad results from success or failure impact the PCs in the play area. The players dealing with those consequences are all within the play area. Doing favors for Faction A and killing off Faction B has consequences when Faction A isn't your friend anymore.

That's why "No Quests!" is an important part of keeping my game beer-and-pretzels, hack-and-slash, and a player-centered megadungeon sandbox.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Excellent post on game pacing

I'm a big fan of keeping the pace up in my RPGs. I don't always do it, but I prefer it when I can make it happen. I've done everything from 3-2-1-action counts in combat to real-time decision making to forbidding rules lookups and using stripped-down rules and resolution to keep things going.

Sean over at Power Score has a nice post on pacing games:

Dungeons & Dragons - Pacing Your Game

His games seem more scripted and plot-arced than mine, yet the advice is the same. It's a good bit on how not to get bogged down or let the game get bogged down.

And yes, he's spot on - you have to do a lot of prep work to be able to improvise.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Big new DF product on the horizon

So there is an as-yet-unknown Dungeon Fantasy product in production at Steve Jackson Games.

The news has come out in drips and drabs, but there is a post about it on EnWorld which has some information:

A Top Secret GURPS DUNGEON FANTASY Project Coming From SJG?

I'm a lot disappointed that the list of DF supplements at the end is incomplete. It's odd to read "This is what the original series of short PDFs consisted of:" - partly consists of, to be accurate. It leaves of DF 16, 17, 18, Denizens: Barbarians, DFM2, and DFM3. That's six books, two of which I wrote (my other three authored/co-authored ones are on the list.) It's a living series, by any account, with DF 19 in production review.

That's not the first I've heard of this, or the tie to DF. But I didn't really have anything I could share or link to - that post will do, though. I can be very reticent to discuss upcoming GURPS projects, because I can't always sort what I know because I'm freelancing for SJG and what I playtested that wasn't announced yet and what's public. Or what I've written, for that matter. So I try not to mention anything too specifically.

It should be good though - DF is a great deal of fun, and I'd like to see a large, high-impact product come and expand the player pool of the game. And hopefully the revenue stream of SJG - and thus, me, since I write books for them!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

More Game Questions: Arm ST, Gift of Tongues, and self-learning

More GURPS stuff from my DF gaming:

Arm ST

One of my players - the barbarian - wants to get Arm ST. It's on the template as a power-up.

I eventually said, no, please don't.

Thanks to using Technical Grappling, and a simplified version of it at that, we often use full-body ST for grappling. We also have people try to force doors while armed (kick it down), and unarmed (with a crowbar, and arms). We have leg-based and arm-based attacks. We have carrying capacity. We have ST-based rolls that aren't clearly arm or not arm centric. Etc.

In other words, Arm ST would be something that I'd have to pause and answer about on a regular basis. "Do I get Arm ST for this?" "Does my Arm St count?" "Why doesn't his Arm ST count on a break free, can't he work an arm in and get the bonus?" Etc.

Plus, it's 9 points for a +2 to ST, which means +2 swing, +1 thrust. 9 points would equally buy +1 ST, which would be +1 swing or +1 swing and thrust (depend on +1 to what), and +1 HP and a +1.5 to the HP limit. I'd rather have people just do that. It's not like the barbarian is close to his racial max of ST 25, and ST 25 plus 2 Striking ST is fine. All Arm ST 2 on top of that would give is a +1 to both damages . . . I feel like it's a lot of headache just to do that.

It's part of my campaign to minimize special cases.

Also, it makes my inner personal trainer happy. Power comes from the ground up.

Does Gift of Tongues get cheaper if you already know the language?

Sadly, no. Have Broken and want Accented? Still the same cost as if you knew nothing.

This is how magic works, much of the time. It either a) boosts what you have, or b) replaces what you have with a new level or ability. Flight isn't cheaper if you can already fly, Missile Shield isn't cheaper for people with good missile defenses, Resist Fire isn't cheaper for people who already resist heat or fire pretty well. The boosts just give a flat add.

The "Gift" spells just give you a new ability, overlaying your own if it's less than the spell's gift. They aren't making you better at languages, they are just giving them to you.

Good questions, but it's the wrong style of spell. You could potentially convert spells like that into boost spells, but mostly that will make them cheaper at a cost of, well, nothing. There are a lot of reasons for avoiding that - most of the boost spells are only useful if they can take you to a useful level thanks to a solid base, but for languages that's a non-issue. Might +6 from your Magery 6 buddy still sucks when your ST 4 goes to ST 10, even if it's awesome when it takes your ST 18 to ST 24 and dramatically increases your damage. Languages don't have that, just energy cost issues for the spells, so changing them is just making them easier and more critical and more useful than people who actually learn languages. That's not what I want.

Self-learning languages and skills.

In my DF, we use training costs. How you explain the costs are up to you - hired a teacher, spent the money on booze to learn Carousing at the bar, fired off ammunition, paid for lunch from people you consulted with, donated to the church and prayed really hard, bought a book, etc.

But what if you essentially have the materials and a way to make them perfectly accessible? One of my players mentioned this yesterday - Gift of Letters plus a book means you can make your own Rosetta Stone. This is true. But it still comes with costs. Maybe I'd give a discount on the fees, but I'd have it take longer. This is a for a few reasons, in game and out of game.

Out of Game

- Balance. It's fairer and easier if everyone pays the same fees and uses the same rules to learn, and then applies color text after.

- Time. It doesn't require us to budget more sessions between game to account for slower learning.

- More Balance. Some skills require you to find a teacher so the GM can place controls on what skills are available at all, and what ones are available only later or occasionally.

In Game

- Teachers are better. The costs assume you're getting taught or somehow self-learning at a rate equal to that of being taught. Teachers dramatically speed up learning - they can put the next bit of information you're ready for in front of you, and can answer questions, and can sort materials for you.

- Some skills just can't be self-taught without exceptional circumstances.

- Even with access to perfect materials and perfect understanding, using high-cost magic to get that understanding is costly. It multiplies your time. It's cast, read, quickly write (while you can still read - trust me, "I'll remember it" isn't making you faster), and then rest and recover from the costly spell. Eventually you'll have lots and lots of fragmented language bits and know how they form specific sentences but need a lot of reinforcement to get them to work together.* If the materials aren't perfect or are oddly specific or idiosyncratic, you're in even more trouble.

So, basically, if Dryst wants to learn Elder Tongue by finding a book and using Gift of Letters, he can. it'll be cheaper, but much slower, and impede other activities. Or if it doesn't impede other activities, it'll be even slower than that. The cost of speed and certainty is money and some time. The cost of saving money is a cost in time and certainty.

Plus he doesn't have a book, so there is that.

Does casting Flame Jet but not attacking with it disrupt Invisibility?

Yes. It is clearly a combat spell. Casting a combat spell - even if you don't attack with it - turns you visible. I do allow people to cast Missile spells and Melee spells and just hold them while invisible, but a strict reading of the modified spell (DF1, Wizardry Refined) doesn't allow that. I'd be more inclined to enforce that than let people walk around invisibly with Flame Jet on "just not attacking with it."

* This is from person experience. Even with a read-along and an electronic dictionary and pronunciation tags on Japanese, it's slow to pick up new words even if you speak the language at a low level. Starting from nothing, well, be very, very patient, and don't be surprised if you can't apply the bits you learn more broadly for a long time. It doesn't work well for students, either. All of those "I learned English from watching TV!" or "from reading comics!" people had other sources of better English input, too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Prince Valiant RPG on Kickstarter

Greg Stafford has a Kickstarter up for a revision of the Prince Valiant Storytelling Game:

I'm not in on this - I have the 1989 Prince Valiant Storytelling Game. It's exactly as it says it is. It's about Prince Valiant, and telling stories. It rates character abilities in coins, and you flip coins. Heads is a success, tails is a failure, and you can get your coins whittled down from injury, exhaustion, etc. For a simple, straightforward, Arthurian game, it works well. It would make a good generic system for other rules-lite play. Really like - not like old D&D light, rather even lighter. That battle depicted above is one of the examples of play - and it's just a matter of a few opposed coin flips for Prince Valiant to knock off those foes one by one.

Worth a look if you like Prince Valiant, and if you want to see a really rules-light but well-developed game.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

More bits from Sunday's DF game session

Here are some additional followup points for Sunday's game session.

Elder Tongue - One PC picked up a point of the Elder Tongue, I can't recall offhand how.

Improving it in town is possible - it'll take a roll (to find a teacher - same rules as finding sages and hirelings). Once found, the teacher will charge a premium rate to pass it on. After all, it's valuable, teachers are rare, and it's a full-time job teaching it. You can't puzzle it out on your own with a book.* Expect to pay $1,500/point for this. You can search for a cheaper rate at -10% per -1 on the roll to find someone; free is -10.

The limit is Accented; you'll need longer, more dedicated study for Fluent.

Gift of Letters and Gift of Tongues work with the Elder Tongue, but they cost double.

What counts as a perk? This is kind of an odd question, but okay, I've gotten it from multiple players. DF has a limit on combat perks - one per 20 points in combat skills. One per 10 for knights. Magic perks work the same way, except for points in spells. It's very common for my players, who love these perks, to run into a hard limit quickly.

So here goes a stab at an explanation - combat perks are anything listed in Dungeon Fantasy 11, under Combat Perks, or under your specific template. Caster perks are any perks listed as Magic Perks, or under your template. Perks that are completely non-combat related (Artificer's Perks, for example) and non-spellcasting related (ditto). Power-Ups that aren't skills don't count towards the total in skills, and Power-Ups that aren't perks don't count as perks. What does count is spelled out in DF11.

The only exceptions to the perk limits are:

Weapon Bond
Equipment Bond
Trademark Move

. . . and that's it. Two of them are combat related, but Trademark Move theoretically makes my life easier. Weapon Bond and Equipment Bond are very rare because no one wants to "waste" a point getting tied down to a weapon they may someday replace with a better one, and we don't get a lot of equipment-focused PCs.

Sense of Duty and other disads. So I didn't ding Dryst for his Sense of Duty - letting Hasdrubel try to kill Larry. He also has an Obsession to become the world's most powerful wizard, and that was clearly behind the door. The player made a Will roll (I didn't call for it, I'd have given him a 12 self-control; either way he made it) to let it happen. It was a pretty tense moment - does he stop Hasdrubel, or get more power?

This was clearly the most ruthless and evil thing anyone has done in the group. Hasdrubel has already moved on, except for the part about being proud of what a good guy he is.

I ran a number of things, including this, in real time. No spending 30 seconds debating what you'll do. As he was like "Should I . . . ?" Hasdrubel was blasting Larry.

Speaking of which . . .

Running in real time. Lately I've been trying to run more things in real time. Spending just enough points for 1 minute of language skill for your talker? You've got one minute to talk to me, then it's time to maintain or the spell runs out. Stand around talking for a minute or two about how to get that weapon-destroying acid off of the weapon? It's still taking 1 point of damage per second. Debating what to do about the oncoming orcs? They run at 5 yards a second, they'll be here in 5, 4, 3, 2, here they are.

I'll slow it down to resolve actions, but not to resolve questions or to reward stalling ("Hey, what color is that acid? Can I make a roll to recognize the acid?") This does seem to add a little stress to what should be stressful situations.

Obviously I don't do this in combat, although I still start to move on when someone isn't ready. And I run travel as the worst of in-game or real time. So if you spend 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm wandering around mapping, it took at least 2 hours of game time - more, probably, since you're moving at move 1, tops, and halting to draw rooms or to examine things.

* That's what having a linguistics major for a GM does - "I read this indecipherable script until I learn it." Yeah, here is a book written entirely in traditional Chinese, by hand, in calligraphy; go learn Mandarin just using that.

Monday, August 22, 2016

DF Game Session 78, Felltower 51 - the Black Library

August 22nd, 2016

Weather: Hot, light rain shading to downpours later

Characters (approximate net point total)
Dryst, halfling wizard (417 points)
Hasdrubul Stormcaller, human wizard (292 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (283 points)
     Brother Ike, human initiate (135 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (291 points)
     Kian, human pirate (~65 points)
     Larry the Crossbowman, human
Naida River, wood elf thief (250 points)
Vryce, human knight (478 points)

We started in town. One of the players rolled for Raggi, but the dice came up short - still no Raggi. Maybe he moved home? Unlike a lot of the PCs, he managed to make some spectacular hauls and avoid a lot of the major money losses. Maybe he's done for now, or off spending the money at home for a long haul. He's been MIA since January 2015 - the badly failed orc castle raid.

The PCs bought equipment and gathered rumors in town. A few of them concerned keys - one about a "master key" some guys grandda found when he was part of the coalition putting down Sterick (granda is long dead, now), one about how it's the hand that holds the key not the key that opens doors, and some others. One pointedly said that dragons know their hordes and remember people who steal from them. Another ominous one said the city is considering an "orc bounty" - better make that an "orc toll" - anyone ranging north of the river will need to turn in a number of orc ears or pay a per-ear fine for not having them . . . but it's stalled right now because people are worried about this bringing the orc's attention from the dungeon to the city. The players had briefly gotten excited, thinking their orc allies might now become walking loot, but an "orc toll" would be a problem - pay to get into the dungeon, pay the town to get back into town.

A new PC joined, as well - Naida River, a blue-haired wood elf thief. She met Mo, clearly drawn to his presence by his new-found Elf Woman Mojo. "Hey, baby, why don't we spend some more time together?"* "Sounds great, I'd love to go to Felltower. I'll see you tomorrow morning at the gate to town!" "Hey, come back . . . " Good thing he didn't bust out "Thieves should be hanged."

They also looked for hirelings, specifically for Larry the Crossbowman. They found him - he asked for a day rate of 40 sp, as working for tips didn't work out so well last time.

The made their way up to Felltower castle.

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