Thursday, July 28, 2016

Why I think GURPS DF needs to stay Hack-and-Slash

I know a lot of people use GURPS Dungeon Fantasy as the basis for a larger, broader fantasy game. Or use pieces of Dungeon Fantasy supplements to fill out such games - providing monsters, specific rules on travel and camping and dungeoneering, and so on.

Yet DF is written on the basic assumption that you're playing a hack-and-slash game with a minimized outside world and a focus on killing and looting.

Using Dungeon Fantasy as the basis for larger fantasy games with more details outside the dungeon and a generic Town is totally fine with me. It just flat-out works once you put on all of the extras you want. It's a great basis for a larger game.

But GURPS Dungeon Fantasy supplements work for the more simple game, too - monsters, loot, dungeons, and ready-to-play templates centered on dealing with those issues.

In order to work for both, I think it needs to stay simple at its core. It needs to stay hack-and-slash.

It's easier to add on to a simple and functioning base than to have a larger functioning base and pare it down to the simple.

It's quite easy to run "DF as written" or "DF, plus all this extra stuff to make it a larger game." It's a lot harder to say, "Expanded DF with the following bits cut out because we're not going there." It's less fun, too, as a GM, to sit around subtracting than it is adding to a versatile and effective base.

In other words, if you write GURPS Dungeon Fantasy as "GURPS Basis for A Highly Developed Fantasy World That Happens to Have Some Dungeons" then it's not really going to be a good basic tool for Dungeon Fantasy. You'd have to take that bigger, more expansive DF and carve it back down to DF Lite in order to play, basically, Diablo meets Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord.

That's generally why I support a very focused, very simple, quite non-serious, very town-and-dungeon, beer-and-pretzels, hack-and-slash basis for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. GURPS comes with all of the tools to make it a world-and-politics, exploration-and-combat, social interactions-and-story, serious game. It's stripping it down to just the essentials for the lighter core that DF is all about.

Short version? It's easy to expand a hack-and-slash DF with the other GURPS books. Cutting down an expanded DF into hack-and-slash would be harder. I'm happy that the DF line sticks with the approach that is useful to the most people. Hack-and-slash DF does that.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Monster Ecology: How did it get here?

Four years back I did a series called "Monster Ecology," where I made some die-roll tables for a monster's origin, eating habits, and reproduction.

You can find the wrap-up post and all of the previous ones in this link:

Pulling it All Together

I already did origins. But here is another table, which can answer the more specific question - how did this monster get here? As in, in this dungeon, in this room, in this specific keyed area on the map.

1) Summoned - the monster was summoned to this area. It may be originally a summonable create, from another dimension or world. Or it may be a perfect normal, mundane creature (such as they are) that was brought by magic.

For example: elementals or demons could be summoned by the appropriate spells. An animal brought by a druid's call. A monster gated in from another dimension thanks to some strange portal (which may or may not be here, now - this could just be the end point.)

2) Spawned - literally born here. This is commonly for creatures which reproduce. It was born, hatched, spawned, extruded, or otherwise reproduced from its parent. It might even have been cloned or grown from a split-off part. However, and alternate explanation is likely if you go back far enough - how did its parents get here? Roll again to determine that.

3) Wandered - it got here just like the delvers probably did. It wandered in from elsewhere. It might be in transition to somewhere else (1-2) or here to stay (3-6). In any case, it came seeking shelter, food, loot, something of mystical or religious significance, escaping something, came for work, or any of a myriad of reasons to enter the dungeon. Most likely are food, shelter, or loot, but this is a good chance to tie in to a larger significance of the dungeon. Or to tie the dungeon to another location - if this creature came here to escape a foe at a prior location, perhaps there is a clue to that location. It may have been forced to leave loot behind. Not all maps are to treasure, sometimes they lead back home!

4) Brought - some external power brought the creature with it. Delvers bringing a pet, other creatures bringing pets or guards, etc. or it might have once been a junior delver itself. Orcs may have brought their wolf-dogs with them then abandoned them (or were themselves slain). An owlbear infested with red death beetle grubs might have died and spawned all of those red death beetles. The creature did not come alone, or fully of its own accord. It might like or here or be hoping to leave at some point, or just mindlessly going about its business as if it never left. Creatures placed as guards count as "brought," too, especially if it's not really their decision to be guarding the stairwell in room 4, level 2, instead of being off doing something more interesting.

5) Created - the creature was created on the spot. Created with magic, built from steam engine bits and spare parts, assembled out of clockwork, piled up and given life with an old silk hat they'd found, etc. The creature may know no other life or experience.*

This is generally tied to a construct-like origin, but it's possible that super-science or magictech clone tanks, force of a wizard's will, or evil darkness that spawns bugbears and hobgoblins of the mind into literal bugbears and hobgoblins will also do this. Magic is usually involved, especially critical spell failures (the origin for several of these creatures) or other "use error." Fountains or gates that spew monsters may be summoning them (see #1) or creating them.

6) It's Not Here - tied mostly to special rooms, but the monster isn't there at all. It's elsewhere, and you temporarily go there to deal with it. Usually this is tied to a way back (teleport to the weird space, fight the monster - winner goes home, loser is devoured) or a way forward (teleport to the weird space, fight the monster, winner proceeds, loser is bounced back to start again). In any case, the monster is not actually in the place. More mundanely, this result could mean it's not here now, but it will be back in the future - in a few minutes, in a few days, in a few thousand years, whatever.


As always, you can roll on this table or just pick. I'd just pick, otherwise 1 in 6 monsters are part of a special magical area, 1 in 6 are created, etc. and you've gone beyond funhouse and gonzo into just mathematical weirdness and nonsensical combinations. For a monster you just can't decide on ("How did that otyugh get here, it couldn't have operated the puzzle door or climbed that ladder!") rolling can be a great creative spur.



* And if you don't accidentally scare it with fire, it might stay for espresso.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Random Gaming Thoughts & Links

Some gaming thoughts and links while I'm vacation "relaxing."

- Charles Saeger converted a David Hargrave Arduin Grimoire monster to GURPS in his latest post. For DF, you'd want to deploy a few of these guys at once or just use the larger version he suggested in the text. But it's a good, unique, threatening beast that your players are unlikely to have seen before.

- Douglas Cole posted about our latest game session, which I participated it from abroad. It's got a really good note about how polytheistic pantheons mean you worship all of the gods, but perhaps one more than the other, not a "pick one and that's your only god" kind of thing. That's critical - with a modern eye it can be hard to not think it's my god vs. your god. It's more like, toss a sacrifice into the sea before a ship voyage to placate the sea god, offer prayers to the god of fertility when you wed, seek to ward off the eye of the god of death before a dangerous task, etc. You might even have a patron god, but that's a "first among equals" kind of thing.

- Always bring a note pad on vacation. I use the same one for every trip, making a chronological log. It's handy for anything you need to write down about the trip (phone numbers, addresses, plans, etc.) but also to jot down gaming notes. The one I have dates back originally to my 2009 return trip to my old hometown in Japan, and it's got gaming notes galore in it, much of which made it into Felltower.

- One comment I made on Doug's post needs reiterating. As the GM, it's worth making clear, obvious, and plain language pronouncements about game elements the PCs would perceive. In his session we met with a local official. From his title, it sounded like he was a moderate-ranked guy doing a job passed down from above. In fact, he was like a right-hand man to the top lord of the area. Aha. That would have been clear to our PCs, and our actions as a group weren't appropriate because that wasn't clear to us. It's worth just saying things outright if they're known. Save the hints and subtlety for when puzzles and subterfuge are the order of the day, not for the vast majority of encounters.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Thinking about Player-Facing Challenges

Benjamin Gauronskas put up a post about "meta" challenges in games, kind of thinking them through for his own games.

I've written about these before, but I wanted to address some of the things he brought up and my own experience.

I prefer rolling in general

That is, when possible, I prefer that the character's skill matters. Even if the character's skill is just determining how well you spoke or how well you solved the problem, I want the character's skill to matter. I like that about game systems - you can have playing pieces of different ability, so even a skilled player has to leverage what they have and don't have on the sheet itself.

I'll skip out if player actions are so on-target that failure isn't possible, or if success isn't possible. For example, if the players offer something in negotiation that's so perfect it can't go wrong, the NPCs will just accept it. Or if the players make some terrible error, like, "I tell them I'm allied with their friends, the orcs!" when the orcs are their mortal foes, well, even a 3 on Diplomacy isn't changing their minds. (Although, if the players try to backpedal and then roll that 3, well, sure.)

But I do like player challenges

After all, there are meta-elements to games. Decisions about where to step on the battle map. Who to attack. What spell to cast. Left or right or straight. Whether to search that given room or not. They automatically determine some success or failure.

Puzzles, riddles, obstacles - these are often solvable just by the players showing some skill and ability. There really isn't anything to roll. There potentially could be - if you have to pick between the Red Handle, the Yellow Handle, and the Blue Handle and you can't figure out the riddle, the Intuition advantage might point you to one of them. But just like I don't let you just roll IQ to see if left or right is better, I don't like to allow knowledge skills to bypass riddles and puzzles.

For example, I'll make you roll Search to see if you find stuff, but if you say, "I lift the book and look under it" I'll tell you what's under it without a roll. Occultism might give a clue to a mystical puzzle. And so on. But I can and will put things in your way you need to decide how to deal with, or wholly deal with, through your own thinking. That's part of the game I run. Character abilities can't wholly replace player skills, just like player skills can't wholly replace character abilities.

Don't tart it up

Probably not the best wording for that, but there you go. Tell me what you are doing, how you are doing it, and then let's get it done. I don't need prose explanations of your character's actions. Unless, of course, they add value to it. "I step forward and make a mighty swing of my broadsword at my hated foe, so that we may strike down the evil before us!" = Step and Attack, Broadsword swing, roll. So just say that last bit. That's all I need. But "I yank my sword out of that jerk and say, 'That's for crossing me in Swampsedge'!" or "I quietly shiv the guy next to me while I keep my eyes forward." = yes, that makes it better and helps us visualize the situation in a useful way.

I'm all for roleplaying, but don't complicate the elements of the game not subject to roleplaying. If the dice are telling us what happens, then all I need from you is telling me what the dice don't. Where you stand, what you say, how you react. Not how mighty your swing is or why you so desperately need to open this lock or find those tracks. I'm not handing out a bonus because that's the kind of extra I don't want to have.

Avoid Dead Ends

As a GM, generally, you want to avoid total adventure dead-ends with any challenge if it's feasible. You don't want a door lock that must be opened and the game stops if it can't. You don't want a puzzle that dead-ends an adventure unless you solve it. This is just because sessions are less fun when you spend 90 minutes with everyone trying to roll better or figure out the answer that allows them to actually get on with things.

I know there is a philosophical argument against this, but my experience says, try not to put in a game-stopper with a narrow solution. It's better if a puzzle or an especially difficult challenge is stopping a bonus, not stopping all action.



That's just the series of thoughts occasioned by Benjamin's post.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

GURPS 101: Stunning

What's GURPS 101? Just basic explanations of the GURPS rules as written, in an attempt to make a specific topic clear to someone just getting used to the game. Or, as a refresher for more experienced players and GMs who may have changed or forgotten some of those rules. Any house rules and optional rules on the subject will be in a followup post.

Last week I wrote a GURPS 101 post about Knockdown and Stunning and consciousness rolling when wounded. It was rightly pointed out, though, that stunning and knockdown and stunning are not always the same. Nothing in the previous post said they were, but it's an easy enough mistake to make to think that "stunning" always means "use the Knockdown and Stunning rules." Therefore, here is a look at Stunning.

Stunning

Stunning is defined in GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns (p. B420), right after Knockdown and Stunning. They can be easily confused with each other or conflates, but they aren't the same.

Stunning is a condition of restricted actions and reduced defenses. How does it occur? "A failed knockdown roll can cause “stun,” as can certain critical hit results and some afflictions." That isn't an exhaustive list - some spells can cause stunning, for example, without being an affliction per se. The sources are physical, or supernatural effects which cause a physical stunning effect.

Note that first phrase especially - a failed knockdown roll causes stunning (putting aside any immunities to stunning.) Get knocked down, get stunned or (if you roll badly enough) fall unconscious. Get stunned, and you do not automatically fall down.

Stunning recovery is a HT roll. There are generally no bonuses or penalties from advantages or disadvantages except for those that specifically add to all HT rolls, such as Fit or Very Fit. Some spells, and some powers (such as a stunning surge from a lightning-based attack) can inflict penalties.

Mental Stun works just like stunning. It represents confusion or mental shock or surprise, and can come about from Surprise Attacks and Initiative (p. B393), some spells or afflictions, Fright Check rolls, and other non-physical sources. Unlike normal stunning, your roll is IQ based, and it's not uncommon to have penalties or bonuses (such as the cumulative bonus to recover from surprise - see p. B393) to the roll. The effects of mental stunning are exactly the same as normal stunning.


Hopefully that clears up any confusion about stunning and knockdown and how they interact. Again, in short, you get stunned (or knocked out!) from a Knockdown and Stunning roll, but you can get Stunned without getting knocked down!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Scaled Stunning penalties?

Stunning in GURPS is pretty nasty. It can be lethally nasty with human-level combatants. It gets progressively less nasty the more skilled you are.

Being at 1/3 HP or below results in halved Dodge. You could do the same for stunning. Instead of a flat penalty of -4, all of your active defenses are halved (round up). If you are stunned and are already at half Dodge, divide your score by 4 (round up).

This can make stunning much more lethal against high-skill foes. No longer are folks with a DB 3 shield, Broadsword-18, Combat Reflexes, and Enhanced Parry 1 being totally unworried about stunning. That Parry 17 becomes Parry 10, not Parry 13, with this rule. That's assuming you don't halve DB (I don't) but do halve anything that increases your actual score. And it scales nicely to a "normal human" - DX 10, HT 10, Speed 5, Dodge 8, bare handed parry of 3 + DX/2 for an 8 - both become 4s, same as the effect of stunning now.

Cumulative parry penalties are unchanged, and apply after halving.

Why after? Because that's consistent with the rules for Limiting Multiple Dodges in GURPS Martial Arts. That book doesn't say to apply it and then halve for low HP, it just says to apply a penalty. So it stands to reason that you apply cumulative penalties (and those from Feints, Deceptive Attacks, etc.) to your final score. Applying it first would mean that halving your Parry also halves any additional problems you have with your Parry, which is bizzare ("That Feint doesn't bother me as much because I'm stunned!")

Of course, any player worth his knowledge of the rule books will point out that technically, stunning is a -7 to defend - you can't Retreat! This is much more than a -7, since it's 1/2 -3 instead of that flat penalty. This penalty approach naturally makes it more. That's intentional.

Scaled Stunning

When you are stunned, your active defenses are halved, round up, instead of being at -4. This is in addition to the normal effects of stunning. Apply any situational penalties to your active defense aftering halving. If you already suffer from halved defenses, divide your defense by 4 and round up before applying any situational penalties.

***

That would be pretty lethal. I haven't tried it, but generally I find that "half" or "double" approaches work well in play. You don't have to look them up. You do need to know what your DB is, but that's not an unreasonable extra step to take. It's faster than looking up penalties, and is pretty fair.

Monday, July 18, 2016

XP by the Session, not the Session's results

In my DF game, I deliberately set up XP awards based on in-play accomplishments. Roleplaying is expected, not rewarded. Showing up is worth points only if you accomplish specific, tangible, in-game goals. There aren't any missions to accomplish - just looting and exploring - and you get XP based on how well you do those things.

In my previous GURPS game, I rewarded reaching certain, well, "plot points" for lack of a better word. Take as many sessions as you want to get there, but finish a mission or accomplish some goal and you'd get points. Plus, you'd get some minor points for just showing up. Half of those minor points if your PC was involved in danger despite you not being there - it wasn't a pick-up team like my DF game.

Those are far from the only ways to do it.

One other way is just flat rewards per session, assuming you don't just putz around doing nothing or nearly so.

That's how our Gamma Terra guys advance. We get 5/session, and every 5 sessions we get to roll on a table which has some random awards on it worth 2-20 points or so. Play five sessions and you're sure to get 25 points plus 2-20 more in a pre-selected advantage or skill. We're heavily driven by in-game goals we set ourselves, and overcoming the obstacles to those goals.

This guy here, Eric Crapo, is doing it in Pathfinder in the way they say you can in D&D5. It seems to be working for him as well.

It would be an interesting way to play DF in a megadungeon.

How could I do it?

Pick a fixed amount of XP. Say, 5/session. That's what we get in GT, and it would be the same as a good session of DF with our current system or our previous system.

Award that out based on each and every session, as long as you show up and make some kind of reasonable advancement towards exploration and "clearing" of the megadungeon. Find new stuff, figure out a puzzle, kill some significant foes, do some mapping that clarifies how things are (a variation of "find new stuff). Not just killing rats, knocking off an orc or two, or re-mapping a bunch of caverns because two connections don't seem to line up just right. But generally, do stuff, get your points.

You can adjust it by making it point-based, so low point characters earn more and higher point characters earn less, to get a "you learn more early" approach. Say, 10/session until 300 points, 5/session until 400, 2/session until 500, 1/session thereafter. This would parallel a "slower advancement as you level" or "you need more treasure for full XP" system.

That kind of adjustment would mean PCs have to make some early decisions about their approach, and really need to dig after any bonus points for MVP or accomplishing special goals (defeat an epic foe, find a hidden area, discover a new level, defeat a major curse, etc.) or just accept slow growth. Wizards would inevitably be more picky about spells, since they'd eventually run into an issue with "learn at least one new spell per downtime, plus one per level of Wild Talent with Retention" as they got up in points. Not really unfair, but that would be the word I'd expect to hear from nearly all players used to multiple points per session who run wizards.

Potential Impact on Play (in my game)

This would significantly change play. Right now, a treasure-and-exploration based system means you constantly need to push to find new areas, find rich monsters, kill off people with money (or get them to give it to you), and go deeper and deeper. As the session rolls on, desperation sets in if you aren't making that progress. Killing off former allies because you're broke or avoiding fights because they don't seem to come with money - and provoking them because they do - occur often with this system.

Conversely, it might drive players away from looting and the endless drive deeper. If the amount of money you take isn't significant, and rate of advancement is constant, you can ignore money except as your character needs it. It's purely a tool, not a goal.

It may potentially drive PCs stuck on a way forward to just basically mess around trying to tie up loose ends. If it's always X points per session, and it doesn't matter what you do, then you should just do some stuff you feel is doable. You don't necessarily need a long-term strategy.* It's better if you have one - no one likes to spend an entire game on level 1, just putting the time to get the points and it all leads somewhere - but it's not strictly necessary.

On the other hand, it means you can build towards long-term goals without worrying about this session. If you don't get loot this session, but set yourself up for a big payday later, that's fine. You might just grind down some foes, not finish them, but that's something you needed done. You can get distracted by unraveling a puzzle without worrying that "it better have loot behind it." And although I'd be surprised if this happens, it would mean you wouldn't need to tear off door fixtures, steal locks off of old chests, and pull apart tables for the nails to try to make a buck to make ends meet.


As a way of playing, there is nothing wrong with fixed advancement or advancement per session. It's just different, and I think it would have the impacts I spelled out above in my games. The "points no matter what" or "advancement every X sessions" approach, tossing out in-game fixed needs, potentially has a strong impact on play. Or no impact on play, in the case of our Gamma Terra game - we'd do what we were doing anyway, because we have goals to accomplish.




* In training terms, this is "go to the gym and do stuff for an hour" vs. "go and do your day's training that is part of an overall plan." My current XP system is the "train heavy or go home" and "if I'm not straining and sweating, it's not worth doing" approach, but fixed is potentially "each day builds on the next, no matter how hard or easy it seems" approach. Yes, I always think about training. And gaming. Often overlapping, although I don't do them together.
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