Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: Frostgrave

Time for another review of something I like.

I'll say this right out - I haven't played Frostgrave. But I've read play report after play report, and it sounds fun. Really fun. So I bought it to check it out.




by Joseph A McCullough
Released 2015 by Osprey Publishing
136 pages
$24.95 Hardcover

Frostgrave is a campaign skirmish miniatures game. You build up a small band of figures and delve with them repeatedly. The system - and the game - is built around wizard-centric raiding bands exploring part of a partly-unfrozen lost city full of magical power and loot. The book covers a number of scenarios, including exploring undead-haunted areas, exploring a half-ruined library for valuable books of magic, and so on.

Your main playing piece is a wizard, a specialist in one of ten different schools of magic (ranging from things like Necromancy and Illusion to Enchantment and Chronomancy), plus an apprentice 10 levels lower than you. You pick your spells, hire your soldiers to bulk out your force, and head into the city after treasures. The treasures are tokens placed according to the scenario, and your goal is to get as many of them as you can to the edge of the play area to claim them. Also, to gain experience for your wizard.

What's interesting is that your wizard gains experience for casting spells successfully (or having your apprentice cast them successfully, personally killing things, and recovering treasure, plus occasional scenario-specific ways. But only your wizard gains experience. Your apprentices and soldiers do not - your apprentice improves in lockstep with your wizard, and your soldiers just don't progress. If you want improved soldiers, you need to replace the ones you have or hand them magical items that you find.

If you wizard or apprentice gets knocked out, you get to roll to see how badly injured they are. This may result in temporary injury, permanent injury, or death. Soldiers, same thing - 1-4 on a d20 and they're lost along with their gear, 5-8 they're hurt and need rest, 9-20 and they recover. This seems like it would nicely encourage risk (they're probably fine, even after getting mauled by a demon, stabbed by a rival's soldiers, or falling off a tower) without making it too certain.

Actions are pretty much move and fight (okay, a bit more than that, but not by a lot.) Fights are very swingy. Even casting spells requires a roll and success in casting is not certain. It's clearly a game of positioning yourself for possible success, taking risks, and then rolling to see how it goes. People who expect certainty and chess-like execution of moves will be disappointed at spell failure and their best fighter getting mauled from some bad rolling. But it does seem like it would encourage taking risks - playing safe isn't going to get you very far, and who knows, a good roll can change a lot.

The treasures seem generous, which I think is good. I've played competitive campaign play before and when it's possible to lose more than you gain in a delve or mission or battle the folks who have bad luck or less skills or both tend to fall behind and lack the resources to ever catch up. This game seems to be more like rewards ranging from "good enough" to "great" so you always want to take that risk that the delve this time will really kick your power up.

Another nice thing about it is that while there are Frostgrave minis, there isn't a direct tie from mini to stats. So you can substitute anything as long as it fits one of the soldier types. A barbarian with a two-handed weapon can be a barbarian figure, or perhaps an ape-man with a club, or an orc with a hammer, whatever. A war hound can be a dog or some other animal figure, a crossbowman armed with a crossbow, prodd, handgonne, etc. as long as you're okay with the listed stats being the stats.

The book is very attractive - nice pictures of well-painted mini, easy to read text on a nice background, enough whitespace for clarity but not too much. The monsters, spells, soldiers, etc. are well-organized and easy to copy spell cards in the back are probably the most useful tools for running the game.

My main complaint are the scenarios - there are ten, and little guidance to making your own. You're expected to play each one once, in whatever order you like, and not repeat them with the same wizard. Supplements with more scenarios have come out, but it feels so limited not having a generic scenario designer system built in. Perhaps a supplement has come out for that, but it felt . . . too close-ended for something as epic as "thawing city of lost magic" to have a ten-delve coupon book.

Overall: This was a good read and it looks really fun. Enough fun that I bought the book just so I can follow along better. And having read it, I'd like to give it a shot.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

DF Felltower: What's a Barbarian?

It came up on T-Bone's blog about what counts as a barbarian, for magic items like Terrifying War Paint that works better for barbarians.

So who counts as a barbarian?

For me, it's pretty simple. You need:

- the appropriate Social Stigma for barbarians and one of the following:

- a character built using any of the barbarian templates from Denizens: Barbarians

- a character built using Brute from Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen who has chosen the barbarian Power-Ups route (p. 11).

- a barbarian lens.

That doesn't work for Power-Ups, though. For those, you need one of the first two - a lens specifically doesn't count. This is avoid the whole "Swashbuckler with a Knight lens" and "Knight with a Swashbuckler lens" munchkin route designed to pick and choose from two pools of highly effective Power-Ups for synergistic power-gaming.

Why does this matter?

A few magic items work better for particular template. So you need to know who qualifies.

So where does this leave GMs who made the judgment call to let people freely change, modify, or ignore templates? It leaves them making a judgment call about who counts as what. It's a choice you've made to get away from the built-in rigidity of DF's default approach; it's yours to make but once you've made it there will be spillover consequences. Personally I'd pick some defining traits and stick with them. Disadvantages work well - Social Stigma, for example - because generally people do not take those just to benefit from them.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Minimized Unarmed Options in my DF Felltower Game

In my DF Felltower game, I tried to cut down on the options avail

In other words, although GURPS Martial Arts is full of techniques, in order to keep rules lookups down and keep play moving, I basically cut all techniques down to a minimum:


Strikes

Punch - per Basic Set
Kick - per Basic Set
Headbutt, Elbow, Forearm smash, etc. - as a Punch, but -1 to hit, uses a different striking surface. Surface determines penalties and damage bonuses (grappled and both hands locked up? Head butt works. Plate on your arms and do a forearm smash? +1 damage, etc. Elbow strikes can hit behind while you are grappled, etc.) Generally I'll find a way to allow almost any kind of strike for a -1 and a slight change.
Knees - per Basic Set

Everything else fits in there somewhere.

Grapples

Grapple - per Technical Grappling, inflicts CP.
Break Free - per Technical Grappling, inflicts CP against CP.

Locks & Wrenches

Arm Lock - per Basic Set
Neck Snap - per Basic Set
Wrench (anything) - per Martial Arts
Chokes, Constriction Attack, etc. - per Basic Set
Judo Throw - per Basic Set's attack variation, never uses a contest.

Not a lot of changes, so much as a simplification. So if you see someone toss a headbutt in my games, or a knee, or smash down an elbow, or whatever, it's just a single change. We don't have to look up a lot to get people striking in all sorts of interesting ways.

And it should go without saying, but if I ran a Martial Arts centered game, I'd turn on the options and use all the detail in the book.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Repetitive Fights, Style Clashes, Questions vs. the Rule of Cool

Just highlighting other people's work today.

Repetitive Fights

There is an excellent post over on Blog of Holding (aka the home of Dungeon Robber) about combat grinding is okay in video games but it feels boring in face-to-face group play . . . and how to spice things up with unique combats. It's really excellent, directly actionable advice. You can read this and change how you do your game right away with little effort and lots of results.

Repetitive battles in dnd

He says, "in DnD" but it's really "in tabletop gaming." GURPS fights are inherently individual and interesting, but that doesn't mean you can't make them better.

Style Clash

So I posted the other day about my observation that my preferred game pace (Fast, with a side helping of simplicity) doesn't match the preferred game pace of some of my players (varies, but includes slow, with a side helping of careful deliberation). Joseph Teller had an interesting take on it over on G+ - that's it is symptomatic of a larger style clash:

Style Clash

I disagreed, because I really think it's not such a big deal. My game isn't heading off a cliff - my gamers have been playing with me for ranging from a few years to 20+ years. We've lost a few people who either had schedules change or just decided the game wasn't for them, but that's happened over the years. More players were lost to "Good news, we're expecting!" than to "Sorry, this isn't for me." We have guys drive hours to game, people who stay overnight in the area to make game, etc. We'd have more players if we'd just play a little shorter so it was more conducive to their schedules. So I'm not seeing a train wreck coming. But it's interesting in two ways:

- for some groups, this might be true;

and

- just because you see part of the elephant, it doesn't mean you've seen all of the elephant.

By the latter I mean you see only a small portion of my gaming group's interactions. My choices of words might not accurately convey the full sense of our game play - it can even convey a completely opposite impression. I'm not impuning Joseph, here - he's reading my words and telling me what he sees from them. And it's quite possible what he's written will help others more than what I wrote!

Don't Ask, Just Be Cool

Aka, don't question the rule of cool, aka the more that is defined the less that is open to definition.

Joseph Mason observed that in his own case, the more questions you put to him about the circumstances means the less likely some crazy plan is to work.

As a believer in the Rule of Awesome, this really speaks to me. As someone who says a good questions show the GMs your intentions, this speaks to me. As someone who's likely to think better of allowing something wacky the longer I think about it, this speaks to me.

Seriously, ask questions. But know your answers close off as they open things up. And just know that in my games, it's better to try something crazy than to ask me, "will this crazy thing work?" The first might work; the latter probably will elicit the answer, "No, that's crazy." Not trying to be mean - it's just that the longer I have to consider the more doubts will enter my mind.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Outdoorsman (from T-Bone and the Barbarians)

T-Bone over at Games Diner has an interesting post up about the Outdoorsman talent, including options for a rebuild.

Tiny GURPS Idea: Better Outdoorsman

You can see my comments on the rebuilt Outdoorsman that T-Bone proposes in that post. You can see my take on barbarians in general in the Denizens book about them.



But I had a few more comments, more or less random notes:

Seafarer isn't something I can claim any credit for - it's in Power-Ups 3: Talents. It was an obvious addition to Barbarians if only because barbaric sea raiders are part of the fantasy barbarian milieu. They stalk around in horned helms and midriff-revealing mail, pose menacingly in loincloth and sandals, and raid from suspiciously Viking-looking ships. It's part of their thing.

Outdoorsman's Cost got a whole box in Barbarians. This is for a few reasons. One is the rounded costs of Basic Set makes Outdoorsman pretty pricey for skills that don't come up much in a dungeon. The second is the sheer number of levels a barbarian really wants or needs is pretty high, magnifying the effect on discretionary points. And third it's always nice to bring in options that other books have already explored. It's why Low-Tech's approach to weapon damage gets a nod in Barbarians, too.

Adding Weather Sense made sense as I'd done that in my own games; we never changed the cost of Outdoorsman but adding Weather Sense made it felt more complete.

Finally, when looking at expanding or changing a talent in DF, I always try to look at three angles:

- Who else is affected directly by the change?

- Who else is undercut?

- Is this really core to the mission of the template?

Outdoorsman is a good example of this. It's used by Barbarians and by Scouts, so changes ripple out. You can't buff it up just for barbarians without scouts equally getting a benefit. You need to be aware of that spread. Secondly, if you expand it with too much nature-ability or too much animal ability, you'd chipping into the already-narrow purview of the Druid and the Animal Friend talent. If it becomes all the physical skills a barbarian outdoorsy type will use, it's going to impinge on every else's use of those abilities. Instead of coming in as a half-price version of IQ for outdoor skills only with some leveled benefits and side bonuses, it comes in as a way to make the barbarian more nimble than the thief or better at spotting traps than the scout. And finally, I think you need to look at the core mission of the template. All of the barbarians assume you're the go-to guy when the going gets outside, to a varying degree (to least with Savage Warrior, the most with Survivor). So Outdoorsman needs to support that - once they say, "the barbarian isn't good at fishing" or "we need a scout, not a barbarian, because the barbarian sucks at survival," you're in trouble. You've undercut what the talent needs to do.

None of that is commentary on T-Bone's idea of how to redo the trait, just saying, it's a process I go through when someone says, "Talent X should cover Y!" Who is affected, who is undercut, and does this really go to the heart of the template?


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

GM's preferred pace vs. player's preferred pace

I often find myself telling my players to speed up. I often find myself making rules to force my players to speed up, and rules and table rules that punish slowing down or reward speeding up.

But, inevitably, these fail. Sometimes right away, sometimes over time. And when the chips are down and the risk to their paper man is highest, things slow to a right crawl. We even had an entire session devoted to to PCs trying to grind out a victory from certain defeat - hours spent on a fight measured in seconds because everyone wanted to make exactly the best move possible and ensure all t's were crossed and i's dotted because, well, TPK is a comin'.

My personal feeling on taking your time, considering your move, and making j-u-u-u-s-t the right selection of action or location or modifier or whatever doesn't really work out. You're always choosing in an absence of complete information, and choosing in absence of accurate information much of the time. You don't know what the opponent will do, you don't know what the dice will say happens, you don't even necessarily know the things you think you do. You might think dragons can breathe three times a day ("thrice per day" - someone had to say it) but it turns out it's four times. You might think he's wearing a inertial screen and vulnerable to x-ray laser fire but not know he's also wearing an x-ray laser disrupting suit.

I figure, better to the something that's within the ballpark of "best move possible" right now than something you've rationalized and calculated and convinced yourself is much closer to "best move possible" minutes after your turn around the table has come up.

I'm also one of those people who knows right now what I want to do next turn. I can't wait for everyone to finish their turns so I can get to do the thing I thought of. And I'm stubborn and persistent enough to not change plans turn to turn, so I generally play quickly in a "this, and that, and here's my roll! And done!" fashion. I'm often going so fast that turn-order changing actions (Waits in GURPS, Attacks of Opportunity in Dragon Heresy, etc.) cause me to just keep going as if the person interrupting was doing their turn and the person up after them is up. Yes, that's a flaw. Rush, rush, rush.

But at least some of my players now, and some of mine in the past, don't play this way. In fact most of them don't. They will deliberately slow the pace down when it comes to crunch time. They'll do so unintentionally and unconsciously as well. This ranges from players who don't even consider their actions until their turn starts ("Okay, it's my turn? Where is everyone? What can I see? What's my penalty again?") to those who don't know it's their turn (the ones that, say, walk away from the table while the guy who always goes right before him is going or even right after) all the way to folks who play like I do.

Naturally, the more things slow down, the longer combats take - and thus, each second in the combat is magnified in importance until "this second's action is basically what my day's gaming comes down to." You can't mess that up or risk a bad move, you don't get that many and it's a long time before the next one. Better take it slow.

It's a mismatch. It doesn't ruin game, but it does mean we perceive things very differently. Me? "These guys are slowing things down for no real benefit." Them? Probably some variations of "Peter's pushing us to hurry up and then punishing poor decisions, I need time to make better decisions."

What I've noticed, though, is I really can't rule or request speed. Nothing I've yet tried has kept the pace where I'd like it - players leaning in over the table, dice in hand, waiting for their moment, and then springing in with the first move that seems good. I can get the tension you'd think you'd need for that, but some people will speed up and others will slow down.

I can enforce rules - real-time wandering monster rolls is one I've done, 1-2-3-next guy, etc. - but it's not productive in most cases. It puts a real workload on me, and as the GM, I'm running every NPC and need to give 100% attention to each PC's actions, so when I need a quick pause and take one people take it as tacit permission to do the same. I say permission for lack of a better word - we're mostly adults, they can play how they like, I don't have to approve.

But it's one of those quandaries I can't seem to settle - my desire for pace and risk to PCs, vs. the logical desire from those risking their PCs and who have a naturally more methodical pace to slow things down.

It's probably something that can't be solved, although I'm theoretically open to ideas. It's just an observation of the mismatch between how my friends play the games we play and how I like them played. Yet, like I said, it's not such a deep mismatch that it makes us incompatible. But it might explain why I'm always looking for pace, simplicity, unloading the GM's burden, speeding up decision making, and otherwise making things go fast. We're always playing below the pace I'd really like to play at, even if it's the pace that is the middle ground between the fastest and slowest of us.

And if there is actionable advice from here it is this: be aware of the preferred pace of yourself and your fellow gamers. You might not be in your comfort zone of space, but they might not be either. Finding common ground you can live with is tough but important, and being aware will help you do so.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ogre Minis - What's left post-auction?

So my eBay auctions came and went. I still have a few minis left, though, which for now I'll just try to sell directly.

Subtracting out what's already been asked for and selling is underway for, I have these:

Ogre Minis:
Deluxe GEV
Deluxe Ogre
Combine 1 - Ogre Mark V
Combine 2 - Ogre Mark III
Combine 3 - Heavy Armor Company
Combine 4 - GEV Company
Combine 5 - Missile Tank Squadron & Mobile Battery
Combine 7 - Howitzer Battery & Reinforced Infantry Battalion
Combine 9 - Laser Towers and Turrets
Combine 10 - Fast Convoy
Combine 11 - Ogre Mk. I and II
Combine 12 - Ogre Mk. III-B
Ogrethulu 1
Ogrethulu 2
Paneuropean Set 1 – Fencer Cybertank
Paneuropean Set 2 – Panzer Company
Paneuropean Set 3 – Superheavy Troop and Missile Tank Lance
Paneuropean Set 4 – Luftpanzer Company
Paneuropean Set 5 – Mechanized Infantry Companies
Paneuropean Set 6 – Howitzer Battery and Mobile Artillery Troop

Ogre Mark I
Ogre Mark II
Ogre Mark III
Ogre Mark V
Ogre Mark VI
Paneuropean MHWZ
Paneuropean HWZ

Combine Superheavy x 2
Missile Crawler x2
Missiles in Flight x2

GEV-PC
Combine Missile Tanks x4
Paneuropean Superheavy x2 1 primed, 1 unassembled
Paneuropean Missile Tanks x4 4 Primed
Paneuropean Mobile HWZ x2 Primed
CP (flat) x 1 Primed
CP (tall) x 1 Primed
Combine Heavy Tanks x10 Partly Painted
Ogre Swimmer Token x Primed
? Light Tanks x4 Primed (one piece missing)
Paneuropean Heavy Tanks x10 4 Primed, 6 unassembled
Combine MHWZ x1 Primed
Combine HWZ x1 Primed
Combine GEV x6 Basecoated
Paneuropean GEV x6 Basecoated
Combine LGEV x6 3 basecoated
Arty Drones x4
Paneuropean HWZ x2 Primed
Infantry Squads x39 Primed 13 bases of 3 squads
Paneuropean Light Tank x4
Paneuropean GEV-PC x1
Infantry Bases 5
Gev Fins x12 6 pairs

I figure I'll just sell these bit by bit directly. So if you are interested, let me know. I do have a spare Mark VI ogre I mean to eventually assemble and paint, but I will entertain offers for it. I have half a mind to sell the "ogre garage" - my one-of-each collection - but half a mind to keep them because they're fun to take out and look at.

I also have Ral Partha 01-127 The Black Prince's Chariot of Fear, too.
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