Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thoughts on whiffing in D&D-based vs. GURPS

The other day, Douglas Cole posted a game summary in which his character missed a lot in D&D. I've experienced the same in Swords & Wizardry.

And as a GM, I have had a lot of attacks "whiff" in GURPS - either miss (not that common) or hit but get warded off by the defender (much more common.)

I find that whiffing in D&D feels a lot different to me than whiffing in GURPS. Reflecting on this a little bit, I think this is because of two things:

1) Defenses.

2) Baked-In Options.

When I whiff in a D&D game, I pretty much start to feel useless until I start hitting again.

When I whiff in a GURPS game, it's a little different. First off, most of the time the "whiff" is the net result. I still hit, I still manage to land a blow. My opponent must do something about it. If the enemy Blocks or Parries, well, I'm draining defenses from the target. If he Dodges, I'm forcing movement which potentially could mean falling if he Critically Fails. Maybe he'll Retreat and give up space I want to exploit.

And if I keep whiffing, I can up the ante with Feint or Deceptive Attack or flanking or switching attack modes to something that at least potentially changes the equation. Access to those options really changes the dynamic of what I feel like I can do if necessary. I feel like I have more control, and it's not as luck-based.

DR matters as well - in D&D, once you get hit, you're hit. The blow tells as well as if you had no armor at all - the armor factors into how many of them land. In GURPS, armor factors on hits by reducing them. It might even reduce them to zero. But I find when that happens, my mind starts to turn to, what can I do that isn't impeded by armor? And many options present themselves.

In D&D, in short, I feel like when I miss, I'm useless and my best bet is to hope for better rolls. In GURPS, if I miss because of skill, I can take options to hit more often, and if because of defenses, options to reduce those.

You might say that in D&D-based games, you can try anything. You can explain what you want to do to the DM and he or she will rule on it. But that's true in GURPS, too, to the same extent - you can try anything, and it's equally up to the GM how that goes. But the combination of baked-in options to choose from coupled with a higher hit percentage, which is then coupled with an active roll for the defender to see if it lasts despite counter-action, makes me feel more involved.

That's pretty much what it boils down to - in a straight-up fight, I feel in D&D-based games like my best tactic is to roll better, and I feel a little frustrated and useless when the rolls don't let me hit. In GURPS, I feel like I've got more decisions to make, and that I am less frustrated when it nets out to the same thing - whiffing.

I think this probably says a lot about why I prefer the game systems I do - the more combat is an interaction of factors and not an abstracted one-roll resolution, the more I enjoy combat. And since combat is something I find especially fun in games (and really fun in combat sports in reality), that drives a lot of my enjoyment.

None of which is to say I'm not looking forward to my next D&D game and next S&W game. It's just that I think I have a handle on why whiffing there bothers me more than whiffing in my GURPS games.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Magic Item: Staircase Carpet

I saw this picture on Jason Blalock's G+ feed.

So naturally, I have to stat it up.

For Swords & Wizardry / Basic Fantasy Role-Playing / Labyrinth Lord / D&D 5e:

Portable Staircase. Once per day, the owner may unroll this carpet and use it as a real staircase down. It can create a temporary staircase down through up to 30' of material. The staircase will reach up to a further 10' down to touch the floor. If no open space exists within 30' of the surface it is placed upon, the carpet does not function. It can> open into open air, however. Once rolled back up, the staircase disappears. Anything on the staircase is either dropped back down to the level below or to the level above (50% chance of each) and is unharmed by the process. The staircase lasts until the rug is rolled up, after which the carpet must remain unused for 24 hours to recharge. The carpet can be rolled up from above or below; this takes 1 round. 6' x 3', Weighs 5#.


Portable Staircase. Allows the user to create a temporary staircase down. Treat this as Create Door, but it only functions vertically down, penetrates up to 10 yards of material. The staircase will extend up to 4 yards past this point to touch the floor. Functions once per day. Once rolled back up, the staircase disappears. Anything on the staircase is either dropped back down to the level below or to the level above (50% chance of each) and is unharmed by the process. The staircase lasts until the rug is rolled up, after which the carpet must remain unused for 24 hours to recharge. The carpet can be rolled up from about or below; this takes 10 seconds. 6' x 3', Weighs 5#

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Painted Reaper Ape-X, Ape-X

Way back when I got Bones I, I got a lot of duplicates. One of them was Ape-X, the cybernetic super-ape.

I said at the time, do I trade one? After all, why do I need two gatling-armed super-apes?

I still have no answer to that except to posit that it is, prima facie, kind of a silly question. Why wouldn't I need two gatling-armed super-apes, if I need one?

So I kept them both and painted them. I've been meaning to post pictures of the guys, who are waiting for a Gamma World-themed minis battle or something. I painted them quite a while ago - maybe in the Summer? But then I stuck them in a storage drawer and kept forgetting to snap pictures.

 photo Ape-X001s_zps42b01387.jpg

 photo Ape-X002s_zps243c0f6f.jpg

I love the pose on these guys, but I have a sad fact to report - no matter how you stand them, the wide base means they can't actually bump fists. These guys should be able to greet each other like heroes in an Schwarzenegger movie. But they can't, and that makes them . . . very . . .angry.

Just saying.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Arrived: 5e Players Handbook

It took a while for me to break down and get it, but I did finally purchase the 5e Player's Handbook.

I was waffling on it, but it would have been handy when I needed to roll up a guy for Rob Conley's 5e game, and I got a pretty good deal, and I had a gift card to use that covered it.

It showed up today, right at lunch time.

 photo PlayersHandbook5e001s_zpsacb2787b.jpg

At a quick glance, it's a beautiful book, just like the other two 5e hardbacks. I'll be pushing this up the reading list as it's already been hard to put it down once I started to flip through it. I already want to make up a monk, and see how they play in 5e.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review: Against Tsathogga (S&W)

I picked up Against Tsathogga from Frog God Games on sale for $2. I did this on the strength of Fog God Games materials, the lure of a high-level Swords & Wizardry adventure, and on the giant frog monster promised within. It's meant to let you use a limited edition monster mini called Tsathogga by Center Stage Miniatures.

The Adventure

This is a short adventure meant for high-level S&W play - it's aimed at 4-6 characters of level 12+. The short version is that a tunnel complex in a vile swamp is the center of a magical ritual to bring forth an elder frog god-thing and it's up to the PCs to stop it.

Oddly, the module comes right out and says that a) the PCs have NO chance against Tsathogga, but can prevent him from appearing, and b) fudge to prevent them from preventing him from appearing. I'd like to read this as "show them the big scary mini but it doesn't materialize and kill them" but equally it could mean just fudging so they have to fight the unstoppable monster.

The adventure assumes high level PCs, and puts in very nasty diseases, miasmas, and other impediments to success. The swamp interferes with health, recovering spells, and rest in general. The short version is that from the start of the move into the swamp the resources of the PCs are going to be worn away and recovery is unlikely to keep up. This potentially makes for a swift pace to the adventure as slow exploration works against the finite resources of the PCs.

The adventure has a very good conceptual use of a ticking clock - the challenge isn't to kill some foes, but to beat a clock during a fight. Very nice. It's a little unfortunate in that the clock starts ticking at the start of the fight, so it's "X turns after Y" not a fixed time. So in fact it's to the benefit of the PCs to avoid rushing to beat this kind of clock - it won't start if you wait. The adventure handles that with environmental difficulties that can and will encourage speed of adventuring, as mentioned above. Given a choice, though, I'd go with both the environmental challenges and an actual time limit, so there is a benefit to cutting a few corners and rushing headlong into danger to earn yourself just a few more moments to deal with the threat. Right now, the only push is the cost in resources.

It's a very liner adventure - not a sandbox so much as a direct go-and-raid-this linear adventure. The dungeon is equally linear. There is all of one choice, and both are merely short forks. Each room is challenging, although some seem pretty much arbitrary in their challenge. One room limits magic, for example, but the limitation starts and ends in that room. It would feel better (and probably be more ominous) if the limitations built up and got worse as you went into the dungeon, so you feel as if the resources you had available were getting cut away. Instead it just feels like, "Don't use X to bypass obstacle Y in room Z, but you can use X normally elsewhere."

There are some nasty fights in it, though, and the link between fights and the clock make for a tense setup.


The adventure has a couple of new monsters - the Custodian of Tsathogga and a Degenerate Ranan. Both are quite nasty and interesting. The Ranan come with a promise for more stats on their culture in another supplement, although which supplement isn't specified.

One major issue for me is that many (seemingly most) of the monsters encountered in the adventure are only described Tome of Horrors IV. At least one other is in Tome of Horrors Complete and a further in Monstrosities. Still others, I have no idea where they are - they aren't in the S&W main book nor in the Pathfinder Bestiaries (since there is a Pathfinder version, I decided to check, just in case it was written and then converted back.) You get stats, but missing details which may or may not be important - I don't own those books, so I can't tell you either way. At least one monster can summon other monsters, which is not statted and I don't know where to look for them.

As someone unfamiliar with some of the monsters, this was very annoying. I feel like I got crippleware, because now I either need to make stuff up (which I can do, but I don't expect published adventures to require that for core monsters), or buy another book - and $15 is a lot for a PDF just to check out a few monsters for a $5 adventure. I'd be fine with this if the page for the adventure said, "Tome of Horrors IV required" because I'd have gone into it knowing this, not thinking "I'll flip to end and find their stats" but not have them.

How is it for GURPS?

It's not bad an an adventure framework for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy or an equally high-powered straight fantasy game. GURPS PCs would have a lot more ways to solve the problems within, thanks to a much more diverse set of spells and access to advantages like Resistant to Disease and rest-free recovering energy pools. But it would be easy to bump up the lethality and difficulty to make them suffer to the level appropriate for this kind of "save the world ASAP" high-level romp.

Overall, the adventure is very good. It's appropriately lethal for high level play, and it's extremely rough without being unfair. Some of the limitations on spells and powers seem a little arbitrary (only in room such-and-such) instead of broadly applied (from room such-and-such and deeper in the dungeon).

Major Map Features & Cliches of Felltower

Just thinking of things I've put into my megadungeon.

Major Mapping Features I've used in Felltower include:

- sections of levels only accessible from below.

- dead-end levels (you can get to them, but not usefully anywhere else from them)

- semi dead-end levels (you can get into an otherwise isolated group of levels)

- sub-levels

- partial level changes. (That is, level changes that aren't so deep that I change sheets of mapping paper.)

- caverns

- underground river

- caverns verging on worked dungeon space.

- hidden rooms and hidden areas only accessible with special gear, items, or at specific times.

Megadungeon Cliches I've used in Felltower include:

- Flooded level.

- evil temple area (in fact, the evil temple)

- feuding factions.

- Overpowered monster nodes. (As in, monsters well about the difficulty of the surrounding area.)

- entrance from underwater.

- giant staircase (rumored, not yet seen)

- entrance from a hole in the ground.

- teleporters.

- trick statues.

- 5 degree slopes. (Okay, not 5 degrees.)

- unopenable doors.

- anti-magic zones

- room of pools

- levers with unknown function.

- ridiculous monsters. Lots and lots of ridiculous monsters.

I think although I haven't tossed in a Ye Olde Magic Shoppe, a monster arena, or a gambling den run by kobolds, I've hit some of the key notes I've admired in the published adventures and published tales of adventures from old school gaming. And not a little bit of new-school video gaming, too. Not bad. Now I just need a (secret) list of stuff I need to ensure I put in.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Digging into the Bones

Since I got my Bones II shipment, I've been digging through and sorting out the ones I can paint easily and/or need to paint soon.

I found a couple things:

Mold Lines - Generally, I don't bother to cut off mold lines on the Bones minis. It's just too much of a pain, and so I just clip off tags or excess plastic and otherwise just go with that. They don't look as nice as cleanly filed metal, but there we are.

Gaps - My goodness, the gaps. The multi-piece minis always have these gaping gaps. I've taken to "gluing" pieces together with green stuff backed with super glue on the totally covered interior connection points. I've also started to put green stuff in the visible gaps between parts of pre-assembled figures. Basically, I need it on any multi-piece mini to cover the assembly joints. Annoying. Good thing I have a lot of green stuff.

Bones "Primer" - I've found my Anita's All-Purpose Acrylic Craft Paint #11134 Grey Flannel coats Bones quite well. It's quite thin, but it doesn't pool on the hydrophobic Bones. It's also a nice light grey, which means it's a pretty good base for either light or dark paints.

Good Mix - I've found the Bones II set is a pretty good mix. I like the various critter types I have, and some of the characters are very interesting and probably worth keeping.

As such, I took a few monsters and just started painted them up with the grey so they're ready to take a coat of paint.
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