Monday, April 16, 2012

DF Game, Session 10 - Felltower

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Vryce, human knight (286 points)
Nakar, human wizard (275 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (283 points)
Fuma, human thief (252 points)
Inquisitor Marco, human cleric (273 points).

Borriz was in reserve as his player couldn't make it.

We opened the session with the PCs arriving at Stericksburg.

Long story short, the dungeons just outside of town used to a be a mountaintop fortress of some dark cult. They were put down and the place shunned until self-proclaimed Baron Felltower, Sterick the Red, arrived with his small group of followers and set himself up. He founded a small town called Sterick's Landing, which rapidly grew into Stericksburg. He rebuilt the fortress above and put up a castle called Felltower. He then declared himself independent, the King rallied his forces and attacked, and he was besieged in his castle and defeated. The city was placed as a northern garrison and the south part (away from the dungeon) was walled, and it kept its name.

The dungeon to the north is the "lonely" mountain at the point of a south-facing "V" shaped range, with forests to the west and east of it. To the west and north is wild and wooly country; to the east is semi-civilized.

The PCs spent a week there. Honus spend extra on upkeep and housed himself in a nice inn, and proceeded to find the nearest bar catering to merchant-types and hung out there being obnoxious. Vryce went drinking with some of the private guards of the city's rich and talked to the militia types that guard the city. Nakar studied magic on his own and helped sell the loot from last time, and then penned a learned treatise on the Lord of the Maze and sold it to a bookseller. He then presumably turned himself invisible (a later question in game - "Are you invisible in town, too?" "Not always.") Fuma started to pick up goblinese from a one-armed "goblin hunter" and learned Current Events to get in with the merchants' gossip. Inq. Marco's player got there late so all he did was collect his spiffy new magic staff the group found for him and presumable rest and pray.

The drinking types picked up a few rumors, including a big one - there is a big goddamn dragon living in a cave on the mountain. Hasn't been seen close up in decades, and only untrustworthy types claim to know it's alive, although from time to time a distant shape that could be the dragon is seen by hunters and wanderers. The local talked about it like people living near Mt. Fuji talk about an eruption - yeah, it did happen, and it could happen again, but nah, doesn't seem likely, don't worry.

After a week in town, the group headed out at dawn to take a shot at the dungeons. They'd all heard rumors before getting here, and while the locals don't believe there is anything left after the sack of Sterick's castle, the PCs believe.

They crossed the drawbridge that connects to a stone bridge ("Stone Bridge") to cross the putrid-brown polluted Silver River to the slums outside of Stericksburg. They paused to check out the multilingual stone commemorating Sterick's landing, and look at the statues of a mounted Baron Sterick waving his sword and axe. They hiked up the rest of the day and reached the mountain's flat summit at dusk.

They briefly surveyed the place - partly intact castle with manor house, with a lone intact tower? Check.
Ruined two-street "town" stripped down to its foundations? Check.
Burned out ruins of outlying buildings? Check.
(For those of you who have it, I'm using the map from pg. 14 of the Judge's Guild Castle Book II with 30' hexes.)

Not wanting to investigate much at dusk, they set up at the nearest ruined foundation and built up camp. They set watches and went to sleep. On the middle watch, Nakar and Fuma heard moaning coming from the ruins. They woke up the others and went to investigate. Fuma and Honus climbed the intact southeast wall (the front of the castle). Fuma hand-scaled it and lowered Honus's giant spider-silk rope to him to climb up. Nakar levitated up invisibly. Vryce and Inq. Marco clanked up slowly to the southwest wall and then clambered over a ground-level breach. Unable to see where the sounds came from, Fuma went down, tossing his light stone ahead of him and then moving into the building. He climbed up on the roof as well trying to see in to the intact part of the structure. The others spotted a set of steps going down but headed into the intact portion.

They found a nice intact room used as a camp in the past, with a flimsy door propped up on the far side blocking an exit. Vryce kicked it down and they entered another intact room with a door (clearly leading into the intact tower) - this door nailed shut with three iron spikes and with a bar on the floor near it. A ghost passed through the door and immediately attacked with a horrid moan. Inquisitor Marco turned undead, and forced it back a short way. Vryce attacked with his flaming broadsword (his backup weapon as he's a greatsword Weapon Master), and Nakar hasted Vryce. The ghost kept pointing his finger at targets and paralyzing them, Inq. Marco unparalyzed them, and Vryce attacked to no avail. Finally, after Honus was paralyzed, Inq. Marco used a Command spend and told it to Leave. He succeeded, and the ghost left and didn't come back!

They headed back to came for the night. Nothing happened beside a (non-venomous) snake slithering too close to the camp during Honus's watch, and it became part of breakfast. They then hiked up to the castle again. They checked out the stairs and saw they had a high amount of steady traffic - no dust, no big obstructions (and signs what came down through the gaps in the roof was moved aside).

The went after the tower again hoping to find the ghost's body and lay it to rest. Fuma climbed up the tower and into it, under the conical roof and then down through a trapdoor to the second floor, and then down stairs to the first. Nothing in it. He helped Honus force the door open and the explored. Nakar's See Secrets revealed a very cunningly hidden trap door in the floor. Fuma sensed danger, but couldn't find a trap. See Secrets and Nakar's vision didn't show anything hidden or magic. So Honus stuck a crowbar in . . . and got limmed with black light and took damage and suffered fatigue (that came back slowly, as if it was used for supernatural powers). They abandoned that idea.

Nakar shaped stone to move it aside, overcoming some residual magic resistance from its anti-magical lacquer coating. He scraped the flagstone aside and revealed a round metal trap door. Again, no handles. They saw it was set into stone, so they did Shape Stone again (very costly for shaping worked stone) and scraped about a foot of stone aside - and found more metal. They realized this was a "tube" of trap door tunnel down, with a doughnut shape of stone around it.

Stubbornly they headed outside, determined to dig around the stone. They went to the SE side of the tower, facing the gate, and began to dig outside. Shape Earth move the earth aside and found a layer of stones placed as foundation reinforcement. That was quickly shaped aside to reveal a smooth layer of worked stone with -10 magic resistance on it. That badly reduced Nakar's skill, so he climbed down into the hole to cast while touching it. He kept failing, but tried again and again until . . . 17. Critical failure. He was stunned mentally by his failure, and the ground shook a little. The hole collapsed on top of him. Seconds later, Honus heard a creak and Fuma's Danger Sense warned him that the tower was a problem. More creaks, as Nakar recovered enough to shape himself an air hole. The tower creaked and started to shift towards the hole. The group scattered, except poor Nakar in his hole.


The tower fell to the SE, burying the trap door, Nakar in his hole, and the ground up to the gatehouse. The gatehouse was blocked with falling rubble, and so was the trap door. Dust mushroom clouded up.

Nakar dug himself free by tunneling into the earth and out from under the rubble and then letting it crash free once his spell ended. He was battered but alive. The group just laughed, joked about the tower counting as a kill, and decided to rest up and recover a bit. Then they took the "quitter's way" and went down the stairs into the dungeon.


They entered a big entrance room clearly designed as a deathtrap for invaders. See the map below:

Smoothed walls with no cover, a 20' wide 30' deep smooth-sided pit, two rooms full of arrow slits, a heavy central portcullis in front of evil-looking double doors, a portcullis on each side of a short tunnel leading to a metal-sheeted ironbound magically-resistant door that could be double-locked and double-barred from the other side and which lacks any latch, ring, or handle. The right-side portcullis was up, propped up with a sturdy 6' piece of wood.

The group checked the pit carefully - glistening wetness at spots in the bottom, but their lights revealed only some trash and bits of grue and piles of stuff. It stank of rotten flesh, urine, and feces. Vryce kicked dust and dirt over the pit to see if there was an invisible bridge (nope) while Nakar levitated himself and Fuma over to scout out the other side. They checked for traps, peered into the arrow slits (and confirmed the rooms were accessible only from stone trap doors), and put a grapnel onto the portcullis to string their rope across (which they did, tying it to an iron spike driven noisily into the floor).

Discussions started about how to get everyone across - three of the party are iffy climbers, but two (Vryce and Honus) and really heavy and so expensive to levitate, as Nakar kept pointing out. That led to this exchange, about how the inhabitants come and go:

Nakar: "How do they get across?"
Inq. Marco: "They probably have a mage who levitates them without fucking complaining all the time!"

The Good God clearly does not frown upon frank and forthright use of adverbs.

In the end all but Honus were levitated across, and thanks to the racket and the time it took, a Wandering Monster appeared. A yard-long centipede shot out from one of the "pillboxes" and ran straight at the rope Honus was hanging from. Vryce sliced at it but it dodged and ran across the rope. Honus said he'd kick at it but then retracted that when he heard the penalties.* It bit at his hand and he yanked it away, managing to hang on the rope at the same time. It ran to a corner near the stairs and hid.

They investigated the portcullises and doors, and then lifted the left one - Honus and Vryce combined to lift it, but there was no latch or lock. They held it up as Fuma checked the door (described above). They decided to check the next one. It was the same, so they decided to force it.

They got passed and saw the door could be locked and barred, but there were no bars. There was some discussion about smashing the locks to ensure they couldn't be locked again, but only discussion. They went past the arrow slits to the next (somewhat less fortified) door and forced it open with a crowbar. They entered a small room with three doors, and in which every sound they made echoed clearly around. They couldn't pick out any architectural or magical difference in the room, however.

From there they found rooms and corridors, mostly empty but clearly used. Dirty, occasionally stinky, sometimes mildewy or damp, sometimes dry, but empty. They kept to their "to the right" approach. They moved carefully (if a bit loudly) and found a whole lot of nothing - a secret door that led from a back corridor to a room (See Secrets spotted it easily, but the mechanism was hard to figure out), some assorted broken stuff and rags, and only a few interesting encounters. They heard noises (door slamming, metal-on-metal clang, some odd echos), smelled rot and urine and feces (hey, stuff lives here), and not much else. They fought three big spiders (18" body, 1 yard across with legs) and killed them easily, found a dead goblin with three arrows in him being eaten by rats (they killed a rat and drove the rest off) and found a damp, water-beaded door.

The door was watertight and Fuma's danger sense warned them off pulling it open. Later, they'd find a room with a suspiciously smooth wall on one side that Nakar said was magically shaped into place. It was very thin, so Inq. Marco smashed a hole in the wall - and water fountained out. He kept smashing, confident they were on the far side of the "water door." They were, and then spent some time trying to figure out why someone would cut a room in half with a stone wall and fill it with water. The outflow did put puddles everywhere and soak the party, but did no other harm. They could detect no source of the water. Fuma commented "This is a very obscure room." Yeah, odd, isn't it?

The only fight of the night after this was when the group, clearly tired and frustrated, bashed a door open without any preliminaries like listening at the door or whatever. Luckily for Honus he stated he'd have his shield and flail ready and boot it, because six arrows flew out. Two got past his defenses and one wounded him thanks to an armor-piercing tip. They recovered from partial surprise as six hobgoblins attacked. They rushed in and dealt with them quickly. Honus slammed one down and killed his friends, Fuma shot one in the face (max damage again, just like his first face shot on a hobgoblin last session), and Vryce waded in and killed two as well. The slammed one got up and attacked, but Honus blocked his axe, smashed his punching arm, and then took his weapon away. They partly healed the prisoner and Fuma used his broken goblin to tell him he's now their guide, or he's dead. He agreed to guide them.

Here they are, fighting my Hobgoblin Ale bottlecap hobgoblins:

Sadly the hobgoblins lived here, and were dead broke aside from their weapons. The PCs took those and returned to the surface thanks to their map (drawn in-game by Nakar, out of game by first Fuma's player and then Honus's). It was getting late in the real world.

We stopped there, with them on the surface in the afternoon, in camp. They chuckled at the idea of bringing their hobgoblin (they named him Friday) to town, but they haven't decided yet if they will or not. They want to interrogate him, and we'll see how that goes.

The expedition ended up with a net loss - they found all of a handful of copper pieces and some broken junk - but they did manage to somehow traverse a good portion of the megadungeon without encounter more than some wandering vermin and fighting some dead broke hobgoblins. They did end up with a prisoner, though, and a pretty good map, and some idea of what's in store for them.


* I let that slide this time, but I'm not going to in the future. "I'm going to do this crazy hard thing" "Okay, it's really hard, roll at minus something awful" "Oh, too hard, I don't do it." Ugh, I hate that. Next time I'm just going to say "Roll" and reveal the penalties after.

- so my megadungeon gets its first taste of exploration. I feel bad it was kind of lame and profitless, but all "we quit and make druids and don't come back here" jokes aside, my players seemed to have fun and seem convinced there is cool stuff down there.

- I need to work on my explanations of rooms and directions so the mapper has some idea what the hell I'm talking about.

- GURPS earth mages can make a mockery of dungeon walls. Or any walls. So I've usually resorted to anti-magical protections and careful design to ensure that Shape Stone doesn't become the way around any complex obstacle. Why build a wall if some mage can shape a hole in it? Some GMs might see this as nerfing, but I don't at all. If a mage can easily tunnel holes in fortifications, expensive anti-magical protections are critical. I just assume they are readily available albeit expensive. Whoever built this place didn't create fortifications you could shape a hole in with no problems - they built it with layered defenses designed to slow or stop a mage while the defenders worked on killing him. It's not always possible to make it impossible, but it can be made hard, so if something is valuable it'll be protected appropriately.

That said it is sometimes tiring as a GM to watch my players desperately try to avoid the direct way to do something in favor of brute magical force applied over and over again. It does work sometimes so I don't blame them for trying. But it does mean if you convert AD&D adventures, be very aware wizards in GURPS can start with dungeon-warping spells and (outside of DF) they can easily start with Teleport. And Nakar swears he's learning Shape Metal, next, so I need to check and see if it's available. Expert more magical solutions to things like "walls" and "floors" soon.

- Based on my XP system, this is a 3 point session since they failed to make a profit (-1) and didn't find anything of real significance (-1), but all survived (-0) and made it back out (base 5, so net 3).

- we started charging only a week's upkeep between sessions, no matter how long the actual gap is. You're assumed to somehow earn 150sp each week, but you can't use that week for other time-consuming things. If you want to rest, relax, learn things, do research, etc. you need to pay upkeep.

- we're trying a new rule out that'll give you benefits for dramatically overspending on upkeep - living it up to gain bonuses. Honus took advantage immediately.


  1. Well, wizards that cast use Shape Earth type stuff was one of the first things I had to address. My solution was that the people who designed the dungeons used rock with meteoric iron veins so that it was very difficult or impossible to use earth magic to make holes in the dungeon and thus ruin the dungeon.

    1. b-dog, thanks for reading & commenting.

      I can't justify that for every dungeon, but that is a tool in my toolbox. It's a pretty good solution, though.

      I figure it's fair to allow the Shape spells to work and be useful, but it's silly to say fortress designers and "secure areas" aren't actually secured against magical penetration.

  2. Another thing, if you want a place that is absolutely secure so that PCs can't pass through the walls to gain entry or or what not, it is useful to have walls that are Enchanted to be impermeable and that also regenerate their enchantment at a rate faster than Remove Enchantment will remove the enchantment on the walls and doors. This is how I solved the problem when running The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. The room where Igwelv hid her treasure and where her daughter Drelzna that vampire guard lived. The PCs wanted to try to bypass the walls with Ethereal Body, Walk Through Earth and so on but their magic would not work. I also had to have the enchanted walls and doors block all information as well. (I guess I would have also have had to include something for psionic powers as well)The PCs also thought to use Remove Enchantment but I had the power of the enchantment so powerful that none of the Wizards could remove it .

    1. Yeah, that's fair too - I have areas like that where you just can't penetrate with magic. And one or two places where doing so would be a total disaster, if they ignore the warning signs.

      I don't want to nerf the spells, but yeah, what kind of Evil Archmage makes a walled-off sanctuary of evil with a puzzle entry that you can just casually dis-enchant?

    2. That is true. The trouble is that GURPS DF allows so much power-ups for PCs (Ninja, Psi, Summoners, Sages, Clerics, Allies,Power-ups etc. ) but there is no book for DMs to power up their dungeons to counter all of the ways PCs can ruin the dungeon adventure.

    3. I wouldn't say ruin. "Ruin" implies that the adventure has a set, specific obstacle and the PCs are doing it wrong if they bypass it a different way. I try to just throw obstacles up and see what happens . . . if I'm not married to a certain solution it's not "ruined" if people find another way around it.

      And IMO mostly those power-ups enable more adventures. I see Shape Earth as allowing the PCs to do cool stuff, See Secrets as speeding up the whole "we search for secret doors bit" (cast the spell, and mundane ones are detected automatically), Create Food as getting rid of the whole 20 minutes spent arguing about how many rations to carry, Extra Attack as allowing bigger fights, high skill as allowing tougher opponents, etc. They allow things to get done that might not otherwise - the GM just needs to be flexible about it, not merely find ways to prevent them.

      I do the prevention bit, but only for areas that deserve it, and even then if the players figure a way around it, good for them!

    4. Ruin might have been too strong of a word. But I meant I want my Df to play like old school DF. Here is an example: A Wizard has See Secrets at skill-17 and in a particular room there is a secret (trap door, secret door, etc.) Well the secret has been made with such skill the it is -10 to detect so this means that the Wizard needs a 10 or less to outright detect the secret. But if he gets under his skill of 17 then the Wizard only knows there is a secret in the room. And this makes the PCs have to poke the floor and walls and do whatever to try to find the secret. This brings some old school stuff back into the game instead of just saying the Wizard sees a secret door in the corner. There is some chance that the Wizard will see the secret door right away but other times he only knows that the room contains a secret.

    5. I meant 7 or less to detect the secret outright.

    6. This is discussion for this thread more than here!

    7. I wonder if the way to go here, rather than assume tons of meteoric iron, etc., as construction material, is some sort of magic sink. You cast a spell at the walls, which absorb the magical energy and cast a lightning bolt into the sky (back at the caster would be another fun trick).

      I think that something that preserves the sense, especially for fortified walls, of "this is a WALL, damn it!" makes a lot of sense - much more so for exterior than interior walls.

    8. @Ballistic - that's an option I never considered. I've been taking my cues from the GURPS rules - there is a Magic Resistance spell, so a magic-resistance lacquer seems reasonable. Meteoric metal is immune to magic, so meteoric metal or ores or alloys are fine. And so on. But it would be interesting to build, essentially, a magical faraday cage out of a structure so spells can't effect it, or at least not well.

    9. Yep, the magical faraday cage is precisely what I was thinking. Magic might work fine outside, and inside, but can't cross the barrier well. If one has sinks and sources of magic (ley lines), then studying how they work and manipulating them would be very important for the power hungry. It also makes a nice justification, as always, for "Why the frack did someone build a tower HERE?"

    10. (BTW, this is Doug, if you didn't know)

  3. See Secrets is a spell that can cause problems too. I used to have a modifier to reflect how well something was hidden. Easy things are detected at normal skill but things that were hidden by an expert have some negative modifiers like -5 or more.

  4. In my campaign, I use Earth Elementals bound to fortified walls in conjunction with other anti-magics. Shape Earth is resisted by the Earth Elemental. If the mage wins, he can try to enter (or, more likely send someone else in), but the Earth Elemental gets to use the same spell against them, so it can be a constant struggle to maintain control over an opening. Meanwhile, unless there's just ONE Elemental, the mage will be close by and subject to various other attacks originating from the second, third, etc., bound Elementals. This also makes for much more robust curtain walls, as the Elementals consider them "home."

    1. I like this idea, but it's already too late to use that in my game. It seems like a very important setting detail - "all fortified walls in major structures have bound-in Earth Elementals" demands a lot of backup. Spells, previous descriptions, etc.

      But that doesn't mean I can't use it later for other secure locales. So thanks for that!


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