Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thoughts and Rulings from Sunday's DF game

Some miscellaneous stuff from my most recent game session.

Swimming - The swimming rolls were pretty harsh for most of the PCs.

One player argued after the fact, during a brief break (because then it was a rules discussion, not weaseling bonuses or complaining) that encumbrance penalties shouldn't count for rolls to hold your breath. I agree, and so does GURPS - but this wasn't holding your breath. It was getting your head above water. Taking a deep breath in preparation for holding takes a second and a Concentrate maneuver in GURPS, otherwise you go on what's in your lungs without any prep, which doesn't last as long.

The Swimming rolls are for keeping your head above water. Encumbrance - how strong you are relative to the weight you carry - is important, and most of the PCs were at Medium Encumbrance (so -4 to the roll) or Heavy (-6), and were defaulting swimming. I know people who figure swimming is an "everyman" skill - everyone can do it. But GURPS doesn't assume that, and neither do I - I took swimming lessons to learn. You can try to do it, but you're not as well off if you spent the time to learn it.

Still, these are very athletic guys, and even the NPCs had above-average stats by virtue of work or race.

So why did so many PCs and NPCs drown (well, drown and get torn up by killer fish)? Because they hit the water disoriented from a teleport and went under, laden down with gear, and never got their heads above water. Unable to do so, they couldn't concentrate to cast spells or do much else. Even if they could, several critically failed their Swimming roll and I ruled they swallowed water and lost even more FP and sank.

Is Swimming that hard? No. GURPS gives you a generous bonus for entering the water deliberately, and you can hand out nice bonuses for still waters and you don't roll until you are in water over your head in depth. That's why later the PCs could swim for another dock with (relative) ease - bonuses and less distractions.

Yes, you can vary the templates. I let my players know they could vary from the templates in DF1 a little bit. Not much - they can spend their 5 quirk points on basically anything, subject to my okay, even if it's not on the template. Also, I'm willing to allow changes that make sense within the template. So the Martial Artist doesn't have Polearm as a weapon choice, and doesn't list Gigantism as a choosable disadvantage. But a SM+1 martial artist with a giant horse cutter is awesome - Benkei awesome - so obviously I'm going to allow that.

That's not a lot of variation, but I feel like the pretty rigid adherence to templates has really added to my game by narrowing and focusing the PC's abilities.

And yes, everyone could add Swimming. You know, just in case.

A potion in hand . . . I was pretty generous in allowing a 1 in 6 chance of Nakar's potions floating up and within range. But what the heck, that's a 5 in 6 chance of nothing, and it felt fun. Plus, it moved the adventure along either way - they'd stop looking if they failed, they'd get moving if they did.

Amusingly Vryce's player saw his meager supply of potions and said "I have 17 gold [eagles, at 100 sp each), why don't I have more potions?" Yeah, the price seems high until you need them.

Mass Zombie change. The prereqs for Mass Zombie are Zombie and Charisma 2. Back in 3e, it was either Strong Will 2 or Charisma 2, but there is no more Strong Will advantage (just a Will stat). While my players suggested either Will 2 over base or minimum 17 Will for the spell, I decided that most prereqs are kind of pointless anyway. So I said just Zombie and either Magery 3 or Charisma 2. Done. The spell is expensive enough as it is, it takes a long time to cast, and its utility is limited (bodies can't be heaped to make it more efficient).

What's next? I'm still not sure what everyone will run - Nakar's player might run a wizard or cleric ("Same thing!" he says), not sure about Kullockh's player. I'm looking forward to seeing Chuck Morris and his horse cutter in action.

All in all, I'm really surprised anyone lived. Well, not that Raggi Ragnarsson, aka Red Raggi, aka Raggi the Indestructible, lived. That guy won't die, and didn't even when the party pretty much tried to let him die. I did say that if all the PCs died and Raggi was still alive, I was just going to rule that he survived and let him spread the word back in town. That would have been very amusing, not implausible (he just refuses to die), and let the players use their old knowledge with their new PCs without qualms about meta-gaming. Everyone said "of course he wouldn't die!"

Well, four of them didn't, and the group goes on. They'll need a new map, though - the copies all got wrecked, unless it turns out Honus has one, or they buy the early, inaccurate copy they sold out on the market for just this kind of backup.


  1. This is an example that shows that the templates are not well thought out. That sort of stinks that a player follows a template and then dies because the template lacked basic dungeoneering skills. The templates are supposed to help the players create a PC that has a good chance of survival in a dungeon.

    1. I both agree and disagree. While the skills aren't directly present on the templates (with some exceptions; all thieves should have climbing, for example), there is a prominent box wedged in the list of suitable traits that details everyman skills, says you should have them, says you should spend discretionary points on them, and says that if you don't have them you are unskilled.

    2. I also disagree, strongly. Nothing in DF says you can't buy swimming. In fact, my "ruling" on quirks is simply from DF1, p. 4:

      "To customize your PC, spend any additional points from quirks or personal disadvantages on whatever you like (subject to GM approval)."

      They could have purchased swimming. I could have given it to the PCs I designed (Inquisitor Marco being one I designed, and didn't bother to give Swimming.) But no one in my group asked. Not once. They never considered it. Not even my players who know I like using bodies of water as obstacles and that I like maritime adventures.

      You're basically arguing that the templates should have all skills you might need to roll against in the dungeon, even in exceptional circumstances. Also, that Swimming is a basic dungeoneering skill. Is it? If so, why? Because you might get teleported above a body of water? Maybe so, but do the templates need to give you all the skills you might need, or the ones you do need to do your job?

      I think it's the latter. I just think more guys are going to give Swimming to nod now that they've seen how lethal it can be despite their high stats and skills. Swimming is probably more the exception than the rule.

      Teleports over water? Hopefully for them, the exception, but this time it hurt badly.

    3. But you write for GURPS DF and I assume your players are well versed as well. For me, when I play it usually includes people who used to play AD&D but are playing GURPS DF because those are the rules I use now. I always make the players put at least one point in dungeoneering skills which includes Swimming. If they do not want to take a dungeoneering skill then I advise against but allow it. I feel the templates job is to make sure players don't omit important skills for dungeon survival. Class skills are more glamorous than dungeoneering skills so most of the time player think qabout their sword prowess and spell list far more than basic survival skills so that is why I require at least one point invested in them unless the player specifically says he wants to play a PC who is a trained professional in his class that has never gone adventuring before. If the players started at say 100 points and grew their characters to 250 points then I would feel less inclined to make them take dungeoneering skills because they low level and would learn those skills on the job but 250 cp PC is pretty much a badass dungeon delver so I feel they have been trained on the job already. I respect your way but I tend to use templates to help makes sure the players design a PC who has a reasonable chance of survival in a dungeon.

    4. I do write for DF, and I consider myself well-versed in the rules. Yet the PCs I made (Borriz, Inq. Marco) for two of my players lacked Swimming. In fact, no one who didn't have it required bought it. Should I have required it because water is potentially a problem? That's a campaign issue, not a template issue. Why should all guys who go into dungeons be trained swimmers by assumption, regardless of their background? It would have helped here, but it may not come up again the rest of the game - it's not clear yet. They'd get more mileage out of knowing Goblin at broken/illiterate for 1 point. One guy is debating not learning swimming because his overconfident PC might just assume, well, I did okay this time so I'm fine next time, too - even though the player knows it was just good rolling.

      Also, my players run the gamut from extremely knowledgeable types who will debate the minutia of the rules with me to guys who just show up to roll dice and don't know much beyond the very basics of the game - and don't care to. So you can't assume my gamers are always making rules-informed decisions. Some are, some aren't.

    5. DF PCs are 250 point dungeon delvers which means they are seasoned veterans. If you watch any movie or tv show that deals with cave exploring or other underground adventure activities how many times are the movie or tv show characters NOT plunked down into an underground river or pool? The characters those kinds of movies or shows usually end up swimming for their life at some point during the movie. To me , swimming would be a skill would be old hat for a 250 point DF PC.

    6. Sure, it can be old hat for them - but it's not required that it be old hat. I have no problem with that.

    7. Also, in this particular case, I'm not convinced having Swimming would really have helped most of the PCs. What with the encumbrance penalties, the disorientation, the lack of preparation, and then the disturbance/combat in the water, a not-Knight not-Barbarian probably has swimming ~13 - 4-6 for encumbrance - ~5 for disorientation - GM discretion for the combat = 4ish, at best, until the PCs get their bearings, and that's without considering those who critically failed.

    8. That's really a good point. Even had they had it, not all of them would have survived. One of the guys with Swimming skill still died, thanks to the Razor Fish.

      I actually didn't give anyone a penalty for disorientation, I just said they couldn't make a roll to get above water that first second, and it cost them 1 FP for the automatic fail and they could roll again in 5 seconds.

      But yeah, 1 point for someone like Inquisitor Marco or Nakar would have been skill 12 or 13, -6 for encumbrance . . . it would have been unlikely either would make it anyway. Critical failure would have been less likely.

      Nakar was damnned by a long-standing house rule that if you go unconscious, your spells keep working for 1 minute after and then expire from lack of maintenance. That way we never need to know how far into the minute you are when you pass out . . . in the past that was pure generosity. On Sunday, it was pure meanness. But consistent.

  2. Don't also forget that until the 20th century, most SAILORS didn't know how to swim. Talk about a class skill, but mostly it just wasn't done.

    Now, MY Warrior Saint put a point in swimming, and our GM's rules on mandatory dungeoneering skills (which may or may not be from a book) are:

    Skills: Every character should have the following skills.

    All of: Climbing, Hiking, Stealth, and First Aid.

    One of: Carousing, Diplomacy, Fast-Talk, or Interrogation.

    One of: Observation, Scrounging, or Search.

    One of: Savoir-Faire or Streetwise.

    1. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with a skill list like that.

      Until he drowned in the fountains. ;)

  3. I think people these days from countries with lots of water or with lots of pools tend to underestimate how unnatural swimming is for most people. Many of us learned as near-toddlers and took literally years of swimming lessons. I'm a good, strong swimmer, but in addition to my years of swim lessons, I was on a swim team and now swim twice per week simply for exercise. But the number of people I observe who honestly have *no real clue* how to swim is amazing to me.

    Now, if you were to weigh me down with a hundred pounds of metal and leather gear, toss me over a large body of water *in the dark* WITH RAZOR FISH AND SHARKS...dude, I don't think I'm going to survive.

    I see nothing unreasonable about the outcome here at all from any standpoint. Certainly, I tend to design characters who would probably have put a point into swimming, just so I didn't have to roll at default. But in this situation, I'm not confident that even I, who has hundreds of hours logged in the water, would be able to recover enough to get clear and live through it.

    Awesome posts by the way. This blog is the primary reason I bought the DF line and even though it's "just" our backup game (i.e. the game I bring out when the normal GM can't make it or we don't have enough players for the main campaign), everyone loves it.

    1. Swimming in armor with 3 1/2' barracuda-like fish just doesn't sound that much like fun, does it?

      And I'm glad my blog is spreading the GURPS word!

    2. Swimming in the US has apparently become a racial thing - lots more black children than white children now die of drowning, because the culture they're raised in is one that doesn't regard swimming as important, or worth making the effort to acquire. (Which can after all be pretty expensive in an urban setting - swimming pools cost serious money to keep going.)

    3. "Swimming in armor with 3 1/2' barracuda-like fish just doesn't sound that much like fun, does it?"

      Much better than swimming not in armor with 3 1/2' barracuda-like fish!

    4. Swimming in mail and/or plate armor is why Raggi, Borriz, and Vryce made it.

      Although the best DR any of them had below water was 10, and the fish did 2d cutting each bite . . .

  4. Just have to say that this whole teleport-into-near-swimming-death-and-sharks stuff is some seriously epic gaming.

    I don't know what the takeaway is for real, but I take it as a confirmation that megadungeon sandbox play is awesome... and that a certain amount real risk and chance of death adds to the enjoyment in spades.

    1. I have to agree here. I'll also point out that, for me, what makes the difference between 'awesome' and 'killer DM' in this case is the two part factor of:

      a) you built this ahead of time, and
      b) it was an easily-avoided outcome that was internally consistent

    2. Thanks guys, I really appreciate that.

      As I said to my players, I just assumed the fish would annoy them slightly for part of one session, or maybe killed one unwary henchmen or injured an incautious hero. Instead, they will be legendary. :)

    3. Same here, though I don't know if I have what it takes to create the megadungeon.

    4. @Jake B. - easy enough to find out. Grab a couple of sheets of graph paper, do a quick side-view of a few levels, and rip out a level or two. You can be running the first levels within a week, and see if it works for you and your group.

      Don't invest much more in it than that and it'll be an easy thing to test. Modify it as you go and you'll be good to go.


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