Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen progress

Over on his Livejournal, Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch revealed the title for our latest collaboration:

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen

I won't add anything here about what's in it, but the title is pretty revealing. If you noticed my players having the occasional henchmen and hirelings (Korric, Orrie) and NPC companions (Red Raggi), yeah, I used the stuff we came up for for the book. And the book uses stuff I came up with for my game.

Friday, March 30, 2012

My take on the B2/Jeff Dee illo Rorschach Test

Yesterday I posted a Jeff Dee illo Rorschach Test.

I received a lot of responses - probably more comments than any other post I've made has received so far. Pretty much everyone sees it as shaking down a thief who stole from the party.

I always saw this picture, poised right by the discussions of dividing up treasure and experience and whatnot, as two veteran adventurers shaking down a third "fellow" adventurer. Maybe as a pair of 2nd or 3rd level guys adding the loot the 1st level guy thought he'd earned. That other guy, the witness? He's suddenly realized he's next. There are two thieves in this one, and man, neither of them are the guy who is upside down.

Look at that guy with the rope. Does he look shocked, nay, horrified at the stuff the shaken down guy was hiding? Nope. He's got a grin a mile wide. That big guy shaking down the other delver? Does he look shocked? Nope, he's just concentrating on shaking the money down into one big pile so it doesn't roll off somewhere and need to be gathered up.

I figured, this illo was a picture of how one might divide up treasure. Hey, I was nine, and it's right there next to and under the text on Dividing Treasure and Computing Experience. To me, it seemed connected to the text as much as that illustration near Alignment in the Basic Set was connected to the text.

It was only years later I looked at it again with fresh eyes and thought, gee, maybe it's a thief being forced to cough up what he took unfairly. But that guy with the rope . . . he's got a nice sword and nice armor, and he seems a bit too happy with the whole thing. Maybe he's done this before - a serial join-and-extort adventurer. Best way to divide up loot is to divide it up as little as possible . . .

Anyway, that's my take on a classic picture.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

B2/Jeff Dee illo Rorschach Test

Here is an old-school test for you, using a classic Jeff Dee picture "Shakedown" from B2 The Keep on the Borderlands.

What's happening in this picture?



I think your initial reaction to the picture, the one you had when you first saw it, can tell you a lot about your perception of old-school gaming. :)

I'll share my thoughts later, but first, what are yours?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

DF Game, Leaving the Caves of Chaos

This past Sunday, my players visited the Caves of Chaos for what is probably the last time for a while. I'd expected them to go maybe 2-3 times, but in the end we spent the better part of 8 sessions there and 1 solo session that was connected to it. I started a nice little wrapup and then Jeffro posted this nice State of the Borderlands and beat me to the punch.

Here is what I wrote before we first started, back in September.

Approaching the Caves

and here are our sessions in the Caves themselves:

Session 1
Session 2
Session 3
Session 4, Part 1
Session 4, Part 2
Session 6
Session 7
Session 8
Session 9

State of the Borderlands

So where is the game world right now?

- more and more farmers and traders are showing up at the Keep. The road east, to Stericksburg, has suffered from a lot less raiding-for-kidnapping and raiding-for-loot from the inhabitants of the Caves of Chaos. The area is somewhat safer.

- the orcs and one of the two gnoll tribes in the Caves were slaughtered completely. Partly by the PCs, and the hobgoblins did the rest.

- the budding temple of evil, and its growing army of undead, was wiped out by the PCs and its evil shrines expunged and exorcised. A threat Inquisitor Marco's sect of the church detected has been destroyed.

- the hobgoblins have taken over the orc caves and one of the gnoll caves, and fully brought the two goblin tribes under their thumbs. They're clearly warring with the remaining gnolls. They've put out daytime patrols, patrol around the caves area at night (at least), and organized the goblins into their ranks.

- the Lord of the Maze was killed three times by the PCs and came back . . . and they expect him to do it again. They left his spear and mail shirt - two things he keeps coming to retrieve - with the hobgoblins for the express sneaky purpose of the LotM having to kill hobgoblins to get them back.


Out-of-Game Notes

- As a GM, this was meant as a shakedown - a chance for the players to get used to pure 4e rules (not all of them played 4e characters before), to old-school semi-adversarial GMing, the cost-and-upkeep setting rules, and to a deliberately extra-lethal campaign. It worked well for that, I think.

- So, my first impression of the matchup of 250 point DFers vs. the caves was this - "I do expect them to cut through most of the inhabitants like a hot knife through butter . . . But critical hits, FP expenditure, expendables expenditure, and the occasional disastrous tactical choice will take their toll."

It did, as a matter of fact. Volos died due to a tough foe and a bad defense roll or two. Inq. Marco almost died from a critical failure. Borriz came pretty close this past session, too. A couple NPCs died. A lot of arrows, holy water, and a few assorted potions got used up. And magical energy was expended in spades.

- Generally the players have fought pretty well and been more careful than bold, even when facing relatively weak threats. This saved them a couple time, IMO, when dangerous traps or bad luck struck.

- I did expect them to take a few trips, but not eight of them.

- As you might have noticed, no bugbears (I put another tribe of gnolls there, more noted for cleverness than strength) or kobolds (I don't like kobalds, I swapped in more goblins).

- Important Villains vs. Fungible Monsters. My last game was more story-oriented (player-driven story, and a sandbox, but story was big). So villains were important, and I had to spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep them alive, how they'd fight, and what they'd do in response to threats and outside events. It would be bad in that game if I forgot to protect against Attack A and the PCs used it to kill the Major Villain in one blow. That would potentially shatter verisimilitude as players would wonder how and why the villain survived all this time or did these things history said he'd done. In this DF game, monsters aren't particularly important (generally). They're fungible, which major NPCs weren't. If Attack A wipes out a powerful monster, it's fine, I'll just use more or different ones. Neither approach is better or worse than the other, IMO. Villains emerged from player actions in my game but took more work in the long run. Monsters emerge solely from my decisions, but once I've created them and set them they don't take a lot of effort or followup.

- My XP rules work well in actual play, for my group anyway.

- Having game date and real world date match works, but the slow rate of meetings means I need to hand out more treasure to cover the weekly upkeep from downtime. That's also me adjusting to a GURPS DF "you get 40% of value of good sold" vs. my old-time D&D approach of "you get 100% of the listed value of treasure" approach. So yeah, I needed to lay out more rewards.

- Reactions from the inhabitants was a little challenging as a GM. So much of what they did worked out to be re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The PCs were just way too powerful for them. It could be disheartening as the GM - why spend the time to adjust their tactics when they'll just die in five seconds of combat no matter what? But it was a good experience overall in learning what weak fodder need to do to face down real threats. Barring unlimited numbers (which wouldn't hurt), they need to be vicious, organized, ruthless, and sneaky. Even then I expect a slaughter!

Monday, March 26, 2012

DF Game, Session 9 - Mystery of the Minotaur

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Vryce, human knight (286 points)
Borriz, dwarf knight (280 points)
Nakar, human wizard (272 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (280 points)
Fuma, human thief (250 points)

Inquisitor Marco's player couldn't make it. Fuma is a new player (but veteran gamer) trying out the game. He fit in really well, so here's hoping he liked it enough to keep playing.

The game opened with four of the "original" members of the group pouring over their map of the Caves of Chaos and discussing what to do. The plan roughly was, go find the Lord of the Maze (the minotaur) and deal with him once and for all (Honus) or just find his loot (Vryce, Nakar, Borriz). Fuma, who should have an accent over the u but I can't remember the html code for it, showed up and introduced himself. He'd arrived by caravan, and decided he'd take a shot at joining this (locally noteworthy) adventurers. Despite his obvious tattoo indicating he's been imprisoned, they welcome him to the group and include him in their plans.

They picked up some rumors - Kerrick the fur-trapper wasn't back from his trapping yet, which was unusual, and he's considering "missing." A farmer said the minotaur was a legend already when he got here years ago, and it was an immortal scourge by some god or by God to punish those who maltreated their livestock. Another trapper said the minotaur hadn't been spotted but he'd left tracks around.

Honus picked up some alchemist's fire (to potentially burn the LotM's corpse) and spoke briefly to Father Luke at the chapel. Father Luke advised him that if this minotaur is really immortal, most immortal beings have something that keeps them from their final rest on this world, and if can be removed, the immortality might go with it. Honus chunked 7 sp into the alms collection and slapped Father Luke on the shoulder in thanks.

The next day, after some stocking up, the group headed out. Thanks to Honus's inexplicably bad weather sense and shortcut attempt, they ended up getting rained on (despite Honus's predictions of "clear skies") without adequate preparations, which tired them out a bit.

The day after they made it to near the caves and camped out. On the second shift, as Borriz watched, three goblins and a hobgoblin moved up slowly on the camp. Borriz woke up (in order) Honus, Vryce, Fuma, and Nakar. All got up smoothly and got ready. Fuma slept with his crossbow loaded (bad for the bowstring, but better than getting surprised unarmed). As the goblinoids closed in, Honus got up and charged, screaming. Fuma aimed at the hobgoblin, Vryce shouted "Truce!" and Nakar made himself invisible. It messy, as always. One goblin panicked and shot an arrow at Honus missed, and Honus rapidly ran him down and then ran down another and bashed him to death with his morningstar, the Flail of the Gales. Borriz threw a hatchet a good 14 yards into a fleeing goblin and dropped him. Fuma decided, what the hell, and shot the hobgoblin (who was either waiting for Vryce to close, or just barking out orders of some kind) in the face. He rolled maximum damage (9 impale, 18 after multiplier because of the unarmored face) and the hobgoblin dropped.

The group took the one trampled goblin prisoner, bandaged up the two non-fatally wounded ones, and questioning began. The goblin broke quickly under a combination of Fuma's questions in broken Orcish (which the goblin also spoke in broken fashion) and Borriz's threats. They quickly found the goblins had a) wiped out the orcs, b) been looking for the party to "give money," and c) weren't trying to sneak up on them. Once Honus heard about the orcs, he called the goblin his buddy, shoved some food in his mouth and then dug out and gave him 20 sp. The poor confused goblin just shook and tried to answer questions as Honus fed him and Borriz kept telling him not to sneak up on them.

They sat him down by the campfire and then promptly went back to sleep except for the person on watch. They didn't bother to disarm the goblin, or even keep away him from the pile of weapons they looted from his friends.

Next morning, they dragged the shaking goblin up and checked on the wounded - the hobgoblin had died overnight, and the axe-wounded goblin was in bad shape. Borriz smashed the axe-wounded goblin's head in. The goblin asked if they wanted the food, they said no, but let him eviscerate his freshly dead buddy and grab a few choice organs to bring home. Waste not, want not. He didn't seem bothered at all by their ruthlessness, just scared of them.

They marched him back to the caves and noticed a few new things - hobgoblin sentries in the former orc and gnoll caves to the east, and fresh orc skulls lining the hobgoblin cave. Oh, and daytime patrols. The hobgoblins had clearly taken over and learned something. They put the goblin to work and sent him to fetch the chief. He banged on the hobgoblin door, they looked out, and grabbed him by the neck and dragged him in. About 10 minutes later they looked out again at the party, and then ducked back in. Another 10 minutes later, a big party of them, followed by the hobgoblin chief, marched out.

The parties quickly began negotiations. The hobgoblins offered a chest of coins - a big pile of copper ($0.10 coins), some silver ($1 coins), two gold ($100 coins), and a couple potions. In return, they wanted either the Gnoll Chief up on the highest level killed, or the Lord of the Maze killed - either one and they'd pay up. The party also asked about the six-fingered man they'd seen etched on the wall and the oddly-shaped metal torch. The chief denied knowing anything about it but was clearly shaken and lying through his teeth.

More threats and offers and whatnot, and they hammered out a deal - two potions now, then they kill the LotM, then they get the money and the chief tells them about these six-fingered guys. Deal! The took (and tested) the potions - both minor healing.

The asked for a guide, and got their friend the goblin. Borriz got his name and it was unpronounceable but shortened it down to "Brak." Fuma said, can I call him Nancy? So everyone called him Nancy. He lead them to the cave the LotM comes out of when he raids. It was the cave with a few scattered copper coins, a broken speartip, and (this was new) a dented-beyond-salvage gnoll helmet. They entered.

The group spent what turned out to be the better part of an hour winding around caves. Using his brandy-new shield-mounted lectern, Nakar tried mapping*. Soon his map wound in on itself and they decided they weren't doing so well with the map. They bypassed some sluggish giant glowing beetles that didn't seem aggressive.

As they turned one corner to a tight, tight bend, the Lord of the Maze trotted out and attacked. Borriz was facing him, and turned and All-Out Defended.
Vryce shouldered his way up, and Waited. The mino moved up and Vryce stabbed at him. Not yet berserk, he was able to parry one stab and dodge the other. The LotM then speared and gored Borriz - who prompted critically failed his parry and hit himself in the leg, nearly crippling it, and was severely speared by the minotaur. He fended off the gore attempt. He barely held on to consciousness.
The fight was short from there - Vryce mildy injured him with a stab, Borriz brained the LotM and mildly injured him on on his first strike and deal out maximum damage on the other. The mino's skull caved in and it left one eye cocked oddly and his brain exposed. He roared with rage and attacked! Luckily they fended off his strikes, and then Vryce stabbed him in both eyes, blinding him and finishing him. He dropped dead at their feet.

The group set up around Borriz and the mino, and tended to Borriz's wounds (he ended up needing both minor healing potions and then some) while keeping watch. Fuma searched the minotaur, including a body cavity search, but didn't find anythign interesting. Honus took his mail shirt and spear, again. Then Honus began to cut up the minotaur with the solid silver dagger they'd looted from some wights last time out. He kept up the minosection until he'd totally sliced everything up. Head off, neck open, chest open, organs open, stomachs (he has three) open and a bezoar removed and handed over to Nakar. Nakar checked out the bezoar and found it was wet and soggy, but consisted of rotted grasses, very old stone and bone bits, and assorted bits of grue - and wasn't magical.

The group spent a lot of time dissecting, discussing, and deciding. Then they decided against burning the corpse, but took his head (Honus would hold it instead of a weapon), his hooves, and his hands, and keep them visible at all times.

They began to track the minotaur, depending on Brak/Nancy's (soon determined to be useless) nose and Honus's tracking. They soon lost any trace of him on the dry stone, but kept searching. Nakar kept mapping (although we switched players - now Borriz's player and Fuma's player kept tandem maps)** but the maze still seemed too complex. Multiple times they used markings, numbered markings, arrows, etc. but kept coming back to places they'd been when their map indicated they'd turned down "new" directions. They ended up outside at one point and just camped for lunch before heading back in.

Finally, they used Seek Earth to locate the nearest source of gold (except what they carried). It wasn't far - 50 yards or so. But they couldn't seem to get nearer . . . and then Honus felt dizzy for a second and saw the group decide to go left . . . and turn right. He stopped them and explained. They tried again, and a few more realized what had happened.

They also took a look at their trophies - the mino head had dried out, the hands shriveled a bit, the hooves hollowed. Uh-oh.

Long story short, they began to check every turn and see if they could resist whatever supernatural power was turning them away from the gold. They slowly but surely made their way to a new area - a big cave full of meticulously arranged stacks of skulls, piles of bones, collections of phalanges, etc. and a sleeping mat of leaves and old furs. They searched carefully and found a big rock was being used as a "door" to wall off a small section of cave. Vryce got a double handhold and Borriz and Honus wedged in their crowbars and pried it open partway.

Inside was a smallish nook with a staff***, a wooden coffer, a small iron chest, and an ironbound chest. Some careful trap detection and examination and lockpicking by Fuma took care of a (decoy) lock designed to blast a jet of alchemist's fire into a would-be lockpicker, a poisoned needle, and the locks. They scored a few pieces of gold jewelry, a fine quality suit of elven mail (roughly Fuma's size, too, coincidently), three potions (major healing, universal antidote, and gaseous form/body of air), 51 gp, 930 sp, and the staff turned out to be magical. They spent an hour searching (and trashing the neat bone piles) while Nakar used Analyze Magic on the staff. It's a Staff of Healing, which lets a cleric heal people of minor injuries once a day per patient at no cost.

They looked again at the trophies - the skull was a bare skull now, and was gently flaking away. The body - they tried to find it with Seeker but the spell failed. The hands were bones. Double uh-oh.

After this, the group tried to find its way out, but even that took a lot of work before they managed to find the exit and walk out into daylight. They showed the skull, etc. to the hobgoblin chief, and Nancy/Brak confirmed their tale. They were given the gold and the chief told them what he knew about the six-fingered people.

They are the masters, who rule underground. They came from the big mountain (yes, the megadungeon), they rule everything underground, and they are clearly treated as feared gods by the goblinoids (at least when they're around). No, they didn't know anything about some metal torch, and they seemed alarmed the PCs meant that either they worked for the six-fingered blood drinkers or that they were nearby. In the end the PCs confirmed as much as they could through the chief's broken common. Seems like the hobgoblins serve the six-fingers when they are compelled to, fear them, and don't know much about them beyond that.

The group realized the minotaur was coming back again, and he'd want his mail and spear. So, evil bastards that they apparently are, they gifted them to the hobgoblin chief and told him to keep them safe deep within their lair. They figure the LotM will return and bust his way into the hobgoblin lair and kill them in bunches to get his stuff back. As I said, bastards. The chief seemed pleased with this well-made spear, but clearly has no idea what that'll mean for his tribe.

After that, the group returned to the Keep to rest up, pack up, and then head to Stericksburg.

Notes:

* I don't allow the players to map unless a character is mapping.

** It doesn't matter to me which player draws it (Player A's character is mapping, and Player B draws it = fine with me), but someone needs to be doing it. No character mapping, no map. One guy mapping, yeah, everyone can join in if they want, I'm fine with that.

*** Which I described as looking like Moses' staff in The Ten Commandments.

See Secrets - We had some (inevitable) discussions about See Secrets, which Nakar keeps up and active at all times that he's awake. Like most spells, it's both absolute and powerful but also vague. My ruling has been that it'll reveal anything deliberately hidden automatically . . . if you can see the hiding spot directly. A secret door? Easily spotted. A normal door or secret door behind a curtain? Can't see it, even if the curtain was deliberately placed there to conceal it. The idea is to make you open chests to see the false bottom, use Night Vision to spot the stuff in the dark, flake off paint to see the hidden thing undernearth. Otherwise, I feel the spell is too broadly powerful, and becomes a potential abusive way to circumvent investigation and actual searching.

So for example, See Secrets didn't detect that the (fake) padlock was a trap, because it wasn't hidden. It didn't notice the stone door, because it wasn't a secret door but rather a stone slab door that just wasn't recognized initially as a door.

I figure that's a ruling I can live with, and so far so good, although the limitations bug my players a little bit.

Mazes: This is why I don't use mazes. This one was supernatural, but it also sucks to deal with. One player mentioned Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord and it's turnaround/teleport maze. That's not what I want to emulate, just because the fun-to-frustration ratio is a bit too low for regular use. They'll turn up, but not that often.


(Originally mis-titled this "Session 8" but it is in fact session 9)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gord the Rogue in Castle Greyhawk

Greyhawk Grognard blogged about the sewers beneath Stoink (and elsewhere) in the very first Gord book by Gary Gygax. Generally, the "Gord the Rogue" books contain a lot of information about Greyhawk. They also generally involve Gord going into some subterranean location in search of a lost artifact or to recover treasure or as a big hexcrawl to a lost city. I can't think of one book that doesn't, actually, although it's not always a big chunk of the book.

But one place he goes is of special interest to Greyhawk fans:

Castle Greyhawk.

In the story "In the Heart of Darkness," in Night Arrant, Castle Greyhawk is the main setting for the story.

Eneever Zig, a wizard, hires Gord and Chert for an expedition to a secret sub-level of Castle Greyhawk. Before they head out, he gives a little background on the castle:

"It is well known that the labyrinthine dungeon, catacombs, and maze of subterranean passages beneath the ancient castle once held a conglomerate of monsters and a plethora of treasure - all there at the whim of the lord archmage who ruled within. In bygone years many sought to plumb the depth of this underground for glory and riches. And why not? With the master gone, who could say them nay? It's widely known that fabulous beasts and incredible treasures were found and disposed of. Of course, the stream of adventurers bound to become wealthy or die trying was so heavy that not even the fiercest of guardians could forever prevail. Expeditions came, some succeeded, and Greyhawk City grew rich from them. Now, who ventures to the ruins? Few," the wizard said in answer to his own query. "And this is no surprise. Tales told of even greater treasures deep beneath the fallen forteress were shown to be untrue. Vast, empty complexes of passages and chambers, bones, and deserted mazes speak louder than stories told in alehouses."
- Eneever Zig, in Night Arrant, pg. 12-13

Of course, the wizard knows something those searchers didn't, like what's down there and where to look. "Many untouched places remain - crypts laden with gold, chests filled with pearls and gemstones, even magical stuff suitable for swordsman and thief!" Sounds great, sign me up!

Not to spoil it too much, but Zig takes them on a dangerous trip to confront various challenges of the elements, of balance, and of the mind, on their way to attempt to search out a powerful magical item.

The cover picture of the novel depicts Zig (aided by Gord) dealing with one of the challenges they face in the demi-plane of the Element Master.



There is even a nice backstory about a previous trip by Gord and Chert. In their previous adventure there, Gord and Chert beat up some bandits and turn them into hirelings, basically, and follow a treasure map into Castle Greyhawk. Yeah, it's that old school - 0-level hirelings.

It also has a nice description of the way to the castle, which otherwise plays little part in Gord's stories:

The once-magnificent castle could be seen from any vantage point in the city. It was on a high hill about three miles away from the northern verge of Greyhawk. The only road, at one time smooth and easily accessible, had slowly deteriorated into little more than a rutted trail [. . .] Local folk shunned the area, claiming that things came forth at night to waylay the unwary. The land surrounding the castle for approximately a mile in any given direction was a tangled wilderness, save for that to the north of the castle's great mound. There lay a great bog with pools said to be bottomless and mires of deadliest sort."
- Night Arrant pg. 15

Bits of this adventure find their way into Dance of Demons, too.

The story is pretty good, actually, and (probably not by accident) comes off a bit like an homage to both Gary Gygax's D&D games and to Fritz Leiber's heroic duo to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. It's worth finding the book if you haven't read it. It contains some of the better Gord the Rogue stories. If you're a Greyhawk fan, or just like to know everything Gygax wrote about Castle Greyhawk, track down a copy and read that first story. Lots of it is useable together or elsewhere as a side-trip in your own megadungeon, a quest in a non-dungeon based game, or just as inspiration.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What assumptions do you make for PC actions?

As they went around the corner, the pit trap triggered for the two fighters in front. This caused some push back from the players– they didn’t think it should have gone off. They claimed that their ten-foot-pole trap checking was a continuous action and that they never stopped doing it. I didn’t quite see it that way, but in the interests of appearing fair, I gave one of the guys that fell in a DEX check to avoid falling in. He made it, but the other guy was in deep trouble: he only just barely survived the fall
- From Jeffro's Car Wars Blog, discussing Madicon21 and running Basic D&D.

There is a clash of expectations and play style that happens in gaming.

One style is that your character only does what you specifically say he's doing, and if you stop saying it, you stop doing it. This is where this happens: "I swing my sword at the dragon!" "You never said you drew your sword when you entered the dragon's cave. You need to spend a turn readying it."

Another style is that your character is assumed to be doing some "common sense" actions no matter what. If you're entering a dragon's lair, you need to say that you're not readying your sword otherwise we all assume you are. Or if you say you're watching the door, you keep watching the door until you say otherwise. Or that you reload your guns between fights even if you don't say so. Or that you don't touch anything when you examine it unless you say you're touching it. Or watch your back, even if you don't mention it.

You can get a serious culture clash, and disagreements/arguments/fights, when these styles encounter each other. If you assume you're doing the latter style and that looking up is just assumed, you're going to be pissed off when green slime drops on your guy and kills him. Or you might conversely frustrate the GM and other players by saying "I look up. I keep looking up. I'm looking up, okay?" when the rest assume that yeah, duh, that's just assumed and you have to say if you're not.

That bit I lifted from Jeffro's blog is an example of that. I've had the same - and in my current DF game I had to make it a particular point to say that we're doing the former. I will ask players what they are doing. "You're opening the door? Describe how, and everyone tell me what weapons or whatever you have out." I try to prompt them less and less, but it's an adjustment from a more heroic, "of course you slept lightly, facing the door" approach to "your PC is going to die because you didn't say you slept in your armor."

Some games split the difference, or allow you to cover style A with style B via the rules. GURPS, for example, has a Perk called "Standard Operating Procedure" that you can buy, describing some routine action you are assumed to do. "Always sits with his back to the wall, near an exit" say, or "Always cleans, oils, and maintains his weapons before doing anything else" or "Always keeps his dagger within easy reach" or something of that sort. You pay a premium to avoid having to remember to tell the GM you did some basic thing. GURPS also has genre switches where you can just say "In this game, you automatically reload in lulls in combat or between fights" or "bad guys only fight you one-on-one in melee" - essentially letting you set the basic assumptions of the game before you play. An OSR-inspired game wouldn't use these, but they make a heck of a lot of sense in an action movie or martial arts movie (or a Hollywood fantasy movie).

I think it's hard for people to adjust to that clash right out of the box. I think you need to do your best to state the assumptions up front. But everyone needs to recognize that assumptions are just that, and you won't realize you have them until it's a bit too late. Many people can play with either style, but if you expect one and get the other, well, you may end up in a pit despite your 10' poles.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Jeff Dee's Melnibonean Myths kickstarter

Jeff Dee has launched another Kickstarter project for his lost TSR artwork. This time, it's the big one:

Re-Creating my Melnibonean Art from Dieties & Demigods!

If you've never seen the original AD&D Dieties & Demigods, some of this artwork might be new to you. It's all really awesome. Jeff Dee did the entire chapter, with the one exception of Theleb K'Aarna, who got the Erol Otus "evil wizard with a horned helmet" treatment (which is equally great). Otherwise, it's all Jeff Dee - vulture lions, vampire trees, Elric and Moonglum, Donblas the Justice Maker (my personal favorite illustration), Arioch - the list is pretty extensive and the art is all uniformly evocative and excellent.

This is the one many of us have been waiting for, so jump in, even if only to see the video and check out the old vs. new artwork as it comes out.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Talk to the Skull

ITEM: the skull Ohmphal, of the Master Thief Ohmphal, with great ruby eyes, and one pair of jeweled hands.
- "Thieves' House," by Fritz Leiber, in Swords Against Death

Who doesn't love magic skulls? From Ohmphal to the demi-lich, Yorrick to Morte, skulls have always been fun things to throw into a fantasy game.

Here are my top 5 uses for skulls.

1: Monsters - Any variety comes here. From Ohmphal, who can float around and kill things with his bony hands, to a soul-sucking demi-lich, to Morte taunting and biting things, to the death-radiating Horrid Skull in DFM1. Skulls make great monsters. Generally they do better if they can fly around and bite things, fire off death rays, mock you from safely out of range, or otherwise attack you in some mobile way. They are less threatening if you just have to wander across their field of vision because they aren't moving at all; but area affect attacks can cure that a bit. Monster skulls also make a great "controller" for undead. I've used a giant skeleton made of dozens of human skeletons, topped with a myriad of skulls . . . one of which was an enslaved enemy's soul trapped in a skull that was forced to direct it.
Monsters can just use skulls as weapons, too - throw them for damage, for example. This just gets worse if they are evil enchanted monsters themselves, besides just being weapons. Hurl biting skulls at foes!

2: Treasure - Jewel the hell out of a skull, and you've got great mundane treasure. Jewel it and enchant it, and it's magical. Like I mentioned in shrunken heads, you can make skulls into really unpleasant versions of magic items. A skull that shoots rays of lights out of its eye sockets is just a magical but creepy lantern . . . but it's interesting to say the least. Maybe a Skull of Proof Against Poison fits your necromancer better than a periapt, or a Skull of Annihilation sounds better than a Sphere, or a Luckskull gives you the Luck advantage . . . if you feel like toting it around.

3: Objects of Horror - this is fun in and of itself. A pyramid of skulls says something creepy about the person who stacked them, nevermind the person who turned those people into skulls. Babies' skulls make a great way of saying "the guy carrying this around is a dirtbag" in a way not much else does. Stick them in alcoves or niches to say "this place is full of death" or leave them loose on the floor. Heck, build a church out of them. That's especially handy for evil religions - you sacrificed those guys, now build out of them.
You can make this horror just color text, or give it a supernatural in-game effect like Frightens Animals or Terror in GURPS, or Fear spells in D&D-based systems. Up to you.

4: Traps - Either monster style (reach into the skull for the jewels you see inside, and it bites you) or actual trap style (touch the skull and the ceiling collapses, dooming you all). Touching a skull in a dungeon shouldn't be considered safe. They can be covered in contact poison, enchanted with evil runes or touch-and-fire magic (GURPS's Link or Delay spell are good ones to use here), contain ghosts that will try to posses you (see Monster or Object of Horror, above), contain memories that either haunt your or help you, or just warn you that death is nearby.

5: Friends - Talk to the Skull, baby! A sentient skull can be an interesting ally. Against, choose a Monster form (Morte is a Monster and Friend, for example) or Treasure form or Object of Horror form. The long lost skull of an ancient general, whose skull was used as a soul jar, can be an interesting ally. Pull him out of your bad and talk to him when you hit a tactical or strategic quandary, and maybe his Tactics-20 and Strategy-18 will help you out. The skull of the last dragon might be a sage. Too big to truck around on adventures, but you can visit him and put questions to him, at some strange cost.

You can combine these - the fear-ray-shooting skulls I threw into the Caves of Chaos last session were both Objects of Horror and Traps, really. These are pretty broad categories, and you can subdivide or add to them at will. I find these are the categories I use the most, and which help me figure out how to use a skull.

Random Skull Table
1: Monster
2: Treasure
3: Object of Horror
4: Trap
5: Friend
6: Roll twice and keep both; if this result comes up again, roll an additional time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Megadungeon Stocking

I've made a lot of progress on my megadungeon - Felltower aka Grak Yorl aka the Boneyards.

- As I mentioned before, I whipped up a rough "stocking table" based on the broad DF power categories outlined in DF2 - boss (individually tough monster, a threat one-on-many), worthy (tough as group, a threat many-on-many), and fodder (weak, a threat many-on-one). It's not perfect, not yet, but it's not bad so far. It's done well giving me interesting results in terms of monster spreads across the three and a half levels I used it on. Since DF doesn't actually label monsters with boss, worthy, or fodder (generally), I need to use judgement on what is what. But that's easy enough. If my notes say Worthy, I plunk down tough enough critters to make a challenging fight for the players, and I don't need a table to tell me which ones. I'd only re-roll on it anyway, because I'm like that.
I did find a way to ensure I get to use Bruno's prefixing table though, because it's awesome and uses stuff I helped write up and want to use extensively in this game.

- I wrote down my results directly on my maps. Like I've mentioned before, I make a master sheet and then photocopy it. I took one more copy and called it a Stocking Sheet, and I write the die roll results from my random stocking table, monster power levels, trap locations, etc. onto this map. I can mark the hell out of it and then make a "neat" copy for actual play.

- I then started to circle natural groupings. Maybe this Worthy monster surrounded by Fodder is their leader - or maybe they've just cornered it after a long hunt. Maybe these Worthies are near the Boss because they're protecting the guys up the hall from its predations. Maybe these lone fodder are looting a room, either having come from the surface, the same level, or the depths to find loot. I haven't yet defined the "what" of these monsters, but where I have an idea I wrote it on the map. The circles let me visually see where and how things interact.
A few traps, randomly placed with the B/X or DMG methods, suddenly became connected to monsters - these were placed my those monsters as "border" protections, those to pen in that critter in the room, and this one is a hunting trap meant to gather up food.

- Speaking of traps, I've got a rough idea for a random trap table, too (for GURPS, naturally), and I'm going to give that a spin on my levels next. It should be easier than mulling over what's appropriate. I'm very inspired by Zak S.'s idea that instead of statting up one location/encounter/whatever, you make a table that'll do that any time you need to. I do spent more time on the table, balancing it out, than might be strictly necessary, but I'm an author and maybe I'll find a way to publish it. Then it needs to be great - so I treat every table generation as writing rules for publication and playtest.

- I also made a quick list of minis I have and want to use, and monsters from many sources (DF2, Lands Out of Time, DFA1, DFM1, AD&D books, my Rolemaster books) that I'd like to use. It's not complete, and I write on it just as notes, not a definitive pick list.

- Finally, I've started to write down all of the details on the map and jot them into some kind of organized form suitable for play. The monsters will go into a spreadsheet, army man marshalling style (something I've used very successfully in the past with large groups of PCs and NPCs), and also into a printed group of sheets so I can flip to them easily for additional details.
The actual dungeon will ultimately be digital.

So far so good!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Shrunken Head Scrolls

So I popped over to The Dungeon Dozen this morning and saw this entry at the top of the day's table:

1. Shrunken head array: selections span available sentient species, ensorcelled variously (see subtable below)

As soon as I saw that I had a flash of an idea. Lucky for me, the shrunken head powers table didn't cover my inspiration. Not exactly anyway. DF5 sort-of does this (zombie scrolls!) but it's not toting around shruken magic heads, like this:

Shrunken Heads - Created by witchdoctors, shaman, and other nefarious types, shrunken heads are usually just decorative totems meant to scare you. However they can be enchanted in a few ways:

Shrunken Head Scrolls - A shrunken head can be made into a scroll, per Dungeon Fantasy 4: Sages (p. 14-16). Unlike a normal scroll, the caster doesn't read it, the head speaks the spell. A shrunken head requires only one hand to use. Treat this as a variant form of media (ibid, p. 15-16). A shrunken head is durable (DR 3 - two for the skull, one for its dried leathery skin, 5 HP, and Injury Tolerance: Unliving) but a little bulky (Holdout -5). Shrunken heads are usually Universal and always Charged (double final cost). A head that has been used up shrives into dust; they cannot be re-used. Add $50 (or free, if you harvest and shrink the head yourself), weighs 3 lbs.

Shrunken Head Gadget - A shrunken head as a gadget limitation: GURPS Basic Set: Characters (per p. 117). Typical limitations are Breakable (most heads are DR 2 if dry [-20%] or DR 3 if leathery and tough [-15%], difficult to repair or replace (you need a new head, or extensive sewing and spirit-cajoling) [-15%], and Can Be Stolen [quick contest of ST or DX, -30%]. A DR 3 head like this would be -60%, and a great limitation on things like death rays (Innate Attack, Toxic), gazes of fear or disease or nausea (Affliction), Detect (maybe the eyes glow or it talks to you),

Heads don't really need to be shrunken to do this, either. I'm thinking of the ogre head toted around by Shagot the Bastard in Glen Cook's "The Tyranny of the Night."

Shrunken Head Familiar - A shrunken head makes a good familiar (see Dungeon Fantasy 5: Allies) if you give it flight so it can get around. Or just give it magical powers and carry it around. (Forgive me for not doing a whole writeup on heads-as-monsters. I need it for something so you're on your own.)

Conversion notes: For non-GURPS types, try this - since in D&D-based games all scrolls are inherently self-powered, the primary benefit is that anyone can use them, and they don't require you to be literate. Simply grasp the head by the hair, hold it out, and let it cast. For the others, well, just stat up a head as a monster (either mobile or not), or change the form of any given magic item to "shrunken head." The ol' Wand of Fire is more interesting when it's a Shrunken Head of Fire, the Shrunken Head of Vile Deeds is worth chatting with (albeit dangerous for do-gooders), and everyone loves the Shrunken Head of Three (Limited) Wishes!

Disclaimer: The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Random Thought IV: Actual Randomness

- I haven't gamed in a while because I was sick the one day we could play near the end of February. Next game is late March, if you're starving for session reports - expect one then.

- Stocking my megadungeon update. I decided after all the B/X stocking table is kind of lame. That 1-in-6 rooms is trapped thing, eh. Too many "specials" I don't know what to do with yet. I did end up with some fun setups I might not have, but I really think the percentages are too rough. I'm sticking with the results, but I'm not going to repeat them.

I tried the DMG method but I didn't have a big room same on that level, so I had only a handful of rooms that didn't need to get placed/stocked by hand. I'll try it further on another level with more "open" rooms to fill.

- Speaking further of randomness, I also decided I needed a GURPS-specific monster stocker, based on the broad categories of Boss, Worthy, and Fodder laid out in Dungeon Fantasy 2. I've got a very rough first draft of one, and I'm starting to use it. Testing will tell me if it's worth developing for publication anywhere. But I like it - I need something that tells me what power level of monster to put in, and then I'll go pick one. Then I can generate wandering monster lists off of that chart and the actual residents of the level.

I am stocking and writing, but absent a good stocking table for monsters, it goes more slowly than I hoped.

- I can't decide how to format my notes for easy in-game use. So much so I'm doing much of my notes and stocking info directly on a working copy of my maps plus a cruddy old notepad. I think electronic will save my sanity, but it's hard to write the dungeon that way at the moment.

- I did a lot of work on Stericksburg, the town nearest the megadungeon. At some point I'll put up what I told the players. It's a medium sized town - big enough to supply what they need, small enough to keep them (and the dungeon surroundings!) from being overwhelmed.

- I took advantages of some sales and some royalty money to pick up a few things: Barrowmaze, Death Frost Doom (what the hell, all the cool kids ran it and it was cheaper than lunch), Bushido, Aftermath, GURPS Tactical Shooting (great stuff, written by a shooter with encyclopedic knowledge of his subject), and some old Rob Kuntz stuff like Garden of the Plantmaster. I'm especially excited about Barrowmaze (which looks very cool and has a great map), since it shares a lot with a concept I have for a section of my own megadungeon, and the two FGU games. I wanted Bushido and Aftermath as a kid but couldn't afford them, and now I have a PDF copy for less than it would have cost me back in the 80s. I won't play either, but I'll enjoy reading them (and who knows, I may use bits of Aftermath for next post-apoc game!)

- I also backed Dwimmermount, because James is a cool guy and a good author, and $10 is what I'd willingly have paid for a copy of the final product PDF nevermind the perks of backing it early. That's my first non-art backing, actually - everything else has been Jeff Dee, Diesel, and OOTS.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Giving scale & directions

DM: "You are in a chamber about 30' across to the south and 30' wide east and west. There are 10' wide passages to the left and right and ahead, each in the center of their respective walls. The stairway you descended likewise enters the chamber in the center of the north wall.
-- Gary Gygax, Dungeon Master's Guide, pg 97.

Why cardinal directions? Why give directions by the compass anyway? "The room has a door to the north, and a corridor branching off it to the east by southeast." What? How do we even know? In GURPS, a character with Absolute Direction will always know which was is north. But otherwise? But in the early D&D stuff I grew up with, of course you knew. All directions are given by compass points or by relative direction and compass point.

Somewhere along the line - probably around when I started to run GURPS - I stopped doing this. I started to get vague. No more "You enter a 30' by 30' room with a 15' ceiling through the arch in the east wall and doors to the north and south" and a lot more "You see a roughly 30' square room with a tall ceiling, and doors to your left and right." Or "it's about a dozen yards in either direction, and the ceiling is about half that high, maybe lower. There is a door in the center of the wall to your left and to your right."


I think this approach has some advantages and disadvantages:

Pros:

This allows for more natural confusions and getting lost. Always describe it as they see it, not how it relates to the world.

This allows for dungeons that don't orient on the cardinal north. You don't need graph paper or map orientations (unless someone can tell north). It's all relative.

It makes for simpler descriptions, too.

It rewards asking questions and checking the facts in game. Suspect the walls don't quite match up with upstairs? Measure, and maybe there is a secret closet there.

Cons:

It's harder to confuse people with mis-direction magic or traps that make "south" seem "north" and vice-versa, such as you find in one Basic Set module I'll leave unnamed. Left is just left.

If you get people who obsess over map accuracy, they're going to pace out rooms and measure walls and all of that, and slow down the game when it's not actually useful to do all of this.

You can end up making the same vague statements of size all the time, so the players always know that "About 10'" means 10', or "roughly 10 yards on a side" means 30' x 30'.




For all of that, though, I prefer to give relative directions. It just feels more right to me - gives me more of a feeling of verisimilitude.

How do you give directions?

And how specific are you with sizes?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jeff Dee's S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks art

Jeff Dee is running a Kickstarter to fund his art from S3 Expedition to the Barrier peaks. There are only a few days left, but check it out.

Re-Creating my Art from S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Old Stuff

I read about this over on the excellent Hill Cantons blog - Old Stuff Day.

I think I may have almost missed it, but there you go. Old stuff.

Here are four posts I think that got missed, mostly because few if any people actually read my early blog posts. And who could blame them for missing them? It was early yet.

Building a Better PC - some tips for how to play, not GM, a role-playing game in a way that helps the GM out. Not entirely overlooked, but so early that I don't know how many people really saw it.

"It's Okay, Gary Sent Us." - Thoughts on encouraging negotiation in early RPGs - and the pre-"we must kill evil critters" ideal of treasure-first.

Problems but not Solutions - My discussion of my very long time philosophy of providing problems and then just letting the PCs get on with solving them. I think the first time I told my players I literally had no idea how some problems could be solved, in fact didn't know if they could be solved, was precious. But it did kind of free them - they don't try to find the solution but a solution, and my games are better for it.

Finally, Rule of Awesome - simply put, this is my default rule for deciding what to do in new circumstances. Solution is awesome? Do it. Solution is not awesome? Try another solution.

If you've seen these already, thank you! If not, I hope this back-pointer to my nostalgic early days (heh) helps you find something that helps you in your gaming.

Friday, March 2, 2012

My take on niche protection (II of II)

In part I, I babbled on a bit about D&D's niche protection (as I see it) and niche protection in play.

Here, I'm going to babble on a bit about how I see the role of niche protection when designing games. I've written two official templates for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninja (the ninja and the assassin), and in both cases I had to give very special attention to niche protection.

All of the below assumes "all things being equal." This includes points, choices, levels in games that have them, etc. In its own niche, a very low point character might outdo a very high point character who fills another niche - but it might not. A very high level magic-user in D&D might well be better in hand-to-hand combat than a low-level fighter. The best fighter in a 100-point GURPS game might be weaker than the worst fighter in a 500-point GURPS game even if the latter isn't a combat specialist. In these cases, all things are not equal.

What I mean by niche protection in design is making sure that the putative "new" template* does a couple of things:

A) It does something better than other templates do. This is the "niche" part.

and

B) It doesn't do things other templates do as their main strength (their niche) better than those other templates. This is the "protection" part.


If a template can't do both A and B, it's not worth making. If it does A but not B - in other words, it out-does an existing template at that template's own main strength, you're basically replacing the old template. If it does B but not A, then it just sucks - it's not stamping on anyone's niche but it's not good enough at its own niche to actually carve it out, it's just being some redundant capability. It needs to both have its own strength and not out-do another character's strength.

In other words, you don't want a template that out-knights the knight or out-barbarians the barbarian. But you don't want one that doesn't out-something everyone at something. Whether that something is worth doing at all depends on the campaign and the players, of course.

Let's take the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 12 assassin.

What's the assassin good at?

Well, he doesn't out-fight the fighter types. And he's not built to steal like the thief.

He's built to be the best sneak-up-and-stab-you guy in Dungeon Fantasy.

If you need someone or something snuck up on and attacked by surprise, the assassin does it very well.

He's also not so bad with poisons.

If you need traps disarmed or set, he's good at that, but not as good as the thief. He's not a bad scout, either, but urban environments not wilderness. He'll do as a fighter, too, but not as well as the dedicated fighter types. There is some of what I think of as JB's good redundancy).

So you've got a character that does something better than others, but doesn't make any other equal-point character totally redundant. You can bring an assassin instead of a thief, but he's no locksmith or fence or superior searcher, and it'll take a fair amount of points to make him one - points a dedicated thief could use to stay ahead. You'd have been better off with a thief if you needed on. A wizard could make himself invisible and use Deathtouch to kill people by sneaking up on them, but he'll need a considerable investment in points to pull it off, and he's not terribly well built to survive his sudden appearance next to his victim, and he's not going to do well against a magically resistance target or one in a NMZ. On a dungeon delve, he's generally going to need his magic for other things, and need it often - garrotes don't need quite as much magical energy to power as attack spells.

Now, a niche doesn't have to be one thing. Just something. That "thing" could be "things." You could cover a couple of areas in combination in a way that other templates do not. The titular ninja of the book above does that - fights well, like the fighter types, but with different weapons; has special powers, like the bard and martial artist - but different ones; and uses gadgets, like (but not as broadly as) the artificer, but limited to "ninja" gadgets. He doesn't do any of these "better" but rather "differently" than the others.

You might say, "so what?" to all of this. "Why do I care?" Because a poorly designed template, one without a niche or that doesn't respect and therefore protect the other niches is a covered pit trap waiting for a player to fall in. Oh, you chose the Knight? How unfortunate for you - you chose poorly. No one wants to drop into a game and find out that they can choose from A, B, and C but actually B is crud and C does everything B does but better and more. A bad game, IMO, gives you unequal choices, and worse, hidden pitfalls for people who don't know it well.

Anyway, that's the kind of approach I've used to design templates for GURPS. I'm not claiming in any way this is the only approach to use, or the official GURPS or official SJG approach, either. It's just the thought process I use - and one that seems to be echoed by the comments and questions of my editors. And it can be painfully obvious when someone didn't do this - as many poorly designed splatbook expansions can demonstrate. The new book comes out, and the no-niche-protection whatever rolls out and makes your original basic rulebook guy useless and retroactively poorly designed.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My take on niche protection (I of II)

The other day I (respectfully) challenged B/X Blackrazor's JB's definition of niche protection vs. redundancy.

JB does a great job of explaining his idea of niche protection and redundancy here, so go read that first.

I think he's right on the money with niche protection in play.

However, I think D&D (especially the very oldest versions of it) has very strong inherent niche protection. Who turns undead the best? The cleric. Who can detect traps without burning up spells per day to do it? The thief. Who fights the best bar none? The fighter. And so on - and magic items restricted by class just further drive in that protection. Can anyone use this Staff of the Magi? Er, no, just the wizard.

So you don't need to worry about it too much in play or eve inn chargen. Even a 7th level magic-user will have stuff to do in a game with an 11th level MU with similar spells to select, because you never seem to have enough spells to go around. And they'll likely end up with different magic items, anyway. Where character classes duplicate each other, they usually have some niche aspect to it that either limits their options or isn't duplicated elsewhere. For example, Paladins have healing like clerics and fight like fighters, but at a cost of alignment, magic item, and equipment restrictions (and IIRC a steeper per-level XP cost). Assassins do the exact same things as thieves, but at a lower level equivalence, and get a special assassination ability that no one else gets. Illusionists in AD&D give up the "artillery" aspect of magic but gain in another focus of magic that magic-users don't do quite as well. All of this depends on well-made classes, of course - but the D&D classes generally balance well enough against each other in terms of choices and not causing total redundancy (see below).

Niche protection is a bit more of an issue in point-buy systems like GURPS because there aren't rigid class boundaries (or effective limiters like the level/xp costs of multi-classing). What's stopping your barbarian from picking pockets better than my thief is how we spend our points, more or less. There are a lot of ways around that issue (such as limiting point totals), some of which have to do with GMing and some with game design. It's a potential downside to the extreme flexibility of character generation. But it's not a non-issue for class-and-level systems. The more classes you have, the more concern you end up with about having too much redundancy. This is where the plethora of sub-classes of AD&D and overlapping kits and feats in 2e and 3e come in.

This is why, for example, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy has such strong niche protection for its templates - tightly constructed templates, lots of suggestions for reducing the options to duplicate another's specialty, restricted options for what you can start with on your character, and a smoothed path to upgrading what fits your niche. It's emulating a genre where strong niches are common and where allowing complete customization can weaken the emulation. In my opinion, anyway.

But in those point-buy systems, do JB's points hold up?

I think they do.

Like JB says, difference of play is key here. If your cleric can cast Find Traps and outdo the thief's trap finding, that's fine - who cares? It comes with a cost of a spell slot (or in GURPS, with learning See Secrets instead of something else) or of magical energy. It's not always on, it's not permanent, and it's not free. It's not always going to work. It's another way around the problem - JB's many ways to skin the cat argument. In a good game, sheer variety of circumstances will result in a need to have those multiple ways to skin the cat. Plus you'll often need multiple people doing something to defeat the problem/advance the plot/accomplish the goal. Not the least of which is if, as JB notes, someone flakes out/misses a session/gets his PC killed/etc.

But what does this show you? It's that redundancy isn't bad, either - it gives you more options.

What sucks is total redundancy. That's when your character (or worse, your character class/template/type) doesn't do anything better than the others. If your system's clerics get automatic, 100% reliable trap detection and removal ability, always on after a certain point, yeah, your thief is useless now except as a backup in his own area of supposed expertise. If the mage is a better swordsman than the swordsmen are, that's probably an issue. If you do A, B, and C and another character does A, B, and C+1, or A, B, C, and D, it better be because you're a less powerful version of the same character - less points or lower level, say. If not . . . you're stuck.

If it's because of lower level or less power or less attention from the GM, that's a play issue. If it's because your character class / template / whatever sucks, that's a game design issue. You can't catch up and you can't ever do as well as the other players who made a better choice than you. You may as well go stand in the back and hold a torch like the hirelings - make yourself useful.

I'll follow up tomorrow with a discussion of niche protection from my perspective as a game designer. Or at least as a writer of GURPS supplements.
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