Sunday, March 24, 2013

How Vryce (our DF Knight) Doesn't Get Killed

Consider this a case-study of a DF Knight.

The Knight in my DF game, Vryce, started at 250 points and is now up around 320.

Vryce is ST 17 / DX 14 / IQ 10 / HT 14 / HP 20 / Speed 6.25 (partly bought down as part of his template)

He's got Armor Mastery, Combat Reflexes, Fit, Hard to Kill 1, Hard to Subdue 1*, and High Pain Threshold. He's a Weapon Master (Greatsword.) Oh, and he has Fearlessness 4 on top of this. And Sacrificial Parry, which makes him an effective team player.

His main combat skills are Fast-Draw (Two-handed sword)-16 and Two-Handed Sword-24.

Vryce's attacks do 3d+8 cutting or 1d+7 impaling. This is basically instantly fatal to most fodder types, and nearly so to anything else. Impressive, especially with a 24 skill.

But it's his defenses that make him so dangerous.

Let's take a look at them.

Two-Handed Sword-24 gives him Parry 15 (Skill/2 + 3). He gets +1 for Combat Reflexes, for a 16. Retreat gives a conditional +1, for potentially a 17. Hard to beat a 17, especially since he's likely killing you on his turn, either with 2 attacks or a feint and attack.

Feinting him is hard, you need to beat his 24. A Beat against him is silly, because that increases his roll to 27. Ruses he'll resist with DX-based skill for a 24 again. So it's not likely you'll get him to open up.

Multiple attacks are a good idea, right? Sort of. He's a Weapon Master, which halves multiple parry penalties to -2. He's got a two-handed sword and we're using the relevant rules in GURPS Martial Arts, so his parries drop by only -1 each time.

That means his defenses look like this: 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, etc. before you ever get to his Dodge 9 (he's at Light encumbrance . . . in plate.) With his Reach 1,2 weapon, he spends a lot of time maneuvering to force opponents to close with him, and to keep himself from getting swarmed even as he attacks at reach.

Missile weapons? Good idea. Thrown? Too easily parried.

If there is any sign of real danger of swamping, his wizard ally will usually put Shield on him to give him a defensive bonus. Yeah, almost unfair, right?

Now, you could flank him. He has a greathelm and thus tunnel vision. Fine, flank him and hit away - you've finally struck him. Or maybe you didn't flank him, you just rolled a critical.

He's wearing magical light plate over magical cloth armor (my house rules let magic armor stack) on his torso and mail over cloth elsewhere. Oh, and a greathelm over a mail coif, with a cloth skullcap under that. No penalty for this thanks to Armor Mastery (from DF11). His DR is around 9 on his torso and face, something like 17 on his skull, and 6-7 elsewhere. He's been known to ignore head shots from weaker foes to save his defenses for attacks against his limbs or extremities. He'd be more heavily armored but he really seems to like being at Light encumbrance.

On top of this, his player is basically conservative. He takes risks when he needs to, but not when they aren't necessary. He keeps a spare sword to fast-draw if he drops his main sword, and a lanyard for his main sword if it's a situation where drawing a new one is a bad idea (one sword is magical vs. undead, one isn't). Vryce is overconfident and nearly fearless, but that's reflected mostly in his refusal to back down from a fight and refusal to turn down a risk for riches, not by tossing away the advantages his long-reach weapon gives him. He's no berserker, just a soldier killing as efficiently as he can, sure he'll win if he does just that.

So basically you have this guy who's very hard to hit, armored enough you need to hit him hard, who has extremities that take 6 damage to cripple (so you need double-digit base damage at least), limbs that take 11 (high double digit damage), and rolls against a 16 to stay conscious and 16 to not die. His defenses cover himself and everyone else in a large radius. He's got enough HP that it takes 120 to kill him dead automatically.

In short, this is why Vryce tends to clear rooms of fodder, goes toe-to-toe with trolls and hacks them to burger in seconds, and otherwise deals death without getting cut to pieces.

And he's not even that super-tough as knights go - I'm somewhat equipment-stingy so he's not rolling around in the choicest gear just yet. He could be more destructive, or more defensive. But this is why he's not dead even after a couple of bad fights. This is why he stands alone against tough foes - like last session - and somehow is still alive.

So why did I post this?

Basically I've been thinking about how to challenge my players, and why it's so damn hard to put Vryce in danger. It's pretty simple - the player made a guy tough enough to one-shot most opponents, and then has concentrated on hitting (higher skill, Trademark Move) and on defenses. That's defenses on a broad spectrum - DR, last-ditch rolls to stay conscious, parries, ability to defend the people around him. All sorts of foes have confronted him. Some might even have won, except he wasn't alone or unprepared. Grapplers have been shot up by his scout friends and then hacked down before they get close enough to touch him. Magic has been shrugged off or just taken in return for blows. Crazy monster powers have stopped him cold, but not the whole group. He's been both lucky and good. And so I used him as a model when I made my own knight (Tarjan Telnar, in GURPS Midgaard).

Getting to throw down monsters in front of a PC like this is a large part of why I have so much fun GMing my DF game.

If people like this kind of post, I may look at the other long-lasting PCs in my game and why I think they're still around.

* I know the combo of Fit, HTK and HTS seems odd - why not spend 1 more point for +1 HT? Two reasons - Fit has other benefits, and the others were bought piecemeal, when he wanted a better roll and didn't want to wait until he had 10 points to spare. And I'm not a fan of letting people sell back advantages for higher stats - especially when those advantages do things the stats don't.


  1. The Holy Trinity of Lightning Bolt, Death Touch, and Burning Touch at least gives spell-casters ways to deal with him, but of the three, Lightning Bolt is the only semi-safe one and the least effective.

    A Command to "lie down" in a melee would at least slow him down a bit.

    Knights in DF quickly go to crazy-town and there's no reliable solution to taking them down with murderizing the rest of the party.

    1. He's got a pretty good Will, actually - Will 12 - and they've been careful to either keep at range from spellcasters or bum rush them hard and kill them.

      That kind of Command would be pretty funny, but since it's resisted, won't last (he'll get back up) and he's not alone, it's not a fight winner. It's just annoying him into spending more points on Will. ;)

    2. I just want to say I do welcome suggestions on stuff to threaten him, like the one above!

    3. It's something I tend to screw up in my own GMing experience, but how are you using terrain to limit him, if at all?

    4. Tunnels to craw through, bad footing all over the place (slick floors, muck, rough floors), occasionally low ceilings, darkness, etc.

      They address them all as best they can, and Two-Handed Sword-24 helps a huge amount. The tougher the terrain and the worse the circumstances, the slower they move through and the quicker they resort to buff spells and support tactics. Or flat-out fight avoidance.

  2. Replies
    1. They exist, but 300+ point guys don't grow on trees, so I can't bust them out all the time.

      He did run into a well-armed Weapon Master last session with heavy armor and backed by a squad of well-armed high-skill opponents. And he held them off for a bit before they beat Vryce down - but then his allies found a way to push the "win" button anyway. It was close, but again, it's not like I can do that to them every session.

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  4. There is just one thing I m wandering about .. where is the fun to play such a character? being invulnerable gets very boring quite shortly in my experience. When I dont feel like my character could be hurt, when I dont have to tacticize a little and balance my fighting style to survive and protect my companions, as well as get the enemies down, when there is nothing to challenge me, I usualy "re-roll" character just because it's not fun to play any more.

    1. Vryce is hard to kill, but hardly invulnerable - he took 80+ injury in the fight with 3 cultists and lost (see Session 22: Clash of the Titans).

      It can be a lot of fun to play a nigh-invulnerable warrior, laying down the smack on less warriors, but you can still be swarmed, overrun, tripped, grappled, grappled and teleported, mind-controlled, magically stunned, blasted by any of the dozen GURPS effects that ignore armor... there are invulnerable characters in GURPS, but you can't build them on 300 points.

    2. That's pretty much it. There is a lot of fun to them:

      - you get to be awesome. You're not invulnerable but you're tough, so you can charge a dozen mooks without a second's hesitation and beat them down. You can step up to the killer monster and say, okay, I'm the guy who needs to face this sucker.

      - you can expand out into being a team player. I know Vryce's player really enjoys parrying for other people, drawing fire, forcing opponents to concentrate on him, and so on. It's pretty fun when your toughness is something you can use to help others and get things done.

      - you can still be challenged, but the bar is set higher than if you're a missed defense roll away from needing a new PC.

      Vryce does need to make tactical decisions and tradeoffs. Vryce's offensive options are pretty good, and in order to stay hard to kill he's got to make very tough tactical decisions every single turn. He's done his best to minimize the cost of a bad roll, bad situation, and bad decision, but he still has to make the roll, find his way out of the bad situation, and make the tough decision.

      And frankly, I run a guy just like Vryce in Colin Ritter's game. I've demolished everything pretty easily so far, and I like that. It means we can blow through easy opponents pretty fast, dig out of bad situations quickly, and get on to the stuff I find more fun than combat - puzzles, tricks, weird obstacles, cool treasure. The more I can turn myself into a win button, the better, I feel, because I get to turn more combats into "we kill them and get on with it" - and the "on with it" is to the stuff I'd really like to do, much of the time.

    3. I just started to play very combat team-support focused Warrior. Its kind of Spartan-like fighter with spear, Shortsword and medium shield. High Pain Treshold, Combat Reflexes, Fit, Weapon Master (sword&shield) etc. etc. ... tough to be brought down Tank-type. Im trying to taunt and goad or othervise draw attention of enemies and if not, at least use Shield-Wall Training to cover "weaker" members of our party. He's got not such huge dmg output as Vryce with Two Handed sword, but otherwise he's designed to fit pretty much similar role in the party. I m very looking forward how long (or how far) I'll get with this guy before I get killed (or bored).

    4. Just to pile on, one of the fun bits of characters with this much skill can be finding new and interesting ways to fight, rather than just find the best "I Win!" button for all occasions. Mixing up the kind of maneuvers you take, or if you're a multifaceted fighter (say you have Broadsword and Judo both at high levels) you can see what different parts of the GURPS rules you can use to win.

    5. Doug's hit one point that I tend to find myself following with characters like this. Once you've reduced the risks significantly, you're free to start doing things that are suboptimal in mechanical benefits, but rife with style. Use your sword to bash away an opponent's weapon and then deliver a swift kick as a follow-up, for example.

  5. I like to use Elder Things straight from Lovecraft. These monsters really can't be defeated physically so instead the PCs must find a way to shunt them back into the dimensions where they belong. Maybe they must break a sacred crystal or find some spell to be able to defeat these monsters.

    1. Well, it's not so much about giving the players stuff they can't beat without great cost and special effort. They've found a fair amount of those already (two in the last two sessions). It's more of a question of "How is this guy not dead?"

      I promise there is weirder and tougher down deep in Felltower, though.

  6. Hmmmm. Well, maybe one way to challenge characters like this is to provide them with more situations in which terrain is a potential problem. For example, a tight cave with lots of quick twists and turns (to minimize the ability of archers/scouts to use their ability) where the party has to go single file. Encourage the tank to go first to meet with whatever thing might be right around any given bend. Then, as the passage begins to widen, have a wizard or a magical trap shape stone to grapple feet/legs or squeeze him on the sides so that he can't move very well at all (so negatives to attack and defense rolls). Then throw lots of mooks or tough guy monsters at him while he's seriously impaired and while his companions can't assist. Or stage the encounter on a rickety wooden floor with lots of weak points onto which something could shove him (and thus through the floor into the waiting gelatinous cube.....). Sentient opponents would certainly have to be more clever, often using (even making) terrain or setting to best effect. I suppose one issue though is how to to challenge such a tough character (providing a nice "Oh, crap!" moment) without automatically killing him/her.

    1. I found this situation back when I used to run D&D 4E as well. One sure-fire way to throw an additional wrench into things is to invert the first rule of adventurers - "don't split the party." Figure out how to get them into two different spaces and the challenges change due to lack of standard resources.

    2. Good suggestions. One thing about the sandbox dungeon approach is that I can set situations all I want, but I can't control if the party enters them or not. The ambush on the way out last session was one where the NPCs could and did, and even then the players fought well and got lucky. Lots of times the players see a bad situation and back off - like the druagr, the 100-foot dash in the face of fire-throwing elementals, a previous occasion with the wights (and they came back ready for them) and some lizardmen (who they've decided to leave alone for now). I stick in lots of bad situations, but they generally leave them until they can shift the odds in their favor.

      Sniff, sniff. I'm so proud of them. :)

  7. As someone about to play GURPS for the first time, I'm extremely interested in this type of post. Thanks for this one, and I hope you'll do more!

  8. It looks like Will is his weakest point relative to other party members. Throw a medusa at him. ;-) A typical wizard will have to be, at 3 hexes, dangerously close for a 50/50 chance to nail Vryce with Tickle, Control Person, Mass Daze, etc. but Telecast, Throw Spell, or Spell Arrow can help that. A possibly more significant weakness is mobility. Ice Slick or Grease could be quite effective.

    Mostly, as long as he's getting a good workout and the other players are having fun then it's all good.

    1. Amusingly his tunnel vision and lousy Per rolls in it saved him from the medusa. ;)

      The spell suggestions are good, but I've banned three of those spells. Telecast was a game-breaker in my last campaign (it dominated play once it got introduced), Throw Spell I found encourages munchkinny abuse, and Spell Arrow undermines actual spellcasters. So I nixed all three. Especially because my players love Wild Talent (Spells Only) so they can cast anything they need, so I can't just say "NPCs have this and you can't learn it" - if it's out there, they can.

      The area-affect terrain-modifying spells are a great choice for guys like this. It makes their life all that much harder.

  9. Weak points in Vryce's build?

    Probably the IQ and Will - maybe Per as well?

    Putting him in a situation where skills based on those attributes are useful to avoiding heavy damage - traps, for instance - could result him in danger.

    1. It's true! A few times he's barely escaped harm from traps he couldn't detect. This goes to the discussion above, about how he's not invulnerable.

      My players have been pretty good about teamwork, too - Scouts looking ahead, then Vryce moves in to the scouted area to absorb any damage from traps they missed. Then they follow with other heavy fighters or non-front rankers depending on what they find.


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