Thursday, June 20, 2013

Stuff Other DFers Are Using That I'm Not

A cursory look at other people's Dungeon Fantasy games makes me think I'm actually in the minority on a lot of things. Especially in the things I don't use in my games.

What am I not using that all the cool DFers are using?

Armor from Low-Tech - We don't use the armor from Low-Tech, despite my long history of using Dan Howard's armor writeups in my own (prior) games and being a co-author on the book.

We came very close on this one. I had a handy list of LT-derived armor, and we used it in our playtest of Mirror of the Fire Demon. But in the end, the ability to use Loadouts straight out of the box, the ability to just pick-and-click on Basic Set armor in GCA, and deep familiarity with the rules and options led me to stay with Basic Set armor. I really didn't want to lose all of the ease-of-use, nor did I want to open the door to rewarding the players with the free time to compile a list of their best options by cost and weight. At least half of my players have no time to be figuring out the best options and I didn't want to do it either.

Short version: Good stuff, but required work. Didn't want to do work.

Imbuements - We don't use imbuements. Nor what comes with it, the Mystic Knight. Heck, I was a playtester on this book and I don't use it. Unbalanced? Not at all. Adds a lot of complication and makes the game more Kewl Powerz than I'd like.

Don't get me wrong - this is very, very cool stuff. I love that book. But adding it would put a learning curve (and an unknown power curve) into what was supposed to be a "let's kill monsters until we get bored doing that" dungeon bashing game. And which still is. I'd like to find a way to use this in the future in another game, though.

Divine Favor - From reading Doug Cole's "I win automatically against undead and supernatural evil" experiences with Cadmus, I'm glad I didn't go with this. I see the attraction on this, but honestly, I'm fine with the basic GURPS Magic system for healing and priestly spells. So this takes care of Antoni Ten's excellent Dungeon Saints, too. Sadly.

Techniques - Again, kicking my own best work to the curb. We're not using techniques. The reason why is a line-development issue. DF doesn't use techniques. Power-Ups does have some advantages made from techniques, but you never get partly bought-off penalties. Either you Dual-Weapon Attack at -4/-4, or you've go Two-Weapon Fighting and you attack at -0/-0. Modifiers are all-or-nothing. I do allow people to attempt techniques, but you can't buy them up partly. And I discourage people from getting too cute; better to pick one or two and buy the appropriate power-up than to have a smorgasboard of options to slow play down.

And that's besides my limitations to race and profession in my campaign.

So I'm not using a lot of what I see others using. I see a lot of Diving Favor-using Imbued Mystic Knights with historically accurate customized armor and using cool techniques. But not a lot of that in my own game, for all of its house rulings and oddness. Oddly I think my "vanilla" game makes for a good testbed for stuff I can use in future professional writing for SJG. There isn't a lot of assumption of special powers, optional rules, or equipment and moves from other books.

Some things I am using - the weapons from Low-Tech (and the upward-revised damages on a few), some optional enhancements to DF from Pyramid, many cool combat rules from GURPS Martial Arts, etc.) but not some real biggies that seem very popular. But again, GURPS is a toolbox, and I don't use every tool every time I open up the box.

How about you guys? What does it seem like everyone is using except you in your own game?

By the way, Paul Stefko was the guest for an excellent intro-to-GURPS video interview, GURPS 101. It's good stuff, although I'll nitpick and say mail hasn't given reduced DR against impaling for a long time now.


  1. The fact that you mentioned both The Mystic Knight and Dungeon Saints here fills me with pride ;)

    My issue with the standard magic system is that I feel it doesn't scale well, and my experiences is that you end with linear wizards/quadratic warriors (The inversion of the usual troupe), as wizards are mostly static and gain breadth (and a little power, but not that much) while warriors gain depth, as they can improve in a lot of orthogonal dimensions (more ST/Force multipliers such as weapon master/more skill/more attacks/more damaging weapons), resulting in quadratic growth. Compartmentalized mind is not available to spellcasters in Dungeon Fantasy, most wizardly gear is either not very useful or within reach of every starting character, more magery improves the power of some spells, but the biggest limitation is time and FP cost, and Magery and IQ don't help much here (they help once you reach skill 15/20/25...). My current game (back from a foray into Supers and Wuxia) has 500 point characters, and at that level, spellcasters are quite binary, either they solve the problem in one roll, or they feel useless. Also there's the issue that the damage dealing caster, a staple of the genre, doesn't work that well in GURPS (mind you, it's true than both in the source material and in GURPS, highly powered casters tend to not work well as damage dealers, instead having more of a save or die niche in combat).

    As for Divine Favor being an I-Win-Button, well, first, it's not that different from what would happen anyway with a Holy Warrior (True Faith with Turning and Holiness 6 is not that different from True Faith with Turning and Reliable 10, plus assorted bonuses in both cases). I personally give powerful and truly unholy creatures Resistant to Holy Supernatural Powers (+3 for lieutenants, +8 for head honchos). It makes no sense to me that the archliche, the master vampire and the archdemon will cower in fear when facing the IQ 16/Power Investiture 6/High Holy Symbol cleric (Not too outrageous once the characters have a dozen sessions behind them) with True Faith w/ Turning. They will be affected, but while their lesser brethren will be rendered helpless, they will only be inconvenienced, and will need to use alternate tactics.

    1. Well, I'm not singling you out. I forgot to mention I don't use Wildcard skills or Ritual Magic, either. I know the basic magic system has flaws, but replacing it is a lot of work compared to just using it and ruling on the edge cases.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I know you're not singling me. You praised me even! It's just that I see that sometimes the DF defaults don't manage to cover the archetypes that are common to the genre, and/or I find that some slightly more advanced rule is just too nifty not to use it. So far, I've managed to channel that desire into Pyramid articles, that seem well received, so so far so good!

      I understand that you prefer closer to baseline DF, while I prefer wilder, wackier things. In an ideal world, I would like to have the use of GURPS Magic be an option, but not the only options, for spellcasting in DF...

      P.S. I accidentally posted a half written comment above.

    4. "Also there's the issue that the damage dealing caster, a staple of the genre, doesn't work that well in GURPS"

      I have been tempted from time to time to work up a missile spell equivalent to heroic archer or weapon master that makes missile spell specialization into a viable niche.

      Something along the lines of:
      _Artillery Mage_ [20/30/40]
      You are exceptionally talented at using missile spells in combat. This has several benefits:
      - You can "Quick Draw" a missile spell (equivalent to 1 turn of build) and attack with it the same turn. This gives you -3 on both rolls (spellcasting and attack). This counts as an attack action.
      - If you have a wand in your hand while attacking with a missile you may add an additional +1 to acc. You can also add the acc of a missile spell without aiming if you didn't move this turn. Special wands might add more, but are costly and/or rare.
      - I you have a staff in hand while building a missile spell, you may reduce the casting cost by an additional 1 pt.
      This advantage costs 20 pts if it only applies to one missile spell, 30 for a whole college, and 40 for all missiles.

      This should allow DF level wizards to pew pew every turn. However, it may not be balanced and worse it steps on the scouts' toes. OTOH, it doesn't negate the scout, is expensive, and recreates a traditional dungeon niche.

      Since I'm not *running* DF right now, it remains a temptation.

    5. I occurs to me that the SJG forum is a mor appropriate place for this. Duplicating above post there...

    6. I'd argue that the "damage doing wizard" is a staple of video games more than anything else. GURPS mages can do a lot of damage with the basic system, just not every turn, cheaply, on a wide scale.

      But as someone who has had a PC do 18d+18 with a Stone Missile, or clear a room with a big Explosive Fireball, or (in another game) Deathtouch someone to death in one second, it's not impossible. It's just not also cheap and fast, which is what some people want.

      Wizards can expand more than just capability - buying lots of FP, say, or a large power item, or both. Getting quicker recovery on their energy reserve. Maxing out Magery. Even going the Power-Ups 11 route and just buying a Mana Bolt (which is fast and cheap - it's free to cast - although costs you some points). It's hardly impossible. A lot of the criticism of "GURPS doesn't do damage wizards" is really, IMO, "GURPS doesn't do cheap, fast, and easy damage wizards who can do more than the fighters can." Which to me is a plus, not a minus. All fighters can do is fight, why should wizards make that a second-rate profession? And if they should, why do they get to do it cheaply?

    7. I sense that I hit a pet peeve of yours here. This means that unless I read your post wrong, and you point my error, this is going to be the last post on the subject, since it's your blog, and you're entitled your opinion.

      Diablo is as much part of the source material as Moldway, and still, D&D (in all versions I've played) includes a metric ton of pure damage spells, and you could make a wizard that specialized in them and was a valuable party member. Palladium Fantasy, IIRC, had some spellcasting O.C.C.s that were mostly damage inflicters. Ditto for MERP/Rolemaster and Runequest.

      FP provides longevity, not power. Energy Recovery doesn't work on an encounter time scale. Magery is easy to max during character creation, and is something I've often seen. Mana Bold does not deal much damage. My problem with damage wizards, in GURPS, personally, is that dealing damage is often so inferior to the "save or die" spells, that it's often not worth casting. Damage magic is slow and costly, plus missile spells receive less benefit from high skill than other spells (no spellcasting time reduction from high skill, plus a minimum of two maneuvers to use) and allow active defenses, while regular spells don't benefit from hit location, and deal much less damage. Melee spells are among the best damage spells in fact, given that they aren't discharged when they dodge or you miss. It works fine and dandy at baseline DF levels and below, but assuming that the characters have maxed Magery during character creation, their damage output doesn't increase with added CPs. A Knight or Swashbuckler with Weapon Master and two extra attacks, with effective ST 17 and a swing/cutting weapon will deal 3d+5+weapon bonus cut damage 3 times a turn, more of they rapid strike. A scout can put 3 arrows per turn on a target, for less points. Neither spends FP for the priviledge. Instead of 18 FP and 4 turns for that 18d+18 stone missle, Flesh to Stone would cost 10 and 2 turns (1 turn at skill 20) for complete incapacitation. Other "I Win" spells cost much less (Tickle? Burning/Rotting Death? Sickness? Daze?).

      TL:DR, Magically inflicted damage is slow, costly and not very effective. Spells that provide complete incapacitation, that buff allies, or that alter the battlefield are much more useful, cheaper, and faster. Magic does not scale well, in that it plateaus fast, and then the only thing that a spellcaster gains is longevity.

    8. You can post away. I'm just saying that:

      - GURPS Magic mages can do a lot of damage, directly or indirectly. They can be battlefield game-changers, very easily, including inflicting direct damage. Just not as the same rate as melee guys, which to me is a good thing. There is an actual difference in play.

      - Not every game needs the video game staple of mages as rapid-fire anti-monster fireball launchers. There are rules that do this, so GURPS Magic doesn't need to do it too.

      - My experience is that mages grow in power steadily, just not in the measure of "I used to do X dice of damage, now I do 2X!" My experience may be atypical, but it's what's happened in my last, uhm, all games using GURPS Magic. Eventually mages vastly out do their fighter chums unless you give the fighters lots of damage and skill so they control their own niche, which is fighting.

      Also, I'm not even 100% sure how this got to be the big topic in the comments. I never commented on wizard spells in the post, I was just saying I was fine with Clerics using the vanilla system for healing.

    9. Thanks for allowing me to continue, this is your little corner of the net, and I believe in being courteous to my host.

      -Indeed they can be game changers. I however feel that damage spells are player traps, and their removal would make spellcasting characters more effective.

      -Tell that to the fire elementalist... Wizards are versatile, elementalists, specially fire elementalists, not so much...

      -I've been running a DF game that went from 300 points (template+either mixing profesisons lens, racial template, or powerups) to 500+ points. Spellcasters started out ok, but then fell behind. Knights, Mystic Knights and Swashbucklers are considered the strongest templates. Players have retired their spell casters because they felt they weren't contributing. Of course, at 500 points, 3 3d+10 cut attacks, with the last one being split into 4 rapid strikes, was not unheard of.

      And on your last comment, I believe that I am responsible for this digression, since I phrased my issues with the spellcasting system in general (and as they stand, clerics are healing and buffing machines, and the standard magic system doesn't break too much here. Divine Favor would make them less awesome here in exchange of letting them play a more active role in combat. I have a beatified cleric in my game, and before he took Divine Favor, the issue he had is that he was bored during combats, as his main role, other than some very occasional spot healing, was buffing and patching outside of combat)

    10. I think that the "problem" with wizards in straight-up GURPS Magic is that many people want them to be able to keep up damage-wise with the warrior types and have a wide breadth of abilities. I think, personally, that it's a bad idea to allow that, because the non-wizards can't do that. It becomes "I do everything plus combat, you do combat."

      In my older GURPS games, the opposite to your problem occurred - everyone hated the fact that it was Wizard Battle, with help from the non-wizards. So much so that adding magic to the warriors was how they kept up - they needed either Magery and spells, or supernatural advantages, or piles and piles of potions (as many as 3-4 kinds per fight) to keep up. A few people retired their warrior types from boredome - one memorably moved on to a wizard because he was tired of not be able to do anything but fight.

      So my experience I had was quite different than yours!

    11. 3rd ed was COMPLETELY different than what we have now, even if GURPS Magic has not changed much. The fact that now spells are not massively cheaper than physical skills, that Extra Attack is available, the huge impact that Weapon Master has, the fact that you no longer get 0 cast time spells, the fact that defenses, baseline, are higher (Not many monsters had PD3+ before), The fact that explosive spells are much worse now (damage drops too fact for them to be effective), the fact that warrior types can do much more now, the fact that Extra Effort in Combat is in the basic sec, and it's use is expected in high fantasy games...

      These changes, that by themselves do not matter much, mean that, once you take them all together, the balance has shifted, and that you need to forget about what you knew about it from 3rd ed. A single college specialist, or one that can not or will not abuse delay, hang spell, etc etc (such as priests, druids, necromancers, demonologists, bards) has issues. Big issues that end up the most optimal solution is to forget about combat spells, and focus on buffs and environment altering spells. They seldom cast in combat, because they have so many active spells that their effective skill isn't very good, meaning that anything that is resisted is not worth using, missile spells are too slow, and most foes have either good enough dodge or block to counter them (Explosive spells will do negligible damage past 2 yards and are crazy expensive).

      Again, some players want to be able to create a combat wizard, one that might not be able to do as much as a dedicated combatant, and who might not be able to do much out of combat, but that feels more useful than currently, and that has a future past 300 points. It would be best if it was not a save or die build too.

    12. Right, but I converted my last game to 4e midstream. Not chargen, but play - spells included. They were cheaper to raise (2/level, 4/level for VH) for CP, but I'd limited Magery to 3 so they had to raise spells. Even so, we're playing with largely the same magic rules as we did for the second half of my campaign. So I think my experience was still relevant.

      So if you want to know why I'm not all up in arms about the poor wizards suffering is that my experience is that they don't suffer, they're more likely to overtake everyone else at everything else except combat, can usefully affect combat (although not every turn, not if by trying to cause direct damage), and can cast effective spells even with a few spells up (say, 6-7 spells, to go off a typical load in my games.) "We have a wizard" has been decisive in my games, the wizards have dealt some major battlefield damage in my games, and they've be so effective that controlling their growth not enhancing their options has been my major balance issue. And this is in my 4e game as well as in my previous 1e, 3e, and 3e-into-4e game.

      I'm not saying you are WRONG, just saying what has happened in your games hasn't happened in mine. I get much the same with potions and poisons vs. Mark's games - he's talked about making them much cheaper so people use them - and I've had to institute controls on the amounts of both because of their extreme popularity.

      And if I really wanted mages to just deal out direct damage, I don't see why Innate Attack is such a bad choice. Or why GURPS Magic must do that too.

  2. I like to use spells as powers that can be used once per day then have some magic points to cast spells that weren't memorised in advance. That way there is a limit to how many spells can be cast so that wizards can have some nuke spells just like AD&D. Because spells can only be cast once per day spells like Shape Earth won't be abused too badly. The magic point part allows some GURPSY spell point stuff for casters casting unmemorized spells. Magic points are gained by imbibing paut thus wizards really want to find magical energy to recharge themselves.

    1. You should really take the time to write that up formally and post it somewhere.

  3. I love techniques. I see them as a way to grant CP awards that are more in line with what the characters are tryin to do, and it avoids shoving CP into skills and get them to climb too high too fast. It also allow customization of the PCs to reflect on paper what they like to do in game.

    I'm on the fence for Low-Tech armors, and will get around to work something out for willing players. This hasn't happened yet.

    This being said, I am not playing DF really, just a vanilla GURPS in a fantasy setting.

  4. I use DF pretty much as written, without Low Tech-style armor, imbuements, techniques, and all the rest. Two reasons:

    1) I'm the only one likely to care. When I play DF, I'm the only one who actually cares that much about the rules. I don't have players demanding that I throw out basic magic in favor of, say, RPM or anything from Thamatology or digging through Martial Arts in search of nifty styles, so there's little pressure for me to tack on more rules systems.

    2) I don't care that much either. LT armor is more historically accurate than Basic? Yeah, not running an historical campaign, so it's not important to me. Basic magic has problems which might be addressed systemically by a different magic system? I know how to deal with basic magic's flaws (which, in my experience, are largely theoretical anyway because I don't have players who actively try to break the world) and I don't really have time for the legwork necessary to work up sufficient magic-as-powers or some other approach. I'd just like to get back to splatting kobolds, please.

    More generally, the farther I get from published DF, the farther I get from DF's real value, which is doing all the accounting for me. If I were back in high school or college, I might, say, spend evenings rejiggering wizard templates for Book/Path magic or coming up styles for knights and swashbucklers. But now? Sorry, got too many demands on my time.

    1. I think 1 and 2 are the same for me. I put anything in my game that my players clamor for. Generally, that isn't rules like the ones I listed above. It's more like "Are we using multiple fast draw rules? If so, I have this great guy. If not, I'll make something else."

      And yeah, the whole point of the DF line is grab-n-go, so I like to just be able to grab without doing any work.

  5. "Oddly I think my "vanilla" game makes for a good testbed for stuff I can use in future professional writing for SJG. There isn't a lot of assumption of special powers, optional rules, or equipment and moves from other books."

    You've hit on an interesting question for anyone who's currently writing for SJG or thinking about it. With all the supplements now, especially for anything related to a low-tech/fantasy setting, that it seems like an author needs to make some decisions. For example, if you're writing an adventure for the Banestorm setting or a "Supporting Cast" supplement for a pre-1750 group, which set of armor statistics you you use, Basic or Dan's in Low-Tech? I would assume that Herr Dr. Kromm and co. would prefer the Basic Set stats, but would it not then be useful to provide the alternates as well? Ugh. In my own gaming, I've been working on two adventures I'd like to run folks through: one that's aimed at GURPS newbies and which'll use the Basic stats and another that'll use the Low-Tech set (since it's in a roughly Greco-Roman styled fantasy world in which the nitty gritty of partial armor, etc. makes more sense.) I sure do appreciate that toolbox for putting together a campaign setting or a one-shot adventure, even if it makes for more decision-making than other games.

    1. I think it'll be somewhat dependent on the feel of the thing. If you want to have something that can plunk down in the middle of any campaign with only slight tweaking, you'll probably want to use as few non-Basic Set deviations as possible.

      That being said, if you were to have a section that gave arms and armor kits taken from Low-Tech and Instant Armor, or the forthcoming Loadouts: Low-Tech Armor, for an e23 supplement you'd "simply" get permission to reuse the material. That gives prospective users everything they need easily to hand (good), spreads the wealth a bit in terms of showing the tip of the iceberg of the GURPS resource base (good), and allows you more precision on the look and feel of your setting (also good). It does make it less modular, though (potentially bad).


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