Monday, September 2, 2013

DF Game, Session 32 - Epic Players Handbook Fight

This was a rare, rare, rare marathon session. Most of us arrived around 11:30 or so, and we got rolling by 12:30. Our last player (Chuck) showed up around 1:30 as the group was pushing into the dungeon after their chosen target. And then we played until 2:30 am with no breaks longer than a brief one for about 10 minutes. Why? For most of us Monday was vacation, and because there was an epic fight . . . .

September 1st, 2013

Weather: Hot, occasional rain

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (274 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (290? points)
     Father Hans, human cleric (130 points, NPC)
     Shieldman Zed, human guard (62 points, NPC)
Galen Longtread, human scout (318 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (369 points)

Still in town:

Borriz, dwarven knight (310 points)
Christoph, human scout (258 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (297 points)

We started as usual in town. They did upkeep, bought some more armor (Vryce is steadily changing his cloth underarmor to giant spider silk), spent points, etc. Raggi was around, too, and ready to adventure (he's back to a 12 or less, and I rolled a 10.)

They gathered rumors:

- if you get an orc to swear on his eyes, he'll honor the oath, but it's hard to get them to make that oath.

- Raggi found a crypic note about the way to the wizard's home being through the labyrinth. (This lead to the immediate joke - "Back to the minotaur's labyrinth in the Caves of Chaos!")

- more of those cone-headed guys came around. ("We need to discourage them." "We'll kill them." "We tried that already, and we know that doesn't work.")

They also received their sage advice on the Lord of Spite, that blue ogre they've run into once and heard a couple times. It turns out to be the Demon Lord Durak the Uncaring, who hates all things and is despised even by other demons. They got some basic information true to all demon lords and some specifics known about Durak. So they got what they wanted (and a lot more - I had Dryst's player roll for the sage and he got a 4.)

Then they decided they had one of two possible objectives - go hunt the Lord of Spite, or "go after the newtmen." The second one won out.

They headed out of town, across Stone Bridge over the (polluted) Silver River, to Sterick's Landing and past the statue of Sterick the Red, and up to the ruins above. Some scouting showed them regular to-and-from traffice from the main building, which they avoided. Once again, it was down the well and into the dungeon, and a quick trip to the second floor.

There they headed down to the long corridor, keeping a careful watch (and ear) out for Durak, but they didn't hear him. They headed to the spiral staircase down and into the "newtman sub-level" as they've called it a few times. Instead of the usual guards, they found it quiet and empty.

So they got to work. They posted a watch on the side corridor, and Dryst cast Silence with his Wild Talent. Just big enough to encompass the entire big, heavy, ironbound door. Then their four strongest guys (Raggi, Vryce, Galen, and Chuck) grabbed the portable ram and set to work. It took only about 15 seconds or so to reduce the door to pieces, and another swing to clear the bar that blocked the remnants.

They looked in the room, and saw a huge room. It extend out at least a few hundred feet to their left, and half that forward. It had pillars supporting the vaulted roof, and a wide open area seemingly suited to prayers or gatherings. The whole place was lit with torches, off to the right at the top of a big, widely looping series of steps was a large alcove. They couldn't see into it, but flicking light as if from a bonfire washed out from it. They could see a lot around the torches, but otherwise it was a huge, mistly, slippery-floored mess.

Arrayed up the steps were a whole mass of lizardmen (big, especially strong looking ones), newtmen with bows, and to top it off a few shamans, a gigantic leader type, and three champions.

Silence bought them a chance for surprise, but it turns out the guards saw the door go down and raised some kind of alert. Amusingly, the Silence spell caused some issues - no battle cries, no telling people the plan, no "I just put Great Haste on you."

Coming in from the side was an arc of acid slorn (nicknamed "Slurms" this fight), newtmen with bows and thonged spears, and more lizardmen. Plus they could hear (and see) massive doors opening to their far left and a portcullis rising, letting them more were on the way.

The group started to move in, and then realized it was better to try and hold the doorway, and if they could, the stairs from the top. So they backed up. Galen took some shots at the guys on the altar steps, but they missed - clearly a Missile Shield that covered the whole area! And almost immediately, something charged down the side passage. It was a gigantic green frog-like humanoid. Vryce and Galen and Chuck pulled back to engage, leaving Raggi to guard to door.

The big thing tried to spike down one of the servants, but Vryce parried for him. Then he opened up on it, as did Chuck and Galen. Galen put some arrows into its eyes, magic ones, but it clearly hurt but didn't bother it. Almost immediately, though, Chuck broke his horse cutter (and only weapon) on a critical failure. "No problem," he said. Then the thing created a big Acid Ball in its left hand. Vryce cut the hand off, making the best of his bad options. The damage (along with the rest he did) finished the creature, but the Acid Ball it dropped was explosive. As in, 6d corrosion damage in a blast radius. Booooom, ouch. The servants died, Zed was blasted unconscious, Hans was barely holding on to consciousness, Vryce was scorched and his magical plate armor badly pitted on his whole front, Chuck and Galen equally corroded. But the rear was temporarily secure.

Raggi held the doorway as the others fed Hans a potion (he was barely staying away), and then he healed some of the wounded right up. Acid slorn moved in on Raggi, but with Raggi's axe and Galen's arrows they didn't last long - but notably some lizardmen accompanying the slorn blocked for them! Didn't help enough, though, and soon they were dead.

Galen started to pick off distant archers with his bow. Chuck moved back up after getting healed, and Dryst kept casting Great Haste like it was going out of style.

Raggi then took a very hard hit and went berserk. And charged, Great Hasted, into the fray. Thanks to typical Raggi luck (lots of foes missing defenses by one or two, lots of near max-damage hits) and Cleaving Strike, he mowed down newtmen and lizardmen alike, usually in twos or threes each of his two turns. As he did so, Dryst blew off a Concussion spell just outside the Missile Shield zone and clipped a bunch of lizardmen and netwmen in the blast, stunning and hurting them. Raggi turned and charged past them, engaging what was by happenstance the next closest targets. That lead him astray, though - he went right up to the Champions, who waited with their long lances and just stabbed him repeatedly as he tried to enagage. In moments Raggi went down, even as Vryce was carving his way through the stunned guys knowing it was death to leave them behind. No way to reach Raggi. Meanwhile more acid slorn had been moving up, forcing Vryce back to where Dryst could reach him (and Resist Acid him).

Then more guys attacked from down the side halway to the rear - newtmen backing lizardmen lead by a trident-wielding guy. Galen and Chuck engaged, Chuck using captured weapons, Judo Throw, Sweep, Push Kick, and regular strikes to deal with them.

The fight kept see-sawing back and forth, but as the reinforcements dried up, and Vryce finished the last two reinforcing acid slorn (after all-out attacking and then getting mauled in return), the fight got a bit of a lull. Some side action but everyone was Missile Shielded and out of easy engagement range. So the Lizardman Chief yelled "You come fight!" to Vryce. And so Vryce, who has a Vow to never turn down a challenge to fight, advanced. Cautiously, though - he didn't want to step on the altar's semicircular stairs. So he challenged the chief back, and the chief and his champions slowly came back down.

At this point the hallway and room were choked with the dead, and dozens of lizardmen and newtmen were down, but they didn't seem phased by this. They were still ready.

Vryce moved up and fought the boss, as the rest of the fight turned to casual sniping back and forth. The lizardmen were still fighting in earnest, but they didn't really have anything to throw at the PCs. Chuck amused himself catching thrown javelins and hurling them back. Galen's bow had broken in here somewhere, and lacking a spare (and without time to re-string his composite bow) he grabbed up a tiny newtman shortbow and quivers of their tiny arrows and shot with that. Extremely weak (1d instead of his usual 1d+6) but he did some solid killing with it.

As Vryce moved on the chief, he finally got a view of the area off to their right - it was a giant horned idol with gemtone eyes, with a raging bonfire in a bowl on its lap. My most grognardy player (former 1st edition AD&Der) said "Like the cover of the Player's Handbook?"


Exactly like it.

I took out my PHB, brought for the occasion, and propped it up as a visual guide.

Meanwhile, combat continued. Vryce's duel with the boss was fairly even until Vryce managed a good Feint and a critical, and hit the Chief. But as his sword struck the idol's eyes flashed and so did the chief, and the blow bounced off harmlessly. They fought more, and Vryce managed to put two neck chops into him. He dropped - but the second he did, the champions all struck and block Vryce off from him . . . and one of the shamans ran down and healed him completely! Meanwhile the remaining newtmen (backed by the slorn's whip-wielding master and a shaman) and lizardmen charged the other PCs. Galen and Chuck had to fight them off, as Dryst hovered above with Walk on Air and tried to zap them with lightning (didn't work well - the moist air didn't help here). It went better than you could expect - Chuck used Kiai to stun some, Push Kick and strikes to down more, and Judo Throw to hurl newtmen into lizardmen to keep them all off-balance and unable to sustain an attack. They barely got in a couple of swings and lost at least a dozen of their own. Meanwhile Dryst was entangled by the slorn master's whip, although he'd stunned a few of them with a dropped concussion spell which helped Chuck and Galen mop them up.

The fight got harder from here. Vryce tried to egg the chief down to him, but the chief backed up the stairs and stabbed the unconscious Raggi to goad Vryce on. So Vryce downed a Magic Resistance potion and headed up the slick stairs. He ended up engaging the chief and all three champions, and did a credible job at it. Meanwhile, Chuck charged up the side of the altar, having finished off the foes in his way. He basically ran up, and then engaged the shamans. This was as Vryce dealt damage, they couldn't freely heal it (which they kept doing, even healing temporarily crippled limbs fast enough that the victim could just stand back up immediately.) Chuck threw newtmen into shamans, shamans into newtmen, and kicks and Kiai'ed them into confusion. He knocked one shaman out with a head kick, stunned one champion who broke off to engage him with a Kiai (which would keep him stunned for a long time), throat-kicked another shaman down, and then thew the champion just as it recovered its wits. Galen and Dyst piled on, after knocking off a few more newtmen stragglers. The champion was tough, though, and dropped Galen with a pair of broadsword strikes (its lance dropped when it was thrown) before Chuck moved in to grapple him. It bit him back and hung onto his neck, badly injured but still going. So Chuck punched his torso with a Pressure Point strike, inflicting suffocation - and this pushed him over the edge and dropped him.

Meanwhile Vryce had finally beat down the champions after a long fight and a bad stab to his chest from a critical hit. All that was left was the chief, crippled but still fighting. He finally put him down with some torso chops, and Chuck kicked the last newtman to death.

We stopped there, 15 hours after I got to game.


Yes, we ended in the dungeon. It was 2:30 am. Next session, we'll clean up the end of this session - or if it happens to be the exact same crew (they're the regulars these days), great, we can just keep going. They'll still probably want to return to the surface.

This encounter was one I'd been planning since day one - level two of the dungeon got this big room almost immediately, and it was going to be a PHB cover homage. Even the room layout could be the one pictured on the book, and of course it's guarded by long-jawed lizardmen. That's why the lizardmen I mad for this game have Born Biter to such a high degree, and tend to fall into strange demonic cults . . .

The room was moist, making fire attacks hard. The floor was slick so it was all bad footing, and the steps provided bonuses to people on higher levels due to combat at different height rules. It was also extra-slick - which the lizardmen could ignore with Terrain Adaptation. The altar was missile shielded and the bad guys had a lot of magical buffing support. Yes, it's really annoying when people have high defenses AND Shield +5 and Missile Shield and their friends heal them whenever they get hurt. Isn't it? ;)

There was much groaning over corrosion damage. Yes, it seems almost unfair. Too bad, powerful acid is brutal, and when you've doing "kill a man in 5-6 seconds" worth of corrosion damage, yes, armor will ablate away. I guess the relative lack of corrosion damage they've faced (and used) meant no one really understood just how nasty Large Area Injury + damage + reducing DR permanently is. This is why acid spells have high costs and prereqs, and why corrosion damage isn't cheap to get otherwise.

Amusingly, Vryce especially and the group in general took the challenge to come and fight as "let's fight a fair, personal duel." Well, no. The chief did try one-on-one with Vryce but only until it didn't seem like a good idea anymore. And also, it served more to distract the guy butchering his minions than anything else. As I pointed out later - Vow - "Never refuses a challenge to combat" is Vryce's disad, not the chief's. Nothing says the vow only applies to fair fights, or can't be used to leverage you into a bad spot. The chief didn't know Vryce had it, exactly, but after cutting Raggi down it seemed like a good bet he could goad the other guy into a reckless charge, too. Only accepting fights when it's fair or a single one-on-one challenge is a Quick, not a 10-point Vow.

I used a D&D 3e Green Slaad mini, with extra painting on it, for the frog-demon. I found out my players pronounce it "Slay-ad" and I say "Slaahhd." Naturally, this is interesting because I studied linguistics, and because I'm right and they aren't. Dragon #93 says so ("sl@d, or slad" where @ is pronounced like the a in fat. Also, it's drow/cow rhyming not drow/snow). ;)

Extra Attack is really handy with Judo, because you can grab and throw the same turn. It's also handy with Kiai, because you can punch one guy, then Kiai his friend into Mental Stun (-4 to defend, no Retreat) just before your Scout buddy shoots him in the eyes.

No, I don't let you use Phase to get out of a whip entangle. Object grapples aren't some kind of continous "Attack" that you can keeping trying to use Blocking spells against. Probably regular grapples, too.

So, one fight, 12 straight hours of play. Crazy long, right? Yeah, maybe, but man, it was a hell of a fun fight. It was a tense fight from the start, and it never got stupid although it did get into a war of attrition. Early expenditure of almost all of the magical resources of the group meant they couldn't capitalize on their later chances and had to slog through to victory - but the fight was hard and very dangerous from the first second. But the fight required them to start spending mana hard and fast, too. It never stopped being fun or felt like a grind.

No XP this session, because you get it back in town. But Dryst's and Vryce's players voted Chuck Morris MVP for the sheer havoc he caused and his extremely varied (but always well-chosen) tactics. Nice one, Chuck - most people moan when their weapon master is disarmed, but Chuck just went to town on his "backup" abilities. He used Kiai effectively, Judo Throw ridiculously well, Push Kick appropriately, Pressure Points, Parry Missile Weapons, and Acrobatics to basically own the battlefield. Oh, and his DX 16 to provide a solid default when he needed to pick up an enemy weapon so he could get some extra reach. He was a one-man havoc machine.

I almost forgot - there were four PCs, one NPC hero, and two hirelings vs. a total of 33 lizardmen (including leaders and shamans), 8 acid slorn, 1 green frog thing, and 41 newtmen. Not our biggest fight, but it was far from small with 90 combatants.

I took a series of pictures, but I'm too damn lazy to label them all. Here they are, behind the cut, in chronological order.

You can see the initial setup, the initial charge, and the fight right up to the final slugfest on the stairs.

The demon idol is off to the left in the alcove that edges off the map. We should have used my big map, but a) I forgot I even owned one and b) The host (who keeps my maps for me) forgot about it until I'd set up.

Man, a gigantic fight . . . we haven't had one like this in a while. It was awesome. What a great session to GM!


  1. Really like reading these summaries. That was one long session and fight.

    How do you handle tracking initative for 90+ combatants?

    1. I do round-the-table initiative. Players go clockwise, and then the NPCs go. If the NPCs get the initiative, the only difference is they get the first move. It's too much of a nightmare, otherwise.

    2. I realize this was a while ago but are you still using the 3-2-1 bit for combat? This took a really long time and I'm curious if you thought that the pace was slow or if your players were generally good to go with their actions and whatnot. I've never played GURPS so I don't have a great feel for how long something like this should take. Sounds like it was really epic though!

    3. We still use the 3-2-1 bit if people start to drag, but generally folks have been ready and primed to act when I get around to them.

      This big fight was long but not especially slow. Even we'd all moved at a maximum pace it might have been a bit shorter, but not massively so.

  2. What a fight...
    I really love reading those summaries, they give a very good impression of what is going on - and what is possible when GMing. Also, lots of good ideas.

    You made it obvious that you tried to kill the party during the encounter (because that is what those Lizardpeople would do). Considering how many combatants and advantages (room, magic, reinforcements) they had and how easy the scales could have tipped into either direction (If Raggi didn't run into the room they would have had a much more defendable position) - how did you make it so well balanced?
    Experience? Testing? Luck?

    1. Thanks, and I'm glad you enjoy them.

      And I started to write a reply but I think it's a big topic so I'll post on it tomorrow. Basically it's a combo of luck and experience - experience let me know how tough it could be, and it was mostly luck that it turned out to be so balanced.

  3. You probably saw this question from me coming, but:

    How did Chuck manage to repeatedly and successfully use Judo Throw? I've tried (and tried and tried) to use it, and it defaults from my Axe/Mace skill at Axe-20 or more, and it STILL never works.

    1. The trick is to use it on fodder, really. The newtmen defenses weren't great, and neither were those of the lizardmen (not once grappled, anyway). So attack, hit, they fail to defend, use Extra Attack to immediately initiate a contest where Chuck has the advantage. He has Judo-17, IIRC, and that beat their ST (lizardmen) or DX (newtmen) by a lot. He rarely rolled badly on that contest and that was enough.

      That he pulled it off on the Lizardman Champion was impressive, though - he rolled very well, and it was Mentally Stunned from his Kiai. But generally, the guys you most want to throw (big bad guys) are the ones to not try and throw - it's not likely to succeed and you are risking painful backlash.

  4. This reminds me of the "Church of Death" encounter from my own DF campaign (another Keep on the Borderlands homage that I beefed up after reading the play reports from this blog). It was a 12 hour session as well. We even had a PC decide to charge into a melee he couldn't possibly win. Those sessions are really fun, but I was sure tired afterward! Tracking attack sequence is tough with huge numbers of opponents, but I've found that putting a person in charge of the bad guys really helps, and makes for a much more tense fight.

    Less on topic, I finally introduced Honus as an NPC, and he is much beloved by all. They treat him like a party member, and even wrote him a song. I am going to crib (steal) as much from your campaign as I can, it always seems to go well.

    1. Wow, awesome! I'll make sure Honus's player knows.

      You're right about assigning the bad guys to someone, but I don't have a spare person to be an opposition player. Even if I did, it's hard for me to let go when it's a big fight and I've got plans in my head for the bad guys.

  5. The best argument in favor of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy that I'm likely ever to see. Bravo!


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