Saturday, November 30, 2013

DF Felltower: How Did They Manage to Die?

Yesterday I gave a rundown of how hard it can be to die in GURPS. Yet my Felltower game has a graveyard with 28 bodies in it. How did that happen, give the relative difficulty of dying?

We Forgot About Mortal Wounds


I suspect Volos and Mikel (NPC) may have died earlier than they might have otherwise. It had been a while since we'd played GURPS, and my last game was a 4e conversion (and only partly - mostly we just did 4e for combat, not chargen or death). I can't tell you if Volos failed his HT check against death by 3+, or not. He did have to make more than one, though. But it's possible game rust and not looking stuff up killed him. Of course, being unfamiliar with Mortal Wounds (a 4e addition) would have meant we didn't know to go look it up. Volos maybe have failed by 2 and I thought it was "fail by 1" not "1 or 2." Either way . . . dead.

I recall Fuma failing his roll by a lot, too. Even if he hadn't, he was on the fast lane to -5xHP, being grappled around the neck by a throttler and taking damage by the bucketful.

Don't Swim With the Razor Fishes
Out of those 28, no less than 19 of them died in one session, in the water.

For all that GURPS makes failing a HT roll against death both not-difficult and somewhat forgiving (Mortal Wounds you can recover from, given sufficient aid), there is a limit. That is, there are plenty of ways to die that don't give you rolls.

One of them is reaching -5xHP. A number of those 19 died from reaching -5xHP. Some died before they got there, but most died being ripped apart by razor fish while drowning. I could have given them Hard to Kill 10 and they'd all have died. Others were torn apart by an armored shark.

Guys like Nakar and Inquisitor Marco hit the water hard, sucked in water, went unconscious and never recovered; even though the fish could barely hurt Inquisitor Marco and couldn't see invisible Nakar, they were doomed. They drowned, mostly from sinking underwater while unconscious and suffocating.

In that case, even the primed-to-survive guys had trouble living. Kullockh had a lot going for him, but a bad hit put him unconscious and he went under, and was torn up. Death checks didn't matter because he was torn up and eaten.

The NPCs were Worthless and Weak!

Well, some of them were weak. But even the strongest of them had HT 12, which means only a 15+ killed them outright. Still more failed HT checks by 1-2, but then suffered more damage and went down forever. Others still dropped with very high damage and had to make multiple checks, and failed them.

But also, they are NPCs. There is a meta-game reason they die more easily. If they fail a HT roll by 1-2 and are Mortally Wounded and unconscious (which is a pretty common combo), the PCs don't necessarily know they're still alive. They might suddenly get hit with an area attack in a desperate fight, or left in a bad spot as the party pulls off to a better tactical spot, etc. only to be checked much too late and found to be really dead. But a PC, well, I have to tell them they aren't dead yet. The players play accordingly. I'm totally fine with this - I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt and say they spotted some sign, refuse to accept he's a goner, etc. because PCs are special.

Still, others should have died and didn't. Raggi has almost died more times than I can count - and the PCs only cottoned to his Hard to Kill after they thought he did die against the orcs. They went to check on his "corpse" and he sat up, roaring "What did I miss?" That was back before they declared themselves "Raggi's Roughnecks" and started to joke they'd stay home if he wasn't there to lead them into the dungeon. A couple other NPCs made it despite horrid wounds. "Pigsticker" Pete the spearmen was from HP 12 to -26 without dying, Norman the Axe from 14 to -28, and Basher the Thug to -34 without dying, while Grace the Slick died as soon as she needed to make a roll.

For all that the rolls favor living, you don't always get a roll. And when you do, you still need to make them. Not everyone got the rolls, and not everyone made them.


  1. My DF game has been running about as long as yours and I've only had three deaths (well technically possessions). I wonder if mine is too easy? On the other hand I do allow one success per session to be bought and one Flesh Wound per adventure.

    1. It might be a combination of more favorable rules (bought successes, Flesh Wounds) and easiness. How forgiving are your fights, how easy is it to extract when things go bad, how much care do you put into balanced challenge?

      I pretty much have unfavorable rules (no buying successes, no Extra Effort in Combat, no Flesh Wounds), a potentially difficult environment ("And no you have no energy left and everyone is wounded or unconscious and you're a half-mile from the entrance of the dungeon. You hear booted footsteps coming your way.") AND a total lack of concern about balanced challenges. I put what feels right in the area, and let the game play out and just see if it was an easy fight or a hard fight.

      I think that's why there have been deaths - some avoidable (Fuma's death was mostly from foolhardiness), some not (Volos got nailed with a combination of bad luck and unavoidable surprise), some sheer bad luck (that all-too-messy set of fights with the almost-all-henchmen squad). But a good part of it is that I don't care what happens, I'm just throwing out the environment and seeing how it turns out.

    2. I have all of those more favorable rules (with the aforementioned limits on "Impulse Buys"). I don't "balance" encounters much at all, but I am improvising this game almost totally* in play (as sort of a metachallenge based on all the "GURPS is harder to run on the seat of your pants than D&D" complaints we used to get on the forums) which probably results in some accidental balancing. As far as ease of retreat, I think that's pretty variable based on the situation.

      *Except when I decided to go crazy with CC3.

    3. Maybe I'm just meaner than you are. ;)

      Seriously, though, we've only had, what, 5 PC deaths. 3 drowned/got eaten, 2 died in separate situations being face to face with a tough monster with a non-front line character. The NPCs, well, all of them have been much less than 250 points faced with challenges aimed at 250 point characters . . . that doesn't help the death toll.

  2. That session where they all appeared over water was great, really loved it.

    I myself am more into the "Death needs a purpose" DM crowd. That is, I present situations, challenges, quite tough at times, but unless the PCs do something stupid, I try to avoid totally "random death by kobold_005" if I can.
    That doesn't mean I fudge rolls, but I play NPCs and monsters to the limit of what I feel their nature allows them to do, to avoid random PC death. I also make sure usually that there are various options available and therefore, should there be a PC death, it's usually in their own hands, not mine because THEY chose an option among many and it turned out poorly.

    The water/splash/drowning scene however is something that I really enjoyed however as said and is among the kind of things that can really screw some PCs over (and NPCs in your case! Geeeesh!).
    Since I read it, I immediately had to think about my own PC in a campaign and decide whether he knew how to swim or not. I decided not because it wouldn't make sense for his background and experience BUT since then I try to travel in light armor (he's a fighter) and only keep my heavier stuff in a backpack, easy to just dump if needed, or to wear if I have a couple minutes warning.

    1. I tend to do the same - monsters fight as if I was them and they were doing their best.

      The drowning bit was funny, because like I've said multiple times, I couldn't have set that up. I figured the razor fish would be a minor location hazard, they'd puzzle out the teleporter and use it (or not use it) appropriately, etc. Not that they'd head to it, tired and maximally burdened with extra gear and loot, and even cancel spells like Levitation because they didn't need them, and then use it.

      But it needs to be said I try to put Swimming on all of my guys, and allow any new PCs to take Swimming as a background skill on their DF templates. :)

  3. I didn't even know what the deal was with Mortal Wounds until I read these two posts. I kept muddling them up with the Major Wounds rule that I choose to ignore.


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