Sunday, August 31, 2014

Gamma Tomorrow

So it turns out we played an extra-long Gamma World game today, running at least 2 1/2 hours longer than I'd expected.

It was a great game session, full of a lot of fun and excitement and generally good stuff. I'll post tomorrow, combining what I remember of the session and what the GM sends me tomorrow.

I promise, it's worth the wait.

SJG Stakeholder's Report . . . for 2013

It's almost ridiculously late, but it's here:

The SJG Stakeholder Report 2013

It's always interesting, and especially so since SJG is a closely-held company with no need to actually report to anyone except Steve.


(BTW, today is Gamma World, so expect some notes about that later)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A quick glimpse at my GURPS sale loot

Some random little bits:

- I'm reading How to be a GURPS GM by Warren "Mook" Wilson. Pretty solid stuff so far, although since I've been GMing GURPS since its Man-to-Man days, I'm not exactly the target audience. Still, there was a sale, and I had these gift card balances to burn, and I wanted to check it out and see what advice he had I could use or pass on.

I flipped right to the combat chapter. You know what's head-spinningly weird? Having someone recommend combat rules to me that I wrote. It's just . . . weird. Yeah. I don't know how else to describe it. It's just an oddity springing from the fact that a book addresses you, the reader, as the audience. I feel like I have some tiny idea of how it would feel to be Paul McCartney and to read a suggestion that said to learn to play Hey Jude.

I'll try to get a review out for it when I can, though.

- Speaking of it, I also picked up Man-to-Man on PDF, finally. Yes, I have two copies physically already. But now I can print out the cardboard heroes that came with it, and replace the tattered maps with new printouts. Nice.

- I also got some other Pyramid magazines I've gotten to the point of not being able to live without. One of them includes the David Pulver article "Appendix Z: Survivable Guns." I like the concept a lot. Having relatively low-velocity do full damage and high-velocity ones do less but with an armor divisor seems like it would be a lot of fun. It makes the M4 a great way to ensure injury but not ensure a one-shot kill, and makes getting shot a lot less of an exercise in making consciousness rolls.

- I have to try out the Tactical Mass Combat rules, also by David Pulver, in that same issue.

- I finally have a real copy of "Delayed Gratification" by Douglas Cole, to replace my "please read this before I submit this" draft versions.

- I haven't checked out the other stuff yet - if I start reading too much at once, I lose track of what I'm reading and where I read it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Revised GURPS Magic: Merging Instant spells

GURPS Magic has a number of spells I prefer to merge into each other, like Flesh to Stone and Stone to Flesh. One group of those are the "Instant" versions of spells. They are:

Instant Restoration

Instant Regeneration

Instant Neutralize Poison


Those aren't really necessary, and serve only to clutter up spell lists and make casters more costly. They make perfect sense as leveled versions of each other, even if you have different prereqs to unlock to more powerful version!

So I merged them with the following approach:

- Keep the spell difficult of the base spell (so Neutralize Poison stays Hard)

- Change the prerequisites to just the PI level needed to cast the spell, and for instant use, the PI level needed for that.

- leave the costs the same.

For example:
Neutralize Poison

As written, except:

Cost: 5. For 8 energy, it may be cast instantly; no Poisons roll is needed, however, only one try per day!
Prerequisites: Power Investiture 3.

I also did Restoration and Regeneration, but the pattern should be clear.

It's actually easier to just ignore the layered prereqs and let anyone who can cast the base spell cast the higher-powered Instant version. In my experience the high cost of the Instant version is sufficient barrier to casting them! If you like the idea that different PI lets you cast the spell at different levels, simply add "Power Investiture 4 is needed to attempt an instant neutralization" to the end of the prereqs.

The weirdness is costs is one of those things - like Flight and Hawk Flight. But whatever, I'm content to leave it for now.

Admin note: Why so many of these recently? Basically because I'm writing something and doing lots of lesson planning, and these are easy things for me to do on breaks that makes them productive. I grab a spell, fix it, and then (naturally) post about it here. Much less time than taking pictures of my minis, writing up rules, or reading for reviews.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Revised GURPS Magic: Daze, Sleep, and Awaken, Take II

Speaking of revising GURPS Magic, I was re-examining one of the revisions I made back in January on Sleep, Daze, and Awaken.

In it, I mentioned allowing Awaken to specifically counter Sleep and Daze.

But as I re-wrote it for my house rules printout, I got to thinking - why not handle it as any other spell vs. spell situation?

Instead of:

"Sleeping or unconscious subjects, including those under Daze or Sleep spells, get a HT roll to awaken, at a bonus equal to the caster's margin of success."

I'm thinking:

"Daze or Sleep spells resist Awaken with an effective skill equal to the original caster's; Morpheus elixirs gives a -4 penalty instead."

(That last bit is so Morpheus, which is HT-4 to resist, is consistent in effect without needing to assign it a skill to roll against.)

After all, I figured, that's how Counterspelling Daze or Sleep would work, and allowing Awaken to work as a counterspell as well as a wake to wake people from mundane sleep or from injury-induced unconsciousness seems fair. They overlap in the Venn diagram of counters to Sleep and Daze.

This does make it clear, too, that if you take person with Sleep on them into a No Mana Zone that they'll either wake up (as the spell ends) or just be in normal sleep. I will run it at the latter - you revert to normal sleep. Obviously, an NMZ just wipes out Daze because the spell ends. It also makes it clear that I stick Sleep onto the side of the dividing line between "spell that has a lasting effect" and "ongoing spell." So while, say, Fireball does some damage or Flesh to Stone petrifies you and that's that (and thus they don't resist spells to put out the fire or un-petify you), Sleep is akin to Daze where it is an ongoing spell.

I can easily see ruling the other way - saying Sleep hits you, has its effect, and then the spell is over but the effect lasts, but I think I like the campaign effects of saying it's ongoing, but doesn't count as a spell "on" - much like Create Object doesn't.

Otherwise, everything is as written in my previous post. I think this makes Sleep a little more potent, brings Awaken's effects in line with any other spell vs. spell situation, and clarifies an edge case with NMZs.

I'm still thinking about this one, but I think I want to give it a try. Any implications I'm missing here?

Why I'm revising GURPS Magic for myself, only

One subject that comes up very often in discussing GURPS is the issues with GURPS Magic. GURPS Magic for 4e is basically the same system as it's been since the inception of the magic system in GURPS.

It was revised for 4e, but mostly it seems to have been done with an eye towards staying true to the wording of the original book (written by Steve Jackson himself) than to a full shakeup and re-write based on 4th edition rules. It's a good system, but it's showing its age as the underlying system has made some changes and shook up some basic assumptions.

So there are a lot of legacy weirdnesses in it, things that were done one way in 1-3e but differently in 4e, lots of little places that 4e has a better way to do it, and spells that just have balance issues specific to where they were introduced.

Even casual observers will note that I'm revising the book myself, spell by spell, for my DF game.

So why not revise the whole book, for everyone? Or at least propose doing so to SJG?

I've considered it, but it's a tough sell.

Basically, because of how often the discussion comes up. It's a snake-pit of potential issues.

Play balance is a big concern. Trying to balance it against, say, RPM, spells-as-powers, technology, advantages, skills, powers, imbuements - it's tough. Now try to do that across all genres.

Not only that, but a complete revision would require a complete shakeup of the system, a large playtest (potentially, anyway - one would be demanded, even if "large playtest" isn't how things get done nowadays), and a lot of cross-referencing to ensure it all works out.

From a financial perspective, it would be a huge amount of re-use text and the royalties on a sold copy would be pretty small. So as an author I think - lots of work, lots of potentially unhappy people who don't like how I did it, and a small payout. So that makes it tough.

Revising GURPS Magic piecemeal, for my own purposes, is a lot smaller and enjoyable of a project. Sort of like Wizardry Refined, from DFIII, which just nails down what is needed to change to make it fit in the parameters of Dungeon Fantasy, the GURPS line.

Plus, if I do it myself, for myself, a lot of things are simplified.

The number of stakeholders? Small. Just me, primarily, and my players. Playtesting is limited to my table and my approach, so it's narrowly focused on making the game play the way we find fun. Even if our solutions are seen as inadequate or too severe for others, if they suit us, we're all good. It doesn't matter how broken our magic is, if it's what we like and want.

Campaign focus? I've got a very specific campaign going with specific ideas of what's appropriate to include in it. I can make rulings that violate the wording of spells if that fits the game's approach.

Game Balance? I don't need to worry about larger game balance. We have no worries about game balance outside of Dungeon Fantasy at the moment. If we change to a full-fledged fantasy game some other time, well, we'll just modify the spells again to make them fit that.

Deadlines? None. I can literally wait until a spell is used in play to decide to change it. That means it's a series of very small changes instead of a big project.

So that's basically why - revising the whole book would be a huge project subject to a lot of scrutiny and an enormous variety of different play styles and individual tastes. Nothing I do would satisfy everyone, and it sucks to hear a lot of criticism that boils down to "that's not the way I would have done it" but couched as "you did it wrong."

I'd consider doing it if asked - I'd probably take it on. But it's a place where everyone has a different idea of what "GURPS Magic Revised" would really be. It's not even just a question of people agreed on what is needed and disagreeing how it is to be done, but basically disagreeing on what is needed and how to do that. So for the time being, I'm satisfied I'm doing what I need done for myself and my players. Maybe what I write on my blog will someday provide a basis to do it for real, maybe not. In the meantime, enjoy it and use it if my changes also suit your games.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness

This module has sat, unread, in my collection. I remember not buying it because my cousin had it and I was going to play it, but that didn't happen.

This is one I really enjoyed reading. I'd never read the whole thing - this was part of what I inherited from my cousin's collection. My only memory of it was hearing the intro text, and using the 25,000 gp to buy magic items from the Duke's collection. That's it - not a second of actual play. Probably we got sent outside to play because it was a nice day or something.

In the weeks ahead I'll try to get through the other adventures people requested I take a look at, and others from my collection I especially want to talk about.




by Allen Hammack
20 pages
TSR 1980

This module was originally a tournament module, for (according to the intro) Wintercon VIII in Detroit in 1979. The copy I have is the release version from 1980.

The adventure is basically a dungeon crawl, penetrating a ruined fortress seeking a McGuffin desired by an NPC. The tournament setup is that the PCs are coerced into the adventure - four prisoners from the Duke's prisons, and a monk indentured to the Duke as payment of taxes. Oddly, they come unequipped, but get 25,000 gp to buy normal equipment and select magic items from the Duke's treasury. I wouldn't want to try that with an inexperienced or rusty game group, because buying equipment (especially mundane gear) is always time-consuming. Selecting magical gear is pretty fun, though. I remember doing it myself with these lists, and it's a lot of competing trade-offs between powerful but costly items that limit your overall choices and cheaper items that might just not get the job done. Still, "here is 25,000 gp worth of gear you can take from my treasury" seems a really contrived way of putting the item choice into the player's hands.

On to the adventure itself. It is basically a big puzzle made up of puzzles. It's a find-the-keys puzzle with nested puzzles. Enter the dungeon, find the key, find the door, back off, try again until you get all the keys. Then complete the one-path-only way to the McGuffin.

The puzzles are pretty cool - they reward general caution, player skill, character abilities, and knowing when to take bold action. You can't easily get through them all with cautious 10' pole pokes and refusing to do anything dangerous, just as you can't easily get through them all with bold action and straight combat. And that's without even touching the scoring bonuses the tournament players would get for choosing the right course of action for each puzzle. Some of them are player-facing (player skill resolved), most are at least equally character-facing (resolved by character abilities, if correctly applied.) Add on top of that a time limit in the tournament and it must have been pretty tense, choosing between boldness and caution in turns.

Some of the puzzles require combat - for the tournament, monsters all do specific (sub-average) damage. There is an interesting range of monsters in there, but they're clearly chosen for a mix of thematic appropriateness and level of challenge.

The non-tournament additions are just more encounters embedded in previously empty rooms, or additional monsters or traps stuck into the more puzzle-like encounter areas in the Ghost Tower. Some of them are probably appropriate for a regular campaign, others seem like they'd just make the encounter more complex (and bloody) for little real gain.

I mentioned scoring. The scoring is individual and team, with a winning team and winning individuals being given prizes. Scoring is for loot, damage given, minus damage received, plus all sorts of bonuses for handling specific encounters and even for making observations about the environment.


Some nice bits:
- lots of blown-up maps of special rooms you can show to players (and smaller ones for the GM).

- pictures of the "keys" so you don't have to explain them without a visual aid.

- an umber hulk illustrated by Jeff Dee and one illustrated by Erol Otus.


Overall, I was quite impressed with this one. It seems like a killer dungeon with a poison cookie for a prize, but looking at it from my perspective now, I feel a bit differently. It's a real challenge adventure, with a dangerous prize you probably wouldn't want to keep (unlike, say, some of the weaponry from S2 White Plume Mountain.) Like S2, it puts more emphasis on using your head than your weapons, but you need both. Also like S2, it will find a way to fit a trick or puzzle in even if you need to suspend your disbelief a bit to swallow it being there.

All in all, it's one I wished I'd played. If you have, let me know how it was in your game in the comments!



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

GURPS Sale purchases

So there is a 23% off sale on GURPS stuff until Thursday over on Warehouse23.

I picked up:

GURPS City Stats

GURPS Social Engineering: Pulling Rank

Pyramid #3/44: Alternate GURPS II

How to be a GURPS GM

If there is something you think I'm missing . . . you have until Thursday morning to let me know.

Gamma World: what's with all the fish?

The Gamma World editions I have sure have a lot of mutated sea creatures.

Not counting stuff like flying fish, there are a lot of acquatic-only, shoreline-only, and

It's a system surprisingly well stocked for exploring underwater.

Metamorphosis Alpha - 0 fish, as befits a spaceship, I suppose.

Gamma World, 1st edition - 45 bestiary entries, 9 fish or mainly aquatic creatures.

Gamma World, 2nd edition - 58 bestiary entries, 11 fish or mainly aquatic creatures/plants. Plus at least 1 more that is dual-use (land variant, aquatic variant.)


Either the writers really liked mutating fish, or Gamma World expects GMs to send the players into rivers, lakes, and oceans with regularity.

It's just a curiosity, really - that seems like a lot of water-centric encounters. I don't recall encountering many of these or using basically any of these back in my GW games. I've stolen some for fantasy games (stone fish, say) but that's about it.

Any Gamma Worlders out there think, finally, a system with a lot of fish? Or did it seem strange to you, too?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Drokk it, we need GURPS Judge Dredd!

Just giving more weight to Doug Cole's post.

GURPS Dredd need marketing, badly

By grud, we need a GURPS Judge Dredd. If Munchkin gets one, why not GURPS?



Need more convincing?

How about a movie?



No, how about some Anthrax?

I Am The Law!*

No?

How about some old comics?

Fighting the Sovs from East Meg in the Apocalypse War?



Versus Mean Machine Angel?



I have the old GW game, and I've played it. It's . . . okay, as over-engineered 80s games could sometimes be. It's true to the source but the system is a bit clunky and dated. I haven't tracked down a copy of the Mongoose line, but I'm still policing up (heh) missing issues of the comics I missed, so I've been giving that a miss for the time being until I've gotten the comics all together.

But GURPS, especially built around GURPS Lite and the Action line, could do this easily. It's just a matter of writing up the stats for stuff like Lawmasters, Stub Guns, Lawgivers, Rad Sweepers, Walter the robot, etc. GURPS has the system to run it easily already built right into the Action line.

Nicely, Foundry already has minis ready to go. Which reminds me, I do need to finish painting the Judge Dredd mini in my half-painted mini pile. And find where I stuck the one-armed resurrected Mean Machine figure I have, too.


I just want my Joe Dredd in GURPS terms, that's all.



* I never did get my hands on an Anthrax judge badge t-shirt I wanted so badly in High School. I should rectify that.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

DF Felltower: Stat Booster Magic Items

One of my players asked me, basically, "Oh yeah, what about stat-boosting items?"

Magic items that raise stats permanently while worn. GURPS Magic calls these out as rare, so will I allow them?


My thought on this is basically, yes.

If I waved a magic wand and everyone spent 100 character points to get +1 in all four stats, would that substantially change the game?

Probably not. +1 damage, +1 to hit, maybe a +1 to parry depending on the breaks, a few spells here and there that fail to overcome higher resistance, a few more already-boosted death checks made. Would characters getting better rolls at things they already do really well break the game?

No, I doubt it. I'm more concerned by immunities, special abilities (always on Flight, for example), and unstoppable special attacks than by being better at stuff you're already good at.

So should I allow them? I decided I'd take a look.

ST

Might is 1500 per point for Always On. That's $30,000 per point, up to 6 (assuming Magery 6 enchanters are out there.) Seems okay, especially since it won't stack. 1500 per level and my assumptions that NPC enchanters work in circles of 6 (Enchantment 20, -5 for 5 helpers, for a power 15 item) means it takes 1500/6 = 250 days per +1 for a custom ordered one.

They're rare enough that you can't find one for sale randomly; they must be special-ordered.

DX

Grace is 2000 per point for Always On. So $40,000 and 333 1/3 days per point. +1 DX is pretty awesome, but if you order one now, you can have +1 DX next year.

IQ

Wisdom is 2000 per point, and it doesn't raise spells, just IQ, Per, and Will. Same cost as DX - $40K, 333 1/3 days.

HT

Vigor is 1500 per point, so it's identical to Might. $30K and 250 days.

What about secondary stats?

Will

Strengthen Will is 1000 per point, so $20,000 and 166 2/3 days. Not a bad deal, because of Will being so valuable in play.

Per

This one is interesting - a specific sense roll is only 150 per point - $3000 and 25 days via Keen (Sense). All senses are Alertness and 300 per point - $6000 and 50 days per point. $36K and 350 days is a big investment but +6 Per is amazing!

However, neither says "Always on." GURPS Magic is very specific about "Always On." Spells like Climbing specific it's a maximum castable bonus, which is also how GURPS Magic for 2nd edition GURPS specifies the Haste item is setting a maximum casting level, and so that is probably what's intended here. Always on, no cost Per increases should probably be 500-1000 for all senses, 250-500 per individual sense. Probably on the higher end - 1000 and 500 for Per/individual senses seems fair for what you get, and puts the cost at $20K and 166 2/3 days per point and $10K and 83 1/3 days per point respectively.

Basic Move

Haste doesn't have an "Always On" item, as I mentioned above. So you'd need to use Power, possibly re-costed per this post, although that would make +3 Basic move a low, low, low $23K. Not cost-reduced, it's a more reasonable $55K for +3 Basic Move, $30K for +2, $15K for +1. So perhaps I wouldn't want to re-cost Power, after all, if only to avoid +3 Basic Move being even cheaper.

So should I allow these?

I'm still inclined to say yes. I can't see what harm it'll do, and I know for a fact some stat-increasing items (and stat-increasing opportunities!) are already in Felltower. Is it so bad to let people spend their hard-earned cash buying a stat bonus?

It doesn't seem so, especially considering the cost and the time.

Of course, my game being my game, all of these can be ordered from Black Jans, instead - if his tower is there (it's a random roll, one try between delves). He can do anything in one week . . . for double cost. So $60K-$80K per +1 for the stats, $20K-lots for the sense and secondary stat boosts, but it's faster. It would be amusing to have someone drop $480K to have Black Jans hand over a +6 DX item a week later, but I bet you can find a lot more useful things to do with $480K.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: Pyramid 3/70: Fourth Edition Festival

Here is a brief review of Pyramid 3/70: Fourth Edition Festival.



The central conceit of this issue is celebrating the 10th anniversary of GURPS 4th Edition by having authors of major GURPS books (well, those that had the time to get an article in before the deadline) look at something they did before, in light of books that came out later. Basically, what else could you do with what you wrote if all this stuff was out already?

Destination: Abydos by David Pulver.

Remember when I reviewed this and said it would be interesting but need tweaking in Dungeon Fantasy? David Pulver wrote those tweaks.

This article looks at the city of heretics (and zombies) and tells you how to run it with Dungeon Fantasy tropes. And what counts as suitable dungeons, too. If you liked GURPS Abydos, and you like DF, you'll love this.

Not only that, but he also turns in full GURPS Mass Combat stats for Abydos's legions and those of their foes. Time for a war . . . maybe led by some DF vets.

Ten for Ten by Sean Punch.

This one is fascinating - it's 10 rules (plus 2 extras, plus 9 honorable mentions) that could have/should have made it into the Basic Set, had they been around when Basic Set was written.

Douglas Cole will be pleased, because his playtest-time suggestion for a Tactics rule made it into GURPS Martial Arts, and it's called out here as one of the Big 10.

I'm deeply flattered, because Sean took the Loyalty rules I wrote up (well, dramatically expanded from Basic Set) and suggestd they'd made a good addition to the Ally rules. Wow, that's awesome.

Other rules I deeply enjoy using - Complementary Skills, the Alternative Benefits for Talents, Team Efforts, and the TDS from Martial Arts - all made it in, too.

Gaming in the Ancien Regime by William H. Stoddard

Bill Stoddard famously (well, in GURPS online circles) ran a game centered around fencers in France. He used GURPS Martial Arts extensively, but also created many rules for the social engagements of those swordsmen. Angling for rank, social cutting, impressing people, etc. - all of that came from here and became GURPS Social Engineering. So Bill takes a look at what happens if he spun around and had the final rules in place when he started that game and how it would all look in light of GURPS Social Engineering.

It's a nice way to look at how to combine the social and martial in a game where sticking someone with your sword isn't necessarily the whole point of dueling.

Into the Wilderness by Matt Riggsby

Matt Riggsby takes Dungeon Fantasy: Adventure 1 and looks at it in light of Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures. You get a few loadouts, and a random encounter chart tied to the many hazards highlighted in DF16, and specific recommendations for using DF16 in the desert around the fire demon's lair.

It's excellent, and improves on an already fine adventure - one that served as a "one-shot" that turned into my current multi-year DF game.

Elemental Xia Champions vs. The Shenguai by Jason "PK" Levine

Jason Levine wrote GURPS Monster Hunters. Then, later, Bill Stoddard wrote GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers. And here PK combines them into a Xia-centered game fighting ancient Chinese monsters!

So if the idea of 400-point Xia tickles your fancy, and you want to fight nine-headed snakes and demons and poisonfeather birds using your five-element powers again them . . . yeah, this is awesome.

Horde Ninja by me.

I wrote this one, so I can't say much about it aside from it being Ninjas-as-monsters, and has a rule explaining why the last ninja from the pack are always the hardest to defeat.

Why I wrote this one is interesting. When the issue was first proposed, I said I'd write something, please get back to me. Steven Marsh and Sean Punch did, and said the deadline was approaching, what did I have?

Well, nothing. And after wracking my brains for a day, I couldn't think of anything a) fast, b) tight, and c) easily doable. So I asked for suggestions - and Steven shot off an amazing email full of things he'd like to see from me, and Sean punch drilled the list down even further. From there, the idea of looking at DF12 in light of what we put into DF15 and DFM1 was a natural. I pulled The Last Ninja Rule down from where it was sitting half-written for a couple years, and bang. It was concept to finished in days. With the right inspiration, I can write well and quickly, and Sean and Steven supplied that in spades.

Revisting High-Tech by Hans-Christian Vortisch

Hans wrote High Tech back in 2007, but 7 years later, Hans shows ways he'd have done things differently in retrospect. It's short but to the point. He hits two topics:

- how machine pistols are handled in the game

- another way to do shotgun pellets instead of the sometimes troublesome rules from Basic Set.

Random Thought Table by Steven Marsh

Steven Marsh takes a look at rules from 8 different books, and suggests ways to build an adventure if not a campaign around them. My favorite? That he highlights "Faking It" from Martial Arts - the rules look at people pretending to know kung-fu. Heh. Hilarity ensues.

Odds and Ends

There is a bit here from Steven Marsh explaining how he comes up with his RTTs, and a City Stats look at Paris by Bill Stoddard - in the era of the Ancien Regime, of course.


Overall, I'm pleased with this Pyramid and I'm very proud I'm in it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

GURPS 23% Off at Warehouse23

Until noon CDT on August 27th, 2014, all GURPS products are on sale on Warehouse23 for 23% off.

You can read the details here:

August 22, 2014: Warehouse 23 GURPS Sale!

I'm going to not-humbly suggest you take a look at my author's page and buy some of those.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

GURPS Pyramid 3/70: Fourth Edition Festival is out

Over on my sidebar I'd mentioned I was working on a secret project. This was part of it:

Pyramid 3/70 Fourth Edition Festival

I was invited to write for it, and I managed to get a quick little article expanding on Dungeon Fantasy: Monsters 1 and Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninja.

I'll get a larger review out tomorrow or Saturday - there is a lot to like!

Revised GURPS Magic: Great Haste

I run Great Haste slightly differently than it is written in GURPS Magic, but the changes make enough difference to be worth talking about.


As written, Great Haste gives you one level of Altered Time Rate for 10 seconds.

I run it that way, but:

- ATR, as written, does not allow you to Feint normally or otherwise do actions that take advantage of a reaction from a foe. I allow Feints - I feel that a Quick Contest of Skill allowing you to find a glaring gap in defenses or time your quick strike is reasonable, especially as it costs an attack you otherwise could have taken. Plus, this means Great Haste's maneuvers are not different substantially from normal maneuvers.

- I don't allow any quicker thought processes. You don't get unlimited time "out of combat" for this - you're really only getting 2 seconds worth of time in 1 second, so the non-combat usage of ATR is not included in this.

The main reason I do this is because that's how we ran Great Haste that way in 3rd edition, in my 3rd/4th crossover game, and even earlier than that. It's just easier to say "You get two normal maneuvers stacked one after the other" than "except for the following."

Would I change ATR in a game? Probably not - but then again, I generally don't allow ATR on PCs anyway, so it's not a big concern. For a GURPS Magic-based spell system game, I find the minor changes above make the spell that much easier to resolve. In my ideal rules set, the less exceptions, the better.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

More on Dividing the Spoils

Speaking of Robin Waterfield, here's an interview with him worth checking out if you want to know more about Dividing the Spoils.

Robin Waterfield audio interview

Nothing on loot or adventuring, but just good, interesting stuff. Worth the look for games set in that era, for sure.

Alexander the Great looted 5000 tons of gold

I'm re-reading a book I really liked the first time I read it:

Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire




There is a lot to recommend it, not the least of which is it is short, readable, stays on topic, and covers a fascinating time period.

But it also has perspective for GMs who worry about the amount of loot seized by adventurers.

"Alexander the Great had looted, or liberated, something in the region of five thousand tons of bullion from the Achaemenid empire - comparable the the weight of all of the gold stored in Fort Knox - and a great deal of this was turned into coin."
- Robin Waterfield, "Dividing the Spoils," p. 166

Uh, yeah, now I feel less bad about handing out a few pounds of gold coins. 5000 tons is 10,000,000 pounds of gold. In GURPS DF that would be, at $20K/pound, about $200 billion - $200,000,000,000.

That's at the start of a section that explains why coins - gold, silver, and bronze - were used . . . because if everyone is in on the cash economy, it's easier to tax them. And then use those taxes to raise, train, and pay soldiers, of course. Another part of the book has 40,000 foot and 5,000 cavalrymen costing their leader 2,500 talents of silver a year. That's not pocket change.

The money needed to fund an army, well, it makes adventurer's dragon hoards look like freaking peanuts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Happy Anniversary GURPS 4th edition!

It's 10 years to the day that GURPS 4th edition came out.

Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch wrote up a nice little bit for the Daily Illuminator:

GURPS Fourth Turns 10 With . . . Sean Punch

It's pretty good, and as it says, there are 9 more of those to come.

It sure doesn't feel like it's been 10 years that I've been playing GURPS 4th edition. Admittedly, it was a bit longer for me and my group - we got to playtest some of it (such as the rules in GURPS Martial Arts) before it was even released. But still, 10 years? Seems like it just came out.

So, Happy Anniversary, GURPS 4th edition.

Who rolls damage, the GM or the Players?

On Sunday's GURPS Gamma World session, our GM rolled the damage dice for our gunfire. We didn't engage in any melee, but maybe he would have rolled that as well.

I actually like the effect, especially with guns - you have an idea of how many shots probably hit, but no idea what you did to the target except from what you can observe (he screams and falls, his head partly disappears, he doesn't even flinch.) You really have no idea, and being in the dark about results can really add some tension - save these bullets, or make sure? Maybe he's just stunned . . .

For or not, it's been my near-universal experience with gaming that the players roll the dice for pretty much all the things they initiate. Skill rolls, damage rolls, to hit rolls, spell effects, etc. - and the GM rolls for the NPCs, and for things beyond the control of the PCs (damage to PCs, resistance rolls for NPC victims of your spells, etc.)

But GMs rolling has some serious roots.

OC: [. . .] here the player [. . .] rolls a d20 to see if his strike was successful. A 20, and a beaming player shots: "I got it!"
DM: "You're right, and you do . . . (with these words the DM rolls a d6 to determine the amount of damage) SIX POINTS!"

- DMG, p. 98

or

"DM: Good throw, Morri. You do (rolling dice) 6 points of damage"
- Dicing with Dragons, p. 13

In that book, the GM rolls for spell effects too, in the example.

I recall old schoolers who predate even me describing games where the player rolls nothing, and it's all descriptive.

Does anyone play this way? I wonder - although I bet no one or nearly no one does, not for a long game anyway.

But rolling damage - any GMs keep all of the damage effects hidden behind the screen, even those of the players?

I kind of think I'd like to do that, when I ref my next gun-heavy game.

Monday, August 18, 2014

GURPS Gamma World, 20th Homeland - Session 1

As I mentioned yesterday, we got our Gamma World game rolling.

Characters:
"Hillbilly" (me)
"Caveman" (Jon L)
"Short Bus" (Mike D)
"Princess" (Andy D)
"Barbie" (Mike H)

We woke up from a dream-filled sleep at the start of the session. We spilled out of cryogenic containers in our boxers, in a dilapidated and clearly long-abandoned bunker we later found out was code-named "Van Buren." Some of the cryo containers were black, some empty, some spilled out choking and rapidly dying troopers. Others were intact, but there was no clear way to activate them.

We were part of 4th Squad, C Company, 3rd Rifle Platoon from 1-90, 4th BGT, 20th Homeland Division.

At this point, the GM handed us identical character sheets with a pick-list of disads and skill packages and upgrades to choose from. He also handed one of us a bunch of cards with pre-chosen "callsign" nicknames on them . . . and we each chose one for the person on our left. Hence the awesome nicknames we would never choose for ourselves.

Name Cards photo GammaWorldGame002_zps1639dc53.jpg

After this, some C-3PO-crude androids told us the rest of our unit was already deployed, and a Adjunct Captain Hopper was waiting for us outside. Before that, we had 15 (real-world) minutes to select gear before the damaged air conditioning units ran down too far to let us continue to breathe. We started grabbing guns, and decided to standardize around 7.62mm because of its higher damage than the M4 series, and around 9mm for small arms. So we ended up with an M110, three SCAR-Hs, an M14, and six 9mm pistols. We also grabbed a rainbow of injectors with no clear idea what they do. Naturally we pushed out time to at least 20 minutes, and choking and faint, stumbled out of the bunker laden down with guns and ammo and food and such. Oh, and wind-up watches that double as rad detectors. Handy! Worrying.

Some scrawled hints from predecessors included this one, which Cavemen made sure to memorize: "It it's blue, good for you. If it's green, keep it clean. If it's red, burn your dead. If it's black..."

Naturally when we exited the bunker, there was no sign of any greater robot, no Captain Hopper, no nothing - and no way to re-open the door. Nice. We sorted out the extra gear Caveman dragged out and then parceled it out. We hiked up the tunnel to the greenish light we saw in the distance. We found what looked like an AT-ST sized ED-209. I shimmied up and let down a rope for Short Bus, who examined it as best he could. We weren't able to determine much except it was pretty high tech, but also extremely old and rusted.

The world around us was also startling. The sky was green, overcast, and bright-ish. The ground was greened and mossed/molded over, and "snow" of mold was coming down lightly. We were able to identify a road under the mold, and decided to follow it.

After a day's hike, we camped along the side of the road, in shifts, letting one guy sleep the whole night. Nothing molested us, but "night" was just a dimming of the overcast brightness of day.

In the "morning" we headed out, and came to a chasm spanned by the one-winged fuselage of an aircraft bigger than the biggest airlines we ever saw. We'd have to enter First, exit Steerage. Out on the wing was a wooden contraption looking like a Christmas tree. We checked that out first (well, scouts did under the guns of overwatch) but couldn't determine anything except that it was man-made. We couldn't see in - if I recall correctly the windows didn't angle well or were covered where they did.

We entered the fuselage. Inside, it split around a central walled area. So we left Princess with his M110 sniper rifle to watch the right, and the four of us started up the left. The idea was, he could guard our six and flank, we'd concentrate force on the left, and then we could link up with him either comeback toward him or fetch him down the cleared side.

We heard some sounds that indicated that there were occupants. So we moved in, assuming hostiles. We found some - almost immediately we came under fire from bows and were charged by mail-armored spear-toting 1.5m tall badgers. We dubbed them Badders with no meta-knowledge whatsoever. Their arrows were spark plug tipped, the spears and mail showed signs of scrounged and re-purposed materials.

We had a brawl. Short Bus lead with an entry shield and his 9mm, the rest of us had long arms out. Short Bus blocked a few arrows that studded into his shield, and I wasn't able to spot the bowmen well enough to do much except take an arrow in the left shoulder and then one in the left leg, both missing my trauma plates. In return, I perforated a couple of badders and hosed down a few interior walls around torso height to kill anyone behind the cover. Meanwhile their armor shrugged off the head shots of Short Bus, but the 7.62mm shots we fired did well, killing most of them in short order (especially if we managed 2-3 rounds into a single badder.)

Princess shot down some guys advancing down his wing. Barbie advanced aggressively along with Short Bus and short down at least a half-dozen of the critters. Cavemman and I advanced a little more cautiously and shot down targets of opportunity and shot up cover that would be an obvious shelter for the bowmen.

In the end, those, we killed 20 of the badders. We decapitated them and tossed them off the cliff, and otherwise checked them for loot - none. Huh.

Airplane Bridge photo GammaWorldGame001_zpsd06f7646.jpg

(In retrospect, we maybe should have sent someone over the top, maybe everyone. Oh well.)

On the far side of the plane we found 3 men buried to their necks. Two were dead, the other was a green guy. A big dog came out of the woods and emoted at us, and let us know the green dude was its master. Those of us with folding shovels got to work and got him out. We couldn't communicate with him, but we showed we'd follow him and dubbed him Bruce for no reason I can now recall.

We followed him to a village where the last of Bal'Cree tribe live, despite having a big sign saying Kamp Kazoo. We met their elder, the Elder Kell, their second-in-command, Agar (who carries an M16A4 and a stop sign shield), and their champion, the ape-centaur Peyonne.

We also met an English-speaking man named Servin the Younger, who told us he was a Restorationist. He'd learned English from books, and led us to his shelter. We talked with him.

Here I'm quoting our GM:
"The other 20th's that woke up in the past seem to have been the One-Ninety's Company B and Company D, which were listed as "Active/Evacuated". That would be about 500 personnel, lead by a Major Ward, which became allies with the Bal'Cree community of tribes. Ward named his solders "Gamma's Ghosts". Ward and his Ghosts arrived in the area "about 120 snows ago". The war with the Badders lasted "forty generations". The war ended and the Ghosts departed "about 60 snows ago". A "snow" seems to be less than a year. A "generation" is a Badder generation, duration unknown."

And that's what we pulled out of talking to him. Basically, the 20th woke up, partly, came out, tried to set up civilization, fought Badders, and then headed off looking for the US of A. Or something to help them restart it. Also, to the north we heard about "Purists" - guys who hated mutants. I joked about joining the good guys, but it didn't go over.

Oh yeah, and somewhere in here someone pointed at my wound and told me about a red arrow. Aha. We tried one of the colored injectors we'd scrounged and it healed up my injury. Nice.

Naturally, we got the Restorationist to translate for us, heard some badders had raided the tribe along with armored men, and agreed to go off and hunt them down. Because, f*** you badders.

We rested, ate, and headed out with a tamarind-looking guide called Chee. It lead us to an "Elevator Highway" - elevated highway - and we climbed up. On the lower level, which was set for rails, we found long-abandoned evidence of a 20th Homeland HQ. Chee left us alone, and we eventually climbed up to meet it.

We followed until we reached, many hours later, a statue to a tribesman and a 20th Homeland guy. Probably a Gamma Ghost.

At that point the highway ended, and we climbed down.

We found an impact crater with hills inside, and armed with a map from Chee (who took off), headed into it. We noticed we had a bit more background radiation.

Rad Zone photo GammaWorldGame003_zps5a08c018.jpg

We started to explore it, and spotted a guard - one of those armored men. "Robot" said me. No one disagreed. There was some silly talk about negotiating, but instead we had Princess shoot it in the torso. It turned to us and charged! So we took knees and aimed, and when it got closer (despite another shot from Princess) we shot. It took a few rounds from me, Short Bus, and Barbie (while Caveman watched our flank) and it dropped.

We checked it out - it had US Military-like gear, a bullpup rifle (I took it), a telecoping baton (Barbie took that), and nothing else. Naturally, it was a robot, although uniformed.

Another hill had a burned-out gallows on it. From there, we kept moving and up a hill marked oddly on our map. As we did, Princess saw 3 robots marching around towards us. He got a little jumpy on the trigger and shot the lead one. It charged him as the other two ran the other way. Uh-oh. We charged up the hill, felt the warmth of more radiation, and then turned and ran back. Meanwhile Princess kept shooting, so we lined up and waited for his target to come into view. When the robot did, we shot it to hell.

We stopped there.


Addendum

Quoting the GM:

"I'll mention a couple of things you left out, not to imply that they're significant, but to be there to remind folks if they look back over your summary to refresh their memories before we play again.

1) Between the Plane Bridge and the outskirts of Kamp Kazoo, the PCs arrived at an intersection at which a number of roads and paths came together. In addition to the road they were already on (coming in from the west, and exiting to the east) there were two overgrown footpaths: one leading northwest and the other southwest. A wide and largely level road went south. In the middle of the intersection was a M*A*S*H-style signpost identifying them, but it was molded over and illegible.

2) Between the entrance to Kamp Kazoo and the Bal'Cree village was a large depression in the ground, about the size of a large sports stadium. Inside were thousands of gravestones arranged in cramped rows, like Arlington or the cemeteries for WWII GIs in Normandy.

You also didn't mention the as-yet-unidentified case of "black baseballs" that Caveman stashed in his ruck. I'm sure those aren't important, though. I bet the Ghosts just loved playing baseball during downtime in the war with the Badders. If you're going to restore the United States, you gotta restore our national pastime first, otherwise what's the point, right?
"




Notes:

I think there are two ways to play Gamma World. One, be serious. Feel the weight of the apocalypse, fret over the lost loved ones and the darkness of the setting. Or just take the joke as it is and get on with shooting mutant badgers. I went for the latter from the word go, because that's how I like my games to unfold.

The game was slightly on rails, which is pretty much ideal when you get started - everyone wants to do stuff, no one has any idea what that stuff could be.

Our GM is using GURPS, fairly light as far as I can tell, along with a lot from GURPS Action. The range bands made combat really easy to deal with. Lots of shots at -0, then some a -7, some at -11. No problems, no "I step so my range penalty goes down."

He also rolled damage, so we just shot and saw hits, but had to observe the results. It worked well, and I don't think anyone even batted an eye when he just started that up.

The GM prep work was amazing, too, and let the action unfold smoothly and easily.

It was a really good time, and I'm looking forward to playing out the rest of the session.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Post-Apocalypse Pre-Summary

We played Gamma World today. One of my players ran the game using a light subset of the GURPS rules plus some choice bits from books like Action 2: Exploits (like Range Bands) and rules like Armor as Dice. Any rust he had on him as a GM was made up for with a crowd of players who know GURPS and a rock-solid knowledge of what's cool about Gamma World.

I don't have the time to write a full summary tonight - I'll try to get one done tomorrow. But some highlights:

- We played un-frozen 21st century soldiers, thawed out, equipped, and then forced out of our bunker by extreme lack of breathable air. The androids and soldiers waiting outside for us, as we were assured by our android helpers, weren't there, and we couldn't get back in.

- We found the world greened, mossed-over, and "snowing" green mold from a green-tinged sky. O-kay . . .

- We fought some Badders (badger-men) in the fuselage of a gigantic two-level passenger aircraft spanning a chasm like a covered bridge. Their armor shrugged off a lot of 9mm fire but the 7.62 x 51 the rest of us used blew holes right through them.

- We rescued a green dude and he and his giant riding dog (which felt things at us in our heads) lead us back to their village.

- We talked to their elders and centaur-ape dude warrior sub-chief and met a Restorationist who knew English from books.

- We agreed to go hunt down some badders and armored men who attacked them.

- We got to walk on an elevated highway.

- We got to go into a rad zone and shoot up some robots.

Other highlights were the spectacular handouts our GM provided, freehand maps that make mine look like junk (our GM is a professional artist), getting to give each other nicknames (Mine was Hillbilly, another guy got Princess), and equipment lists that only needed a highlighter to mark off the gear you'd chosen. Oh, and as advertised, characters that took all of 10 minutes to have ready for play including 1 minute of actual prep and 9 minutes of discussing the prep with each other.

No mutant women clad in WOW clothes, riding bears, or black ray guns. Or hoops. But hey, Badders. Nothing wrong with Badders. Well, nothing 7.62mm couldn't fix.

All in all, a fun session, and we'll play out the rest of it in a couple of weeks.

Off to Gamma World

So today we're going to play Gamma World. I mentioned this a while back, but today is the day.

Will we run into 2.6 meter tall rabbits that turn guns into rubber?


Will we use STOP signs as shields?



Will we run into (as I strongly suggested we should) mutant women dressed like the late, great metal goddess Wendy O. Williams?


Will we run into mutant apes mounted on giant bears?


Will we be struck dead by the dread "black ray gun"?


One can only hope all but the last of those things are true. Today it's 2471, bring on the apocalypse!


I'll post a session summary tonight if I can.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Free Razor Coast Player's Guide

I received an email from Frog God Games - one of their Razor Coast products won the Silver Ennie for 2014.

So the Player's Guide is free, in either Pathfinder or Swords & Wizardry.

Razor Coast - Freebooter's Guide

The other stuff is 25% off, but if you want some nautical-themed spells (and some other stuff) for your S&W game, it's free at the moment in PDF.

Dungeon Trick Features: Spinners

Here is another one in a series on trick features from dungeons. Spinners are a trick feature I remember from video games, mostly, not face-to-face tabletop dungeons. But still, they're on my mind today.

Spinners turn you around, either in a specific direction (one facing change when you step on it) or randomly (1-4 facing changes when you step on it). Usually, in game, it would be accompanied by a second extra flicker of the vision box, letting you know something was up.

Wizardry: Proving Ground of the Mad Overlord had these in spades on one of the deeper levels. I explored only a tiny bit of that level once before I gave up. Some annoying spinners in Ultima IV are why I haven't really gone and finished the game. Well, that and not being able to save in dungeons, which is another issue unrelated to tabletop play.

Spinners seem to me to work as a map-confuser in a video game context. In other words, only where:

- all the corridors really look exactly alike. Not "all alike" but exactly alike.
- you have no recourse to chalk, string, remote observation (except from a mapping spell or (P)eering at a Gem)
- your whole party always fits in a 10' x 10' space - no stragglers or rear guards or scouts.

In a face-to-face game, what can a sudden physical or magical facing change do to you?

I'm thinking, not a lot.

Detection

Spinners would be fairly easy to detect, unless it's a total secret change with zero distortion or disorientation. In games with dwarven direction finding, Absolute Direction, and/or a party with a little bit of sense about markings and spacing out the marching order, the spinners will be pretty obvious even if they're no-disorientation magical turnings.

Usage

As map-confusers, spinners are probably not useful in the way video games used them. Spinning rooms - ones that magically/divinely turn around so Door A leads to Room B when you come in, but to Room C when you go out - are potentially much more useful and challenging. Those can confuse mapping and act as disorientation devices pretty easily, especially if they only activate once the doors are closed to prevent easy detection.

One possible use of spinners is tactical. For example, you can use spinning floor sections as part of a trick room, where the spin is totally obvious, potentially fatal (you lose balance and fall during combat), and/or combined with any of:

- flying monsters
- pit traps full of fatal stuff
- dangerous patches of nastiness.

In other words, reducing "spinner" to "unstable floor with facing change" would make it a useful challenge.

Overall

As a mapping confuser, outside of video games, I think spinners don't work. They assume too much about your limited choice of actions and your orientation and the sameness of the dungeon. If you want confused mapping, there are better ways to do it. For example, the direction-confusion from the Caves of Chaos works brilliantly in actual play.)

As potentially larger spinning rooms, they could work. As smaller tactical difficulties (fly or die rooms), they've got some real usage. As they existed back in video games, no, I don't think they work.

An entirely spinning dungeon is something else entirely, of course. That's a mapping challenge and a solving challenge, but it's not the same as those little spinner squares I'm talking about here. Not all that spins are spinners . . .

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cut-Up, Fold-Up Doors

Peter Fitzpatrick over at Shouting Into The Void make these:

Printable, Cut-Up, Fold-Up Doors

Doors

I haven't tried them yet, because I'm out of color ink, but they look about right eyeballing them at 100% size. I think I can make some to replace my occasionally difficult Dwarven Forge doors. Especially if I put some tape on the bottom so they'll stick in place on the battlemat.

Belkar on the Lurker Above

One again, Rich Burlew via Belkar Bitterleaf says it oh so well:

"Whatever happened to basic adventurer paranoia, though? It's like these people have never had a ceiling come to life and try to smother them before."
- Belkar, in Collision Testing aka OOTS #960

Belkar must have left this poor bastard to die:


It's one of my favorites.

Tell the campaign world. Tell this to every PC, wherever they are. Watch the ceilings everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the ceilings!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

GURPS rule idea: The Rule of -10

This is something I've been toying around with. I haven't tested it, but it's something I think might be worth bashing on to see if it works.

The big "Task Difficulty" chart in GURPS (p. B345) is a great example of tossing aside detailed modifiers and going with an overall feel penalty.

Using that system, the worst result is -10.*

So, what if we ditch the Rule of 16, and essentially maximize the penalty for all contests equally at -10?

Rule of 16 becomes the Rule of -10. In addition, any Quick Contest of Skill that imposes a penalty (to resist, for example) has a maximum penalty result of -10. The biggest penalty you can roll against from a singe source is a -10. Apply this maximum after figuring out all relevant margins of success.

Feints, Beats, and Ruses work normally, but the penalty caps at -10.

In a generic Quick Contest, ignore the Rule of -10. The Rule of -10 is the maximum penalty you can suffer, it doesn't limit the margin of success in a contest to determine who wins/loses by the best amount. If someone succeeds by more than 10, don't limit it to 10.


Comparisons:

Rule of 16: Caster has an effective Sleep-22; caster rolls a 9, makes it by 13. Opponent has HT 16 or under, so skill caps at 16. Caster actually made it by 7 and the defender has a -7 to resist. If the opponent was, say, HT 19, the caster would have made it by 19-9=10, for a -10.

Rule of -10: Caster has an effective Sleep-22; caster rolls a 9, makes it by 13. Caps at -10. Done.

RAW Feint: Attacker has Broadsword-15 and Feint-19, and rolls a 5, making the roll by 14. Opponent makes his skill roll by 2, for a net margin of failure of -12. Defender has -12 to defend.

Rule of -10 Feint: Attacker has Broadsword-15 and Feint-19, and rolls a 5, making the roll by 14. Opponent makes his skill roll by 2, for a net margin of failure of -12, caps at -10. Defender has -10 to defend.

RAW Generic Quick Contest: Two characters roll a quick contest of skill. A has Skill 25, B has Skill 23. A rolls a 10, making it by 15. B rolls a 12, making it by 11. The net margin of success is -4.

Rule of -10 Generic Quick Contest: Identical to RAW.


Possible effects:

- calculating resistance to a magical spell should be easier, since you only need one comparison to determine the needed margin of victory to resist.

- spells get extra potency, but aren't overwhelmingly potent. Higher spell skill levels may make a -10 to the resistance a fairly common occurrence but the cap and the limited annoyance of casting a skill 18 spell vs. foes with resistances of 18, 16, 12 (for example) should make up for that.

- Feints, Beats, and Ruses remain potent, but cap at a very-harsh -10 and can't beat defenses down to a ridiculous degree. This effectively caps the useful maximum defenses in the mid 20s, but defenses rarely reach that. You'd need to stack on other effects (Deceptive Attacks, Stunning, etc.) to deal with ridiculous defenses. This also means that high-ST Beats can only do so much, so a ST 50 dragon vs. a ST 10 human can only inflict a -10 to defend, not a (near-)automatic failure.

- Generic Quick Contests are unchanged from the RAW.

- Perks like The Rule of 17 might need to become to This One Goes to -11. That alone makes this rule potentially awesome.


Like I said, I haven't tried this, but I kind of like it.

* With the caveat that p. B488 says you can go as high as -15 or -20 in a high-skill game. I'm ignoring that in this case, because a flexible limit is fine but not what I'm suggesting here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

DF Limited Power Enchantment idea

The other day over on Don't Forget Your Boots, the subject of the extreme cost (and broad utility) of the Power enchantment came up.

There is a good idea on that blog, but I thought of another solution.

One way to deal with this is a limited version of the Power spell.

To do this more-or-less by the rules as written, you can tweak and use the Attune enchantment, which functions as a category limiter. Amusingly, you have to pay for the Attune spell, too.

Power and Attune

The Attune enchantment can be used to limit the number of spells covered by an item's Power or Speed enchantments.

One Spell: 20% cost
2-3 Spells: 40% cost
4 or more spells: 100% cost

You can also limit it by college:
One Specific College: 60% cost (same as a one-college powerstone)
Two or more colleges: 100% cost

Importantly, the floor on enchantment costs here is 100 energy. Like the Deflect enchantment, this one falls onto the $20/point of energy cost side of the cost divide. So even Power 1 (One Spell) is still 100 energy and thus $2000. Equally, Attune should cost $2000, too.

Some examples:

For example, a Ring of Dark Vision with Power 5 costs:

Dark Vision: 400 energy
Attune: 100 energy
Power 5 (One Spell): 1600 energy
Total: 2100 energy x $20 = $42,000 plus the cost of the underlying item.

$42K isn't cheap, but you're getting Dark Vision, always on, no cost to cast or maintain, no need to activate it.

However, this does make certain items very cheap.

Iron Arm: 600 energy
Attune: 100 energy
Power 1 (One Spell): 100 energy
Total: 800 energy x $20 = $16,000 + the cost of the underlying item.

$16K is peanuts for a free automatic sword parry every turn in DF. Currently, it's 1100 energy and thus $22K, which is still cheap for its value.

Optionally: This covers cost to cast and maintain; if you only do one of those, its only 75% cost. Figure the cost for the highest level of the Power needed for both casting and maintenance. Figure the difference between any additional levels of casting-only or maintaining-only Power, and then apply the discount to the difference. Blocking spells cannot use this limitation, and must pay full cost for Power in order to take advantage of it.

For example:

Power 5 (One Spell) is 8000 x 20% = 1600 energy. Only to cast = 800 energy.

In combination, it gets trickier:
Power 3 (One Spell) is 2000 x 20% = 400 energy. If it also has Power 5 (One Spell, Casting Only), the additional cost is 8000 (Power 5) - 2000 (Power 3) = 6000 x 20% x 75% = 800 energy. Total cost for this item is 1200 energy for 5 Power for casting one spell, 3 power for maintain that same one spell. For the Dark Vision item above, it'll be 1800 energy or $36K plus the underlying item.


Notes: I haven't tried this one yet at all. I'd love to have people try to find abusive uses of it so I can settle on a fair cost. The "casting only" cost might be really abusive, and makes Missile spell items really cheap (and since many spells don't really need to be maintained, not terribly limiting - take a look at, say, Watchdog) On the other hand, it does make spells with an equal cost to cast and maintain a much more expensive item to make free to cast and maintain.

Don't forget, though, that items can have their own power reserves - check Dungeon Fantasy 8, p. 48.


Again, this isn't a tested rules suggestion. It's purely an idea at this point, and it desperately needs people to hammer on it.

D&D 5e rules update

I just saw this, and I thought I'd share:

There is now a ver 0.1 DM's booklet and a ver 0.2 Players booklet for D&D 5e.

Both can be found here.


Editing later: Here is the Change Log, thanks to the blog Rather Gamey.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Dungeon Trick Features: Sloping Passages

One running joke in Erik Tenkar's running of the Castle of the Mad Archmage is "Is it a 5% slope?" The dungeon features some sloping passages, the kind that take you down levels of the dungeon. The use seems predicated on the old AD&D/white box D&D assumption that sloping passages are undetectable, and can lead players to accidentally go deeper than they think they are.

We run them as obvious to detect, something I agree with, and we cheerfully use them to go deeper and deeper into the dungeon.


So, sloping passages are a staple of dungeons going to back to the earliest days.

"Passage south "D" is a slanting corridor which will take them at least one level deeper, and if the slope is gentle enough even dwarves won't recognize it." - The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, p. 5.

Detection

Is it hard to detect them?

AD&D and white-box D&D say yes - you need a dwarf, with their special sense for underground direction and depth, to detect them.

"Detect grade or slope in passage, upwards or downwards 75% probability (d4, score 1-3)" - Players Handbook, p. 16

I'd personally say no, it's pretty easy to notice a significant slope.

A wheelchair ramp maximum slope is 1:12, so it drops 1 foot vertically every 12 feet horizontally. A more slight 1 foot drop every 20 feet (1:20, or 5%) is still pretty significant. Less steep than an ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp, but not terribly so.

But if you've ever walked down a slightly sloped street or sidewalk, or stepped from a flat grade to a sloping grade, it's pretty easy to notice. Setting a treadmill to a 5% grade is really noticeble (more so down, than up, although it's a rare treadmill that'll let you do that.) You have to not be paying attention to really miss a sloping passage dropping down or going up. And if you're not sure, any liquid or a marble will prove it to you. One joke in my Dungeon Fantasy game is Gort, the dwarf, demonstrating the secrets of AD&D-ish dwarven special abilities. Sloping passage detector? He always has a clay marble and/or a plumb line. It's even easier to detect them if you're pushing or dragging something - it'll suddenly feel heavier.

So the old "so slight you don't notice" thing is tough, because you need a downslope so slight that the passage goes on for a very, very long distance. Take a very slight drop, say a 1 foot drop every 100 feet. To drop from a series of 10' tall rooms to a series 15' below it (giving a 5' thick ceiling) takes 1500 feet of tunnel.

Usage

If they're detectable, how do you use them?

You can use them like any stairs, really.

Pretty much, you need to give people a reason to go deeper. Harder challenges, more loot, or whatever. A lure is better than a trick, here.

You can also get cute and give out enough treasure that the PCs need wagons or sledges or wheelbarrows to move it. Valuable statues are a good choice. Carrying is a lot rougher than, say, taking a sloped passage. If that statue on level 1 actually fits on the pedestal on level 3, you'll get players eager to find and take sloping passages.

Using sloping passages makes it possible for rolling juggernauts, boulder traps, daleks, and slithering snakes to get around the dungeon. It's wheelchair accessible, so wheeled or rolling critters will get around better.

You can also get cute and make them chute-like: slick, low-friction, etc. This makes them more of an obstacle or decision point, since going down safely might be difficult, and getting back up is no longer a trivial act of turning around and going back.


Effect

Mostly, they act in practice as just a different way to change levels.

They do make for some mapping issues, of course, because it's not always clear when the "level change" occurs. That alone can make them a bit of fun - you know what to put down on paper, but it makes it a bit of a worry if you get all meta with "which level are we on, and what does that mean for monster level?"

Overall

I think sloping passages make a terrible trick, but they make perfect sense within a dungeon. They allow for some different monsters and gives an alternative to stairs, pits, and ladders for getting around.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Some Myths of Megadungeon Play

Here are some of what I think are common myths about megadungeon play. Some are actually true, most aren't. Some of these were sparked from posts I've read recently and in the past about folk who'd tried megadungeon play and struggled or struggle with it.

It's Low Prep

No, it's not. Not at all. There is a lot of work you need to do:

At a glance, you need to:

- draw a map (preferably, with a side view, it'll help).

- stock the map with monsters and treasure.

That's at a minimum. You really need more than that.

You must map out all the areas the players could easily get to in a session or two. So if you go for Ye Olde Central Shafte Downe to Thee Utter Depthes, you need to have mapped and stocked out all the way to thee utter depthes.

You must have stats for all of the monsters the players can easily reach in a session or two, at least.

You must fill in treasure details.

You must have detailed traps, specials, tricks, oddities, and other dungeon details.

You must have decided, at least to a degree, on factions and alliances and so on.

That's simple but not low prep.

It's Fast Prep

Not really, not without a game system that's built around quick-stocking dungeons. Even then, budget some time.

Now, you can strangle off some of this like I did - by making the ruins of the castle above sitting on two dungeon levels that restricted easy access to the deeper levels, but that does impact your dungeon play a lot. You can let factions and so on sort themselves out. You can stock randomly and just let "A crazy demi-god did it" be the explanation. But there is still a lot to do. I ran a lot of sessions in my DF game before the megadungeon showed up, and I spent that time between doing megadungeon prep. We did 9 sessions over 6 months outside the megadungeon before I had enough to play on.

It's Low on Session Prep.

This is true. It's low session prep. That is, once you've mapped out a few levels, stocked them, and otherwise made it so anywhere the PCs can go today, tomorrow, or the day after are covered, you're set. You can simply sit back between sessions, generate some rumors, deal with player questions about gear, and keep the ball rolling.

But the game must be going full steam before this happens. Enough groundwork to cover multiple sessions is critical, and the game must be a going concern before prep drops off. If I could do my whole campaign over again, I'd still save the megadungeon for after the game was going for a bit.

It's For Everyone

No, they aren't. You have to really like dungeon crawling. Your players have to feel like they leave the dungeon each time wanting to come back and figure out what's behind that door from 20 sessions before, what those weird statues do, where the goddamn gnome is hiding out, how to whack the draugr without getting killed. They have to have a primary interest in the dungeon itself, and what's in it.

If that doesn't float their boat, or float the GM's boat, the game is going to suck. You won't enjoy it.


That's what I've learned from making and running a megadungeon for a while.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

DF Felltower: Psychic Guidance house rule

I house ruled Psychic Guidance in my Felltower game, changing the one in Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups.

I like the concept, but I don't like the execution. Basically, replacing the Innate Attack skill with the Missile spell itself does two things:

- it makes the points in Innate Attack largely wasted, especially since PC mages tend to specialize in one or two spells. This makes Psychic Guidance critical instead of a good value, and makes the point investment in Innate Attack useless.

- it makes the Missile spell skill extremely valuable, as it improves your accuracy and the power/discount on the spell, too.

I used to play in my 1st edition GURPS game that you rolled against the Missile spell skill to hit, so I know what I'm looking at here from years of play. It's ugly - you get high Missile spell skills to get cheap and/or free missiles, and that also increases accuracy to a high degree.

Instead, what I did is this:

- Psychic Guideance lets you add your Magery to your Innate Attack skill when throwing that spell.

For example, a basic DF Wizard with DX 12, IQ 15, and Magery 3 and Innate Attack (Projectile) @ DX+2, this means going from a 14 base skill to a 17 for a 1 point perk investment.

"Mystic Guidance" would be a good name for this, actually, if you're inclined to name it.

Alternately, you can just base the Innate Attack for that specific spell on IQ, no Magery bonus, and make it purely psychic and not mystic guidance. In that case, the effect on a basic DF wizard is the same - they jump from skill 14 to skill 17 for one point (IQ+2 instead of DX+2 when using that spell.)


In either case, you still benefit greatly from the perk, and benefit greatly from improved Magery or improved IQ, and your basic skill isn't made irrelevant. It's a no-brainer choice for a missile spell user, but it takes advantage of the underlying skill and the generous ability of floating to a new stat and/or getting Talent bonuses to skills that 4e allows.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

GURPS DF: Road Ork Head

Or so the sign I saw on the highway yesterday claimed.

Despite keeping my eyes peeled, I saw no Ork Head anywhere.

Fine, I say.

I'll make my own Road Ork Head.

Based on traffic, I could figure out some of its abilities.

Slurg, Road Ork Head

Slurg is the head of the road orks. He loves nothing more than stopping traffic - sometimes for loot, but often enough just out of spite. He's big, nasty, and prone to wear orange.

ST 17 (1+2/3-1) HP 19 Speed 6.50
DX 13 Will 13 Move 5
IQ 11 Per 10
HT 13 FP 13
Dodge 9 + 2 DB Block 12 + 2 DB Parry (Bastard Sword) 12 + 2 DB DR: 5(3)

Punch (16): 1d+3 cr; Reach C.
Regular Bow (15): 1d+3 imp or 1d+3(2) pi, Acc 2, Range 255/340.
Weapons (16): Axe (3d+1 cut, Reach 1) or Bastard Sword (3d cut, 1d+4 imp, Reach 1,2 and 2).

Traits: Acute Hearing 2; Appearance (Ugly); Bully (12); Combat Reflexes; High Pain Threshold; Infravision; Resistant to Metabolic Hazards (+3 to resist).

Skills: Axe/Mace-16; Brawling-16; Broadsword-16; Bow-15; Intimidation-12; Leadership-12; Shield-16; Stealth-14; Tactics-11; Wrestling-16.

Notes: Wears double-mail and carries a medium shield. Slurg usually has a "road crew" of 12-15 orcish Brutes (use the orc from DF3, and brute from DF15) to back him up.

Trampier-OOTS crossover

If you haven't seen this, you should take a look:





Different scaled versions are here:

OOTS Wallpapers

Friday, August 8, 2014

Rumors are Bite-Sized Backstory

In a way, the title says it all.

Rumors are bite-sized backstory.

Every rumor you hand out in your campaign is a bit of common knowledge. It conveys some information about the world around the PCs. They'll build up over time, and feed into each other. The player's musings on the rumors will inspire actions and new rumors, which will in turn connect to things they already know from actual play.

If you combine this with letting the players make stuff up, your backstory will come to life organically and have immediate buy-in from the players.


Another tip? The best rumors are actionable.


One big problem is backstory is no one wants to hear it. But everyone likes to hear rumors, if they're actionable. You've broken up the backstory of the world into bite-sized pieces tied to potentially useful and rewarding information.

For example:

Okay rumor: Prices are up because of bandit raids.


Better rumor: Prices are up because of bandit raids, led by the bandit chief Sherven of Grey Woods.

Great rumor: Prices are up because bandits are raiding the northern road under the command of Sherven of Grey Woods - and the local merchants are pulling together a reward for his head!


The first tells you information. The second, more information. The third? It's a plot hook and information. The next bandit the PCs meet, or merchant they talk to, Sherven of Grey Woods is coming up in conversation. So is the size of the reward.

This is also why I don't determine truth or falsehood. I'm just building a shared story about the world. I'm not really sure for some rumors if they are true or not. Some I'm sure are totally false. Others, absolute fact in all particulars. Most, though, fall in between. They may turn out to be true, they may turn out to be false, and they may be misinterpreted - which affects their effective truth.

Doling out a big wad of backstory is not fun for the players, but doling out rumors works well. Just realize you're building the backstory of the world as you do.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

GURPS Master Class: Revising Evaluate

Evaluate is basically unused in my games.

The benefit is a bit small (+1 per turn, max +3, one turn per plus), ends early, and generally is superseded by other, more useful options. Low skill? Turn to Telegraphic Attack, Committed Attack, or even All-Out Attack. High skill? +1 to +3 just isn't worth it. Even skill with your foe? Probably better to bet on a critical or a Feint* than to Evaluate.

I've written about ways to upgrade Evaluate before, but since I never seen these used in play I didn't keep track of where I wrote them. So I gave it some thought this week once Doug assigned it out as homework.

I see a complex way and a simple way to upgun Evaluate.

Complex Way:

Evaluate is a Per-based Feint. It's useable against any foe you can see, subject to range penalties. The foe resists with either DX-based or IQ-based skill, to conceal (or fail to create) any openings. You can hold your Evaluate bonus as long as you continue to Evaluate your foe. In addition, you get the usual benefits of Evaluate (+1 to +3). You may choose to keep the results of your Per-based Feint or you can try again and take the new results. The bonuses for the Feint and the Evaluation do not stack; take the higher bonus.

Simple Way:

Evaluate works as written in Basic Set and Martial Arts, but the bonus is +3 for one turn. Additional turns of Evaluate do nothing exceed hold the results.

(Optionally, make it +2 per turn for up to 3 turns, for a possible +6! In that case, only apply half the bonus vs. Feints and Deceptive Attacks. Cancelling -3 is good enough for those.)


I'd go with the simple way. Just hand out a +3 and it's suddenly worth it for many fighters, especially since it can stack with All-Out Attack (Determined) for a +7 to hit without giving a defense bonus to the target ala Telegraphic Attack (Martial Arts, p. 1113). At the same time, it's not quite as good (but much less limited) than Telegraphic Attack. It's better for slightly more defensive minded folks - and cancelling 3 points of Deceptive Attack means you can hold your own, potentially, against a fighter 6 points more skillful than yourself!

In any case, it's important to apply all of the benefits of Evaluate fully - the cancelling of defensive penalties (per Martial Arts, p. 100), bonuses to non-combat skills, and so on. If you don't do that, even the changed versions won't help much.


* Yes, I know that mathematically Feinting a person of the same skill works out to a net zero. But Rock Paper Scissors works out to a net even win-loss over the long run, but it doesn't mean people don't win on some turns. Feint vs. a similar skill foe is betting an attack chance that you'll roll better than your opponent this turn and then mess him up on the next turn. That's, in my experience, a very good choice.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

G1-3 Against the Giants: War Stories

Warning - this is full of spoilers!

War Stories

These are among the first adventures I owned, purchased as G1-3.

I first ran these in elementary school. The last time I ran them, I ran G1 and G2 for my high school gaming group. They consisted of an Unearthed Arcana-era party - a Paladin, a half-elf Ranger/Druid, a Magic User, and a Fighter. They had some henchmen and followers (mostly, the Paladin did) but I don't recall many details.

They quickly trashed G1, which is very front-loaded with encounters. Destroying the hill giant chief and the best and most effective of his followers is something you can do pretty quickly if you don't mess around or outsmart yourself. After that, as deep as the module is, nothing left there is a true challenge to a well-armed circa-9th level party. I don't recall any of the groups finding the hidden spooky stuff in the basement, but I do recall lots of poking around and fighting everything. By the time you get to the rebel orcs, I found my players couldn't care who side they were on, and fought them equally.

G2 took a little longer, and featured a short appearance by a second Paladin (the player didn't stick around). My most vivid memories are of this part of the series. Every group that went through had a big fight with a remorhaz, too, but none recovered the best treasures thanks to liberal use of fire spells. Everyone fought the various special visitors, had lots of fun fighting two dragons at once (although I recall they died quickly, and the scribbled out HP tallies in my copy make it seem that way too.) I clearly dramatically changed the loot in some places, too, putting in a quest item as part of the dragon hoard instead of some other loot, a Doss Lute (I think we had a bard at one point), and some others. I also remember that this is where my friend TR's fighter Tomas deCon picked up his Shield +1, +4 vs. Missiles.

G3 I think I ran once. In high school we finished G2 and I had something really exciting ahead, and no interest in running D1-3 and Q1 (especially since two of our players were in the original elementary school group that cleared D1-2 and Q1.) So we just skipped G3 and moved on as I recall, moving on to the campaign climax war and castle storming (where, unrelated to G1-3, they fought and killed an arch-devil.) In my earlier running, I recall no one trusting Obmi or the prisoners they freed, either, and that it took a few delves. I remember an epic fight near the bottom of the entrance to level 3 and notes that suggest a lot of survivors made it there. But I also remember that, like G1, the main leadership was found and killed right away. No one bothered with the evil temple, either. I don't even remember people going in it. The big melee in the entrance room backed by everything, countered by the party unleashing everything they had, and that was that except for smacking down some more drow and moving on.

The drow I don't recall being especially badass once the giants went down and they ran low on spells. They have some cool magic items, but lots of them are "hit as 3 HD monsters" and if the PCs are all negative AC, that means they mostly miss while the PCs kill them. Which is what I recall happening, actually. Still, evil elves were fun back in the day, before they became the entire basis of the gaming ecosystem.

One thing I do remember is fights took a while. PCs got missed fairly often by the giants, but suffered lots of damage when they were hit. Giants, on the other hand, got hit often by high-level PCs but when we played pre-Unearthed Arcana/pre-weapon specialization, cutting down a 50 HP giant could take 3+ rounds even for a high level fighter hitting for high damage. With weapon specialization, the giants died faster but still took a lot of killing.

I also remember that this was the only module we ran where people got Wishes as treasures - there are a few, scattered around.

Speaking of war stories, you can also some of Delta's war stories, although he ran them with customized OD&D, not AD&D, so it's a bit different. The guys at Roll For Initiative talk G1, too, down to room numbers and descriptions - no war stories, though.
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