Saturday, April 30, 2016

Delver Commander: Who is in charge here?

Captain Willard: "Hey soldier. Do you know who's in command here?"
The Roach: "Yeah." (turns and moves off)
- Apocalypse Now

Leading a group of PCs is sometimes likened to herding cats. That's not really an accurate description, though. It's cute but doesn't get to the core of it. Leading a group of PCs is leading a group of equals who you need to get at least tacit cooperation from, and who all have veto power over the group. You need to build a consensus to get anything done. Or at least, build a consensus of the most concerned and able to deal with a problem.

Even that assumes there is a leader.

In my experience general there isn't. There are a couple players who you need to get on board to get things done, but otherwise, people talk until something like a plan emerges.

I wonder, though, how it would work if you elected or appointed a leader in the group.

I see a few ways to do this.

By Session

Have a leader for a particular session. That player's character, and/or that player, gets to push an agenda, break ties, etc. Or simply is in charge and gets to decide what the group does that session. It's your turn, you decide if it's time to raid the castle, or deal with that nagging issue with the thieves guild, or go right instead of left.

By Task

Maybe you break up leadership by task. You could:

- appoint a combat commander. Like a pirate crew, have a single unifying leader for all combats. Makes sense if the character gives in-game benefits to the group in combat by commanding . . . may as well wrap it together with that player's decisions, too.

- appoint a negotiator. This person handles all negotiation decisions.

- appoint a treasure and equipment leader. This person hands all treasure tracking and group resource tracking.

etc.

These could easily be rotated, too. This would potentially work even with an in-game nomimal leader ("If anyone asks, Sir Stikinthamud is our commander, but today Inquisitor Burnsemall is our leader"), too. I'm just thinking as I write, here. I notice we tend to rotate overall decision making in our Gamma Terra game pretty smoothly, and did so in the Southern Reaches, as well - we'd find someone decisive for the session and then just let that person dictate most decisions. It seems like handing out an actual "leader" position, no matter how strong or weak the leader is, and rotating it around, could smooth out a lot of "What are we doing this session?" issues. It's up to you. Ask advice and opinions, but today, it's your turn.

Anyone do anything this?

Friday, April 29, 2016

GURPS 101: Basic Damage, Penetrating Damage, and Injury

I've been meaning to post this for a while. A lot of people mix up three terms in GURPS as if they were one - basic damage, penetrating damage, and injury. I do this sometimes, too, using "damage" to mean all three. Worse yet, I also toss in "damage past DR" as if it was a term of art and then adding in "HPs of damage" or "hit points lost" or "hit points inflicted." The trouble is that if you go reading the rules, you end up with questions that the correct terms answer in and of themselves. Like, does "triple damage" mean before or after DR? If a blow does "half damage" what are you halving, the roll or the damage? Is it before or after wound modifiers that you determine crippling? The rule says "take 1d-3 injury" or "lose 1 HP" - does my DR count? And so on.

This is all out of GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns, p. 377-381.



Basic damage is the result of your damage roll.

Penetrating damage is your basic damage minus any DR that applies to that attack.

Injury is penetrating damage after you apply any wounding modifiers.

Got that?

Here are a couple examples:

Otto (ST 15) swings his Broadsword and hits a normal human foe wearing mail armor (DR 4, 2 versus crushing) in the torso. His damage roll is 2d+2 cutting; he rolls two ones, getting a total of 2 + 2 = 4 basic damage. His foe's DR 4 reduces that to 0, so he has 0 penetrating damage and thus inflicts 0 injury.

He swings again and hits again, and this time rolls a six and a three, getting a total of 9+2 = 11 basic damage. His foe's DR 4 reduces this to 7 penetrating damage. The multiplier for a cutting weapon against the torso is 1.5x; 7 x 1.5 = 10.5, which rounds down (per p. B379) to 10 injury. That's how many HP his foe loses.

If his foe got back up as a zombie (with Injury Tolerance: Unliving) and Otto foolishly chose to stab him, it wouldn't work out as well. Let's see how that goes:

Otto hits his re-risen foe with a stab to the torso. His damage roll for a thrust is 1d+3 impaling. He rolls a four, getting a total of 4 + 3 = 7 basic damage. Sadly, the mail of the zombie is still worth DR 4, and Otto's 7 basic damage becomes 7 - 4 = 3 penetrating damage. The zombie's Injury Tolerance makes the wounding modifier for impaling only x1, so Otto only inflicts 3 injury.


Going back to those questions, it's pretty clear what they intend. Triple damage critical? It triples basic damage; make that damage roll and multiply it times three. Half damage? Roll the damage roll and halve it. Crippling is after wounding modifiers, since only injury is actual HP loss. And if something says "take injury" or "lose 1 HP," it just comes off your HP, since DR protects against damage, not injury.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cheap Lousy Sacks for DF

I mentioned that a frequented topic in my group are the vastly overpriced sacks of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. $30 and 3 pounds of weight? Crazy! That it can hold 40 pounds without the GM saying, sorry, your bag ripped because you put too much in it, well, that's a non-starter. They should be cheaper.

So what about cheap junk, can you get some? Seems reasonable. I'm always happy to let players cheap out on the gear they use to stow their weapons and carry their treasure.

Now you can.


Flimsy: Any container or combat accessory. Halves HP (round up). In addition, in stressful conditions (loaded more than 50%, running at move than half move, moving through snagging brush, grappled, etc.), roll for breakage against the item's HT 10. On a failure, the item has suffered damage and HT is reduced by 1; repeated failures are cumulative. On a failure by 3+, the container or accessory rips or breaks and is useless! -0.6 CF.

Awkward: Any container or combat accessory. Ergonomically poor and badly designed, these items give a -1 to routine use of the item and -1 DX overall in when in active use. -0.6 CF.


Those can be combined, for a total -0.8 CF.

Flimsy comes from my experience with cheap bags - they work, and work well, for a short period of time, as long as you don't push them. Awkward comes from every bag I have that has handles that just don't adjust right, has a shoulder pad that doesn't grip when it's properly loaded, or has handles that cut and tear into your hands instead of resting in them well. You can get a cheap, awkward chain lanyard for $3, for example, but it's -1 DX on your wrist (damn thing keeps snagging and sliding around), -1 to Fast-Draw and fighting (it's not well designed), and it's easy to break (HP 3). Or you can get cheap, awkward sacks for your henchmen at $6 per, and they'll be fine as long as you walk slowly out of the dungeon and don't need to climb, swim, jump, or run.

Both of those should apply automatically to the standard "improvised stretcher," too - you know, the one made out of two "nearby saplings" or orc spears and someone's shirt or a cloak and "I must have some string or spare bootlaces in Personal Basics." Also sacks made out of shirts, vine baskets woven by the PC of the guy who says "I did it once in camp, it's easy," and so on. Especially if the PCs are in a hurry and dedicate all of 5 minutes, tops, to assembling them. If you prefer to leave this up to skill, apply a penalty to the skill roll use to assemble the item. On a failure, you get one awkward or flimsy. On a failure by 3+, you get both. Better to use good materials and the Time Spent rules from p. B346.

And to the guy who knows this post is about him, sorry. It had to be done. I'll seriously use these, though.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Best Practices of DF Monster Stocking III

Here is a third post in the series I started a couple days back.

Just one best practice today:

Monsters, not Monster

I said this back when my blog was young - one-on-many is death for the one in GURPS.

Especially in DF, think multiple monsters. You can make a single opponent a fight against a group, but it's got to be an overwhelmingly powerful individual. Even then, being one big target isn't very good for the one big target. Two ways to avoid this with a monster is to make it monsters, plural.

You can do this by adding lesser minions. You can do this by including multiples of the same monster. Don't feel restricted by the "usual" number of a type of monster. Doppelgangers usually operate solo, there is usually only one dragon, there is only one tarrasque. Okay, but not this time. Even a second monster means the delvers have to decide how to split their attacks and how to defend to avoid getting double-teamed.

Players, not much I can tell you here. Don't assume monsters that tend to come singly in fiction, D&D, or video games is going to come solo in GURPS DF. It's always worth having a high-Per hireling or PC watching your six, just in case there is two of something. Keeping a tactical reserve isn't a bad idea, either.

Irregular Webcomic Kickstarter

Quick note:

Irregular Webcomic Kickstarter!

David Morgan-Mar is organizing the first 500 fantasy strips of his webcomic, Irregular Webcomic, into a book. It's only $6 US for the PDF, more for print.

David Morgan-Mar gave the the advice I needed to start painting minis again back in 1999. Which craft paints to buy, brush selection, primers, basic technique guides, and so on. It wasn't only him, but I still have the printed out message board messages and most of them are David. So I have to give him a shout out for his Kickstarter. Thanks to Eric Tenkar for posting about it, I'd have missed it otherwise.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

GURPS Gamma World, 20th Homeland - Session 7 - Boomtown II

The seventh session of our Gamma Terra game was on Sunday.

Characters:
"Fatbox" (John M) - demo/EOD
"Hillbilly" (me) - medical specialist
"Momma's Boy" (Tom P) - computer programmer
"Princess" (Andy D) - cryptographer/sniper

Present but NPC'ed:
"Love Handles" (Vic L) - demo/EOD
"Short Bus" (Mike D) - computer programmer

In reserve:
"Caveman" (Jon L) - demo/EOD
"Barbie" (Mike H) - demo/EOD (MIA)

We picked up where we left off last session, in Boomtown. We had the same crowd as last time - clearly Short Bus and Love Handles were really into guarding our stuff and ignoring the delights of Boomtown.

We picked up after having done some buying, selling, and schmoozing last session. We rested up, met back up with Eo, our telepathic translator. We hit breakfast at the mess hall. There, an old man named Elk came up to us with some free tea made from that same hallucinogenic stuff. Princess and Hillbilly refrained, so Momma's Boy and Fatbox doubled up. Elk gave us the rundown of the situation. Pretty much as you'd expect - tense non-violent struggle between the Triumvirate (run the Sheriffs, provide the food) and the Iron Men (founded and run the town, organize the trade, stockpiling artifacts) over the town and the reactor aka the Fountain. Also, the Triumvirate has a segmented potato shaped robot thing that patrols the wastelands and protects the Fountain. We didn't see it, though.

After that we went to the hospital and meat a healer of the White Hand, a 60-something mutant humanoid woman. Turns out they heal people for free, no matter who they are. They get some of their medicines from the jungle-like forests nearby. Princess arranged to meet the healer later, and she'd provide him some sketches. A couple of us, not including Hillbilly, helped out around the hospital. Momma's Boy did a terrible job with binding a broken rib or two and hurt his patient. He got scolded by the healer so he used a dose of one of our red healing injectors on the guy. Hillbilly complained at him for it - he's just chucking away priceless resources to make someone feel a little better!

We did a few more things that are jumbled up in my head in order:

- we talked to the Restorationists some more. Hillbilly is trying to put the moves in on the main one, but it didn't work out.

- we ate a meal with some of the toughest, best professional scavengers. They work for the Iron Men. From them and from Elk we found out who they are - we got their four names, and descriptions. Sounds like big (literally big) nasty humanoid types, including Psyclo, a telepath.

- met a local who offered us a map for 250 domars that lead to a "talking wall" who spoke "like you guys speak" in the Ziggurat. We eventually took him up on it, for 250 plus he comes with us. We have trust issues, although ironically bringing him along made things tougher for us and could have been a disaster if he'd really been a setup.

- decided we needed to go loot the Ziggurat, which the Restorationists called an "Earthscraper." It's a ruined arcology built into the ground instead of the air.

- we checked out Xorn's shop again, and got a glass dagger for Hillbilly which he got inscribed as "Hoopslayer." The logic was we might need a really effective armor-penetrator if we had trouble.

- we killed some time in the desert trying out the headlight-lasers (still no luck, Hillbilly is so done with them), and Princess practiced his electro-whip.

- went to the Sheriff's and asked to see the Triumvirate. Their bird-like deputy wasn't terribly sensitive to our need for a quick meeting but a bribe of a watch to match her feathers by Fatbox swayed her. "Do you happen to know the time?" "No, I don't." "Well, now you do, with this beautiful timepiece that matches your feathers." Hillbilly told her to tell them that we needed batteries, and we'd make a good deal to get them.

Later that night Princess picked up his nurse friend at closing time and got the sketches of medicinal plants. Also, she warned him that we stand out, because we have five "pure strains" with us, and they're unusual around here.

We slept for the night.

The next day we found out the Triumvirate would see us, and we'd get a ride on the boat to their island. It would come in a few days, and then stay for a few days. So we geared up - crowbar, sacks, lots of rope - and headed to the Ziggurat. We had the usual argument that sacks cost too much. ("$30 for a sack? That's crazy." "They hold 40 pounds without ripping." - this happens literally every time.) We left behind some valuables and our pass cards so they wouldn't get confiscated when we returned.

It took two days of hiking including a stopover at a safe rest area everyone uses, but we made it safely.

We climbed down into the Ziggurat, with our guide showing us to the "talking wall." We'd been warned it was in a heavily picked-over area.

We found the wall and Fatbox talked to it - it activated when we showed up. Turns out it was an info kiosk for residents with two personalities - "Kurt" and "Greg." Kurt was pretty curt. Greg was laid back. We got a lot of information out of them:

- the locations of some still-powered apartments in the complex
- locations of the nearest hospitals (my idea), powered or not
- the current date (May or something in 2122)
- the political situation (the Faction Wars are going on, but some group called the Apocalypse is trying to bluff everyone into stopping, which Kurt said, "Clearly they were full of ---t, because nothing happened.")
- the identity of the building owner, Mr. Morrow - turns out he's the brother of our old commanding officer, which tells us longevity really jumped if our CO was alive 106 years after we got stashed away!)
- a rundown on the pass card color meanings and stripe meanings

We couldn't convince them we were guests or potential buyers who needed unlimited access, and the kiosk couldn't point us to security areas. But it could send an armed escort for us - an android with a stun-stuff. Hillbilly had to pry open a door to let it get to us, but it did. With our escort, we headed for the areas that still had power. We left our guide behind, for his own safety. He was in awe of us (the walk talks, robots come to help us, etc.) anyway.

We moved around in the complex for a few hours. We found, pried open, and looted a pair of apartments. One half-empty (we took some Logan's Run inspired clothing, though) and another full of knicknacks and books. We took some books, a bunch of random knicknacks, drank some beer ("Hey hoser, this beer is 400 years old! And irradiated!" "Chug-chug-chug-chug"), and found two electronic super-Kindle books. Well, maybe Nooks, in that they're e-book readers with no ongoing support. We found a lot, but carrying it might be an issue. Fatbox asked our guide bot, aka Smiley, to get us porters. Four porter-bots came with rollable luggage dollies and we loaded them up. We didn't find any weapons, cards, or really useful gear.

After that, we found a clinic. It wouldn't help us until we claimed to be hurt - Fatbox and Hillbilly both went through full-body scans by the clinic-bot while Momma's Boy snuck around super-looting. We ended up getting a bunch of anti-rad solution, a couple medi-kits, some medical gear would couldn't ID (and no one in town could, either).

We also checked out the area the bots came from and examined the chargers. Nothing worth taking, though.

We did have a big discussion of loot. It started to go all "how do we conceal as much loot from the authorities as we can?" but Hillbilly jumped in. "Who cares? What do we want it for? What do we need the money for? If we show up with a metric ton of unique stuff, great, we show we're the best Finders Boomtown has ever known. The Iron Men will come talk to us, and the Triumvirate will hear all about us." That's basically what we settled on.

Hillbilly did suggest murdering our guide if we had to keep stuff secret. Momma's Boy suggested we bribe him, so we decided we'd cut him in right away instead.

In the end, we left the bots behind before we met up with our guide again. Momma's Boy did take a stun staff even though he can't activate it - bots only, it seems. He's convinced he'll find a way around that. We headed back in an uneventful trip after giving our guide a bunch of books, some clothes, and some knicknacks.

Our stop at customs was disappointing. We didn't find any cards, we didn't find any artifacts (they didn't ask about books), etc. They didn't even know what to do with the intact stuff we brought. The next guy in line had a seat cushion, and people cashed in bent bits of metal. They told us to give the Restorationists first choice and keep the rest. Hillbilly was annoyed - better they know it's all great and take it. Oh well.

It being late, Hillbilly hit the sack. The other three went out and celebrated in the bar. They got work that Psyclo wanted to meet us, through the veteran Finders we met earlier. Word was we'd done what few had done, and brought back stuff no one could even identify.

The next morning, we dumped off all of our books, etc. at the Restorationists. We told them to pick what they liked and we'd sell the rest. We took some time to borrow tubing, etc. from the hospital and use a full dose of anti-rad on all of us. After that, we met the boat and headed out to the island.

The boat was a catamaran with three banks of oars. No slaves, though, and no one answered to either Spartacus or Ben Hur. We chatted about the big fish in the sea on the way to the island.

There we met a serene giant Chewbacca-alike who greeted us and brought us inside the island's building. Inside, we met a blind woman in a wheelchair who spoke English, who sat in a nice office with a big binder atop a flat rock

Spoke English, like I said. How well? Natively. So Hillbilly asked her name ("Amy") and then said, "Heard of the Tomorrow Men?" and Fatbox added. "20th Homeland?" She did. "We're them." She said, "Are you Gamma?" Nope - gamma was the wave before us. We're the next batch. She was disappointed to hear of our paltry numbers. But we traded notes - how Mike-Mike is doing, what happened with the Bal'Kree, etc. We didn't mention warbot but we did mean we had a vehicle that needed power.

Long story short, you need a sighted pure strain human to work the reactor. Amy was the last - the other Triumvirs are a mutant human (the Wookie) and a musk oxen named Rachel or something like that, Hillbilly wasn't listening. We could potentially repair Amy's eyes with a medi-stick, but she's got shrapnel in it. Better we get her to the medical center in the Ziggurat. But before we do that, we need to deal with the Iron Men.

We made a deal - actually, we just agreed to side with the Triumvirs and do what they want. Amy's 20th Homeland, after all, and her goal seems to be a peaceful community. The Iron Men want to wipe out the humands and organize an army to destroy the Knights of Purity at all costs to everyone that isn't them. Momma's Boy suggested they give us our guns back if we help them. Hillbilly said, no, give us our guns now and retrieve our stuff and we'll kill the Iron Men, restore the reactor, and kill only the folks that prove they need killing. Which he mostly really means, too, although he's bad tempered so their might be last-second additions to the list. The Triumvirs, it turns out, can't control the robot but might make it not attack us. So it seems like we have two big tasks:

- defeat the Iron Men and their allies, without too much collateral damage
and
- turn the reactor back on, bringing the big binder of Operating Instructions to it and have Momma's Boy operate it.

That's where we left it.

Notes

Hillbilly's callsign was assigned to him, so that tells me a lot. Either he's the least hillbilly like guy in the squad or he's the most. I went with, he's the most and makes that a point of pride. Got a stereotype? Hillbilly owns it, so you better step aside. That might just be the Jersey in me. Yeah, I am - you got a problem with that?

Things to do list:

      - learn the local language, or what passes for a trade pidgin at least;
      - find out about ammo reloads;
      - find out about warbot zone range extension;
      - find out what the heck kind of nickname "Amy" is. Short Bus. Fatbox. Barbie. Those are 20th Homeland callsigns. Heck, maybe it's a real name, but that would be odd.

There were a lot of names, and I promptly forgot them all. Others at the table remember them, though, so I may add them back in to this summary later.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Plan as you Go - from Gothridge Manor

Tim Shorts wrote a great post about planning:

Developing A Plan on the Go

It's a great piece of player advice.

Often you get really caught up in the minutia of tactical choices, decisions about small things, and thinking extremely long term and often somewhat meta.

You can easily end reacting to situations without a clear idea of what you want.

Having a goal makes a lot of that go away. Using some recent examples from our games:

Need to recharge your warbot? You make a lot of decisions about "who is most likely to help us do that?" and "who would benefit from not letting us do that?" and joining the first and fighting the second.

Need to impress the locals? Then you stop worrying so much about how much tax they change when you come to town and start thinking, geez, let's bring a crazy about of taxable goods into town and wow them.

Want to make contact with some people and you aren't worried who knows? Just go ask.

Knowing your goal - impress the locals, make contact with the bigwigs, get some battery juice - helps immensely. It sped along our Gamma Terra group. Whenever a fork in the road came up, the decision was pretty clear - which of these options gets us closer to our goal? We could toss a number of options out the window, too, because they led away from our goals.

Good, thoughtful stuff by He Who Rolls Ones.

(Yeah, I'll get to my Gamma Terra summary tomorrow. Busy, busy day, and I don't want to start the summary writing at 10 pm so . . . tomorrow.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Gamma Terra pre-summary

We had a really productive Gamma Terra session today. If I have time, I'll do the summary tonight - but I doubt I will. This might have to do.

Despite having only four of our six players, we managed quite a lot. We:

- made friends with some of the professional scavengers

- met an old guy named Elk who told us more of the situation

- bought a glass dagger, so I could go all Roberto on people

- made a deal to met the Triumvirate

- took a trip to the ziggurat and found our about the Faction War and the Apocalypse (back in 2122)

- found some androids, cleaned out a clinic, looted some still powered residences, and otherwise played Dungeon Robber.

- avoided killing a hapless NPC

- met the Triumvirate and found out one of the three is 20th Homeland. Dun-dun-daaaaaaaah!

Fun session. Lots of stuff got done. We'd have done more, even, had we had our two others. Next time . . . details to follow.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Best Practices of DF Monster Stocking II

Here are two more points to follow up on yesterday's Best Practices of DF Monster Stocking.

More Mixed Monster Encounters

Make sure you combine monsters with each other.

Trolls and rust monsters are natural allies. Trolls and stirges are natural allies. Demon-apes and gargoyles are natural allies. Shambling mounds and druids with the Lightning spell are natural allies. All at least according to my players.

Why is that? They've encountered them together (or had one pile in to a fight with the other) or thought about how nasty they'd be as an encounter together. Sometimes it's a strange symbiosis - trolls don't have weapons, so they don't mind feeding delver armor bits to their rust monster. Sometimes it's an obvious pairing (druids can heal plant-men). But having two, three, or more types of monsters together potentially makes the threat fundamentally worse.

One monster may have an exploitable weakness, but their fellows do not. For example, a mix of flying and non-flying monsters means flying ranged weapon using delvers can't just fly up and shoot them to death. Or a monster might be especially vulnerable to magic but is coupled with a monster that can only be effectively fought with magic - do you focus on taking out the ones with the weakness or use your magic against the otherwise invulnerable enemy? The class wizard-backing-fighters approach is exactly this - each aids the other and covers a weakness.

A mix that doesn't enhance one or the other is just different in color, not kind. An ogre with some orcs is a nice combo, but it's just a physical big foe with physical strong foes. Sufficient sword skill will see them off. A wizard with three apprentices - or just four different wizards - are just a magical threat. Sufficient Magic Resistance, Will, and HT rolls will shrug off their non-physical attacks and if you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a Fireball. You might need Resist Fire and Resist Lightning and Resist Acid to fight them, which is more challenging, but it's just like the ogre and the orcs. One might be stronger but the threat is identical.

Add a wizard to the orcs, or have them summon an illusion-casting demon and you've got a very different encounter. Give those four wizards a few excellent melee fighters or draugr bodyguards and you'll need to choose between Resist spells and other buffs. Do you bum rush the wizard and give up your flank and your squishies, or do you play like-fights-like?

And don't confuse the origin and color description of an attack with its effect. An nearly-unkillable demon doing 4d+4 with its mystical demonic thighbone club and an ogre doing 4d+4 crushing with a club are the same offensive threat. A jet of flame that can be blocked with a shield is not that different from an arrow that can be blocked with a shield. A paralytic touch attack resisted with HT and a paralytic contact poison delivered by touch and is resisted with HT aren't terribly different, either - both are easily handled with the same Dodge score. Understand the game effect of the color and what it'll play like when mixing threats. A mix of ghouls, wights, and deathtouch wizards is all one threat with different damage types - it's keep away. The same mix with Curse-spell casting evil clerics might be a wholly different encounter.

Players, keep all of that in mind. Each fight isn't "find the tactical puzzle solution." A single monster might be that - hey, they're good at melee, let's not do that. A multiple monster fight will force you to prioritize. Make sure you actually do that on some level. But don't miss the forest (winning the fight) for the trees (finding the best tactic to neutralize the combination).

Telegraph the enemy

Leave clues. As a GM, it's tempting to make all monster encounters a surprise. But especially in GURPS DF, the templates come with serious investments in knowledge skills. Physiology to spot vital points. Hidden Lore to know secrets about types of creatures. Current Events and Research to gather knowledge in town. Naturalist to understand animal types. And so on. If you can't use them except when the monster appears out of nowhere to attack, it feels like they have less value.

Think about what those creatures would do to their environment. Do trolls sharpen their claws on walls? Do eyes of death shoot down every damn squirrel in the area (yes!)? Do peshkali have a snaky musk? Do giant apes leave dead snakes and dinosaurs lying around?

Color like that works in several ways. First, it's more immersive in the game world. Only in Munchkin, Dungeon!, and video games do monsters just sit in rooms and get generated by a random element when you kick the doors down. Second, it gives the players a reason to use their skills on their sheets. Third, it gives the players to use their own brains and attention to in-game details ("What, peshkali? WTF?" "Dude, didn't you hear him say 'a snaky musk' and mention the sounds of swords being sharpened?") Finally, it encounters scouting and looking and sneaking, because that's how you get these before the first sign of horde pygmies is, "Oops, dart in your neck!"

Players, this means you're rewarded for looking for clues. Oh, and listening while the GM is talking. Sure, that was a good parody video you saw yesterday and it does remind everyone of that time with the orcs and the barrel of alchemist's fire . . . but what's going on around you now? Scout, look, listen, use your own knowledge to spot incoming threats . . . then use your character's skills, basic testing, and your own experience to confirm them. If you don't pay attention to clues, the GM won't bother to put them in. If you look and the GM didn't bother, that's a hint that you want them!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Best Practices of DF Monster Stocking

If there is a single takeaway line for this post, it's this:

Purely physical threats are weak in DF.

You can stop reading and just keep that in mind and you'll be okay. Naturally I have a lot more to say about it, with much longer and more complex near-run-on sentences, but that's the crux of it.

There are a few reasons for this.

- DF delvers are very tough. Right out of the game, they are experts at what they do. That especially includes fighting. Although the non-fighter types have a lot of trouble hanging with the main fighters, they're still pretty good (Wizards start with a 14 weapon skill, which is well above basic competency.) Not only that, they're generally set up for multiple defenses and multiple types of defenses quite well.

- GURPS Magic contains a lot of complete solutions. Any magic system used instead that apes the results of GURPS Magic does the same. Non-flying creatures can't really hang with flying delvers. Sight-hunting creatures suffer against Invisibility. Missile launcher types, no matter how lethal their missiles, just fail against Missile Shield. Fire monsters can't beat Resist Fire. Tough melee fighters can often be Levitated and left hanging in the air. And so on.

- It's generally cheaper to buff up than to kill in GURPS.

- It's easy to get better at dealing with physical threats. Most threats will either be physical or come with physical elements. PCs can and will react to this by raising defenses, adding armor, layering on cheap buff spells, etc.

With those things in mind, here are two of the best practices I've come up with.

Mundane foes need supernatural support.

First and foremost, don't just have purely physical foes. If all you can do is fight with missiles and melee, you're playing to the strengths of the delvers. You might exceed them, but it can get tiring to be a supposedly amazing human warrior but dungeons are packed to the walls full of Smallsword-30 goblins - given that skill just to be a threat. ST is nice, but you have to land a blow for it to matter. High DR and HP will keep you alive, but for how long before you whittled down, especially if it's not coupled with any real offensive threat?

This isn't to say physical foes can't be a threat. They just aren't a big threat solo, and aren't as big of a threat without supernatural support. A pack of dire apes is annoying. A pack of dire apes backed by an ape spellcasters with a ghost-ape ally can change the fight from "slaughter" to "keep the apes off the guy who can hurt the ghost!" I was looking at using a monster from another GURPS supplement for DF, and realized two spells and one Knight would fizzle all of his attacks and then kill him, respectively. The solution? Add supernatural powers suited to GURPS Magic. Done, real threat created.

Not only that, but delvers tend to place a high emphasis on supernatural support-based tactics. If your monsters can't attempt to counter those or remove those, or use their own, the playing field just won't be level.

Think Wizards and Clerics, not witchmen and shamans.

This goes for both the GM and the players. For a GM with an old-school D&D background especially, adding two or three weak spellcasters with a handful of low-level spells each adds a lot of juice to an encounter. It's tempting to say that out of 100 lizardmen or 30-40 bandits or a dozen trolls that one of them has some minor magical power. That generally won't cut it. Instead, take a cue from the frequency of spellcasters that show up in DFA1 and put them in to the dungeon in bunches. Instead of 300 gnolls having one spellcaster and his or her two pathetic apprentices, have 300 gnolls have one spellcaster per squad (62 point guys might be okay), and a couple of really good casters topped by a main wizard or cleric in the 125-250 point range not counting the racial template. Don't mess around - it's like the PCs will be better, have superior magical support, and will grow from the challenge. In a magical world with common spells that can end fights in a single go or shape the battlefield with ease, you'd be foolish to go around without support. If groups survive, it must be because they have more spellcasters. Put them in. Treat it like a military group would treat a squad without a light automatic weapon and anti-tank rockets - as if they're doomed.

For the players, you can't think "weak spellcaster" when you see the enemy spellcasters. There are weak ones, but they are numerous. Don't bet on being the only side bringing magic to a fight. Just because you chose "Wizard" as your template doesn't mean there aren't other Wizards out there.

Prefix, Prefix, Prefix.

There are a number of prefixes out there for DF. Some of them fundamentally change the threat level of monsters. Use them liberally. While a few just make you more of a physical threat (Determined, Juggernaut, Ravenous), others make you a very different threat (Distorted, Chaos, Undead, Ghostly.) Still others make you a repeated threat (Possessed, Psycho Killer, and the suffix . . . from Hell.) Don't overlook them. Even if you just want to use them for inspiration, realize that ten trolls is just ten trolls, but nine trolls plus a Distorted Elemental Psycho-Killer troll is a potential nightmare. And keep the above in mind - make one of the remaining nine into a wizard or cleric.

For the players, just be aware that the one owlbear you met or that eye of death you killed or that acid slorn you killed isn't the end-all and be-all of their stats. Use what you know, but be aware you don't know everything.

Use a variety of target-location methods.

This one I rarely see discussed. If all of your monsters hunt by sight, they're all doomed. Blur will penalized all of their attacks and Invisibility and Blackout will put them down to Wild Swings in no time. You must mix up how monsters sense targets.

I use a variety of: See Invisible. Discriminatory Smell. Detect (Precise, Reduced Time). Radar Sense. Hearing-based Detect. Vibration Sense. Occasionally Blind Fighting. And a few others, too. Plus I'm fairly liberal in handing out Night Vision, Infravision, and Dark Vision to depth-dwelling monsters. The really scary ones often have more than one!

It's not because I want to frustrate the casters of the three spells above. Not exactly, anyway. It's because it's necessary to constitute a real threat. If you just churn out monsters who can't sense foes unless they're looking directly at them in well-lit conditions, there is a one-spell solution to that. By all means reward use of supernatural concealment, Stealth, and so on - but equally, you need to challenge all the ways you need to sneak. Don't make it trivial to reduce monsters to ineffectiveness by making all of them spot targets the same way.

For players, keep in mind that you need to figure out how a monster spots you to defeat that with magic or tactics. Smoke might frustrate orc archers but not impress the Shaolin monkey men slingers. You can be invisible to sight and sound but Detect Life (Precise) will spot you right away. There is a No Smell spell for a reason, and it's not to make fourth graders laugh. Take precautions, but don't assume your precautions always work. And know that if you attempt to buff versus everything and layer anti-detection magic versus everything all at once on everyone, you're never going to get anywhere. And it still might not work . . .

Thursday, April 21, 2016

My work here is done - Pyramid 3/90

Pyramid 3/90 just came out today, and it's got an article by me about using the Dungeon Fantasy Monsters line as a source of monster for the After the End line of books.

With it, I have achieved possibly my crowning achievement as a GURPS author. No, not a secret Strongbad reference. Not a Rancid quote. Not even an unnecessarily clever joke about the bad guy of a bad ninja TV show.

None of that rises to this level.

Behold, I have managed to work in a Mutants of 2051 A.D. reference* in an official publication!



Clearly, I have not wasted the several hundred hours I spent studying the source material.



* Say it with me, eh? "Ten years after World War 4 . . . " It's the Citizen Kane of movies! Oh, wait . . .

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Evil D&D and Wargaming in the Classroom

Two links today.

My mom sent me this one - a Retro Report on the D&D panic. For some this must seem really amusing. But living through it as a kid, it wasn't. Cory Doctorow may have enjoyed arguing with adults. I didn't. I don't look back fondly on concerned parents, people warning me about the evils of witchcraft and Satan because I was really T1-4 in school, having to hide my books or get shipped outside because I was playing "too much" of "that game." I can't look back on that and laugh too easily. For what it's worth, my mom got me D&D books and a priest bought the Basic D&D boxed set for me. None of my immediately family ever stopped me from reading books, drawing maps, and playing games. Still, it's a good look back on the subject and way profit and panic drive people to cause harm. Too bad they keep zooming in on poorly painted miniatures, as if that's what you need to play D&D.

Dungeons & Dragons: Satanic Panic

This other one I think I got off my G+ feed, I can't recall off whom. I tend to click "Open in a New Tab" and come back hours later to read things. It's a good look at a military staff college instructor's use of wargames. Yeah, when you play wargames with a political and economic element you make some very different decisions. "Why, I'd never fritter away my resources on an invasion of Norway and jump off to war late in Russia if I ran Germany in WWII!" Yeah, not until political and economic considerations force you to do just that. Looks of interesting games in there, too, none of which I'll play for the usual reasons.

Wargaming in the Classroom: An Odyssey


Both worth the time spent on them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

New Orlens, Troll, Orc, Pirate minis

Here are five more finished minis.

There were all done except for the flat coat spray and some final touch-ups. Yesterday was hot and dry so I quickly did both of those things before it gets hot and humid.

Here are:

Two TSR trolls, a Black Tree Design orc shaman, a TSR Gamma World Orlens, and a Foundry pirate.




The trolls I did in my boring, typical style - greens and blacks, with shiny gloss black eyes. Nothing exciting except that I'd traded the one guy away to Jay A~ in Junior High and now I've got one back.

The orc, well, I needed another orc wizard figure. He's very big, though, even by "large orc" standards. He'd be a plausible half-ogre based on thickness and hand and head size. But still, I like him. I gave him the way-too-blue cloak fringe and kilt edge because orcs don't have fashion sense, and it makes the figure very bright.

The orlens has aluminum, platinum, and gunmetal, and grey. I wanted "leftover high tech" to be the feel, and giving her an oddly orange skin tone seemed like a nice Gamma World touch. It was actually by mistake - I had some extra "bronze flesh wash" out and she was primed white, so I just put it on . . . and it looked good. One more layer and that was that.

By the way her spear is wrapped in a cord that I painted as copper . . . probably a lead for her electrical generation powers or leading to a battery pack used to add some zap to the spear. The shield is disappointingly plain, though - I'd have loved a STOP sign.

Finally that's a Foundry pirate, but my color scheme made him more of a frontier militiaman. I kind of like how it worked though. What to do with him? I'll bust him out if we play pirates again, otherwise, he's just going to sit in the box looking good.

Monday, April 18, 2016

No Temporary Puissance Enchantment

In my DF Felltower game, there are a number of monsters who can only be (easily) harmed by magical weapons. And some which can only be slain by magic weapons - thanks to Supernatural Durability or Unkillable, usually, with "magic weapons" as the Achilles' Heel.

I've ruled before that the Puissance enchantment is what matters for those purposes - no Puissance, it's not magic enough to bypass such defenses.

Perhaps naturally, my players have commented on the lack of a temporary version of Puissance. Much like Armor is the temporary version of Fortify, and Shield the temporary version of Deflect, why isn't there a temporary version of Puissance? Sharpen is somewhat similar, but it's more akin to a temporary improvement in weapon quality and not the same as Puissance.

I've usually said, yeah, there should be, but there isn't.

I thought about one and realized it is a terrible idea for my game.

Why there isn't a temporary "Puissance" enchantment

There a number of reasons.

First, it would be a must-have spell. No wizard could reasonably avoid getting the spell. What kind of wizard wouldn't take a spell that opens up vulnerability to a broad swath of the most dangerous foes? A foolish or poorly designed one.

Second, it would be a foolish party that delved without at least one main weapon being under the spell's effects. It makes even more sense to have it on every main weapon at all times.You'd want to be ready. You might want some weapons without it, just so you can tell which monsters need it and which don't.

Third, even if the spell was costly to maintain, so keeping it up for free all the time wasn't trivial, that would just mean it was a fight-time casting. And the goal of getting to "free to maintain" would be irresistible. If you decided to make it a costly, short-term spell that can't be maintained and takes time to cast, you're just changing the nature of the effort needed. That effort will still be made.

Fourth, it would mean the immunities and Achilles' Heels were actually over and under priced respectively. It would greatly devalue something meant to be a vulnerability to an expensive ($5000 and up!) enchantment and drive decisions about armament and expenses.

In other words, the existence of a temporary "Puissance" effect would mean there was no real meaning to having monsters slayable only with Puissance. Not just in the game world, but also in game terms. I inserted creatures with that specific challenge on purpose. Adding a spell to undo it in this manner would make that insertion pointless. The spell would make sense if there wasn't that kind of defense, and that defense makes sense given the lack of the spell. Together, they undermine the game about as well as permanent rock-to-gold spells do to a game about treasure acquisition.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

What I like about Swords & Wizardry

It's Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day.



Here are four things I like about S&W.

It's free.

This is a big deal in getting me to try a game. I've played in a lot more "campaigns" or "regular gaming meetups" and so on that worked out to be one session, two tops. Maybe three. Do I really want to plunk down even $5 for a rulebook for a game that might not keep going?

A free copy of the rulebook in PDF means it's easy to get me to play it with other people. I'll print out copies and give them to people who might like gaming. I'll recommend it widely - it's free, may as well take a look. And I won't worry that by saying we'll play S&W I'm saying, "everyone shell out $35 for the book or just pester me with questions."

And yeah, I like the free version so much I bought a hardcover copy.

It's many things to many people, not trying to be all to all.

S&W Complete is a great version of the earlier editions of D&D. It's got a real feel of the old days of gaming, as we played even if the books didn't exactly say to do it that way. It doesn't try to cover every possibility but it gives you options. If you want a playable old school D&D-based game that doesn't make you wrestle with vagueness and wargamer-to-wargamer writing assumptions (white box) or incomprehensible and overly specific rules (AD&D), this is a good choice.

It's got boxed text.

I come from the world of GURPS, where sidebars and boxed text help move things along. Specific cases, optional rules, under-the-hood peeks at why things are the way they are - it's there but set alongside the text. It's not jumbling up the rules but giving you options and explanations. I love that about S&W, too. Want to know why multi-classed characters work the way they do? Want to choose between ascending and descending AC? Want to get a peek at decisions were made?

Read the boxed text.



It's easy to read.

Poorly edited books drive me crazy. Bad layout makes it hard for me to use books. I've got books that are very attractive but so crammed with text it's more "how much can I fit in to a tiny space?" and less "couldn't I just use a bigger page and make it easier to read?"

Admittedly, my sibling is a designer. I'm not, and I'm not good at design. I've just learned to appreciate when a book is easy on the eyes, easier to flip through and use, and has words spelled correctly.*

S&W Complete is all of those. It's got good solid technical writing. It's got enough white space and has readable typefaces and font sizes. I genuinely like to read the book. I've read other games - OSR and not - that just don't have that. Where for all of the good ideas I find reading the books a chore. Or where the writing is good but the grammar and spelling errors are not. Or where rules are written multiple times in multiple places and the wording varies between them enough to cause confusion. Not S&W - it's remarkably consistent and good.


There are bits about it I don't like, but today's most a day to appreciate what the game brings to the table in a positive way. And it does bring a lot. Go download it and you can appreciate it, too.



* Yes, I know I make spelling errors on this blog. I spot them when I look back and edit them. But fairly or unfairly, I hold published works to a higher standard than blog posts.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Just another writing update

Yesterday and then this afternoon (between MMA and work) I was able to get some more work done on my GURPS writing.

That consisted of:

- finishing my notes on my review of my latest book, which, yes, is indeed a DF monster related book. Then I sent those in.

- reviewed an article for Pyramid that hopefully will come out soon. It is also monster related, because I like monsters.

- did a readthrough and first-pass revision of a short article expanding on some prior work I did. It needs more. More work, more words. What I have is good and probably publishable, but it could be more.

- and started yet another article, this one for some DF material.

Most of this was done yesterday - today I put in some revisions and checked off the "done" box on the to-do list on the first one. I really want to get more material chugging along - I always feel kind of like I'm wasting time if I don't have a project going. This way, I have two out of my hands, one feeler out for another work, and two more bits on process.

Friday, April 15, 2016

1st/3rd edition GURPS Monster: the Eye Killer

So way back when I ran 1st edition GURPS, I converted a lot of D&D monsters to GURPS. Basically because I liked D&D but didn't like the D&D rules as much as point buy and defense rolls and whatnot from GURPS.

Also, there wasn't a lot of GURPS stuff out at the time, although that eventually changed.

One of the monsters I converted was the Fiend Folio's Eye Killer. We ran into some in the Castle of the Mad Archmage in S&W, but I can't find where in my summaries.

I was moving around some stuff this morning and pulled out my 4 x 6 container and decided to take a look, and spotted this guy.

Here is that conversion, not even slightly updated to 4e, complete with the notation style I used back then.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Revised GURPS Magic for DF: Lockmaster & Locksmith

I'm not a big fan of niche-stomping, and I'm very pro-niche protection. My dungeons are full of locks, traps, and barriers that simply cannot be dealt with more conveniently than with a thief. Or without a thief require great expenditures of time and resources. Or at least require deep investigation and finding the right key or passcode or the other way around the barrier.

In other words, I give thieves things to do that can't easily be replaced with "Cast Lockmaster, and if it fails, bash the door down or shape a new tunnel in the wall."

Still, the Lockmaster and Locksmith spells in GURPS Magic are a little overpowering. Here is how I changed them without taking away their core usages, something that would be pretty unfair after allowing the spells in the first place. Most of the below aren't really rules changes - they're rulings on what specific countermeasures do to the spells. On the cumulative penalty was really a true addition.


Locksmith (Magic, p. 143)

As written, except this has no effect on default uses of the Lockpicking skill! Only affects DX-based Lockpicking attempts. Against a lock with meteoric pins or elements, only gives a +2 to skill. Against a fully meteoric lock, it has no effect.

Lockmaster (Magic, p. 144)

As written, except this has no effect on locks with any meteoric pins or elements. Repeated attempts are at a cumulative -1 to skill.


Moving bars, etc. is possible but requires the Manipulate spell. Done blindly, this can require a lot of fumbling . . . or just fail because the bar is latched or locked down. Magically or mechanically spying on the other side of the door is highly recommended. Unseen locks, of course, are a -5 plus range penalties - and touching the door isn't the same as touching the lock. Expect at least a -6 to try to spring concealed locks you know must be around somewhere . . .

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Busy working on my book

I got a revised draft of my latest DF book back this week. Today's free writing time is largely dedicated to working on the draft.

I can't say much except to say:

- it looks good.

- I found odd things I missed the first time through.

- I haven't the slightest idea when the book is due for release. I'm assuming 2016, but I don't even know that much. My job is to write them, I leave all the rest in the able hands of SJG!

I'll try to get a non-book-related post up later today if I can, between work shifts and playoff hockey. If not, see you on GURPSday.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Doors, Doors, Doors

Recently, I took care of my limited door selection.

I did this through several clever means:

- trading with Archon Shiva, then . . .

- complaining about my lack of doors in front of my players, who bought be a set of doors, then finally . . .

- kit-bashing the doors I got into the doors I wanted.

Pictures behind the cut.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Negotiating with Monsters in DF rulings

Here are some questions I think will come up regarding negotiating with monsters.

Can't my PC use Intimidation to bolster Diplomacy?

Sure. Complementary Skills work normally. However, it's not just a flat roll against Intimidation. The penalties that apply to an Intimidation roll will affect this normally. If you still succeed, you get a +1. This does inevitably color negotiations to a degree - you might get the "my kind of scum" reaction but you might also inspire resentment.

Do we get a bonus to Diplomacy if we've killed a bunch of guys to make them respect us?

First, see Intimidation, above.

Next, you might get an unwilling negotiating partner to the table this way, but it will make negotiations tougher in most cases. Callous enemies might not care that you killed their friends, but if you whacked the dragon's mate and then try to negotiate on the "now you get twice as much treasure in this deal!" you're going to be in trouble.

Diplomacy isn't about relative power, ultimately, it's about deal making. A more powerful party might not need to offer as much, but that's resolved by roleplaying not by giving a bonus or penalty to Diplomacy.

How about bribes?

The better the deal you offer, the higher the bonus to your Diplomacy skill roll. Or it might obviate the need for a roll at all. A direct bribe is effectively a better deal offer and will get to the roll faster and may get a bonus. A poor deal that you insist on might not get to a roll, or it might be a roll with a penalty (hey, maybe they are desperate or you are persuasive.)

Hopefully that'll head off some at-the-table discussion so we can get right to the deal making and the die rolling.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

How did the Felltower orc problem develop?

The players in my Felltower campaign have a big "blocker" in their way - orcs. An individually weak but organized group of orcs who:

- have an external base north of the dungeon out in the wilderness;
- control of the ruined but defensible surface castle;
- control of large portions of level 1 and 2.
- effective control most of the main known entrances to Felltower.

Why orcs?

I like orcs, and I have a lot of orc minis. So inevitably orcs were going to show up repeatedly in this game. But I didn't set out to put the orcs in as a major force the PCs needed to contend with. It could easily have been the lizard men (again, dozens of minis for them), or hobgoblins (maybe two dozen of them?), horde pygmies (many, many minis of them), and so on.

How did this happen?

A combination of PC action and PC inaction, really.

The PCs basically wiped out the orc's enemies. You can even see this come up early as they questioned a hobgoblin captured way back in the first delve into Felltower. They killed off the hobgoblins who held the entrance "pillboxes" but who didn't bother to secure the entrance against general traffic. They wiped out the slimes and trolls and disarmed most of the traps that blocked easy transit. They killed most of the gargoyles. They killed off the medusa. The flame lords. The lizardmen (to a lizard and a newtman). They killed a wizard and his corpse-golems and flesh golem guard and summoned monsters. They killed the ogre duo and their gnolls and apes. They wiped out the cone-hatted cultists who took over a portion of the dungeon. Pretty much, if it directly or indirectly threatened the orcs, they killed it.

Meanwhile, they found the growing orc menace was easier to deal with by paying a toll than fighting them. In fact, the PCs suggested the toll. They handed over money, weapons, and even the corpse of one of the six-fingered ones they know so little about. Not that negotiating is bad, but it did served to relieve pressure on the orcs as well as the PCs.

So the PCs created a void in the dungeon by clearing sections of it, but didn't significantly weaken the orcs who could fill that void.

So, the orcs did just that.

Here are some significant posts:

DF Game, Session 13 - Felltower 4 - 9/9/2012. The first direct encounter with the orcs, perhaps?

DF Game, Session 35 - Trigers, Wizard, and the Wardrobe - 0/27/2013, the PCs solved the problem of the orcs fortifying the entrance by negotiating with them for entrance. The PCs initiated this, and offered a lump sum, a per-trip fee, and negotiated escorts and so on in return for safe passage. Trip fee was 50 sp.

DF Game Session 39, Felltower 30 - 1/5/2014, the PCs bypass the orc-held entrances, get in their own way, and wipe out an orc guard post.

DF Session 46, Felltower 37 - Dungeon and Dragons - 7/13/2014, the orcs raise the toll to 1000 sp, or 200 sp to leave the trap the PCs let themselves be sealed in. The PCs paid the 200 and haven't tried to pay a toll to the orcs again.

DF Session 50, Felltower 41 - Orc Trap Counterattacked - 10/26/2014, the PCs come up at the orcs from below but get ambushed. It costs the orcs a lot, but it spooked the PCs out of bothering the orcs. I did a followup post about the orc tactics.

DF Campaign - Session 54, Felltower 45 - Raiding the Orc-Held Castle - 1/11/2015, the PCs attempt a raid on the orc-held ruined castle but can't followup on some initial damage.

There were some other encounters, of course. But those seem like they are worth highlighting - initial encounters, let's make a deal, avoiding the toll, the deal changes, the PCs and orcs fight.

And that's how we got to here.

Where to from here? That's a post the PCs will have to dictate next game session . . .

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Video Game Terms I Like/Dislike on the Tabletop

I try to keep this blog positive. I write about what I like, and why I like it. I write about games that I enjoy playing. This has a lot of negativity in it. I try to rebound off of that, though, and explain what I like about this subject, too.

That is, video game terms that have migrated to the tabletop games I've played.

Terms I dislike that migrated from video games

I don't necessarily hate these terms in video games. I don't like how they migrate to and influence tabletop gaming. I think they give a mistaken vision of the game in front of you, and thus limit you and can subtract from the fun.

"Farming." - I hate the whole "fight the monster, let it respawn, come back and fight it again" cycle. It was awful when my friend would spend hours and hours killing Murphy's Ghost in Wizardry to safely level up (I did it too, I'll admit, but preferred to take the elevator to level 9 and fight one fight and go home and heal up.) It's not even a good term in games where killing monsters doesn't cause character improvement.

My players hopefully jokingly brought this up about the orcs in Felltower. Kill the orcs, take their weapons and saleable armor, cash it in for a profit, get lots of XP for profit. It's actually not that likely to work, but even if it does work occasionally, it's a fun-bankrupt concept. People farm monsters in games because you can get good loot with a good risk:reward ratio, or because it's totally safe (see: South Park WoW episode.) That sounds like the second-worst way to spend a face-to-face gaming session behind "sit around arguing about what we should do." Maybe third behind, "sit around arguing about the rules," but I don't bother to play in those games.

I suppose you could argue dungeon delving is just "farming monsters," but that's only if monsters are repetitive, in the same places, and the environment doesn't change significantly. A good dungeon game should feel like how we view hunting and gathering - go out, find what's there, deal with it and try to come back with the goodies. Hit the same area too often and you've worn it out and need to move on.

"Respawn." - And it's cousin, "Re-pop." Okay, sometimes it's funny when my players talk about checking the chimera room to see if the chimera respawned. But since I'm not actually respawning the vast majority of monsters, it's inappropriate. The few that do "respawn" really lose their luster when reduce to, "Oh, this is a respawning ghost" or "this dragon respawns." An unkillable ghost or a dragon that returns again and again after you slay it should be terrifying. It's a disservice to play to make it "a re-popping monster." I once ran an adventure that "re-popped" to the point of taking back the looted treasure. It was a unique challenge and lots of fun.

"Tanking." - This one isn't terrible, making a character hard to kill or hard to injure and drawing opponents to you so your friends can kill it. This can work in GURPS, tactically, if you can force foes to face an armored foe or a strongly resisting foe. But it takes tactics. You can't just roll out there and have the AI glom monsters onto you. You can't hit the "Aggravate Monsters" or "Taunt" button over and over and have the enemy surround you and swing uselessly. You need to actually trick, channel, or otherwise force monsters through actions to do this. Understanding how to control and channel foes to force them to fight your strongest, most survivable guy is quite different from "get out there and tank." The term gives you just enough of a wrong idea of how the fights will work that it can get you and your teammates killed. Better to ditch the term and start at first principles.

"DPS" - Damage Per Second, right? I think this has little place in most tabletop gaming and in GURPS especially. A good "DPS" tells you nice things about your choice of skill and damage, but what else? You have to hit, then your opponent needs to fail to defend, then you need to roll damage, then you subtract DR, then injury happens. That's if you can even attack a given opponent because of enemy action. DPS makes sense when I think of Diablo/Diablo II, where I'd wade into combat and hold down the buttons cutting through enemies until I won or lost. Well, won, mostly.

In GURPS? I've seen whole fights turn on a die roll. Your average damage per second over time is all well and good until you roll an 18 or a foe rolls a 3 and everything changes. It just hasn't been calculated number worth anything. You may do x.x damage per second in theory, but we're not fighting on a featureless plain. Your average over time doesn't get reflected on my tabletop. If you must use this, use it to compare some choices so you can make an informed decision about your choices. Don't trust it'll tell you the results of your adventuring.

"Character Build." - In video games you generally know what's out there, what your options are, and what you can plan around. So you design a pathway to long-term maximization of your options. Build a guy who'll be very good with spears because there is a unique spear down the line. Ditch him when the new patch nerfs spears. Build a guy who uses a specific combo of spells and powers to get things done. Etc. The whole "optimized path" approach bothers me.

In video games it makes sense. In tabletop RPGs, less so (but not none - see below). You can't predict everything. You don't really know all of your options, or how long you'll play. Not only that, by focusing on a "path" you ignore the fact that you're playing in a wide-open sandbox limited only by the imaginations of the players and GM. You're self-limiting.

Not only that, but the concept is of mechanical perfection. Not, I'm making a very interesting character but rather I'm making a very efficient playing piece. It's bad parts of both the "game" approach (characters aren't special snowflakes, they're playing pieces) and the "role-playing" approach (characters are designed around a preconceived plan, not derived from play.) What's worse is when it's a throwaway mechanical approach ("This is a dual-wielding knife barbarian") instead of a potentially interesting character ("He's a happy-go-lucky axeman dreaming of a farm he'll never save up a cent for.") The first says, "Hey GM, let's beta test the mechanics of these choices in an inter-collected series of battles!" and the second says, "Let's play a role-playing game."

Terms I like that migrated from video games

All that said, there are terms I like from play.

"Hardcore." - Yeah, my games are on hardcore mode for the most part. You can come back from the dead, if you have enough resources salted away and you recover the body. Even so, you might lose everything in the process.

"Healbot." - This I like as a pejorative. It's harder to make a "healing-only cleric" as a PC when the GM or other players says, oh, you're a healbot. Nothing like being reduced to a walking healing potion to make you think about diversifying out to other areas of skill, eh?

"Character Build." - Used differently than above, this isn't a bad idea. I'd prefer it spoken of as a "long-term plan." Have a plan. I emphasize this in life all the time, so why not in game? Have a vision of where your character is going. The concept of a "character build" is a useful one coupled with an eye towards the wide-open options of tabletop play. Know what you want to do and work toward it, but keep open to the possibilities that come along. Know what to sacrifice short-term for long term goals (the upside of a "build"). Have a plan of what you can get as you go so it all makes sense and makes a playable and enjoyable character. Know what stones to step on to get to the next stone, to the next, until you've crossed the stream. Don't bolt yourself to mechanical rails to get to munchkin maximization to get to the end.

"Boss Monster." - It's a good way to explain the "Saturday Night Special" encounters. Stuff worth the time, effort, and focus from both sides of the screen. It alerts you, the player, that big stuff is out there and sometimes monsters aren't just a bag of HP waiting to be whittled down so you can can take their GP. It alerts you, the GM, that you have to put some thought into big encounters so the game is punctuated by real challenges that can shift the game depending on how they go. The idea that some monsters are just flat-out special is a good one. It existed in tabletop RPGs from its earliest days (Acererak) but the term boss monster really speaks to it well and expands it.

Friday, April 8, 2016

D&D 5e: Lich Lair Traits

I've mentioned this before when I talked about black dragons, but I'll say it again. I love lair actions and large-area effects of lairs of bad guys in D&D 5th edition. I find them very inspirational and interesting.

So I took it upon myself to add a couple to another creature I like - the Lich.




As written, the D&D lich has several lair actions, but no lair traits or regional traits Here are three of each.

Lair Traits

A lich's lair might have any or all of the following effects in place.

• The first time a non-evil creature enters the tombs area, the creature takes 16 (3d10) necrotic damage.*

• Undead in a lich's lair have advantage against features that turn undead and on attacks against anyone who attempts to turn them or who has attempted to do so in the past hour.

• Healing magic is at disadvantage within the confines of the lich's lair.

Regional Traits

The region around a lich's lair is warped by the creature's undead presence, causing any or all of the following effects.

• The area around a lich's lair takes on an aspect of death; grass is browned and partly withered; trees and bushes are stunted, hollowed by rot, and browned or leafless; water is ill-tasting; animals forced to stay in the area become emaciated, sickened, and unable to eat properly.

• Dead left within 6 miles of the lich's lair rot twice as fast. Buried corpses rapidly rise to the surface even if well-buried, through unnatural storms, shifting earth, or all-too-quick wind erosion.

• Skulls seem to turn and stare at anyone within 6 miles of a lich's lair, and out of the corner of one's eye they seem to glint and glow.

If the lich is destroyed, these effects end after 2d6 days.



I think those make a lich in the area a bit more entertaining. And it's easy to mistake a demi-lich's tomb for a lich's tomb, if you pay too close attention to the damaging game effects . . .

* This is identical to a demi-lich's effect, so that taking necrotic damage isn't a clue to the nature of the lich within.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Negotiating with Monsters in DF

A month or so back I wrote about some common PC errors when when negotiating with monsters.

This is a look at how you do it in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, specifically negotiations with intelligent monsters.

My primary source for this is Dungeon Fantasy 2: Dungeons. GURPS also has Social Engineering, but that's a pretty heavy expansion for a game that's myopically focused on getting loot from dungeons. DF doesn't even reference much of Martial Arts, and combat will outweigh negotiations in any standard DF game run as-written. This post assumes you're familiar with negotiations as written on page 10 of DF2.

The Players

First and foremost, negotiating calls for good player skills. You need to be able to understand what's at stake for you and the other side. You need to know the value of what you're trading off in a deal. You need to have some ability to create a reasonable framework for negotiating and settling.

For the most part it ultimately comes down to a skill roll - a silver-tongued player running a character with no Diplomacy skill, a pile of reaction roll penalties, and a Reputation (-2, Lying backstabbing nogoodnik) can't talk his way out of his poor choice of point spending. Even a tongue-tied player can get some placed with a well-crafted Bard. But you can't even get to the roll without role-playing.

Knowing your enemy helps. What do they want?

Nothing torpedoes negotiations like a fundamental misunderstanding of what your opponent wants or what they find valuable. You can ask, but it's generally better to have an idea walking in the door, or you've skipped right to "negotiating from a position of weakness."

Tip: Think it through, but don't overthink it. It's easy to go from "fear of missing out" or "offer you can't refuse" to "offer you don't understand" and "TL;DR."

You also need to know what your potential negotiating partner is like. Beyond detecting trickery, you want to know how they regard deals. You don't want to spend mere seconds agreeing to vague terms when negotiating with a high-IQ foe with Law and a penchant for "technically within the terms of the agreement." O conversely spend hours hammering out precise wording with a low-IQ foe who isn't going to really get what you meant by "shall not directly aid and abet those we may consider foes at this time" and might just think something different than you anyway.

The Skills

Diplomacy, Fast-Talk, and Intimidation are the main character skills you'll find useful in negotiations.

To sum up what those skills do in a sentence: Diplomacy is the skill of negotiating, Fast-Talk the skill of trickery, and Intimidation the skill of coercion. Diplomacy gets the other side to agree - they might not hold to the deal, but this gets a deal made. Fast-Talk gets the other side to believe some trickery or lies long enough to let you act - usually to get past without a fight (this time) or gain surprise in some fashion. Intimidation gets fear-based cooperation, rather than agreement. Fans of misapplying Machiavelli love to rely on this - better to be feared than loved, eh? But fear of you has a way of weakening as you weaken, and ideally, you want the monsters a lot of afraid and yet very fond of you all the same.

In short, use Fast-Talk for temporary trickery, Intimidation to inspire fear or scare foes or get a combatant to back off, and Diplomacy to get some real lasting agreement. You can use these to help each other, of course - using Fast-Talk to get someone to listen, or Intimidation to get you foes to back off so you can initiate real talks, for example. You can try to use them as Complementary Skills, of course, but they can poison the well with failure. There is nothing wrong with being scary, but it's more useful for short-term effects than long-term ones.

You don't want to be too low skill, either, as there is a default -3 for cross-cultural encounters with Diplomacy. On the upside, though, don't forget that success seals the deal, but failure just means you need to make some more concessions. Only critical failure on Diplomacy causes a true breakdown in negotiations!

Don't fall into the 1-point expert trap ("I'm a negotiator, I have 1 point in a social skill") but equally don't get discouraged. You can always try talking. And a good enough deal might just bypass the roll - the GM might just rule the monsters want that deal and just take it, no matter how poorly you get it across. But if it comes to a roll, realize that like combat skills, social skills work better if you're actually good them.

The Abilities

You need some way to talk - a language in common. The Gift of Tongues spell is a lifesaver, here. Broken language gives a -3, and in my games at least severely limits your ability to impart nuance. (No, "We tell him to do A, or we'll do B, and if C happens we want D instead!" with Broken. You're still at the "This is a pen" level of Goblinese for 1 point.) Accented is only a -1, because you're just missing nuance and annoying each other with poor grammar and word choices. Worse comes to worse, you can try Gesture, but your Diplomacy skill is capped by it!

Besides that, consider Social Chameleon and/or Cultural Adaptability on your Bard. If you don't have a bard, Persuasion spells are helpful to make up for your likely lack of Charisma . . . but it's a resisted spell so it's not foolproof. Serendipity is a potentially good way to find you have something in common, or just happen to have the right kind of loot the monsters want, or something else to grease the gears of friendly dealmaking. Luck might be needed to re-roll your skill rolls!

The Combination

None of the pieces above really functions in a vacuum. You need the basic abilities to communicate. You need the skills to get a good result. And you need the player skill to offer a deal worth taking to the monsters (and worth paying, as the PCs!) Of course, it's not always going to work - but armed with some of the hints above, it's more likely to work.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Terrain Project: Re-assembling GW floor sheets

I'm trying to find, sort, and assemble all of my GW terrain sheet cut-outs.

I'm hoping I can make some 8 1/2" x 11" sheets of these I can scan, so I can make duplicates or custom sheets.

That way I can have a little folder of terrain overlays for my maps.

I've started the "put them in piles" process. Next time I have a few minutes, I'll sort a few more of them and start to tape them down to sheets.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

DF Game PC Roster

I know it can get confusing sorting out the PCs in my DF game. After all, I don't list who the players are, on purpose, so it's not always clear who runs who.

But I figured I'd list the PCs who are run by the same players. Hopefully this format makes sense.

I tried to put them in order, and put a * next to deceased PCs.

- Vryce and Gerrald "Gerry" Tarrant are run by the same player.

- Volos*, Nakar the Unseen*, Dryst, Rahtnar the Vegan*, and Angus McSwashy are all the same player.

- Fuma*, Kullockh*, then Christoph, Asher Crest-fallen*, and now Quenton Gale are all the same player's characters.

- Al Murik*, El Murik*, and now Mo Kle are all run by the same player.

- Bjorn Felmanson* then Hjalmarr Holgarson are the same player's characters.

- Hannibal the Flammable Barca*, then Hasdrubel Stormcaller Barca are obviously the same player's characters.**

- Galoob Jah and Kenner Baumfellen are both one player's characters.

- Borriz Borrizmann.

- Galen Longtread.

- Honus Honusson.

- Bern Brambleberry.

- Dave the Knight.

- Inquisitor Marco*, then Chuck Morris.

I put them roughly in "currently playing" and "not currently playing" groups. We've had 13 players running PCs in the group, but we've got a pool of about 7-8 playing right now. We have a very occasional guest star who's dropped in and run an NPC or two for us, but who can't commit even to occasional game sessions - he's not counted in the 13 since he doesn't have a PC. I don't think I missed any PCs.

All characters start at 250+50+5, and players can potentially have as many characters as they want - but I don't count, and don't care about, "potential" characters. We only count PCs who've actually made a delve. Ones not in current rotation are usually assumed to be off "somewhere" doing "something" for a living, and unavailable. We've made very small allowances where that removes a campaign obstacle. For example, Vryce and Dryst passing along some armor, maps, extensive background information, and keys to the group in session 74 so the players could use all of their built-up knowledge and resources. Otherwise, characters aren't in play until they've entered play, and when they leave they take their abilities with them. No "cleric I made up to heal us in town!" or "thief with Very Wealthy who sells our gear for a tiny cut!"

And although we joked that Dryst and Vryce should ask for a full share in return for their help, we'd probably avoid going that route. It's fraught with too much potential for abuse (make a guy, run him once, leave him in town and lend out his skills for a share) and too little fun.

I hope this helps answer questions about why you never see Vryce adventure with Gerry, or why Galoob and Kenner don't team up, or why some characters have such similar names to fallen friends . . .

** I can't wait until a critical spell failure inevitably introduces us to Hamilcar.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Last Session's Accidentally Invented Monsters

We ended up accidentally inventing a number of monsters yesterday. Here are the ones I remember:

Storks - These are stirge-orcs. Basically orcs, but they have stirge proboscises and suck blood, attacking with an axe swing followed by a close-combat eye poke to suck out your precious bodily fluids.

Orges - flying eight-legged orcs. I'm not sure if they suck blood, but they sure do suck.

Strolls - Stirge-trolls. It's not clear if these are blood-sucking trolls, eight-legged flying blood sucking trolls, or stirges that regenerate and say "Hloo, hloo!" a lot. Maybe all three.

Turns out that, like trolls and rust monsters, trolls and stirges are natural allies. They just regenerate all the sucked-out blood. It's worth noting that any two monsters encountered together in my games, or in the same dungeon as each other, are declared "natural allies." Oddly, monsters that have the most affinity are "natural enemies." Earth elementals and gargoyles? Clearly natural enemies!

It's Drystian Naturalism.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

DF Session 74, Felltower 48 - Stirge Extermination

April 3rd, 2016

Weather: Windy, cold (but warmed up)

Characters (approximate net point total)

Adventuring:
Angus "Mithrilbraid" McSwashy, dwarf swashbuckler (261 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (287 points)
     5 skeletons (~25 points) (one is a hunchbacked zombie)
Hasdrubul Stormcaller, human wizard (267 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (269 points)
     Brother Ike, human initiate (135 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (271 points)
     Kian, human pirate (~65 points)
Quenton Gale, human druid (267 points)

In reserve:
Bern Brambleberry, gnome artificer (265 points)
Borriz, dwarven knight (308 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (303 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (395 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (372 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (302 points)
Kenner Baumfellen, wood elf scout (250 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (468 points)

We started in Stericksburg, first time in a while.

The group gathered rumors, and did all of their bookkeeping. They especially picked up some rumors about pools - the pool room periodically changes, there is a pool that grants wishes (Hasdrubel wants to see if he can wish Mo dead, just to see if it would work - his alignment is clearly Chaotic Wizard), and one about a pool that turns your water to poison.

One bit of bootstrapping - Gerry traded in his regular armor for a suit of enchanted scale armor that scales up in protection depending on your Magery level, picked up a long time ago. Of course, with its cone-topped helmet and face mask, he looks like one of the six-fingered ones. With it, though, he's got DR 9 (it caps at Fortify +5, despite his Magery 6) and it's very light - only about 1/3 normal weight. They also picked up a pig, which was on sale for 300 sp. Probably a bargain - I couldn't quickly lay my hands on the price for pigs. They named it "Delicious."

With copies of the maps provided by Vryce and Dryst, and holding onto the keys Dryst found in case they needed them, they headed up to the dungeon.

They decided to go right into the dragon cave, sending Mo ahead to scout. He checked it and determined no one had come and gone recently, especially not orcs. So they headed in. They worked their way around the caverns, trying to reach the "behir" - the lightning worm they'd met and bribed in past groups. First they headed to the "sanctuary" - a mushroom-lined pool found in a previous delve and marked on the map.

They made it there and rested up, with Brother Ike telling them it felt peaceful and restful. They also found the water was Essential Water, the mushrooms edible and filling, and some color-tinged ones had magical effects. Eventually they'd discover some gave you resistance to poison (immunity, in Angus's case), others dark vision, and others very minor healing. They picked some (but not all), and took them along while Angus and Mo ate one of each.

From there, they sought out the "behir." They eventually made it, hearing only chittering rats and squeaking bat. They started to set up, carefully, to meet the wyrm, concerned about provoking it or alerting the nearby gargoyles (who they could clearly hear scraping the stones). The wyrm poked its heard out, though, and instigated conversion. Hasdrubel could smell the ozone on its breath, confirming it had a lightning breath attack at the very least (possible other lightning magic, too.)

As usual, it was interested in food, especially the pig and even more so those little delicious people (it means halflings). They made a deal, giving it the pig in return for passage through its lair and back. They also got some information on treasure, sort of ("The gargoyles might have some. Or there could be some behind those big doors.") in return for promising it freshly killed stirges. It also confirmed there was no way out of the caves except the ones they knew.

They made good on the stirges immediately, going past its lair into the twin stirge caves they'd been in a couple times before, where Galen shot a stirge off of his own face. Stirges flew out and attacked. The PCs cut down a number of them, but one got past Hasdrubel's guard and put a proboscis right into his right eye for 3 impaling damage. He took 12 injury, blew his stunning and knockdown roll by almost 10 (maybe more than 10, actually), and dropped unconscious. The stirge didn't get to savor its victory, though, because Hasdrubel had just charged up a 3d Explosive Lightning spell . . . which went off. ZAP. It badly injured Has, fried the stirge, fried his friends, and fried another pair of stirges that were in mid-air.

The rest of the "fight" went easily, though - stirges got mown down by Angus McSwashy, Hjalmarr, Mo, and even the skeletons. Once they defeated the stirges, they healed, Cleansing'd and then healed and Awakened Hasdrubel, and moved into their home nest area. A few more lightning spells and swings and so on killed a few more, cutting their number to zero in the room.

They headed back through the lightning wyrm's lair, offering him almost 20 stirges - some roasted by magic, one stunned and crippled but not dead.

After this, they debated engaging the gargoyles. While they lack the magic weapons to slay then, they do have two doses of Oil of Puissance, which would do just as well. What clinched it was the gargoyle's high roosts, where they could easily flee and remain during a fight once they realized they could be hurt. Gargoyles are the worst sorts of bullies when they face weak foes, but will back down and flee against lethal ones. So they realized they might waste their oil and not be able to finish them.

So they wound their way all the way around and across the caverns, passing the stairs up. But as they came to the intersection, a large earth elemental came stomping down the stairs! They started to debate what to do to it, but it didn't wait and waded into melee with them. A skeleton managed to block a punch, and the fight was on. The earth elemental was hostile and tough, and they had trouble hurting it. So Gale decided to try Shape Earth as an offensive spell to tear it up. It was costly on a SM+2 earth-and-stone monster. He tried and failed and they fought. Then he tried again . . . and got an 18. Oops. The battered earth elemental instantly healed up and grew in size to SM+3 and commensurate stat gains. Suddenly its DR was too tough for most of their attacks.

The fight turned into a dangerous brawl. The earth elemental swept up Mo and a skeleton in its arms and started to squeeze them to death. Mo managed to partly break free but was hurt. Hasdrubel zapped it with lightning but it wasn't terribly hurt. Gale tried his spell again and this time hurt it (I ruled it did 2d injury, resisted by HT - not great, but not nothing). Mo finally broke free, though, after Angus stunned it with a fierce Kiai, and then stunned it again when it recovered! Meanwhile the zombie, and Hasdrubel, rained down blows on it - Hasdrubel many All-Out Attack (Strong) strikes thanks to Great Haste.

This gave Gerry enough time to build up an 18d Skull Missile and launch it at the stunned elemental. It was already damaged from all of the striking, but still solidly up. Until it took 79 damage and just came apart. Booooooom, crunch, crumble.

They spent a few seconds gathering up their tired casters and checked if the earth elemental was made of treasure (it wasn't), and fled to the sanctuary. They rested their and recovered before setting back out. It was clearly safe, even from bugs and rats and whatnot.

They worked around the caverns until they found a room with faint magic and a faint smell of sulfur and ozone. Identify Spell told them it was some kind of gate-related magic, but that's it. (Amusingly, Hjalmarr's player misheard this as Ape Magic, which is now a thing. Also, a thing Hjalmarr is afraid of.)

They finally made it to the other stirge-filled room. They killed a number of them with melee and spells. Notably Kian got bit and had to rip one of her chest, Mo did the same. Mo then smashed the grappled stirge into another stirge sucking his blood and smashed it, then flung the one he had at one that Gale had just pulled off of his face guards. He missed the stirge and hit Gale's hand, crippling it!

Gale fell and dropped the stirge, but as soon as it fluttered out of his grasp Hjalmarr threw an axe through it.

After this they dealt with the sinkhole aka the stirgehole. It went down 35 or so feet from the base of the 8' sinkhole, with a width of between 20" and 32", and then turned off. A dropped lightstone revealed some details and depth past a twist and bend.

In the end what they did was put a Stench spell down the hole, followed by capping it with a max-strength Lightning Wall after it dropped to stirge-level depth (or so they hoped). That fried five or six stirges that tried to escape, and the rest died from the poison gasses.

After that, they stood guard and had Gale use Shape Earth to slowly shape the tunnel a little wider and into grippable rungs and climb down. Once he got low enough to ensure there was space for Gerry, he climbed back up.

Then, invisible Gerry levitated himself upside down into the hole to look. He found a dead-end collapsed low, wide, flat cave full of stirge guano and dead stirges. Some more investigation revealed nothing. Just a dead end, probably collapsed long ago (or with the past few years, possibly) from an earthquake or tremor. No further way down, no way in or out of the dungeon. Just another dead end (with enough space to house stirges, really).

That done, the PCs made their way to and up the stairs to the finished area above. They poked around at some dead ends, empty rooms, smashed doors, and other areas they'd been in before. They checked out the wood/rags/bones/earth/stone blockage the orcs put in to seal off the stairs to the level above. They debated going to the "green gem zombie" room, but knew it took a thief to get the door open the one time they got in, so they didn't bother with the effort.

After a lot of poking around dry holes, they tried to head home. They made it, but got lost a couple times before they re-oriented themselves and made it out.

No loot, but no casualties, and everyone emerged in good condition.

Notes:

Nearly a full house today - all of the current regulars made it out. A couple major PCs stayed in town, but their players made it. At some point I'll do a list of associated PCs - which ones were/are run by the same players.

No Raggi - the dice said no, he wasn't around. Probably a good thing, since he's cranky when they aren't looting.

Lots of player memory influencing PC actions - many of the players have delved here before, but not one veteran PC was there. We explained this by them having heard the rumors, spoken to Vryce and Dryst and essentially joined up with them, and so on. To have a rotating pool of PCs can occasionally require this, and clearly they had the knowledge, because they know these things. Right? Results drive narrative for these kind of things.

The title is a bit of an exaggeration - they killed something like 40+ stirges, but didn't totally wipe them out. They did pare back their numbers to almost nothing, though.

Navigating the caverns proved a little tricky, but for the most part they managed okay. Their map is extensive and works, but it's very visually inaccurate, with lengths and widths approximate and inaccurate. Finding some of the numbers they'd scratched into the walls (they being the previous PCs, but same players) was difficult. They knew of them, but finding them was hard and took between 5-30 minutes. Generally they skipped them and only searched them out when they got a little turned around. They tended to wind the long way just to keep on the same path, even when they were in purely physical terms just around the corner from their destination. Not getting lost was the priority, though.

Using the current XP rules, coming in empty was 0 points, 1 point for no casualties, and 1 point for extensive exploration. I was generous on the last because it's not a lot of new areas (one, really), but they checked a few areas and made a real effort to clear up some loose ends in the "dragon cave" area. There isn't anything left for "new areas" in the area, though, except for one big spot . . . which they are worried about checking out. MVP was Gerry for the massive Skull Missile.

Overall, an enjoyable session, but the PCs need to figure out a path forward. The "stirge hole" was a hail mary pass, hoping they could get in without dealing with the orcs and delve deeper. That's clearly out. So now it's a question of how to get into the dungeon and either attack, or negotiate with, the orcs, so they can have deeper passage. But all the known entrances either take a lot of work to get to the orcs (dragon cave), are through the orcs (well, main entrance), or are within sight of the orcs and dangerous no matter what (the bugbear cave). What will happen? We'll know next session, in a number of weeks . . .
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