Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year in Gaming 2016

As usual I like to take a look back at my year in gaming.

Running GURPS Dungeon Fantasy

I ran 14 sessions of Dungeon Fantasy this year. That's down from last year, but a lot of work, travel, and holidays fell on Sundays this year. Also, we played more Gamma Terra (see below) so I'm satisfied we got in a good amount of gaming. 2016 was our 5th calendar year of gaming in the same campaign.

We had eight different players involved this year, with six of them being very regular and two being occasional. The length of the sessions is tough for some people, but two guys come in from out of state so one eight-hour session beats weekly two-three hour sessions.

In the game itself, the most satisfying for me as the GM was that the PCs started to fight the orcs instead of just worry about what happens if they fight the orcs. That, and finding the Lost City gate and another as yet undeciphered gate. Gates are a big part of the campaign plan, and I hadn't really expected the PCs to take as long as they did to discover them. Hopefully what's beyond them will be an interesting challenge for them.

I didn't get to run that playtest I mentioned on the blog, though. We ended up with scheduling conflicts meaning I'd get one player, possibly two, and I needed four or more. So I cancelled it and we moved on. It happens.

Playing GURPS Gamma Terra

We played four sessions of Gamma Terra this year.

We cleaned up a big plot arc - dealing with the Ironmen in Boomtown, restarting a nuclear reactor, recharging our Warbot Sweaty, and scoping out the best game map I've ever had the privilege of actually using.

It's been a very enjoyable and satisfying game. Challenging, but we get to play with guns and strange technology and are rewarded for taking appropriate risks. The game's arc is pushing us towards playing Harvests & Homesteads but I'm pushing hard for keeping that as a backdrop for butt-kicking.

Playtesting Dragon Heresy

I also got to play two sessions of playtests for Douglas Cole's Dragon Heresy project. I was in one session while I was in Japan, which was really intersting - Skyping from halfway around the globe and killing kobolds. Most enjoyable for me was getting to play with Vic and Greg, who I've GMed for in GURPS. I drag people I know into games I play in because I want to share the fun and get to play with my players.

All together, this was 20 sessions of gaming for me this year. Not bad. I hear the B-Team is getting back together, so hopefully there will be more. I do expect a lot of busy Sundays, though, so we'll see if we actually get to play more DF this year.


I managed to get out three Pyramid articles - two post-apocalyptic ones and one GM advice for Dungeon Fantasy. Since I play post-apoc and run DF, this doesn't seem out of line. I wrote some blog posts I rather liked and I kept my usual writing/posting pace up.

I also had another GURPS book published - GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3: Born of Myth & Magic. I'm quite pleased with how that came out. It sold pretty well as the year closed out, too.

I started another writing project near the end of the year. And I have been bugging someone about another game project I'd like to do, if it's feasible. "Feasible" meaning "easy for me."

Oh, and some of my prior writing was included in the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game boxed set rulebooks. So I've got that going for me.

Non-RPG gaming

I played a lot of Darklands, played through the Designer's Cut of Wasteland 2 for a while (Assault Rifles still rule although they made other stuff suck less; combats are still either boring or blatantly unfair and boring), and played the heck out of Borderlands 2 for I'm not sure how many years running. I'm still not bored with that game. My current goal is to get Max Power, my Commando, to max out his level in the game. Because, you know, blowing up cartoony bad guys is fun. I picked up Sam & Max Hit the Road but haven't really played it much yet. Oh, and I played some Europa Universalis: Rome Gold but it's crash-prone once you get big.

A couple things I noticed. If I'm on the fence about a game, the sequel is right out. I backed Wasteland 2 on the strength of Fallout, but I skipped Wasteland 3 on the disappointments of 2. That's a lesson for my own games - PCs won't willingly return to a place that sucks the first time they go. You can't ensure you'll get a second chance if you don't impress on the first chance. So use your ideas right away and don't hold back awesome for later.

Another is that old-school games are easily derailed by real-life issues. I played a lot of Darklands going up into a vacation. I played a little on vacation itself. But then I was too busy to play for a month or so. By the time I got back to it I couldn't make sense of my notes, remember where the next's witches coven was to be, what I'd gathered in terms of reagents, who owed me money, etc. etc. I'd essentially need to start playing and give up a lot of the work I did for sheer lack of in-game tracking. This tells me that an important part of tabletop gaming is the ease with which players can retrieve knowledge of what they've done. I'm not as modern-game friendly when it comes to tracking done/not done or been there/haven't been there, but I do have summaries and lots of tracking posts up on this blog. I keep updated character sheets, spell modifications, rumors heard lists, etc. on a shared web drive. The less accessible this information is, the more if feels like wasted work and doing the same work twice - and that will drive down enthusiasm. I put a premium on player's knowledge in my game but I make all of the in-game information as accessible as I can.

And crash bugs kill game play enthusiasm. Totally kill it. When "one more turn!" becomes "those last 50 turns over again, maybe it won't crash this time!" I basically stop playing.


Yes, I did buy more minis than I painted, painted more minis than I sold off, and otherwise put off the PITA that is selling my old minis on eBay. Shush, I like minis. I'm especially proud of the dark elves I converted into foes for Felltower, and a few pieces that came out great but need to wait until the PCs stumble across them.

Some I've shown, like this orc chief that came out better than I'd hoped it would.

I do need to list my Ogre minis on eBay but listing things on eBay has gotten to be a real drag if you're just an occasional seller.

Looking ahead

I'm hoping to get in about the same amount of gaming, plus hopefully some extra sessions. I'd like to get at least 2-3 Pyramid articles and another GURPS book out. We'll see how that goes. Overall, I'm pleased with the pace I'm on in my hobby and I'd like to keep it up.

Friday, December 30, 2016

GURPS Ultra-Tech from Createspace

I received my copy of GURPS Ultra-Tech in softcover yesterday.

First, a big thumbs down to the USPS. I was home all day on this rainy day. Did they ring the bell when they dropped off the book? No, they just put it against the stoop and I eventually found it when I went down to see if the mail came. The book was okay, but only because the cardboard absorbed the water. The book spent five hours getting pressed under a pile of big books to de-wave the page edges.

Second, it's easier to order the book through's main site than through Createspace. If you've got Prime, it's a no-brainer to just toss the book in the card and check out.

The book itself is attractive. It's well printed, pretty much - the spine writing is a bit off-center, and it's a little deeper down from the top of the book. The margins are correct - none of that text too close to the edges problems. Th edges of the paper are crisp and clean although there are some odd streaks on the edges that don't bleed through to the main contents. This is a little annoying - shouldn't printing books be something easily done now, not just "close enough"? It doesn't impact the book's value, but it's annoying.

The contents are fine - Ultra-Tech is written by David Pulver and Kenneth Peters, who both did a great job.

I need to email SJG and put in a vote for getting GURPS Martial Arts in this format. Partly because I'm a co-author so I'd get paid for copies. But mostly because I'm a co-author and I own two copies (three if you count the one in Korean) and my players own like 2-3 copies across a group three times that size. We need more physical copies. I'm not sure what the problem with putting basically everything out of print up for Print on Demand via Createspace. I hope more books get added.

I'm already enjoying flipping around and reading random entries. That's what I love about tech catalogs. I don't really look for a specific thing such as read around and find things I'm interested in at the moment.

I'm not sure how the other books are.

Reaper vs. Black Tree Scale pictures

This is for Archon Shiva, who asked how Black Tree Designs humans scale vs. Reaper Bones.

Just some Reapers I had handy next to the Barbarian King (off his carriers and Drakul the wizard. Drakul is cheating a bit as he's standing inside an inverted slotted base which puts about 1/4" on his height. I base all my non-Bones minis.

 photo Reaper vs. Black Tree Size 001s_zpscoyekuhq.jpg

I didn't bother with a Dwarves vs. Dwarves shot because Reaper Dwarves are big and have been getting bigger. They often stand almost as tall as most humans, especially the earlier Reaper minis. I know dwarves and humans are both SM 0 in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, but as tall as plus much wider and thicker than humans doesn't really convey "dwarf" to me.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Review: Pyramid 3/95 Overland Adventures

I picked this issue up during the big GURPS sale over on Warehouse 23.

Pyramid 3/95 Overland Adventures
by Steve Jackson Games
$7.99 in PDF

The Emerald Hell
by Timothy Ponce

This is a very detailed look at adventuring in jungles - especially tropical rainforests - in GURPS. It has a lot of two things needed to really make an adventure in jungle terrain pop - realistic detail and specific rules. By realistic detail, I mean saying a jungle is "an ecosystem with average monthly temperatures exceeding 64°F year round and average annual rainfalls of at least 66”, no single month of which averages less than 1/25 of total annual rainfall." Precise information you can use. Not, "hot, wet, rainy" but specifics you can use. The rules are pulled out of the exiting rules and collected into one place for you - the effects on overland travel (on foot, on water vehicle, ground vehicle), the climbing rules, bad footing and terrain adaptation, and so on. It's very complete, and with a quick read through you'll be ready to set up a jungle adventure. I'd like to see more of these - swampland, mountains, desert. The rules exist and the data is out on the internet, but having it all together in a few pages is what gaming material is for. it even has a random weather table that would have been handy when I was running the Lost City!

Low-Tech Transportation
by Christopher Rice

The best way I can describe this is - Chris runs all of the numbers for you on transport. Bearers carrying your stuff? Using wagons over rough terrain? Going by ship? Want to figure out the cost per mile or per trip? This is the article for you. It will require some math, but if you're playing the kind of game where trade occurs or trekking across country with goods for sale (or recovered treasure), this will be very useful. It seems like it would be more useful with prep than on the fly, though, which isn't a criticism - just an observation. Good stuff, and it's nice to have someone remember that horse furniture has weight, porters have to eat, and that cost of transport affects prices on the far end and account for that.

Eidetic Memory: Monster Caravan
by David Pulver

This is a fully statted caravan run by monsters. Specifically by Ghorak One-Fang the orc. It's all ready for a hostile encounter with PCs, down to the contents of the wagons with weights and costs. The power level is probably good for a very small DF group (so the orcs have numbers to threaten the PCs) or for a more normal-sized 100-150 point group . . . especially one looking to pull a fast raid or a caper on the fly instead of brawl out a victory. Good and useful, I'll probably grab it when I need an encounter on the fly.

The Village Green
by Jon Black

Using a TL3 English Village as a base, this is a "what's in the village?" article. It discusses the depth of attachment to the outside world, defensiveness or lack thereof, the people of the village, specifics of particular buildings you'd find, etc. It's well written but since I rarely use villages I just couldn't get much from this one. I go right for cities. But this has enough tools to help you put together a village with some verisimilitude, even when you change "English peasants" to "elven woodfolk."

Random Though Table: Keeping Reins on the Wilds

If I'd read this before I wrote my GM advice article, I'd have pointed to it. Basically, how to bound a sandbox and ensure the players stay in it and want to? Steven goes over that in detail with excellent examples and hints. I use a lot of these techniques and I highly recommend it. Bonus points for using B2 and X1 as his examples. And yes, X1 is a vastly better bounded sandbox. Are you surprised?

Overall: Good issue. It would be worth it to me for the jungle and overland travel articles alone - the monster caravan, village, and bounded sandbox articles are just icing on the cake. They are all well done. I will use things from this issue and it will improve my gaming (or at least, speed my prep!)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cutting wordcount from game writing is not fun

I'm currently engaged in the toughest part of any writing gig - cutting wordcount.

I managed to get something written, but then even after a lot of edits, I pared the words down by only a few dozen. It needs to be more like 1000 or so.

That now means substantive cuts. I can re-use the material elsewhere, of course, but it's tough to decide what needs to get ripped out.

It's tricky - take out A, and maybe B depends on it. Or C makes less sense without A around. It's no easier to just find shorter ways to say the same thing. It's time consuming and difficult at best.

So that's what I am up to - it's been a busy work week, lots going on outside of work, and lots of editing and cutting of a game-related thing I wrote.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Black Tree minis year-end sale

If you missed the last sale but you're very jealous of my sorcerer and boar and dwarves, EOE Orbis is have another sale. Fantasy cavalry and infantry (and lots of monsters count as infantry) are 50% off:

Historical infantry is 50% off and Doctor Who is 30% off.

EOE Orbis Weekly Sale

Just FYI.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Loot 2016

It was a lovely year for Christmas and Christmas presents this year, but as for gaming gear it was a bit thin on the ground.

That's fine, but it does make for a spare "Christmas Loot" post.

My sole gaming-related gift received was a paperback copy of Cinema & Sorcery from Green Ronin:

It's gaming related because, nestled in all of the descriptions of movies like Krull and The Beastmaster and Legend are rollable tables, systemless magic item and gaming suggestions, and "This Year in Gaming." That latter one describes what was going on in the gaming world when the movie was released.

It's pretty cool and it's already moved up to the top of my reading list.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Magic Item: The Deck of Halls

Inspired by misreading the name of a Christmas carol at a quick glance. The brain's ability to swap in a pattern until it sees what is really there means you get this lovely magic item.

Deck of Halls

The deck of halls is a 12-card deck of cards roughly four inches by six. Each card depicts a different dungeon corridor in a dungeon - usually far-flung dungeons or ones especially difficult to get to. Scrying magic (or careful research) may determine where those cards go.

The cards may be cut, shuffled, and otherwise handled and examined without activating them. To use a card, one must be drawn purposefully from the deck. Once drawn that card must be used or discarded before another card can be drawn. Once drawn, the card becomes a one-way portal (lasting one minute) to the corridor depicted on the card. Merely touching a card is enough to draw a subject into the depicted location. When a card is used or discarded, its magic fades and becomes just a simple parchment playing card. Each card may only be used once. Great for jumping from danger into new danger!

Game stats:

(GURPS): $1,000 per card remaining in the deck. Otherwise functions like a normal gate, except the size of the gate does not matter for drawing a subject in. Gates are one-way.

(Swords & Wizardry/retro-clone compatible): 1,000 gp sale value per card remaining in the deck. Any class may use the deck.

(D&D): 1,000 gp sale value per card remaining in the deck. Does not require attunement.

I imagine these cards depict a mix of very plain dungeon corridors that could be anywhere and much more specific ones. For example, ones decorated with heiroglyphs that lead to some lost Egyptian-themed tomb, ones covered with vines in the depths of a steamy jungle guarded by Aztec-themed orcs, holly-decked halls that lead to a festive land of elves, arched-roofed dungeons that echo with the stomps of the Lord of Spite, etc. A great way, at least potentially, to have PCs go to new dungeons. And if the big bad guy flees by throwing down a card to a strange corridor and runs through, do you let him escape with the gold and the McGuffin or do you jump in after him? 60, 59, 58, 57 . . . the GM's watch is counting down the seconds to decide . . . Merry Christmas, delvers!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Some treasure lessons from my own game

When I first started my GURPS DF game, the amount of treasure was an issue. That wasn't enough. I was putting in too little and ensuring a steady stream outgoing.

I made a mistake in too-closely following the amounts of money found in B2 The Keep on the Borderlands and just updating them to GURPS - silver to $0.10 coppers, gold to $1 silvers, platinum to $100 gold coins, etc. I'd eventually sort out the steady stream outgoing - upkeep went from "per real world week between sessions" to "once between sessions." But the incoming was still a a bit sparse.

My megadungeon had the same issue at first, but I cleaned that up as I went, going back through it and adding in extra treasure. Even so, I learned a few lessions.

You can't assume the same PCs will get the money.

PCs might die. People might switch PCs. New players might show up, forcing an additional split on the loot. The PCs might find a great weapon, sell it for 40% of its value, and then someone comes along who can use that weapon - and then buys a new one of the same kind at 100% value. PCs might sell useful gear now because it isn't seen as useful then buy the same gear later. A player might run a PC for a while, accumulate a lot of loot, and then stop playing because real life impinges on the game schedule.

In other words, the total might be divided among more parts than you expected.

You can't assume the PCs will recognize when things have gone dry.

Sometimes the players find a good haul of loot or two, and then leave the area. More often, especially in a repeatedly delved dungeon, they'll end up in the same places repeatedly. They might expect they found only part of the loot and look for the rest. They might clean a place out entirely but think "those guys must have had more money." They might be right, but not recognize they're in the wrong place looking for a stash that is elsewhere.

You can't assume the players will take the risks needed to realize all of the treasure.

Loot might be there, but require a bold move to get it. Especially if the treasure isn't permanently in the location. The Cold Fens was a good example of this in my game. Cognizant of the need for more fungible loot, I put in some. It wasn't scattered around willy-nilly, but it was there. But instead of the PCs steamrolling the fodder-level bandits, they ground them down in a series of drawn-out fights. They'd show up, grind down some foes, then leave.

Each trip cost money, and each trip got a little bit of loot. But the final trip broke the back of the bandits without finding their loot or killing their leader. Their leader took his loot and left. It simply wasn't there any more - too much time spent, some willingly and some not, meant the opportunity was lost.

You can't assume the PCs will save for emergencies.

Just a simple fact - the PCs may have backup money to replace armor lost to rust monsters, weapons shattered by the swordbreaker demon, resurrect the fallen and remove horrible curses.

Or they might have spent it all on potions, scrolls, buying that magic item they desperately wanted, used to upgrade a bow or power item, etc.

You can can't know for sure.

In short, the PCs might not find everything, seize the chances for everything, or have the number of people you expect. You can put in a larger amount of loot to deal with that, but ultimately, they'll control where the loot goes and what it does. And they might blow the money on things and have not enough for dealing with problems that crop up.

My solution to this is larger hauls, lots of things to spend money on, reasonable warning about the need to keep a reserve . . . and a lot of just seeing what happens. I try not to reward caution in a game of paper men taking imaginary risks, and try to reward the things I like - delving deeper and taking risks. But you can't assume the PCs will necessarily do that, either . . .

Friday, December 23, 2016

Drakul Sorcerer, Orc & Boar, Dwarves - more Black Tree Design minis

Yesterday I got my latest order from EOE Orbis, aka Black Tree Design.

I won't show you most of what I got - I ordered nine packs of minis - but here is 1/3 of them. The others I prefer to keep as a surprise. Minis have the most impact when I suddenly put them down on the table and say, "You see this!"

That doesn't matter when it's wizards, orcs, and dwarves.

So here is a wizard, an orc, and three dwarves:

 photo Drakul Orc Dwarves 001s_zpseabjwbdt.jpg

The wizard I bought just because I kept adding him to my "to buy" list and then taking him out. He's just cool looking. So I broke down and bought him this year. He'll probably be an NPC but he'd make a great figure for a DF Wizard or an AD&D Magic-User of at least mid-level.

The orc I bought because I want another one of those boars. They are so much better and more attractive than the plastic GW ones I have. This brings me up to six or seven boars, I'm not sure, but really it's so when it's one or two I have ones that won't have their tails snap off. The rider I'll paint up for the rare times I have orc cavalry show up in my games.

The dwarves just look cool. Two-handed hammers, heavy armor, and even shields. Very fantasy warfare, there (once you have plate, you don't get a lot of shields, historically) but also very intimidating. I don't need three of them. I may not even need one of them. But I'll find a way to use them because they're just cool and will be fast and fun to paint.

The others? I prepped the others to paint already - they'll get primer today if the humidity holds up. And am I spoiling things by saying some of them are on the level the PCs have been exploring? Probably. Forget that last line or two.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Loot, Consumables, and Profit in DF

Yesterday I posted about treasure. I really meant to just talk about that "Wow, that's a lot of money back now" effect. Or the Dr. Evil problem - "One MILLION dollars!" "Bwahahaha!"

But as often happens, the comments went somewhere else. Specifically, in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, loot issues.

evileeyore wrote:

"DF 8 is great for covering "weekly upkeep" and discussing how much PCs will need for Upgrades... but it falls down for me on replenishing consumables.

It talks around it, but how much should be out there? Enough to replenish 1/2 their consumables? 100% of them? What if you don't know in adcance whether or not the PCs will even use consumables?*

How do you plan out treasure for an adventure when you don't know how many PCs are coming or what the party will look like? Etc.

* For instance in the DF games I've played in, the PCs have been loathe to even /use/ consumables... which matches my old D&D days expectations. We used them in emergencies and tried very hard to avoid emergencies.
(Link added to DF8 by me, so you can follow along at home!)

My answer is, naturally . . . it depends.

Replenish how many consumables?

I think this depends on a few things - largely what you mean by consumables, the GM's preferences for the campaign, and the PC's use of consumables.

Mundane consumables seem like an easy start - you should provide enough enough to replenish them at the very least, plus potentially make a profit. I think this is a given. If you're giving out so little loot people can't buy rations and arrows and torches, they really need to stop adventuring ASAP.

Magical consumables and miraculous consumables - Alchemist's Fire, Potions of Minor Healing, etc. are the next level up.

If the game you set up as the GM assumes you will use and need to use a lot of consumables and charged/limited/one-use magic items, you'll need to provide either more consumables or more money to buy them.

If your players use consumables a lot and assume the game will include use of lots of consumables, you're going to need to include more loot or more consumables.

If your players hoard consumables and never use them, then this is kind of a moot point. Or not - if players hold on to everything for that one big use all at once for the Big Boss Villain Fight, then you'll need to adjust the BBV for the fight if you don't want it to just drop under a wave of hurled grenade potions and hacked apart by PCs buffed with Agility, Strength, Invisibility, Flight, Invulnerability, etc. etc. etc. potions quaffed by everyone.

If you're writing an adventure for an unknown group, read on.

Treasure for an Unknown Group

evileeyore and thecollaborativegamer asked about this - how do you set treasure if you don't know who you are setting it for?

This is actually what I do.

I set treasure based on . . . well, random rolls. But I built the table for those random rolls to do a few things:

- set treasure based on the perceived risk to gain it.

- set it based on the perceived need for money by the group to gain it.

- put in a larger amount than that.

The last part is so critical I want to examine it first. PCs will not find all of the treasure. They won't realize the full value of everything they find. If the PCs need $100K and you put in $100K, they'll get between $0 and less than $100K out of that and suffer for the lack. It's possible that thanks to skills and advantages they'll realize more, but it's not likely. They'll miss the hidden door, bypass the trapped safe "until next time," kill the loot-less monster and bribe the monster with the hidden stash of gems with the delectable bits of the first monster, and so on. Or they'll take 2-3 sessions and four dead PCs to get what you expected them to get in one session without losses.

It happens.

So you need to put in more than that.

You also need to make the loot commensurate with the risks and costs. This doesn't mean you can't have a broke dragon or a rich goblin, but in general, put more treasure where it requires more work. Put in the monsters and treasure for the area so, on the whole, there is a sufficient amount of loot there to make up for the risk and enough risk to make the loot exciting to get.

How much is that? It depends on your campaign.

In mine, I found I was putting in a little too little. Encounters with tough monsters with 1112 copper pieces, 22 silver pieces, and 8 gold pieces and a gem worth 100 sp sounded good, except that fixing any one of the lopped-off limbs from that fight used up that and more. I found I was giving so little loot (and unwisely charging upkeep too often) that the PCs would have been better off with part-time jobs in town. So I upped the discovered loot.

Enough Treasure?

You have to assume the PCs need enough money that delving isn't break-even most times, but profitable most times. This isn't panning for gold, this is modern pirates rolling out on a motorboat to seize a ship. They might die as a result of this, and risk serious consequences. The payoffs can't be piddling. Better too much than too little. You can always restrict what they can buy, but it's hard to deal with PCs who can't afford anything.

If they go and spend all of their money on magical item upgrades and healing potions and have none left for Resurrection or actually skilled hirelings, so be it - but it can't be the GM who did that to them. Give them more than you think they need, and watch them reduce it down to less than that.

Not knowing how many PCs, or what kind of PCs, will show up is an issue. Have a base idea of group size. I assume about 6-7 PCs, with a base of around 4-5 and a max of 10. As long as the loot I hand out divides reasonably well with those numbers, I'm happy.

Things I do:

- Ignore Wealth and Merchant skills. I put in treasure on the assumption that you may or may not get the value it potentially has out of it. Some PCs will benefit more or less.

- Put in at least some solid portion of the value in the form of fungible loot. Gems, jewelry, coins - things that are worth what they are worth. If you assume $20K and put in 75% of that as saleable goods and the PCs get 40% when they sell it off, it's not really the $20K you thought you were handing out.

- Ignore the particular PCs. I don't put in a magic sword because the PCs use swords. I don't put in wizard's robes until all of the PCs have them. I do put in items I think fit, or are interesting, or which randomly come up from the DF8 tables when I use them. If the PCs have two Scouts and find a magic bow for each, great. If they have none and find those bows and sell them, just as good.

- Accept that the PCs will not always do what you expect. They'll sell the magic sword because "No, short swords have too low of a ST stat and with a Strength potion and a Might +5 spell I can't take advantage of it." They'll keep the giant gemstone eye to use as a Power Item, meanwhile everyone is making Urban Survival rolls in town to live out of the gutter because that was the main loot. They'll sell the Potion of Doing That Cool Thing You Need to Do Next Session. So much so that it's better to not plan at all. You'll just be wrong.

- Adjust to your game and the power of the PCs. If you require more loot for something (like for my XP system), or because the game has a tithe you need to pay or domains to take care of), put in more loot. At least put it somewhere - there isn't any requirement that because Grimman the Dwarf needs $10K a delve to make his castle payments that a lone rat on level one has $10K. It does mean that maybe he and his five friends need to whack the lich-king's twelve troll bodyguards in the caverns at the bottom of the dungeon and take all each ones' $5K gold badge of office back to town to sell. Risk:reward still applies. That's fair - more powerful adventures should take more risks and get more money. The stakes should be higher for those dice rolls, even if they're still the same dice as when you started as a mere potent delver and not a dungeon-shaking super hero.

All of that is a long way to say what I'll say again right now:

- If you assume people need to use a lot of consumables, make sure there is enough loot to replenish those to the level you want (fully or partial);

- set the loot according to the overall risk to get loot in that area;

- put more than you think you need to put in;

- have an idea of how many players and roughly how powerful they are to be for that loot.

And yeah, I just stock away and see who shows up and shrug as the PCs repeatedly pass huge treasures or fritter away wealth attaining nothing. That's part of my entertainment, and part of the game's fun.

I hope that helps!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Is that a lot of treasure?

Just a thought today, nothing really more. I've been reading some adventures recently, for a mix of systems - AD&D, D&D5, GURPS, DCC, and others. I'm more conversant in play with some of them than with others.

One thing that trips me up is - how much is that treasure worth? If someone is paying 250 gp, is that a lot? 500 silver? 2000 copper? Is that a valuable gem worth dying over or just a bit of extra take-home loot?

In games I've played a lot, I can eyeball this. In the ones I haven't, I try to flip around the books and see what that will get you, or what you've expected to spend.

In my own DF game, it's easy enough to relate to weapons and upkeep.

At $150 a week, a full year of upkeep at a normal, fairly pedestrian level of living is $7,800. I've got rules in play for each rough doubling of upkeep to cover lavish living. The top end is $5,000 per week, which is $260,000 per year.

Top-end normal weaponry runs in the high hundreds - and magical weaponry and prefixes on swords and bows can multiply the cost many times over.

Armed with that information, I find it easy to relate to the actual spending value of the money found.

Without it, and without sufficient experience in play, it's hard for me to eyeball.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

DF Felltower: Known Gates & Gate Facts

This is a list of the Known Gates and facts known about gates in my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: Felltower game.

Spell Rules

Gate Spells for DF Felltower

Known Gates

Currently known gates. Teleporters are excluded, as they are not technically gates.

Lost City of D'Abo
Status: Open
Location: Felltower on the level at the bottom of the GFS (Giant Fantastic Stairs)
Notes: Created Servants can pass through, but ended soon after. Scry Gate revealed a domed room with pictures depicting a wilderness map (?) and a black fortress atop Felltower's mountain.

Unknown Gate #1
Status: Open?
Location: Felltower on the level at the bottom of the GFS (Giant Fantastic Stairs), directly opposite the stairs.
Notes: Created Servants cannot seem to interact with it. Scry Gate failed.

Gate Facts

Known facts about gates. Known unknowns are marked as such with details - stated facts are likely to be completely true.

Created Servants can pass through some gates, not others. Currently it's not known why. Thaumatology suggests even autonomous spells can be attenuated over distance and may be affected by time differences - meaning such spells might just end because of distance from the caster.

Wizard Eye spells cannot pass through any gates.

Thaumatology suggests the nature of some gates makes them impenetrable to non-self-willed forces but would allow transport of unliving objects by willing subjects. In other words, magical forces cannot penetrate but people can carry stuff in themselves.

Keys may be needed for some gates; it's unclear how to identify a key. They will not necessarily be magical; the magic may be in the gate which responds to keys not in the key activating a gate.

Gates are definitely known to work intraplanar (same world), interplanar (different world, possible different reality), and it's suggested they may work across time (transport forwards or backwards in time.) Different worlds may not pass time at the same rate as in the world of Felltower and gates may not always transport people instantly from place to place.*

* This is partly a meta-game way of dealing with going into a gate on Real World/Game World Day X, finishing the delve and returning on Real World Day X+14 or X+21 without having to do calendar tricks. I can just say, "it's 21 days later, even though it only felt like 3 in that world!"

Monday, December 19, 2016

Swords & Wizardry PDF Bundle

If you missed this over on the Frog God Games website or Tenkar's Tavern, there is a nice PDF package sale for Swords & Wizardry going on.

There are three tiers:

Tier 1 is $1 and includes Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook, Bill Webb's Book of Dirty Tricks, The Black Monastery, Quests of Doom, Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms, Grimmsgate.

Tier 2 is $8 and includes all of Tier 1 plus Rappan Athuk, Against Tsathogga, Cyclopean Deeps 1-2, 1975.

Tier 3 is $15 and includes all of Tier 2 plus Mother of All Treasure Tables, Splinters of Faith 1-10.

Personally I went for the sweet spot of Tier 2 - all the stuff I'd really like to read is in tier 1 and 2. Even with all of the duplicates 0 I own a lot of these, some in print and in PDF, Tier 2 was worth it just for a PDF of Rappan Athuk and the two Cyclopean Deeps books.

Hopefully besides just reading them for enjoyment I'll get some useful bits I can steal for my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game. It's a good deal if you like Swords & Wizardry and even the first tier is worth it even if you're only curious about Swords & Wizardry.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

DF Felltower: Why Gates?

Right from the start, I knew Felltower would have gates.

My main reason for this was simple - even a gigantic megadungeon can't contain everything I wanted to include.

In more detail:

Attachment Points

Gates make great attachment points. If I do want my players to explore White Plume Mountain or delve into the dark forests of Tanara or dump them near Freeport, I put in a gate to them. I can fit any published material anywhere in my dungeon - even just by retconning in a secret door or an intermittent or moving gate into some room. Anything can go to Felltower - heck, maybe Felltower is the far end of one of those gates in Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits. Which means the PCs can go there, too.

Limited Sandbox Expansion

One of the lessons I learned from video games (besides, don't die with unexpended ammo and save early and often) is expanding access as you play. You show up in Vice City and storms have taken out half of the city's access until you do some initial missions. That keeps you from getting distracted by the amount of things to do elsewhere until you've gotten your feet wet. Borderlands 2 puts you on rails for one area and then briefly in a second before slowly expanding your options. Betrayal At Krondor would open and close off areas depending on your mission (sometimes with odd results). The most open games, like Darklands or Bard's Tale, just have costs associated with running around too much before you're really ready for them. For all of them, once you open an area it's generally yours to return to.

Gates provide a useful way to do this. They open, they close. They have keys. They appear on the moon phase. They aren't subject to the normal access of doors or tunnels. There is risk involved in using them even when they are totally reliable.

In other words, I can expand the scope of my sandbox as needed. If I want more access to, say, the Cold Fens or the Lost City of D'Abo, I just put in a gate to them and make it more reliably usable. If I need a desert setting I can put a gate to that. I can make them one-offs or places of regular accessibility depending on how I want the sandbox to expand.

Space doesn't matter, either! Any size area can hold a gate, so even a small dead-end can lead to a whole world.

Gygaxian Naturalism

This is the whole "X orcs have Y females and Z young" deal. If every single monster in the dungeon isn't merely spawning from the darkness, how did they get there? Gates provide an excellent explanation. Dragged in from elsewhere in the world, wandered into a gate, in transit ("We'll use the Felltower Gate, walk to the Gate to Hell, and bypass the angelic guardians that lurk at the Erewhon Gate."), whatever. Anything that could fit into the dungeon could have found a gate to match it. One-way gates and teleport traps (related) also do the trick.

This is why the joke we have about how our torc grenades in Gamma World actually teleport everyone to Felltower amuses us. It could be true. Maybe "disintegration" actually means "no longer in this world." And it explains, quite easily, how it all comes to be, without having to put in a long tunnel to the troll lands or a river that leads to the fish-men depths or having the Eye of Death village close enough to explain why they show up.

Different Rules

I can also put in different rules. No, not "this area is class-and-level" but "this area has different physics" or "has different rules of magic." I can try out places with lower gravity (Barsoom!) or different time rates (You are also hasted, or slowed, here), whatever. I can play with time - you can go forwards or backwards in time if I so choose. I can put in a high-tech world. A lower-tech one. A place where reality is inverted and everyone has a goatee and is an evil version of him or herself (or a goatee-less version of Hasdrubel!) It's simply all available.

I'm not saying this is all there - just that I can. I can do anything, and contain it in a gate-accessible area means it need not bleed into my game unless we decide it's a good thing that it does.

Player Agency

At the same time, I can leave much of this up to the PCs. Use the gate or not. Choose to go in or not. Often, come right back when you realize you don't like it there or it's not fun. Go when you want to. By giving them access to spells to find and control gates to a degree, the PCs don't have to go in blind nor just blunder into them. If they like gates, they can seek them out.

But with limits - as the GM I can say no, I can say stay for a while longer, I can say yes but you can't bring it all back.

All in all, this is why Felltower has gates. Short version? Gates are awesome.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Review: Pyramid 3/98 - Welcome to Dungeon Fantasy

As if often the case with Pyramid and GURPS items, I'm involved in this one. When the Dungeon Fantasy RPG Kickstarter was going, SJG decided to have the December issue of Pyramid be a "Welcome to Dungeon Fantasy" issue and put out a call for articles.

Christopher Rice jumped in with something like "OMG I HAVE MONSTERS!" which killed my usual plans. But there was a call for a GM advice article . . .

For more reviews, please see my reviews page.

Pyramid #3/98: Welcome to Dungeon Fantasy
Released December 2016 by Steve Jackson Games
$7.99 in PDF

You All Meet At An Inn
by Matt Riggsby

Stereotypical adventures start with strangers meeting in an inn and then getting sent on a quest. The usual problem is explaining why the PCs all know each other and work together, even if they're somewhat compatible. Matt's solution? Put them there, and then try to kill them.

This is a simple setup for a campaign, but also a potential one-shot game or throw-in encounter when you've got nothing else ready for your existing group. It's a locked-in situation, where trouble from without means you probably need to stay within and figure out how to solve your problems.

It's well written, the enemies are generally appropriate. It also avoid the "one room, one monster" and the "kill or be killed" issues. Monsters sometimes show up in combinations, even some weird-but-appropriate ones, and you can solve (or weaken) some of the encounters with clever thinking.

One weird bit is some wording that makes it sound like foul bats comes in swarms. Which is awesome but tricky, since they're individually man-sized. But otherwise, it's totally fine. The inn is well-statted for dealing with the usual "we hack a hole in the wall, it looks really thin on this map" and the adventure nicely handles "we attempt to bypass the adventure entirely" with how that will work out. And it might - RPGs are like that. It's not ham-fistedly forcing the adventure down your throat, just making the "easy way out" as hard as it should be.

The Monstrous Monstorum
by Christopher Rice

By my count there are 15 monsters here, some of which feature multiple variations. It's by Christopher Rice, but also features three monsters by other people - including the mimic I made up. Christopher mentioned that DF needed a mimic, I sent him mine, and he cleaned it up for publication. The whole mess of monsters are interesting. None are too gimmicky or too jokey or need too much backstory to use. Well, the Excremental is pretty jokey, but also really horrible. I can see using many of these in Felltower and I expect I will do so. Christopher also has a lot of DF experience, so he avoids the "these guys are too weak" syndrome. Basic 250-point DFers are tough, DR is high, defenses are high and plentiful, and players sink points in be able to resist bad things. These monsters are set up to challenge them at the appropriate level, be it as fodder, worthy, or boss-level. The offensive threats have actually worrisome offense, the defensive puzzles will take some real damage to undo.

Eidetic Memory: Grave of the Pirate Queen
by David L. Pulver

David Pulver's contribution is a nautically-themed DF adventure. It involved finding lost pirate treasure, and all of the unpleasant things that should entail. You know, nautical monsters (including fish-men and octopus-men), curses, the unquiet dead, and rum. Just kidding about the last one - bizarrely, there is no rum.

"But why is the rum gone?" - Jack Sparrow

It's a well-assembled, ready-to-run adventure with all of the details you need. Some of the foes are a bit weak for standard delvers, but you can dial up the situational modifiers and dial up the numbers if that's an issue. Overall, though, good stuff.

Building a Long-Term Dungeon Fantasy Game
by Peter V. Dell'Orto

Since I run a DF game, I've been running the game for five years, and since my DF game is clearly hack-and-slash far beyond the sessions you'd expect it to stay hack-and-slash, I decided to write that article. I also took it as a challenge - how do I convey what makes my DF campaign keep going and going and going? That and many people have told me that basically, they haven't tried a straight-up hack-and-slash DF game because no one wants to play and it can't be fun. Oh, and people asking flat-out why you would want that kind of game. If you're reading this blog, you know why - because we'd play it more often and longer if we had more Sundays and Sundays were longer.

Giving this kind of advice instead of just monsters and such is a bit out of my comfort zone, so I'm glad the article came out as it did. It was a good challenge for me. Special thanks to Andy D. for "nothing to see here" - a comment that came out of the PCs finding a corridor that led off the graph paper.

Random Thought Table: Back to Basics
by Steven Marsh

Steven wraps up the issue with some good tips for helping play move along with cheat sheets, tokens, and figures. It's not earth-shattering advice, just good basic stuff that it's better to read before you launch into a DF game than after (or learn the hard way that you'll need it.) This was a very good article.

Overall: A solid issue of Pyramid, and it should help to get people into Dungeon Fantasy a little more smoothly - play advice, campaign advice, more monsters the other kids with the books don't know about yet, and two adventures ready to go.

Friday, December 16, 2016

New Release: Pyramid 3/98 - Welcome to Dungeon Fantasy

No time to give it a full review now, but SJG released a new issue of Pyramid Magazine today. The release caught me a big off-guard. Usually, it's Thursday, and I was expecting it yesterday and when not yesterday, next week.

Earlier is always better when it comes to completed releases.

Check it out here:

There are monsters from Christoper Rice (including a mimic by me, which tried to eat the PCs in my game back in the Cold Fens), an Inn scenario by Matt Riggsby, campaign-running advice from me that's bound to annoy people who already know it to be wrong, and the usual columnists weigh in - Steven Marsh and David Pulver. And that was a run on sentence and this starts with a conjunction.

H4 and 100th level characters

So I put up some reviews of the two Bloodstone modules I had back in the day and loved and at least saw some useful bits in (H1 and H2, respectively). That series continued in H3, another Battlesystem-centric adventure, and ended with H4.

H4 was notorious because it was for - ahem - level 18-100.

Yeah, 100th level characters.

When I was finally able to read a copy, the first thing I did was flip to those 100th level characters.

Let me spoil it for you now:

The 100th level characters are a gimmick.

These 100th level characters are demi-gods, basically. Circe the sorceress,

It's not even a well-done gimmick. Want to know how many spells the 100th level wizard has? Same as a 29th level wizard. The THAC0 of a 100th level fight? It's 4, just like at 17th level. Nothing except HP changes.

One of them is Hermes, a Deep Gnome Thief/Illusionist - level 100/7. Another, Perseus, is a 100th level Fighter/Paladin. In practice, this seems to be a 100th level Paladin, since he has all of the Paladin and Cavalier abilities, but also has "double proficiency" in a weapon - er, Specialization? I'm not sure. "Double proficiency" isn't otherwise defined.

The stats of the characters are extremely high - most of them have a 25, scores below 18 are not common unless they're basically dump stats (the Persus's Intelligence is only 17, for example, and Circe is only Strength 15) with no real effect on that character.

It could be fun to run heroes, but honestly, it's purely a gimmick. I can't tell if I'm more disappointed that they are 100th level-in-name-only, or relieved that they are.

Overall, 18-100 comes off as nothing more than an excuse to say the module can handle 100th level character and have heroes with more HP than the top god of pantheons in the deities book. So 100th level clearly means "excuse to have lots of HP and high stats."

The module says,

"We don't really believe that anyone has ever "earned" a 100th-level character, in the sense that the character was started at level 1 and worked his or her way up in a normal (non-Monty Haul) campaign. On the other hand, there's always the temptation to play, just once, a character of ultimate power."

Semi-ultimate, anyway - for all practical effect they're just the maximum level listed on the spell lists in the PHB or to-hit charts in the DMG. They don't need to be 100th level, it may as well be 1000th level or 250,000th level for how much effect it has aside from getting more HP.

The adventure is one of those ones where power and combat just aren't going to do it - too many fights are beyond your ability to win (100 liches or 10,000 zombies for example) no matter what. You just have more leverage in the more winnable fights (10 type VI demons, which I guess aren't limited to six of them anymore.) It's a gift of an "ultimate" character in a situation where that "ultimate" nature doesn't really grant you much. Even the guidance for a 100th-level game is pretty much all don't be nice to them, and don't give them anything except normal magic items, strict adherence to the rules, and nothing beyond the top-ends of the charts.

100th in name and HP only, really.

Disappointing. A gimmick, and not a really good one at that.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

HEXMORFO - modular 28mm scaled hexes

Thanks to GURPS Megadungeon for posting about these. This is a pretty neat replacement for Cardboard Heroes: Dungeons Floors


HEXMORFO Templates Set A (XL)

Seems like it would be effective way to generate small dungeons that you can just put out in front of the players as you go. Nice. Combine these with Cardboard Heroes and the Great Salt Flats and you can make some bigger ones I'd bet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Next thoughts on the Gate spells for DF Felltower

Yesterday I posted about the Gate spells in my DF game.

First thoughts on Gate spells in DF Felltower

I've made an iterative step towards how I want them to work.

Seek Gate

Tells the caster the direction and approximate distance of one specific gate.* The caster must seek a specific gate - "the nearest gate" isn't valid, but "the nearest gate to Hell" is. A gate you haven't traveled through counts as a gate you are not personally familiar with.

Modifiers: Long-Distance Modifiers (GURPS Magic, p. 14), -2 for a closed gate, -5 to find a gate's arrival point or to find a return gate, -10 for a gate you're not personally familiar with, +5 for a physical object related to the gate (such as a key.)

Cost: 3. One try per week.
Time to Cast: 1 hour.
Prerequisites: Magery 2, Mage Sight, and one spell from each of 10 colleges including at least four Seek spells.

* I may modify this to "A success gives the caster a vision of the gate's whereabouts - or its specific direction and distance on a critical success." Not sure yet.

That should pretty much allow for seeking a specific known gate when you're close to it, but the casting time and limited tries means you're not going to throw it willy-nilly or use it to triangulate.

Scry Gate

As written, except no smells pass through. The "open window" description means you can look at it, not lean in/through it.

Control Gate

Only allows you to force a closed gate open or an open gate closed. Otherwise as listed.

Some clarifications on other spells:

Mage Sight: Will detect closed gates (which otherwise aren't visible).

Analyze Magic: Will tell you the type of gate (a gate to another place in the same world, a gate to a different plane/dimension/whatever, a time gate, or a multiple), a critical success will give you a hint of the destination.

Seek Magic: This spell is expensive, largely useless, and the rare times it's useful it's annoyingly effective. So I'm eliminating it.

I think that'll work for what I want from those spells - you can find gates, but it's not easy or fast or reliable unless you know what you seek. Even then, interference is possible. You're almost better off using standard Divination magic and in-town research to back it up, which is also good. You can peer through gates but not much else, and you risk being spotted with Sense Observation. You can open and close gates. You can spot them and analyze them with magic that should do just that.

I'm still debating the points I mentioned about, but I kind of like what I sorted them down to. More gate detection and analysis once you've found one, finding one is harder, and using scry-and-decide works but without the oddness that threw us off last session.

The GURPS Sale - My Purchases

Warehouse 23 closes for the holidays on 12/16. Until then, GURPS PDFs are on sale for 40% off.

Here is what I purchased & why.

GURPS Action 4: Specialists - I have the other Action books, and this has been sadly missing from my virtual shelf. So I went for it. The Action line is one of the best things ever turned out by SJG.

GURPS Power-Ups 6: Quirks - I've been eyeing this for a while. It seems like a non-book - do we really need a book about make-me-up one point disadvantages? But there it is, so I figured, if Sean thinks the answer was yes, he had plenty to say on the subject. Plus I have a lot of players who really struggle with what quirks are and should do. I took a quick glance at it, it's my intended first read, and it's excellent already.

GURPS Power-Ups 7: Wildcards - being a completist. I'm sure I can find useful material in it, even though I rarely do anything with wildcard skills. Helping me write them would be enough.

GURPS Power-Ups 8: Limitations - Well, I got 1-7 in the line, so I decided I'd check this out. Like 7, it might help me when I write other GURPS materials. Plus I'd feel bad bugging PK about limitations only to have him say, well, if you look in Power-Ups 8 . . .

GURPS Magic: Plant Spells - this was recommended to me to supplement the DF Druid spell list, so I got it.

GURPS Magical Styles: Dungeon Magic
- just being a completist with DF stuff. I love everything Sean Punch writes, and even if I'm not going to use this it's something I can mine for ideas.

Pyramid #3/95: Overland Adventures - this one looked good, with an article about jungle adventures, a David Pulver monster caravan, and Christopher Rice detailing caravan logistics.

I may review these in more detail later.

If you want to support this blog, or GURPS in general, please consider picking up some of those books. Or some of mine!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

First thoughts on Gate spells in DF Felltower

I mentioned during the summary yesterday that I need to deal with some problematic Gate spells in DF, while still allowing for Gate spells in DF. Please note I'm using GURPS Magic plus Wizardry Refined, so not all of the spells are available.

The Gate spells as written in GURPS Magic are good for a more normal game. If you have far-flung gates or the game is centered on them, the spells work generally fine.

In a megadungeon, spells like Seek Gate are just asking for abuse as exploration substitutes. Just keep casting Seek Gate to map them out, triangulating as you move around. To some degree that's just smart play, but again, it changes the game from "boldly stride down the corridor seeking danger" to "use this spell until you've determined if you really need to adventure down that corridor or not." I can see an hour of playing time whizz by as people cast Scry Gate, move a few yards, cast it again, use Cartography to fix the map to reflect the detected destination, etc. All the while I'm counting squares on the map and checking if there is magical interference or closer gates I'm forgetting. Aargh. That turns "mysterious ways to find new adventure" into "beacons for pre-mapping."

The only bit I like about it is finding the way back if a gate is one-way. "We're here, and my magic tells me the way out is there." That's cool, I need to keep that.

Other spells need tweaking, too. Scry Gate has this bizarre "smells" aspect to it. It reveals the smells behind the gate? Obviously the Great Wizard Farnsworth created it. My players instantly realized that if smells come through, clearly the particulate matter that creates the smell comes through, so Scry Gate pulls poison gas through gates. If it doesn't, and just tells you the small magically, it's just weird that it isn't caster-only.

What I'm thinking at the moment is:

Scry Gate - as written, but without the smells aspect. Sights, possibly sounds. I kind of like a silent movie effect of viewing it.

Seek Gate - I like the "find the way back" aspect, but not much else. Perhaps only a specifically known gate, or a gate to a specific location, can be sought. So "Where is the gate to Felltower from here?" works, or "I want to try and seek a gate to Hell" might work, with the penalties listed (-2 for closed, -5 for an arrival point for a one-way) but not the -10 for specific destination as that would be a requirement. If you get lost you can triangulate by seeking around a known gate, which is annoying. Maybe adding Once Per Day will fix that, too. I could do both or either.

Control Gate - probably just forcing them open or closed, none of this dragging them around stuff.

Analyze Magic - will tell you the type of gate (same world, plane, time, etc.) and possibly a hint at where. Critical success will reveal lots of details. So success might be "This is a gate to different world!" and a critical success might be "By which I mean, it's a gate to Hell." One Try. This plus Scry Gate can tell you a lot about a destination.

Mage Sight - an active casting of this spell will detect closed gates. The spell needs to do more anyway.

And related only because it's a prereq, I do need to make Seek Magic more useful. Or ditch it and add a different prereq. It's expensive, bound to be stacked with penalties ("Okay, I spend 6 base energy, and excluding these five magic weapons, seven suits of magical armor, my wand, our potions, that scroll, and my magic hat, I seek the nearest magic item. I rolled a 10." "You find Hjalmarr's magic ring." "Dammit!")

And obviously, gates won't work on constructs of pure magic like Wizard Eye. Crteated Servants clearly work, which I already regret, but I let it work a while back before I'd considered how annoying that would be. It won't work on all gates, though, since I have some different types out there. At least they're terrible, terrible scouts (IQ 9, Per 9, rarely any skill), and serve to alert people on the arriving end that something is coming.

Lots to fine-tune here. But mages should be able to affect gates to a degree, without either the breadth of power implied in GURPS Magic or lack the abilities whatsoever. I need to tune the spells to the world for this game, not the other way around.

Monday, December 12, 2016

DF Game, Session 84, Felltower 57 - Gates

Date: December 11th, 2016

Weather: Cold, snowy.

Dave, human knight (262 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (435 points)
Hasdrubul Stormcaller, human wizard (296 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (312 points)
     Brother Ike, human initiate (148 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (316 points)
Vryce, human knight (493 points)

Raggi wasn't available - clearly, he's already left for winter break. So the group gathered some rumors and headed up to the dungeon. It was cold, so Dryst created some winter clothing for some (others had their own gear) and they headed up.

Some miscommunication about the plans lead to some wasted time - they headed up to the summit and camped for lunch in sight of the castle, but then decided they intended to sneak in. So after a lunch break they headed around the west side of the mountain and partway down and into the dragon cave. [To be fair, they may have intended as a group to go to the dragon cave, but no one actually told me this until I was resolving top-of-the-mountain details. "No, we didn't want to do that" is too late.]

The PCs worked their way in through the dragon cave, following their exact same path. Once they reached the first "cube room" they heard chittering and squeaking. In a few seconds, a carpet of rats swarmed into the room at them. This was a nine-hex horde of rats. In moments they got swarmed. The PCs chose some inefficient tactics at first, not realizing that swarms aren't fought the same as individuals. Mo yelled to keep watch, if rats were swarming then something was following them. Dryst moved up and kept an eye on the passage they'd swarmed from.

The rats were eventually dispersed with some cleaving strikes by Mo, cuts and smashes and stomps by Ike, Dave, Vryce, and Hjalmarr, and Explosive Lightning by Has. Has was way off his game this delve, rolling 3 damage on a 3d twice - not even enough to kill off rats!

Just as the rats were cut apart, though, something followed - a crushroom! It barreled into Hjalmarr, who barely dodged aside. They started piling in on it, surrounding and chopping it. Chopping it helped, but attempts to flank the mushroom to reduce its already pathetic defenses didn't seem to matter. Moments later, two more rushed in, at Mo and Vryce. Both of them botched their defenses and were chomped - Mo on the body, Vryce on the groin. Luckily both have a lot of DR.

The PCs eventually hacked the crushrooms down, but not before Mo and Vryce get crushed pretty badly in the process. Wounded, the PCs headed to the safety of the pool-and-mushroom room, as Ike lectured them on the Miracle of the Rats and Crushrooms of Buyya Duad. Dryst grabbed a chunk of crushroom to cook and eat (he later did, it tasted awful.)

They huddled in the safe area, all except Hasdrubel. Dave asked him why he was evil. He argument is basically, "Because it's fun." Dave was unconvinced.

They recovered FP and healed up, but were disappointed that only a couple new special mushrooms had grown back. They clearly grow very slowly.

After this the found their way up to the winding staircase, then to the stairs to the levels above that. They weren't blocked, but the top of the stairs was - a wall of rubble with wood planked up around the far side. Dryst floated through with Ethereal Body and Invisibility and found four orcs and two devil wolves. The wolves woofed and howled when he arrived, causing the orcs to pull behind some barricades and sound a horn.

The PCs lost surprise completely, but dug anyway. They set up two brute servants to dig out the rubble; this worked but took some time. Halfway into the pile was an orc torso full of nasty killer maggots, which burst out and crawled the servants and burrowed into one. It screamed and disappeared. The PCs stomped the maggots, taking a few minutes to do so. Mo lit a torch and burned the ones in the corpse. The stench was terrible.

Once the PCs collapsed the top half of the blockage, the orcs throw in four jars. They shattered, smearing greenish paste on the floor that gave off a horrible stench. The PCs withstood this gas until Has used Purify Air. The orcs followed the jars with arrows and a heavy cossbow bolt that took out the servant but no one else.

Mo and Vryce clambered up the half-collapsed blockage. Mo took an arrow to the face but blocked it, barely, and then lept down. Vryce landed on caltrops. Lucky for him, he only took three and lucked out on the damage - no penetrated his heavy sollerets. Beyond was a barricade with a gap in the middle. Mo chucked an alchemist's fire over one barricade, Vryce ran up and leaped into the fire (he had Resist Fire on). Mo threw and axe as they headed in, wounding one badly. In moments they cut down all four orcs - Vryce cut three nearly in half, Mo skull-smashed another.

Hjalmarr walked through the gap. Turned out to be - of course - a clever trap. Someone had shaped a thin crust of rock over a jar of poison gas; Hajlmarr's foot broke it and set it off. He took some minor damage.

The PCs set up and waited for the orcs to come after them - they heard more horns, more footsteps, more howls. After nearly 10 minutes (!) they realized the orcs weren't going to gleefully charge through a narrow gap into a semi-circle of superior warriors with superior numbers and close-in magical support. The PCs advanced instead.

The orcs had set up two spiked barricades on either side of a "T" intersection. The PCs moved up and took some arrows, then the orcs tried to push the barricades into them. Then pushed them into a V as archers kept firing at them. The PCs eventually tossed lightning, alchemist's fire, and more lightning over the barricades, naturally also catching Hjalmarr in the blast. Vryce leaped one and ran down some orcs, killing two of three archers before another fled - he chased him briefly but missed and gave up. The other PCs finished off the stunned, wounded, and burning orcs. They decided to loot quickly and then move on - they grabbed coins and loose cruddy jewelry, ensured all of twelve orcs they'd fought were dead, and shoved the barricades aside.

From there they had a quick confab - go after the orc hole, or go down after the Lord of Spite? [Out of game, it was this debate of "which fight is longer in real time?" - I told them both were going to be long, so decide based on what you actually think is worth doing.] They settled on the Lord of Spite.

They headed down towards the door to the big spiral staircase (aka the GFS - Giant Fantastic Staircase.) They arrived, dealing with only occasional arrow shots at them. Once there, Dryst wanted to have a spare person touch the black hand. So they headed almost all the way back, only to find a blockage. So they turned around and went back. With cautious advancing to avoid traps and stay on guard against the orcs, this was almost 90 minutes of walking. They went into the GFS and wound their way down. Eventually, they reached the bottom, and discussed defacing the fantastical artwork at the bottom that gives the optical illusion that the stairway continues.

The PCs moved out into the areas beyond, briefly exploring and then coming back to rest at the bottom of the GFS. They cautiously explored around, first heading to the left. They found an octagonal room with two doors - and as they approached, they faintly heard one click closed. Not sure which one it was, they Magelocked the right one and headed left, forcing the door open. They walked a long corridor, keeping left and avoiding a turn off, turned left, and down a corridor. They almost skipped a side passage because - I swear this is true - it went off the graph paper used to map. They chose to explore anyway.

The passage to to a 30' wide x 20' deep room with a pair of nearly floor-to-ceiling pillars about 15' in. Between then was a shimmering force. They instantly realized it was a gate. A comedy of servant fun ensued. Send one in, realize the gate worked but there is no way to communicate with the servant. Send another in, with Trace on him. That revealed he was far, far to the south. A Cartography roll revealed that, yes, that could be where the Lost City of D'Abo is. A third servant was sent in, told to find the others can come back. It went - this one was sent around the back, in case the gate sent people different places if you went in from a different way. None of them came back. Dryst concentrated on his spells but they were gone - something had destroyed or dispelled the servants. They tried a Wizard Eye but it wouldn't go through.

They decided to check the room facing the stairs and a side room off of that, and so headed back that way. It was a duplicate of the other gate room. A servant tried the gate but nothing happened - no gating. Dryst used Wild Talent to learn Scry Gate but it, too, failed to turn anything up. They cajoled Dryst into going back to the Lost City gate to scry it, too. So they did, again winding around.

They rested while Dryst scryed. The spell revealed a sky-painted domed room, quiet, with an archway facing the gate. The paintings on the wall on one side showed a map, possibly a world or continent or island map. The other side had a familiar mountain top with an unfamiliar squat black fortress on it. Nothing else was seen.

Dryst used Seeker on the lost stone book, and got a vague heading. So they moved on, finding more turn-offs and side passages. They headed over to where the book was.

While heading this way they heard noises - Dryst used Dark Vision to see ahead, and spotted four orcs and a large shape with them. As the PCs advanced, they backed off. They tried to engage but the orcs wouldn't, and moved back in the direction of the stairs.

From there they headed past a room with a hemisphere of black crystal on the ceiling and then into the room with the big orichalcum doors. There, though, they heel click-click-click of bootheels. At the fringes of their light an elf walked up.

Has talked to him, but he seemed disinterested in Has's question ("Are you a fellow traveler?") except say he was a "seeker" in an oddly hollow, "bottomless" voice. He focused on Vryce, and asked his name. When he heard it, the elf said, "Vryce the Dragonslayer? I have been seeking you."

He introduced himself as Valmar, and asked Vryce if he wished to fight a duel. The stakes? The loser's sword belongs to the winner. To the death, of course. Vryce accepted.

Dryst realized this was a sword-spirit, and what that meant - it was a former mortal cursed to immortality, forced to fight duels, as a punishment for cheating in a duel. Dryst suggested putting a bunch of spells on Vryce, but Vryce (wisely, and appropriately) refused. "So I can end up a sword-spirit when I die? No." Nevermind Vryce's various codes and precepts wouldn't let him do that. Valmar drew a glowing longsword and waited.

They set up and fought. After waiting until one committed a moment too soon (Valmar, resolved with a Quick Contest) they engaged. It was a tense duel, with Vryce quickly realizing that Valmar was very slightly less skilled them him . . . probably. They launched a series of attacks back and forth - Vryce mixing in Feint with Attack, sometimes a straight Feint, sometimes just his Trademark Move (a double body cut.) Valmar mixed in stabs to the chinks in armor over the vitals, Feints, heavily Deceptive Attacks (like, -5 to -7, depending on his target). Vryce drew first blood, after using Luck to avert a hit and then landing a massive 32 damage cut. Valmar staggered but didn't fall, despite being cut nearly shoulder to hip. Again they enagaged, Vryce drawing Valmar in first.

Hjalmarr tried to psyche out Valmar, but it had no effect - he was simply ignored. [Good thing it didn't, if it did, and Valmar felt it was cheating, well, Higher Purpose would kick in.]

Again Vryce used Luck to avert a hit, and again managed to cut Valmar after a Feint - once he made his Feint by 23 points, only to have Valmar make his by 20, but still it was barely enough. Vryce managed to land two body cuts, both critical hits, cutting Valmar nearly in half, dropping him. [To speed combat, I rolled defenses as fast as Vryce's player rolled attacks. My rolls for those two defenses that never needed rolling? 4 and 4. Had either not been a critical, it could have reversed the whole fight.]

Valmar weakly asked Vryce to finish it, saying the duel wasn't over. Vryce tried, cutting him twice, then trying to cut off his head - but he couldn't do it. Valmar wiggled his fingers towards his sword. Mo said, "Come on, man, there can be only one." Vryce picked that up, and cut off his head. Valmar died. Within a minute, he faded away, leaving only his gear behind - some magical (but horribly trashed) elven mail, a matching gold ring and necklace set, and his sword.

They moved on, and blundered right into the "Force Dome room." They actually had assumed it was further on. No book, and they used Dispel Magic to carve a hole.

From there they found the door to the cavern area, and used Wizard Eye to scout it out. The found the treasure pile from last time was now a huge mess of coins and gems scattered around. "Like someone kicked it all over the place?" Yes. Dryst also found a long-broken pentagram off to the side, but couldn't seen all of the limits of the cave area.

Mo could just barely hear some ragged, wet breathing from the room. Also, some suppressed giggling, like a mass of voices of people giggling behind their hands.

They ended up deciding to Great Haste Vryce and then Mo, send them in to "grab handfuls of treasure" and then run out. Dyrst walked in after them with Walk on Air. This didn't work out brilliantly.

They made it in, but bad footing slowed them down. Vryce reached the statue head they'd seen last time and grabbed it. Mo had to grab gems one at a time - move, crouch, grab, stand, repeated. Even with Altered Time Rate this is slow. No handfuls to grab. He put three gems in his sack before he heard something.

That turned out to be like a half-dozen doomchildren charging them in a loose mob. Mo got slashed by one but dodged, and then brained it. BOOOOOOOOOOOOM. Mo was engulfed in flames - loincloth, chest hair, ferocious beard, gem bag, etc. - all on fire. One grabbed Vryce right after he scooped up the statue head lefty, his new sword in his right hand for light. Vryce shooked it off (an AOA Double, break free followed by a push kick) and knocked it two yards back. It rushed him but he parried it and ran.

They took off for the exit. They barely made it, with Mo on fire and doomchildren on them. They blew one up with lightning, catching Vryce in the blast (IIRC). They managed to reach the door with one on their heels. Dave crushed it, setting off a fireball that engulfed him, Mo, Vryce, and others - then Hjlamarr slammed the door and Dryst Magelocked it.

They heard deep voiced chuckling.

From there they basically headed back. They dealt with more orcs lurking in ambush and shooting arrows and bolts at them, but couldn't do more than follow. They found the way down, realized the orcs had policed up the bodies and the caltrops, and went home.

Well, not exactly. They ended up getting lost about three times, as Hjalmarr led them with the map. He couldn't quite place where he was, and kept choosing the wrong fork in the tunnels. After a wasted hour or so, they eventually found the dragon cave and went home.


Quote of the session? Mo's player, as we left. "So, I didn't know they exploded."

Dave was a last-minute (almost literally) addition. "I'm playing!" just as I was handing out rumors.

I think I've said over and over, tie it all to the megadungeon. Thematically, the Lost City had six-fingered hands and hints of a connection; the Cold Fens are physically close and feature some of the same enemies and possible ties between them. And now you can see the physical connection of the Lost City - a gate the PCs did not manage to discover during their delves there. Now they have, and they were congratulating themselves on not selling the Bell of D'Abo because "we'll never go back there again." That's why I kept referring to all of this as the Felltower game - it's not just common PCs, but a common link of all of the campaign areas. Link it all together, it's always worth it!

You can also see with the gates discovered what I meant by distinct places in the dungeon that may force multi-session delves. Especially since not all gates are two-way and reliable, and what's beyond them isn't likely to be one room with one encounter, they might end up being multi-session delves.

Swarms are really underused. I've got more of them in the dungeon. Rats was a good "easy mode" learning experience - low HP to disperse, DR protects normally, no venom (and no one caught a disease). I didn't explain the rules for them, because I prefer a) organic and natural responses and b) I got tired of explained how swarms and diffuse creatures work in GURPS like 5 years ago. So PCs did stuff like All-Out-Defend, tried for stunning with lightning (can't usefully stun a swarm), etc.

Oddly the players really started to worry about how to ensure 100% actual casualties on the rats. Not, enough damage to disperse them, killing some in the process and driving the rest off, but rather "every single rat is dead." Luckily they didn't follow up on this, because it's a waste of time and resources at best, dangerous to all involved at worst. I'm not even sure why, except typical "nothing attacks us and gets away with it" PC logic. You know, everything less than 100% casualties on the enemy is a failure. Maybe I need a picture of Gaston de Foix to remind people to quit while they're ahead.

Crushrooms are tough - piles of HP, enough HT to ensure you generally need to take them to negative multiples of HP. At least one of them didn't drop until -5xHP.

The Valmar fight was good - he's been prowling around for a while, and came up in rumors. Obviously he was juiced up over DFM1 stats, because he wasn't meant to fight a 250-point guy like the base sword-spirit is. Vryce is nearly 500 points, with 56 points in sword alone - he needed a better foe to challenge him. It was a good fight. Tense, and since Vryce's player and I have been chatting two-handed sword tactics for high-skill PCs for years and years, it was really a lot of fun to see how they'd play out against each other.

I need to revise Scry Gate, and the largely useless Seek Magic. Maybe Scry Gate, too, since I suspect it might just be a routinely cast spell used to pre-explore as much of the dungeon and gate destinations as possible. That's why Wizard Eye didn't go through - do I really want all gates to be, "Hold on, let the wizard send through a Wizard Eye and explore for a while, then we'll decide not to go"? No. Allowing servants is bad enough, but I've allowed them to be gated before under nearly identical circumstances so it's too late.

All but Vryce got enough for full XP (5 each); Vryce got 3. MVP was Vryce for grabbing the statue head. They'll need it for the Saints of Felltower. Also, for "sucking up no XP for a while to fight orcs."

Good session to end the year on.
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