Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Finding John M. Ford

For those of you who remember John M. Ford, aka Mike Ford:

The Disappearance of John M. Ford

John M. Ford wrote a number of gaming items, as well. Among them are the amazing Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues adventure for Paranoia and co-wrote GURPS Traveller: Starports, the story "Alkahest" for Autoduel Quarterly, GURPS Time Travel, and co-wrote GURPS Infinite Worlds.

But mostly I remember him for his signatures. He was a frequent poster to the SJG GURPS forums for Pyramid magazing 2.0, and if I remember correctly to GURPSNet-L as well. He would post the most amazing signatures at the bottom of his posts . . . each one a little comic and apropos gem. I saved a huge file of them and I can't find it anymore. Otherwise I'd post some. I read every single post of his just to see what he'd write up at the end.

He died back in 2006, but it seems that his books will come back in print thanks to the article author looking into his life and works. Hurrah!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Followup to A1, and Next Time?

Yesterday I posted the summary for Sunday's AD&D session, A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity - Part I.

Further Notes

A few little things about the session:

- I forgot that slowed opponents give a +4 to the "to hit" rolls of their opponents. (DMG p. 67)

- The big set-piece in the temple - that was the first time I got to run that. I was prepared but should have been more so . . . I needed to have a better list of all of the spell effects. I managed but should have done so more smoothly.

- The courtyard fight, too, was a first time. The two times I ran A1 before people just bypassed those and got right down to the lower level and explored there. The courtyard fight seems very threatening - foes with 50-90% cover and a cool weapon. Or, you can just charge them and make their cover - and their fancy ranged weapon - useless. That's what happened.

- Thieves really aren't allowed to try and try and try again to Hide in Shadows. I remembered that later in the session but didn't enforce it. I'll do so next time so we don't have one player rolling endlessly to hide. One roll, and move on. Although those same rolls admonish me that the "Roll of the dice for any thief function must be kept absolutely secret, so the thief (or similar character) does not know the results!" (DMG p. 19) I prefer to just roll in the open. It's part of the fun for me.

- the players insisted on rolling for languages to fill out their lists using the DMG p. 102, so we have people who speak red dragon, manticore, bugbear, spirit naga, and brass dragon. Dread and Phanstern both spoke centaur and used it as a secret language between them. Thor speaking Groot makes more sense than Kayan Telva speaking spirit naga.

What next?

We go on to Part II of A1, the Sewers.

The party was pretty well mauled by the adventure, where they fought a pack of ghouls and ghasts, about three dozens orcs and half-orcs including assassins and a cleric, a cleric, a troll, and faced a couple of traps and some nasty tricks.

As I look at their sheets, we're down two PCs - Eljayess and Phanstern are down and out, having gone to 0 HP and below. The others? Hurt.

Elwita - HP ? out of 54 - I can't follow the player's notations. I know he can, but I can't.
"Ogre" - HP 13 out of 45
Fredda - HP 10 out of 40
Karraway - HP 42 out of 42
Blodgett - HP 19 out of 25
Dread Delgath - HP 9 out of 25
Phanstern - HP 1 out of 25 (OUT)
Eljayess - HP 0 out of 25 (OUT)
Kayen Telva - HP 1 out of 25.

The PCs are completely out of healing spells and down two characters.

If they go on as-is, they'll lost most of the PCs in short order. This is definitely a time to pull back. But it's way more fun to continue on. Some options include:

1) Re-start. These were different rounds in the tournament. I could re-set them to the start with full HP and so on.

2) Partial re-start. Provide some healing and allow the two wounded guys to recover enough to continue. I could provide a certain number of healing potions (there is a plausible, convenient place to put them outside of where they looked so far.) I could provide a scroll of cleric spells (basically the same thing.)

Or I could just declare them healed up thanks to found healing items and the blessings of the god who the temple originally belonged to, and heal them fully or partially. Like, everyone gains 50% or 75% of their lost HP. At 1 out of 25? You get back 75% of 24 = 16, you're at 17. At 13 out of 45? You're back to 37 (32 x 75% = 24). That takes out the nasty randomness of given them potions that might give back 27 or might give back 6.

3) Suck it up. Just play as-is and see how far they can make it! With excellent play, they might be able to get part of the way there. Heh.

I'm leaning toward 2b right now. Used up spells? Too bad. Found cool stuff? Use it. We'll reset entirely for A2 in all likelihood.

Monday, November 18, 2019

AD&D Session 5: A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity - Part I

Today we played our 5th session of AD&D, where we run through old modules as-written just because it's fun. We use AD&D as much as possible as-written, except where the rules are nonsensical (Weapoon Speed, say) or impeded play (Initiative). But generally we revel in them. It's a nice vacation from GURPS.

Today we played A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, as part of a planned series of sessions that will eventually take us through the stockade (A2), aerie (A3), and dungeons (A4) of the Slave Lords.

SPOILER ALERT! This will absolutely spoil most of the adventure for you.

For ease of following this later, I've noted the initials of the players who ran the characters. Note that one player ran both Dread Delgath and Phanstern. Barely anyone wanted to run spellcasters, and the player who ran Eljayess was determined to be more fighter than cleric. Let's see how that all turned out!

Elwita, Dwarf F6 (M.H.)
"Ogre", Human F5 (J.M.)
Freda, Human R4 (M.L.)
Karraway, Human C6 (A.J.)
Blodgett, Halfing T5 (M.D.)
Dread Delgath, Human MU5 (V.L.)
Phanstern, Human I5 (V.L.)
Eljayess, Half-Ef C3/F3 (J.D.)
Kayen Telva, Elf F4/MU4 (O.L.)

We began with a reading of the Official Background, by J.M., who did his best Mako impression but occasionally lurched into Strongbad. The group started at nighttime outside a secret door being the fire-gutted temple, at a secret door described by an escaped slave. The front gate was guarded by alert troops who routinely searched and disarmed visitors, making that seem like a bad choice. (It would be; it would certainly end the adventure right there.)

The PCs opened the secret door, and moved in, and bunched up while lighting a lantern for Phanstern to carry. With 9 people in 5' wide corridors, the group extended a good 30-40' long even with fairly close spacing. They found and opened a second secret door after Blodgett listened at it and moved in further. They detoured briefly to the right and found an empty room with debris on the floor from the fire and a newly-built wall of much more solid construction than the fire-scorched stone of the original temple. They spend a few turns checking for secret doors but found nothing, and searched the rubble briefly.

They changed directions and went the other way, and began to carefully check door for traps before listening. On this one they found a bent-back board trap that would hit around chest level. So they backed off and let Blodgett trip it off as it went cleanly over his head.

Next they found a burned door. Beyond it was a room with a ledge around the top - the remnants of an upper floor room that had collapsed. It stank of rot. This turned out to not be enough of a clue. Elwita smashed the door up to for "Ogre" to squeeze through but they then decided to sent Elwita in first. She ducked in and was surprised when a pack of ghouls and two ghasts leaped down and attacked! She was quickly cut up a bit (6-8 HP?) and paralyzed. "Ogre" tried to pull her back and she got slashed a bit more before "Ogre" could cut and wound one ghoul. Karraway squeezed up and got out his holy symbol. He turned the ghasts and ghouls easily and score a 12 on number affected. They scrambled up to their second floor hideaway. (They briefly debated trying to follow and kill them, but decided not to when I told them cornered Turned undead would likely fight. They moved on, mission over extermination.) Elwita was paralyzed for 11 turns - almost two hours! - and they couldn't wait. They carried her.

Next they climbed some stairs to the second story and crossed a room with a collapsed floor by way of a beam across the open space. They declined to try either the shaky side ledge or the seemingly-solid ("trapped" opined "Ogre") ledge on the other side. They made it across, and contrived a way to to pull Elwita across using a rope and Blodgett to keep her on the beam.

Next they found some vinegar in barrels. Down some nearby stairs they saw a tarry pile of rags near a door. Blodgett opined that it was a giant sundew (because M.D. had been through the adventure before, decades ago, which sparked the "Giant Sundew story" that explains why his younger brother was recruited into our game.) So they decided to roll the barrels down and floor the room with vinegar. This they did.

They then quickly rushed the sundew - Freda, "Ogre," and Eljayess. They melee'd it and took several points of damage each from its acidic sap until they decided to wash it off with the vinegar. They forced the nearby door and headed out.

They found a way down to tunnels beneath the temple. There they rested near a ladder back up to the ground floor, waiting for Elwita to recover from her paralysis. She did. They gave her a Potion of Extra-Healing and cured all of the damage the ghouls did (around 20 or so.)

Blodgett listened at the trapdoor at the top of the ladder but didn't hear anything. Elwita climbed up and lift the top. She saw a long room lined with manacled slaves in ratty robes. At the end was a door, and shadows playing on the door showed an ogre in an adjacent chamber with a whip. The slaves cringed at every whip crack. So they climbed up after Karraway put Silence, 15' Radius on Elwita. They lined up amidst the the slaves, ready to rush the ogre.

But as they moved foward the "slaves" broke free of their trick manacled and attacked with shortswords - and one at the front began to cast a spell. They weren't surprised - a benefit of having a ranger - but were in trouble - everyone was in close melee. The half-orc (as it turned out they all were) at the front cast Bless, aiding himself and some nearby allies, but none of the folks already in melee.

Elwita quickly slew two nearby "slaves" and rushed ahead. As she did, two more "slaves" popped out of the shadows and backstabbed Eljayess and Phanstern. Eljayess got off easy - 6 damage on 1d6+1! Phanstern wasn't hit but was engaged by the assassin who attacked him. Karraway got off Hold Person on two slaves near Dread Delgath and Phanstern. Those two tried spells - Dread got off Magic Missile with a lucky win on initiative and killed one "slave" and wounded another. Phanstern tried Mirror Image but failed as he was wounded during the casting. That would happend with Color Spray, Hypnotism, and I think one other. Casting in melee with AC6 doesn't work well.

The PCs systematically killed off the "slaves" while three orcs - two with light crossbows and one with a whip - ran out from the other chamber. Elwita, "Ogre," and Freda engaged them and slew them quickly before taking out the fighter/cleric. Dread resorted to his club and killed a "slave" and then proceeded to badly wound the assassin on Phanstern with it, never missing and rolling 4-6 damage each time. Phanstern though was cut down to 0 HP and collapsed, bleeding out. Eljayess and Dread, soon aided by Karraway, finished the assassins. They slew the paralyzed "slaves" and looted the dead after they used Cure Light Wounds to keep Phanstern alive (but he was helpless thanks to dropping to -5 HP before being saved.) Dread and Eljayess were fairly well mauled. They used up all of their healing potions and spells getting people back into reasonable shape. They took the shortswords off of the assassins and fighter-cleric (all +1, in the end), found the lantern the orcs used to mime an "ogre," and put on a (non-magical) ring found on one of the enemy.

They moved on, after stashing Phanstern in a safe spot, minus his silver dagger in case they needed that.

Next they found a corridor that had collapsed down the middle, revealed sewer water flowing toward them. The decided eventually to save their spells and have Blodgett climb over with a lanyarded hammer and two ropes so he could nail them into the wall for a rope walkway. They did this . . . eventually. Blodgett made it across three times, but fell while trying to hammer in the spikes. The fourth time worked. He came back and "Ogre" climbed over and tried the door . . but failed (I gave them a -1 to force doors.) Elwita went over and forced it. They then climbed one by one over and into a dry corridor.

The next door they found wasn't trapped but they couldn't hear anything. They forced it and failed . . . and then forced it and succeeded. It was the entrance courtyard! There were six orcs, three behind each of two tables they'd flipped over, and four half-orcs behind a weird pushcart with a mantlet and a nozzle with a lit torch in front of it.

The PCs lost initiative, sadly, and the half-orcs fired a jet of flame at them. Elwita made her saving throw vs. Breath Weapons and took 9 damage . . . but (for some bizarre reason) by making her save blocked the flame for everyone else!

They rushed the orcs. "Ogre" and Elwita rushed the left. Kayan Telva stepped up and cast Sleep as Freda rushed the flamethrower.

Kayan's spell was deliberately targeted wide to just clip the orcs and not catch the melee between the half-orcs and Freda. Three orcs fell asleep. The others were quickly slain by the fighters in 3-4 rounds of melee.

Not wise enough to leave well enough alone, Kayan Telva and Dread decided to learn to operate the flamethrower. They messed around with the nozzles and bellows and blew the cart up . . . for 11 HP of damage each. (I spared them rolling saving throws for all of their items because I can be soft.)

They damped out the fires and opened a pair of big temple doors. Beyond were 8 statue pairs of orcs and gargoyles, all ready to attack. Naturally, they recognized these were going to animate and attack. Blodgett shot a sling at a gargoyle to no effect, and one at an orc as well. Nothing. They animate when you go near, then. So some of the fighters went up - Kayan, Eljayess, and Elwita. Nothing animated, but they had to be sure. So they knocked over the statues, smashed the hands off of the gargoyles and orcs, and otherwise trashed the statues thoroughly. Halfway up the corridor, though, they triggered an electrical Glyph of Warding and all three were zapped. Eljayess went to negative HP and had to be stabilized and stashed aside, incapable of further action. They stopped smashing, and soon they reached more double doors. Blodgett listened and heard commands being given in orcish by a female voice. Then it stopped.

(Forgot to mention: Karraway then used his Potion of Clairaudience to clairaudit the area past the door - and heard nothing.)

They got ready and forced the doors, with Dread ready to use his Wand of Fire to kill the serried ranks of foemen (heh) with Fireball. Instead it was a smallish temple with a statue of Gruumsh, some half-orcs in plate mail, a female human cleric, and some bound up slaves. So they just rushed in after Dread cast Slow as the cleric drank a potion. That turned out to be a Potion of Speed so she was at normal speed and her bodyguards half speed.

Kayan cast Suggestion and had a long and complicated suggestion about how the cleric would benefit from helping them kill her bodyguards, then step 2, then PROFIT! Despite Prayer and Protection from Good, she blew her save. She helped attack her bodyguards, but only after casting Spiritual Hammer and sending it after Dread. The PCs meleed the half-orcs and killed one while Blodgett tried to hide, but failed (repeatedly.) Dread ran away to get away from the hammer.

As the melee went on, though, a miniature troll sprung out of a nearby poorbox (presumably left from the original temple, that box) and grew to full size. It attacked with surprise and got off two full attack sequences on the fighters attacking the half-orcs. The cleric cast Hold Person on the half-orcs but failed! Kayan shot her a couple of times with arrows, missing because of her low AC. Then Kayan cast Invisibility and moved around behind the cleric. As that happened, an assassin popped out from the shadows behind one door and backstabbed Karraway. Terrible rolling meant a miss by 1, even against shiedless, DX-less AC with a +4 to hit! Blodgett and Karraway meleed the poor assassin and eventually killed him.

The troll mauled the PCs a bit before they cut it down. Blodgett and "Ogre" dumped flasks of oil on the fallen troll as Dread ran back in and used his Wand of Fire to cast Burning Hands on the troll. Fwooosh.

The half-orcs went down soon after, but not before one finally connected and did 8 damage to Elwita. They mobbed the cleric and killed her.

They freed the slaves, looted the bodies, and found a trapdoor down to the next level.

We ended there, with the badly mauled group pondering how to recover so they could fight their way through the level below.


Fun stuff. We reveled in the weirdness that is AD&D, as well as its fun. Best part of the day? Our 12-year old gamer who started gaming with GURPS Dungeon Fantasy opining often that "AD&D is so complicated!" Yes, yes it is. Even when the mechanics are simple, there are so. damn. many. of them. Subsystems for everything, no two exactly alike!

So whose initials are LJS? Is Lawrence Shick's middle initial J?

I slightly modified the adventure to make a bit more sense to me. I moved one initial trap - the door trap marked 1 on the map was moved to the next-nearest door. I felt it fit better there. I slightly changed the nature - but not effects - of the last trap. In between, I mentioned doors, corridors, etc. and said "you know nothing further is that direction." Basically, the map is nonsensical with chunks missing, but telling the players the adventure wasn't there was sufficient. Maybe a slave told them, maybe they could see the lack of usage, maybe they guessed well.

I was pleased that the players showed some solid caution but not too much. Also, that they weren't insisting on exploring every inch of the map. They did manage to waste a good chunk of time in the very first room, checking for secret doors, checking the new construction on the far wall, etc. but then kept up the pace from there.

Spellcasting while in melee range fails most of the time. That didn't stop the players from trying. It's just that only two spells got off that way out of something like five tries. Phanstern tried Color Spray, Mirror Image, and Hypnotism and failed all three. Dread Delgath got off Magic Missile and failed at one other spell. Karraway only got off Hold Person because his AC was so low that he was unlikely to be hit at all. Ironically it was against a group of very weak but numerous foes - the very reason he could get off a third-level spell.
The logic of casting was that, well, better use the spells now before the caster dies. Mostly, though, it just meant failures.

Sleep may have been a better choice there but no one wanted to put allies to sleep. The spell, as written, affects the weakest before the strongest, and most of the PCs are too high level to be affected at all. Even so, it wasn't used in that fight because of the closeness of allies and deliberately aimed wide when it was used to avoid hitting a 4th level PC who wasn't likely to fall asleep anyway. I assume this is because the player didn't know exactly how the spell worked. I could have pointed it out but I generally just let things ride and let them figure this out through play. It's more memorable that way.

Playing with the flamethrower was amusing. The two players were so sure they could figure it out and use it as a weapon. The module doesn't allow you to even try. Me, I just reasoned they'd be unable to try but messing with it could have messy consequences. They were warned it was complex but fiddled anyway. It was too tempting . . . and cost two characters a lot of HP they can't get back.

The statues situation was inevitable. Every statue, in every dungeon, is a trap or a monster in the eyes of PCs. So much so that they missed the actual trap trying to disarm the imagined trap, and made so much noise the foes in the final room were well ready for them. Had they just, say, sent their thief ahead and moved quietly, they might have avoided the trap and potentially taken the big boss of the upper level by surprise. Or at less without her buffing spells.

The ruling on Suggestion was tough. The suggestion was specific about killing the half-orcs, and the cleric failed her save. But it wasn't "work with us" or "don't fight us" and no one stopped attacking her. It made for a weird three-way fight.

Next session is part 2 of A1 - the "Undercity" portion. I'm not sure how we'll go about that . . . the PCs are fairly well mauled after Part I. But that's a post for tomorrow!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

AD&D pre-summary

Today we have most of our regulars, but not all of them . . . and one former regular come back to play. So we had eight players.

Yes, my group is large these days.

We ran A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity. It was a lot of fun. It went well. We had:

- a couple of casualties

- lots of clever play

- some really silly play

- some very typical adventurer must-dos that cost like they usually cost

- tough combats

- and endless fun with the wording of rules written by E. Gary Gygax.

Ah, fun stuff.

I'll get a complete summary tomorrow but it's never dull busting out AD&D with my group.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

More AD&D Rules changes for A1

Besides the simplified initiative system, elimination of Weapon Speed (and those weird moments of extra attacks),

Contrary to SPELL CASTING DURING MELEE (DMG p. 65), I'm going to allow DEX bonuses to AC to apply while spellcasting. While I get the logic - if you move around (like a GURPS Dodge) you're potentially losing your concentration. It's just going to be annoying to track AC when casting and AC when not casting - especially given that we've got an Illusionist (and thus a spellcaster with Dexterity bonuses to AC.)

However, I will allow the loss of DEX bonuses when using Charge (DMG p. 66) to close in and attack. If you don't want to lose out on your DEX bonus or get hit by longer weapons, just move in instead of attacking. Most people won't Charge anyway so no big deal.

Morale (DMG p. 67) isn't relevant . . . and in any case it's so much clunkier than Basic Set/Expert Set. Sigh. Works but no one uses it and Morale is pre-determined in the A-series.

We will be using Attacks With Two Weapons (DMG p. 70) if anyone wishes to try it. It's a -4 to the primary weapon and -2 to the secondary weapon unless Dexterity is 16+. In that case the modifiers change per the DMG.

Unarmed combat - if necessary - will use rules from Dragon magazine, reprinted in Best of Dragon Vol 4 - "Finish Fights Faster" by Roger E. Moore (BODM4, p. 42). We'll use Pummeling for all attacks, even kicks, for simplicity. If people grapple the system Doug and I wrote for The Manor #8 is simplier than Roger E. Moore's system so we'll use that.

Crossbows will use my crossbow house rule.

I'm still not in love with any of the systems for Missile Fire into Melee. It's last minute but I'm still looking. Otherwise we'll use the one from A3, which was okay last time we used it. But only okay.

Friday, November 15, 2019

AD&D vs. D&D 3.5?

One of our players this Sunday has played the living hell out of GURPS with us, and runs DF on his own, and has played D&D 5, too, I think.

But he's never played any D&D earlier than 3.5. Here is what I wrote to help him adjust a bit to AD&D (aside from some rules-specific writeups):

"AD&D vs. D&D3.5:

- much simpler combat. It's tactical only in the sense of using figures to determine location in specific set-piece battles.

- characters and monsters deal less damage (mostly) but have less HP (definitely).

- monster combat ability is purely based on their HD (hit dice), which also determine HP. Bigger monsters always have better "to hit" rolls.

- AC descends, and uses a table instead of ascending and using a "roll plus" system to determine a hit.

- Initiative is simpler, and individual alertness only reduces surprise.

- casters can't swap spells easily, or up-cast spells with a higher spell slot.

- the only skills in the system are thief skills and "to hit" rolls in combat.

- no feats or special abilities aside from some very specific class abilities, most of which won't figure in this game.

Offhand I can't think of anything else critical to know. It's just more lethal and less forgiving, based on my reading of D&D 3.5."

Anyone have any other helpful bullet points for a 3.5 player going to the confused and glorious mess that is AD&D? I'm extremely fluent in AD&D but 3.5 was one I only read without every playing. I know most of what I know from The Order of the Stick!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

New Magic Item: Bracers of Deflection

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 6: 40 Artifacts introduced Bracers of Force, which provide a DR sheath to the wearer.

An easy add are Bracers of Deflection to provide DB . . . from the front.

Bracers of Deflection
Power Item: 8 FP
Suggested Origins: Magical.

A pair of heavy metal bracelets carved with sigils and runes of defense around depictions of shields of many sizes and shapes. Worn as a pair - and only as a pair - they create a magical barrier a few inches in front of the caster.


• Magical Barrier: The Bracers’ magical barrier provides DB 2 to the front arc of the wearer. This adds 2 to any active defense taken by the wearer. It is not cumulative with any DB provided by the Shield spell or by Deflect enchantments on armor - and worn with such armor, neither will properly function, negating the effects of both enchantments. Such DB is not cumulative with any DB from an actual physical shield, either - wearing or holding one interferes with the ability of the bracers to generate their magical field.

• Mundane Armor: The bracelets themselves provide DR 6 to the arms, but only a roll of 1 on 1d due to their small size. They can worn over non-rigid armor comfortably, with no DX penalty.

Weight: 2 lbs.

Notes: Versions may exist from DB 1 to a show-stopping DB 6.

These bracers make a great way to get some DB on martial artists, wizards, thieves, and other lightly armored types. More heavily armored types can use them as well, of course, but only with non-rigid armor. They're helpful for shield-less fighters who need to rely on Dodge to escape missile attacks. These make an interesting choice at lower DBs, especially 1-3. They provide a reliable always-on bonus hands-free, but means your wizard or cleric can't jump in with a high DB Shield spell to amplify your defenses further. And of course, like the spell it basically provides, it doesn't help you from the flank or back.
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