Thursday, September 29, 2011

DF Game, Session 1 - Caves of Chaos vs. 250 pointers

On Sunday we had our first official DF session. We had four PCs - Vryce (Weaponmaster greatsword knight), Borriz (Weaponmaster mace dwarf knight), Volos (direct attack spell wizard), and Honus (morningstar-wielding barbarian). Father Marco couldn't make it, mostly because I screwed up the date.

The characters are 250 point DFers, which translates into above-1st level guys in a typical class-and-level system. They are pretty well equipped thanks to using some character points for gear. The relative cheapness of Fortify (extra DR) and Lighten enchantments meant everyone has enchanted armor of some kind.

I'm running them though the Keep on the Borderlands, mostly out of nostalgia (it was the setting of my first game of D&D when I was 9) but also because it didn't take too much prep. Just stat up some humanoids I'd need later anyway. I expect it is probably too easy, but that's fine, I can always ramp up the actual danger level of the megadungeon nearby based on the Caves.

The Keep itself makes a great base of operations, especially if you assume, like I did, that it was built in response to dangers coming in the past from the Caves. Those dangers receded even as the Keep was built, and now it sits undermanned as Chaos rises again. It'll make a good base - chapel with a healing priest (but not too powerful), a skilled armorer accustomed to military orders but not stocking too much stuff or with too much free time, a Keep mage on hand to recharge power items, a couple rotating traders, etc. - in other words a safe base to recharge and sell off stuff but not to really "power up."

The players were excellent - they knew the goal was "find an excuse to hit the Caves" and didn't make it hard. They interacted with NPCs, talked to an elf who'd tried and failed at the Caves, and then headed out ready to rock.

Vryce talked the guards into letting him sleep for free in the stables. Funny to see a guy in thousands of silver worth of armor sleeping in hay, but he did spend all his money on that great gear. Honus and Volos and Borriz talked to Goldleaf, the elf adventurer I mentioned. Goldleaf gave them a run down of his attempt on the Caves but refused to join them. He mentioned running into a wight and losing a friend to it, and gave Honus a couple of silver-tipped arrows.

(Goldleaf is actually my original Erol Otus cover red box D&D character, and the story is as I remember his first and only session. No GMPC or Mary Sue here, I just saw a great chance to connect my first adventure with my latest campaign and then quietly send my ex-PC home.)

The the PCs headed out. We didn't play a long session, and we needed some breaks to deal with forgotten rules and "What does this mean?" stuff from the new character sheets and (for some) new edition of the rules. But they managed to choose a cave to enter using Borriz's plan of "always go left."

They whacked some goblins but Honus took a spear in the chest. Ooops. Maybe putting the lightly-armed barbarian in front was a bad idea? He ended up in back, ready to use his speed to move in, and the heavily armored knight Vryce moved up to suck up direct attacks. They didn't bother to search the room, just moved further in.

They pushed on fast, forsaking any attempt at stealth once they realized narrow tunnels and enemies with infravision meant it was pointless anyway. They bashed down a door and met what started to become routine - a flurry of spears from the waiting goblinoids.

Five hobgoblin males and nine females waited for them in formation. That lasted a few seconds until Vryce and Borriz knocked a few down. Then Honus bashed through and used Slams and his flail to trash anything that looked too much like a defensive line. Volos tried magic but found DF hobgoblins are all magic resistant (GM - Hahaha!)

(At this time my former player, wife of a current player, walked in and said "Why are you guys attacking women?" Volos's player: "Because they have no shields!")

They quick-searched the room, looted the corpses, spiked the door behind them shut, and found . . . three hobgoblin children. They tied them up and tossed a blanket over them, and left them. I was wondering how they'd deal with that.

They headed further in and found a torture chamber. The two mail-armored hobgoblins there provided a slightly harder challenge, if only because I started to actually roll defenses below the target number. They got chopped and stabbed into submission anyway.

In the chamber were four human prisoners, an orc, and a gnoll. They made a litter for an unconscious merchant, had one of two fit guardsman types (Orrie and Koric) grab the merchant's wife in a fireman's carry, and then carefully tossed the gnoll the keys, gesturing for him to set himself free and run. Instead the gnoll freed himself and then pounced on the orc, biting his face!

Borriz the dwarf just broke down in laughter. Wow, cruel. They eventually - maybe after almost 10 seconds? - decided this was bad and Vryce stabbed the gnoll to death. The orc was, by then, bitten to shreds and bleeding horribly. They just decided to leave him.

Oddly they didn't search the hobs more than briefly, and didn't even look for cash on them. They grabbed their (cheap) broadswords and a copper armband and the prisoners and headed out.

Hearing hobs coming, they retreated the way they came. They spiked another door shut and bashed the one they'd spiked before down. They deal with a barrage of arrows from hidden goblins by running past, after Missile Shielding the guard carrying the merchant's wife and covering the merchant with the knight. They ran into the daylight, and ran until dusk, pausing only to let the mage drink some paut to get back his magical energy (and thus have some energy to run further). They camped safely and then headed to the keep.

Why the short trip? It was getting late, and we all had long rides home. The rule is, do whatever you want, but end up in a safe camp or back in town at the end of the session. That way we can start with whoever can show for a session without having to deal with the PCs of absent players. Plus people can swap in new PCs at will, because they are always in town to meet new characters between sessions.

A few lessons:

- humanoids, even fighting in ranks and with the home ground advantage and no need for lighting, are doomed against starting DF characters. Even with better than a 4-1 advantage of numbers and long weapons backing shield-and-spear armed front rankers.
My big concern is the fight vs. fodder are going to make the PCs incautious and blanch when they encounter a real opponent.

- helmet lanterns (from DF1) are very useful. Throwing 5-yard long beam of light forward for a -0 penalty to hit is great, no hands is even better, and it means that PC never has lighting penalties in melee.

- bad rolls vs. doors by hideously strong guys are really funny. The average construction door in the hobgoblin lair was the hardest fight of the game.

- having a plan for who loots what and how to search rooms while keeping guard is a good idea.

- it's better to be thorough than half-assed. Spiking doors, overwhelming firepower vs. weak opponents, taking weak foes seriously (a critical head blow from a hobgoblin is bad news, so why risk more of them than you need?)

Overall it was a really fun session. I'm looking forward to the next one!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No rules lookups in play

We played our inaugural GURPS DF game on Sunday. We had to shake the rust off as gamers - we hadn't played as a group in a while. Last time we did, we were using 4e rules with a number of house rules carried over from our 3e days, with long-running PCs who equally had holdovers from GURPS 3e.

When we playtested the upcoming DF adventure, we found a number of problems with "I thought this works like [whatever]" followed by looking up the rules.

This would not do for a fast-paced game. I noodled around with some ideas and then just said:

"Finally I have one idea I want to try - I'm going to ban all books
from the game table. No rules lookups during play. I'll make a ruling
and it'll stand. You can correct me on official break. If you want to
be sure to have some arcane rule correct, read it and write it on your
sheet. Otherwise . . . my goal is fast play, not accurate rules

We'll give it a shot and if it works for me, we'll keep doing it."

(Actual quote from my email the day or so before game)

We tried it.

It worked really well.

Don't know the rules for Slams in 4e? Screw it, we know the 3e ones. Use them until an official break, let the results stand, and we'll use the new ones after that.

Can't remember the lighting penalty for a torch (-2 or -3?)? Eh, -3 and we'll look it up later.

Can't find the cost of a flask of oil? They are out of stock.

This really kept the game rolling, and there wasn't a single complaint about it. I didn't get annoyed and disrupted by rules arguments. We did have one about what "velocity" meant for slams (whose velocity? How would this allow for rule such-and-such in that case?) but it was on official break, while I drinking a beer and we all had time to look in the books.

We're definitely keeping this one. Seriously, how important can the correct rule really be, compared to keeping the game going at a fast and fun pace? Not very. Be a bit generous in your rulings, accept help from players ("I'll tell him his slam modifiers" or "can we just say it's -3?"), and it'll work fine.

I'll try to get a rough summary of the game up soon, but for now I need to go write something for work.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Approaching the Caves

My DF game officially kicks off on Sunday. We played a session using a playtest copy of an upcoming GURPS adventure (not yet released), but that was more of a trial run than anything else.

Right now we have five players.

Mike is running Vryce, a Knight (Weaponmaster Greatsword) with mail, plate, and a greatsword. He does like 3d+7 or +8 damage. Yowza. He's a straight-up copy of the playtest guy Mike ran.

Andy is running Volos, a Wizard (Magery 6 and assorted types of spells). He's changed heavily off the playtest guy Andy ran. Despite the similarity of names, probably not related to deNomolos.

Marco is running Inquisitor Marco (placeholder name), an undead-hunting Cleric (True Faith w/Turning, Will 15, and the Sunbolt spell) with mace and shield. I wrote him up as a better version of the guy from the playtest. The players found out the hard way a Cleric is not a substitute for a Knight, Barbarian, Swashbuckler, or Martial Artist template for front-line fighting. This one is better tuned for staying back and still contributing. He was bloody murder against Will 8 horde zombies, and I expect him to be again - Will 15 plus a holy symbol blessed by his high priest, worth a further +2!

Aaron is probably running a Dwarf Knight (Weaponmaster - one-handed axes and maces and Pickaxe Penchant 3) with a mace and shield. 2d+8 crushing damage IIRC. First run for this guy.

Sean is running Honus Honusson (IIRC also The Honus of his tribe, making him Honus Honusson the Honus), a Barbarian (Magic Resistance - Thaumatologic Only 5 and a Weapon-bonded Signature Gear Flail) with the Flail of Gales and shield. His morningstar does a puny 3d+5 or so damage. Heh. Same thing - first run.

All are 250+50+5.

These five guys - very melee combat oriented and heavy weapon centric - are going to test their mettle against the Caves of Chaos, on a mission to root out and destroy the shrine to evil Inquisitor Marco's superiors have detected there.

Why the Caves? Well, my first ever D&D game took place there, and I have fond memories of it. It's not a great dungeon, it's full of weird Gygaxisms, but who cares? It's a good start, and it makes a good warmup for the depths beneath the ruined hilltop castle nearby . . .

I do expect them to cut through most of the inhabitants like a hot knife through butter. 250+50+5 with solid gear isn't exactly equal to 1st to 3rd level D&D characters. But critical hits, FP expenditure, expendables expenditure, and the occasional disastrous tactical choice will take their toll. They'll need to be smart and clever and a little lucky to clear their objectives in one session. It might take a few trips.

I did swap out some monsters for GURPS versions, and for ones I prefer. So a few critters from my own book and my own head will make an appearance, but I'll forebear mentioning them in case one of my players reads this. :)

I've got the beer, the adventure, the minis, and the maps ready. So on Sunday it's light up the torches and go plundering!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Rule of Awesome

Besides this blog, I also write about strength and conditioning. I was one of the nerdy kids playing D&D instead of running around at lunch, and I always failed those fitness tests in P.E., but now I'm a certified trainer with a passion for getting stronger. Go figure.

There is something that I learned from training that applies to gaming. It is Jim Wendler's "Rule of Awesome." Now, if you look at Jim, you may not instantly think, "this guy would be a great GM." But you are wrong.

Jim Wendler knows how to make a ruling on the fly.

Jim Wendler has two mottos. The first isn't relevant here, but the second one (discussed here) is.

His second motto is:

"Is what I'm doing awesome? If I ask myself that and the answer is no, then I don't do it."

I found it applies even more so to gaming than to training. In gaming, being awesome is inherently functional. The whole point of gaming is to have an awesome game.

I've brought this up before on the SJG web forums, discussing an edge case in GURPS.

To apply this, you only need to know two things:

One: What's the core of my game like? Is it realistic and gritty, or is it cinematic? Is the whole point of the game to scare the bejesus out of your players and have squid-headed gods eat their sanity with a giant sucking sound? This does not depend on rules systems, it depends on flavor.

Two: What would be awesome? If the game is realistic and gritty, any ruling that makes the game more realistic and gritty is awesome. Does blood drip into the PC's eyes from a cut and give him a a penalty? Hell yeah it does! That's awesome! If the game is cinematic, does letting some guy pick up a ladder and start kicking ass qualify as awesome? You bet it does.

Notice in none of these cases does "everyone open their books, grind the game to a halt, and argue over the meaning of the sentence construction used and the precise meaning of the words" add up to awesome. That's never awesome. That's something you do later, when you try to figure out what the rules say to do. That's something you do ahead of time, if you want to ensure that you have the ladder fighting rules down correctly. But in play, go for the rule of awesome.

It wouldn't hurt to learn to squat, deadlift, and bench press, though, but stick to my other blog or Jim's website for that. ;)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Eaten by Aliens, Campaign Starts Now

I'm sure most of you guys have heard of the report done about possible human-alien contact, and what it would mean for humans.

This chart from National Geographic is basically a campaign matrix.

Pick and choose. Want post-apocalypse from alien contact? Choose a "Harmful" alien interaction, such as "Unintentional Harm: Acts of Incompetence." What if Earth went all Gamma World because aliens unintentionally caught Earth in a solar-system wide science experiment?

Want friendly aliens? Well, how did meeting them go? Was it good, neutral, or bad? If it was good, was there exchange of science or were they essentially uncaring?

How about "Intentionally Hiding." Come on, how can you not create a fun adventure when the PCs stumble upon proof of the aliens who don't want us to see them? Maybe they fear our violent ways, or unleashing theirs on us, or fear our diseases or social contamination? Are they like Tokugawa Japan, an advanced culture seeking isolation? Or are they like fearful sasquatches of legend, running off when they see man?

This matrix is pure gaming gold.

Monday, September 12, 2011

DFM1 Random Prefixer

So you say you can't decide what DFM1 prefix to use on a boss monster?

Emily aka Bruno has a solution: the random prefix table!

Thanks for making that, Em. It's awesome.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

GURPS does indeed have monsters

When GURPS 4e first came out, it came out with just a few animals and monsters in the back of the Basic Set.

But as Clay Dowling points out, there has been a steadily supply of monsters available for GURPS.

If you don't believe either of us, check this out:

List of Published GURPS Creatures

When GURPS Dungeon Fantasy came out, it also had just a relatively small handful of monsters in the second book, although successive books all included at least a couple of monsters - and Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 includes 30 more (well, more than that if you count every sub-type as a new monster, ala D&D monster books).

Between all the DF books, Banestorm, Fantasy, and a few others, there are plenty of monsters to use in a GURPS DF game. I know, because I'm doing just that.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"It's okay, Gary sent us."

Way back in my early years of D&D, I started with the red box Basic Set.

Page B28 had an Example of Combat. Here's a small excerpt of the party encountering some hobgoblins. The party consists of four 1st and 2nd level characters . . . their fifth member having died in another example further on.

Silverleaf steps forward with both hands empty in a token of friendship, and says "Greetings, noble dwellers of deep caverns; can we help you?". Just in case, Silverleaf is thinking of the words he must chant to cast his spell [Sleep]

[snip some stuff about reaction rolls]

The largest of the hobgoblins shouts, in his language, "Go away! You're not allowed in this room!"

"It's okay, Gary sent us," Silverleaf answers.

"Huh?" the hobgoblin wittily responds.

The DM rolls a new reaction roll with no adjustments. The roll is a 3; the hobgoblins charge.

Picture me reading this as a nine year old. The editor of the book is a guy named Tom Moldvay, and even his name isn't on the cover. Who wrote this I wouldn't even have known.

So who the hell Gary was, I didn't know.

This only became funny years later when I connected the "Gary sent us" to Gary Gygax. By then I was playing AD&D and hobgoblins were Lawful Evil and no Good or Neutral player would never have negotiated with them.

A few things strike me about this example, years later. Things I'd like to see emulated in my Dungeon Fantasy play:

People negotiate with intelligent creatures. Not just bribes tossed to hungry monsters or a sword dropped to discourage a rust monster from eating your armor. They talk to monsters to try to avoid combat.

There isn't a big emphasis on slaying things for experience points. By the time I got to playing in a big way, and understood things like how to gain levels (we had a few guys at first level until it seemed like second level seemed appropriate) . . . we knew that you killed every freaking monsters you ran into and looted it. A properly "done" dungeon was empty of anything alive that was worth XP. The idea of exploring further and conserving resources by trying to deal with intelligent creatures who obviously won't be wealthy never even came up. The fact that this encounter netted the PCs nothing much beyond some information and a dead PC shows what could happen in combat.

Prisoners are taken and spared. I'm trying to remember last time that happened and it wasn't a group of lawful mercs that the PCs didn't want to kill to avoid pissing off other mercs. Everyone else got Black Company'd and had to dig their own graves. Heck, the example says outright that the Sister Rebecca "tells Morgan [Ironwolf] that a Lawful person keeps her word" - to evil humanoids!

So yeah, Gary sent us. He sure did, but as a kid I missed the joke and as an older GM we got away from "get some treasure out of this hole!" and moved to "kill everything we can to gain levels." Shame, that.

Monday, September 5, 2011



GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 has finally hit 400 copies sold.

We had a great first month and then it slowed down considerably.

But I'm quite happy our book has cracked the 400 mark.

Thanks to everyone who's purchased a copy, and double thanks to anyone who uses one of my monsters to waste a PC or two!
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