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!


  1. I love keep on the borderlands, its open environment style was such a eye opener back then

  2. That's some pretty fun stuff. I like the gnoll vs orc part. And where does this "always go left" idea come from? I seem to remember somebody following that in the Caves of Chaos sessions JB was writing about last year. I think it ended badly for that party, but still it's odd to see it here again.

  3. @aamedor: Yeah, I like that too. Any adventure that allowed a 1st level elf and his 1st or 2nd level figher buddy pick a cave full of gnolls as their first encounter is a good one in my book. I always felt actual tunnels kind of railroady because of this, I think.

    @Spawn of Endra: Always go left was Borriz's player's video game exploration tactic. It allowed him to systematically explore a whole dungeon level. In the the caves, with the right choice of entry, it let them blunder right into good results!

  4. It sounds like you are having as good a time with your group as I am with mine.

    Coincidently I am doing something similar and you know what, Old School style GURPS just works, especially with good players.

  5. @5stonegames: That's great to hear. I'm glad to hear about another old school style GURPS game out there. If you blog about it, post the link and I'll happily follow it!

  6. What percentage of points do your characters put into combat abilities? I'm in an ~200 point GURPS Fantasy game set on Yrth, and man, combat is *dangerous*. Now, we are very low magic, and the DM enforces realistic characters; as none of us were professional fighters before the banestorm a lot of our points are in non-combat abilities (not a bad thing, as it isn't a dungeon crawl game), but even my mail-wearing lumberjack-fighter is usually badly hurt after any serious combat.

    1. How familiar are you with Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers?

      I've been making people making PCs that strictly follow the templates. As such, these are highly optimized guys who are laser-focused on what they do well. The knights started at 250+50+5, with at least 270 of those points directly applicable to combat. The wizards are the same, only toward spells, and so on - DF characters basically spend almost every point being good at their niche.

      Compared to 200 point characters where you're not allowed to make professional fighters, it's night and day.

  7. How do you handle absent/returning players if the PCs are in a safe camp as opposed to Town? Do the PCs just wander off/show up?


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