Wednesday, February 29, 2012

$2011 reasons to support GURPS

If you haven't heard, RPG Countdown is giving out $2011 as a prize for buying one of their top 100 RPG products of 2011.

That's two thousand and eleven dollars, for you, and your receipt does double-duty as a chance for your FLGS to win $2011 in advertising.

So, since I'm GURPS oriented, what GURPS stuff is on the list?

Ed Healy clarified that anything in a mentioned series counts, so here they are:

GURPS Low Tech (I think you might be able to snake the Low Tech Companions 1, 2, or 3, as an entry. I'm partial to 2, heh)

GURPS Tactical Shooting

GURPS Social Engineering

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (series, which means all of DF1-14 and DFM1 and technically DFA1 even though it's a 2012 release - hey, a series is a series)

GURPS Horror

GURPS Monster Hunters (series)

Full disclosure: I wrote or co-wrote some of these - specifically GURPS Low Tech, GURPS Low Tech Companion 2, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninja, and GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1

So support GURPS and potentially win $2,011!

Or if you hate GURPS or something, well, it's okay, it'll up my odds of taking home a little spare change. ;)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New Disease: The Dwarven Sprue

Thanks to Dr. Sean aka Honus, B.A. (Barbarian Adventurer), for coining the name of this disease when explaining why Borriz the Dwarf couldn't accompany them on an adventure.

Dwarven Sprue, Respirator Agent; resisted by HT-2; 24 hour onset; 1 pt toxic damage, fatigue-based; cyclic (6 hour cycles, 12 cycles). Symptoms include fever, runny nose, sore throat, coughing, dizziness, and general fatigue (-1 to all attribute rolls) from start of onset; if victim is reduced to 1/3 FP or below, he or she also suffers from nausea (p. B428).

Dwarves are especially vulnerable to this disease, and resist at a further -2 (HT-4).

The Dwarven Sprue is easily diagnosed (+2 on Diagnosis rolls) due to fever and the characteristic discoloration of the skin (victims appear a little gray).

I seemed to have picked this up last week, or something like it. It hit me full-force on Sunday, forcing me to cancel game. I'm still shaking it off, but there is no way I'm passing up a chance to stat up the Dwarven Sprue for my game.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Modules are touchstones

Occasionally I read blog posting and writings bashing on, well, people who buy, read, and use pre-packaged adventures.

I sort of get this - it's the whole "you can make this up yourself." Or that oh-so-ironic "why have us do any more of your imagining for you?" line from Dungeons & Dragons: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, written just before TSR began a long tradition of doing exactly that?

I make up my own stuff all the time but I feel like there is a real value in pre-published material.

I think part of the value and enjoyment of pre-packaged adventures is the they are a familiar, common touchstone for gamers.

If I tell you about the epic battle my players had the skull-throwing bone construct in the Forge of Chaos in my last campaign, it might be exciting but it's not familiar. I know what I'm talking about and so do my players (oh boy, do they). But if I tell you about their epic battle in the last session with the occupants of the Caves of Chaos you know what's going on immediately. If I say my cousin's thief Blackstar survived the Tomb of Horrors not once, but twice, you know what he faced (and wisely fled from).

It doesn't matter if I changed the setting, or the rule base, or the exact particulars of the situation.

Like talking about a novel we all read, we've got a familiar basis for discussion.

Thing is, not all of my players have read, played in, or otherwise experienced these adventures. And for a lot of reasons, I'd like to share these with them. I'd like them to have that same feeling of amused awe and remembered danger when I say "White Plume Mountain." Or mention a certain golem. Or drop hints about a Lost City.

This is why, despite making up my own megadungeon, I intend to use other people's adventures in whole and in part. I like the idea of sharing these experiences, these touchstones, with other people.

Yeah, I could make up everything from scratch, from monsters to dungeons to the color of the sky above them PCs.

But I'm not, and it's not from lack of confidence, lack of intelligence, or lack of time even. It's from wanting to share with them what I love about gaming, and experiences that extend beyond us at the table into the wider world of people who grew up gaming.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

White box D&D - complete

With a nice find on eBay, I have just completed my white box D&D set:

That's the new addition in the bottom-right hand corner - Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-gods, and Heroes by Ward and Kuntz.

I originally picked up Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardry for a few bucks apiece at a tiny basement gaming shop at - IIRC - the Bergen Mall. I bought it because they were for D&D, and this was when I didn't have any idea about different editions. I picked up Car Wars (and Truck Stop and Sunday Drivers) and Ogre from that shop, too, along with most of my Grenadier miniatures boxed sets. Anyway.

I got the LBBs a while later on a whim from The Mail Order Hobby House. IIRC it's the collector's edition.

Greyhawk I got in the 90s from somewhere else - I can't remember where.

Finally, my Supplement IV arrived in the mail today.


Now all I need is Outdoor Survival and Chainmail to make it a playable game. Heh.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Hierarchy of Expendables

When adventuring, your expendable resources have a hierarchy of value.

Based on my experience, here they are, from least to most value:

Mundane Resources
Magical Resources

In short, spend money to avoid spending magic, spend magic to avoid spending HP, and spend
HP only when you have to.

Mundane resources include money, and anything you can buy with it (and easily replace). Arrows, holy water, healing potions, thrown weapons, etc. In a vicious enough game, this could be hirelings, too. But generally, hirelings aren't so disposable either because of roleplaying concerns (Sense of Duty, say, or alignment in DnD) or pragmatic concerns (they're hard to replace if you spend them like bullets as no one wants to hire on with you).

Magic resources include spells in Vancian magic systems, energy and power item points and paut in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, spell points in Rolemaster, and any and all magical item charges and one-shot items. Some of these are easily recovered, some aren't, but ultimately they come with a cost that's generally higher than bribe money or pre-purchased mundane expendables. Even if you can get magical energy back fast (like in GURPS) the time you spend doing it in the dungeon is time you are in danger.

HP is obvious. HP, life force, body points, actual lives. If you die, generally you can fix it, but it's inconvenient at best and hideously expensive at worst.

The trick to this one is that treasure is the goal, so ultimately you will "spend" HP to get GP. But the ideal is to get as much treasure at as little cost as possible. If you toss a $100 hostile potion down the gullet of a monster and loot it of $500 in treasure, that's fine. If you expend it and get $0, maybe it's okay, too, because the only other way to beat it might have cost a bunch of magical energy and HP. This is why wandering monsters and dead-end encounters aren't worth fighting - do you need to spend resources to whack a destitute and dangerous critter?

The scale will slide a bit, too - it's probably better to expend a couple HP than a few thousand gold coins. Or burn up an awesome magic item to kill a corrosive slugbeast before it eats your cheap but necessary 10' pole. But writing up a sliding scale of value with overlapping categories is too much like work.

Anyway, I find this hierarchy useful. The goal is always loot, but how much do you spend to get it? What's a better trade, some damage or some expendables? A spell or the mundane?

Ultimately every experienced players knows this, but probably doesn't put it explicitly in this order.

Does your hierarchy of expendables differ?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Players reading monster manuals III: Poll results

Thanks to everyone who voted.

The results:

Yes, and they can use their knowledge in play: 19 (48%)

Yes, but they can't use their knowledge in play: 11 (28%)

No: 5 (12%)

Other: 4 (10%)

Total Votes: 39

Yes: totals out to 30 votes out of 39 for yes, which a majority allowing the knowledge to have value in play. Some comments on my previous post explained how that knowledge matters or doesn't matter, but I'd love to hear more. I already expounded on my approach but I would enjoy hearing others.

Only 12% don't allow their players to read the books. Which leads to the question, how do you stop them?

Is there a way to stop people from gaining knowledge of the game system's bestiary? I wonder especially for people who run D&D and OSR clones? - stopping them would entail stopping them from playing online games, D&D-based video games, or even read the whole of the Labyrinth Lord rulebook? I'm very curious - so if you've got a way to do it, let me know in the comments! I may need it someday . . .

Thursday, February 16, 2012

DFM1 Trolls as PCs

One of the posters over on the SJG Forums posted his version of the trolls from Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 as a PC race.

Here is the thread: DFM1 Troll as PC

It's an interesting take, but it's different from the entry in a few ways. I actually generated the monster stats from a racial template.

So where is my take? In this post is my (poorly formatted) original template for the DFM1, Poul Andersonian trolls. If you've got enough points, yeah, you can be a troll too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Library AD&D

My local library system has most of the original AD&D books. Look:

That's the assortment - DMG, PHB, D&D (top L-R), MM, FF, and MM2 (bottom R-L). They have two each of most of these.

That Dieties and Demigods book is the good one - Melnibonean Mythos and Cthulhu Mythos, too. I better warn them to make sure it doesn't walk off.

So support your local library - don't have the AD&D books? Use theirs. Taking them out will ensure their circulation numbers are up, so they'll keep them on the shelves, too. You can check out the books they have - I know the old library system I was in has the LBBs on its shelves. What about yours? Don't overlook your local library as a place to find gaming books.

Gaming with Mike Mornard series

Over on Blog of Holding, a blog which is usually dedicated to D&D 4e, there is a series of posting about playing Original D&D with Mike Mornard, veteran of Gary Gygax's Greyhawk campaign.

You can easily navigate between the parts, but for additional ease here they are in order:

Gaming with Mike Mornard series

I highly recommend this series. It's a fascinated glance at old-school gaming in the literal sense of the word, run by a veteran of Gygax's games, using the original rules from back in the day. It's also a good glance at how those things look to someone who primarily plays a new-school game.

I especially like the one about gaining hirelings most recent blog, talking about player skill. That bit about hirelings hearing the "let's let them die but resurrect the PCs!" discussions and the repercussions, well, that's how I like to run my games, too.

Good stuff. Please read it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Achitect's stencils

One of my friends trained as an architect. He doesn't do that work now, but he held onto his stencils - and passed them on to me when I whined about needing some here on this blog.

So he dug up his stencils and passed them along:

He also gave me some paper, too, which I'm not quite if I'll use or not - I do have a lot of graph paper and I don't have an easel/desk that'll fit them. But the stencils, yeah. My round rooms and looping passages will now actually be round, and loop, without me dragging out coins and such. And I've got a set of straightedges more superior to my existing cruddy rulers.

So, thanks man, I will use them well!

Monday, February 13, 2012

DF Game, Session 8 - Caves of Chaos, Shrine of Evil part III

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Characters: (net point total)
Vryce, human knight (279 points)
Inquisitor Marco, human cleric (272 points)
Borriz, dwarf knight (273 points)
Nakar, human wizard (264 points)

The player of Honus Honusson couldn't make it, and Red Raggi decided the "good loot" was already taken so he's decided to take off with his money and find entertainment elsewhere.

We opened the session with a bit of housekeeping - selling treasure, spending points, and generally chatting. Once all of that was done, the group set off the caves to finish cleansing the evil shrine there, and hopefully to find the Lord of the Maze's lair and find his treasure.

The group made it with no encounters, which just goes to show I need to increase the odds of wandering monsters. They headed up the sides of the caves, across to the shrine mouth entrance, and into the caves.

Once again in the black-and-red shot carved complex, the headed left - the direction they hadn't gone last time. They found a few things - a corridor to a side room, a blocked corridor (not collapsed, but carefully blocked, quite a while ago), and a throne-like room. They looked into the throne room and saw a dozen skeletons in tattered mail and red-and-black uniforms, with shields and cleaver-like axes, standing around a raised throne of black stone decorated with bones. Nothing lurked up in the ceiling although it swirled and moved oddly, a purplish glow came from the throne, and the floor was a checkerboard of black and red tiles. The throne was capped on either side with a skull set with glittering gemstone eyes.

They were very careful here - they moved one scout in (Borriz, who can see well in low light with his Night Vision 5) and covered their lights. He peered in, checking the floor, the ceiling, and the skeletons. They even checked the floor to see if it was magical - it wasn't. Then they moved carefully into the room. They asked and learned that the skeletons stood only on the black tiles. Borriz aimed carefully at one and pitched his axe - it zoomed in straight and true and then turned to the side, away from the skeleton and the throne behind him and clanged in the corner. The skeletons continued to ignore them.

So Borriz checked each tile with his foot before fully weighting it with a step. Vryce refused to step on the red tiles at all, and Nakar levitated and was already invisible. Inq. Marco studied the ceiling, and felt himself being drawn into a strange trance but shook it off (thanks to high Will and his resistance to supernatural evil powers). At this point, once the PCs closed to melee distance with the skeletons, they attacked - but refused to move past their initial start line. Simultaneously, the skulls each shot a pair of purplish rays at Borriz and Vryce, the two closest people. Borriz failed his resistance, and was at -4 to all non-fleeing actions like in Bruno's house rules (see the comments). Still, he managed to smash up two skeletons anyway with his mace. He smashed up another before a second ray hit him, and thanks to the -4 for not running away he failed this badly and was at -10, and decided he had enough of scary skull magic and ran from the room.

From here the fight proceeded pretty normally. Vryce had a hard time breaking up the skeletons thanks to their reasonable defenses, good armor, and lack of vulnerability to his cutting attacks. Inq. Marco blasted one with a sunbolt (despite the magical missile shield) and set it on fire. And Nakar cast See Secrets and slowly looked around, making sure no one or no thing snuck up on them. Vryce then moved forward, repeatedly and casually shrugging off the fear rays (he has Fearlessness 4 and rolls Fright Checks at 16, which helped a lot). As soon as he got in range, he attacked the skulls. He nailed one, and then a second later shattered the other, too. The purple glow disappeared, the fear dropped away from Borriz, Inq. Marco cast Armor on himself and waded into melee, and the skeletons got bashed to bits. The burning skeleton finally dropped, too.

Before the group set to the usual routine of exorcism and cleansing, Borriz offered 10 sp to anyone who'd sit on the throne. Nakar took him up on it, and plopped himself down on the throne. He suddenly death-gripped the chair and his head dropped, and he began to twitch. Borriz grabbed at him and shoved/ripped him off the chair and tossed him at the feet of the dias. They checked Nakar - he'd suffered some HP and FP damage, and was twitching and convulsing. Someone - Inq. Marco? - poured a vial of holy water on Nakar. That stopped the convulsions and Nakar awoke. He angrily sputtered, "Get that holy water away from me!"

While on the chair, he had a perfect vision of the temple complex, enough for me to hand him a complete (unkeyed) map of the place. He also picked up a point of Hidden Lore (Demons). As he felt himself floating through the complex, tendrils of demonic knowledge started to seep into his brain. Just as he felt them penetrate, just as he felt they were within his grasp! - some jerk poured holy water on him. Bah!

Borriz happily handed over his 10 sp, saying it was the best 10 sp he ever spent. They then set to really dealing with the room. Nakar rested while Inq. Marco did his hour-long exorcism (again, well-prepped and the throne was already damaged). Vryce stood guard, and Borriz looted with Nakar's supervision. They picked up four gemstones from the skulls, non-magical but valuable.

After that, they headed out and checked out some other rooms, using Nakar's foreknowledge of the place to guide themselves to unsearched locations. The first was a big empty room, and Nakar joked that "My minions should have swept this place, I mean, the minions should have swept it" or something to that effect. Next, they found another shrine, more like a secondary altar covered with dried blood, in a room with skull-covered pillars and tapestry of cavorting demons sacrificing a human. They tore down the tapestry, exorcised the altar, checked the skulls, and then Inq. Marco cut out the human from the tapestry to "rescue" it. He botched his cutting attempts enough to make a mess of the job but in the end got it cut out successfully (and now has a piece of tapestry). They tried to burn the tapestry but it wouldn't burn without fuel, and they had precious little disposable fuel.

They head to the last area they needed to deal with - "downstairs."

They found a bedroom, and looted the hell out of that. They found a mirror, and also an oddity - three walls had tapestries, the other was painted red. Not very recently, but it had an old torch bracket in it that had clearly gotten painted along with the wall, and not used (no scorch marks). Inq. Marco carefully bubbled up the paint with a burning piece of chair leg (see, looted the hell out of, above) and flaked it off. He found an etching underneath. They set to, and found an outline of a humanoid figure. It had three-jointed six-fingered hands, was wearing a robe (detailed as poorly as a paper doll would be), had an oval face with round eyes, and was wearing a conical hat that included a half-face mask. Its other hand "held" an oddly shaped "torch." They decided the torch went to the bracket, and if they found the correct one, it might have a function. It didn't shift, move, twist, or turn, so maybe if they put the right thing in it . . .

Next up was a torture chamber, abandoned and with one brand missing out of a set of seven, and found a flipped-over straw bed and an empty stash hole. Aha. Some cultist fled with his stuff and a brand for marking cultists, they surmised.

After that, they found a cell (and left it for later), and a locked door with hinges on their side. They proceeded down, and found a bunch of sarcophagi at the bottom in a 6' ceilinged crypt. There was a leather-armored corpse on the floor, face down. Inq. Marco peered at it - blackened fingernails and hair, grey skin ("Almost white?" he asked. Heh.) It wasn't moving, but Inq. Marco chucked Aura on it - it was undead. Meanwhile Borriz kept nagging Inq. Marco to make his mace a flaming weapon, to no avail. So they got ready and threw Sunlight onto it. Pissed, it hopped up and charged - it was a wight (Jason's wight, actually). As they were briefly distracted by it, another wight jumped silently from the side and attacked Inq. Marco.

Borriz engaged the Jason Wight. Inq. Marco tried to turn them - but they managed to resist his mighty will and his blessed cross. One wight struck Inq. Marco, barely penetrating his new plate armor (formerly belonged to the EHP) and numbed and paralyzed him - claws, plus a follow-up FP attack and paralysis. D'oh! He was helpless, but at least he was well armored. Borriz wound up and smashed the wight in the skull twice, with hard power shots. It rocked but kept coming. Uh-oh. Flung holy water from Vryce's sling did some damage, sending up smoke from the struck wights, but they kept coming.

The fight was nasty - the Jason wight kept closing, the other wight kept ripping at Inq. Marco and used all-out attacks to try and damage him, and did on a few turns. Borriz kept whaling on his wight, and a Great Hasted Vryce finally dropped his sling and started to lay into the wight on Marco with his sword. Nakar turned Inq. Marco invisible to help protect him, and finally - within a second or two of each other - the wights fell. They'd both suffered well over a dozen blows each, maybe twice that. Nakar called the retreat. Vryce grabed Inq. Marco, finding him by feel, and they dragged him up the stairs. Vryce went back down, pushed one wight into the other, and then dumped alchemist's fire on them. 30 seconds of high-intensity burn damage later, the wights were no more than Luke's Aunt and Uncle - charred corpses. They closed the crypt door and rested. They'd been adventuring for hours at this point, most of which was fighting, exploring, or exorcisms. Now they just rested until Nakar was rested up, Inq. Marco became unparalyzed, and they were ready. They went back down and searched the crypts. They were careful and ready but all they found were gnawed bones and dry skeletons. But one crypt had a rusted chain belt with a gem-studded silver dagger and a magical broadsword hanging from it. They took those and left.

They went back and checked the cells, but it was empty and they didn't bother to search much. They then went to the storeroom Nakar had seen in his vision and searched that. They found mostly mundane goods, but there was a secret door. Despite the fact that they were tired, and it was about an hour past the time I needed to leave (Monday's an early work day for me), Nakar opened the secret door. Out popped a pseudopod and swiped at him. He phased out, annoyed he had to defend while invisible, and then fell back as a slugbeast (from DFM1) oozed out from behind the secret door. Vryce and Borriz lept into action. Vryce slashed it, trying to do two cuts, but the first shot cut deep and stuck in, and his sword began to sizzle with corrosion! Borriz aimed at an "eye" with his hatchet and buried it deep. It struck at them by Vryce dodged, and then grabbed his blade and yanked hard - and pulled it out. Finally, they managed to finish it off - Vryce tossed his blade aside and fast-drew his wooden spare and beat it, and Borriz chopped it up with his hatchet. It died, and oozed in a mess in and around the secret door and started to dissolve the dry goods and barrels and such.


That's were we left it, initially. They wanted to keep going, despite it being near nightfall. I said okay.

When I got home, I thought better of it. I really wanted to end each session with "you have to get to safe base if it's possible" and it was possible. It wasn't in the middle of combat. Leaving them frozen in that time meant I couldn't run another session without those four guys, and if Honus's player showed up I couldn't reasonably explain how he found them (even with tracking it would seem lame at best). So I retroactively - and I feel kind of a dick for doing that - emailed them today and said, you have to have left, and you get back to the keep unmolested and that's that. Really, I don't know if this was a good call or not, but I really feel better having done it. I shouldn't have offered the option to stay; I played late because I figured they could get those rooms checked and then say, okay, done with the shrine of chaos. Good call, bad call? Hard to say, we'll see how they feel about it. I feel better about it, because I don't want to start a precedent like that, in a game designed to allow hot-swapping of PCs and players between sessions. If they were in immediate danger or combat, well, that's different.

Other notes:

- I think my note sheet of advice, loosely based on the OSR Primer, helped remind them to be thorough. They were extremely thorough this session and found a lot. Maybe my note sheet didn't help at all, but we're all on the same page.

- Yeah, I gave wights paralysis and FP-draining powers. That seemed cooler to me.

- I like those Fear house rules, and so did my players, and they are dead easy to use. Win-win-win.

- they found a magic sword and no one wants it. Heh, there is a downside to a point-buy system, which is that changing weapons midstream is harder. We'll see if they sell it or not.

- yes, a lot of this stuff they found or encountered is very different from the original B2. I changed stuff to make it consistent with my overall game ideas and to make it more fun. And the Jason Wight reaches back to my childhood encounter with those wights! Why is that wight up and around? Because I let him out of his sarcophagus, and locked the door and ran off, back in '81.

- and what is that figure on the wall? Heheheheheheh. Nice, nice find by Inq. Marco. I'll give him +1 point for finding that, because his thoroughness and care in looking at it unlocked an interesting clue.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

By Crom! It's GURPS Conan

Steve Jackson Games just re-released GURPS Conan, now available on PDF for all of $9.99.

I bought it, despite having the original book, so I can tote around the book on PDF. The scan is pretty good, and the book is a good sourcebook (although if you despise the Lin Carter/LSdC Conan stuff, well, it's included as Conan canon).

To celebrate, here is something my players introduced me to today - Conan, the Musical!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Raising money for cancer

The guys over at the retroroleplaying blog are raising money for cancer; you can read all the details of it here:

Leap Month Retroroleplaying Cancer Fund

They have some cool RPG prizes up for grabs, too, which is right up there for people who read this blog.

Spare AD&D Record Sheets

So I was sorting through my AD&D collection yesterday, looking for these:

Clockwise from the top left: NPC Record Sheets, DM's Screen Cover, AD&D Record Sheets, AD&D Permanent Character Folder, UA-Era AD&D Record Sheets, Combat Computer.

My collection of AD&D record sheets and such. It was in the bag with my tattered bits of my original Rogue's Gallery and my original (and well-used!) Dungeon Master's Adventure Log. Did you know Jack's mage Hana drank an ochre jelly from a vat, thinking it was magical water? I don't remember that, but my cousin's character Vade apparently raised him from the dead. I forgot how high level those guys got - they eventually completed Q1. Anyway.

Also in that pile is the DM's screen cover, which has a quick summary of the various classes and their special abilities (I forgot druids have their own special language. Huh.) And the combat computer from Dragon magazine, which lets you spin out the numbers for weapon vs. AC, class and level and whatever and spits out your "to hit" number.

I don't play AD&D anymore, but a few of these do have really nice Erol Otus covers. I'm debating selling them off on eBay or something like that. They're in working condition, and I'd love to know someone is using them. But my collector side is telling me, hold on to a copy of each if only for the Erol Otus covers.

Are these things hard to find? Would anyone use them, or does everyone make their own sheets nowadays? I'm wondering . . . I don't see any reason for me to hold onto them.

Friday, February 10, 2012

How adventurers treat NPCs

Sadly, this is really accurate, especially in video games and published adventures (where the peasants hand over help to well-armed adventurers, and reward them at the end, despite being treated like playing pieces.)

Will Save the World For Gold #262

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Players reading monster manuals II: My take

So yesterday I asked about allowing players to read monster manuals.

First, let me thank the folks that have voted in the poll, and who vote after I post this. And to everyone who commented on yesterday's post. And check out Tim Short's discussion of the same subject and that of Robert Conley as well. I should have linked to them in my original post, thus creating recursive links that would ultimately destroy the internet. At least that's how Captain Kirk and Doctors two through five seemed to do it. Too late now.

My take:

Yes, No, or Other?

My answer: Yes.

Or more like, maybe. They are allowed to read the monster books. I don't discourage my players from reading the monster manuals. I don't encourage it, either. It's purely up to them. I neither make it easy for them (I don't hand out monster books, monster stats they didn't discover in play, or monster descriptions) nor difficult for them (I don't hide anything or say they can't read it).

I don't let them use the books during play, but I don't let them use any books except the magic book during play.

I certainly don't stop them, and as was noted in the comments yesterday, you really can't. People buy books and read them. They GM the game themselves or just read the books as a matter of interest or as a game fun bucket list maker ("Holy crap, we have to fight these guys! And them, too!")

So yeah, I know some of them will read the books and I'm fine with that.

Can they use this knowledge in play?

Ah, trickier. I gather the very, very old school method is "Of course you can, player skill is important." If the GM foolishly uses a monster from a pulp adventure you read and you know its weakness, hahah, you've got the edge. If the GM makes something up to specifically counter your knowledge, well, you should have been more careful. Or at least that's how I read that approach. I could be wrong, and it's been decades since I played close that way.

My method is a bit of a mix.

Yes, you can use that knowledge in play. But it can be risky.

If you know something out of game about a monster, you are welcome to try and use it.

But I make up lots of monsters, I convert monsters by feel and by personal taste when I do convert them, and sometimes I use names of monsters for something very different than you've run into before. I pull critters from types of D&D (which are common knowledge amongst my players, generally), Rolemaster (pretty much only I know them), from my own head (only I know them), and from GURPS sources (somewhere in between - since some of them my players have fought before in my other games).

And if I put a mini on the table that you recognize, or use a monster that you know that I know that you know, understand that I know this, too, and have expectations about it. I don't use Poul Anderson trolls and pretend you won't know what they are. If I plunder from games we all played, I expect you to recognize the monster. I'm not so foolish to think wildly available information is secret, or ask players to firewall that knowledge completely from their characters.

So, you can just risk using what you know. But there is no assurance that it is accurate. I might just be trying to trick you - in that same way "use the player's knowledge against them" way that, say, gas spores are designed to do. But I might change them so it's a very, very bad idea to use fire against them - maybe they're explosive, or burn eternally, or the fumes are poisonous.

And there is another risk, too - maybe I have no idea what that mini is supposed to be, or I have a different rule than the game you recognize the monster from, or whatever. Maybe I just bought the mini/used the name/used the picture because it was cool and made up something crazy to use it for. You never know.

However, your character might know.

Since I run GURPS, and GURPS has nice skills like Hidden Lore, I run it this way:

You can roll against the appropriate skill to a) find out what your character knows [great for monsters the players have never heard of] and/or b) find out if what you (the player and character) knows is actually true. AD&D wights drain levels and you need silver or magic to hit them. Is that true in GURPS? Roll and find out. If you fail the roll . . . sorry, you'll have to try your luck. If you succeed, you can falsify inaccurate information ("Total balderdash about silver, it doesn't do jack to them.") You get one piece of information or one "fact" confirmed/disproved for a success, plus one for each point you succeeded by. This nicely encourages high skill over and above the minimum needed to insure success, and it gives extra benefits for taking time/spending money to do research.

So my players know that wights wait for them in the Caves of Chaos. I allowed the cleric to roll his Hidden Lore (Undead) skill. I think he made the roll by 3 points, so I told him four pieces of information that, as far as he knew, were accurate about wights. It wasn't always very deep information ("Their very touch is deadly, and so is touching them.") but sometimes it was specifically helpful ("They are vulnerable to holy water.") A critical success would have been extremely complete information, with a great degree of accuracy.

Sages are a good idea here, too - you can consult sages and get their roll on the subject, which will augment yours (or replace it entirely, if you don't have the appropriate skill). They can do the same thing - tell you new stuff or tell you if the stuff you already know is accurate. Higher ups in the priesthood are great for info on the undead (or at least in the fighting orders), barbarian shamans or druids for info on crazy animals, demonologists for various demons, etc.

So can that legendary one-armed man in the tavern, if he's around. He's got experience. Speaking of experience, in the same campaign, I think it's fair to pretend the next characters heard all about what happened to the last characters, and what worked for them (and what didn't.) So that way player knowledge is preserved and valued - you don't need to pretend this guy doesn't know about the hill troll's vulnerability to frost attacks or roll to see if Volos II knows the things that Volos found out with his rolls. You do - you heard it from the tales of the last group.

In short, it's a mix - player skill matters, and it can help . . . but character skills are critical to finding out ahead of time if the GM mucked with the monster you think it to be. Fits my "worst of old school and new school" approach, I think.

Feel free to keep voting in the poll - I'll talk about the final numbers when it closes in about a week.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Players reading monster manuals

It's a simple question, really: Is it okay for the players to read the monster manuals?

I'll discuss my take on it, but first I threw up a poll to see what the readers of my ramblings think about this.

I remember (but can't locate) reading a blog post about Jeff Rients's game - apparently he encourages people to read the monster manuals. Or at least lets them do it.

At least one of my players has practically memorized the monsters from the D&D-lineage games. Endless reading of the monster manuals, playing D&D-based games, and a sharp memory has given him a huge amount of out-of-game knowledge. Others have no clue beyond video games and hazy memories of early gaming days.

How about you guys?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Plastic terrain?

I'm looking for some pre-painted plastic terrain for my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game. More specifically, I'm looking for things like:

- tables
- chairs
- little plastic campfires
- stacks of wood
- grain sacks

Wagons and pack animals would be nice, too.

Also, I'd really like them to be softer, bendy plastic, not "shatter when it drops" stuff like Dwarven Forge.

I have two sets of the OOP Mage Knight Dungeons terrain, one set of their Artifacts set with the various pools and statues, and even one of the traps sets. I don't really need another one of any of those, but rather more, different stuff.

Is there anything like that out there?

I'd really like some stuff that won't break. I could make my own with glue and toothpicks and small dowels, and I have, but it all breaks when dropped or banged or just in transit. The Mage Knight stuff is really strong, which is very helpful.

(Oh and I've seen this thread but so many of those links are broken nowadays.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Random Thoughts III: Norkers, Map errors, and newer editions

Just some random thoughts.

Stocking the Megadungeon. Man, popular post. I've decided to give the Basic/Expert stocking rolls a go initially. If it's not satisfactory (or maybe even if it is), I'll try the AD&D system for a section or two.

Converting 3.0 / 3.5 / Pathfinder / d20 vs. early games - Both have their own difficulties. If I grab an old AD&D module, I can glance at it and tell you how tough the monsters are, how rich that treasure is, how difficult that save is to make. Then I can let that inform my idea of what I'd like to do in my GURPS game in that circumstance. I'm fluent in the system. On the other hand, they often lack critical details, because for all the talk of "in old school games you can do anything" they didn't really give you rules for everything, and often skimped on details. So rivers show up without discussions of depth or current speed, doors are just doors, bars are just bars that bend normally. It's up to the GM, and if I have to make it up myself using a pre-written adventure isn't saving me a lot of time.

With 3.x and later games, you get a lot more real world detail on the surroundings. This helps because a 12" thick oak door is something that has stats in GURPS, so I can easily see what they were trying to tell me. The downside is that I'm not fluent in 3.x or later, so feats, stats, etc. mean nothing to me. I need to look them up in the SRD and then try to figure out if they are meaningful. It's easier to just look at pictures and read text and get an idea and then just make it up in GURPS from there.

Either way, converting leads to some time wastage as much as it saves time and allows me to re-visit things I'd like to try with a new group. But because of system fluency, and nostalgia, I'm more likely to use older materials. Not to mention I have so much of it just sitting here in my Box O' Adventure Modules.

Norkers and Map Annoyances - I started re-reading WG4 The Lost Temple of Tharizdun.


It's a good adventure, with lots of flavor to it. It even uses norkers, one of my favorite humanoids. I've used them before in GURPS, when my 1st edition GURPS buddies went through Grakhirt's Lair (hey, I just noticed John Nephew wrote that, cool). Annoyingly, it's got some map foibles. It has text referring to Maps #1 and #3, but there are no maps #1 and #3. There is an Ariel View map (clearly Map 1), but that's not the one. It's got this annoying inset display map, with highlights that don't match the larger scale map, details that are hard to line up, a different numbering scheme. Man, I never did puzzle that out when I was running AD&D in Elementary School, let me tell you. Maybe that's why I never ran it (not that I recall, anyway.) Other weirdness is in there - you can read about it here if you like.

The coolest thing about it is the battle roster for all the inhabitants of the lair, and details on reactions to followup raids. That and references to the boss monster dungeon raiding for fun and profit. ;)

I don't expect that the inhabitants would be as tough in GURPS 4e DF as they are in AD&D, just from relative damage-dealing ability. But at the same time, they are a bit more dangerous opponents . . . it only takes a good roll or two to drop a PC no matter how good.

Anyway, that's my random notes for now.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Manifesto

Alternate Title: GURPS old-school, yo.

Maybe I need a manifesto for my games. Or some kind of statement of purpose.

I mean, I looked at Matt Finch's old-school primer recently. It's a good document and it really would give you the tools to understand what the hell an early-edition game would be like if you've never played one. I don't have one for my game.

Then I looked at this expanded one, here, and felt like, okay, it's largely a laundry list of what the GURPS rules aren't. Which is amusing in a way, because I'm using them for running B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, building a megadungeon, and if I excised all rules descriptions from my summaries you probably wouldn't know what game system it is except from spell names. Maybe. Maybe you'd just wonder what pulp writer's story Stone Missile was from or why a Fireball did so little damage.

The first definition, by virtue of only specifying a few things about early-edition D&D-clone games, is pretty broad. The second, not so much - the more narrow the definition, the more that gets excluded from old school. It's clearly aimed at defining old school and new school D&D, which is fine, but as written it'll exclude some very old games indeed. Just goes to show you that the more you define, the more limiting the definition is.

In way, though, both of them tell you what to expect from an old-school game.

This leads to a (for my part rhetorical) question:

Is GURPS Dungeon Fantasy old school or new school?

GURPS has been around since 1986 (Earlier if you count Man-to-Man) and the core mechanics haven't changed much . . . I could still dig up my Man-to-Man NPC sheets and use them in play (although they'd be a tad weak, and I'd have to ignore their missile weapon range notations). Their point values wouldn't sync up but you'd hardly notice that outside of character generation. That's pretty old right there . . . it's "competed with 1st edition AD&D" old. But it's got skills (gah!) and lots of rules (double gah! Oh AD&D had lots too) and it uses funny dice (oh wait, maybe it doesn't, it's the rest of you guys using funny dice! I swiped mine from an old Monopoly set!)

But really, does it matter?

My Dungeon Fantasy game is very much old-style if not old school. I've got more in common stylistically and thematically with guys running randomly generated NPCs into a hole killing monsters and taking their treasure than with guys running games with deep characterization and plot-centered play, regardless of game system.

But what makes it old style? It is the dungeons? The dwarven fighters? The 10' poles? The lootz?

Maybe I need a manifesto for my own games. A "GURPS Dungeon Fantasy as run by Peter" document. Or maybe just some guidelines.

We'll start with a quote from my last session:

"This game combines the worst of new-school and old-school gaming. You are limited by your character's abilities, like in new-school. And you're punished for your mistakes as a player, like in old-school."

This sums up my game pretty well. Player skill is critical. My game is unforgiving of player mistakes. Forgot to say you were looting the body? You didn't. Didn't mention tapping for a pit? Well, sucks to be you, make a DX roll to avoid the fall!

But at the same time, player skill doesn't replace the character sheet. You can't exceed the character as defined. Case in point, one very smart guy I know dropped in and ran two NPC halberdiers for me. He had a great idea about how to discern where a secret door could be, using his real-world knowledge of architecture and design. I didn't let that fly, because he was running average IQ former caravan guards who didn't know a secret door from a solid stone wall. If he comes back to game (we're hoping he has time) and runs an Artificer (from GURPS DF 4) I'm totally going to encourage this behavior. Another case in point - a great description about how you disarm a trap doesn't mean you disarm it, it means you get a bonus when you roll for it.

If the player is good at tactical combat, is that okay? Sure. If another memorized every monster book in existence, can he use that stuff? Sure, I have no problem with that - I probably changed some of it anyway. But if he knows how to mix gunpowder, should I let him? Eh, what's your character's Chemistry skill? None? Okay, go for a default roll and good luck. It's the same, to my mind, as making guys who are good at real-world combat roll to hit or to pull off some aimed shot.

To put it another way:
Effects are character dependent, decisions are player dependent.

I think that's pretty old style, personally. The numbers we base your rolls on, and the effects of your decisions on, is on your sheet. But what you can try to do is limited only by your imagination and the situation you find your character in. The difference between "old school" and "new school" games might be the number of defined traits, and number of hard rules for determining effect. But it's a difference of degree, not kind. We're all rolling at some point. In my games, you can try to leverage whatever player skill you have. But your character and your rolls tell us what happened.

Speaking of rolls:

Whenever possible, roll in front of everyone.

I, also, believe in the oracular power of dice. Or at least, I know that randomness is fun, and adds to the game for everyone. It's even better when you roll for numbers everyone either knows or can easily derive in front of everyone. Damage rolls, hit rolls for mooks with a known skill, critical hit table rolls, etc. - roll right in front of everyone. I often just dump the dice over the screen and say "Take that much damage!" without even looking. I'll roll against unknown targets behind the screen, to preserve mysteries like the Will score of the opponent or if there is really a secret door or how many turns it'll take before the reinforcements arrive. I may pretend to roll for stuff that's predetermined, but I don't fudge dice in game.

How about this one, going back through every GURPS game I ran:

"You can die in any random combat. And I'm actively running the NPCs like people - they'll try their best to kill or their best to survive."

This. I run the NPCs for keeps. They don't want to die, or lose fights. I'm going to run them like I think they'd really act, and when I'm not sure I'll roll to see. I don't stack odds. I play the rules fairly and the NPCs use the same rules as you to adjudicate their actions.

Balance is for rewards, not challenges.

I don't pretend you can win every fight. Some might be pushovers, some might be fatal. I'm not scaling challenges to your level. I do scale rewards to challenges, though. The tough monsters have the good treasure. If weak monsters had it, the tough monsters would take it away. If the trap was trivial to disarm, then someone probably would have done it already. If they didn't, there must have been some difficulty that made it too hard to get there or find the spot.

And as discussed before:
I don't provide solutions, I provide problems.

Finally, the world is there for you to change.

This isn't one of those game worlds where you can't change anything. It's all there for you to change, kill, destroy, or build on. My job is to be an impartial judge, not a defender of the canon material. Kill Eliminster. Burn Rivendell. Knife Conan in a dark alley and take his stuff. Whatever. You're the (potential) heroes, or at least the protagonists, and it's your playground. Be prepared to suffer the consequences of your actions (see the bits about dice, balance, rules adjudication, etc.) but you can also reap the rewards. Don't be afraid to whack the important NPC, he's got no plot protection. There is no Lord British here.

That's probably not complete, but it'll do as a manifesto of the game.
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