Saturday, June 30, 2012

Even in the Old Days it wasn't always Old School

Or at least what we now call Hardcore mode.

Mike Monard says in this post:

There were a couple of times where a wandering monster got surprise and achieved a TPK before the players could even react, and every time the referee said "Well that's not fun so it didn't happen."

Individual characters suffering bad luck happened all the time.

So bad luck to individual PCs? Fine.

Bad luck wipes out the group in a no-fun fashion? Restore from save, try again.

Interestingly, we played this way sometimes when we were younger, but as I got older I learned this was bad, bad, bad and I was "supposed" to have the TPK and have everyone start back up with new guys if they wanted to. Saying it didn't happen? Nah, bad idea. Except that apparently the Lake Geneva crew did that sometimes.


Thanks to Talysman for mentioning it, or I'd have missed the whole thread.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

GM vs. Computer - Versimilitude

I've been steadily playing through Skyrim, and I occasionally reflect on the oddness of a GM-less sandbox video game.

One advantage the GM has is verisimilitude of encounters and interactions.

NPCs can't answer basic, free-form questions. You can't find a store in town, you can ask a guard, right? No. Good thing you have a map but really, you can't ask. Your follower might kill someone in a sprawling outdoor combat and can't show you where the body is so you can search it. You can't ask a storekeeper when something will be in stock or special order it.

Thieves have no concept of target difficulty. Seriously, my guy runs around fully armored and kills dragons, and is trailed by a plate-armored character with glowing weaponry, and thieves will walk up to me outside of town and try to mug me. "Hand it over." Yeah, that's going to happen. But more importantly, they'll fight to the death one-on-two for the chance at some gold against a prepared foe. A GM would recognize this is crazy and have the thief try something more clever (or pick on easier foes).

Encounters scale oddly. Bandits start showing up with plate armor, and you have to wonder who they're robbing to get it. Actually, store contents in games tend to level-scale, so a rich but low level character can't buy stuff that a rich high level character can. While this can happen in a GMed game (and probably should), there isn't much explanation of why. Is my one guy driving the whole economy? I guess so.

These aren't criticism of Skyrim per se, just of the lack of a GM. There is a clear bit of "What the hell?" going on here, because the script doesn't match what's exactly going on.

Okay, got to go slay another dragon.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Free GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventures

Since the release of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventures 1, there have been some calls for more GURPS Dungeon Fantasy adventures. There are three that I know of off-hand.

Recently two posters over at the SJG forums wrote up (or started to write up) introductory/one-shot adventures for GURPS DF.

First (and not yet complete at the moment) is the beginner's adventure by Stripe:
[DF] Shadowyrm -- One-Shot Beginner Adventure

Default [DF] One shot- Crevan Brokenhands Last Rest by Ego Archive

And we can't forget Beneath Castle Everglory, the as-yet incomplete but quite useful free DF dungeon. It's discussed fairly extensively here if you prefer some designer's notes.


Missing comments

If you recently commented on one of my posts and it's gone missing, my apologies. I had to prune out a spam comment or two. After I did so, Blogger seems to have deleted the comments that were more recent than those spammy ones I deleted. Why, I don't know. I just know I briefly saw a couple, thought I'd get back to them after deleting spam, and then they were gone.

My apologies, I don't know how that happened.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Darts as a weapon

Here's a quote I wish I had handy when I was writing one of my books:

"He discarded the darts, needle-sharp iron bolts eight inches long with a leather tail [. . . ]" - Jack Vance, Planet of Adventure, pg. 474.

The Khors and their throwing darts must have been inspiration for D&D's darts at some level. They are oddly omitted from the weapon list of GURPS Planet of Adventure, but stats for a throwing knife or paku would do well enough.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: Feldherr Hard Case XL Miniatures case

I recently received two Feldherr Hard Case XL miniatures cases. I'd gotten some gift money I didn't know what to do with, and I'd been looking for something to augment or replace my three Warhammer Army Cases and the assorted other singles/home made cases I'd collected. It also needed to be big enough that bringing one or at most two boxes would be good enough for game.

Here the shots of me getting it ready:

The unpunched, un-stuck self-adhesive foam:

Punching the foam out:

Peeling the adhesive cover:

Overall, I like the cases.

GW Case trays fit. A real plus, because it means I can mix-and-match trays into a single box for transport. They're a little shorter and narrower but they fit well.

It's sturdy. It's a big solid box. You could (but probably shouldn't) sit on it, like it's a Coleman cooler. It's got good, solid clasps and a strong exterior.

They're big. Yeah, a plus and a minus. A 252-mini case isn't going to be small, but these aren't light-and-easy to transport. They are pretty sturdy, though, and I'm more likely to bring one big box than to bring many little boxes. Or to remember to pack and bring one big box.

Trays fit loosely. There is a little bit of play on each side of the trays, as well as on top. It really seems like you could fit an 8th tray in there, or should put a cover on top to keep minis from bouncing out on a speed bump or pothole during transport. I don't know if it will or not, but I'll try putting pre-painted plastics in my case for the first experimental trip to my gaming location of choice.

Overall these weren't cheap, but they are really nice and they are the new home and transportation for my minis when I go to game.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why I like GURPS

I've been thinking about why I enjoy playing and running GURPS so much. I started out playing D&D and it's still a native language to me, but I don't run it or play it. I switched the Rolemaster and I enjoyed that, but I don't play it anyway, either. Why not? Well, here's why I enjoy GURPS so much.

Combat is potentially lethal. One good hit, or one lucky hit, can kill most PCs in most situations. While high character skill and clever PC tactics can ameliorate the risk to some extent, it doesn't eliminate this. Supernatural traits can eliminate risks to an extent, but only a very few expensive ones can remove the downsides to combat.

Low-level D&D was lethal, too, but your HP score would rise and make it less and less lethal. You need save-or-die to make up for this, and increased monster damage. GURPS pretty much stays lethal the whole time. This really pushes the importance of clever tactics and player skill (see below) to minimize the times you'd playing chicken with the law of averages.

You can design what you want. The key aspects to point-buy systems in general are that you have equality of choice, and can choose.

While rolling up a random guy is fun for me, the fun wears off a lot. Plus as amusing as 3d6-in-order can be I like to decide what kind of guy I want to run and give him a whirl. It's jarring to me to have a character concept in my head and then roll up something different. Traveller might kill you in chargen, even, and your concept of "Luke Skywalker" might turn into "40 year old ex-Marine" in no time.

You can start at any power level your want. While D&D has been described as being a system where you can be Elric or Conan or Gandalf or Fafhrd or the Grey Mouser, you can't. You can aspire to be them deep into the campaign, and then only if you roll up the right stats and roll well on your saving throws. GURPS lets you choose where to start. My current Dungeon Fantasy game is 250 points plus 50 in disadvantages plus 5 points in quirks. My old pirate game was scads of 50 point guys plus a few choice 75 and 100 pointers. I've played power levels in between often. You really can stat up Conan if you like, and just run adventures with him, no waiting or build up.

Player skill matters. Don't let the skill system and Perception checks fool you, player skill matters greatly in a lethal system. I like this a lot. Combat is lethal, damage can last a while and impair you greatly. Consequences for failure are realistic, which means falling 10' can be really bad, burns suck, and mishandling a grenade unpleasant at best. But a good player can use this to his or her advantage. GURPS is a game system where slicing the pie is a valid and useful tactic, throwing flaming oil can be a fight ender if you do it right, and using your head is rewarded. That lethality goes both ways, so your brains can maket a fight totally unfair in your favor, or kill you if you get overconfident.

One system to rule them all. Or at least flexibility to cover most things I want to do in gaming. We can keep rolling 3d6 whether it's pistols or swords, fists or social repartee. We don't need a new system and we don't need more rules. This is why I've run a fair cross-section of games, including low-power high-lethality pirates, fantasy games from low to high power, and post-apocalyptic madness.

The really fun bonus part to that flexibility is that my players know that deep down, I really could have aliens attack my Dungeon Fantasy game without any extra work - I'd just grab GURPS Ultra Tech and pick out blasters for the UFOs.

It's simple. It really is. There are a lot of rules for special cases, but the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide is rightfully infamous for being full of tiny special case rules and stuff you didn't notice you did wrong until years of read-throughs later. GURPS is a toolbox, and you can pick and choose tools when you want them and need them. You can drill down to extreme details in a critical one-on-one duel or fuzz out the details for fast resolution of a big fight. Yes, I'm unashamedly responsible for some of these rules, too, so I'm biased in their favor. But even I don't use all the rules I co-created all the time. You don't need to. People can be intimidated by the sheer amount of rules, but there aren't really a lot in play at any one time. And you can freely ignore most of them most of the time. But you've got a whole system of consistent and reasonable rulings to answer questions that you as the players of the game might not know the answers to. How long to climb a ladder, how high can I jump, does the king believe me, how much does my guy know about liches? It's easy enough to dig deep or you can just wing it.

Anyway, that's pretty much why I like GURPS so much.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Salvaging the Heads

In the spirit of Talk to the Skull and Shrunken Head Scrolls, let's bring on the value of monster heads.

Monsters can be worth salvaging parts. In GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, the usual rules apply - specific monsters may have ichor, tusks, hides/furs, poisons, etc. that can be recovered from the corpse. But for some creatures, the head is especially useful.

How to use it?

As a Weapon - Some monsters with lethal gazes can retain this gaze after death. How long is variable - it can range from seconds to minutes to hours or just work forever. When in doubt 1d hours is reasonable.

As a Power Item - Spell-casting or magically powered monster heads can retain their mana or magic source. Typically this mana is aspected, and can only be used for certain spell colleges. The head of an ifrit might be only useful for fire spells, the head of a slorn for animal spells (possibly only vs. reptiles), the head of a human for mind-control spells (perhaps the head of a wizard only for meta-magic spells). These are a non-rechargeable and can be used concurrently with another power item (casters are still restricted to one external power source at a time). A good guideline is that they provide power equal to half their original FP.

In D&D-style games, they may retain a few spell-levels of power (or function as scrolls). In Rolemaster, they act as a PP pool separate from the caster's own. In either case, unless shrunken and preserved, they will decay normally and lose their vitality.

As a Knowledge Source, either for magical questioning (Summon Spirit works on the head in my games), mechanical examination (post mortem phrenology), or post-death psionic brainscan. Or the head may remain animate, like Gacioch the demon in Glen Cook's The Swordbearer, just because a demon's body is destroyed it doesn't mean the head can't stick around and cause more excitement. A demon doesn't need a body to connive, confuse, or corrupt.

As ingredients - Ground up head bits might not do it. Maybe you need the whole ice weasel head, or unicorn head, or carnivorous ape head for your potion recipe.

As bounty. Sometimes, the sign that says "orc heads, 1 gold piece bounty each" doesn't mean "orc ears." They want the whole damn head, samurai style. This is especially true if someone wants it for their wall!

Finally, some heads are just dangerous. A troll's head is just going to keep after you until you burn it, a wight's head might still enervate its foes, a poisonous mushroom man's head is still poisonous. Not everything is loot . . .

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Give a man a brush . . .

One of my players paints minis much better than I do. He doesn't think so, but he's wrong and we all know it.

I've given him a bunch of my minis - one I'd love to paint but either like so much I'm afraid to see how badly I mangle them or ones I sort-of like but just couldn't seem to "see" the colors they needed to really pop. He painted a couple so far, and they look just awesome. His Space Hulk minis look just like the box picture, too.

So on Sunday I gave him a W&N Series 7 Brush, Size 0. Normal, not "Miniature" - the brushes are too short on the "Miniature" in my opinion.

Apparently he's been burning through cheap-o synthetic brushes and just replacing them with more cheap-o synthetic brushes. I did that in the past until I got my own W&N, so I figured I'd pass on my thanks in the form of a nice brush. My original 8-10 year old W&N Series 7 is still going pretty strong but it's starting to show its age. I use craft paints, undiluted and unmixed, and even with those paints the brush makes a huge difference in my precision and brush control.

A month or two ago Jerry's had them on sale when I went to get a new 0 and a 00 of my own, so it's not a big gift but still, it's the best thanks I can give him for painting up minis for us to use during game.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

DF Game, Session 11 - Felltower 2

After an unfortunately long hiatus due to scheduling issues - last game was April 15th - we're back to our DF game. We also welcomed another player, one of the fabled Hellions credited in lots of GURPS books' credits pages, for a try-out.

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Vryce, human knight (286 points)
Nakar, human wizard (275 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (283 points)
Fuma, human thief (252 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (250 points)
Borriz, dwarven knight (280 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)

Reserve (players couldn't make it)
Inquisitor Marco, human cleric.

We had to split-session this one, as we left off last time with the group questioning their hobgoblin prisoner, who as always they nicknamed "Friday."

They asked him a few things - here are the questions and the answers:

"How many Goblins and Hobgoblins are in the dungeon, and are they all allied?

"Some friends, some enemies. We was living in the mountains and then a
goblin said come work for my bosses they pay lots and we can kill
orcs! So we come in by stairs and was part of Ruzlik and Kralkar's
army. Ruzlik and Kralkar are big tough ogres and they have dog-men and
goblins and feed troublemakers to monkeys. They don't pay well and
they beat the goblins too much so one hand of us left."

"We left and we killed that goblin what suckered us and then you came
and killed us. F*** you for killing us."

"Are there other demihumans/humanoids with whom the Goblins are in conflict?

"Orcs! We hate the orcs!"

Has Friday ever been to any of the lower levels? Have his friends? If so, what did they see there?

"The bosses say stairs are not for goblins."

Any other monsters/is there any single big threat (read: Boss) on Friday's home level that is especially significant/dangerous?

"The bosses told us not to go north or big lizards would eat us."

Then they tied him up in the room outside the now-fallen tower, left him a week's worth of rations within crawl-and-eat range, and headed back to town. After roughly a week, Nakar, Fuma, Honus, and Vryce headed up the mountain and checked on him - they wanted to see if the ghost or anything else molested him. They found a pool of long-dried blood, a few gnawed hobgoblin bones, and that's it. Some big lizard tracks clued them in to what might have happened.

They headed back to town and we passed five weeks of downtime. They group did some training, carousing, information gathering, and so on. In the meantime Honus met Galen Longtread and he joined the group. Vryce also run into Red Raggi and, eventually, they invited him to come on their expedition. They also had a local carpenter build them a sturdy 24' ladder with metal runs suitable fold holding spikes on either end, and enough very heavy planks to tightly fit into the ladder to make a bridge out of it. It wasn't cheap (north of 1000 sp and over 300 pounds in weight) but Vryce insisted they have a fast exit route out of the dungeon over the pit (remember this?) if necessary.

They headed up the mountain and reached the ruins at the top around the afternoon, and camped out for the rest of the day and overnight. Around the middle shifts, Fuma heard the moaning of the ghost in the (now-ruined) tower. He warned the next guy but then hit the sack. The ghost didn't molest them and neither did anything else.

In the morning they headed in. They spent a little time in the entrance way, first scouting it out. Fuma spotted some glittering at the bottom of the pit in the water, muck, and grue at the bottom. So they moved to the edge and Nakar the Unseen levitated Honus down. He reached bottom and as he stood in the muck and urine and filth and looked around, a big (5-hex) brown slime/ooze thing erupted and attacked him. It stuck a pseudopod out and Honus blocked and it stuck to his shield. His morningstar bash didn't phase it, but luckily it let go when Borriz chucked a hatchet into the extended 'pod and cut it badly. Nakar levitated Honus up and used Create Fire to fill part of the pit with flames. Nasty smoke came out and it stank but the slime oozed away. They ignored it after this, and just laid down their ladder-bridge. They secure it along the right wall and then used iron spikes to nail it in place while their scouts - Fuma and Galen - watched the portcullis entrances and the arrow slits. Borriz and Honus stood close guard over Vryce as he nailed in the dungeon side and Nakar hung out invisibly near Raggi on the exit side. They banged their iron pitons in to secure the ladder.

As they did this, Fuma's keen hearing saved them a surprise. A couple of hobgoblins came up into the "right" pillbox and started to fire crossbows at the PCs. Fuma's warning let Borriz and Honus block the bolts and shield Vryce. Nakar came across, and as another hobgoblin came up the other pillbox he was spotted by and shot by Galen. Galen stuck there and shot him a few more times, hitting him first in the hip, then helmet (ineffectually), and then body, and then face. He left him for unconscious after that, blocking quick access up the trap door. Meanwhile on the other side Fuma ducked around between hobgoblin sniping and shot a bolt at one but missed. Nakar put Missile Shield on Galen and he ran across, just in time to see the hobgoblins fleeing down the trap door. He shot the last one in the arm as he left, transfixing it with an arrow. After that, they hobgoblins left them alone.

They tried to lift the main portcullis to the double doors, but Vryce, Honus, and Raggi combined only lifted it a few inches before it hit a locking mechanism. There was no easy way to unlock it from this side and they were unable to break it with sheer strength, so they left off. The lifted the right-side small portcullis and retrieved the notched log they'd found and used before, and then installed it on the left side after lifting the portcullis. To make sure, Borriz then spiked the portcullis up.

[GM note - Yes, this is all extremely noisy. But honestly, metal-armored guys with bright lights and having combats in sound-channeling tunnels shouldn't be able to sneak usefully anyway, so it's not like this mattered that much. They also got lucky on wandering monster rolls.]

They found the iron-covered no-handle door and Borriz had to try twice to pry it open, but he did. It could be double-locked, but wasn't, and double-barred, but the bars were missing. They managed to pass the next door as well, and found themselves in a 20 x 20 room with three more exits. One was partly open and a slimy trail led back from there to the door on the right. So they went left. This door was easily opened. Beyond it they turned left and headed a ways down a corridor. A long room (roughly 18 x 10 yards) ended with a mortared up stone wall. They investigated and found the central stone was a) magical, b) dangerous, and c) covered with something like scratched-in writing. Nakar was unable to decipher it (Critical Failure on Hidden Lore - Magic Writings) due to its cryptic and unusual nature. In front of the stone wall was the scent of long-dry fuel oil, broken bits of wood, and a rusty barrel hoop. In the corner was a broken wheel and bits of what could have been a hand truck of some kind long ago. They left a lightstone halfway down the room and retreated back to the entrance.

Galen aimed and shot the stone with his bow. He hit it dead center and FWOOOOOOOOM! A 4-yard gout of flame belched out and flung bits of stone as fragments, scorched the ground black, and set fire to the wood bits. When the coast was clear, the PCs advanced on the wall and Nakar used Shape Stone to clear it.

Beyond the stone was a hallway, and about 25' down were doors on either side. Nakar announced he needed rest, so the PCs stood guard and Honus and Fuma headed down to scout. They reached the doors and Fuma's Danger Sense triggered like crazy. Before they had time to retreat, the doors on either side banged open. Out burst five wights! They swarmed out fast and ran to cut off the PCs. From further on, more doors opened and zombies began to shuffle up towards the PCs. Fuma started to back off rapidly, backing up to face the wights. Honus was partly cut off from the way back to the PCs, so he retreated into the room some of the wights emerged from. This move would affect the whole rest of the fight.

Borriz, Vryce, and Raggi moved to the fray, as Fuma continued to back off and try to get out. The wights followed fast, with zombies after them. One wight and three zombies peeled off to trap Honus and four wights and nine zombies went forward after the others. Vryce and Borriz backed off out of the room in a fighting retreat as Vryce was Great Hasted by Nakar.

To make a long slog of a fight short, Honus was trapped.

Honus cornered

He crippled one zombie and backed further into the room pursued by the wight. He dropped his flail (it's on a lanyard) and got out an vial of alchemist's fire. Meanwhile, Nakar used Create Fire to light the whole corridor on fire almost up to the point that Honus lit up with his vial. The wights shrugged man-killing blow after man-killing blow, seemingly only lightly harmed by each hammered shot. The fire clearly hurt them, though, so Vryce had to take one for the team. He stood in a hex of flame, himself on fire, and fought the wights off in close combat with wrap shots using his greatsword, while Borriz and Red Raggi took shots into the melee to help beat up the wights. Vryce got burned and barely avoided being paralyzed, but his heavy armor his extremely fearlessness helped him avoid their terror aura and his blade kept their energy-sapping claws off of him. He kept them penned up so they couldn't break out and attack the others. Galen sniped from the back and Fuma took a shot or two with his crossbow. Nakar let loose a monster Stone Missile (6d+6 damage and he rolled 38 - 4 6's and 2 4's) and knocked a wight down, so Vryce could finish it before it finished getting back to his feet. The wights eventually got battered down by flames and sheer numbers of successful hits, while the zombies, unable to advance and lacking the initiative to do anything else, stood in the flames and burned. Once the wights fell, the zombies were easily diced up.

Honus meanwhile dropped the wight he was facing as a half-dozen skeletons, and then more zombies and wights, marched out outside his door. Honus closed the door on them.

Honus trapped

They wouldn't enter the flames, and Honus couldn't fight his way past them. The rest of the group yelled at Honus to bust out and run to them, it was his only hope. They kept up arrow, bolt, and stone missile fire at skeletons and wights. Borriz stepped up into a Create Fire hex and chucked a hatchet, too, killing a skeleton but caught on fire (it took Raggi tackling him down and both of them to pat out the flames when his clothes caught on fire, too.) Then Honus opened the door and ran out. He took two Critical Hits from waiting skeletons but they didn't penetrate his armor. He kept running through the flames and they pursued. He ran as fast as he could (which wasn't that fast) but they couldn't cut him down before he got through the gap. Nakar sealed it with Shape Stone and they fled to the entrance.

Honus dashes to safety!

Nakar argued he needed to rest but no one wanted to rest with their backs to the wights and no other exit. They ran back to the door and as they went through, they heard flapping noises and stone-on-stone scraping. They fled through the doors (no one mentioned closing any) and back to the portcullis. Borriz desperately pried out the iron piton and the portcullis fell. Nakar burned his last energy shaping up two pitons and Vryce and Borriz pried up the other two. Fuma watched the portcullis. A stony winged creature - a gargoyle! Came up to it and stuck an arm through and reached around a bit. It then started to try to lift the gate. They scampered across the bridge and finished lifting it up and took it with them. They hotfooted it back to camp, and then to town, worried the gargoyle might follow and fly after them. It didn't, and they finished heading back to Stericksburg.


Tough session - no loot and lots of expenditures - arrows, bolts, two hatchets, a bunch of pitons, some gear and clothing burned, and paut and healing potions sucked down. But it was fun in any case and Vryce really showed what a gutsy knight can do to hold back enemies.

I was a bit critical of Honus's decision to run into the room. I have been avoiding commenting on tactics, but I couldn't help it tonight. I think they got lucky, and while trying to run through the wights would have been bad running into an unknown and unexplored room and leaving enemies between you and your help (and only known escape route) was extremely risky. I think the idea was to hold out there as the PCs steadily beat down the undead but as more and more came, it was clear they couldn't do it. He got out, but I personally think it'll bite adventurers in the ass to run forward into unexplored areas. IMO, anyway, Honus got lucky. One bad roll could have left him helpless and hopeless there, while a bad roll while trying to escape would at least left him near possible rescue. Had the wights been willing to suck up a little flame damage and rushed his room, he'd have been trapped. I expect my players disagree with me, but having said my bit I'll let them risk their PCs as they choose. I kept my mouth shut during, just spoke up after. :)

I'll edit this tomorrow and stick in a few pics.
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