Thursday, July 26, 2012

1st edition DMG blog post series

Christopher O'Dell over at grognadling is doing a great series, reading through the (re-printed) AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide for the first time and posting his thoughts.

The DMG has a much-deserved reputation for being a book you can read again and again, always getting something new out of it. That's really for two reasons, in my opinion:

1) it's chock full of really good stuff.
2) it's opaque and poorly organized.

So you can read it again and again and get new stuff out of it, but that's because you really have to read it again and again to find all the stuff in it. Or perhaps just take notes as you go like Grognardling. That's the cool thing about his series, really - for me it's to imagine what it was like to read that book with completely fresh eyes, but adult ones.

The 1st edition DMG was the first AD&D book I owned, purchased from Jamesway for $12 when I was like 9 or 10. So it has a special place in my heart even as I sometimes rail against it. It was hugely influential on my own play and how my friends played. And yes, we'd take it out and point out passages to each other while arguing over how the game was supposed to be played - because if Gary Gygax made one thing clear, there was a right way to play AD&D. 4th graders aren't exactly going to take this to mean "the rules are guidelines." The somewhat random organization of the book and the authorial tone influenced my own writing a lot. At first I copied the style, until it was beaten out of me in college. To some extent, anyway. And when I write for game books, I'm careful to avoid that high-handed "right way" approach and prize clarity and organization over stern warnings about players not reading the books. I don't hate the book - I still take it down and use stuff for it for my non-AD&D games - but I try to remember its lessons both good and bad.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Megadungeon: Where are the other adventuring parties?

One (of many) features I like about Beedo's new Black City campaign is the presence of other adventuring parties. They set up camp, they raid areas, they raid each other, etc. Competition.

My current game doesn't have them.


Why not?

The simple answer is, it's a "dry hole."

As far as the locals are concerned, the dungeons up on the mountain are pretty much devoid of anything useful. The only things up their are fierce monsters, dangerous vermin, old traps, and treacherous grounds. Local legend puts nasty, nasty stuff buried up there, or nasty, nasty stuff long dead and looted. Local hunters know it's dangerous.

The occasional people do go up and explore, and most either come back empty handed or with a bare few coins or salable bits of junk. Others never returned - either dead in the ruins or they head out, too ashamed (or poor!) to come back to town.

The PCs have proven this to the locals. They've made three trips, and came back fairly battered and/or exhausted each time, with a bare scraping of loot that didn't even pay for expended arrows and used-up supplies. They keep expending cash on necessaries, but can't afford to celebrate or upgrade their gear. As the locals see it, they're digging in a dry hole and doubling and tripling down on a bad decision.

The local economy "senses" this, too - alchemists will make a few extra healing potions, sure, but won't go all-out supplying adventuring goods. Local weapon makers won't try to stockpile arrows and thrown weapons. Items will need to be special ordered and not found off-the-shelf.

For now.

This will change once the PCs make their first big score, locals will notice. More "adventurer" type goods will show up as people speculate on the demand. Maps someone's brother's sister's cousin drew up will get found and dusted off and offered for sale. Some of the braver types might take a trip up there, even, and see what they find.

Word will start to spread, unavoidably - unless the PCs choose to avoid the city, and not spend any money at all there, which means willfully forgoing the benefits of their loot. The more loot that comes, the farther and faster the word will spread. Outsiders will start to show up. NPCs will start to organize groups and go on. Competition will start up. Local notables will get involved. How the law will react is as-yet unknown. Will murdering fellow explorers in town be illegal, but what happens underground stays underground? Who knows?

But once the money starts to flow, the local economy will transform and speculators will start to swarm in. It'll change from "sleepy Stericksburg" to "Stericksburg, City of Adventure!" in no time.

But it hasn't done so yet. It's still a dry hole.

This opens up the question, "Why do the PCs keep going?" Out of game, it's simple - I told them that the campaign focus is that dungeon, and my players are happy to go where the game is. In game, we explained it like this - Vryce (the knight and highest point guy) is convinced, firmly and deeply, that the rumors he heard about "more and better loot" being down there are true. He won't give up and go home till he finds it. When they do, it's going to change the nature of things. For now, the PCs are the only fools willing to die for coppers . . . as the locals see it, that is.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Megadungeon Exploring - Three Do's and Dont's

Some player tips after a few sessions GMing my own megadungeon.

You can't clear a level . . . In some smaller dungeons, you can - but in a big one, it's not really useful to try. If you're going to spend all your time trying to clear the level, you'll never finish. It'll restock between trips as new monsters move in, folks hide their treasure in the looted sections, and new traps and tricks are set. It's a fools errand, and you'll be fighting for an increasingly small number of troves, too.

. . . but you can clear your 6. Just because you can't clear the level doesn't mean you shouldn't clear your way out. Make sure you've got an escape route. Eliminate or neutralize foes and traps that can cut off your trip home. Use magic and mundane tools to block off side accesses to areas you don't have time for but need to avoid interference from. Keep a rear watch and ensure your way out is safe (or at least safe enough). Don't use "we can't clear it" as a reason to leave threats in your rear area. Don't depend on magical escape either - Murphy's Law says it will let you down when you need it most.

Map, map, map . . . If at all possible, map. If not possible, map anyway - make a flowchart or decision path map. If your GM requires a character to be mapping for the players to be mapping, make sure some character is doing it and has the requisite tools. Hire a scholar to do it if you have to, and a lantern-bearer too to give him light.

. . . but don't worry about its total accuracy. It's only got to be good enough to notice glaring hidden areas or figure out you've been teleported or shifted or dropped down a level. It needs to get you back out, and back to where you want to be, not be a match of what the GM has. Save the extreme accuracy for your bow shots and for, if necessary, mapping out areas that clearly have more than you can see.

Always ask for rumors . . . Every trip, talk to drunks, sages, and veterans. Ask questions. The more you know the better. It's a big place, don't go in blind.

. . . but don't depend on them. Most of what you learn will be at best misleadingly true and at worst dangeorously false. Don't bet on any information you didn't pay for and verify from multiple sources . . . but investigate the juicy ones anyway. It's a game of treasure hunting, so enjoy the risk and reward!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

DF Game, Session 12 - Felltower

Finally we had time, a playing space, and enough people - barely - to play. Last session was June!

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Vryce, human knight (286 points)
Nakar, human wizard (about 280 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (250 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)

Reserve (players couldn't make it)
Inquisitor Marco, human cleric.
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (283 points)
Fuma, human thief (252 points)
Borriz, dwarven knight (280 points)

We opened up with the PCs in town.

They'd spotted a gargoyle last session, and decided they'd go for them this session. So Nakar used his (limited) contacts at the Wizard & Enchanter's Guild to find out what he could. He spent a full gold piece (100 sp) on research, which isn't much but helped. They found out that gargoyles are creatures of elemental stone, neither bleed nor eat nor sleep, are moderately intelligent, and collect shiny things. ("Much like adventurers.") They could be hurt by normal weapons, too.

Vryce spent some money getting four cheap padlocks and four identical keys made, plus getting four iron spikes with loops in them that would fit through the eyes on the ends of their bridge/ladder. The idea was, pound them in and leave them, and simply padlock the bridge on and remove it on the way out of the dungeon.

Armed with this information, and their ladder/bridge, the foursome headed up the mountain. They headed right to the already infamous dungeon entrance. Once there, Galen went down and scouted a little and reported back the usual noises but no guards or hobgoblin snipers. While Nakar made some light stones with Continual Light, Galen noticed a faint rotting meat smell on the breeze. He headed out (invisible thanks to Nakar) to investigate.

The smell came and went with the breeze, but it seemed to come from the ruined/burned structures to the west of the castle. (You can see them on this map on the left). He inspected the burned ruins, long ago wrecked during the most recent siege of the castle. One of them turned out to have a pit-like basement area, partly covered with a burned floor that hadn't collapsed yet. The only way down seemed to be an easy-to-climb wall but one which was covered with poison ivy.

Some drag marks went around the building to the far side. Galen followed them wide, which was a good thing - he spotted some cunningly concealed giant maned rat spines interwoven with the grass along that drag path. The drags also went to a pit surrounded by and covered with long grasses. The path then ended - clearly a trap. Nearby were two tripwires attached to bones, hollow bits of wood, and other noisy things, strung up along the ground between the two buildings. The rotting meat smell came along again once or twice but it was impossible to pinpoint.

Galen returned to the group and brought them along and they inspected it further, which is when those tripwires were spotted. They debated setting them off to see what came but decided it wasn't a good idea. They inspected the rest of the burned buildings but nothing of note was found.

So they went back down and layed their bridge over the "moat" and hammered in their spikes. Nakar and Galen covered them. One hobgoblin came up into the right pillbox but an arrow in the face for his trouble and narrowly avoided another as he left, yelling "Bree yark!" and "[archers!]" in goblinese.

Next the group lifted the left portcullis and propped it up with a 5' piece of wood Vryce scrounged up in the ruins.

They went through and investigated the room they'd found before that eventually led them to the wights. Instead they checked the door to the right. They opened it up and found a midden-like pit. Galen (invisibly) went up to the edge and got a mental flash that, hey, someone must have tossed a knapsack full of loot into that to conceal it, so let's look. He told the others and Nakar used Seek Earth to look for gold. No, no nearby gold. While they discussed it, though, suddenly Raggi yelled an alarm. Gargoyles!

Three gargoyles had stealthily moved up from behind and, having corner the PCs, swarmed in. Raggi got hit a few times and (unluckily) fell unconscious quickly. The gargoyles moved in so fast poor Galen stayed mentally stunned for a few seconds of the fight. As they attacked, an otyugh errupted from the pit and reached up and attacked the still-invisible Galen and crippled his bow arm. It kept after him even as he got up and drew his sword, but eventually he managed to slice its tentacle. The otyugh retreated back down into the muck after that.

Nakar Great Hasted Vryce and himself. In a short but brutal fight Vryce beat down two of the gargoyles with his wooden sword (and he'd gotten a spare just in case, for gargoyle beating). He ended up smashing one into the door (which collapsed on top of it). One horn-slammed him and put him down and bit his arm, but he wrap-shotted it from the floor and knocked it out (-4 for prone, -8 for a two-hex weapon in close, -4 for grappled . . . and he hit and did a lot of damage despite the minuses to that.)

The third got put down first by Vryce and then finished with a massive 18d stone missile from Nakar, who'd been saving it for one-shotting the otyugh.

After the three were down, Vryce tried to bash one's head into piece but did little more than re-arrange its stoney face. They hastily dragged the one out in the room into the midden area's entrance. They fed Raggi a healing potion and Galen a few of them, healing them enough to go on. They debated chucked them after the otyugh but decided not to. Instead Nakar shaped the stone into a 6-7" thick wall to seal the door, with the gargoyles inside. No sooner was this done than more gargoyles piled in. Eventually six more showed up, including their bigger, nastier, fangier leader. The PCs tried to keep them penned up at the door but they forced their way in, getting beaten with Vryce's wood sword and Raggi's axe and at least one with a stone missle. Galen hit a few with arrows to no effect and then switched to (slightly more effective) armor-piecing arrows.

In the end they beat down the gargoyles, who just couldn't do any real damage to Vryce and who couldn't seem to hit Raggi often enough or hard enough. The fight cost a lot of mana but not too much blood. They moved on, where the gargoyles came from. They moved into a large vaulted room down a corridor, and it was all scratched and clawed and scraped from gargoyles. Three ways out - double doors (heavy ironbound ones, scratched), a regular door, and a corridor that went a short way to some shallow stairs that opened out into a wide room with pillars.

They rested a bit, while Galen watched the doors (and heard some skittering he never did identify).

They went for the double doors and pushed them open. Inside was another vaulted room. At the far end was a scratched up area surrounding an equally scratched up lump of rock with some glittering stones on it. Apportation and investigation showed the stones to be gemstones (levitated back to Nakar), and the lump of rock to be a statue's headed and hipless/legless torso. They decided it looked like the gargoyles bowed and scraped in front of it, but couldn't figure out exactly why (they have ideas, though).

From there, they went back out and through the other door. They found a room with a side area that was dusty and ended in a blank wall. In front of the all something glittered, and a skeleton in rotten clothes and several rat skeletons sat moldering. Nakar's See Secrets spotted both opening for either darts or gas as well as three pressure plates. He levitated over and tried to get one of the (copper) coins he saw but it was stuck down. He decided to leave it be.

Sometime around here they heard a distant metal bang.

They found another corridor and two more doors. Opening one led to a small room with stains on one wall (investigated, but nothing was found), and kicking open another found a short (10' long) staircase down. Not wanting to risk going deeper, they went back and looked at the pillared room. They decided against that too, for the same reason (stairs down). Only four adventurers, no healers, and low on healing potions, (and all of us short on playing time) they headed home. They heard some stone-on-stone scratching, much like from the gargoyles they'd dispatched before. So they went into the room carefully.

But the gargoyles were waiting. Three (including the big guy) waited by the door, while the others were digging at the magically-shaped stone with their claws to free their friends. Their stone claws were making fairly short work of the stone, especially since they'd been working it from both ends. None of these guys had stayed dead.

Re-fighting the gargoyles:

The PCs fought briefly from the door and then moved in. Vryce used his steel sword instead, Raggi his axe, and Galen and Nakar their bow and stone missiles. The fight went much shorter - the gargoyles were more split up, and just didn't managed to dodge so often. The big guy did land a crit and bit through Vryce's plate armor and wounded him seriously, but not too seriously. Raggi simply smashed the big guy down off Vryce. Raggi did get nailed and go berserk, and shoulder checked one down and then smashed him with his axe. Vryce chopped the rest down, cracking their stoney bodies but not inflicting any structural destruction. Neither did another big stone missile.

In the end the gargoyles were down, and a few hits from Vryce's "backup" weapon - their flaming broadsword - didn't seem to help or do more damage. They left, taking their bridge and meager loot with them.

Not a bad expedition, but they've hit a lot of dry holes. Hopefully they'll stumble across some of the better loot soon. Like, next session. Research might point them to some, but they don't have a lot of money to spend on research . . .

Thursday, July 12, 2012

New Book: Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen

My latest book is out - GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen, co-authored by myself and Sean Punch.

The blurb explains it pretty well:

My People Will Handle It

Sometimes you want a faithful assistant, not a mighty peer with his eye on your share of the loot! From the snarling barbarian's glib agent to the fragile wizard's hardy bodyguard, all the way down the pay scale to horse-minders, potion-tasters, and valets, there are countless roles that delvers need filled yet deem beneath them. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen gives you everything you need to create these helpers:

Templates for 10 distinct 125-point archetypes (agent, apprentice, archer, brute, cutpurse, initiate, killer, sage, skirmisher, and squire) and five 62-point callings (cultist, guard, laborer, servant, and torch-bearer), each with detailed customization notes.
Everything you need to use these templates for hirelings, including rules for recruitment, loyalty, and pay.
Advice on treating these henchmen as Allies: evaluating the advantage, handling NPC advancement, and weighing the campaign ramifications of permanent associates.
Thoughts on adapting such roles for PCs in low-powered, mixed-power-level, and standard 250-point campaigns.
A dozen 125-point lenses – adept, burglar, champion, gadgeteer, genin, learned, monk, priest, psi, treasure-hunter, troubadour, and veteran – that mix and match with the templates to get a wide variety of high-end henchmen and custom PC professions.
New perks and power-ups for companions and flunkies.
Guidelines for adding nonhuman racial templates to the mix for henchmen and custom PCs alike.

Whether you want to beef up an undersized party, give egotistical heroes a way to trade excess cash or points for minions, or kick off your Dungeon Fantasy campaign at a lower power level, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen has what you need.
- from the book's official page.

It's a collection of templates of low-point characters suitable as henchmen or low-rent dungeon delvers. The templates are basically in the range of 62, 125, and 187 points, not accidentally 25%, 50%, and 75% of the usual experienced delver templates that clock in at 250 points. Thus you've got guys who range from trap-finders ("you open it") and potion tasters to serious muscle and worthy companions. The rules covering finding, hiring, paying, and keeping your meatshields from adventure to adventure.

And yes, it's got quotes from Glen Cook, J.R.R. Tolkien, Alexander Dumas, and Blackadder in it. The acknowledgements pay homage to my favorite Grenadier boxed set, 2004 Hirelings. How can you go wrong?

It's only $7.99 at e23, if you're interested. I hope it's a useful book for you GURPS Dungeon Fantasy types and amusing for everyone who reads it. It was certainly fun to write.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gladiators beat Ninjas, news at 11

Well, my co-authored book on gladiators beat my solo-authored book on ninjas to 500 copies.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: Ninja
came out August 2010 and has racked up 465 sales to date.

GURPS Martial Arts: Gladiators
came out earlier (June 2009) and it's gotten to 501 sales to date.

So yeah, over a year's difference and only 36 more copies sold, but still. I'd have expected the ninjas to sneak up on the gladiators and overtake them. But Gladiators has sold steadily the whole time. Either way it's nice to have another book over the 500 mark. I just expected a different one to be next.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tabletop vs. Computer games, again

This time thanks to my friend, sometime GM and sometime player, Ryan Verniere. Ryan is the guy who created and ran Malkav the Apocalypse, who saved one group and indirectly TPKed a campaign,

His post Massively Micro Player: The Power of Intimacy and Gaming takes a look at computer vs. tabletop games, and where they have and haven't met up. Especially haven't.

Good post, I recommend it highly. He runs a good GURPS-based Dark Heresy game, too.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jeff Dee Rogue's Gallery Kickstarter

I almost missed this one:

Re-Creating my Art from the AD&D Rogues Gallery

The $20 pledge level is one of my favorites - a picture of Luther the monk, Phoebus the lizardman fighter (reincarnated into that form after death), and Lassirviren the assassin. Phoebus was awesome, and inspired lots of my fellow D&Ders to ask me if they could run one. I don't recall letting any, because the DMG admonished us not to let people run "monsters" as player characters.

We loved this book, and I loved both Erol Otus's pictures and Jeff Dee's very superheroic looking adventurers. It'll be cool to see new versions alongside my original copy of the book.
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