Monday, October 29, 2012

Treasure, Coins, and my GURPS DF game

I've been meaning to post about treasure in my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game.

Bog-standard DF uses a copper standard, with copper/silver/gold being worth $1/$4/$80 respectively, 250 to the pound. Gems and jewelry are salable for 100% of stated market value. Other things are worth 40% of their list value if sold, although the Wealth advantage allows you a better network of contacts and buyers and thus increased take-home from other stuff.

Mine is a bit different:

I'm using a silver standard.

Copper Pieces are $0.10. 250 coins/pound. One pound of copper pieces is worth $25.
Silver Pieces are worth $1. 250 coins/pound. One pound of silver pieces is worth $250.
Gold Pieces are worth $20. 250 coins/pound. One pound of gold pieces is worth $5000.
Gold Eagles are worth $100. 50 coins/pound. One pound of gold eagles is worth $5000.

Gems, jewelry, statues, art objects - obvious pieces of fungible wealth - sell for 100% of their value.

- I tend to round off gem prices. If you check here, the GURPS carat-based system works but often gives overly specific numbers ($188, $920, etc.), so I tend to round them off like I learned in math class.

Magic items, weapons and armor, and other goods are generally salable for 40% of list value - modified for Wealth as above, although wear and tear affects everything you sell.


Why are gold pieces different? 50 coins/pound is not a physically imposing coin when it's made of gold, but it's on a larger scale than the smaller ones. Well, basically, I screwed up early on. During our one-shot playtest of DFA1, I said gold was $100, and silver was $5 a coin, which was fine. Then I changed silver to $1 but forgot to change gold before our game. My players strongly vetoed changing gold after the fact. They like gold coins being $100, although they mostly wanted it to be 250 coins/pound. But if I did that it messed with gold jewelry badly - a pound of gold would be $25K and a 20 pound gold ingot worth $500,000. So I sized gold coins at 50/pound (not crazy, gold is heavy) and recently just went ahead and added a $20 gold coin at 250 coins/pound so I could spray around more coin variety.

No electrum? No platinum? No. Electrum jewelry exists, but I find it an odd choice for coins. Platinum just hurts my brain. There is so little platinum in the world, and it's so hard to work, that I can't see people making coins out of it. It'll show up sometimes in my games as jewelry, though.

What about odd coins? They exist. Oddball coinage that might be salable as jewelry, or sold for its metal weight, or exchanged with a conversion tax for local coins. That's where I drop in jade pieces, bronze pieces, odd-sized silver coins, crazy etched pieces of rock, etc. - put it in, give it a value, and let the PCs sell it like jewelry.

You can just sell magic items? And why less than full value? Sure, why not? They aren't totally rare, just hard to make, and the PCs often have ones they can't use effectively or ones worth more in cash than in adventuring utility. Someone will buy them, but no one wants to pay full markup for a used item when they could pay 100% cost and buy a new one from some NPC enchanter. The market price is based on the cost to get one made, and you'll get less for the finished product when you're selling to someone who's going to sell it to someone else.

Why so much treasure detail? Because the game is about finding loot. The whole damn game is fight the monsters (the big fun for the players) and find the money (the other big fun for the players and the motivation for the PCs). So I make monsters exciting, combat evocative and scary and detailed, and I make the loot descriptive and interesting. Packets of spices, rare gems, strange foreign coins, pieces of beautiful jewelry, and unusual art objects sit in piles of copper, silver, and gold coins or spill out of from chests or get hidden behind clever traps by those who couldn't haul it away. Once the nasty monster is dead, the players should be salivating over the interesting treasure, and I find this helps.

Isn't this confusing? It hasn't come up yet, but we had two sizes of gold coins in my last game, and two sizes in the one before, and it didn't confuse anyone. So I don't see it confusing anyone now. As for the rest, it can all get converted to sp for the lazy types, and since town is a safe base, they can more or less just leave it behind when they adventure and I don't molest it. I don't mind if they convert everything they find to sp, divide it up, and that's that - it's the coolness of the find that matters to me, not the composition of coins in their pockets once they've got it.

* GURPS uses the $ for all pricing, to aid conversion, so I use that shorthand too.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

DF Game, Session 17 - Felltower 8

October 28th, 2012

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Vryce, human knight (about 315 points)
     Jon Hillman, human guard - a shieldbearer (62 points, NPC)
     Al Shieldbearer, human guard - a shieldbearer (62 points, NPC)
     Moe Redshirt, human guard - a crossbowman (62 points, NPC)
     Grey McCape, human guard - a crossbowman (62 points, NPC)
Nakar, human wizard (about 295 points)
Inquisitor Marco, human cleric (about 280 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Galen Longtread, human scout (262 points)

Reserve (players couldn't make it)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (283 points)
Borriz, dwarven knight (290 points)
Kullockh, human scout (250 points)

We opened as usual in Stericksburg.

The group did their usual routine - hunting down potions, carousing, gathering rumors, and general prep. Satisfied with the results of the hireling hiring from last time, they found the same four hirelings and paid them for another trip.

They also did some shopping, getting some flammable oil (in case stuff needed burning) and some shovels for their henchmen.

The group headed up the mountain, arriving a bit after noon in the face of some tough winds (game-world weather matches real-world weather, and Hurricane Sandy's leading winds were already blowing things around by us). They spent the day digging up the rocks covering the trap door they'd found in their first trip to Felltower. Not wanting to deal with a ghost at their backs at night, they went back to camp.

Said ghost did, in fact, make itself known. The watchers heard moaning at night, but the ghost didn't bother them and they didn't bother it.

In the morning, they opened up the trapdoor - Vryce did it, hoping that leaving the trap door they'd found unlocked last session would mean no black lightning this time. He was correct - this trap door did lead down, and it was safe to open. They climbed down and secured the bottom.

The quickly found the place where the secret doors were, and after some fiddling opened them - it took time without See Secrets, but they knew they were there. They went through, found the room with the trap door, opened it up, and went down.

They tried the nearer of the trapdoors, but it was stuck. So Vryce crowbarred it open, and managed to force it despite it being bolted shut from below. PIIIINNNNNG! His great leverage and strength (ST 17) and a great roll (5 on 3d) broke the bolt. They pulled the "door" aside and realized it was a plug of stone, obviously dug from above to below, later than the rest of the dungeon so far. Galen squeezed in and looked - he could see a hallway leading south, with doors along the sides.

They pounded in an iron spike and dropped some rope to climb down. It was only 10', but they wanted to secure their retreat.

They systematically moved down the hallway, checking the rooms on the sides. They noted the exacting similarity to the level above, in the rooms they'd found the wights. At this point getting joined by latecoming Nakar*.

The first pair of rooms were empty. The second included one with a potion vial labeled "healing," complete with the proper markings for a Minor Healing potion on it, sitting in the middle of the floor. Keen-eyed Galen noted the stone it sat on had been recently worked at, and then scuffed up and covered with dust to make it look like the others. Nakar checked it, and decided to grab the potion. So he cast Apportation on it, backed up, and floated it over to himself. No problem. They couldn't leave well enough alone, though, and started to push and pry at the stone. SPROOOOIIIINNG! As Vryce dug at the edge with his crowbar, the slate slammed up into the ceiling and broke. Underneath was a small hollow with a metal baseplate and a bent metal strap "spring" set to launch the floor stone into the ceiling. At the sound of this, they heard a door open and another slam closed. By the time Galen looked down the hallway with Dark Vision on, he could see nothing else.

They searched the next pair, and found a pool of what looked like mercury in the corner of one (but they couldn't figure out how to safely remove it) ("What do you do in the lab in real life?" "We call hazmat.") The other had a chest, which open examination was a) brand new, b) trapped with stubby little poisoned needles in the lock and one handle, and c) was empty once pried open with a crowbar. Nothing under it either.

The next pair had an empty room with food wrappers (cloth from preserved food from the local suppliers) and a couple empty wineskins (one still leaking wine). The other was locked, and a door south out of this hallway was wedged shut from outside. They dealt with the padlocked door first. Nakar Lockmastered it open, and inside they found a chest. It wasn't trapped, and when opened had a mail shirt in great condition, 500 cp, and 200 sp, as well as a bottled marked with a skull-and-crossbones ("A Potion of Piracy!" - actually, it turned out later to be elfbane poison). They took the loot and turned to the other door. Clearly they'd been heard (guys in plate pounding spikes aren't stealthy) so they took their time. Inq. Marco tried talking to the people on the other side of the door, but no answer. So Vryce wedged out the wedge with his crowbar, and they shoved the door open. Corridor left and right. The went right.

They basically went a short distance and found another corridor lined with rooms, this time with doors alternating sides instead of lined up in pairs. They moved in, busted up the nearest door, and got jumped by six norkers (my favorite humanoids). Vryce (as he would all night) rolled badly on initiative, and they got struck first. He took a hit from a norker's axe but his layered armor (thanks to his knight's Armor Master perk) saved him. They quickly fought back, while their invisible scout Galen back up into the hallway. The norkers kept yelling something in their goblin dialiect** and another door opened and six more big norkers piled out, also armed with axes. Four more followed shortly after from down the halway. The PCs killed two norkers and wounded another when they heard someone yelling "Hey, humans! " in Common (and goblinistani, respectively). Most of the norkers stopped swinging, but one took a shot at Vryce and got sliced up with a sword in return. The armored hide of the norkers saved a few of them - and so did their good defenses.

The owner of that voice turned out to be a gnome - a little guy wearing armor, a tricked-out crossbow (crossbow sling, rest, site, etc.), and a multitude of weapons. They started to talk to him. Long story short, he said he was from out of town, but had been dropping into and out of the dungeons for a while "trapping for goblins . . . well, hobgoblins anyway." He'd set traps, you see, and then bait them, then come back to see what he'd nailed. He claimed to make a good enough living at it, even though he used to have to pay the ogres and their apes to let him come down to level two (until somebody killed them). Asked about his norkers, he said they were his. How much does he pay them? "Well, I don't exactly pay them. I bought them off some guys, I didn't ask where they got them." "And you feed them and they're happy?" "They could be happy, sure."

Inq. Marco negotiated with him for an equal share of treasure if he wanted to come along, but in the end the gnome - named Gnobit Gnortz - declined. He'd stay in his area, and trap for goblins, and if he changed his mind he'd leave a note here or find them in town. Inq. Marco told him to leave a note in church. The gnome cheerfully told them what to expect when they headed back the other direction, and then they peacefully parted ways. Before they left, the two wounded but still living norkers got tapped with Inq. Marco's Staff of Healing as a peace gesture.

The PCs went back the other way, and started checking some double-doored rooms.

First one, empty, although the privy was full of old waste. Nakar argued someone (someone else) needed to search it. He'd argue that every privy all session.

Second room - they heard moaning, so they got ready for undead. Vryce finally decided to try the undead-bane talismans they'd found, and put all three on his sword (where they must remain until the sword is destroyed). They busted it open and found . . . druagr!


Dead northerners with axe, shield, and broadsword, wearing tattered mail and pot helms and pretty damn grumpy about being bothered.

Vryce and Raggi waded in as Inq. Marco turned them, keeping them back quite a ways from him. Vryce found his sword did indeed hurt undead, but normal weapons hurt these guys anyway. However, they took a heck of a lot of killing. Inq. Marco shouted out they were vulnerable to fire, but too late for Nakar as he'd already started charging up a stone missile. Galen shot one a few times, but they kept blocking his arrows until they got tied up in melee. Raggi got sliced badly and went berserk. The NPC hirelings stayed out of the fight, covering the flanks.

They found out the undead-killing tassles worked pretty well. Three together were +3 damage, and a roll of 3-4 means 3x damage (so a 3 is max damage x 3). This helped, because draugr are extremely hard to kill - Vryce sliced one for triple damage and a ridiculous damage roll and it kept coming for another handful of hits. But Nakar was able to torch one down with a fireball, Raggi put paid to another, and Vryce dropped another two. Inq. Marco's turning helped the most - the druagr were kept 8 hexes from him, so greatsword and long axe wielding Vryce and Raggi mostly stayed out of the undead's shorter sword and axe reach and diced them up. It wasn't always the case, and Raggi got hit again, but that's all they managed.

After putting them down, they looted them (taking their still-good swords, axes, and pot helms) and checked the room.

Next room they found the skeletons and battle fragments of a group of humans, two smaller guys (unknown type), and a dwarf, all lacking valuables . . . and lacking skulls. Again, no loot.

Final room was equally empty except for a dead strix in the empty privy pit.

They searched the dungeon a bit more, finding the mysterious black hemisphere room from last session. They headed past that and left, to an area they hadn't searched before too much. They found a few things:

- an empty small (well, 20 x 40) room

- another empty small room, this time with a hollow floor. Glasswall revealed stone spikes below, so they didn't mess with it - clearly a trapped/pit room.

- a third small room, this one with a chest in it. The chest was iron, carved with gargoyles, and a mouth-shaped lock. It bit their crowbar when they tried to open it, so they Lockmastered it and tried again. Once open, they found 666 copper pieces, 66 big gems (turned out to be only 10 sp each, oh well), and a scroll of leather. Nakar read it . . . and found it was cursed. He became giddily euphoric, but didn't want to be "cured" - he felt happy and great! The lettering had faded from the scroll, but that was of little importance! He took it anyway! Aren't happy adventurers great?!

Next room was on the other side, double doored. When opened, it was an exact duplicate of the illusion-filled "luxury" room from last session, which sits next to it. They checked it, although no one searched the privy despite Nakar's urging, and it was equally mysterious to them - nothing to be found.

The checked one last small room, and it had glowing but small runes on the far wall. Nakar entered, as did Vryce, while Inq. Marco, Raggi, and Galen entered but hung back near the door. The NPCs stayed outside, watching both directions, with orders to come in if they saw anything.

As Nakar tried to read the writings, he realized they were equally real runes and nonsense. Hey . . .

Suddenly the door banged shut, everyone's vision warped, and there was a stomach-wrenching shift.

They found themselves on the surface, in the main hall of the ruined castle above! A couple guys (Galen, Nakar, and Raggi) all failed their HT checks by enough to vomit, and puked up food, beer, and everything else. Inq. Marco and Vryce were okay. They realized they'd been teleported. They waited for 30 minutes for their hirelings to show up, but nothing. Seeker attempts by Nakar on three of them failed.

In the face of rising winds and coming bad weather, and over the repeated protests of "Never Leave A Man Behind!" Vryce, they headed back to town. Next time, they'll come back and find out what happened.

Did the hirelings enter the room and find themselves teleported elsewhere?
Did they fear to enter, and try to find their way back but run afoul of something or someone else?
Are they still down there, waiting, but unable to be magically sought due to the layers of magic-resistant barriers in the dungeons?

No one really wanted to leave them, but it was late in the real world so we had to stop, so they had to be left.

* Amusingly we play at Nakar's player's house, but he was off being Uncle Nakar in the morning so he arrived late. Presumably he followed a trail of breadcrumbs or ration wrappers.

** Goblins apparently speak Goblinistani, since they come from Goblininistan.


Random notes:

- Again, Undead vs. Inq. Marco = undead lose. Undead vs. everyone else but no Inq. Marco = tough fight.

- Most of the worry about using the undead-bane tassles was, "but this sword is worth 9 gold, so I should use these on a cheaper weapon or save them for a better weapon." I don't get the logic, but whatever.

- I won't penalize the PCs with Sense of Duty for leaving the hirelings behind, because I made them not go back down into the dungeon after them because I needed to go home and do storm prep. Not their decision.

- We had our usual "make fun of the map" fun. We have one professional artist drawing sometimes (Kullochk's player), and one backup (Nakar's player - Nakar actually does the mapping). The confusion over map sheets, which sheet lines up where, why Nakar's player doesn't draw the room contents into the rooms in perfectly legible pictures like Kullochk's player does, etc. - fun, fun, fun.

- barely profitable session, even with the lost retainers carrying some of the loot. Oh well, these happen. It was fun though.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Magic item creation

Over at 1d30, there is an excellent post on making magic items.

Make Your Own Magic Items

Things I like about this:

On the fly magic item creation - I like the idea of taking found items and making them effectively magical. This can be done as a temporary effect - make something effectively awesome out of found stuff, but if you want it to stick around long-term, you may need additional magical effects/special efforts to make it permanent.

Think of this as not only giving players a chance to affect the game world, and be rewarded for cleverness. Attaching conditions to keeping a one-off home-made magic item allows the GM to say "yes" freely knowing if it turns out to be too powerful, he can take it back later. That spiderweb rope of entanglement? Maybe it wears out quickly unless you throw Permanancy on it (D&D) or perhaps invest some energy into it with Slow & Sure or Quick-and-Dirty enchantment (GURPS). Or perhaps you need to invest other magical items (pour a special potion over it, grind up a powerstone over it, etc.) or go to a special place (dunk it in the Well of Power, sanctify it in the Cathedral of the Good God, have it touched by the Crazed Enchanter of the Woods) to get it to stick around.

Ingredients - I like the idea of special ingredients from monsters. This idea goes way back (look at the DMG for 1st edition AD&D) but it's pretty common in GURPS, too, so it's easy to steal. The eyes of a beholder might have a reserve of magical enchantment power. Perhaps the horns of a dragon, the blood of a hydra (poisonous, if Heracles's story is to be believed), the wings of a bat-demon, the slime of a gelatinous cube, etc. have a certain amount of latent magical power. Combine enough of the right ones and you've got a power pool to enchant a new item. Perhaps you can split it up - 50% power from the enchanter PC, 50% from an assortment of special equipment, magical wellsprings, and ingredients from appropriate monsters.

I've touched on this obliquely in my posts about skulls and heads, too - monster bits can be magic items. If a beholder's eyes are charged wand-like versions of the monster's attacks, maybe you won't stab its eyes killing it. If a medusa's head works as Perseus's story demonstrates, you probably don't want to reflect her gaze to deal with her. And so on.

I found that post very inspirational!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

More on Mapping

Here is a bit more on how I run mapping in my own game. This is mostly new to me - none of my previous groups mapped, I don't ever remember us mapping back in the "good" old days, and we didn't really need maps in my previous game. Not a lot of dungeons in that game, fantasy though it was.

As I've discussed before, I don't give specific sizes and cardinal directions when describing places.

I did rule that if the party has someone with Absolute Direction, they get specific measurements - I figure that makes up for the lack of utility of knowing North in a dungeon. This makes having the ranger-type who took that along very useful!

But I generally lay out what they see on the hex map, using props, building blocks, minis, etc. If they want to write it down, they can, if some character is mapping. Same for any other props - if they want to keep the handout picture of the six-fingered hand, the map of the surface, the picture of the critter - the characters need to spend in-game time and in-game resources making that picture. Then they can keep it. I've found this adds a bit of fun to the game - PCs paying for extra paper to make copies, PCs handing the picture or map to NPCs and then trying to explain to illiterates what the symbols mean, and PCs debating selling their inaccurate maps they re-did as real treasure maps.

So moment to moment, the players can see what the environment is like. But I'm not promising to leave it out there or show it to them again anytime they want - no way. You have to map for that.

We also use the DF rule (also in DF2) that lets the mapping character roll Cartography skill to get to ask me if what's down is correct. That's pretty amusing, when they're sure something is wrong but equally sure they've mapped their current location correctly. Warped dungeons, oddly shaped rooms, tricks and twists - all serve to make this tricky. I can at least tell them if they drew it correctly.

I also force the group to move a bit more slowly when mapping. Or at least charge them more passing time to move while mapping than when they move without. This is partly why they hit so few wandering monsters on the way out of the dungeon - they move back at a much greater speed. And any time spent in the real world arguing about the graph paper orientation, fiddling with the maps, erasing and re-drawing - it's minute for minute real time in the dungeon, which means more wandering monsters. There is a real cost for doing the map.

Finally, I did tell my players the scale of my graph paper, just so they know that they aren't "getting close to the edge" or any other meta-gamey type problem like that. I'm using a tiny 8-to-the-inch map, and some maps are portrait, some are landscape, some fill the page, some don't. They still use a much easier to read 4-to-the-inch map.

All in all, I've found that insisting on a mapping character (rarely the player of that character, though) and these ways of running the mapping/props/battlemap have really made the dungeon come alive. It adds another dimension of interest to our games in a way I didn't expect.

Plus it's funny to hear them say, "No, no, it should T out here. What the hell?" when they made some silly boo-boo six rooms back and can't figure out where they went wrong. Then, the slugbeasts come . . .

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mapping by PC, or by player?

One thing GURPS Dungeon Fantasy specifies is that a character needs to be mapping if the players want to make a map.

"For the players to be allowed to make a map in the real world, a party member must serve as “mapper” in the game world. He requires ink, paper, and two free hands. He can't carry a ready torch, shield, weapon, etc."
- GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 2: Dungeons, p. 6

In my current game, Nakar does most of the mapping. He has a (pretty silly) item that lets him draw a map on paper held on the inside of his shield - basically a shield-mount clipboard. I don't actually care which player does the mapping, as long as one character is set up to do so.

In fact Nakar's player maps sometimes, and another player maps another time. But if Nakar doesn't show, and no one has ink, paper, and the inclination to map instead of staying armed, no mapping can be done.

Does anyone else play this way? Is this very unusual?

I know for us, this makes it seem more real. My players have even bought into it so far as to pay to make a copy of the map and leave it in town, in case the map gets lost and they need to replace it (or need to buy it for their new PCs, in case of a TPK). But I can see some people disliking this.

If you allow mapping for the PCs without a mapping character (IOW, no one has to have ink, free hands, etc.), does this every affect the verisimilitude of the game?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

GURPS and system mastery

Do you need system mastery to run GURPS?

Over in his excellent wrap-up post on his GURPS game, David Larkins argues, that yes, you do.

I disagree, to a degree.

I'd argue that GURPS, like any game system*, rewards system mastery.

But it doesn't require it for all players.

It only requires it for one person - the GM.

So long as the GM is willing to make up the characters according to the player's descriptions, and the players are willing to describe their actions in real-world terms and trust the GM to adjudicate them, it will work. This doesn't even slow things down, if the GM is conversant in the system.

Case in point, I'm absolutely certain some of my 1st edition GURPS players had no idea how anything worked except "roll below your target number to attack, defend, or resist, and roll high for damage." I'd have to help them make PCs, spend points, figure encumbrance, and tell them when to roll. They just didn't care. They'd tell me what they wanted to run, and I'd help make it or just make it for them. I'd figure out what the penalties were and told them and they'd roll. Everyone seemed pretty happy, but I'm sure most of them never read the rulebooks (one did, the others, I'd bet no).

My new group is different - all but two are pretty rules fluent. Of those two, one is moderately rules fluent and the other doesn't care to learn more than the very basics. He doesn't need them - he can lean on the others for rules help, or just say "I'm doing [whatever]" and I'll rule on how it works.

Now, I'm not saying rules mastery, rules fluency, etc., doesn't help. It helps in the same way as it helps if everyone in your group knows the Labyrinth Lord rules or is can quote page refs for spell effects out of the AD&D Players Handbook from memory. It's just handy, and it speeds things along. It relieves some of the pressure of the GM of remembering it all (although it introduces rules lawyering and fights, potentially). But you could run a whole game with GURPS Lite, or even with a subset of GURPS Lite, without any real loss, if all you want is a rules system to cover the generalities of play and are willing to wing the specifics.

And as long as you keep to "roll low to do something, roll high for effect" as your guideline, you can ignore a good 90% of the rules. I know, because I have. I've skipped over a lot of rules when they just got in the way. Only a few are truly required. Skipping defense rolls will fundamentally change combat. But ignoring the rules on a combat Step vs. a combat Move, well, not so much, not if everyone is doing the same thing - it's not a game-breaker. You can toss out reaction rolls, death checks, fatigue rule, surprise and initiative, whatever. Roll low for success, roll high for effect. It'll work out. Some things work better with a few more rules, but that's fine.

You'll still want the person making the keep-or-toss decisions on rules, and running the whole show, to be game system fluent. A game master, if you will. It's part of the job. D&D was sure better when I played with someone who actually knew the rules. Ditto for everyone else I played. But it's only the one person that needs this mastery.

It just takes one person who knows what he or she is doing, and the willingness of the players to go along with it.

* Yes, even early D&D does. Know all the spells and memorized the "to hit" tables and have a precise knowledge of the odds of all of your saves? Try and convince me that doesn't help - heck, even the DMG advises you to take away magic items from the PCs if they read the DMG. Why, because it doesn't matter? Heh.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

AD&D MM Minotaur & Lich t-shirts

I dropped by my FLGS (well, it's local when I'm at MMA, anyway), Fantasy Games & Hobbies.

They had an advert for the up-and-coming line of D&D/AD&D t-shirts. The ad had these two:

Trampier Minotaur


Holmes D&D Cover

as well as one (not on the website that I can find) of the Trampier Lich from the Monster Manual.

I'm not sure I want to pony up $25 for a t-shirt, and I hardly need more t-shirts, but it's pretty tempting to have that lich t-shirt. Or the mino. I do look good in red . . .

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sean Punch talking GURPS

Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch, the Line Editor of GURPS, talks about the system on This Week In Geek:

TWIG Interview: GURPS Line Editor Sean Punch

He brings up Dungeon Fantasy once or twice, and naturally GURPS Martial Arts as well, but it's a more general interview about the system. It's a good, but short (25 minutes or so) listen.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

DF Game, Session 16 - Felltower, Wights Redux

October 14th, 2012

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Vryce, human knight (305 points)
     Jon Hillman, human guard - a shieldbearer (62 points, NPC)
     Al Shieldbearer, human guard - a shieldbearer (62 points, NPC)
     Moe Redshirt, human guard - a crossbowman (62 points, NPC)
     Grey McCape, human guard - a crossbowman (62 points, NPC)
Nakar, human wizard (about 295 points)
Inquisitor Marco, human cleric (about 280 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)

Reserve (players couldn't make it)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (283 points)
Borriz, dwarven knight (290 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (253 points)
Kullockh, human scout (250 points)

We opened as usual in Stericksburg.

The group did their usual routine - hunting down potions, carousing, gathering rumors, and general prep. They also sought out some crossbowmen and shieldbearers, and luckily enough found two of each. They paid them 30sp each for a day's work, and tasked the two shieldbearers with guarding the crossbowmen. We named them based on their minis - a "Hillman" cardboard hero with a spear and a shield became Jon Hillman, the crossbowman with the grey wolf cape on his mini because Grey McCape, etc. Easy enough and amusing enough.

The group learned some interesting rumors - the six-fingered ones are wizard-vampires, and can shoot fire from their fingers ("Which fingers?" "The rumor wasn't specific.")

Before entering the dungeon, Vryce used his dwarven whetstone to put an edge on all of the edged weapons in the group, including both of his greatswords and his flaming broadsword, Raggi's axe and knife, as well as Grey McCape's and Moe Redshirt's backup hatchets and Al's cheap broadsword. They also did light stones for everyone, half done by Nakar and half by Inquisitor Marco in case they hit either a No Mana Zone or a No Sanctity Zone (if there even are any of them).

They also got some padding for their bridge/ladder, which derailed us into a "military boondoggle" sidetrack, discussing how it could be equipped with wheels, shields on arms, smoke dispensers, its own support staff, transport for the support staff, etc. It is rapidly becoming The Best Damn Portable Bridge Ever.

They finally headed up the mountain and into the ruins. A careful approach showed the hobgoblins weren't manning the pillboxes, and the spiked-up and spiked-open doors were still that way. They went that way, again. They passed the noisy room, slowly, cautioning their hired help to keep quiet. It helped. They headed towards the second level stairs by the usual route, but when they reached the secret door they've been using as a "shortcut" (the door into the room with the rats, last session), they heard a low muffled moaning. They determined it was coming from an area they hadn't explored. They decided to check it out. They followed the sound as best they could, and found it coming from behind a door.

They opened the door and saw an empty room, but with the far wall covered with a gold-colored, gemstone-studded framed landscape painting. It showed the mountain they were on, but with an intact fortress on it, of a very different design than the ruined castle, above. Nakar and Inq. Marco moved in to investigate. When they got within a yard, grasping stone arms reached out for them to grab. They escaped easily, Inq. Marco blocking and dodging back, Nakar Phasing and dodging away. A little more investigation traced the moan to a corner, and some spells showed the picture to be an illusion. Nakar dispelled it, and they saw a starving, dehydrated goblin held by two stone arms, a knife at his feet. Nakar cast Levitate on him, and then Vryce chopped the stone arms off (without hitting the goblin - a Skill 23 Weapon Master is a nice thing to have around). Nakar whisked him away. They fed him a little, gave him water, and healed him with their Staff of Healing. To their annoyance, he only spoke goblinese. So they left him with a ration and his knife, outside the reach of the arms. As they left, the illusionary picture returned.

They headed out, exploring new territory, trying to find a new way into the dungeon. This was a change from the original plan of going to level 2 and seeing what they could find, but it worked out.

They quickly found a triangular chamber with a couple slugbeasts in it. Vryce chopped up one, but his sword got stuck in it and began to corrode. Grey McCape and Moe Redshirt shot another one dead with two quarrels. As Vryce struggled to free his sword, Inq. Marco lit it up with Flaming Weapon. That did it easily, burning off the corrosive and sticky slime. But a third, unnoticed slugbeast on the ceiling attacked Vryce and cracked him in the head (useless - his skull is protected by an enchanted greathelm over enchanted mail). He cut that one down, too.

They moved on into another similarly shaped triangular chamber. They briefly investigated a closet off the room, and then found a secret door and a moveable stone in the floor (an obvious trap door). See Secrets highlighted both for Nakar. Inq. Marco figured out the door was meant to be pressed inward, and then it pocketed off to the right. Beyond was another 10 x 10' room, with another secret door on the other side. It opened the same way.

Beyond it was an L-shaped corridor. To the left, the long part of the L, the party could see a spiral staircase up. They investigated, and found it ended in a locked metal trapdoor inside of a metal "tube" that sported climbing rungs. Some checked and then Vryce risking a touch showed them it wasn't trapped, like the one in the tower they knocked down was. They unbolted it with a rotating handle, and sure enough it was held down from above by some enormous weight. They decided it was probably in the right spot relative to the stairs to be the staircase to the tower Nakar "killed" on their first trip.

They checked the corridor out, but decided they'd use Seek Earth to find silver (directly back, behind them) and then gold (same). They figured it was roughly towards the trap door area, so . . . they decided to return to the "trapdoor room."

There, they pried up the stone and looked down. It lead to an L-shaped tunnel, roughly hewn, with clear tool marks (age unknown). Vryce dropped down to investigate. The tunnel was short (about 6' tall at the tallest, sometimes a little shorter), and there was a trapdoor with an iron ring roughly hammered into it as a handle. He went the other way and it, too, short ended in another trapdoor with an iron ring. Vryce returned, and they had a discussion (argument) about if this was a sub-level, a between-levels area, or a way to the second level. In any case, gold was detected the other way, so they headed that way.

They found a corridor out of the trapdoor room ended in a shaped-stone wall. They got ready and Nakar shaped it out of the way, creating a 6' x 3' door. They moved in, and checked doors ahead and to the left. They Magelocked one closed, and then heard shuffling noises - they saw three wights and then a dozen zombies and three skeletons coming at them. So they arrayed themselves to fight while Nakar Magelocked the other door. Inq. Marco turned undead, but while it kept the zombies back 5 yards, it was only enough to keep the wights away from him personally.

Meanwhile, Vryce attacked them, defaulting Broadsword and using his flaming sword. It proved very effective, ignoring whatever anti-weapon defenses of the wights. He chopped up the three pretty quickly, with some help from Raggi after Inq. Marco cast Flaming Weapon on Raggi's axe. The zombies were then assaulted, and were chopped up by Raggi and Vryce while Nakar threw an Explosive Stone Missile into their midst and blew a few apart (and incidentally hit Vryce).

A rattling at the side, Magelocked door alerted them to more trouble. But it stopped soon enough.

After this, they systematically and carefully searched the area. They found a good bit of loot (some gold coins - big and valuable in this game - and an enchanted pair of brass knuckles and some jewelry) and confirmed these were the wights they confronted earlier (in Felltower 2).

After this, they headed through the Magelocked door, and into another similar corridor lined with rooms.

They headed in, and immediately got jumped by silently lurking wights.

A round dozen of them. A big fight broke out. It was too crowded for any except Vryce and then Raggi to attack. Vryce used his flaming broadsword, and it was effective. Raggi got his sword flamed up by Inq. Marco and started laying into wights, too. The fight wasn't all one sided - Vryce got clawed a few times, and had to resist paralysis, and was knocked down. One wight turned out to be some kind of priest-wight, and used his evil spells to inflict unholy damage on Inq. Marco, who blasted him back with a Sunbolt. Once the other wights were down, Vryce and Raggi chopped up the priest-wight.

They took the wight's magical mace (claimed immediately by Inq. Marco) and unholy symbol.

More systematic looting later, the group found some more treasure - a search of a storeroom (one of the many identical rooms that were otherwise filled with coffins and ersatz coffins and zombie rot) found them some cumin in a pouch, 12 gallon bottles of rare wine (120 pounds all together), and a rotted-through and rusted sword decorated with a cross-in-circle medallion and leather strips forming a handwrap. They took it off the broken sword, which disintegrated, and it broke into three thinner medal each with one leather strap.

(Editing later: I forgot to mention in here that Vryce investigated some precariously balanced crates. When he touched one, they turned out to be extremely precarious, and full of loose stones. The whole stack came down on him. He tried to dive aside but failed, and took a lot of damage - 23 crushing - and was partly buried under them. They had to pull stone fragments off of him for a while and then heal him up.)

After this, they headed to the surface, checking a nearby (big but empty) room, and then sealing the section off again with Shape Stone. They made it back to the surface from here unmolested.

Back in town, they found they'd scored some good stuff:

- wine worth 30sp a bottle (so 360 sp for the box).
- a unholy symbol of the Black Brotherhood, which they gave to the church for destruction (a reward is promised later).
- a magical, high-quality mace (the one taken by Inq. Marco)
- a pair of magic brass knuckles (an amusing random treasure result, heh - but they sold them)
- three Talismans of Undead Slaying. Each is worth +1 damage against undead, and you can mount up to three on a weapon. If all three are on there, another further effect is had against undead. However, they can't be removed; if you want them off you must destroy the weapon utterly (beyond any hope of repair or restoration). They're debating who to give them to, but they've decided it's worth loading them all up on one weapon.

They even gave their NPCs a 15sp bonus each, in the hopes it'll help them get more NPCs next time they want them.

Good session, and they're talking about coming back, clearing the rubble off that trap door, and then trying to open it (now that it's unlocked from below, even if potentially still trapped).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Random Thoughts VI

If I seem busy these next few days, there are a few reasons:

- I've been busy doing a little support writing for two of my previous books, and reading the ms for another book.

- I've been prepping for game (a little) and painting minis (a lot). I've finally ripped my way through phase 1 of painting a group of minis I need for a big "Saturday night special" type encounter. I've almost run out of Strong Tone Quickshade, though, from sheer volume of painting and that time I knocked over the can.

- I've been editing my megadungeon (aka fixing areas players haven't reached yet) to ensure it's a better, more open gaming experience for my players. Not that it's been bad so far. I just realized I could have done some things better, so I did them in areas not yet reached.

- I've been really annoyed by typos, missed entry keys, and inverted maps in old AD&D stuff I looked at. Half of it seems like it was kicked out the door without anyone checking to see if stairs A and B between levels 1 and 2 even line up. Or if two of the three maps were "North up" and the third was "South up." Annoying.

But here are a few things around the web you shouldn't miss:

- Beedo has some great thoughts on running a megadungeon in general, and in specific.

- Man-Ape menace!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tools I picked out the GURPS toolbox

GURPS: The Toolbox

So it's been said, by me included, that GURPS is a toolbox. A big hunking box of rules, consistent with each other even if not all meant to be used at once.

So what do I use?

For my current DF game, the important thing is gathering loot. To do that, the delvers need to rip through combats (especially lesser ones they can win with minimal/no cost) pretty quickly. At the same time, we want to preserve the balance and the excitement of GURPS combat - its potential lethality if you screw up with even a high powered delver.

Which books?
We use elements from a lot of books:

The Basic Set - Characters and Campaigns, obviously.

Most of the DF range - 1-3, obviously, and 11, but not the Clerics book, because I just want fairly basic priests, and not so much from the Summoners book, because I don't want Ally Horde PCs in this particular game. I don't even use Ninja, which I created, because they add a specific vibe I don't really want for in my dungeon right now. No Psi, right now, but I make no promises about "no psi" in my games. Loadouts (DF 13) has been extremely useful for quickie NPC equipping.

GURPS Martial Arts - I co-authored this. So obviously I use the living hell out of the whole book, right? Well, if you've known me a while this won't surprise you - I only use a select handful of rules from it for my DF game. The expanded Feint rules (Beats, Ruses, defensive Feinting), Telegraphic Attacks, and the new maneuvers like Committed Attack and Defensive Attack, of course. The multi-shot rules for missile weapons for Heroic Archers and Throwing Art masters. The improved defenses for two-handed weapons, too, and multiple blocks. Most of the other rules are either aimed at a more detailed, simulationist game (like A Matter of Inches, or the Harsh Realism rules) or use rules that would complicate character generation (martial arts styles, say, or leveled Techniques).

GURPS Low-Tech - another co-authoring job. All I use from this are a couple of bows, the weapon customization rules (sometimes), the weapon and armor scaling rules from LTC2, and the "new" damage for unbalanced two-handed weapons and shortswords. Sometimes some of the equipment. It's great stuff, and the armor is exceedingly well researched, but it's far, far easier to use the simplified stuff in Basic Set.

GURPS Magic - got to have spells. I limited the selection a bit more than DF does, though, because there are spells I just find frustrating in actual play after decades of using them. Bye bye Bless! You've been forgotten until too late too often ("Oh, wait, I had Bless from last session. I forgot I had a +1 on all my rolls . . . ")

GURPS Powers - sometimes. Mostly for statting up monsters properly so I can potentially publish them after playtesting them. AKA after my players chop them up or run in terror from them.

So, dozens of 4e books, and I use that handful, and not everything in each one.

Which rules?

Here are some of the rules we choose to use.

We've been using the basic combat rules, with those GURPS Martial Arts options I mentioned above, for our "easy" or "unimportant" fights - the ones the PCs should win easily, or which are too big for complexity. We've simplified them a bit further where we could, again, especially where the PCs would have an overwhelming advantage anyway. We also use the advanced combat rules for really nasty fights, the ones that are especially dangerous and/or cool. Anywhere a special rule leverages something a PC has - extra movement, a special weapon like a pick, etc. - we use it. Otherwise, we've been picking rules based on "Does this make the game go faster without comprising the fun?" - if the answer is yes, we use that rule.

Plus, mooks/fodder types fail all HT rolls for consciousness at 0 HP or less. Major NPCs, leader types, elite troopers, etc. generally get rolls. One exception - if a "mook" does something cool, I might extend them the courtesy of rolling their HT checks. Maybe they might make a real fight out of it.

Otherwise, we don't use a lot of optional combat rules, even the ones we used to use in our last game. Back then, we'd have a lot of fights, but one big fight for a session (or even a 2-3 session epic fight - we had at least two of those). A lost fight would derail the plans of the PCs after years of progress, so we took our time and turned all the options on. In my DF game, a lost fight means retreat and loss of treasure and maybe whipping up some new PCs - beer and pretzels instead of a serious "campaign." Different rules for different play styles, even with (largely) the same group.

Otherwise, we use the basic rules for everything else. Not a lot of options, and none of the real complicated detail rules more suited to a simulation or more serious game. Some I'd like to use, but my players don't really care to do the work for - tracking FP for extra effort in combat, for example. We'd probably enjoy some of the extra detailed grappling rules Douglas Cole has in his upcoming GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling, but they'd extend time on combats we'd prefer to shorten.

The nice thing is that they're there if I need them for a special situation. I've got a huge reservoir of really internally consistent rules that hang together well.

But I don't use them all by a long shot. I just picked out the tools that do the stuff I need.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chaotic Neutral at best

If you haven't seen it, Stephen Colbert explains the consequences of in-game alignment digressions:

(skip to about 1:50)
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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What's really funny is it's clear the reporter talking about WoW doesn't know anything about it. And that Stephen really does know what a Paladin is, what Lawful Good is, and probably did get that Power Armor.

And yes, the Power Armor in S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks does include a laser, so he could have melted that merchants face.

Shame to lose a 10th level Paladin that way. At least you get to stay a fighter.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Over 300 Henchmen hired

Just a brief thank-you to everyone who purchased a copy of Sean Punch's and my latest Dungeon Fantasy book:

Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen

We're at just over 300 copies sold (304 as of this writing). That's a lot of hirelings. But frankly, you need to lay out at least 10 gp for quality meatshields, so $7.99 ain't bad for 15 hireling templates and 12 lenses.

Thanks to everyone who enjoyed it!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monster Ecology: Pulling It Together

Pulling it all together

In each of the parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series, I describe a half-dozen ways a monster might eat, originate, and reproduce. Now I'll try an example.

While I could just pick out a race and pick results - and I probably would - just for fun I'm going to try rolling it all and seeing what my brain comes up with. I've got this wacky Chinese toy I need to stat up, so let's go with it.

Crazy Chinese Toy photo CrazyChineseToys001s.jpg

Example One
My rolls were 5, 3, and 3. That's "Eats Souls," "Evolution", and "Reproduces By Splitting."

Okay, it eats souls. I'll just say it eats them straight-up in a mind flayer like way - given enough time, it'll just suck the soul right out of you. It doesn't need any special prep except a helpless or near-helpless victim. The "mini" has some weird buck teeth - those are now soul siphons it needs to physically stick into you with a lot of damage, because that makes them awesome.

Evolution - okay, what evolves the suck souls? Maybe it lives in a soul-filled environment. That screams "another plane of existence" to me . . . maybe it comes from heaven or (more likely) hell. Let's say hell. It comes from hell, where it devours the screaming souls of the damned who can't flee it fast enough. It evolved to fill this niche either out of some devil stock, or it's some weird thing that even devils dislike (hey, those are their souls) that exists on the fringes of hell, snapping up souls when it can. Like a Crown of Thorns Starfish, they're fine in small numbers but might explode in numbers and cause big problems. Maybe after a big war, they multiply and require the devils of hell to waste valuable corruption time hunting them down. That's pretty cool, I'll go with that.

Splitting - it reproduces by splitting. Okay, maybe when it eats enough souls, it'll split into two soul-eaters. I like that - you better beat this fast, and sending hordes of soldiers at it is a terrible idea. You need to go at this thing mano a mano, and kill it dead before it doubles up.

Now I've got its food source, origin, and reproduction. That gives me a better feel for this thing than "it lives in dungeons and has treasure." Well, it probably wanders around dungeons, sucking souls and annoying other monsters. It probably doesn't collect treasure, but I bet there is a lot of unguarded crap after it goes by . . . and it might find itself stymied by traps, tricks, or golems, which it can't soul-suck.

Example Two
But what if I didn't like those results? Screw it, I'm not a slave to the dice, they're a tool for me. I'll re-roll. Here's another. 2, 4, 5. That's "Exotic food," "Mutation" and "Host Carriers." Well, now it's a very different creature.

Exotic food - let's say it eats magic. Specifically, it eats magical organs and the brains and nervous systems of magic-users. Got Magery? Get eaten.

Mutation - well, this was once a simple mouth-and-tentacles creature. Maybe an octopus or an otyugh who ate magical sludge. Yeah, otyugh. It's horridly mutated from its source creature, but it'll share a lot of traits with the otyugh. Telepathy is a good one - now this thing can negotiate and implant suggestions. "Come here, there is a wand of power in this trash compactor."

Host carriers - so it reproduces by laying eggs in victims. What kind? Well, it's got to be something with a mana organ, magical powers, or the hapless party wizard. It'll forgo its own meal during spawning season, and implant its eggs via the tip of one its sucker-tentacles in its victim. Then it'll try to keep its victim imprisoned, perhaps by breaking its hips or spine (it doesn't need a mobile wizard, just a living one) or mentally confused until the eggs hatch, say, 1d days later. Then it's chow down on the wizard by the young.

Would this one keep treasure? Sure, either as bait or from avarice, or just as incidental stuff in the "used to belong to one of my food-mages" pile. It would also gather some valuable magical monster bits - the horn of a unicorn devoured for its teleporting power, the nails of a night hag, whatever.

Either way, I've got a nasty critter and I have a better idea what and where this monster fits.

And that's a wrap for my big three topics of monster ecology. Like I said in part 2, the critical bit is, these need to spark some adventure hooks. It's no use figuring this stuff out unless it adds to your game. And if you're playing a game where such issues break the fun instead of make the fun, skip these. It's just meant to spark your creativity and give your monsters more depth. More depth equals more ways to deal with the monsters.

For the rest of the series:
Monster Ecology: What Does This Monster Eat?
Monster Ecology: Where Do They Come From
Monster Ecology: How Does It Reproduce?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Monster Ecology: How Does It Reproduce?

How do you get more of this monster?


Some of these overlap a bit, and edge cases can fit into multiple areas - do life-draining undead reproduce by infection or by transformation?

Again, choose one or just roll a d6!

1) Sexual Reproduction - The monsters simply breed to reproduce. Who or what they reproduce with matters, too. If they reproduce "normally," they'll mate with others of their own kind and produce eggs or young. If they can reproduce with other species, they're more likely to be interested in slaves or captives (or even mates acquired through charm spells, negotiation, or wooing). If they must reproduce with other species (say, for one-sex creatures produced from mating with another species), they are likely to be even more driven to contact and mate-getting. A species that can mate with anything else will have different attitudes than one that can only mate with a specific other species.

How common their mating partners are will affect their attitude towards them. If females are common, they might not be held as very valuable or as disposable. If males are common, how many die before mating isn't very important; they're replaceable.

2) Infection - The monsters reproduce by infection. This can be literal infection - AD&D's "lycanthropy as a disease" approach or zombies-as-diseased movies. Or it can be a figurative infection - victims slain by X become X, like many kinds of undead, or anyone hurt by a werewolf becomes one. Vampires are yet another one of these - bite a certain number of times and poof, you're a dracula too.

Reproduction-by-murder is just another form of infection; it just requires dead victims instead of still-living victims.

3) Splitting - the monster just gets to a certain size and then buds off, splits off, or otherwise produces young. Jellies and puddings often split like modern starfish, where a lopped-off bit becomes a new starfish. If they can only reproduce by being split, "big enough" creatures might purposefully attack in order to get chopped up so they can reproduce. Jellies might jump off cliffs like proverbial lemmings in order to break up and propagate the species.

This may explain the troll's independent lopped-off limbs and propensity for violence. They just need a arm or two lopped off to get a few kids!

4) Transformation - like infection, but the monster literally transforms its living victims into more of itself. The classic green slime does this. Although it's not "reproduction," liches also result from a self-transformation. So do ring-wraiths, albeit with lots of trickery ("Here, put on this magic ring. I made one for you and your eight friends.") This also suits one-at-a-time monsters can come back if the curse on their Magic Stuff gets the next person. ("I'll just pop this eye into my socket. Who was Vecna anyway?" or "I found these magic knives . . .")

5) Host Carriers - Similar to #2, infection, the monster reproduces by laying eggs into a victim. These usually parasitic eggs use the victim as an incubator and then food source. Reproduction requires victims, and those victims are carriers until they become food. This type of reproduction differs from infection in that typically the egg-layer can't just willy-nilly infect everything it touches. The more infrequently they can lay eggs, the more ferociously they will protect the host afterward. After all, you're carrying their young, and you're the kid's food source . . .

6) Creation - the race is created. Dwimmermount's dwarves are a great example of this - they carve their own sons (and occasionally end up with a gnome!) Reproduction may be race-specific - only X can create another X. Or it may be possible for a sufficiently knowledgeable member of another race to create it. Reproduction by cloning (magical or otherwise) is similar - if members of the race can do it, only raw materials might hold them back. Sometimes specialized external knowledge is needed, and the monster can't do that itself - golems are a good example of this.

Reproduction by summoning (get more from somewhere else) or by spontaneous creation are similar. All you need is the appropriate "raw materials" - power, corpses, rotting fruit, sacrificial victims, patches of darkness - and you'll get more of the monster. Summoning may just be a dodge, however - how do they reproduce where they were, if they reproduce at all?

For the rest of the series:
Monster Ecology: What Does This Monster Eat?
Monster Ecology: Where Do They Come From

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Monster Ecology: Where Do They Come From?

"Mommy, where do little orcs come from?"

Well, where do they come? Birthed from the earth like Uruk Hai? Or was Aristotle right - "some spring from parent animals according to their kind, whilst others grow spontaneously and not from kindred stock"?

Roll a d6, or just pick one of the following:

1) Divine Origin - The monster is born from a god or goddess, or from some embodiment of evil (i.e. The Devil.) It might originate from a mortal being granted divine powers. This especially suits unique monsters, like Jormungandr, or ones in limited supply, like the three gorgons or the three hekatonheires. Such creatures may be sent to the mortal world as a punishment for themselves, or as a punishment to mortals, or both. Divine curses also fall under this - a mortal turned into a monster (full or part time) generally is so because some god is angry at him or her.

Many monsters of myth originate this way - the various monsters of the Greek myths are the children of gods and goddesses or of gods and mortals. The two great monsters of the Norse mythos, Fenrir and Jormungandr, are the sons of Loki and a giantess.

2) Spontaneous Generation - The monsters appear from source material without any parents. Some may spring from corpses, or appear from magical fluxes or botched spells, or from pools of darkness touched by human fears or desires. They may appear from the clay of the earth touched by the sun or the rays of the moon. Or perhaps they simply break out of the rock, one after the other, leaving tunnel-like birthing tubes behind them.

The originating substance and the "catalyst" event or substance would determine the final monster. Perhaps orcs come from darkness touched by hate, but gnolls by the animal fears of mules and dogs dragged into the underworld by intrepid adventurers.

3) Evolution - The monsters have evolved in the usual Darwinian way, filling some niche in the natural order. Because of the unusual nature of fantasy worlds, the niches they fill may be quite unusual - cleaning out dungeon passages, eating rust, devouring sources of magic (toxic or otherwise).

Weird crossbreeds are covered here - the bewildering hydra/manticore/chimera/gorgon/etc. melting pot of late 1st edition AD&D is a good example of "what if X and Y mated, what would Z look like?" The tarasque is one of these - born of two other monsters.

4) Mutation - The monster is a mutation of some other creature. The original creature has its own origin, but this one is a mutation of that being. This can be from direct magical exposure, the "radiation" of some cosmic good or evil, or from the holy or unholy energies of a sanctified place. Mutations may result from using too much black magic, or from dabbling in secrets Monster Was Not Meant To Know. They may be a spontaneous mutation, due to unique circumstances (like the Elfquest Madcoil) or normal sexual reproduction under bad circumstances (born under the light of a blood-red moon, perhaps).

This can also cover possession - a demonic (or otherwise) being taking over, and in the processes, warping, an animal, human, or monster. If a species originates this way, its offspring may or may not be equally mutated and monstrous.

5) Magical Experimentation or Creation - The monster may be created by a wizard, like a golem, or the result of some strange experimentation, like the dreaded owlbear. This may be a one-time event, which must be repeated each time you want one, or they may breed true after being released into the wild. The origin materials may be common - stone for a stone golem, or extremely precious, like dragon eggs for draconians.

Evil humanoids boiled up out of experimental vats of flesh or dug out of the clay of the earth after use of strange rituals are generally covered by this background.

6) Another dimension - The monsters may simply come from "somewhere else." They may appear when the stars are right, port in from the Dungeon Dimensions, be summoned from the elemental worlds by foolish wizards, or unleashed when the gates to hell are broken. Once arrived on the mortal plane, they may be stuck, desperate to flee, or desperate to stay (especially if they like to feed!)

If they come from the mortal realms originally, and were banished to "somewhere else," check again to see what their origin was (generally, Divine Origin does well as a default).

Note: The important thing about origin is that it should spark some interest in the monster, and help determine the kind of actions it might take and the way it might operate. Consider it (and any other "ecology" element) as an adventure hook. If it doesn't provide a hook, it's not especially useful. Consider the owlbear - possibly the result of a mad wizard's experiment. Okay, now I want to meet that wizard (and I'm scared to meet his other experiments.) Or orcs - is it better that they are mundane creatures and breed like rabbits, or if they are fear-spawned solidified darkness with a purely malign raison de etre? Both provide hooks, so both are useful to the GM, and to the players. "If they are natural, maybe we can find out what they want and negotiate with them" or "if they're spawned from darkness, I have a great idea how we can use that Light spell next session . . . "

Friday, October 5, 2012

Monster Ecology: What Does This Monster Eat?

So now that we're considering a critter's place in the Monster Ecology, what's next?

What do the monsters eat? How do they subsist?

Does it eat?

If so, what does it eat? Here are six options. Roll a d6, or pick one.

1) Normal Food. This monster eats normal food. Animal, vegetable, or fungal sources of food are required. They may eat other monsters, local vermin, or incoming adventurers. They may farm their food or be dependent on feeding from other monsters in a symbiotic or master/slave relationship.

If they reside in an area with limited food supply, they may be extremely efficient (and thus not need a lot of food), sleep a lot (and thus eat a lot, infrequently), or some combination of the two. They may both eat and reproduce off of their victims, like slime monsters frequently do.

2) Exotic Food. They drink blood, or eat brains, or nectar and ambrosia (classic for godlings), or survive off the life energy of their victims, leaving them shriveled and aged or weak-constitutioned after a few strikes. It might still be organic, or comes from organic creatures. Feeding off the creatures may or may not destroy them. If it doesn't, they may keep farm stock, willing donators, or simply leave near weaker fodder creatures. If it does destroy them, maybe they need to trade for sources or live a peripatetic life.

3) Minerals. Your classic gem-eaters, rock-eaters, or metal eaters. They may eat the rock fish out of the lava rivers of the underearth, or lurk in shadows waiting for adventurers in plate armor to walk by. Which rock they eat can matter - a gem-eater might pass rock as waste, or need to mine the gems out. Rock-eaters may be desired pets for miners or hated enemies.

4) Mental Energy. Your psychic devourers. They may eat all mental energy, or just survive on certain emotions. Devouring thought is common for psionic creatures, while devouring emotions is classic for undead types. They may encourage thoughtful environments by hanging out near odd displays of art or puzzle rooms, or destroy all organized thought with their rampant feeding.

5) Souls. They eat souls, straight up. They may kill you and then devour your soul as it flees the body, or suck it out directly as they attack. They may be vulnerable to eating a poison soul (whatever that may be!) or need innocent souls to sustain life. They may be unable to eat innocent souls, requiring them to corrupt their food before they can eat.

6) Can't Eat. The monster wants to eat, but can't. Re-roll, or pick another entry - that's what it tries to eat. But it can't sustain itself by it. Either it is unable to gain nourishment from it, or it cannot eat enough, or its appetite only increases as it eats more and more.

This covers monsters like the mermecolion of myth, which was born with a lion's head and an ant's body. It would starve because its lion head craved flesh but its ant body rejected the sustenance. It would starve quickly, but not before spending a short-but-angry existence.

What if it doesn't eat?

If not, why not? Is it a purely magical or supernatural being, with no need for sustenance? Does it have an external power source (broadcast energy, from some central location) or an external dependency? Can this be interrupted, or is it wholly self-contained?

Robots on broadcast power have an external source. Golems with a scroll of instructions inside have an internal source, and do not eat. Do they depend on mana? Undead created by magic might require magic to live, and be unable to survive in a no-mana area (like a GURPS No Mana Zone or inside an AD&D anti-magic shell). Those created by hate and unholy energies might survive anywhere, or they may only be able to reside places of residual death or on defiled ground.

Another option switch is that the monster doesn't have to eat, but may in fact eat for pleasure or power. Determine what they eat normally, and then decide if it's a requirement or not. If not, does eating give them some kind of benefit? Do they die without food, or just weaken?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Monster Ecology

I gather that in some circles, even wondering what and how monsters eat, breathe, eliminate, and reproduce is considered extremely foolish. Even uncreative - if you can't let go and just say a dungeon is a magic place, you're missing out on something critical. You're letting the hobgoblins of foolish consistency devour the joy of dungeoneering. It's just a stupid game and you're doing it wrong.

I don't agree.

To me, the answers to these questions:

- act as prompt to creativity


- provide hooks for the players, in the forms of weaknesses and clever ways of beating/using the monsters.

When you know what a monster eats, breathes, how it reproduces or originates, you have a more developed and more interesting monster. And generally, you end up answering them anyway. A non-answer is still an answer.

Even "these guys are formed from darkness and are fed on our fears of the underground" is an answer.

The answers you end up can get very interesting.

For example: If you decide that orcs, in fact, sprung from darkness in the depths in response to the fears of the surface dwellers, then what? Does that mean they thin out if the population does so, for lack of psychic sustenance? Or does familiarity with the surface area breed comfort with it and contempt of its dangers, and thus civilizations drive out the fear-eating orcs?

Same with breathing. Do they need air? If so, they need ventilation, and PCs walling off their lair with walls of stone and suffocating them is a valid tactic. If not, they can live in dark, airless corners without regard to ventilation. This affects where it makes sense to stock them.

Do they breed true, with orc kids and orc women? Or do they propagate magically - and if so, under what circumstances? If they're made, can the PCs (or certain NPCs) make them on purpose? Can this propagation be interrupted in some way? Is there a monster generation pit somewhere down on level 3 pumping out orcs? If so, who is running it?

And so on.

Even boring, old, tried-and-true "they eat normal food" means you should have stockrooms full of supplies, figure out what fellow monsters they eat or who and what they trade with for food. Orcs taking slaves to trade out for food makes sense in a way it doesn't for fear-of-darkness created orcs.

This kind of "monster ecology" doesn't need to be grounded in modern science (although it could, if that makes it cooler). But answering a few simple questions like that creates a much richer and potentially more fun experience. Even if the answer is, it's a game magic food pixies drop the food off, you've got an answer. It tells you something about your world.

I think the idea that monsters don't need to eat to live can be seen as a cop-out by some players, which will yank them out of their suspension of disbelief faster than you can say "You open the door and find a 10' x 10' room containing six giants!" You may end up explaining how the dungeon is a magical place, and by the way so are these other monsters, and how medieval folks wouldn't ask that kind of question, and so on. Throwing those players to the curb and calling them foolish is equally unhelpful. Instead, revel in their questions, and have answers that make the game more interesting.

Next up: What Do the Monsters Eat?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

No Taxes in Megadungeon Town

You know what's lame in gaming? Paying taxes. No one likes to figure out their taxes in real life, so I'd rather not pass on the pain to my gamers on their day off, either.

Therefore, no taxes and tithes of treasure taken from the dungeon. DMG page 90 be damned!

But it stands to reason that any sizable (and armed!) civilization might want to impose taxes on wealth coming into that town in the hands of adventurers. "Finders keepers" is fine, generally, until you find so much the local nobility or local authorities notice.

So I needed to find a justification for not taxing the PC's finds that also has a good in-game explanation that passes the verisimilitude test.

"Today, my jurisdiction ends here."
Sheriff Langston (aka John Cleese)

The history of my megadungeon has placed it repeatedly out of the official royal lands. It was originally a wilderness controlled by an evil cult, which was then stamped into extinction (or so they say). After, it was a borderland claimed by Lord Sterick the Red, self-proclaimed Baron, who made it into his baronial seat. That affront was also put down by the authorities, who expanded the town he'd built but otherwise simply burned the castle outbuildings and left a bunch of holes in the walls of the castle.

During that siege and defeat of Lord Sterick, the then-king made a proclamation that everything taken from Felltower and its environs, and everything taken from within the tunnels beneath it, belonged to the taker.

Why do this? (in-game)

The royal control of the borderlands is, and has always been, weak. There wasn't much money then to raise enough of an army to crush Lord Sterick and then chase his men into the dungeons to finish the job. Offering free-and-clear loot without legal obligations and repercussions helped get that job done.

There isn't enough money to afford to raise a big army just to deal with monsters and such on the fringes of the kingdom. Letting people freelance and do it, whether nobles or freemen, bleeds off potential troublemakers and keeps the borderlands safer at no cost to the royal treasury. So the theory goes.

Plus the borderlands aren't even technically claimed by the kingdom, and never have been. The dungeon is foreign territory. A claim could be made, but it would need to be made to stick . . . and then it could be held that the king is responsible for any shenanigans that go on there. No, better to leave it. Why claim a dangerous area as your own problem? So even that pronouncement is more an acceptance of reality than a real statement of claim. It's no man's land, so it's no man's treasure until it's found and dragged back to civilization for spending.

The King is also a slightly limited king, much less than a total autocrat who personally owns the state. More "King of England plus the Magna Carta" than "Pharoah" or "Sun King" or "Tsar." The state is also at war off and on with its neighbors off to the south (aka out of the limited sandbox area). This consumes even more resources, and pulls talented soldiers and ambitious nobles away from Stericksburg and Felltower. It also consumes attention, and while it does increase demand for coins and wealth it doesn't give them the resources to go and get it from recalcitrant adventurers.

So the law says what they find in Felltower is theirs to keep, free and clear. It also implies some other things about actions in the underworld, but those aren't strictly stated in law.

Why do this? (out-of-game)

Gets rid of the extra step of taxing the treasure, figuring out who they pay, dealing with evasion, etc. Generally, eliminating an un-fun aspect of wish-fulfillment treasure finding.

Plus it deals with the elephant in the room - why isn't the King taking a share? Why isn't there an army on the dungeon, enforcing the rules? Why aren't the PCs getting arrested after they slag another group of adventurers for their stuff or kill 3d4 bandits on Level 1?

Because it's not illegal, that's why. The law says so . . .

Now let's go kill some owlbears!
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