Monday, December 31, 2012

Random Undead Generator

Need an undead monster for GURPS but just can't decide what kind?

Jerander over on the SJG forums came up with a solution:

The Random Undead Generator

You'll need Fantasy, Horror, and of course Basic Set: Characters to get full use out of it, but you can get by with the same traits defined in Undead, if necessary.

It would be pretty trivial to add life-draining attack powers (or any other attack powers) to the critters, too - just add a new table, call it 3F, and add 1-6 cool powers lifted from existing undead.

Nice stuff.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

GURPS Hommlet & TOEE

If you haven't looked at Patrick Halter's blog d20to3d6, and you're a fan of T1 The Village of Hommlet, you are missing out.

It's useful people in either of these camps.

I love Hommlet and I love GURPS!

Then you have stats for ghouls, Elmo, and thoughts on lower-point starting PCs.

Dude, I don't play GURPS.

Maybe not.

But he's provided some really interesting ideas on how to present Hommlet vs. Nulb as bases.

He's got a nice diagram of the relationships of the various villagers.

He's got random encounter tables.

It's a really interesting project, with all the i's dotted and t's crossed, done right in front of you. It's not a fast-and-loose conversion, either, but one that stays loyal to both the source material and the GURPS ruleset. That makes me happy in both ways.

Either way, take the time to check out d20to3d6.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

More on Disposable Heroes

I started to write this as a comment on Talysman's blog, but then it got long and I decided I'd like to keep it here, too.

Yesterday's post was about why I think it's contradictory on some level to expect players to have their characters flee, and play games that make characters less valuable and more easily replaceable. In brief, why make your disposable hero run?

What I'm not saying is that people come out and say that characters are disposable. Or that players believe they are, and they don't care if they lose them. Or that GMs organize all games with the assumption that PCs are disposable.

I'm saying (in part) that being blase about TPKs, not worrying about encounter balance, having character funnels, and praising lethality implies some level of disposability of characters. To me, that's inherent in those ideas taken as a whole. So I wondered, maybe there is a perfectly valid reason a player might have their character do risky stuff, fight battles they might not win, and experiment with things that can be character-lethal but oh-so-entertaining. You might need one to get the other - maybe the fun can't happen in that way without both elements.

I don't think it is either/or, however. You can have high-value (even irreplaceable) characters and high lethality. I ran a game like that for years - just ask the half-dozen or more PCs who died permanently in that game. But I also think you get more risk avoidance and running from monsters than when you the player are just trying to see who lives to improve/level up/etc. In that game, with many of the same players I have now, avoiding fights was paramount and dodging away from things they perceived as death threats was common, even if there was a reward. These same guys now test teleporters in terrible circumstances, and launch into bloody fights with things that can kill them dead, and push one more room and laugh when it turns out disastrously. I draw a lesson from the fact that in this current game, the characters are ultimately replaceable in a way they weren't in my last game.

I seems clear to me that there is some connection between how easily you can replace characters (all the way up to the Undo-button of a Save Gave in a video game) and your willingness to risk death. You play Hardcore Diablo much more cautiously than regular Diablo, and and you'd play even more carefully if you couldn't make a new guy if you died.

In my DF game, which is high-lethality with easy replacement of characters, lots of PCs have died. But for the players, the only loss, is the loss of the fun of playing that particular guy.

So it's less surprising to me that they flee pretty rarely.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Disposable Heroes & Running Away

Do your players have their characters run away from fights?

If so, why?

If the PCs are essentially disposable, not-special, not-beautiful-and-unique-snowflake playing pieces, and the fodder by which GMs prove their willingness to play tough, why flee?

I read somewhere someone saying that OSR stood for "Oh shit, run!" - but does it? Why run? Especially at lower levels, you can just make up a new guy. At higher levels, you can get your guy fixed from anything short of "irrevocable death" and wishes will make that negotiable.

I think there are two opposing strains of thought here. One is the idea that the PCs are disposable. The other idea is that you should flee from tough encounters.

Maybe when players ram their hapless heroes into brutal fights just to see if they can pull it off, they aren't being tactically dense or foolish or playing the game incorrectly. They're showing a real understanding of what "your PC is disposable" means.

Running way shows you value the PC. You have your guy run away to live and fight another day. You have him tough it out and die a terrible death for the amusement of yourself and your friends at the table because you value the entertainment more than the PC. And isn't that what you're saying is the point in a high-lethality game?

I'm beginning to think the guys who have their imaginary guy fight to the death, or quaff that unknown potion, or push the big red button, have a good reason for it. The fun is the point, and if the PCs are disposable, they're just the means to the fun. Greg Costikyan's Paranoia RPG classically makes this the whole point of the game. But there is a reason that resonates - it's the logical extreme of a disposable hero game. Fleeing to fight another day is a good idea if you want to preserve your guy but it's not the message that character funnels, high-lethality play, unbalanced encounters, and TPK-as-common-event play sends.

If running has value, then PCs have value. They have to be "special" in some way to make it worth running away. If they're replaceable or easily fixable, then what is there to run from?

So yeah, maybe the guys who don't want to run have a point.

(Editing Later: I wrote a followup here: More on Disposable Heroes)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Level Drain & GURPS: How I do life-draining undead

For background to this post, see the following:

Patrick Halter's post on converting level drain to GURPS.

My response, where I discuss level draining and what I think is the folly of converting rules to rules.

Patrick Halter's response to my ideas.

Okay, all up to speed (or you just don't care)? Let's go.

In my own Dungeon Fantasy game, I use undead from GURPS (especially the excellent GURPS Undead), Rolemaster, and AD&D, as well as from other sources (video games, my own crazy ideas, etc.)

Most of them are fairly straight-up conversions, since the effects are "game world" effects (damage, death, disease, aging, fear) and not "game rules" effects (loss of temporary constitution, level drain, or status/stat change - Rolemaster, AD&D, and Bard's Tale respectively).

For the level-draining AD&D conversions, here is some of what I've done.

Mild Life Drain

My wights are AD&D wights, but instead of level drain I gave them a combination of a claw attack, paralysis, and a followup drain of fatigue. I felt this was a scary combo (and it's proven to be so) but not unfairly punishing. Here is it statted up for DF:

Claws (14): 1d+2 cutting plus 1d FP followup.

Paralyzing Touch (HT): Victims touched by the wight are paralyzed for (margin of failure +1) minutes; cosmic, ignores DR.

The basic effect of this is that if the claw attack penetrates your DR, you also lose 1d FP; either way if you're struck you may suffer paralysis. Wights also have Infectious Attack, so if you're slain by a wight you'll rise as a wight later on. More powerful wights are easy - up the base damage, give them more FP drain, reduce the resistance to the paralysis, and/or change Infectious Attack to Dominance, so they can rule over their created allies.

Why is this scary? You might get paralyzed, so you're a bad roll away from out of the fight. The claw damage isn't weak, either, and the dual track losses of energy (FP) and health (HP) means you're fast-tracking towards death and losing the resources you most need to counter them.

That's pretty tame as far as permanent damage goes, though. Sure, if you're dead and your friends lose your body it's bad. But win the fight and you'll just need to get healed up normally - the Infectious Attack isn't the werewolf/vampire kind that infects those who survive (although that's a nasty variant too). So here is an undead that does something much nastier - it inflict lasting harm until a power cleric removes the effects.

Lasting Life Drain

This attack is from a ghostly undead that shall remain nameless until my players fight them.

Death Touch (16): 1d toxic damage; cosmic, ignores DR. Cannot be parried or blocked.

Life Drain (Special): Resisted by HT, minus 1 for every point of damage inflicted by Death Touch. Failure means -1 to ST, DX, and HT indefinitely - it can only be cured by Remove Curse.

In DF, Remove Curse takes a Power Investiture 5 cleric (out of a 1-6; the base PC clerics start with 3), and it's not terribly cheap in mana to cast, so it's not an easy fix by any means.

If you prefer to make these even nastier, add this to the end of "Life Drain."
" Critical failure on the resistance roll lowers one of these stats permanently." Or just put "One Try ever" as a limitation on Remove Curse for this particular effect, so only one priest ever gets a shot at it. The priest probably won't roll a 17 or 18, but if it happens . . . you're screwed permanently barring Great Wish (possibly).

You can easily make these Afflictions - either a condition (Heart Attack, Coma, Seizure) or one that grants a disadvantage (Epilepsy, Hemophilia, Wounded, or Chronic Pain leap to mind) or a stat loss. You can make them all pretty nasty and permanent (well, the disadvantages and stat loss) if you really feel like you need to put total fear of these undead into your players.

Costing these up in GURPS isn't difficult, but I didn't bother because they are monster powers and I don't care how much monsters cost to build. They should be possible to build, though.

Anyway, those are two actual undead "life drain" effects from my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game. I don't like ones you can't fix - yes, I know AD&D level drain was fixable, but we didn't let people just go get Restoration in the good old days. So mine tend to be "lasting" and not "permanent." It's there until you get something done about it, which won't be free or easy, but it can be done. Couple that with infectious attack and a tough monster and they are genuinely scary in the same way level draining undead are, without needing to try to convert the mechanic of another game to the mechanics of GURPS.

Oh, and Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Level Drain & GURPS

Over at Renovating the Temple, Patrick Halter posted about level drain in GURPS terms as a possible drain of character points.

I started to respond there and decided I'd do it here instead.

How I do level draining undead

For my wights, I went with a normal HP-damaging claw attack, but with both a followup FP (fatigue point) drain and paralysis. Any of the claw damage penetrates the armor and bam, you have a nasty roll to resist paralysis and you start to suffer from exhaustion. That can quickly lead to death - not many people have a lot of FP, it's usually down from effort, and you die at -1 x FP so you've got less chance to survive than you do from normal HP loss. (Editing later: as Douglas Cole pointed out, you don't die at -1 x FP. You go automatically unconscious and your further FP losses are from HP; I meant you are effectively in a death spiral at that point and should have said so more clearly).

Why this way?

Because they're scary (assuming they get through your armor) and potentially lethal. Plus it gives some of the flavor of the temporary stat-draining undead of Rolemaster.

I figure if I use incorporeal undead that do this, maybe I'll make it Cosmic (Ignores DR) and that'll make them really terrifying (a few hits to death, extremely hard to stop). A followup effect like aging or adding Unhealing to the PC (if they can't be cured until some curse is removed) or Wounded (for damage that leaves a weak point even after the HP are cured) would make the attacks nasty, too.

I like that approach and I feel it makes life-draining undead really scary.

But I also do this because Character Points don't really exist in the game.

They exist in the meta-game, in the rules we use, but they don't exist in the game world any more than the die rolls exist. They're there to generate characters and put a balance-of-cost/tradeoff structure on making PCs. Why would getting clawed by a wight make your skills go away, or permanently ruin stats, or make you lose advantages? And if they did, why would they do it through the meta-mechanic of character points instead of a specialized attack that drops stats or inflicts disadvantages through Afflictions and modifiers like Cosmic? Who would choose what goes away? Would it have to be in reverse buy order (and what's the buy order of a starting guy?) Could you lose knowledge this way, or only physical stats? What happens when you lose 10 character points and decide you weren't using Fast-Draw (Arrow) anyway so you'll ditch that?

It's a potential mess.

It doesn't seem like it would be smooth in play, either - "Okay, let's stop while you ditch 10 points."

Plus, like I said, it's not like PCs in the game world have character points. Your paper man does, but what the paper man represents doesn't. Why not stat up attacks that have some kind of reasonable-to-explain game world mechanic?

"You lost 10 character points" is odd, and brings chargen back into play as a negative effect, while "Your health weakens; lose 1 HT" or "You gain the Wounded disadvantage" makes a lot of sense to me. It also keeps them scary, as no one likes getting slammed down with a new disadvantage or near-permanent damage.

Disassociated Mechanics

I've come across the term "disassociated mechanics" before - stuff that works as a game-rule but doesn't really make sense in the game world. I personally find level drain feels like way to me. What is it? It's a drain of holiness against a cleric, magic power and spell knowledge against a magic-user, of fighting power against a warrior, and of who-knows-what against an NPC monster. It makes sense as a scary "you lose stuff you worked hard to get!" power in the game rules, but in the game world? Why not go with the aging of ghosts, or make them unheal-able HP losses ("You wounds will not close!"), or some kind of long-term or permanent stat drain? Those numbers mean the same thing for everyone, while "level drain" means something different for each class and each level it's used at.

I'll probably catch hell for saying all of that, but that's how it feels to me. It never felt like it had a good in-game reason other than Gary Gygax wanted to put some real tension into the game for his players.

So it's not something I miss, really. I read it as shorthand for "this sucks badly, and for a long time after" without getting hung up on the odd and very gamey mechanics used in its original class-and-level system.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bard's Tale I-III and The Bard's Tale - thanks inXile

A while back I contributed to the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter. I figured, what the hell, it's worth risking $15 for a post-apoc game I might like. They seemed to have a track record of actual producing games, so I figured it wasn't a blind risk.

The game still isn't out (it's not due out until October 2013), but it's already paid off:

As a contributor "Happy Holidays" thank-you, they've given me a free copy of The Bard's Tale, and the original games it takes an ironic look at - Bard's Tale I, II, and III. All three of the DOS-era games work just fine on my Win7 laptop.

I never played II or III, but I played the living hell out of I. I still make "The room contains 396 berserkers!" comments when I'm gaming with folks who might recognize it.

So I immediately started to play both "The Bard's Tale" (for goofy click-and-laugh fun, so far) and Bard's Tale I. It's been a long time, but my bid already paid off. I just wish I had a party from Wizardry or Ultima III to download, but no, I don't . . . not anymore.

You can get these guys on Steam pretty cheaply even if you didn't contribute. Good fun.

So if I'm not posting much for a few days, well, my holiday schedule is busy. And Bard's Tale, man. I already offed 4 spiders and a group of 7 hobbits that messed with me.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Influencing Dungeon Fantasy

"Who are your influences?"

"Animal in the Muppets."


- The Commitments

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy's influences are a mishmash of video games (Diablo 2, Rogue), old-school RPGs (D&D, AD&D, T&T, C&S, and more), and the circular influence of GURPS games run by the author(s). As is made clear in the designer's notes and here and here, too.

GURPS, straight out of the box, does serious, high-lethality fantasy very well. Everything from social standing to combat to mass combat is covered along the way, so it's fine for a wide-ranging sandbox. So much so it was the go-to fantasy game for me for decades before DF rolled along. DF turns it on its head and says, what if your guy starts out as an ass-kicker and we toss all the serious stuff about social engagement outside the dungeon aside and just concentrate on that? Throw in some deliberate goofiness sometimes and you get a beer-and-pretzels game. What Mike Mornard claims Gary Gygax said about his game - to paraphrase, it's just a stupid game.

This is partly why, for example, Dungeon Fantasy delvers are so powerful - it's a rare video game that forces you into what is now called a character funnel. Old ones like Wizardry did it, but from experience I can tell you it was grueling and not always much fun.

In any case, games like that influenced me in my writings for DF and in my GURPS games, "straight" fantasy and DF alike.

If I had to list my influences for my DF game, in no particular order, it's a mix of:

AD&D - especially my post-UA game
D&D (Basic set, merged with AD&D and Holmes and criticals from Arms Law)
Rolemaster, 2nd edition (the blue box)
GURPS (my own 1st and 3rd edition games, via recycled monsters and treasures)
Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks by that other Steve Jackson
Gritty fantasy fiction (Glen Cook, especially)
A myriad of video games (Diablo, D2, Wizardry, Bard's Tale, Wizard's Crown, Planescape: Torment, and more)
OD&D, in that I always look into the LBBs and their excellent supplements for crazy 40-year old craziness to just toss in.
My minis collection, since this is my chance to use all the monster minis I have.

Even some non-fantasy games have a strong influence on this game: a little of Jade Empire, the attitude of 1st and 2nd edition Gamma World, and my own brutally character-grinding GURPS version of the Yaquinto Pirates & Plunder starting adventure.

The summaries of the Dwimmermount campaign helped push me into going for a megadungeon instead of a series of smaller dungeons, too.

To some extent swords and sorcery and Vance influence me now, but their influence came fairly late - I got introduced to Moorcock, Vance, Leiber, and Howard through D&D, not the other way around. They inform my current game to varying degrees, though - my previous game showed a lot more Leiber and Vance and Moorcock than this one, but there is still a bit that shows through.

So, who are your influences? What is informing your decisions about what is cool and necessary in your game? What really shows up in your day to day play?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rope Tricks

A few rope-related thoughts occurred to me recently. Why? Basically, from coming across Rope Trick I reading Daddy Grognard's blog.

Rope Trick (scroll down for the rope/gate situation) - Why do players always seem to think tying a rope around someone will let them pull them back after they go through a gate? Does this usually work? My players do it too, and it worked once with one very specific kind of gate (the "hole in reality between these points" kind of gate), but it hasn't with others (the "the gate teleports you elsewhere" kind). Still they use it every time, even if experimentation showed it wasn't the kind of gate you could stick a hand through and then pull it back out.

Rope Trick II - On that thought, why do PCs always think that tying a rope around someone's waist is a fool-proof way to rescue someone from harm? I've heard "if you fall down a pit, we can pull on the rope and pull you up." "If a monster attacks you, we can pull you back before it hits." "If you are unconscious, we can reel you back in to safety." Usually accompanied by strong denials that they need to tie the rope to anything and feigned surprise that getting yanked backwards on a rope wouldn't be smooth, fast, or easily done.

Rope Trick III - rope is one of those items that seems to take up no space. People decide to rappel down a pit's wall, or tie up some prisoners, or climb up a cliff . . . and inevitably someone says "I have 50' of rope in my bag." Really? 50' of man-supporting climbing rope . . . shouldn't that take up a whole bag? I've got around 40' of heavy cloth rope at the gym, and it's not exactly small. I wonder if modern folks just think of rope as those coils of thin yellow plastic rope, which could easily fit into a bag. It's this kind of thing that makes me want to try some form of visual encumbrance. Players that would blanch at saying "I put a gallon jug of wine in my pack" just figure anything between 10 and 100 yards of rope is pretty small.

Or are all of those mostly just my experience?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Super Dungeons in Pyramid 3/50 - Dungeon Fantasy II

The new issue of Pyramid, Pyramid #3/50 - Dungeon Fantasy II, is up and for sale.

There is an article I found especially interesting in light of my own megadungeon-based DF game:

Super Dungeons, by David Pulver.

What is a super dungeon? According to the author:

"One of the earliest dungeons I created for GURPS was a "super dungeon" - a complex that was dispersed across several miles of underground passages."

Readers familiar with Beedo's Black City will be instantly reminded of it reading this article. Or it'll bring to mind the underground tunnels of D1-2, and it's at least peripherally similar to the separated cities of Thorbardin. I also thought of the best part of Skyrim (to me, anyway) - Blackreach.

It's contrasted with the mega-dungeon - those huge multi-level singular locations under giant castles and such that I'm so fond of.

Why I liked it:

- it nicely breaks out a term for those big sprawling megadungeons. Because, really, there is a big difference between my 8+ levels (so far) layer cake of dungeon levels and the underearth of D1-2.

- it makes the point that the separated encounter areas could be anything from a single "room" all the way up to full-sized dungeons. As much as I like my megadungeon, I think this is a serious advantage to a super-dungeon: you can stick anything in there somewhere, and it's easier to justify a giant cavern of fungus-men or a dragon's lair or a dwarf city if they didn't have to live right next door to the orcs or the water realm or that weird labyrinth level of teleporters you wrote up. I kind of regret not sprawling out my dungeon even more.

- it's got a ruling on fatigue costs for slogging through underground tunnels over long distances. It doesn't assume a D1-2 style "primary passage" approach where you can have mules and wagons and pack lizards wandering around. That's easy - but if you're slogging through giant worm-dug tunnels or that passage left by a tunneling monster or an old natural shaft, it's not likely to be smooth sailing. It'll be stressful and tiring if you travel carefully enough to make it not immediately dangerous. Combine a slow travel rate with exhaustion and no ease of return, and you'll change from "15 minute adventure day" to "dangerous slog and resource management issues" campaign immediately.

- it's got a ruling on how many miles per hour you can travel based on your Move score. Handy and easy. Combine that with spread out encounters and exhausting travel, and you have a real issue of "how do we get to the treasure-filled rooms without being too tired to fight?"

- It comes with a sample super dungeon, with a full key for it. It's nice, it's short (but big), and it's got a nice background that makes its encounters effective and internally logical. As a super-dungeon, it's easy to expand.

All in all, very nice. I just wish the general advice section was longer!

The rest of the magazine is good, especially the stuff I wrote (heh). But even just this article made it well worth reading. If you're going to run big wilderness-sized dungeons, especially with GURPS, this is a very cool read.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Salvaging Dragonlance: DL11 and DL12

DL11: Dragons of Glory

DL11 isn't a adventure, it's a wargame of the "War of the Lance." There is very little here that is a quick steal for a fantasy RPG. The best thing worth stealing is the idea that there are whole nations of minotaurs who have powerful-but-slow naval units. Minopirates.

As a wargame, DL11 was a lot of fun. It combines both recruiting neutral countries and conquest. This could be fun as you'd start small and work up. But I was a sucker for that buildup in the GDW Third World War series game Persian Gulf, so I liked it here too. Boardgame Geek has a nice set of pictures and a review or two. If you find a copy and play it, I'd make sure you read the errata in Dragon #107.

DL12: Dragons of Faith

Dragons of Faith is one of the later Dragonlance modules. It is set up as a sandbox with an event line, but the events are really railroady (which fits the series.) It's also co-written by Bruce Heard. It's pretty big, but there are just a few things worth stealing from this one:

Counters! - Yes, the original came with Battlesystem counters. Pretty nice bonus here, and easy to snag.

Cards - the cards, and rules, for some fantasy-world cardgames are here. Could be a stealer for another game.

Magic Items - there are few non-standard magic items here, but mostly ones which combine the powers of existing magic items. One of them is a spell-deflecting sword, which is cool, but with a pretty weak name ("Mantooth"). Oh well, probably sounded better in the 80s.

Monsters - four draconians make it in - the previously published baaz, bozak, and kapak, plus a new wingless mind-controlling energy-shooting one called the Aurak. It has its own odd death throes, where they go into a frenzy killing things before exploding. Seriously. Either wacky or gonzo, depending on your outlook.

There are 11 other monsters in here:
Amphi Dragon (dragon/sea monster crossbreed)
Sea Dragon
Sea Elf (pretty standard swimming elves, basically)
Prickleback (spine-shooting fish)
School of Salmon (seriously, this is like a GURPS swarm, but of Omega-3 rich fish)
King of the Deep (a unique aquatic boss monster)
Death Statues (killer statues with special powers and a nasty origin, at least on Krynn)
Skyfisher (a bird-monster)
Sligs & Ghagglers - upgraded hobgoblins, and their aquatic version
Whisper Spider - a hunting/trapping giant spider
Undead Beast - another big boss undead.

But that's about it. Lots of stuff if you were playing out the adventure for Dragonlance but not so much to just grab-and-go elsewhere.

This ends my review of the Dragonlance modules. I am missing the other ones - I just stopped buying them. I am rather surprised I coasted this far on momentum, because we didn't play far into the series. I hope people found this worthwhile, and maybe dusted off their modules to grab stats for some exploding dragon men to sic on their PCs.

The Rest of the Series:

DL1 Dragons of Despair
DL2 Dragons of Flame
DL3 Dragons of Hope
DL4 Dragons of Desolation
DL6 Dragons of Ice
DL7 Dragons of Light
DL8 Dragons of War
DL11 Dragons of Glory / DL12 Dragons of Faith

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Salvaging Dragonlance: DL8 Dragons of War

Today I'm looking at DL8 for stuff useful outside of running Dragonlance.

DL8 Dragons of War

I liked this one when it came out. I know I played out the scenario with Battlesystem at least once, probably twice.

The Map. The module comes with a map of the High Clerist Tower. It's pretty much the 3-D Ravenloft-like castle map. It's both detailed and attractive, although using it in play might be difficult, a common fault to any poster map. It feels like a real castle that can be lived in, defended, and explored. There are only a few dozen numbered areas on its 16 levels (only 8 are really big), but there are a lot of lettered sub-areas and many areas you could number yourself. The map shares the usual Dragonlance flaw of numbering starting with the event number in the linear adventure, so it is a little harder to re-purpose.

Better yet, it flips over to be a Battlesystem-scaled combat map, for use in a large-scale minis battle. Or just to show to the players for an idea of how it looks top-down, along with the pictures from the module that show the tower.

I seem to recall the original package included draconian counters for the Battlesystem rules; I know I have those counters and I think this is where I got them. They're useful if you need counters for your battle map for draconians but goodness knows who has a mint copy of the module with them.

Battlesystem Siege Rules - this supplement adds siege rules for Battlesystem; if you use that system (1st edition; this pre-dates the revised version) they work very well for it.

Map Key - this isn't bad, especially because it randomizes where the important quest stuff can be found. It is similar to the way Raveloft did the randomized placement. Potentially useful as a guideline to "where is it found this trip to the megadundeon?" setups. I'd re-purpose it for monsters or oddball artifacts that move around (Who has the chest of copper pieces this time? [see 302])

Mass Combat System - there is a pretty good simplified mass combat system for resolving big battles without bothering to clear the table and fight it out with minis. It isn't bad, and it is pretty fast, although it's loose with the details so you wouldn't want to use it to track a personal army of the PCs where they care about each individual casualty.

Monsters - the Baaz, Bozak, Kapak, and Sivak draconians are all statted here. So are Spectral Minions (from DL1 and other places), and a cool mirror-summoned extraplanar harbringer of death, the Fetch.

There are magic items, but it's the usual - dragonlances, dragon orbs, and DL-specific quest items that do questy things.

Not a lot of "play" here, but plenty of battles and a kick-ass map.

Series note: I don't own either DL9 and DL10. I will discuss the other two I own - DL11 and DL12. At that point, my review of the series will end.

The Rest of the Series:

DL1 Dragons of Despair
DL2 Dragons of Flame
DL3 Dragons of Hope
DL4 Dragons of Desolation
DL6 Dragons of Ice
DL7 Dragons of Light
DL8 Dragons of War
DL11 Dragons of Glory / DL12 Dragons of Faith

Friday, December 14, 2012

Dragonlance Draconians in GURPS terms

So I've been doing a review of things you can salvage from the old Dragonlance adventures.

But what if you want to use Draconians, you play 4th edition GURPS, and you are lazy?

Well, in steps Collective Restraint of the Gemstone Calculator fame.

However, they are pretty weak as far as monsters go. Pretty weak as far as fodder goes, for a DF game.

If you're going to use these for DF

- bump up their stats and weapon skills. They need to do at least 2d damage swinging (so ST 13+) and have weapon skill 15+ to be a threat to PCs in any way. You might just want to use them as an additive template and make them all Guards (62-pointers from DF15) and Brutes or Killers, or perhaps for Baaz, Apprentices (all 125-pointers from DF15) for the leaders or veteran troops.

- nudge up their Magic Resistance a little, so they actually annoy wizards who try to cast on them. I'd go with Magic Resistance 5, it's the first level that bugs wizards in my games.

- consider adding a little bit more damage to their death throes. Right now they don't stack up to Doomchildren (from DF2), and might just get shrugged off instead of handled with some care.

Otherwise, it's a good start and they'll simplify using them greatly. Grab the templates, do some quick mods, and send them in waves after your DFers!

Postscript: A new issue of Pyramid magazine dedicated to Dungeon Fantasy is out. I have two articles in it. You can find the magazine for sale here, and a discussion of it on the SJG Forums. I'll discuss the issue here once I finishing reading it cover-to-cover.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Salvaging Dragonlance: DL7 Dragons of Light

A look at the next installment of the Dragonlance adventures for lootable parts.

DL7 Dragons of Light

What is worth using elsewhere?

Maps. As usual, there are some maps to steal. The first is a small map of a single hex of wilderness, where the dungeon of the module is set. It has some potentially interesting elements - a small ruin, a bigger dungeon, a bridge to cross between. It could be a good "immediate area outside the dungeon" map, assuming you light the dungeon map.

A Dragon-Shaped Dungeon There is a relatively small dungeon in here, with only a handful of real encounters - but it's in the form of a stone dragon statue, with lots of interesting bits in it. It's pretty unique. The front cover of the adventure is by Elmore, in a really pretty piece, and an inset picture shows you which level is where on the front cover's illustration. So they turned the front of the module into a show-piece for the players.

Monsters. There is a pretty interesting guardian that is tougher or weaker depending on the number and alignment of the attackers. Interesting and unusual.

There is also the fourth of the various draconians listed here for the first time. Besides a re-appearance of the Baaz draconians, you get the Sivak. The Sivak are 9' tall shapeshifters. They shapeshift into the form of anyone they kill, or anyone that kills them, until they disintegrate days later. The latter was explicitly put in to give even more chances for an obscure death ("Oh, that wasn't my corpse, it was a draconian I killed.") But it's a potentially fun monster to use elsewhere. Oh, and if the killer/victim is too big or non-humanoid, they just burst into flames and then become ash. They're probably the least fun of the draconians, but they aren't bad.

Magic Items. There are dragonlances, dragon orbs, and a magical holy statue that opens doors and heals people in a given radius while singing. That's kind of cute, in the sense that it's dangerous to use when sneaking around but so useful you might do it anyway.

Otherwise, that's it - another thin one that lacks some of the cool cartography of the earlier ones but which really uses the front cover art well.

The Rest of the Series:

DL1 Dragons of Despair
DL2 Dragons of Flame
DL3 Dragons of Hope
DL4 Dragons of Desolation
DL6 Dragons of Ice
DL7 Dragons of Light
DL8 Dragons of War
DL11 Dragons of Glory / DL12 Dragons of Faith

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Salvaging Dragonlance: DL6 Dragons of Ice

More in my series of looks at the old Dragonlance modules, and what you can salvage from them for use elsewhere.

DL6 Dragons of Ice - this adventure is a super-railroad. Almost everything is scripted, down to how the PCs feel about the things that happen. And no matter what the PCs do, they'll start in the same spot and end in the preordained destination.

What's useful?

Not very much.

Outdoor Map - if you happen to need an outdoor map with a twin map for the players to use, of a once-port city near a glacier, this module comes with an attractive one.

Indoor Map - the frozen Icewall Castle is tiny - just a handful of rooms. It might make a good lair or side encounter as part of a bigger wilderness journey.

Monsters - this adventure has the Thanoi, which are big walrus men. They function more-or-less as ogres with a bite attack, but they are certainly unique. Salvageable for an ice world or the cold regions of your world.

Magic Items - the frostreavers are interesting - axes of pure deep glacial ice that function as +4 weapons, as long as they always stay below freezing. So are the glasses of the arcanist - special reading lenses that let you read any language, but if you fail your intelligence roll it confuses one word per fragment read (so miss by 5 and 5 words are misread). It's a fun mechanic. A dragon orb shows up here too, if you wanted to use them in your games.

Otherwise, that's it. Unless you find this in a deep bargain bin, it's the thinnest actual adventure so far.

The Rest of the Series:

DL1 Dragons of Despair
DL2 Dragons of Flame
DL3 Dragons of Hope
DL4 Dragons of Desolation
DL6 Dragons of Ice
DL7 Dragons of Light
DL8 Dragons of War
DL11 Dragons of Glory / DL12 Dragons of Faith

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thoughts and Rulings from Sunday's DF game

Some miscellaneous stuff from my most recent game session.

Swimming - The swimming rolls were pretty harsh for most of the PCs.

One player argued after the fact, during a brief break (because then it was a rules discussion, not weaseling bonuses or complaining) that encumbrance penalties shouldn't count for rolls to hold your breath. I agree, and so does GURPS - but this wasn't holding your breath. It was getting your head above water. Taking a deep breath in preparation for holding takes a second and a Concentrate maneuver in GURPS, otherwise you go on what's in your lungs without any prep, which doesn't last as long.

The Swimming rolls are for keeping your head above water. Encumbrance - how strong you are relative to the weight you carry - is important, and most of the PCs were at Medium Encumbrance (so -4 to the roll) or Heavy (-6), and were defaulting swimming. I know people who figure swimming is an "everyman" skill - everyone can do it. But GURPS doesn't assume that, and neither do I - I took swimming lessons to learn. You can try to do it, but you're not as well off if you spent the time to learn it.

Still, these are very athletic guys, and even the NPCs had above-average stats by virtue of work or race.

So why did so many PCs and NPCs drown (well, drown and get torn up by killer fish)? Because they hit the water disoriented from a teleport and went under, laden down with gear, and never got their heads above water. Unable to do so, they couldn't concentrate to cast spells or do much else. Even if they could, several critically failed their Swimming roll and I ruled they swallowed water and lost even more FP and sank.

Is Swimming that hard? No. GURPS gives you a generous bonus for entering the water deliberately, and you can hand out nice bonuses for still waters and you don't roll until you are in water over your head in depth. That's why later the PCs could swim for another dock with (relative) ease - bonuses and less distractions.

Yes, you can vary the templates. I let my players know they could vary from the templates in DF1 a little bit. Not much - they can spend their 5 quirk points on basically anything, subject to my okay, even if it's not on the template. Also, I'm willing to allow changes that make sense within the template. So the Martial Artist doesn't have Polearm as a weapon choice, and doesn't list Gigantism as a choosable disadvantage. But a SM+1 martial artist with a giant horse cutter is awesome - Benkei awesome - so obviously I'm going to allow that.

That's not a lot of variation, but I feel like the pretty rigid adherence to templates has really added to my game by narrowing and focusing the PC's abilities.

And yes, everyone could add Swimming. You know, just in case.

A potion in hand . . . I was pretty generous in allowing a 1 in 6 chance of Nakar's potions floating up and within range. But what the heck, that's a 5 in 6 chance of nothing, and it felt fun. Plus, it moved the adventure along either way - they'd stop looking if they failed, they'd get moving if they did.

Amusingly Vryce's player saw his meager supply of potions and said "I have 17 gold [eagles, at 100 sp each), why don't I have more potions?" Yeah, the price seems high until you need them.

Mass Zombie change. The prereqs for Mass Zombie are Zombie and Charisma 2. Back in 3e, it was either Strong Will 2 or Charisma 2, but there is no more Strong Will advantage (just a Will stat). While my players suggested either Will 2 over base or minimum 17 Will for the spell, I decided that most prereqs are kind of pointless anyway. So I said just Zombie and either Magery 3 or Charisma 2. Done. The spell is expensive enough as it is, it takes a long time to cast, and its utility is limited (bodies can't be heaped to make it more efficient).

What's next? I'm still not sure what everyone will run - Nakar's player might run a wizard or cleric ("Same thing!" he says), not sure about Kullockh's player. I'm looking forward to seeing Chuck Morris and his horse cutter in action.

All in all, I'm really surprised anyone lived. Well, not that Raggi Ragnarsson, aka Red Raggi, aka Raggi the Indestructible, lived. That guy won't die, and didn't even when the party pretty much tried to let him die. I did say that if all the PCs died and Raggi was still alive, I was just going to rule that he survived and let him spread the word back in town. That would have been very amusing, not implausible (he just refuses to die), and let the players use their old knowledge with their new PCs without qualms about meta-gaming. Everyone said "of course he wouldn't die!"

Well, four of them didn't, and the group goes on. They'll need a new map, though - the copies all got wrecked, unless it turns out Honus has one, or they buy the early, inaccurate copy they sold out on the market for just this kind of backup.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Taking the PC's Stuff

Talysman posted a nice bit about making adventures that deplete the gear of adventurers:

Character Depletion

There is an idea there worth pursuing, but it's got some risk - players hate losing their stuff.


It's just stuff, right?

But is it?

Why do players hate losing their stuff so much?

I think there are a number of reasons.

Scarcity. How many vorpal blades, holy swords, staffs of power, magical suits of plate armor, and helms of brilliance are there? Not many in any given game. How many characters? Well, as many as you need, and you can swap this one for another.

If you make magic items rare, you have to expect people regard them as especially precious. If magic items are harder to come by than PCs, they are worth more than PCs. You can't just make up a new magic staff, but you can make up a new guy if this one dies.

Actual need. "+1 or better to hit." You can't live without this stuff, literally, in dungeons. You will lose, and you will die, if you don't have that stuff. So they're valuable in a real way.

It's part of the reward. Items, like levels (in D&D) or points (in GURPS) are earned through effective play. People don't like rewards to be clawed back. Once you have it, you feel like it's yours, and it is unpleasant to have it lost. Hard to gain, easy to lose - not fun.

There is no "Raise Dead" for items. Not for the good ones, generally. If a rust monster eats your +2 sword, it's gone. But physical damage up to and including death in fantasy games is often trivial to fix. In real life, you lose an arm and your car and no one cares about the car - it can be replaced. In a game, you lose an arm and a magic axe of slaying and everyone weeps for the axe. Why? The arm is an easy fix. It's trivial in some games. Even death is so easy to fix that AD&D gave rules for maximum number of times and system shock rolls to make it less trivial.

Some games allow for repairs - GURPS has the Repair spell. But they won't unerringly work, and they don't replace the magic in stuff. So lost items are usually really lost.

Players hate being handed an unavoidable loss. One thing about "a thief steals your stuff" or "the kobolds come take your armor after you take it off to wash off the icky slime" is that it's generally unavoidable. Generally, you don't have much choice. You're surprised by the rust monster, you're jumped by wights, you find out the thief stole you stuff once it's gone. No one likes that in the real world, and having it happen to your paper man doesn't make it more fun.

So when is it okay?

It's still fair to make them risk and lose stuff, but there are a few ways to make it fun that I can think of.

An unavoidable loss they could have avoided. - if they'd worded the wish better, if they'd not gone that one more room, if they hadn't tried to beat up that group of NPCs they clearly couldn't take, if they hadn't blocked themselves into that tight corner - that's fine. "It's us or our stuff, what do we do?" is a fair challenge, if the players got themselves into it. "Themselves" is the key. If it's a choice ("I can kill that dragon, but it'll cost me my staff of power." ". . . okay, do it.) it's a real dilemma and worth posing. They won't resent it unless you railroad them into it.

Forewarning. Attritive adventures are fine, too, if the players know it going in. If they're willing to take the risk, great. Maybe they'll risk loss of precious gear if they feel like they can gain more from it. Maybe they won't. But you need to make it a known choice. If they know they are risking what they have to gain still more, they'll probably take it. If it just get snapped away, they won't feel like they had a choice in the matter.

This is also why rules where items can run out of power or break with usage are okay - I know if I roll an 18 on my Broadsword skill roll in combat I could roll "Weapon Breaks" on the Critical Miss Table. I'm taking that chance, and I know it. If I know there are rust monsters and I foolishly keep my sword out instead of my club, well, my fault. Again, forewarning - if you can know it is there and prepare to lessen, mitigate, or eliminate the risk, you'll be fine when those preparations fail in the game.

Make the loss temporary. Remember the heated hallway in S2 White Plume Mountain? You might be sans gear for a little while, but it's not gone. It's a tough challenge, and I remember it fondly. "Teleported nude, no saving throw" stuff in S1 Tomb of Horrors? Yeah . . . not as funny unless you might be able to go get the stuff back, and if it's so hard you can't expect to accomplish it, it's the same as permanent loss in feeling.

Make things easier to replace. Anathema to many GMs, but you can make magic items easier to get. If there is only one Holy Avenger in the world, it's going to suck to lose it to a disenchanter or have a thief steal it (unless you can track it down and get it back). If they aren't gone forever, or they are but you can get more, you dial down the fun-killer factor greatly. Still annoying, but it's not as drastic.

So says me, who had a rust monster surprise attack the PCs. If they'd just not jumped into the doorway to get at that troll, maybe the dwarf wouldn't have lost so much armor and his crowbar to it. Not much resentment from "maybe I should have looked before I lept."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

DF Game, Session 19 - Total Party Teleport II

December 9th, 2012

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Borriz, dwarven knight (290 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (262 points)
     Krug, hobgoblin adventurer (?? points)
          Lurg, hobgoblin hireling (?? points)
          Derg, hobgoblin hireling (?? points)
          Zerg, hobgoblin hireling (?? points)
          Ferg, hobgoblin hireling (?? points)
          Drog, hobgoblin hireling (?? points)
           6 Female hobgoblin camp followers (?? points)
Inquisitor Marco, human cleric (about 280 points)
Kullockh, human scout (250 points)
Nakar, human wizard (about 295 points)
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)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)

Still in town:
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (283 points)

We picked up where we left off last time, with the party in mid-air over some subterranean body of water.

The party hit the water hard. Most of the PCs and nearly all of the NPCs failed their Body Sense rolls, and hit the water still disoriented from the sudden teleport. That meant they couldn't even try to take a breath or hit the water well. A couple of the party made the roll, but didn't have the swimming chops to enter the water properly and inhaled water when they did. The only one to make both was Galen Longtread, whose Absolute Direction helped him resist disorientation and whose swimming let him hit the water properly.

Others did really badly - disorientated and heavily weighted down with plate armor, Inquisitor Marco sucked in water and sank immediately. His flailing attempts to swim ended badly (a critical failure) and he sucked down a lot of water and went down to the bottom 30' below. Nakar equally flailed around for a few seconds before failing badly and starting to sink and drown (critical failure, again) - but worse, he was invisible, and he couldn't cancel the spell to let rescuers see him and it wouldn't run out on its own until 1 minute after he passed out. He sank. The various hirelings did badly, failing rolls and having too much heavy gear. The hobgoblin hirelings did worse - they'd loaded themselves down with every possible weapon and bit of armor they could carry, and mostly sank quickly.

The only bright spots were Borriz, who found this swimming stuff wasn't so hard*, Red Raggi, who quickly made a Swimming roll (but lost his axe), and Vryce, who also made a nearly miraculous Swimming roll and managed to keep himself on the surface while in plate and mail - it helps that he's obscenely strong (ST 17). Kullockh briefly had trouble but then started to swim.

Vryce yelled out orders to the swimmers - Galen and Kulloch to try to find Nakar, and Raggi to get Inquisitor Marco. It was in vain, though - Nakar was invisible, and while Raggi did spot Marco he was already 30' down and on the bottom, not moving. He couldn't swim down, rescue him, and then swim back up.

Meanwhile, the water's inhabitants came to visit. Razor fish! 3-4' long barracuda looking fish with silvery scales and long fangs. They slashed into the PCs. Their defenses nearly nil in the water, the PCs and NPCs alike got torn up. As the blood roiled out, it attracted the gigantic shark that also lives here.** It swept up and bit into Drog the hobgoblin, who was flailing around. He was dragged right under. More fish nipped in for a bite and then away, randomly attacking swimmers and drowners alike. Kullockh got bit, badly - his right leg was crippled from a nasty bite. Galen moved towards him but got bit too, and then Kullockh started to get hit more and more. His right arm was then crippled, and then his torso was bit badly. Galen got slashed up.

What to do, where to go?

Galen spotted a pillar to the right of the trashing group, and dock-like stone quays with archways in the walls to either side about 30' away, and a bigger dock like area near a stone balcony 60' away. As the fish swarmed in, and Vryce realized even the swimmers might not make it, they decided to swim for the dock 30' "ahead" of them. A mere 10 seconds of hard swimming. Not all of them made it.

In fact, only Galen (horribly torn up by razor fish, and his right foot crippled by a bite), Vryce (hurt despite his heavy armor), Borriz (ditto), and Raggi (bitten very badly) managed to get to the "dock." They turned and watched the bloody waters were 19 of their companions were being finished off by the fish. Some of the now-frenzied fish leap and snapped at the dock's edge, and Galen told them razor fish could get around a little on the shore, so they kept away from the edges. Above was a vaulted roof with hundreds of bats, but nothing flying to attack them.

They quickly parceled out Raggi's and Vryce's healing potions and drank them down, trying to keep folks conscious and able to fight.

Beyond the archway was another area of "dock," for a total area of 10' x 20'. Also, more water. Under the water they could see two lines of cages or cells, badly deteriorated, with a wide (15" wide) stone top slick with algae, running out from the dock, about 3' below the top of the dock and 2' or more below the surface of the water. The room had a vaulted roof like the one outside, and was pretty wide.

Then Raggi saw movement. He and Borriz took positions flanking Vryce, Galen still to hurt to help. Out from the water crawled seven fishmen - scaled humanoids with black eyes, green-glossy scales, black claws, and harnesses for gear as "clothing." They had shield of woven seaweed-like material and spears of bone and bronze. One was unarmed, but big, and another was an obvious priest. Vryce shouted "Parley!" but they didn't, with a spear attack on Raggi (now armed with a long knife!) and a harpoon thrown at Borriz. They defended and went to work. It was brutally quick. Raggi sliced up one fishman with his knife, Vryce stepped in and knocked one down and then immediately feint-and-attacked the unarmed one, thinking he must be real trouble. He hit him and did max damage, dropping him (but not finishing him). Borriz chucked his hatchet into the priest and knocked him down and back into the water. A quick bit of fighting after that killed the rest - the unarmed one was finished, along with three others, while one wounded one managed to roll into the water to escape.

They looted the fishmen of some gold lip rings and the unarmed one of matching gold bracelets. They hatched a plan to leave. Deciding they could walk on the submerged cage rails, but it would be too risky, they decided to swim for the bigger quay they'd seen. Before that, they tried to fish for floating gear from their friends. They asked if there was a chance Nakar's potions floated up. Sure, 1 in 6. One! Okay, how many of his six? Roll. Six! So I ruled his potion bag floated up, along with his gem of healing. They snagged it with a loop made from the harpoon's cord and used it to heal enough to swim.

They pushed the fishmen bodies in on the opposite side of the dock from them. They cut them up a bit more first to ensure their green blood spilled into the water. They eased into the water and started to swim. Ironically, Galen sucked water and needed Raggi to rescue him (which he did), and then they swam to the dock. They made it.

Some exploration found there was a ramp off the dock, which they followed to the balcony - kind of a "scenic outlook" over the body of water. They took the only hallway out, which had a mirror mounted to ensure you could see around the corner. They went that way and found a room, and ran into three nearly-naked pale skinned humans with spears and one with a trident. Vryce called "Parley" but they ran at the party. So Galen shot one down (he'd done his best to dry his bowstring and some arrows, but still shot with a -2, no problem for a Heroic Archer). Vryce killed another, and Raggi slammed one. The arrow-wounded one got shot in the back as he tried to flee.

They questioned the man. He spoke oddly accepted common, but was willing to talk. He told them how to get out, that lizardmen and newtmen were above (they raid each other), that he'd take them to "the Boss" across the water they'd swam out of. Also, when they asked about the surface he told them it was a myth, and then hung his head and said "Woe is me! I am captured by crazy people!"

One they got what they could out of him, they decided to get rid of him. Raggi killed him. They took some human hair braided rope with a crude padded grapnel off the arrow-slain one. In the next room was a 20' x 20' gap in the ceiling. The rope was just long enough. So they tossed it up and climbed up. Vryce took an arrow from a newtman who fled with his companion. The rest of the group cautiously followed.

They searched for a way out - the opposite was the newtmen came was a dead end, stinking of lizards. The other way had an intersection and a door, but they followed the wet footprints of the newtmen instead to the right. There they found a heavy ironbound door but couldn't bust it down, and a long passageway (in excess of 200') to a secret door. They took that and went out, finding another door they couldn't open and a hallway.

The went down the hallway, checking doors, and then found real trouble at the end - the hallway opened up to the left into a hallway. In it were seven lizardmen, four big slorn, backed by a dozen newtmen with bows and spears led by another lizard men. The newtmen were behind a portcullis, so they could shoot into the fray with impunity. Borriz argued for attack (he had been run by Honus's player up to around now, but then that guy had to leave and Nakar's player took over, which might explain this). But Vryce said, keep backing up. They did - the lizardmen refused to follow and give up their defensive position.

So the group fled back into the secret door, down the long corridor, and went the other way. They briefly entered a big room that turned out to be a newtman barracks. A fight in the wet, slimy room resulted in no injuries (poor rolling, weak damage, and heavy armor) but killed twenty newtmen and consumed most of Galen's remaining broadheads.

The searched a hallways full of rooms - in the end, 9 of them. Most of the 20 x 20 rooms had six furs/hides nailed to the wall for no clear purpose but little else. They did find some interesting stuff:

- one had a painting of the mountain with a different, lower castle on it. When they watched, it suddenly shifted into a burning castle. Then, ruins. Then, the new castle. Then, that burning, then, the ruins as they've seen them. Then back to the beginning, around again.

- another had a berserk acid slorn in it, which scorched Vryce with its acid mist before Borriz smashed its head in.

- another had weird sticky patches on the floor. No one went in.

- another was dusty (instead of wet and damp) and had a big wheel grindstone in it. No one wanted to try it.

- The last room was a long-deserted torture chamber, with rusting old stuff. Borriz (read: Nakar's player) insisted the iron maidenhad to be a secret door. So he pried open the rusted iron maiden. No door. But inside were 48 spikes, silver in color. Checking, they were really silver, at 8 ounces each! They pried off all 48 of them, giving them 24 pounds of silver (at 250 sp aka $ per pound).

They moved back and kept moving into new territory. They moved quickly here. They found another long corridor that eventually T-ed out into a spiral staircase up to the left, and another heavy ironbound door to the right. Beyond the door they heard the hissing/breathing/barking noises of the lizardmen, in some kind of spooky rhythm. They took the stairs, avoid a noisemaker line.

At the top they found a lot - three connected rooms, all empty, except the middle one had a 12" black six-fingered handprint in the middle. No one touched it or went near it. Eventually after some twisting around, the spotted flicking flame in the distance down a corridor, and a door the opposite way. The door was damp and water had leaked under it. They decided the door was a bad idea, and the flickering were the "fire men" Krug warned them about last time. They backtracked and tried a new direction.

They found a strange altar in one area - it was solid stone, of one piece, carved out of the floor. Carved as if, Borriz said, they'd carved the room out around this altar. Next to it was scrawled, in Common, "BEWARE! Touch only once!" in whitewash paint. So Vryce touched it - and his injuries were healed. Borriz touched it, too - same thing! Galen tried it, and gained Danger Sense (for one day). Raggi touched it and his knife glowed briefly.

Shortly after this they found a hexagonal room with a statue of a six-fingered man. It was point down an open corridor (their approach), and there were signed it could swivel in place. Danger Sense told Galen not to touch it, or the one of the doors out of the room. Another door, behind it, was of iron - covered with small scratches and tiny dents as if people had tried to pry it open or smash it down. The third door was locked and just resisted their attempts to pry it open.

So, touch the statue = danger. Touch one specific door = danger. So they tried the door anyway. The statue swiveled, blasted Vryce with black fire (no defenses), and knocked him out cold with fatigue-draining nastiness. The statue swiveled back. They had to stay in the room for nearly an hour to let Vryce recover enough to be able to fight.

They explored a bit after this, but luckily the other way turned out to be toward the hobgoblin's fortress area. They climbed over a barricaded section, and then into the hobgoblin's area. From here, Galen's Absolute Direction led them home. Well, back to the trap door to level one, and out via the stairs to the fallen tower they'd dug out.

From there, the four survivors of the expedition - out of seven PCs who entered, and twenty-three total PCs and NPCs - headed to town.

* Borriz, well Vryce's player rolling for Borriz, rolled a 4 on his Swimming default. We use a house rule called "You're a natural" - if you roll a 3 or 4 on your first default of a skill, you may immediately spend one point to learn the skill (and point debt is okay if necessary). This represents natural skill you just didn't know you had before.

** Yes, a subterranean freshwater shark. Suck it, reality.

Notes & Such

We didn't have a full house today. Nakar's player had to go into work for most of the session. Borriz's player couldn't make it. Inq. Marco's player came later (and just goofed on the PCs while working on a new PC). And Honus's player guest starred for half the session.

I put that shark and those fish in that waterway a long time ago. I expected, well, they might annoy people trying to swim around and look for treasure or who get knocked off a boat in a fight. And they explain some of the actions of folks around them. Instead, they wiped out 19 party members. Crazy.

I'm bummed Krug didn't survive. I was amused by the idea of a hobgoblin squad of hirelings, but they didn't swim well.

I rolled randomly for fish attacks; basically each person had a chance to get attacked by fish, and the worse the roll the more fish. I re-rolled each turn and added on for bleeding. This doomed the non-swimmers badly and bad luck caught Kullockh.

The guys had to start with no loot, and the ones who made it up have made the biggest one-trip haul that I can remember.

Oddly, two of the guys who had ready-made new PCs printed out and ready to go, Vryce's player and Galen's player, didn't need them and still won't.

Inq. Marco's player is saying his next guy with be a Martial Artist with Gigantism and a horse cutter named Chuck Morris. I already approved the concept and name. No clue on Nakar's replacement yet, or Kullockh's.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Introducing GURPS Combat to New Players

This post springs from two different sources.

The first was a question in this thread, one I linked to earlier.

The second was seeing this post over on threed6, a blog about gaming in general but GURPS-powered fantasy gaming in specific.

The GURPS combat system is potentially very complex. It has a simple underlying mechanic (roll 3d low to hit or defend yourself, roll high for effect) but it has a lot of options. How many? There are a multiple chapters in the Basic Set about combat, and some dudes went off and wrote a whole book of more combat rules.

Even for experienced RPG players, there is a lot of options you can turn on, depending on how cinematic/unrealistic or how detailed you want it to be.

How do you introduce new players to GURPS combat?

By players I am thinking both new players with an experienced GM, or new players with a new GURPS GM. In either case, I am assuming they've played an RPG before.

My advice is:

- start with Combat Lite, from pg. 324-328 of GURPS Basic Set: Characters.

- if you use minis and maps, do so, but use them just for locations of the PCs and NPCs. Don't bust out the Tactical Combat rules just yet.

- only turn on optional rules that directly affect the PCs at hand in a major way. If you have a guy with a two-handed sword and you want to use the rules for multiple parries with two-handed weapons (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 123), then use that specific rule. Same with an archer type who might need the rules for Quick-Shooting Bows (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 119) - add that one in from the start if a PC would need it to run their character as designed or conceived. Or if someone makes a big beefy guy who intends to run people down with his spiked shield, yeah, better use the slam rules from p. B371-2.

- DO use the rules for Deceptive Attacks (p. B369) right away, because otherwise fights might drag on when they'd normally be won with ease by the more skilled fighter.

All other optional rules? Turn them off. Ignore them. All hits go to the torso unless people aim at other places and you feel like letting them. Critical hits just bypass defense rolls, and only 3s do anything interesting (max damage). Don't worry about bad footing penalties, flanking shots, lighting penalties, etc. right now.

Add them in, one or two at a time, each session. Get used to the ones you have in play before you go and add more on top. Turning on all the options at once will result in a slow game, forgotten rules, and less fun. It would be like starting with an 18th level magic-user in AD&D on your very first session - too much to deal with at once.

- enforce some speed of decision. I do 3-2-1 counts if it looks like someone is wasting time trying to decide on the "best" option. This will encourage more flow, and get through turns more quickly, which means more practice actually playing the rules.

- put the books away. Just run it based on what you remember and fix it next session or after a break.

- don't forget it's a game. You can declare a do-over if it all turns out stupidly because people didn't understand defenses or what All-Out Attack really means or that armor is important.

What about new-to-RPGs players?

For these folks, keep it even simpler. Use the rules as above if you are all starting out. Otherwise you can use the normal, full set of rules. Just tell them the basics for now.

Then, have them tell you what they want to do on their turn, in real terms, and interpret that for them. Teach them the rules for it bit by bit, but stress the important thing is GURPS will generally reward you for doing the reasonable and realistic thing in that situation. So let them say "Can I hit him in the head with my sword?" and say "Yes, that's an Attack, and you probably mean the top of his head to brain him, so roll at your skill minus 7." That sort of thing.

Some notes on this:

- tell people their broad options. Let them know they can attack normally, do nothing except defend, or attack without regard to defense. Let them know they can wait and attack later, and just ask them for their trigger.

- tell them they can make their attacks a little more subtle or speedy or whatever to be harder to defend against but harder for them to land, and then just apply the result as a flat number (if they want to, make it -4 to hit, -2 to defend).

- as they get the hang of it more, teach them more of the rules. But always emphasize that they'll get further by doing the realistic thing than by trying to game the system for maximum results.

- if they are at a table with new GURPSers, too, well, I think that is very tricky. It might be better to teach them a game you know better, or hold off on the invite until you have a rules guru (or at least rules understander) to lean on. You don't want to teach someone to drive the same day you're learning.

What else is out there to help?

The Combat Cards are good, for people helped by that sort of thing. Make sure you only pass out the ones you need, and scribble out rules you aren't using yet. You can re-print new ones as you add options.

Is this how you learned, Dungeon Fantastic Dude?

No, I learned playing Man-to-Man. We played the earliest version of the GURPS combat system as a tactical wargame with character generation rules. It was fun, but it was all we were doing - there was no concern over time spent, getting on with the adventure, keeping the flow going. The fighting was the whole point, and dwelling on the minutia was part of the fun. It wasn't a big deal if Rogan the Reaver lost to Fiendish Frederick this time, we'd just play again later. By the time we got to 1st edition GURPS, most of us were old hands at the combat system.

But this is how I play. I run with a minimal combat rules set much of the time, to speed the fun-but-not-critical fights along. The big fun fights get played with much more detail, of course, since that's how we like it. And this is how I teach the game this way now, and I think it works well.

I hope this helps people with GURPS combat involving new players, new GMs, or new role-players.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Salvaging Dragonlance: DL4 Dragons of Desolation (Dragonlance Megadungeon)

I'm still reading my Dragonlance modules to see what's good and useful in them.

DL4 is another extremely railroady adventure - you can only do certain things, and if you don't, the NPCs will do them for you. But it does have some really cool stuff in it, making it worth tracking down a copy for salvagable bits.

DL4 Dragons of Desolation

There are a few things worth stealing here.

The Kingdom of Thorbardin Maps - This is a megadungeon. The Kingdom of Thorbardin consists of miles of tunnels connecting some miles-long blocks of underground city sections, underground caverns, burial mounds, and even an underground lake with its own cable boat system.

They take a clever dodge of using 16 different 30 x 30 square (300 x 300) geomorphs and arranging them into the sections of the city. The map is layed out like a checkboard, with each box saying which geomorph is there and which orientation it gets.

I say the dodge is clever because it reduces the mapping load, and it has a good explanation - dwarves are conservative, and like things done the same way over and over. Fair enough. That and the layout keys make for fast and easy mapping for the GM. I think it would also be interesting - the PCs will be able to acclimate to what the dwarven city looks like, and concentrate on the monsters and stuff and weirdness not odd-shaped rooms and layouts. Plus it helps make it feel big.

The sheer scale is impressive - the North Gate (where the PCs enter in the adventure) has three levels that consist of (by my count) 119 geomorphs. That's not small. While it is largely empty space in the adventure (for good reasons in the game world), it doesn't have to be.

But seriously, this is a ready-to-go megadungeon map. I'd make some photocopies of the maps so I can orient them and mesh them together. But it's Mines of Moria big here. Plus you can easily put your own additional geomorphs if you wanted some sections to be different.

Check out the geomorphs (and the overall layout of the kingdom in the upper right)

The Floating Tomb - Another 3-d dungeon. This one has a good idea (it's a special area with a special MacGuffin, so its guardians ripped it out of the earth and stuck it flying in the air). The map is easy to use and has a sensible layout.

I think they missed a good chance, though - a hovering dungeon you need to get to with a shattered gate (a problem in and of itself) is cool. Making it actively guarded is cool, too. But I always felt it would be better if it the tomb was ripped out of the ground but hovering in a huge cavern would be cooler. Still, easily done if you don't need to write in some climactic scripted encounter.

Still, an easy steal.

Monsters. In addition to the three draconian types introduced so far, there is one cool new monster: the fireshadow. This is an evil extraplanar undead creature made of cold, dark, green flame with a death ray and a flame attack that spreads evil flame exactly like green slime spreads.

The rest of the adventure, well, the sandboxy bits from DL3 have been tossed out the window for a bunch of scripted crud. But man, cheap megadungeon I bet your players haven't been to yet.

Administrative Note: I am skipping DL5. There is nothing remotely gameable in DL5 - it does have a nice map of Krynn, but better ones are easy to find. So, DL5 has nothing to salvage for a non-Dragonlance game, unless you really need the history of the Heroes of the Lance for another game. I will be back next week with DL6

The Rest of the Series:

DL1 Dragons of Despair
DL2 Dragons of Flame
DL3 Dragons of Hope
DL4 Dragons of Desolation
DL6 Dragons of Ice
DL7 Dragons of Light
DL8 Dragons of War
DL11 Dragons of Glory / DL12 Dragons of Faith

Thursday, December 6, 2012

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy buying order

If you ever wondered what you'd need, in what order, to get into GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, the line editor lays it out right here.

Lots of books, yes (16 counting the monster book, 17 with the adventure), plus the Basic Set and Magic, but lots of the supplements are inexpensive. If you bought the lot it would only be $138.83 for all of them. And as Sean Punch points out, you don't need all of them. Or even really half of them.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Salvaging Dragonlance: DL3 Dragons of Hope

This Dragonlance adventure is pretty interesting - while it does have some railroady elements, it's actually a limited sandbox of an adventure.

The basic plot is that the PCs just finished DL2, and escaped from Pax Tharkas after freeing the prisoners of the Dragonlords. They end up on the far side of the fortress, encounter the refugees, and then have to guide them to temporary safety while they find a way into the Dwarven kingdom and long-term safety.

They need to evade a pursuing Dragonlord army which relentlessly spreads out to conquer the lands at a pre-determined pace.

It's set up nicely - there are both timeline and location based encounters. There is a tradeoff for humanity - you can ditch the wagons and the old and infirm for speed (if you can convince the refugee leaders to do so). It even suggests an XP value of 10 per refugee you get to safety, so "victory" is measured in live bodies and not just dead enemies. Lots of tradeoffs to make, the refugees don't automatically listen to you (they elect their own leaders who make you advisors), and you don't always know what's waiting for you.

There is a pretty cool dungeon in it, too.

I suppose people can find a way to make this a railroad ("But what if you don't want to escort the refugees?" Etc.) but it's pretty open. There is really only one good place worth ending up, for a variety of scripted reasons, but again, the idea is sound. Explore while fleeing. :)

DL3 Dragons of Hope

What can we salvage?

The Mass Combat System - a very quick-and-dirty mass combat system comes with this. Basically armed 1st level NPCs count as 1 point, PCs and name NPCs count for 5 each, and using magic, defensive position, terrain, etc. counts for more. Same for the bad guys. When you have an encounter, you make a roll to see if the shaky refugees even stand and fight. If they do, both sides roll to see what they do to the enemy.

It's not a bad system, and I think it could work outside of this context with a few tweaks - say, above-1st level folks are worth 1 pt per level, higher HD creatures the same, etc. and roll and inflict damage. It would be fast and bloody and determine casualties quickly.

The Political System - I like that the refugees immediately create their own council of leaders and relegate the PCs to lobbying for their decisions. There is a dice-based system for politicking, although the module does say you should roleplay it much of the time. No matter, it's the dice-based system that might work elsewhere. Why put the PCs in charge when they can be forced to dicker with NPCs and horsetrade to get them to do what they think is best? Sounds like fun.

The Attrition Rules - What if some of the refugees melt away, or die off? Covered. Could be useful for military attrition, too - something I rarely see come up in games. Easy steal to see how many orcs or mercs or hirelings are there each day as the PCs force march them around looking for trouble.

The Area Crawl - The refugee movement around the area is by hexes per hour, but encounters are by area and Dragonlord conquest is by area. This makes the PC-centric decisions tactical and narrow in focus but the referee based ones simple and broad. Nice. Plus the whole idea of "get the X to Y before Z arrives and wipes you out" is a good wilderness plot line. Change the Pax Tharkas refugees to the caravan of bickering merchants and the the safe zone to the oasis and Z to raiding bandits and you've got a desert adventure all ready to go. You can steal this whole idea and the tools above for dealing with mass group adventuring.

Skullcap - Another 3-d dungeon map, complete with a kickass descent (climbing down the shredded remnants of a destroyed metal staircase), a 3-level maze of invisible walls and floors guarded by an active mechanical defender, and a few trick rooms that make sense in context and in the game world but which are also challenging. Oh, and you go in the dungeon through the eyes or mouth of a skull-shaped rock, and they aren't all paved entrances. This one is a good whole-cloth theft target.

Draconians - the same three from the previous books are here: Baaz, Bozak, and Kapak. Nice pictures of them, too. Useful if you don't have earlier books.

This whole adventure, except one useless bit with Gully Dwarves, is worth ripping off for rules, locations, and a good method of using a wilderness hexcrawl with external pressure. The series might be flawed but this one has a lot of good stuff in it.

The Rest of the Series:

DL1 Dragons of Despair
DL2 Dragons of Flame
DL3 Dragons of Hope
DL4 Dragons of Desolation
DL6 Dragons of Ice
DL7 Dragons of Light
DL8 Dragons of War
DL11 Dragons of Glory / DL12 Dragons of Faith

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Salvaging Dragonlance: DL2

Next in my look at the Dragonlance modules for usable bits is the second one. This is the one where the rails get firmly driven in - the players go through a whole unavoidable rigamarole of seeing their home town ravaged, getting taken prisoner (regardless of their choices or actions), getting rescued (again, regardless of their choices or actions), and being unable kill any NPCs of any importance. Heck, it even has a totally obvious NPC plant trying to insert himself into the group, but it's not clear what happens if the PCs just knife him.

The book firmly states you have to keep important NPCs alive or give them obscure deaths because they are plot-important. It even says "This does not apply to PCs other than those who are part of the story." Meaning, the pre-made PCs. Heck, some of those PCs are so important you must run them to play the adventure.

So take it as read we don't want to play this module with anyone who likes choices or to be important in the story.

But what's useful in that old copy moldering in your mom's basement?

DL2 Dragons of Flame

Maps - Stephen D. Sullivan's maps in this one don't match Diesel's in DL1, but the map is still the most useful part. The big mountain-to-mountain valley-blocking fort, with multiple levels a small secret entrance through the crypt is potentially useful as a dwarf-hold (abandoned or otherwise) in another campaign. While it's unlikely any party would choose hey-diddle-diddle-straight-up-the-middle instead of "there must be a secret entrance!" it's useful for a wargaming scenario, too. A nice picture of the fortress is included, too, right on the inside of the outer cover.

The map of the Inn of the Last Home isn't bad for a tree-top inn although the battle damage it shows limits the circumstances of its use. Otherwise it's pretty generic.

Draconians - the Baaz and Bozak of DL1, we get the Kapak here. The Kapak have poisonous saliva, and they lick their weapons before attacking with them. They also turn into a big pool of acid when they die, consuming them and their carried items alike. Again, another cool dragon man.

Cool Magic Items - well, the sword Wyrmslayer has a nice twist to it (it's a good dragon detector, but you won't sneak up on any with it), and the evil mace has a nice special effect on it - it blinds opponents on command (and a successful hit). Not bad for non-generic items.

That's about it. The key to the map isn't much more than a generic dungeon, so it's potentially salvageable but it doesn't have anything really interesting on it.

The Rest of the Series:

DL1 Dragons of Despair
DL2 Dragons of Flame
DL3 Dragons of Hope
DL4 Dragons of Desolation
DL6 Dragons of Ice
DL7 Dragons of Light
DL8 Dragons of War
DL11 Dragons of Glory / DL12 Dragons of Faith

Monday, December 3, 2012

Reading Dragonlance modules for Salvage (today, DL1)

Dragonlance sure gets a lot of hate on the internet.

I kind of understand why, although we loved the first six books and the couple of short stories when I was a young teen (and a bit beyond).

The modules, though, are especially subject to vitriol. Part of that I also understand - they're very railroady, and assume you do X and Y and Z in a certain fashion the previous module, and keep you on the story no matter what. They aren't exactly alone in that, though. The A1-A4 series did that in spades, but were still loads of fun.

They also choked some plot down your gullet. No matter how hard you tried to kill name NPCs, they'd always return because they were plot dependent. Certain things happened and you couldn't avoid them at all.

They even had songs - and music scores, because nothing said "Take my fighter off to fight dragons" like a song about NPCs cooler than you. Or delivering the backstory of the world in song - yeah, I skipped the songs in LOTR, I'm not reading yours either.

And for goodness' sake, they made steel the main coin with gold worth a fraction of a piece of steel (they say gold is "worthless" repeatedly, but it's actually worth 1/10 of a steel piece). Weapons were made of steel but cost less than their weight in steel pieces. And they basically downplayed killing things and taking their stuff.

But they aren't all bad.

I know some of my friends played through most of them, using their own homemade PCs, and had a wild time smacking around dragons with dragonlances, chopping up draconians, and otherwise doing adventurer stuff. I don't think they knew they were supposed to resent the story-rails or even cared - fight monsters, get some stuff, go fight more monsters.

I played a couple of them, as evidenced by hand-written notes in the margins, crossed-out HP of monsters (heck, someone killed Fewmaster Toede in one shot based on my HP count for him! 22 HP be damned!), and notes about loot. I know that game didn't last long, but it wasn't the modules' fault.

Plus the products were really attractive in some ways, and heck, one even came with a fun wargame (we played it to death, so much so some counters fell apart and got lost).

But I don't think anyone would be swayed into thinking these are masterpieces of gaming goodness that should be taken out, re-evaluated, and then put up on a pedestal. Maybe if one of the cool kids said so, sure, but not some GURPS player. However, I think they have some bits of pieces of value in them.

So I'm going to go through my Dragonlance modules (I have more than half of the series) and highlight what I think is good and useful for bringing to another game.

I'll start right now with the first one, and see what's worth saving and re-purposing.

DL1 Dragons of Despair

What's good and useful:

Maps - The inside cover is a big 3-d map of the caverns of Xak Tsorath. It's a 70+ room dungeon (more if you count 10x10 cells as "rooms" or collapsed rooms as encounter areas) spread over multiple levels. While there are few ways from one section to the next, once you get into the dungeon there are a few paths you can take, and some choice areas you can bypass. The map is done by Diesel, too, and his maps are always attractive. This map is an easy grab, too, even without the text. It is numbered oddly, since the module numbers everything in it with one count instead of by-area or by-dungeon.

The swampy ruins above Xak Tsorath is also a very easy grab!

Xak Tsorath - the big dungeon isn't bad, actually. You'd probably want to change the details and put in treasure, and read less of the boxed text. But it's got some good stuff:

- a dragon really using a multi-level dungeon with airborne access to defend itself and who uses a magic item.
- rickety floors that could collapse
- an elevator (of sorts)
- slides
- a spirit guardian you can fight or negotiate with
- generally logically placed treasures and opposition
- foes with "allies" you can potentially split off

Some of those would follow the map if you pulled it out by itself, but the map key does really explain some of them well.

It does have Gully Dwarves (comic relief more than anything else) and Kender and all of that, though, so you'd probably want to swap them out. I'd go for cowardly but treacherous goblins, myself ("These guys are cute and scared of us, I'm sure we can trust them with our backs turned . . . ")

Draconians This module introduces the Baaz and Bozak draconians. These guys are pretty cool - they have limited flight, claw or weapon attacks, and pretty solid anti-magical defenses. The Baaz turn to stone when slain, possibly trapping weapons. The Bozak cast spells, and explode upon death. If you can't find a way to port dragon-men who turn to stone (or just that when-slain effect on another monster) or who explode (ditto) you just aren't trying. (My players are hereby warned.)

Odds and Ends A few lesser bits:

- Spectral Minions. Basically, low-rent ghosts, which show a way to use weaker spectral undead in a lower-level adventure. Plus these ghosts aren't all malign, so they make a good potential "friendly ghost" encounter or informational encounter. I also like the idea that folks who die with a weapon in their hands can fight in ghost form with a ghost weapon for real effect.

- Solace. The descriptions of the tree-town of Solace could be pressed into service for your local Ewok Village/Robin Hood tree lair/Elf city as needed.

- The rarely used idea of different currencies in different areas. The exchange rate they have can be lifted and the coins changed easily.

- They tell you how much the steel doors are worth if you carry them to town and sell them. Clearly, they played with my group.

- A couple good Easley illustrations that show adventuring locales (I'm thinking pages 12 and 19.)

All in all, DL1 has some good stuff you can steal if you've got a copy lying around or one you can get on the cheap. It's not the best adventure to play through, although in retrospect it does a good job of bumping you towards the end instead of ramming you there (lots of NPCs either push you or pull you towards the goal, and players seeking adventure are likely to take the hint about where the action is). Still, the maps, the draconians, and some of the bits of the final adventure are really worth using elsewhere.

The Rest of the Series:

DL1 Dragons of Despair
DL2 Dragons of Flame
DL3 Dragons of Hope
DL4 Dragons of Desolation
DL6 Dragons of Ice
DL7 Dragons of Light
DL8 Dragons of War
DL11 Dragons of Glory / DL12 Dragons of Faith
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