Thursday, February 28, 2013

What do people who love the game, hate about that game?

One thing I find interesting is what people dislike about the games they like.

It's usually very different than the common wisdom of what's wrong with the game.

Rolemaster is my best example of this. One of my friends goofs on it sometimes, knowing I played it. He calls it "chartmaster." "Hold on, there is a table for that." "I could do that, but I need to look it up on a table."

But in my experience people who play Rolemaster don't bitch about rolling on the critical hit tables. They don't groan about how un-fun having a special table for your weapon is. They don't moan about figuring out what -60% and lose both legs means. That's where the fun is. Rolling on the critical hit table was even better than finding out what was in that treasure chest the monster was guarding.

When we bitched about Rolemaster, it was having to do some of the chargen. It was being unable to get healed up after your first fight and then needing a new PC right away. It was about taking a long, long time to generate NPCs level by level. We didn't like the whole "roll to see if you learn spells." As much as the game was fun, the whole class-and-level-and-point-buy aspect was really time consuming. We liked the game, but not that aspect. The few times I attempted to re-start playing the game after we'd quit all halted during the process of trying to re-write chargen so it was a little easier and more balanced . . . not because of the tables.

It's a lot more interesting to me to know what the people who love the game hated about it. Sometimes what looks terrible on paper plays well and is a source of the fun. It's more instructive to know what doesn't work for the people who actually like the rest of the system.

So what game system do you love, and what's the part about it that sucks (contrary to the common wisdom), or what is said to suck about your game system of choice that actually doesn't (contrary to common wisdom)?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Giant-sized humanoid striking tactics for GURPS

Here are some tips for giant-sized, high-strength humanoids in combat in GURPS. Mostly giants, like this fellow here, but also ogres, djinn and ifrits, big weapon-using demons, etc. It's aimed at armed striking; grappling is a big topic and it depends heavily on your skill and what rules you are using. Striking is a bit easier to deal with, but still can stump a new GM wondering how to make giants a real threat with weapons.

First, the best way to be a giant-sized fighter is to also be a highly skilled giant-sized fighter. Skill wins fights in GURPS (much like in reality), and you need some skill to fight.

No matter how high your ST, you must hit the target, and then the target must fail to defend, in order to take advantage of that damage. Miss or have the guy defend and it doesn't matter how much damage you could have done.

Second, you must be able to survive your opponent's turn. High HP from ST is nice, but against a powerful delver (such as a knight doing 3d+8 cut, like the one in my DF game) it won't keep you alive long.

But as a GM it can be painful to make giants with skill 18 or 20 just to keep up with the PCs who casually parry their attacks, feint them, and then slaughter them. It seems like too much skill, and it's implying a level of weapon mastery that might just not be appropriate. What if the giant's skill is more like 12-14? What can you do to still be a threat to human-sized delvers who have high defenses and high-powered attacks?

Throw Stuff - Familiarize yourself with the rules for throwing objects on Basic Set, p. 355. A high ST will let you throw pretty heavy stuff pretty far. The sweet spots are right between BL/2 and "up to BL" - you do the most damage at the best range. Second-best is a bit heavier. Try to get a good range and damage, and throw away. Stones, etc. are okay. Weapons are better - throwing axes, slings (swing damage!), and maces are good choices. Thrust-based attacks are second best, but can be very lethal. Throwing weapons will reduce the defense choices of your targets and limit their options to retaliate while you attack.

Heavy Weapons - Try to take advantage of the rules on Parrying Heavy Weapons (p. B376). Most human-sized (SM 0) opponents you'll face will use weapons in the 2-6 pound range (average is about 3, for a Broadsword or Small Mace). Two-handed weapons will get up into the 7-12 pound range, depending on which ones. To break these weapons, you need a weapon 3x this weight. To automatically overcome parries by these weapons, you need a weapon heavier than their Basic Lift. So get a big weapon (possible oversized - check DF1 or LTC2 for rules on these) of at least 10 pounds, preferably 15+, is a great choice. Two-handed weapon users and shield users will frustrate this, but you limit the options of the one-handed weapon parrying types significantly.

. . . but not TOO Heavy - Avoid weapons that have a U on their Parry (so you can't attack and Parry on the same turn) if possible (but see Defensive Attack below), and ones with a double-dagger indicating they need to be re-readied. Time you spend not attacking or unable to defend except by Dodge is time you are vulnerable.

Chain Weapons - Look into using a flail or chain of some kind. Morningstars, kusari, flails, or nunchaku are all good choices. Parry against them is -4, Block is -2. They are a bit harder to use but they effectively trade 1 point of skill for a -2 Deceptive Attack (-4 parry, -2 block, no penalty to Dodge). They won't help against Dodge monsters, however, but they may force opponents into dodging.

Armor Up - Armor is heavy when you are big, but you need to protect your vital areas and your legs/feet. You won't be able to last long if you can't stop a high-damage cutting attack from just sawing one of your legs out from under you. Carrying an appropriately-sized shield so you can Block missiles and melee attacks and gain the DB for your Dodge and Parry.

Okay, that's gear choices. But we still need to turn that moderate skill (12-14) into a winning skill.

Reach - use your Reach. A bigger fighter + a big weapon = a long reach. Use Wait, take steps back, etc. Sure, charging forward into the shortest possible range and doing All-Out Attacks sounds good, but it means a short life and makes giant-sized opponents nothing more than high-HP fodder. Don't be fodder. Save AOAs for right after the highly-skilled opponent Feints you badly out of position and you feel like you need to incapacitate him now to survive. Otherwise, defend first and damage second. Keeping a foe out of his easy melee range and backing up to force him to come to you can keep you out of a skilled attacker's Feint range, too, so you don't need to worry that his skill will overcome yours. Try to force your opponent to All-Out Attack, Committed Attack, or Move and Attack to reach you.

The rest of these require GURPS Martial Arts. Sorry. Basic Set doesn't give you a lot of tactical tools for strong guys. GURPS Martial Arts specifically set out to correct that.

Defensive Attack - the stronger you are, the more this costs to use. But do it anyway. Trade some of your damage for a +1 to defend, or to allow you to defend despite attacking with a Parry U weapon. Losing 1 point per die on a 5d+3 attack is trivial if it means avoiding a damaging swipe in return. Your "jab" is a knockout, so why not take the +1 to one defense for what's effectively little cost?

Fight like George Foreman did in his comeback. You know you have a one-punch knockout. So wait for the chance to throw it, and keep working on your opponent to get an opening.

Telegraphic Attack - this is your friend. You trade a +2 to your opponent's defenses for a +4 to your own hit roll. +4 turns a 12 skill into a 16 - that's the optimal - best chance to avoid a critical failure; critically successes aren't affected by Telegraphic Attack. It turns a 14 into an 18, which allows you to absorb up to 2 points in penalties for hit location, bad footing, or other assorted penalties like Shock.

But it gives your opponent a +2 to defend! This is true, but it's better to force a roll to defend than to just miss. A failed defense roll or a natural 18 (critical failure!) can only happen if you hit. So suck up the +2 and hope they fail to defend. If they do, try against - and if that defense is a Parry or a Block, all the better for Beat.

Beat - Beat is your friend. It's a ST-based feint. In order to beat, you need to have prior contact with your opponent. If they Parried or Blocked your last attack, or your Parried theirs, you can Beat. This is where Defensive Attack and Telegraphic Attack help you. DA gives you a better chance to Parry or Block, and then you can use your weapon or shield to Beat. Telegraphic Attack helps you hit, which might score past their defenses and kill the target. If they Parry or Block, you get to Beat. Beat is resisted by either DX-based or ST-based skill, so highly skilled opponents can still counter. But a ST 28 giant has an edge over anything other than a skill 28 opponent. This really helps strong opponents.

Remember that Beat affects the defenses of the target against all attackers, so this helps if you have allies (fodder, fellow giants, whatever). Set the guy up for your friends to butcher!

Beat is limited to one defense, so a two-weapon fighter (who can parry your attacks), a Dodge-based defender, or a weapon-and-shield defender can likely frustrate this approach. But it does limit the options of the defender.

Finally, Consider Rapid Strike using Extra Effort. Spend the FP to drop the attacks from -6/-6 to -3/-3 and go for a pair of Telegraphic Attacks, or a TA and Beat, or Beat and Attack, whatever. You'll need a good pool of FP to do this, however.

All of this advice applies to a lesser and lesser extent the more skilled you get. If you are a ST 30 guy with Weapon Master, Broadsword-20, and Shield-20, you're going to fight like any other skilled attacker and just have higher damage in the process. But for a moderate to low skill high strength humanoid, it's worth trying the approach(es) above to be a real threat.

I hope that helps some GMs who wonder why their players regard the ST 25 skill 12 ogre as fodder but treat the ST 13 skill 15 orcs with a little respect.

Monday, February 25, 2013

GURPS & Combat Skill (other blog posts worth reading)

GURPS combat gives you a spread of possibilities not open in much more abstract combat systems - you can decide how much you want to commit to your attack (All-Out Attack, Committed Attack, Attack, Defensive Attack), where you want to attack (various hit locations from "anywhere is fine" all the way down to optional rules covering spine, arteries, and joints), and how you are attacking (normally, telegraphically, deceptively, as a progressive indirect attack aka setup attack), attack mode (point or edge, or even point, edge, or something exotic), and even how you're defending (riposting, stop hitting, stop thrusting, or counterattacking).

Whew, a lot to choose from, if you're even using half the options from GURPS Martial Arts. If you just stick to Basic Set, about half the stuff I listed above disappears - but not all of it. There is still enough to make it tricky to figure out what's useful to do with the skills your PC has.

But even once you know those options, it really helps if you know what your odds are - what a skill 12 versus skill 15 versus skill 18 even means in actual play.

A few things are fairly obvious - the higher the skill you roll against, the better. Getting a net final skill roll (aka effective skill) of 15 ups your critical hit chances (crits go from 3-4 to 3-5). A 16+ is even better, because it cuts critical failures down (17 is a normal failure, 18 critical, instead of 16 being a failure and 17-18 critical failure) and raises your chances at a critical hit (3-6, or almost 10% of the time).

Luckily, Doug Cole has covered this for both melee and missile weapons.

Skill Levels for Combat in GURPS (well, melee anyway).

Skill Levels for Ranged Combat in GURPS

Those two posts helps break down a lot of options and possibilities into a few good guidelines. If you're just getting started in GURPS or if one of your players is, this is a good way to figure out what makes sense to try out in fights.

If you want to try out GURPS combat, I've just heard that someone is hosting a Saturday night online "GURPS gladiators" game (looks to be small g, not only the Retarius vs. Murmillo kind). No, I won't be there, I'm busy on Saturday nights right now.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

PCs are special. They are beautiful and unique snowflakes.

"You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake."

So spoke Tyler Durden, while assembling his army of terror. (In my interpretation, because he couldn't just own up to liking Marla and hating his job, but that's neither here nor there.)

It's often quoted about PCs, especially in old school games.

But I have to disagree.

The PCs are unique. They are special.

Why do I say so?

1 : distinguished by some unusual quality; especially : being in some way superior
2 : held in particular esteem
3 a : readily distinguishable from others of the same category : unique
b : of, relating to, or constituting a species : specific
4 : being other than the usual : additional, extra
5 : designed for a particular purpose or occasion "

1: being the only one : sole
2 a : being without a like or equal : unequaled
2 b : distinctively characteristic : peculiar
3 : unusual

I think a lot of those fit PCs.

They are ones you play. The world is full of NPCs. You generally aren't playing out their exploits, tracking their growth, calculating their encumbrance, and rolling for their actions. The ones you care about are the PCs. Obvious, sure, but it's important. It's part of what makes them special - they're different from the NPCs/GMPCs/whatever you call them in the rest of the world.

They are the interesting folks. Do you play out the lives of boring people doing ordinary things and then let them hear from the GM about the cool NPCs doing the cool adventures? No? Too Mary Sue, probably? The players get to run the people who do the things worth doing, or you're left wondering, why not play the others?

Generally you're playing interesting folks doing interesting things. Or not-so-interesting folks doing interesting things. But they're worth paying attention to.

The game does revolve around them. You show up on Sunday (at least on my schedule) and play these guys, out of everyone in the world. What happens to them and what they do is where the fun comes from in the game. The world doesn't revolve around them (although it might, depending on the campaign and game), but play does.

It's even perfectly okay in some game systems for the PCs to use different rules. Sometimes it's a matter of resolution (early D&D doesn't stat out monsters and PCs to the same degree) or actually different rules (Check how GURPS influence rolls work on PCs - you can make NPCs do stuff, but merely penalize PCs for acting against what the dice dictate.)

You generally get each guy once. Unique - if your knight Fred the Fearless dies, it's generally not considered okay to just make a new guy named Fred the Fearless with the same stats. They aren't interchangeable like chess pawns (or even chess kings). If Fred the Fearless dies irrevocably, his experiences die with him, even if the player can remember them. His next guy can't claim to have done the stuff his previous guy did. Even if you do allow people to just, say, put a "II" or "Jr." next to the guy's name and run him, it's still a different character.

Okay, so if say they're special . . .

Does this mean you fudge rolls for them? No, that's a different decision. "Special" does not mean "given special privileges" or "get the rules changed for them." That may be a valid decision in some games, but it's not the same decision. In some games, yeah, the world really does work differently for PCs than for NPCs. In others, the rules are more-or-less the same but main contain some differences (D&D has different attack matrices for monsters vs. classed PCs, and monsters don't generally come with stats or stat modifiers). Some games - Dying Earth for one - is especially brutal in this regard, since NPCs and other PCs can force you to play your PC differently based on their and your rolls.

Does this mean the world is play-balanced for them at all levels of play? No, that's also a different decision. "Special" and "unique" do not need to mean "provided a consistent challenge." Again, a different decision. It's a choice about how you structure the campaign world and the play within it, not a judgment on the PCs per se.

Do I need to make up a 10-page background for them? No, of course not. And "special" and "unique" doesn't imply a huge background. Snowflakes don't need to have a 10-page background to be unique and special. You can whip a guy up in one minute and play him the next minute and he's still special, even if his background is "Fred the Second, little brother of Fred the Fearless, takes up his brother's gear and heads to the dungeon to avenge his brother." Done. Still special. You'll still remember the guy if he accomplishes anything interesting, even if parts of his character and specific details fade away.

So I'm just saying . . . In my opinion, the "beautiful and unique snowflake" thing is a bit overused and it's a fairly inaccurate characterization.

Really, what people want to say, in my experience, is "In old school games, PCs don't deserve special consideration just for being PCs." I think that's true, but they are beautiful and unique snowflakes all the same. They are all different, they're pretty delicate, and you treasure them until they melt, which happens depressingly often if you play my sorts of games.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Adventurers Become Dungeon Dwellers

One of my players burst out with a gem at our most recent game session.

The players started to talk about staying in the dungeon, protecting it from other adventurers, and otherwise ensuring they maximize their loot without letting anyone else get any.

"Is this how dungeon monsters get started?"

Pretty much.

Step 1 - find the dungeon.

Step 2 - start to exploit its treasures.

Step 3 - worried about rivals, you start to camp out at the dungeon, set traps, ally with monsters in the dungeon to help you protect it, etc.

Step 4 - you finally move into the dungeon full time. You can only protect so much, so you start locking doors, setting traps, blocking off passages, and creating your own little patrol area/safe zone. You stay there with your magic items and treasure.

Step 5 - Other adventurers finally show up, and you instantly and suspiciously attack them. They're clearly the other adventurers come for your stuff that you've feared this whole time. They're after your stuff and that of the other monsters whose loot you covet for yourself.

Final stage - Before you know it, you went from "Borriz Borrizman, bold dwarven delver!" to "that crazy dwarf in Room 23."

So if you ever wondered about the Lich-King down on level 11, well, he started as an adventurer and just didn't leave. Now he's down there, and yes, he does regard all of the treasure in the whole damn dungeon as his. That's why he moved into the dungeon into the first place, to protect it from you!

Thanks to Aaron, Borriz's player, for this eminently logical train of thought.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why Game Systems Have Bloat (aka, Support)

Often the concept of game systems getting bigger - more rule books, more supplements, more adventurers, more everything - is presented in pretty malicious terms. The companies want dependent customers, so they keep out a steady supply of supplements that you need, to keep you dependent on them.

While this can be true it's not the only model I see. I see this one a lot:

1) Game comes out. People buy it and like it.

2) People clamor for more support for the game. Authors and publishers and fans alike want to add their own stuff to the game. ("I like GURPS but it needs ninjas. Here's a book on ninjas.") If it doesn't get this support, it probably dies somehere along the line. If it does, it might be fan demand ("Write a book on ninjas!") or authorial ideals ("I love this game, but it needs ninjas!") Or it might just be a fanzine, or a fan publication, or a fan website. People want support for their games, and either buy it or make it.

3) Eventually there is so much stuff out there that people feel like it's too much, problems with the system's design choices are exposed, and want to try starting over with the basics. A new version comes out. Start over at #1, if it's done well.

Repeat repeatedly.

You can try to dodge around this a few ways, and there are good ways to do it (supplements are useful but truly optional for play) and less good ways to do it (supplements are critical and non-optional for any kind of play in the larger community). There are good reboots (new version fixes nagging problems in the old one) and bad reboots (new version creates new problems, or serves only to replace something that didn't need replacing). Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

That's speaking as someone who writes supplements and buys them. I write stuff I think the game could really use, and I hope to sell them to people who think the same thing ("Yes, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy really does need ninjas!") It's part of the life cycle of games, in my opinion, and it's healthy rather than malicious.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

DF Game Session 21 - Felltower 12 - Dust of the Dead

February 17th, 2013

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Borriz, dwarven knight (310 points)
Christoph, human scout (250 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (250 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (251 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (281 points)
Vryce, human knight (about 325 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)

Still in town:
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (292 points)

The group organized in Stericksburg, as usual. Everyone was flush with cash (the vets) or just arrived in town (the new guys), so everyone got a rumor. They heard some interesting stuff. Christoph met a guy whose cousin saw some cone-hatted closed-mouth folks out by his farm to the East, and Dryst heard that a dragon was put on to of the mountain to keep the vampire wizard-elves in the deeps from coming up to kill everyone. Also, Red Raggi showed up with a fragment of a map. (Players: Hey, he spilled coffee on it. Me: It's cold out and I have sensitive smoke detectors, I couldn't char it.) It seemed show a bit of an area by the long corridor and the fire-men, but with an extended space on it.

They headed up cross Stone Bridge across the Silver River, past Sterick's Landing and the statue of Sterick the Red, up past the drifting snow, in the face of harsh, harsh winds, to the summit of the low mountain. They searched the grounds and found that a lot of traffic - at least six people, including possibly one woman or kid ("Hey, it was bring your kid to work day!") - had gone through. Especially around the well entrance and around the tower.

They went for the well. Christoph, the new scout (Kullockh's half-brother), tried to climb down. He blew his Climbing roll and started to fall. I gave him a Strength check to hold onto the rope, and he blew that. He fell and hurt his arm. Meanwhile the vets all looked down and shook their heads. Amusingly they then decided not to go in this way.

(He'd later get MVP for providing a lot of amusement at his own expense)

Then they reconsidered and went for the tower entrance, and found it locked. They couldn't decide if they'd locked it or not.

They went back to the well and down. They meandered around, trying to work their way towards the trap door to level 2. They eventually did. On the way Borriz looked up in one room and spotted an oddly smooth section of ceiling. Shape Earth moved it away, and they found a hollow space with a bag of 200 sp in it. First score.

Once they found their way to the trap door room, as they call it, they heard a garbled conversation to the north. They set an ambush, waiting for the "rival adventurers" to arrive. What came instead was a gelatinous, oozing creature, all eyes and fanged mouths. Its mad talking was just barely seemingly-understandable, and it managed to daze a couple people. Meanwhile it spit a hole in Vryce's armor and burned his skin. It didn't last long, though, as Raggi whacked it hard while berserk and it simply exploded. Flying tooth shrapnel and a big blast knocked Raggi out, and mildly wounded a few others. Borriz fed Raggi a healing potion to get him up (20HP = 2x effect from potions, which is handy) and then climbed down to the next level.

They decided to avoid the chiming trapdoor from last time, and instead took the other trap door. Vryce tried to open it but something dissolved the metal on his gauntlets and much of the leather and poisoned him, but he shrugged it off. He dropped down and landed on some poisoned caltrops, but his heavy boots saved him (even Vryce can barely hurt Vryce - he's a tank*).

They cleared the caltrops and moved on, trying to map more of level 2. But they passed a previously-cleared room and found fresh greenish blood drops - orc blood! So they snuck up (even the tanks have good Stealth), forced open the door and went in. Beyond it was a rough camp, and three orcs and an ogre. Borriz reacted immediately, throwing his crowbar at the ogre (!). He hit it easily, since he's ridiculously skilled, and badly wounded the ogre. The group charged. A few arrows, a couple of sword chops (and one greataxe slice across Chuck Morris's chest) and the orcs and ogre were dead. They found no money, but did note the orcs and ogre had some wounds to their faces and one to his unarmored arm. Further, there were sleeping spots for 5 orcs but only 3 were they.

A few rooms later they found out. A room had had its door hacked down, and inside were a bunch of stirges. They'd found a dead strix or two on this level, but clearly more came. They tried to sneak by but their lights gave them away, and the stirges stirred. So they ran (believe it or not). They ran deeper into the dungeon and closed a door behind them, and went exploring.

They explored the cold room they'd ignored earlier. Borriz braved it, armed with the flaming broadsword from the wight's crypt in B2. The room chilled him to the bone, but it didn't hurt him, so he searched around. He got colder, and then decided to leave the room. Nothing of interest was discovered.

Next, they headed up the wide corridor, re-mapping some areas they'd been before they lost their maps. In this area they found a place that look like Raggi's map ("I got it off some drunk for a drink. Maybe. I was pretty drunk too."**) So they started tapping walls and found one of them was an illusion. Some experimentation found it was 50' long, and behind it was a smoke-filled dark room. Purify Air and moving in with light sources showed it to be 50' wide and 40' deep, with three staircases running in parallel down to another level. They started to investigate on the right.

They went down and found a deeply dusty corridor turning off to the right with a black six-fingered handprint on it. Off the corridor were 30' deep 8' tall alcoves filled with niches, each holding an urn. The corridors were thick with dust, and they quickly realized much was the dust of the dead. Some broken urns were in evidence. They eventually broke some open and found they had a copper passage coin in each, etched with strange writing and with a six-fingered hand on the face and a skull on the obverse. It said (thanks to Gift of Letter, itself thanks to Wild Talent) "Passage" and "Death" on it. They took them.

A quick count showed that each alcove/short corridor (which ended with a blank wall with a red six-fingered handprint on it) had 300 urns in it. AKA 30 sp worth of coins if they busted them all. They found a 5' rough tunnel at the end of another corridor but no sign of what made it. More investigation let them to a turn to the left and a corridor with a busted up skeleton in it, with no boots, rotted clothes, and a sledgehammer head (but no handle) and a rusty knife. They poked around and heard stone crunching noises ahead. They set an ambush for what they expected - a golem. It was a stone golem with a flail. It barely got a swing in before it was smashed and chopped and bashed to pieces.

More searching found its pedestal, another tunnel connecting to the little one they'd found, and a total of 8 more side corridors. All together that was 11 x 300 = 3300 niches, most of them with a "Lesser Brother" or someone even less than that in them.

They headed back and into the central staircase. At the bottom them found a big, big room. In it were 33 sarcophagi, all white-washed and marked with a red symbol of Sterick (crossed sword and axe over a tower) and an individual symbol. Jackpot! This was Lord Verrick's long-sought relative, or at least he was somewhere. They investigated carefully, but as they moved near the center-most sarcophagi, they heard stone grinding. They immediately ran for the entrance, hoping to establish a non-surrounded position. They just barely made it (the slow guys did it with a second to spare). 33 druagr stood up. Not just draugr but Sterick's personal guard, with mail, well-made axes and swords, spears and shields. They advanced, quickly forming into a shield wall with swords or axes in front and spears in the back. The ground found they wouldn't advance past the threshold, though. So they back off and back up a level.

They decided to carefully check the third area. They did. It was guarded by a stone golem, which Borriz knocked flat and then Vryce broke up. They found more niches . . . but these were almost 30" by 30" and all capped with stone. They started to break them open - actually, Chuck Morris punched one to crack it and let Borriz pry the pieces off with his "throwbar." each had a skull on top with a pair of silver eye-coins, and a gold passage coin. Dryst read them - same as the copper. But the urns said a name and "By the Brotherhood, Let Me Pass" on them as well as "Greater Brother" on them. They found four passages like this, mostly full. They also found another tunnel like the one on the right side. They basically started to break up the niches and loot them. They found a lot of loot this way.

Meanwhile Dryst used Shape Earth to seal that tunnel, after they'd felt some warmth and heard crunching noises. But almost as soon as he'd done it, he heard more crunching and scratching, on the other side of the seal! They worked quickly and looted the rest. Vryce grabbed two intact urns with their skulls and kept them. They know a necromancer (well, Vryce's player has one) and they want to enlist his help in talking to the dead.

Long story short at this point, they looted the whole section - it took a few hours - then headed back to the surface. They made it back safely, although (and I forgot to say this at the session) it was after dark so they needed to camp out near town until the am when the gates opened up.

Again, a profitable session, and now they're well on their way to solving a bit of a side quest.

* Not the MMORPG sense. I don't play those, so my terminology is more plain that that. He's like an M1A1HA Abrams.

** Chuck Morris's player remarked "Raggi sure does live a happy life, doesn't he?" He does. Beer, women, plunder. Run out of plunder, go get more and spend it on beer and women.


Christoph is an exact clone of Kulloch at 250 points. Fair enough. Even John Woo pulls that crap.

Dryst made a copy of the map and left it in his room at the inn. Good idea.

I forgot to ask about using the dungeon with other people. The phrase "we can hunt other adventurers" came up, so maybe they aren't friendly sharing types.

Amusingly, I just filled in #28 on the 30 rumors list as "Never trust a found map." Immediately someone rolled it. Heh, nice luck. It fit, even if the map they got was accurate. I figured it would either come up immediately or six months from now.

Chuck Morris is an oddity. He's an armored martial artist, with Gigantism - he's 7' 5", 275, and uses a light horse cutter (a big naginata looking polearm), and wears a black belt. We're using a 100 Kingdoms wuxia warrior mini painted caucasian for him - not on a flying base, though. I dared him to make a trademark "crane kick" and offered him an extra +1 to hit if he does it. He hasn't yet taken me up on this.

Throwing the crowbar? I called it -2 for throwing a non-throwing weapon, -2 for a non-weapon, and -4 for range. Still an easy hit for Borriz, with his Pickaxe Penchant 4, DX 14, and lots of points in his combat skills.

The idea of burial niches that take time to loot is a bit of an homage to Barrowmaze, and it's an homage to that and the similar section (similar to me, anyway) in T1.

Finally, I love that the players figured they'd have to fight 50 wights to recover the remains and grave goods of Lord Verrick's ancestor. Well, how about 33 giant druagr warriors? Not a man of them under 6'6", and armed and armored for war. Should be fun when the PCs return.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Are you attacking or not?

One thing I dislike in game play - especially in GURPS, with its one-second time scale - is post-odd calculation take backs.

Player: "I shoot that orc."
GM: "Okay, roll for it."
Player: "Let's see, shooting between my two buddies and past that other orc, 8 yards, uh . . . I have a 7 to hit. Nevermind, I'll shoot this other guy."
GM: "Grrr!"

In some ways, doing this is fair. You check the swing, or hold the shot when you realize it's bad. Generally, if you balk to an aim-like or wait-like action (Aim, its melee equivalent Evaluate, or Wait) it feels okay and realistic.

When it gets changed to something else, or only after a long calculation, it feels very gamey. "Nevermind, instead of attacking I'll Move." So you decide to attack, change your mind, and then move as fast as the guy who knew he'd move?

It feels very gamey - sure, you can say "My character never weighed all these options, I did as a player, and then he reacted with his usual preternatural panther-like grace and speed!" I accept that. But it doesn't feel that way, and we all know you decided against it after finding out your actual odds of hitting (or after the guy next to you says "No, don't do it, I'll do this other thing so you should do something else.") It feels like what it is - you're making decisions based on in-game odds of success after you calculate them, and taking a lot of time to do it. And it avoids the very real issue of people balking or backing off a decision after making it, or taking some extra time for it (which is something Doug Cole talks about).

Plus it's one of the mortal sins of my games - wasting time. Saying "I shoot the orc" and then quickly calculating your hit odds and rolling takes a lot less time than doing the same, not rolling, and then doing something else. It's breaking up the flow of the game. It makes each turn take longer, which means longer fights, less stuff done, and more waiting by other players. You make us take time to figure out rolls that never get rolled. Please, no, just take the risk.

Generally here is how I run it:

- decide on your action.
- say you'll do it or not.
- figure out the roll you need.
- roll.

No calculate-then-change your mind. You decided, now we're just finding out if it worked, not if it's worth trying.

Now, there is a clever player dodge - quietly figure out the odds between turns, while you wait for someone else to go, and decide if you'll do it or not. Okay, you're being pro-active and not wasting time. I'm totally fine with that. Why? Because of the "not wasting time" part. You're putting work in ahead of time to save time on your turn. That is good and courteous play.

But what if you want to allow checking, balking, or changing your mind? After all, a warrior might realize he made a bad decision and then not go through with it. Plenty of time you start to make a move and then realize it's a bad idea and try to stop it. Baseball has a whole set of rules for that, and fighters will debate whether it's better to follow through on the wrong move forcefully or suffer the consequences of a halted movement.

In the post I linked above, Doug proposed a roll-based solution. Here is my own twist:

The Roll-Heavy Solution: Force an IQ-based skill roll (to realize it's a bad idea) or a DX-based skill roll (to check your attempt without putting yourself in a bad spot. On a success, you check your action, and your turn ends - treat it as "Do Nothing" for all purposes. On a critical success, you can choose another action without any penalty. On a failure, you go through with the action. On a critical failure, you suffer some kind of mishap - a roll on the Critical Miss table, or you pay for the spell but don't cast it, etc.

Optional: Halting and changing your action to Aim, Concentrate (to keep a spell up, not to cast a new one), Evaluate, or Wait (with a trigger aimed at your current target) - against the same target - does not require a roll.

Notes: You can change the roll to Tactics, best melee weapon skill or best ranged weapon skill (depending on the type of attack), spell skill roll, Thaumatology, or other skill. You can make it Per-based if you think it's a question of seeing the problem instead of understanding (IQ) or reacting to it (DX).

The No-Roll Solution: You can change your mind later, but you can only change your action to Aim, Concentrate (to keep a spell up, not cast a different one), Evaluate, Do Nothing, or Wait (with a trigger aimed at your current target). No roll is necessary; just announce your replacement action and execute it.

Neither of these has been play-tested. On paper, they sound okay. Personally I just do the "Do or don't do" binary decision, and figure once you start calculating your chance to hit you've committed to the action and the roll. But one of those approaches might work for changing your mind in combat.

Thanks to Doug for sparking this idea.

Note: I'm not talking post-roll or post-consequence take-backs. "I drop the grenade and read my pistol!" "Oops, you armed the grenade, remember? It explodes at your feet." "Oh, wait, no I don't drop it." Yes, yes you did. I don't allow those kind of take-backs. It's the "I cast this spell, oh wait, 7 is too low, I do something else" bit I don't like.

[Editing Later: Check the comment by gnomaszgames below. It has a great suggestion - use the Opportunity Fire/Target Discrimination rules (p. B390) for the mechanics of changing your mind mid-move. I like it!]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Single-Group Dungeon or Multi-Group Dungeon

It has occurred to me recently that I haven't really addressed the idea of letting other people roll through Felltower. That is, letting other gamers play in the playground I wrote for my own group - and letting those results stick in the game I play with my face-to-face group.

I designed the dungeon mostly with my own group in mind. I wrote what I thought was cool and that they'd find cool, too. But in the back of my mind, I have considered for a while the possibility of using it - in the same in-game continuity - with other players. Online, I mean - new face-to-face players would just be added to my group.

But I did not explicitly make that part of the underlying assumption of the game. I didn't come right out on session 1 and say "Guys, I can and will use this dungeon with other gamers." I didn't find out if they are okay with that.

Ultimately, I need to ask my players. If they say no . . . well, it's not just my megadungeon, it's our megadungeon. Or to put it another way, it's my dungeon but it's our game. I know they'd be fine with me running people through it in a separate continuity, but that's not what I'd want to do. I would want it to be one dungeon, with multiple groups, so people would experience the whole "living dungeon" organically and not artificially (where I say, okay, NPC party cleared rooms 4, 5, and 17 and one died in the hallway near 18)

If allowing other groups to rampage through the dungeon they play in makes it a better dungeon for them, and a better game for them, I think it's a good idea for my group.

If they don't think the idea is so keen, or the worry about losing the good loot or stumbling across traps laid by "enemy" groups makes the game less fun, then it's a bad idea for my group.

I think both thoughts on it are okay. For some, the competition would mean more fun ("Let's see what the dungeon looks like now, after the other guys went in.") For others, it might just mean stress ("We can't play this weekend so the other guys might loot the secret treasury we found.") And that stress can take away the relaxation of playing a paper man through an imaginary obstacle course.*

My plan is to ask them what they think, and then go from there.

If I did play with multiple groups, it would make session reports a real issue. Would you want to know the other guys know exactly what you did, where you went, and what you took home?

It would also make inter-party conflict a potential issue.

So there is a lot to think about, even if they say yes.

* I do a little MMA (here). I've competed, and I know people who haven't. For some, competition sharpens the game - give training an edge and makes it more interesting. For others, competition changes it from "learning cool things" into a stressful, learn-or-die situation. I think both approaches are good, and I don't knock anyone who doesn't want to turn their hobby into a competitive event. I just need to find out, from a gaming perspective, if my players are largely in the first group or the second.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Android RPG die-roller app

No time to write anything today, but luckily, my friend Rob Kohr did. He's put out his first Android app, an RPG die roller.

I don't have a smartphone, so I haven't tried this yet. But it's $0.99 and Rob is one the best programmers I know. In the "writes useable applications" sense, not in the "least people skills" sense of the phrase "best programmer."

Check it out, and let me know how it is if you use it. I need to get one for my Windows laptops, that's all.

Quick RPG Dice for Android

Monday, February 11, 2013

Who I Write Rules For & "Peter's DMG rule"

A quick philosophical note on rules writing.

Basically, when I write rules, I write them for reasonable GMs and reasonable players.

I do my best to write rules that are airtight, and which don't have big screaming loopholes in them. I try to anticipate the ways the rule can be misread or misunderstood, and how my notoriously nit-picky players will quote them back at me.

But sometimes, you can't make airtight rules to cover all cases and all situations with a simple set of guidelines. You just can't. You just need something that worst most of the time in most of the cases, and which gets you close enough for a GM judgment on the rest.

And people can sneak in abusive characters or leverage those rules to do abusive things.

Those people? I don't write rules for them.

I write the rules with them in mind, but they aren't my target audience. If I can please them too, or stop them in their tracks, great. If not, well, it's the reasonable folks I had in mind anyway.

Rules in an RPG are written with the basic assumption that there is a GM. A referee. Someone who judges the rules. There will one at the table, and he or she is the final arbiter of the rules. Not only that, but they are generally written with the idea that the GM will be reasonable, the players will be reasonable, and that you are basically cooperating to have a good time (even if you are in conflict in the game).

For years, I've had a solution to this, which longtime readers of GURPSNet-L and other online GURPS forums might recognize. I call it the "DMG rule." That is, basically, "hit the guy who suggested that ludicrously rules-abusive idea with the spine edge of my 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide."




As the GM, I've long felt that the goal was fun and enjoyment, and using the rules to get to that end. Abusing the rules - whether it's designing an oversized weapon and then scaling it down for smaller folks to see if you can't lever out a mechanical benefit for no cost for your average sized character, or misreading a spell so it does something game-breaking, or abusing grammar to make a rule do weird things, or otherwise attempting to de-fun the game for personal benefit - is bad. It's not enjoyable, and you'll get whacked with my DMG (usually metaphorically rather than literally). I figure that's ultimate the GM's job, and the player's job is to accept that.

So if you find a rule which, applied creatively, can break things, a good first-pass solution is to fix the desire to abuse it. It:'s another variation of my annoying question - "Has this come up with reasonable players?"

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Has that problem come up in actual play?"

One of the more annoying questions I ask on forums, in playtests, and in real life is this one:

"Has that problem come up in actual play?"

Sometimes I use a variant, like "How has that played out in your game?"

Why this gets annoying is that I bust this out early and often in discussions.

Someone: "I found this problem in GURPS that breaks the game."
Me: "Did that problem come up in actual play?"

If the answer is yes, well, let's get down to figuring out how to fix it, house rule it, change it, adjust it.

No, it hasn't?

Then I am not convinced it's a big problem.

When playtesting, when house-ruling, or when thinking about changes or non-changes to a game, I place a very high premium on actual play outcomes.

A good example of this is the Committed Attack option in GURPS Martial Arts. When the book was in development, I convinced my players to let me try out lots of the rules in actual play, on their actual characters, with results that would stand in the campaign. So we tried out Committed Attack in play.

During the alpha testing, it got used a lot by some of my NPCs (me, trying it out in play) and especially by one of the PCs (a player who thought it was awesome). During the playtest, a playtester commented that it was basically useless because it traded off too much defense for too little offense, and no one would use it. But I had actual play experience that said, yes, it's a potentially dangerous tradeoff, but sometimes that's what you need and some players will take that risk. So it stayed in unchanged. Had there been a wave of actual play results where people said, no, it never gets used, and then we tried this variation and it got used more and worked out well . . . I'd have been much more willing to tweak it or change it in some fashion. So it was "actual play" vs. "in theory." Play trumps theory, because it's a game.

Sometimes what is bad in theory - or bad for one group in play - isn't actually different from the rule's intention. At least in that case, you get what you aimed for even if not everyone wants that result.

Sometimes what happens in actual play with a rule or rules change is different than what you expected. This can be good, or bad.

The Good: Doug Cole has a great example of this, what he refers to as "emergent behavior." A set of rules meant to make grappling more realistic not only gave results in line with reality checking and actual grappling, but also with ass-kicking over-the-top movie scene grappling. It wasn't what was planned for, but it was what happened.

The Bad: The original writeup of Beat (also GURPS Martial Arts) just let you substitute ST for DX when making a Feint, and didn't require any actual contact with the defender - contact was assumed. The goal was to reflect real-world beats, and to allow people to leverage their strength to push a defender's weapon (or shield, or arm, or body) out of a good defensive line to open it up to a follow-on attack. On paper, it looked fine.

So in my campaign we had a massive, multiple-session fight involving three pirate ships, at least 150 combatants, zombies, an ifrit, invisible weapon masters, light siege engines, sharks in the water, and magically summoned critters all over the place. One of those critters was a Dodge 15, ST 1, DX 15 flying eye monster - which was simply killed outright with a Beat followed by an Attack. Nevermind the guy couldn't have laid a finger on the critter in most circumstances - he couldn't land a telling blow because it would Dodge with ease. But mystically he could push it around physically without making contact. He did a Beat, won the ST contest by a huge margin (ST 1, it's just a flying eye), and then whacked it. It made no sense . . . but it seemed fine on paper. In actual play, broken. So it got fixed. What emerged from having this rule was strong guys using Beat to make physical contact with guys they couldn't otherwise touch and easily trashing them - not fun and probably not realistic. It needed even more revision as new versions got tried out in play and also spat out odd results or strange results, until we got the now-canonical version that does what we were trying to have it do in the first place. Again, actual play mattered a lot.

I can be really annoying with that question, but it's always worth asking about a rule. "X is broken." "Broken in play?" Sometimes what comes out of a "broken" rule in play is fun or interesting. Sometimes what comes out isn't, in fact, broken. Sometimes what comes out of a fix isn't fun or interesting, either - the law of unintended consequences doesn't care much about why you changed something.

It's a game, so actual play feedback is critical when evaluation the rules. So, almost inevitably, I ask my annoying question whenever I'm confronted with a question about a rule or a house rule. I think the answer is valuable, and not asked often enough.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My megadungeon "best" practices - Part VIII

Another lesson or two on megadungeons, based on my experience.

The rest of the series is linked from here.

This time out: hidden rooms.

The PCs in my game found a secret room, one with no door to discover until they'd located a lost (magical?) key. The found it with good mapping and by process of elimination - they determined there was no other way into this area, there was space for a room, and they had used magic to determine something (specifically gold) was there.

This isn't a new thing, as far as megadungeons go. But it did provoke some thoughts.

Use secret areas. Pretty simple - hidden areas are a reward for thoroughness, and are a good place to put "untouched" things in an otherwise well-traveled area.

Give multiple hint about secret areas. Unless you want to solely reward meticulous mapping and really good rolls to detect secret doors, or magical scanning, you need to allow a few ways to detect it. If the only way to find it is to stumble across it, or do something really non-obvious and bizarre ("You have to walk past it twice chanting while carrying the broken dagger hilt from room 17"), you're missing out on using secret rooms as a reward for effective play. Multiple clues can give a reason to check an area for a secret or missed area.

Here are some ways to do that (just a handful, this isn't exhaustive):

- allow magic to detect the rooms, or something in them (where it otherwise can't be, unless there is some room).

- it it's a puzzle entrance, allow multiple channels for hints on its solution to get to the PCs. Rumors, sages, hints in the dungeon, etc. That way a blown reaction roll from the one sage that knows or a single misinterpreted rumor won't mean your secret area remains forever secret.

- consider putting secret rooms in a pattern or a broken pattern ("these hallways have 3 rooms on the north side and four on the south. This one only has 2 rooms and a big stretch of blank wall. Let's check that.") This rewards comprehension of what is and what should be, not just thoroughness.

Corollary: You get the mapping behavior you ask for.

If you make tiny secret rooms that can only be reliably detected by meticulous mapping, with no 10' square misplaced on the players' map, you will get meticulous mapping. Sure, you can hurl wandering monsters at the PCs. But your careful secret room placement that demands careful mapping is a demand by you, the GM, that the PCs do this or miss stuff. So you end up in the odd position of punishing them for doing thing you demonstrated to them they need to do.

If you make bigger secret rooms that can be detected with a roughly accurate map, they are more likely to be found without long game session time spent on making sure their map exactly matches your map in all the particulars. If close enough is good enough, they'll settle for close enough. If perfect is necessary, they won't settle for less than perfect.

Friday, February 8, 2013

My DF Arrow Recovery Rulings

I've got a pair of scouts in my current DF game, and they fire off a lot of arrows. While one (the surviving one, actually) has just gotten a Cornucopia Quiver, there are still a lot of non-magically generated, non-disappearing later arrows to worry about. Fine ones. Magic ones. Envenomed ones. And ones with specialty heads, too.

What if you want them back?

Here is what I've been doing.

Arrow Recovery. For simplicity, 50% of arrows are recoverable. This can either be done straight-up (fired 6, recover 3) or by rolling a handful of six-siders and getting one arrow back for each 1-3.

Circumstances affect this by GM/player judgement call. 100% hits on a soft target might mean you can recover 5 in 6 of them. 50% hits on a distant, hard target and looking much later than the fight might mean only 1 in 6 are found, if that. I cap this at 5 in 6, because there is always a chance the arrow is broken, bent, cracked, or otherwise damaged, or that it buried deeply in bone or leather or steel and cannot be removed intact. Quality of the arrow (Fine, etc.) gives a +1 to the roll, as it's assumed to be better made. Again, it still caps at 5 in 6.

Yes, you can use Luck on this roll, since my players always ask that.

Arrow Poison. It's all one-shot, as much for bookkeeping as anything else. I'm not terribly worried by PC poison use, although I do impose limits. This is one.

Magic Arrows. With few exceptions, magic arrows are one shot in my game. That's how I justify the steep, steep price break on them. I'd make allowances for a special arrow, that somehow survives multiple uses, and indestructible arrows that don't use up their magic in a single hit would be fine with me. So the arrow may survive, but the magic does not.

You could add a perk, too, for those who really want to get their arrows back:

Thrifty Hunter*. A leveled perk, capping out at 2 levels. This gives a +1 to the odds of recovering an arrow; maximum is still 5 in 6.

Those may help your scouts save a bit of lucre on their ammunition costs, and get some of those fine balanced silver-coated arrows back after the fight.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Making Fights Tough in GURPS DF

I posted some advice on tougher fights in the past, in the form of some advice on handling many-on-one fights, aka boss fights.

Patrick Halter posted his thoughts on the subject, and a great description of GURPS's "maneuver economy" as well.

The thing with making enemies in GURPS tough is, you have to consider different avenues at once. D&D conflates hardness-to-kill with skill in combat - Hit Dice determine your HP and how often you hit a certain AC, as well. Rolemaster conflates the hit roll and the damage roll, so big strong guys can overcome a lack of actual skill with a huge stat bonus from strength. But GURPS breaks all of this up. You need to think along multiple lines:

Make Them Skilled - You have to be skilled enough to hit, and hit regularly, to be a threat. Skill 13 is probably the bottom for anything to be considered a threat in DF - it can sometimes hit you. Skill 15 is much better, since it opens up shots to the limb with a solid chance to hit (13 or less), and you've got better than a 50-50 shot at a Telegraphic Attack to the eye or chinks in armor over the torso.

They have no skill to leverage and not much protection, either.

A 13 skill is Parry 9, and rolls against a 13 when Feinted. A 15 is Parry 10 and rolls against a 15 when Feinted. Against the same 18-skill PC opponent (low for DF, but whatever), using a Medium Shield (DB 2), the first guy loses the contest by an average of 5 points and his Parry roll is a paltry 9+2-5=6. He'll die. Second guy? He loses by 3 on average and rolls against a 10+2-3=9. Much better! Add a Retreat and he's got a 50/50 shot of not getting hit, despite being feinted on one turn and attacked on the other by a much superior foe.

Skill 16 gives the best chance at a critical hit (3-6 instead of 3-5 for a 15, and 3-4 for anything lower). Skills in increments of 2 above that give you more targeting options, and, more critically, a real chance at Deceptive Attacks that matter.

Big strong monsters only get to overwhelm defenses if they have a really big weapon, so check the rules on Parrying Heavy Weapons and their addendum in GURPS Martial Arts if you're going to want your giants to just power down defenses despite their low skill. Unless they are really big, this won't happen, and if their defenses suck, they won't get more than a chance or two.

All of this helps, because you need to hit, and often hit multiple times, to get through the defenses of a front-line fighter. Case in point, the knight in my DF game has Two-Handed Sword-24 and a Parry of 16 (he has Combat Reflexes for a +1); thanks to a two-handed sword and Weapon Master additional parries are only -1 each, so he parries three hits at 16, 15, and 14, and he'll retreat to get a further +1 if he needs it. He's not likely to miss a roll. My own knight in GURPS Midgaard has a Parry of 18 and a Block that's not much lower. Either of those guys needs to be seriously swarmed and serious hit a lot per second before they will start to worry.

What's their Dodge? Dodge isn't dependent on skill, but on speed, so it's a good back door to make a monster that's hard to whack but isn't necessarily going to hit you too often. However, since it never goes down, and gets a +3 from Retreat, don't overdo it. A flying monsters with a high dodge and good magic resistance is going to smoke a party if it's also got a lethal attack, if only because they have no way to deal with it.

Make Their Attacks Strong Enough - can the maximum damage of this monster threaten the targets it can hit? If not, it's fodder at best, and harmless at worst. If the average damage can threaten the front line fighters where it can hit them, then it's beginning to get to a worthwhile level. If it can kill with an average hit, or at least incapacitate, it's lethal. But consider the kind of DR they should be able to break through. If that monster should be able to rend plate, or those orcs are meant to chop up mail-armored warriors with ease, their damage needs to reflect it.

Arm Them Appropriately - Watch for giving armed opponents weapons with a U parry, which prevents them from attacking and defending on the same turn, unless they have some other useful defense. Make sure the weapons they have, have the reach and damage to have the effect you want. And for unarmed attackers, consider giving them a pass on getting sliced up when parried.

Ranged Attacks - Consider how this monster deals with flying opponents. Or when the PCs cast Levitate on them, move them up a yard, and then turn them around and leave them there. Consider how they deal with guys who back up all the time.

Use Tactics and Terrain - Opponents are tougher if they force you to fight on their terms. So make your opponents fight that way. Ranked fighters work well to swamp the defenses of fighters with short weapons. Front rank with reach 1 weapons and shields, second and third ranks with spears and/or polearms. Back them up with ranged weapon fire or put archers on the flanks. Build barricades. Combined obstacles, bad terrain, and hazards (oil, caltrops, triplines, green slime puddles) together to slow down attackers and keep them in a kill zone.

And for goodness' sake give them magical support. Great Haste, Blocking spells, and attack spells that don't depend on a low "to hit" roll to have some kind of effect (Create Fire works wonders this way). Darkness spells and Mystic Mist are good, too.

None of this will help fodder be more than a brief obstacle, but at least they are trying.

Special Powers - A good catch-all - monsters with Injury Tolerance (especially No Brain or No Eyes or Homogenous), monsters with high rates of Regeneration or who have immunities to attacks (Insubstantially, say, or some kind of weapon immunity) might last longer. Creatures with Extra Attacks and/or extra limbs carrying more weapons for more defenses can be tough to kill simply for the same reason PCs would be - they won't blow a roll very often.

Monsters with the right special powers can really change the threat level. This is an easy way to increase their toughness without making major changes to a creature. They can be tougher without any real additional effort - a ghost with Affects Substantial or non-physical spells vs. a party without the correct spells is going to be a TPK, even if the same spells and same creature would be fodder if they had it. Which leads to . . .

Know the Strengths of Their Enemies - pitting undead against a Holy Warrior or Cleric with True Faith (w/Turning) doesn't work out well. It's very effective and makes low-Will undead helpless against them. Pitting mass numbers of low-damage monsters against an armored knight isn't a threat, because they'll ignore their attacks - Light Plate is DR 6, DR 9-10 is easy with magic and/or Armor Mastery from DF11. Pitting low-Will creatures against a wizard specializing in Will-based spells is equally a waste of time. Know that Weapon Masters will probably hunt up enough skill to Feint at a -3 and strike at a -3 using Rapid Strike and the rules from GURPS Martial Arts and kill most moderate-skill or moderate-defense monsters in a single second. Be aware of these things when you think about how an encounter will go.

Those are some ways you can make a monster tougher in GURPS. I hope this meandering mess helps someone!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

On AD&D Dragons

Reading Beedo's excellent Black City Campaign logs, we were treated to his players manhandling a dragon, thanks to a serious bum-rush, a killer robot, and some goofy rules that come with dragons. And some commentary on dragons.

Seriously, dragons get the shaft in D&D, or at least in the older versions I used to play. Everyone knows their HP, damage, etc. They are often caught sound asleep. Unlike other monsters, they don't just get to decide on their attack but instead have to let the dice decide, and they can be subdued.

To be fair to Beedo, he's playing them by the book, and specifically by the Red Box book. I'm more familiar with the AD&D ones, so I'm going to chat about them here.

Dragons need some changes to make them scary.

The usual approach is more hit dice, more flying, more attack modes, more more more. But I think there are some simple changes you can make to how you run them, and one to how they fight.

Some changes you can make easily:

Decide For or Against Breathing, Don't Roll - Demons don't roll to see what spell-like power they use, mages don't roll to see what spell they cast ("My enemies are bunched up and I've a Web spell ready! Okay, roll, roll, roll, I'll cast Audible Glamour.") So why should dragons? Even the stupidest ones are smarter than animals. If they have a tactical choice between claw/claw/bite and a breath, do the one that makes the most sense for the dragon. If they have spells, let them diced how best to use them.

And yeah, some of them are stupid and impulsive and bad tempered. Play that. If the smart move is to claw/claw/bite the fighter in front of you or breath on the group of archers, but your red dragon just got painfully nailed by a wand of cold from that wizard . . . breathing on the wizard makes sense. It would be in character, and take away some of the calculation the PCs can make about its actions. It's still an elemental force of terror, and a manifestation of some of humanity's worse flaws (sloth, gluttony, greed, pride, bad temper, murderous rages, etc.) so it might not react tactically if its character flaws are prodded.

Lower the Sleeping Percentages - Even Tiamat has a 10% chance of being caught sound asleep. Any other monsters that vulnerable? No. But sleeping dragons are part of the myth and canon, so use it . . . but drop them. Cut all percentages down by a factor of ten. White dragons at 60% chance of sleeping? Make it 6%. Red Dragon? 2% Tiamat? 1%. If it's sleeping, check early and often to see if it wakes up.

No Subdual Rolls - you want to subdue the dragon? Good, whip it down to 0 HP. None of this "roll to see if it is subdued yet" crap. Earn it. Heck, make them get it down to 0 and then have it roll to see if it's subdued - make it a saving throw if you want.

Finally, a rules change if you want one:
Random Dragon Breath - Okay, so let's say you think dragon breath is too weak. Make that damage the average. Dragon with 11 hit dice and 88 HP does 88 points of damage. So make that 22d8 damage - that averages to 99 points, with a min of 22 and a max of 176. Scary, and it gets rid of that auto-calc. Basically, double its HD and roll that many dice. It'll average to the same but get some really swing-y nastiness sometimes. Especially if you like to roll 22 x 1d8 instead of d8 22 times.

Anyway, that's how I'd do AD&D dragons if I was running AD&D again. And by extension, how I'd modify dragons in a clone or in B/X or whatever, if I ran one of them.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

GURPS Midgaard, Session 2

We played our second session of GURPS Midgaard today.

We didn't get a huge amount done, mostly due to lots of trouble with Roll20 bogging us down. We did get a lot set up for next time - tokens to use, some kinks ironed out. However, it was still fun.

Last time we killed a bunch of goblins in the antechambers of a nord crypt. We continued on in this one.

We found a narrow passage out of the small complex of room we'd cleared, and decided to send out an invisible scout. So off went Daath, our mage/thief.

Daath went ahead and scouted out a couple of rooms, invisibly, without (further) alerting the remaining goblins . . . but our scout blundered (bad Stealth check) and the goblins spotted him. There were five, engaged in some kind of necromantic ritual. They looked at him, and he started shooting. Heroic archer + double shooting put all five in the grave before the rest of us could run up to aid him.

After that, we found a tomb, and out popped a skeleton. We backed it into a corner with True Faith and then smashed it to pieces.

Heading north, after a bit of looking, we opened up a door into a wide corridor. Down the left end was a bunch of doors and a big double door that was clearly the crypt of a king. To our right were 10 doors, which screamed "killer skeletons will pop out behind us." So we headed that way. Naturally, skeletons started to smash out of the crypts to attack us. We steadily knocked off the 10 of them, with Swidbert the Warrior-Saint and my knight Tarjan Telnar just smashing them up. One managed to get in a swing, but Swidbert's mace smashed its limb off before then dispatching it.

No sooner were they down when three zombie huscarls in rusty plate busted out on the far end. We turned and moved towards them, desperately trying to keep them from cutting off our retreat path. My knight ran out ahead and then waited for them to approach, as Swidbert ran up throwing his axe and Conor (the scout) started shooting them.

Amusingly one zombie pulled the axe out of his chest and beat it against his chest, as if to dare us to come at him. So Tarjan did, and cracked him in the skull and put him down. (Tarjan has a vow to never turn down a challenge to combat.) Our poor scout suffered from a broken bowstring in the fight.

It didn't take long to mess the rest of them up, although they were tough enough to shrug off a hit or two. There was an awesome critical hit shield smash by Swidbert, and Tarjan stepped back to let him follow it up by bashing the zombie to death.

There wasn't a lot of loot this session, but we did get some armor and weapons off the huscarls.

And next game, we'll go for the "king door" as we've been calling it.

At this point we wrapped up the session.

Another fun game.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

GURPS Combat Examples

GURPS combat can be a bit tricky. Lots of options, a few choices to make, and potentially horrible and immediately disastrous consequences for poor choices or bad rolls. All of this is a serious plus once you know the rules. Lethality, real choices and real consequences for them, and real benefits to using real-world tactics. But what about when you're just getting started?

Some examples of what the rules mean when you play can help. I used to read the combat results examples in wargames before I read the rules themselves, so I knew what I was looking for in the rules. So I like examples.

Christain Blouin over at The Palantir Commission is giving some combat examples a go. Here are some things he's written so far, aimed at introducing the system to some unfamiliar with it.

Tactical Tips: Fighting Like a Man or Woman

Tactical Tips: What to Do With Your Next Second

Active Defenses

All pretty good stuff.

However, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out a great set of combat examples here:

GURPS 4e Combat Examples

That site by the Mook is really excellent - it's got both the basic combat rules and rules from books such as my own (well, co-own) GURPS Martial Arts.

And of course if you want a look at the simple rules that underlay this all, there is GURPS Lite (free PDF).

An amusing blast from the past, though - one of my articles for 3rd edition GURPS (which I don't play any longer) is up as a free sample of Pyramid magazine. GURPS Combat Tactics: The Basics. Sadly out of date, as the rules have changed. I was just amused to see it again.

Friday, February 1, 2013

GURPS Underground Adventures is out

Well, today is shot. Between work, I'm going to be tearing through this:

Yay, stuff about how sound carries underground, light sources underground, temperature, etc. Oh yeah, and stats for Ymir. He's a bit big.
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