Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ruined City Adventure musings

This is yet another I-commented-on-this-somewhere-and-I'm-not-done-talking-about-it posts. Over at Hill Cantons there is a good post about running ruined city-based adventures, and the comments section has some good information in it. Below, I've reproduced, edited, and expanded on my comments.

I haven't run all that many ruined city adventures. Not in GURPS, and not in D&D, and not in fantasy gaming. But I did run an adventure or two - frankly, most of one campaign - in a ruined city in Gamma World. This one specifically - 2nd edition - since it came with a ruined city based adventure. The "Gamma World Adventure Booklet" was a guide to setting up adventures, a wilderness adventure location (the lands around ruined Pitz Burke), a starter adventure (a reason to go to Pitz Burke), and acted as a bit of a guide to running adventures in a ruined city. So I used that when we moved up from 1st edition Gamma World to 2nd edition.

Based on that experience, these are the issues I noticed:

- A ruined city is not a dungeon, it's a wilderness with channeling terrain and lots and lots of easy ambush points. Think jungle not plains. If you turn it into a dungeon (narrowly channeled paths, roof overhead, etc.) expect the players to treat it like one. If you greatly limit their movements, punish them for flying above the ruins or leaving them and circling back in, etc. - you're just making it a dungeon. B4 The Lost City and the Conan story Red Nails are both nominally city-based, but act a lot more like dungeons. The first is a dungeon, with some talk and pictures of a city elsewhere that you have to stat up and map yourself. The second is a single big city-sized building, but it's chock full of secret doors, fights in hallways, and people stuck inside. And a roof overhead - it's a very dungeon-y city. This can be fun but it's not necessarily the best way to handle a city.

- In a ruined city it's tough to give a complete impression of what they can see. Visuals help a lot more than in dungeons. You need some way to show them the size of the city, give some sense of scale and what's there to go to - and what's between here and there.

- You really need wandering monsters and pre-set encounters in a mix, or there isn't anything to do. I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City does a great job of this. Again, think wilderness. Some dungeon-like locations are great, so are communities, nests, and other encounters in the ruins. Even a dungeon in it (well, under it) is a good idea. But much of the travel will be above ground and meandering, so you need a way to basically stock on the fly. This is a good time to roll % in lair, too - was it wandering by or does it live where you ran into it?

- you need to have a good plan for dealing with improvisation and searches for unexpected materials or locations. Random tables for monsters are one thing, random tables for buildings might help, too - does the sort of building they're looking for exist? Where is it in relation to them? (the dice drop method in Vornheim works here, just put ruined stuff between here and there instead of "live" city.) Another option is a quickie ruin generator - is this building they're heading to intact, semi-intact, ruined? Is it safe or unsafe? Inhabited or not? Etc.

- Part of the charm of using a big ruined city is that a) you can go anywhere. It's like being in a real city, only since it's largely uninhabited you can go around and poke into all those buildings and look behind doors and look down the manholes. That's part of the fun. And b) you get the feeling that anything could be in there - you the player, and you the GM. With a big enough ruins, and wide enough random tables, it could really be there. You could equally not know all the nooks and crannies of your city. So it'll feel like there is so much you couldn't clear the place, find everything, or really know everything. It'll make perfect sense when you run into Generic Old Coot living in the city and he says he's been there 50 years and doesn't know it all quite yet. That's part of the coolness of ruins.

Remember, wilderness with lots of easy ambush points and places to look at. You'll need to know the sighting rules and whose keeping an eye out for what. You'll need to know weapon ranges and who'll engage at what range. You need to know how damn far noise carries above ground if the players make a lot of noise, like my neighbors did last night. It's a wilderness with cover, more than a dungeon or a city.

True story - I almost started my DF game using I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City. The main reason I didn't was that I wanted people to be able to come and go, and that setting isn't conducive to "and we go back to town and replenish our supplies between sessions." Pitz Burke would work okay for that, if I run a post-apocalypse game again . . .

Some good resources to look at:

Besides what I mentioned above:

"Ruins: Rotted and risky, but rewarding" by Arn Ashleigh Parker, Dragon #54 / Best of Dragon Vol. V

AD&D Wilderness Survival Guide (the sections on spotting/visibility, especially)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Painting Minis I Don't Like

Yesterday was a pretty nice day, weather-wise, and I had a big gap in the afternoon thanks to Good Friday schedule changes. So I did some painting.

Occasionally I won't paint the minis I like, but only the ones I don't. You know the ones - they came in the set, or you needed them for some project but found them annoying to paint, or the more paint you put on them the worse they come out.

I did a bunch of those.

I did four that I kind-of like but know won't ever come out well - they aren't minis, per se, but plastic figures from an outscale set that I can use as props as long as they aren't bright blue anymore. So I did them - painted, dried, then washed, then brushed twice with Army Painter. Next is a highlighting brush and maybe a final dip. It depends.

I also did these four hyenas from the Chainmail line of minis. As with all of those minis, they're very "flat." They came with something else, I can't recall what now. I tried to paint them a while back but after a tan basecoat they just looked bad. I didn't feel like putting effort in.

So I decided on a one-pass paint job. Black on the harness. Copper on the studs and rings. Ivory teeth. True red on the eyes. And then a two-stage wash with Army Painter Quickshade - once Dark Tone, once Strong Tone. Not bad. I'll highlight the eyes after they get a matte coat. But they're tabletop ready. They took more time to dry than to paint.

PVD's Chainmail Hyenas

I still don't like them much, though. Maybe my players will love them.

I also re-primed 6 minis (I'd primed them grey, but then decided on a black-based scheme) and base-coated 7 more (all the same kind and same paint job). Those I like, but I realized my hand wasn't so steady and my patience was limited, so I didn't want to start in on "real" paint jobs. They'll be quick ones, too, but they need some color variety and thus I'll need to let them dry in stages.

Friday, March 29, 2013

So, Dwimmermount

I backed James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount on Kickstarter.

It looks like it's finally going to happen, but:

- it's going to be ACKS only, not ACKS and Labyrinth Lord.

- it's not going to be finished by James Maliszewski.

So it's not really what I wanted to back, when I backed it.

I sent in a request to Autarch for a refund. I'm sure what they will produce will be good, but it's a few too many steps removed from what I wanted.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mission Based vs. Location Based play

I was talking to my D&D-playing client (mentioned here) and we were discussing the new game he and his friends have just fired up and my megadungeon game.

There were some differences. It wasn't story or railroad vs. sandbox (as much as I have this limited sandbox to play in) as it was episodic and mission-based vs. location-based. His group got a mission (Go take care of this for us) and went to take care of the mission. They wanted a mission and they got one. My group gets a location, and a general incentive to do something there.

I was thinking this makes an interesting contrast - do you hand out missions, or places? Both are valid ways to play, but don't have the same pros and cons.

I could sum up the differences between playing the way they did in their first session back - and I've done in the past - with the way I've been playing it now. Mission Based vs. Location Based.

Mission Based - play is more-or-less episodic. The GM provides some kind of situation that needs to be resolved. Sack a specific dungeon, Help X do Y, Rescue A from B, etc. The adventure begins, you take care of that mission, and then you move onto the next one next time. Loose threads may continue to the next one, or just get left behind as play moves on.

Pros: Very easy to prep for, both by the players and the GM. Cuts out all the "What should we do?" deliberation time. No need for natural stopping points at the end of a session, since you just keep going until it's done.

Cons: The players can get stuck doing missions/dungeons of the week/etc. that they have little enthusiasm for. Can tempt the GM into a railroad. You generally need the same attendance session to session or PCs will need to be run by another player.

Location Based - play is centered on an adventure area. Players can decide what to do, when to do it, why to do it. Missions may occur, but are accepted or denied based on player preferences. Loose threads continue until resolved.

Pros: High level of player agency. With proper play ending, you can have a stable of characters and not worry about attendance issues. Players only select what they want to deal with.

Cons: The bigger the area, and the more mobile the PCs, the more GM prep necessary. Lots of time can get spent figuring out what to do next. The GM needs to be ready for everything or have a good way to stall without killing fun.

While I do recommend that he try option 2, I totally understand how "Your mission this week is to sack the Dungeon of the Evil Priest of Evil" makes for a quick transition into play without a lot of discussion.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How Raggi (our DF NPC berserker) Doesn't Die

Short version: Pure luck and dice that love him.

Very long version:

Raggi Ragnarsson was essentially a throwaway NPC when he first came along. I made a pretty tough berserker based on the Barbarian template from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1.

You see, there is a room in the Caves of Chaos that houses a 4th level fighter the PCs can free. Raggi took the place of that guy.

He was a prisoner of gnolls, and an unapologetic bandit raider/reaver/adventurer type. He was enslaved along with some of the people he'd been raiding and had not a twinge of regret for his actions.

I figured, he's an unarmored berserker, he'll either die in combat or the players will kick him to the curb after a session or two.

Neither happened.

In his first session, Raggi was free and cheerfully hacked up a bunch of gnoll kids. The players cringed - it was pretty harsh, and worse it was a bad idea (do you want to negotiate with guys who kill your kids?) But next time the players needed another fighter, he was around, so, okay, bring him.

He charged into a mob of orcs and got hacked up. Oh, but he killed, crippled, or knocked out everyone who came close. He even killed the orc chief before dropping. The players assumed he was dead, but within minutes he got up and started talking. The players basically decided to let him get killed. Yeah, come with us, they'd say, and then let him run into danger and hope he'd get dead.

He'd get beat on, but just wouldn't die.

Since then he's been a serious help to the group. He's tough to control (he tends to go berserk and charge into bad situations), he's dangerous to himself and others, and he's a sponge for healing potions since he can and does take enormous damage winning fights. And in one session, he was the reason they won what should have been too-tough of a fight for the PCs that made it to the session. At that point, it went from "let Raggi get killed" to "protect Raggi, he's our fight-winner."

Since then he's gotten better - better armor, a little more skills, a powerful magic axe, and points spent on more survivability have made him a peer to the PCs. The players always bring him if he's not off on a bender somewhere (he appears on a 15 or less, 12 or less if they had a big haul and he's got more drinking money). Not only that, but they've been organizing their tactics around covering Raggi while he's berserk and limiting the number of opponents who can get to him.

At one point, the group even voted him NPC, despite the fact that I don't track XP for NPCs. I bought him something with it (Focused Fury IIRC).

But how the hell is he not dead after session after session of charging into combat without armor and without real support?

How he's built

I'll be a bit vague here because the PCs don't know Raggi's stats yet.

Raggi has HT around 12-13, HP 20 or so. His weapon skill is in the high teens - enough to hit, good enough to Parry if he cares to.

Importantly, he has Berserk, but he also has Hard to Kill 2, Barbarian DR 2, Barbarian Crushing DR 2, and Recovery.

This plus a mail shirt makes it hard to deal a lethal blow to him. A mail shirt over his two kinds of DR is DR 6 - not bad, and it means he can shrug off a lot of minor attacks.

As originally designed, Raggi had SM+1 and 18 HP. Bad idea. SM+1 means healing spells cost double (cost for Regular spells is multiplied by 1+SM). But 20 HP would have given him double HP back from healing spells, making it effectively a wash. He didn't have it, so he was hard to heal. I fixed that quickly when he started to succeed enough to justify him having some points to spend.

Recovery helps, too, because he wakes up from injury very quickly - so he can get hammered down, healed, and then stand right up and be ready to go. He's not a burden to his fellows.

How he's not dead

Some of it is purely good die rolling. Raggi has had to make a lot of death checks, and passed them all mostly through luck. He's made self-control rolls for Berserk more often than not. He's got a 14 or 15 for his death check, and at least a 16 to stay conscious. This is a good because he's going to stay standing and chopping and slaying (thanks to Berserk) but won't up and die suddenly when he calms down. His main problem is that he is up and slaying until he's nearly dead. The real risk for a berserker is that you're a threat and need to be chopped into burger - so you don't take a serious wound and then drop, ignored, but stay up and get hacked to death. Even when it's obvious that just staying down is the good move, you can't.

More recently, teamwork has helped. Raggi gets lots of support from his fellows. They'll keep him back from the front and throw him into the fray once he's got clear targets. They've been putting Missile Shield and/or Great Haste on him. They've been trying to clear the area around him, and keep Vryce near him to parry for him. They're clever enough to try to keep one clear target within axe-reach of Raggi on his turn but keep him from getting swamped between turns.

Finally, Raggi isn't stupid. Berserk, yes, but not stupid. He won't put himself into a suicidal situation before Berserk happens. He'll parry, he'll dodge, he'll keep foes at reach. He (usually) won't All-Out Attack when not berserk. Although he's been getting overly confident in Vryce's ability to save him.

But for a one-dimensional berserker with an axe, Raggi's had a charmed life.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Untested House Rule: Fixed-Level Ripostes

Over on the SJG forums we've been having a discussion on counterattack, which spun into discussions of Riposte. It's here if you want to read it all.

Out of that discussion I got an idea. This is totally untested, but doesn't seem prima facie broken. Basically, ditch Riposte. Replace it with Deceptive Parry, from the GURPS Martial Arts Designers' Notes.

Fixed Level Riposte. Remove the Riposte mechanic from GURPS Martial Arts. Replace it with Deceptive Parry, from the designer's notes. (Short version: Parry at -4, opponent's defenses are at -4). Deceptive Parry becomes a Combat Option, not a technique, and cannot be purchased or improved.

You can combine this with:

Fixed Level Deceptive Attack. Deceptive Attack is now a flat-cost option. A Deceptive Attack is -4 to your skill in return for -2 to your opponent's Active Defenses against that attack. All other rules apply normally - you can't reduce your final effective skill below 10, you can't combine it with certain other attacks.

This turns DA into a mirror of Telegraphic Attack, and simplifies the choices available. Either you do it or you don't.

If you wanted to do this to Setup Attacks, too, it's easy enough - -4 now for -2 later, other rules options as selected from Doug's article.

It's debatable if you'd need Counterattack (also from Martial Arts) or not. I'd say yes since it fills a niche (Obvious Attack vs. Sneaky Attack, Risky Parry based techniques vs. Risky Attack based techniques). You could always cap it at between default-1 and default-3 if you want it to be harder than a normal attack, but I don't personally think that's necessary.

Pros: This would simplify riposte, since it's a -4 all the time. If you allow Deceptive Parry to be learned as a technique (it's original intent), you might want to consider Gnome's suggestion. That limits your improvement to default-2, so you can get better at it but not by so much it's always better than a normal parry.

Cons: Less options for the highly skilled. Makes for very fixed options in combat instead of true ability to leverage skill. Untested.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Miniature headaches

I love painting and using miniatures. But recently I've had a few minis headaches.

- No Sealer. Is it that hard for anyone to keep Testor's Lusterless clearcoat in stock? Or know that it's out of stock when I contact them? Geez. I'm all out and no one seems to have it when I go. I might need to try the Army Painter seal, it doesn't seem much more expensive for the amount I'd get. I just don't know how lusterless it is. I want it dull as dull can be - seal, no shine.

- Broken Cases. The hinges on one of my storage cases of minis broke. I'm going to bug the manufacturer, because it's not even the case I carry around. It's the spare I keep in my office and keep my rarely-used minis in. It just up and broke in two places, and I have no idea why. Annoying, because it's a top-loader so broken hinge = unsafe to use.

- Minis I can't find. I have a lot of minis, but I can usually lay hands on any one of them in a minute or two. But not one of them. I bought a Pathfinder pre-painted medusa, re-touched her with paint, and got her ready for when my players would meet her. And I can't find her; she disappeared prior to them encountering her and she's still gone. It doesn't matter so much now, because the medusa got decapitated. It's not like I've got a horde of them elsewhere on level 2.

Bah. It's still really annoying that I was all ready and lost the prop.

- Minis I Don't Have Enough Of. I need 33 Druagr. Specifically, I need 33 well-armed Viking-like figures, scaled so they're taller than most PCs, for the inevitable druagr-clearing battle coming up. Guys like this:

. . . only 7' tall.

The closest I have are 24 Men of Rohan, and a bunch of those have bows. And they're 25mm not 28mm, so they're small.

So I need to get off my butt and make 33 cardboard heroes, or 33 counters, or find 33 minis all alike. Probably one of the first two. But I'm being lazy, because making my own cardboard counters is something I'm not very good at.

I may just have to downsize that image above, print out 33 of them, and number them. But actual cardboard hero types would be better, and I could print them at the proper height. Any suggestions?

- Minis I Can't Seem To Finish. Some of my minis are easy to paint. Others, I can't seem to get them going. I put on a color on one part and blank on what goes on the rest. I can't "see" the completed mini. My paint jobs are always better if I can see the mini's final version in my head. Some come to me as I start painting. Others have been half-done or less for years, and I pull them out and re-start work and then stop. Can't finish.

- Minis I Don't Get to Use. Seriously guys, will you just go into the rooms where I placed the monsters I have well-painted minis for? I did a good job on them and I'd like to see them on the table fighting your characters. Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

How Vryce (our DF Knight) Doesn't Get Killed

Consider this a case-study of a DF Knight.

The Knight in my DF game, Vryce, started at 250 points and is now up around 320.

Vryce is ST 17 / DX 14 / IQ 10 / HT 14 / HP 20 / Speed 6.25 (partly bought down as part of his template)

He's got Armor Mastery, Combat Reflexes, Fit, Hard to Kill 1, Hard to Subdue 1*, and High Pain Threshold. He's a Weapon Master (Greatsword.) Oh, and he has Fearlessness 4 on top of this. And Sacrificial Parry, which makes him an effective team player.

His main combat skills are Fast-Draw (Two-handed sword)-16 and Two-Handed Sword-24.

Vryce's attacks do 3d+8 cutting or 1d+7 impaling. This is basically instantly fatal to most fodder types, and nearly so to anything else. Impressive, especially with a 24 skill.

But it's his defenses that make him so dangerous.

Let's take a look at them.

Two-Handed Sword-24 gives him Parry 15 (Skill/2 + 3). He gets +1 for Combat Reflexes, for a 16. Retreat gives a conditional +1, for potentially a 17. Hard to beat a 17, especially since he's likely killing you on his turn, either with 2 attacks or a feint and attack.

Feinting him is hard, you need to beat his 24. A Beat against him is silly, because that increases his roll to 27. Ruses he'll resist with DX-based skill for a 24 again. So it's not likely you'll get him to open up.

Multiple attacks are a good idea, right? Sort of. He's a Weapon Master, which halves multiple parry penalties to -2. He's got a two-handed sword and we're using the relevant rules in GURPS Martial Arts, so his parries drop by only -1 each time.

That means his defenses look like this: 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, etc. before you ever get to his Dodge 9 (he's at Light encumbrance . . . in plate.) With his Reach 1,2 weapon, he spends a lot of time maneuvering to force opponents to close with him, and to keep himself from getting swarmed even as he attacks at reach.

Missile weapons? Good idea. Thrown? Too easily parried.

If there is any sign of real danger of swamping, his wizard ally will usually put Shield on him to give him a defensive bonus. Yeah, almost unfair, right?

Now, you could flank him. He has a greathelm and thus tunnel vision. Fine, flank him and hit away - you've finally struck him. Or maybe you didn't flank him, you just rolled a critical.

He's wearing magical light plate over magical cloth armor (my house rules let magic armor stack) on his torso and mail over cloth elsewhere. Oh, and a greathelm over a mail coif, with a cloth skullcap under that. No penalty for this thanks to Armor Mastery (from DF11). His DR is around 9 on his torso and face, something like 17 on his skull, and 6-7 elsewhere. He's been known to ignore head shots from weaker foes to save his defenses for attacks against his limbs or extremities. He'd be more heavily armored but he really seems to like being at Light encumbrance.

On top of this, his player is basically conservative. He takes risks when he needs to, but not when they aren't necessary. He keeps a spare sword to fast-draw if he drops his main sword, and a lanyard for his main sword if it's a situation where drawing a new one is a bad idea (one sword is magical vs. undead, one isn't). Vryce is overconfident and nearly fearless, but that's reflected mostly in his refusal to back down from a fight and refusal to turn down a risk for riches, not by tossing away the advantages his long-reach weapon gives him. He's no berserker, just a soldier killing as efficiently as he can, sure he'll win if he does just that.

So basically you have this guy who's very hard to hit, armored enough you need to hit him hard, who has extremities that take 6 damage to cripple (so you need double-digit base damage at least), limbs that take 11 (high double digit damage), and rolls against a 16 to stay conscious and 16 to not die. His defenses cover himself and everyone else in a large radius. He's got enough HP that it takes 120 to kill him dead automatically.

In short, this is why Vryce tends to clear rooms of fodder, goes toe-to-toe with trolls and hacks them to burger in seconds, and otherwise deals death without getting cut to pieces.

And he's not even that super-tough as knights go - I'm somewhat equipment-stingy so he's not rolling around in the choicest gear just yet. He could be more destructive, or more defensive. But this is why he's not dead even after a couple of bad fights. This is why he stands alone against tough foes - like last session - and somehow is still alive.

So why did I post this?

Basically I've been thinking about how to challenge my players, and why it's so damn hard to put Vryce in danger. It's pretty simple - the player made a guy tough enough to one-shot most opponents, and then has concentrated on hitting (higher skill, Trademark Move) and on defenses. That's defenses on a broad spectrum - DR, last-ditch rolls to stay conscious, parries, ability to defend the people around him. All sorts of foes have confronted him. Some might even have won, except he wasn't alone or unprepared. Grapplers have been shot up by his scout friends and then hacked down before they get close enough to touch him. Magic has been shrugged off or just taken in return for blows. Crazy monster powers have stopped him cold, but not the whole group. He's been both lucky and good. And so I used him as a model when I made my own knight (Tarjan Telnar, in GURPS Midgaard).

Getting to throw down monsters in front of a PC like this is a large part of why I have so much fun GMing my DF game.

If people like this kind of post, I may look at the other long-lasting PCs in my game and why I think they're still around.

* I know the combo of Fit, HTK and HTS seems odd - why not spend 1 more point for +1 HT? Two reasons - Fit has other benefits, and the others were bought piecemeal, when he wanted a better roll and didn't want to wait until he had 10 points to spare. And I'm not a fan of letting people sell back advantages for higher stats - especially when those advantages do things the stats don't.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

When It's Okay For Monsters to Tax PCs

Is it okay for monsters to change taxes or tolls to PCs?

And if so, when?

The idea is pretty simple - some NPCs - monsters, fellow player-allowed races, whatever - set up in an easy access to the dungeon and charge you for access.

It's not a new idea.

It happened in Gary Gygax's Greyhawk campaign, notably here, in Ernie Gygax's "Black Reservoir" expedition. A group of elves let the PCs into an unexplored section of the dungeon in return for a promise to pay them on the way back. (This link is cached here.)

Zak S. discussed a (3rd edition? 4th? I don't know) module set in Greyhawk Castle, and mentioned a clan of dwarves who apparently make their living taxing the comings and goings of adventurers. I commented on it, if you want to read the exchange there. (Short version - he comes down pretty hard on the idea.)

It happens in the Forgotten Realms - one major entrance to Undermountain is in the middle of a tavern, and the owner charges you to use it.*

I've read at least one more instance in an OSR campaign, which I can't seem to find now - NPCs who took over the dungeon entrance and hold it against all comers, but charge you for lowering you into and pulling you out of the dungeon.

It occurs in fiction, too - the Greg Costikyan novel "Another Day, Another Dungeon" features tax collectors at the entrance to the dungeon. Apparently this kind of stuff happened in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor games, too.

But is it okay? Lots of examples doesn't means lots of good examples.

I think it can be okay.

I think it needs the following:

A Plausible Explanation: A bunch of elves hanging out guarding the stairs for some inscrutable purpose? Not bad. A tribe of orcs who live on level 1, and will let you down to level 2 if you really want to go? That works for me. NPCs who seize the entrance to the treasure-hunting zone and let people down and back up? Could work.

A clan of dwarves who apparently make their main living by charging adventurers tolls? Yeah, I agree, that seems weak. You'd need a lot of traffic to justify it. The level of traffic that would entail seems a bit iffy. If the dwarves were part of the city's defense forces and they charged people to enter the city post-adventure, that's fair (albeit annoying).

No believable reason? Bad.

Believable reason (even if it's obscure)? Good.

Avoidability: If the only way into the dungeon, period, is through the toll-takers, that's a problem. It's effectively a cost to enter. Why charge x% of the outgoing treasure instead of just giving x% less treasure?

But what if it's just the most convenient way in? "You can go in past us, or hike 20 miles into the Orclands and go in there. Take your pick." Well, isn't choice a part of the much-loved player agency? It's not a false choice - you can pay for convenience or get inconvenience for free. If the toll-takes actively work against people taking the other choice, that's fine, but not if it means you can't avoid it at all.

Can't avoid it? Bad.

Can avoid it? Good.

Otherwise Surmountable: There needs to be another way besides money to get by. Maybe they'll listen to a good reason (the elves want money to let you by, but they'd let a party of elves skate by free), or have another motive (Kill the evil thing they're guarding the surface against, no charge for you!) or can otherwise be dealt with. And there is always killing them. It's annoying if the toll-charges either have the force of law or the force of moral right behind them. If you're playing AD&D and all halflings are Lawful Good and they're the ones charging a toll, sneaking past them is Bad and killing them is Even Worse. But a group of fellow marauders who set up shop? Chop them into burger, if you can . . .

If it's a couple of ogres who charge people to use "their" stairs, or a tribe of orcs who are willing to let you go fight the monsters down deep if you just give them a taste, or another group you could legally, morally, and/or otherwise effectively deal with other means than money - I think that's fair. I think it's interesting. I also think this works because it allows for other ways to solve the problem - the guards are an obstacle. You can hack them up, sneak past them, or otherwise bypass them - or use money to solve the problem. It encourages negotiation and gives a real reward for doing so (Pay X to be unmolested, Earn X+Y in the deeps). You know your six is guarded, but you can't be sure the guards are trustworthy (will they make you disappear if you come back weak, or aid you?)

So think this can work, and I think it's totally fair. It's just a spin on guardian monsters, anyway - monsters you can bypass with money and who tell you so. It's also just a spin on the magic door with a special key (get key, get entry - no key, no entry), the puzzle entrance, or the hidden entrance. This time the cost is money. The question is, is it fun (avoidability and otherwise surmountable are keys here) and does it make sense (plausible explanation). If it's plausible and represents an interesting challenge, I can't see anything wrong it with. Bad execution doesn't make a bad idea.

* And why are they even letting you in? What if you come back a-running, followed by monsters and/or dripping Mummy Rot? Seems pretty foolish. "Yeah, go on in and rile up the monsters. That'll be 5 silver pieces. Try not to stir them up too much." I mean, the dungeon is under a major city, and instead of dedicating military force to clearing it out and securing the city, they let random yahoos into the dungeon from a hole in a bar floor and hope they don't bring trouble back out? No wonder the realms are a mess. ;)

Friday, March 22, 2013

It's Yours If You Can Keep It - But I get my fee first

So Jason Packer had a nice sandbox summary. Doug Cole has taken the ball and run with it.

Let me throw in a little sand here, too.

One idea I like a lot in this sandbox is the idea of conquest and ownership. You take it, you hold it for a year, it's yours. (The implication that other adventurers can basically be treated as bandits is, well, pure bonus.) The King probably wants something back for this, though, and a money-wise King might want to see steady returns sooner rather than later. This is an idea you can put to work in other sandboxes, too, or just as a background explanation for all those dungeon bashes.

But in my experience players hate paying taxes. So what to do about that?

Here's one option.

Flat Fee - any levy or tithe is a flat fee, not a percentage. Think mobsters or tax farmers. The providing authority (in this case, King Krail) gives you the right to conquer the land and keep it . . . but you owe X amount of money per month, per year, per whatever (year is probably good) in return for this. Don't make the payment and your claim is legally forfeit. You might still be the de facto holder of the claim, but no longer de jure holder of the claim. So cough up $100,000 in gold at the end of the year and it's yours. Don't have it? Better get out and plunder a dungeon, take a loan, or chase a long-last stash of pirate gold. Or suck up hard to the king.

This works even better if the party is your usual band of murder-hobos. They don't want to settle down, but if a license to steal is $10K a year, and everything above that is profit, they're going to be extremely aggressive monster-tithing tax famers ("King says you owe everything, including your mana organs. Sorry, Mr. Dragon.") If doesn't even need to be a king - it could be financial backers for an expedition. They put up the cash, you keep any overage past their costs and fixed profit.

This one is a bit easier to swallow than taxes. If you don't want to pay the levy, fine - what you seize isn't yours. (This explains hirelings and henchmen pretty well - they want some money, but it's too big of a risk to bite off) It's a good "discuss it ahead of time" kind of thing, too - if everyone jumps in with the "we're a group of guys splitting the claim's annual levy" it even explains the remarkably commune-like approach many gaming groups take towards treasure and expendables.

This is also a good way to let one group fund a future group, if you keep the same world but different generations of gamers. Your old retired guys might loan out their magic weapons and such to new delvers, in return for a fee to be paid after they get some loot.

Just throwing this out there.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How I (re-roll) Melee Spells

One annoying bit about GURPS Magic's spell classes is that one of the classes of potentially resisted spells needs an extra roll. Douglas Cole brought this up yesterday during a summary of a fun gaming session and Mark Langsdorf discussed it further in the comments.

Resisted Regular spells get one roll - your margin of success on the spell roll is the margin of success your target(s) need to resist by.

Melee spells, though, often end up needing a second roll. You roll to cast the spell, and roll again later during a contest to see if it overcomes the resistance of the target. Not an issue for straight-damage spells, but for spells like Wither Limb or Total Paralysis you need to cast the spell, hit the target, get past his defenses, and then overcome resistance with a second roll.

If there is one thing about me, I hate extra rolls. Even one extra roll is wasted table time, so I don't want to deal with them.

So here are two ways to get around this.

One Roll Melee Spells. If you cast a resisted Melee spell, keep track of your margin of success when you cast it. Effective skill 17 and you roll a 14? Made it by 3. Use that in the contest when and if you hit.

Pros: Simple. One less roll.

Cons: Bookkeeping. Players might dump a spell if they know they barely cast it ("made it by 1, I should just try it again") or target high-resistance targets if they got an awesome roll ("I got a three! I'll go after the Evil High Priest!") (That might be a hidden pro, though, as it adds some real depth to target choice.)

Roll On Contact Melee Spells. Don't roll for melee spells until the caster makes contact with the target. By default, all Melee spells are successfully cast, cost their normal point cost, etc. When the caster actually makes contact, roll the spell roll. If it fails, the spell just fizzles. Success means the defender gets to try and resist normally, if appropriate. The regular rules on pages 13-14 apply.

Pros: One less roll. Even simpler than the above, and no bookkeeping.

Cons: Changes the cost of failed melee spells (from 1 energy if it would have cost at all to full net cost, always.) You can change that by saying you don't pay the energy cost until you roll or try to drop the spell to change your plan of action, etc. Makes them even riskier because a low-skill caster isn't even sure the spell worked until after he tries to get it to go off on a target. Which again, might be a hidden pro.

Personally I've been doing the first one ("Remember what you made it by") but option two has some attraction to it.

If you use either, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Other people's GURPS Dungeon Fantasy session reports

There are a few bloggers running GURPS fantasy games out there.

I am running my own, of course, and it's heavily AD&D/Rolemaster influenced. I'm going with pretty strict templates, the more gritty rules, and an emphasis on scarcity of goods and slow growth of personal power. I'm also running a megadungeon.

But I'm not alone.

Here are the ones I know of, in no particular order. Characterizations and descriptions are mine, and so are any errors in them.

Mark Langsdorf is running Savage Tides with GURPS. They're using cinematic rules like Wildcard skills (i.e. replacing the knight's various skills with Knight! - a one-skill solution).

Patrick Halter is running Temple of Elemental Evil with GURPS, in a very standard DF-style way but with lower point characters than I do. PCs are (for now) raiding the moathouse, but the temple looms on the horizon as a campaign tent-post megadungeon.

Ken Harrison is playing in Robert Conley's Majestic Wilderlands in a GURPS game. Here's a sample session report.

Christian Blouin is running a GURPS game set in Middle-Earth.

Grouchy Chris is running a GURPS game where the PCs are in a traveling circus - here's a session summary.

Douglas Cole is playing in DF Jade Regeant, and occasionally posts summaries.

Am I missing any GURPS blogs with session summaries? If so, let me know and I'll go and read them.

Editing Later: A couple new places to look:

Michael Keenan's DF Game

Trees and Caves

Editing 3/21: One more.

Jason Wollard's DF game

Editing 3/23: Still another.

Neon_goggles's GURPS Fantasy Game

Editing 12/24: And another.

Spiderweb in the Corner

3/1/14: One more:

Don't Forget Your Boots

2/3/15: And still more:

Lands of Nandeme


8/12/15: One more

Further Up The Spire

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Being A Helpful GURPS Player in Combat, Part II

There wasn't supposed to be a Part II, but I thought of a few more things people can do.

These are a bit more "helpful" and less "grinds the game to a halt if you don't do them" kinds of things.

Know Your Crippling Thresholds. Know how much damage it takes to:
- blind your eye
- cripple a limb
- cripple an extremity
- score a major wound on you

Know Your HT, Death, and Consciousness Rolls. They're all the same by default, but know them and what exceptions you've carved out with things like Fit, Hard to Kill, Hard to Subdue, or Berserk.

Know Your Large Area Damage DR. It's an average of your torso DR and your lightest DR exposed to the attack. Yes, if you have an open-faced helmet this means you use that zero, at least in my games. This one will vary, but not as often as you think - lots of times all that matters is "I'm facing the explosion" and "I'm not facing the explosion." But it's a pain to have people fumble with this one when an explosion hits an area and everyone needs to know.

Know Your FP and HP Multiples and What They Mean. Know what "below 1/3" amounts to for these, and what that does to your guy. The others are easy - at -1 x FP you're losing HP instead, and all the HP multiples are -X times HP. Those are easy, but it's disappointing to have someone say "Oh wait, I'm at 4 HP and I have 13 HP, so I should have been at half Move and Dodge for like, three turns!"

Know Your Encumbrance Break Point, If Any. If your Move and Dodge go up if you drop your shield, or drop your backpack and go to battle load, know this ahead of time. No one wants to sit around while you figure out if you drop your potion bag or get that bedroll off if that's enough to drop your encumbrance.

Like the previous bunch, many of these are solved by a good character sheet (we use Phoenix from GCA, it's pretty good). Or you can just write them down on paper like I do for NPCs. Just make sure you know them.

Some of this surely makes GURPS sound complicated. It's not, just detailed, and those details are very individual. It's only slow when people don't know their character's details, or what those details mean. These and the last bunch are the real biggies in my experience.

Friday, March 15, 2013

How to Be a Helpful GURPS Player During Combat

I run a combat-heavy game. I used to run other combat-heavy games (or at least, combat-critical games, where combats could make or break you). Fighting is central to my GURPS experience, and GMing combats is central to my GMing experience.

So here are some ways players can help speed along combat. The more of these you can do, the smoother fights go.

Know When You Go. However the GM is doing turn order (by Speed, round the table, by bribe size, etc.) know when you go. This alone will speed up combat significantly over "sorry man, I didn't realize I go after he does."

Know Your Best Options. You don't need to know what your modifiers for doing everything are, just your modifiers for doing the stuff you do a lot. Put them together in a way that's easy to parse out but also easy to total at a glance. If you just write "Broadsword Swing to Neck 15" and have to re-calculate each turn to know that you have to add +1 for your Balanced sword, it's not really faster. One way I do this is to spell it out with a final number.

For example, I might write: Tarjan's Twofer (Rapid Strike (-3/-3) to Skull (-3 w/Slayer Training), net -6, +1 for Trademark Move = -5/-5) and just know it's effective skill -5/-5 for this move (thanks to two different advantages and one perk), or I might write that plus "= 17" at the end thanks to my One-Handed Flail-21 and a +1 for a Balanced morningstar.

Know Your Situational Bonuses. There aren't a lot of these, but they exist. Know that Retreat gives a +3 to Dodge and a +1 to most other defenses (a couple skills get a +3 - if you have one, know this). Know you can't do it repeatedly. Know your DB (defensive bonus) and when it adds to your defenses (front arc plus one side for shields, all arcs for most magical DB, for example).

Know Your Defense Cascades. By Defense Cascades, I mean, your penalties for cumulative defenses. Dodges are unlimited, at -0. Parries are at a cumulative -4, -2 if you've got Weapon Master or a Fencing Weapon or certain two-handed weapons (using the optional but highly recommend rules in GURPS Martail Arts), -1 if you meet both criteria. Block is -5 for each additional, again halved with the appropriate Weapon Master. Write these down or at least write down the penalty. If you're always rolling against a net Parry 17, +1 with Retreat, you could write "Sword Parry 17, +1 with Retreat, -2 after first." But know it, don't calculate it each time.

Know Your Damage. You shouldn't need to look it up, figure it out and write it down. If you do a move that adds extra, well, add that in on top at the end.

Know the Page Refs For Your Crazy Moves. If you do unusual stuff, know how it works and have the page ref down if a critical edge case comes up - or just so you can flip to it before the game and hand it to the ref and say "Don't forget I'm probably doing disarms today." If you have specific penalties for special moves (double shooting, hurling handfuls of shuriken, doing twofers with your staff) note them down along with the page refs. I prefer people don't look stuff up in play, but we're going to look it up eventually, so know where it is.

Remember What You Did Last Turn. Don't forget that you attacked last turn with your unbalanced weapon and need to re-ready now. Especially don't remember this after you parried with it anyway. Don't forget that what you did last time affects what you can do now and right up to now. If you know you'll forget this a lot, do everyone a favor and get weapons that can both attack and parry on the same turn and which don't require time to ready!

Those are some easy ways to keep combat moving along that the players can do.

Short version - know your capabilities and your rolls, and be ready when it's your turn!

A later addition: Part II

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Random Thoughts VIII (I think)

Just some random links and comments.

- Grouchy Chris has put up a nice table of GURPS weapons. It's nice to get a quick glance of "where does my weapon fall?" in terms of damage capabilities. You'll notice the full-size polearms are pretty far on the damage axes vs. knives. ;)
I'd need to modify it for using the Low-Tech weapon damages, which upgunned a few weapons a little bit to correct for some long-standing issues (basically, more thrust damage for some smaller swords, more cutting damage for heavy unbalanced weapons). I use those in my games so it's gotten weird to see shortswords still doing "thrust" and not "thrust+1."

- There is a good discussion of Fast-Draw on the GURPS forums, wherein I reveal that I let Heroic Archers buy perks to avoid those every-turn Fast-Draw and ready the bow rolls for Quick-Shooting Bows rules. It's that or have to pay attention to up to 5 rolls every turn for each of two scouts, and they make all of them almost all of the time. I went with "give me a character point and we can all stop with the extra rolls" and it's fine.

- There aren't a lot of copies of Vornheim (reviewed here) available, or so I hear. I highly recommend it, if you're going to run a big-city based or big-city visiting game. Mapless and easy city generation in a "how to" book rather than a sourcebook.

- Here is a good look at Feints in GURPS. I especially like that he mentions Dirty Tricks, which is something we linked to Feints in GURPS Martial Arts because, well, it's a fun and rules-consistent way to resolve them. He's doing them differently than we did there, but still, it's the same idea - do something unexpected and foul in a situation where it isn't expected, and maybe you get the advantage. Or maybe not - you don't always know who you're messing with.

- You want to know why I link to, and read, so many OSR-type blogs? I like dungeon crawls and I speak fluent AD&D. I don't miss it, but I like a lot of what it offered up. So I find a lot of inspiration in reading about other people's D&D-ish blog posts. I like the general thoughts on what makes a good dungeon, what makes a good game, and so on. I tend to shy away from the larger "what is good gaming?" "what is the OSR?" "what is player agency?" stuff, though, because ultimately that doesn't interest me so much. I get a lot more mileage out of "put at least three ways into and out of each dungeon level" than I get out of a dozen posts "balance and why it sucks" and does game X count as game type Y?" and "where it all went wrong." That's partly a philosophical issue, and partly my thought that if my players keep showing up at game and bug me when I don't run it, we're already doing it right. If I'm already doing it right, then I just need tweaks to the details and inspiration for my own game rather than deeper thoughts on gaming in general.

- Explaining my hobby is interesting. I can't tell people I play something like D&D but it's not D&D. That ship sailed a long time ago. I have to tell people (especially Japanese people, who I interact with a lot) that I play role-playing games without a video game system. That's a niche within a niche.
I find it easier to explain MMA - "It's like K-1 Heroes or Pride" (to Japanese people) or "Like in the UFC" to Americans. And then the question is "why?" not "what?" Explaining tabletop roleplaying is harder now than ever. It's not that people think I'm weird, it's that they don't understand what I'm talking about. RPGs are a kind of video game, and saying I play them without a video game is like saying I race cars without a car - it's like I'm just talking nonsense. Sometimes I just say my friends and I play fantasy games with little miniature figures, like a board game without the board, and that seems to click with people much faster.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: Gygax Magazine #1

Gygax Magazine #1

I ordered Gygax Magazine the day it came out. It took a few weeks to arrive - hopefully a problem experienced by few others. So forgive the lateness of this commentary.

I have to say, I have mixed feelings about this magazine.

On the upside it's attractive, it's well put together, and it looks exactly like Dragon used to look. It's got both new Order of the Stick comics and new What's New? The articles were all pretty fun to read, even if every single one was for game systems I don't play anymore, or never played. It's fun looking at ads for stuff that is actually available, not long gone decades ago. And the broad scope of the discussion means it's not just a bunch of new stuff for one version of D&D I've never played.

On the downside, there isn't a whole there for my $8.95. A lot of the articles, well, a majority it feels like, bank more on nostalgia and vague suggestions ("Try mixing fantasy and sci-fi!" "Try making magic different!" "Remember the old days? I do!"). Others coast on some light analysis I find all over the OSR community.

Honestly, as I read, I was thinking, "This should have been a blog post." If I'm going to pay money for a print magazine, I'd like it to be more meaty. Sure, these articles might have flown in the old days, but in the old days we had Dragon and Space Gamer and a few other magazines - in my parts White Dwarf was a legend, not a potential purchase. Now we have the internet, and I can find more blog posts and articles and campaign writeups and ideas than I'd have time to digest. All for free or nearly so.

For money, on a physical product, I feel like I need to get more use out of it. As it stands, only a few articles are really "pick this up and use this!" and a lot are not.

I think the magazine is a good idea. It gives new authors and established authors a chance to put out materials to the world of gamers without having to rely purely on word of mouth and website hits to get it out. And they accept submissions, although right now the page doesn't say how much they pay.

It's also, again, very attractive and I really enjoyed reading it.

But this issue feels heavy on nostalgia and light on gaming materials, and it's not a cheap hit of nostalgia, either. I find myself wanting to give it one more try mostly on the strength of its great cover art, it's resemblance to Dragon, and OOTS and WN? I haven't decided yet, I might have to wait and see. If it gets meatier, I might keep getting some issues. If not, well, it was nice to get reminded of how exciting a new issue of Dragon in the mail used to be.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Playing GURPS Gladiators

One thing that happens when you write books and GM a lot face-to-face is you don't get to play your own creations much. I've never actually run my own ninja in DF. I've never gotten to fight against my own monsters. But I can now say I got to play as a gladiator from styles I helped put into 4th edition.

You see, Saturday nights Vlaclav Tofl runs a campaign set in GURPS Fantasy's Roma Arcana, with the PCs as gladiators in a ludus.

So here is an extremely long discussion of the game.

Abstract: I had a lot of fun, it was like Man-to-Man all over again, and it's interesting to see how other GMs roll and other players fight.

How was the game?

It was interesting. I got to play using a pick-up pregen called Marcus Claudius Crassus, a Roman soldier sentenced to the arena to die, assigned the role of Hoplomachus.

I joked that this was a terrible mistake - I've been a GM since I was 9. I'm an expert at running nameless guys meant to just fight and die. ;)

I'd picked another character but someone else who could actually play regularly (and not be a drop-in) wanted him, so Vlaclav asked me to hand him over. Done, I just wanted to fight stuff on a happenstance free Saturday night.

It was nice seeing the rules for overly-flashy strikes, crowd reaction, and Performance in fights in play (all from GURPS Martial Arts: Gladiators pg. 22 especially), GMed by someone else. I wrote that section of the book, and I wasn't sure how they'd play out in the hands of others. They played out well - as long as their is an incentive to take risks to do flashy stuff, it'll happen and it did.

Ironically my character didn't use them - he lacks Combat Art, he lacks Performance, and nothing in his personality suggests he's doing much other than trying to not die. So I played him that way - efficient victory was his aim, and the rare time I tried to be flashy it didn't help (Performance-6 is a hard roll under target on 3d6). He's expected to die for people's amusement but has the Proud perk, so goal one was "don't die" and goal two will be "kill well." At least as I ran them.

We did two rounds - a one-on-one fight with blunt weapons, and then two-on-two with real weapons. No armor in either case.

Round one was my guy vs. Adawolf, a big German. He was lucky it was blunts - I rolled a 3 on a vitals stab with my stick and rolled maximum damage. He's a big beefy dude and shrugged it off. Had it been real weapons he'd have been rolling to stay conscious and badly injured. His tactic was to Evaluate, then close and feint and dual-weapon attack. My tactic was to advance and Wait. This didn't work as well as I'd hoped because of two things - Vlaclav uses Per-based weapon skill for spotting Feints (my Per sucks). The other is that he uses a Contest of Skills mechanic to see who goes first in a Wait. You did this in 3e, and you do with Stop Hits in 4e (when you actually let the guy start to attack and then try to attack into it). But the base rule is just, Waiting guy goes first. So I was expecting to just nail him and I was thrown off when I had to see if I managed to do that - my tactics would have been very different had I known. I got lucky and Crassus got to attack first (and get his critical hit). Basically whenever he attacked, I Dodged. My Parry was good, but my Dodge (while unencumbered) was better, so I Dodged and Retreated.

Eventually I just moved around, Adawolf tried to hit and failed, I hit once again, and our owner got bored and yelled at all and made us stop. Fair enough.

Round two was Crassus and a big sword-armed gladiator against Adawolf and Parmenion, a thraex. Again, no armor but sharps this time. That proved pretty helpful to Crassus - unarmored foes vs. a spear? Heh. This fight was much messier. I'd decided that Wait wouldn't help me much so I didn't bother. I used my mobility to move up and then to the side of the fray. That was an error, because the two foes moved in on my teammate and got in a good hit. It suddenly looked like I'd stranded him. So I basically ran up and All-Out Defense (Increased Dodge)'d, getting between him and one opponent and getting in the face of the other. That kept me in the fray.

Basically I got lucky in that no one got more than one hit on me, and I was able to Dodge and Retreat against everything. I'm essentially a cautious fighter. I used a mix of stabs to the vitals, stabs to the torso, and Telegraphic Rapid Strikes to the torso when people were wide open. I know I got Adawolf at least once that way (vitals stab) and perforated Parminion the Thraex that way, too. Once Adawolf was bleeding badly, and Parminion was playing "roll Death checks until you fail!" the boss called a stop. Yeah, better to preserve your valuable fighters for a real show, not just a drop-in visitor who wanted to see some blood (the ostensible reason for our fray).

Generally, though, I felt totally comfortable fighting. I'd played so many hours of Man-to-Man, and then even more of map-based Advanced Combat/Tactical Combat in GURPS 1e-4e, that this was old hat. Skill 15 guy with low damage and shitty armor and moderate stats? Bring it! You're playing in my playground now buddy. It was "The rebels have to seize the armoury before the guards can blow the horn" all over again (old MTM reference.) Flat field, low-skill guys, and death spirals = how we spent our teen years when no one had cars ready for Car Wars.

How is it being GMed in your own creations?

I generally follow a simple rule - the GM is right. If the rules say X and the GM says Y, the rule is Y.

This generally goes well, since it keeps play moving and doesn't make having the guy who helped write some of those rules a big hassle. Seriously, if I wrote Rule A and it says X, and the GM says no, in my game it's Y, then it's Y. I try to only pipe in with actual rules questions - "What's the modifier for Fit on Death checks?" or "How much does Retreat give me?" And I'm happy to explain how a rule is meant to work, if that's the question.

I did argue once, when the GM told me I couldn't move a certain way and I knew I could, but we sorted that out. It wasn't "I don't run it that way" it was "It costs X to do that" but how Roll20 shows movement made it look like I was doing something I wasn't. GURPS makes you face into a hex as you move in, using Move, but you can't simultaneously turn and move your piece, so it looked like I was either side-stepping or turning, then stepping, then turning. Just an interface oddness that lead to "you can't do that." He's right, I can't, but Roll20 wouldn't let me show what I was actually doing.

On the other hand, I did let something go by that the GM didn't intend to do. In 3e you rolled stunning and knockdown rolls separately. Now it's one roll - you get knocked down and stunned. I'd assumed it was a house rule (lots of people like the 3e version, including me), not a 3e-ism. A 3e-ism? When you remember a rule from 3e that isn't actually in 4e, like my players do with Wild Swing vs. Move-and-Attack or calling DB PD and using the wrong numbers for shields. Oh well, I'd have done even better if it was both, as I inflicted a stun on everyone I fought at least once.

Oh, and I did like that - like me! - he wants people to state their action before they execute (or roll) their actions. I know why people don't, but seriously, it makes it easier as the GM to track what should happen.

How about the rules?

Death spirals suck when it happens to you but not when you do it to someone else. Plus it's realistic, sadly - one good hit can put you into a position where all you can do is choose how you lose.

This was my first time using Evaluate. No one bothers in my games. I kind of see why - +1 isn't that helpful compared to "I'm hitting him." It's useful but I'm not convinced it's for me just yet.

I forgot to use Telegraphic Attack the first time I had someone All-Out Attack near me. I didn't forget again.

All-Out Attack is ridiculously dangerous one-on-one. It's almost silly one-on-many. I made two people who tried it near me pay for it. One had no choice (he was getting mauled, and his AOA let him deal some serious damage to my teammate before he went down) but it's really worth thinking "Can any of the other guys get to me this turn?" If the answer is yes, be wary. I deliberately moved in the 4-man brawl to ensure I could choose who to attack as often as I could do it. Keep your options open. Be aggressive but don't be aggressive until there is an opening. Forcing one gets you killed.

I feinted someone but he ran away. This was actually what I wanted to happen - I wanted him to move away so I couldn't get double-teamed and neither could my teammate. If he'd stayed I'd have taken advantage but I would have had a hard time if someone forced me to retreat in the meantime.

I liked the Per-based spotting of Feints. GURPS assumes that weapon skill stays on DX for Feints because you can react well to a feint even if you are out of position initially. Per-based feints also have the oddness that the less well you perceive things, the easier you are to trick out of position with a feint. So guys who see the best spot the feint, guys who see very poorly (or can barely see at all) fall for feints. I can already here the arguments at my table ("I look away and then look back, negating his feint!" "Guys, seriously . . . " "What, it makes sense!") Still, I like the idea that Per matters in combat, and it makes enough sense and adds enough fun to pass the "actual play" test.

It was fun actually using Extra Effort in Combat. I've offered that to my players more than once and no one has even bothered with saying no. They just don't care to use it. So I never get to actually play in fights that matter that use it. It's nice, and it was helpful, but it didn't change anything for me. It just let me get off a few extra stabs I might not have otherwise, most of which didn't tell anyway. Well, the last one did, but in a short fight with assured recovery after, it was kind of like free penalty reductions for not much change in the fight.

How is Roll20?

Every single time I use Roll20 in a Hangout I have problems. Last night I got booted, my PC locked up trying to get Firefox back up, I needed to reboot (maybe not need, but I did it), and then I needed to use Chrome. Then I couldn't get Roll20 to pop out into a separate window. Then I couldn't get it to stop displaying giant icons for everyone over the battlemap. I was on a 15.6" laptop with about 1" x 2" of vision of the actual play area. Annoying.

Overall I had fun, and while I doubt I can make it often I might try to drop in when I can, if only to watch and learn how other people fight. Vlaclav is a good ref and he's remarkably patient with crappy mics, misunderstood statements, and connection problems. Nevermind cautious "win ugly but win" gladiators run by GURPS writers.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

In Which I DO Recommend GURPS

In a couple of places (G+, for one, and in an article I read elsewhere) people have talked about good "intro" games for kids. Basically, a starter RPG.

Me, the starter RPG I recommend is full-on GURPS. Why? Because if you join my group, I'm going to run it for you. It's not that hard, although you can make it so. With a GM running it, much of the complexity can happen behind the scenes. Video games work exactly this way - does it matter to me if the tank game I'm playing calculates cross-wind and reduces my accuracy if I just point, click, and it says if I hit or miss? Nope. It doesn't matter in an RPG if you roll a 9 and I say "you hit!" and that's the whole extent of your participation in the rules.

But, my answer for people who want to start an RPG without a teacher - say, you want to gift it to a kid and have it be essentially read-and-play out of the box, well, my opinion will be different. I'd probably go with GURPS Lite, but if it seemed like they really needed a pick-up-and-play game I might go with Labyrinth Lord (if "free" is what I want) or Basic D&D (if it doesn't matter). Here the issue is the book needs to tell them everything they need to know without reference to a teacher. They'll Google stuff anyway, but you want to ensure they don't actually have to do much besides figure out to start, and then start.

But except for very young kids, I don't think rules complexity is an issue. Even for learning to play. When I was 9, I was playing and running Basic D&D. I did need someone to show me how to play, and how to read a map key (sorry, I wasn't born reading maps), and confuse me by adding in AD&D rules to the mix without telling me they didn't mesh flawlessly. But I learned. By 10 I was running AD&D. By 13 I was running GURPS and Rolemaster (I did get one chargen issue wrong in it, though) and other games.

I can't possibly be unusual in this respect. I don't think kids need things simplified for them. Very young kids, yes, I think it helps to simplify the larger game-world concepts and story elements (killing a PC and doing an endzone dance is funny when you're all 40, not so much when you're 7 and dad does it to you.) But rules? I don't think it's necessary.

So yeah, starter RPG? I'd hand someone GURPS in a second, and I'd run it (and frequently have run it) for people brand new to RPGs. It's not necessary to shield new players from potential complexity, because the obstacle is "Is it fun?" and not "Does it have a lot of rules?" At least to me it isn't.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Obstacles & Obstacle Monsters

Some monsters aren't really monsters. They're really obstacles.

What's an obstacle? Something that is in your way. It isn't inherently dangerous or harmful, it's an impediment to easy movement. It's something you need to overcome or bypass to continue on your way. A door is an obstacle. A crevasse is an obstacle. A wall is an obstacle. They act to slow down or channel progress. They don't harm you but they take up time, resources, and attention - all of which make you vulnerable to real monsters. The fortified entrance - and its pit - of my megadungeon is like that. It's a pain to cross into and out of the dungeon, so the PCs have to take that into account when making trips. It limits options.

Take a 10' pit, a "standard" dungeon obstacle. It's not really dangerous. In GURPS DF it's a 1d+2 crushing damage fall - 3-7, average 5.5 - which is nothing to most delvers unless they're lightly armored. Even then, it's probably not any real damage.

A pit isn't really a trap. It's easy to avoid, low damage, and easy to bypass.

If you have to get by that pit in a bad circumstances, well, it can potentially hurt. It's not easy to avoid if you're running in the dark. The low damage is a problem if you're already wounded. It's a real obstacle if you're dragging your friend's unconscious body or his corpse or his petrified remains out of the dungeon. It's a problem if you are being pursued and suddenly the time to cross it is critical.

They can also be dangerous in conjunction with an actually lethal monster. Pits backed by dangerous ranged attackers mean your melee guys can't run up and engage them. A locked heavy door backed by a monster that can attack without line of sight (say, a tentacle-headed humanoid psi type) is now a real problem door. So is one behind you, if you need to run. Alone, it's harmless to the alert or the ready but now it's not your only problem.

Monsters can be like that too - basically, an obstacle, not an enemy. Green slime in D&D, say - not a threat to the alert. Piercers are harmless to people looking forward and up, and trappers to those who don't blinding run into rooms to grab obvious bait chests. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 2 calls out some of these monsters as non-monsters. Nasty fungi, oozes, and other non-moving critters are merely "Nasty Surprises" (DF 2, p. 18) rather than monsters. There are a few in DFM1, too - the horrid skull and leaping leeches, for example. Not a real threat by themselves, or in isolation, but they can be dangerous to the weak, unprepared, and unwary. They also consume time and resources.

The gelatinous cube-clone I posted yesterday is such an obstacle - such a "nasty surprise." It's slower than an armored man. It's harmless against any real armor. It can't hurt the wary, and you can just walk away from it. It's a Move 2 critter that can't hurt you unless you get completely surrounded by it. It's not hard to kill or hard to clear. Unlewss it's in a 10' pit and you fall it, you're probably going to just destroy it and move on. It's not really a monster. Basically, it's a way to:

- explain why corpses, etc. disappear.
- why chalk marks and such disappear from walls when your players ask why you didn't mention their chalk marks from eight sessions ago.
- make it dangerous to leave wounded companions behind, or leave corpses behind for later recovery and resurrection.
- it's a way to making it dangerous to let your guard down.
- it's a mobile obstacle, so previously "safe" places might not be safe this time. Or later on.
- it makes it dangerous to run in a dungeon, even to try and run out of the dungeon.

But it's not a foe any more than that 10' pit is.

Lots of monsters work that way, in GURPS and in dungeon gaming in general. Most of the time, they're irritating at most and generally harmless. They consume some time and possibly resources (my players needed to expend flammables to clear out the cube to avoid walking in it.) They make it harder to get around when wounded, tired, burdened by loot and wounded friendlies, and otherwise make it tricky to navigate the dungeon. That's the criteria I use to build those kind of monsters.

Now, of course, some obstacles can be lethal - hidden, trapped, and otherwise made extremely dangerous. But they don't start that way automatically. Monsters don't all have to be lethal to be worth notice, either, or useful for the GM or for generating some fun play.

So not all monsters need to be a head-to-head threat against an armed, alert delver. It's enough if they make it unsafe to be other than an armed, alert delver . . .

(Oh, and they are murder at the bottom of a pit, if you fall in.)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Iconic Monster Use & GURPS 10' Gelatin Cube Monster

In my last session, my players ran into a gelatinous cube. Well, encountered. It would have been funny if they actually ran into it, of course.

Everyone identified it pretty quickly. Dryst's player knew it well enough to list its probable powers. But a couple guys said "I never actually ran into one."

Iconic old-school monster. A killer 10 x 10 x 10 foot cube of dungeon-clearing "so this is why stuff we leave behind is gone" monster.

But they never ran into it.

Heck, I rarely used them myself.

Why not?

I think part of this is that they are so iconic, so obvious, and so well-known that they are hard to use. You either feel they're overused, or too obvious, or that they are so special you need to save them up for a special occasion. This is also known as "dragon syndrome." You end up not using them at all or using them so late they're more of a campaign afterthought.

Well, that's not going to happen with gelatinous cubes in my game anyway.

And just because, here are some stats for a killer 10 x 10 x 10 foot cube of carrion-eating jelly statted for GURPS 4th edition.

Killer Cube O' Gelatin
A 10 foot cube of hunting gelatin. "Attacks" by moving into/onto a target and then digesting it. Usually motors along at less than 1 yard/second, eating mold, fungus, carrion, and wood (including doors in a pinch!), but it can and will speed up if attacked or it senses a large amount of food.

ST: 0 HP: 10 Speed: 4.00
DX: 6 Will: 10 Move: 2
IQ: 1 Per: 8
HT: 10 FP: 10 SM: +4

Dodge: N/A Parry: N/A DR: 0

Slam or Touch (N/A): 1 point corrosive damage (every 5 pts damage reduces DR by 1 and inflicts 1 damage) (doesn’t affect most metals or any stone/pottery) plus paralysis (contact agent, resisted by HT-2), lasts 1 minute after no longer in contact with cube.
Envelopment (N/A): It can fully envelop paralyzed foes; envelopment does 10 points of corrosive damage per second, plus paralysis as above.

Traits: Amphibious; Discriminatory Smell; Doesn’t Breathe; Doesn’t Sleep; High Pain Threshold; Immunity to Metabolic Hazards; Immunity to Mind Control; Injury Tolerance (Homogenous; No Blood); Invertebrate; No Legs (Slithers); No Manipulators; Regeneration (1 HP/Hour, not from fire); Silence 3; Universal Digestion; Vibration Sense (Air).
Skills: Stealth-12.
Class: Slime
Notes: Nonsentient and can’t negotiate. Plant/Slime spells won’t work. Gelatinous cube jelly is worth $10 a quart, 1d6 quarts can be gathered from a slain cube.

Editing Later: Check the comments if you want to see some suggestions for making this tougher. I didn't make it very tough, because I'm not sure why a scavenger should be a tough fight for even a slightly-prepared adventurer. This cube is a scavenger, meant for sweeping up the dungeon and making it perilous to leave the wounded behind, try to stash food, leave corpses you might want to zombie later, and so on. It's not a threat, although you can make it so if you prefer. I don't, so the version above isn't one. It's fodder at best. It's an obstacle, not an enemy, and it's really just a reminder that nothing that isn't alert and able to defend itself is safe in a megadungeon. It should be just as dangerous as a 10' pit - not at all if you're paying attention and ready, but potentially harmful if you aren't.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

DF Game Session 22 - Clash of the Titans

March 3rd, 2013

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Christoph, human scout (255 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (251 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (253 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (286 points)
Vryce, human knight (about 325 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)

Still in town:
Borriz, dwarven knight (310 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (292 points)

Why "Clash of the Titans?" Brilliant turning of bad luck into winning a fight, that's why.

This was also a case where "never flee into new territory" and "clear your six" where ignored, and much fun ensued from it.

Borriz and Honus couldn't make it because their players couldn't, either.

We started out in town, picking up rumors, Dryst missing every. single. roll. to buy magical and/or special gear, and otherwise equipping the group. Potions were bought, money was spent, and a threshold for loot expended nearly hit again.

They quickly decided they didn't have the firepower to deal with 33 druagr (found last time), but they did want to try to deal with the so-called "fire men" they'd heard about before. Their research was sketchy - probably elementals, probably vulnerable to water, and any essence left behind is valuable - but it was all they had. Then they headed out, after hiring two new no-name NPCs - a shieldbearer and a laborer (equipped with twin 5-gallon barrels of water).

This session was hell on doors. The group made it up to the top of the mountain, to the ruins, and headed right for the tower entrance. It was locked. No blast of black energy light when they first got there, but still locked. Hmm . . . they left it open last time. They headed to the well. It wasn't budging, either. A few test pries with the crowbar revealed a bar on the other side (bars in GURPS DF dramatically reduce the chances of forcing a door). So Chuck Morris jumped down and set to work. A couple inches of solid stone? Hah. He concentrated on Power Blow and Breaking Blow, got both, and smashed down with his light horse cutter's metal-shod foot. Bam. Cracks. He did it again - missed Breaking Blow but still got Power Blow (for ST 28, counting Striking ST). More cracks. A third shot shattered the stone and it fell into the room below, along with the bar and one of the brackets holding it.

They dropped down and investigated - the bar was newly installed. And the secret door out of the room was blocked - it was wedged shut with an iron spike on the other side. Brute force solved this, and the group headed out.

They went to the so-called water room and finished opening the small hole in the wall into a big hole and moved through this ("we saved 20 feet.")

Next it was onto the stairs below the tower. They unlocked the hatch, and noted a lot of tracked mud and dirt clearly dropped off booted feet. They vowed to get the guys who kept locking the doors.

The found the twin secret doors to the so-called odd-shaped room. The second secret door - the further one - was spiked shut. It was easy to get the spike out with the crowbar, but again, it was necessary to do so to get through.

In the room they found the stone trap door was covered with a 3' wide, 2' high rock, keeping it shut. They debated about it and then Raggi just say "Oh the hell with this!" and picked it up and put it aside. They pried it open and - to ensure it couldn't be shut behind them - smashed the pivot point (a metal bar shaped into the stone) into oblivion.

(This is where the first mistake was made - not clearing their six. Clearly, hostile and intelligent foes were around on level 1, and would be between them and the surface. All signs pointed to them being in at the moment. But they simply moved on ahead. This would hurt later.)

They made a lot of noise smashing the pivot, attracting some wandering centipedes (I kept saying scorpions, luckily I had centipede cardboard heroes to use). I joked that passing a HT check vs. their venom did "only 5d toxic damage." Dryst's player quipped "Still better than D&D." Heh. Some people really hate "save or die instantly."

They killed the centipedes quickly - the four 1' ones and one 5' sucker. Galen tossed a 1' one in his backpack to save for later, I think to milk for venom.

They then dropped down and went through the "upper" of the two exits from the 'tween levels tunnel. As always, when opened it set off a gonging alarm every 15 seconds or so. They decided to leave it open, which in a way is very clever - if the alarm is always going off, it's not clear when they were in the area. Below the trap door were some giant rat corpses - some rended and torn to pieces, others chopped up cleanly. They moved them aside and came down.

They moved quickly to the area where they saw the flickering flames of the fire men, and searched some rooms they'd briefly dealt with before. One was the one where Krug was discovered, petrified. Nothing of interest was found, but they did find a Create Servant spell made for a great trap springer. One was sent to open doors (at least to see if touching them would spring a trap), and later it was sent to deal with a monster-sized bear trap. It set it off with a foot nudge, only to find it was itself a trap-trigger and ceiling blocks fell on it. Crunch. A second one was summoned (and oddly seemed distracted by the spot where its predecessor had been mashed into non-existence.)

Meanwhile we had another Dryst class line - he threw a Seek Earth spell seeking Silver (or Orichalcum, I can't remember) and got no results. He said "Powerful dark forces are blocking my spells." Yeah, that's it for sure. His ability to deliver those with a straight face is really a great part of the fun of the gaming session.

As they headed closer to the fire-men, they decided on their plan - Vryce would toss a water barrel Donkey Kong-like, and if the fighters couldn't hurt the fire-men Dryst would use Wild Talent to cast Icy Weapon on one's weapon. If they could, he'd use it for Resist Fire and make a few invulnerable to attack. They advanced. As they got within 100', the fire-men (they could see three humanoid-shaped fire creatures) started to throw fireballs at them with remarkable accuracy. Almost immediately they scored hits. Three fireballs a second vs. 100' of travel vs. 3 yards per second for the slowest fighters. That spelled doom - especially as Vryce was singed, Raggi singed, and their magical servant blasted out of existence from fire. They saw a door on the right - virgin territory - and headed there. Vryce took a fireball into his water barrel and it lit up. Galen and Christoph opened up, with little effect - only a couple arrows hit, and they could see no effect, and most of their hits were simply dodged by the nimble fire-men.

(Mistake Two - fleeing into a new area.)

Raggi took the lead and axed the door almost in half in a single blow. A second blow from Chuck Morris's horse cutter and it fell into pieces. They ran in. Inside was a furnished room - stylishly but with cruddy old furniture. They started to look around as the rest of the group ran in. Galen took a fireball in the face and dropped. The laborer NPC bravely turned and, under fire, dumped some water on Galen. Vryce put down his barrel and dragged in Galen. The laborer was hit several times and dropped in flames. As this happened a woman's voice called out from behind a folding screen - "What are you doing in my room?" and a lithe female came out.

Chuck Morris looked, so did Raggi. Chuck failed his roll - and turned to stone. A medusa! Raggi yelled and charged, eyes on the floor. Dryst looked, wondering about all the fuss (good playing by his player, who knew what it was, but his PC didn't) and was petrified. Raggi, eyes closed, swung wildly - and connected, and floor the medusa. Eyes still shut, he groped for the screen and dropped it across the body.

Outside, Christoph stopped shooting, took refuse in a doorway, and covered his head-mounted light sphere. The fire-men stopped shooting at him. His sneaked across to join the group, unmolested.

So now they were stuck - wizard was stone, Chuck was stone (and too heavy even for Vryce and Raggi to carry together). Oh, and their laborer was burned. Some bandaging and healing potions stabilized the bunch of them.

Galen, once mostly healed, felt for the medusa through the screen and stabbed her twenty-four times with his sword "just to be sure." Once the snakes stopped hissing, he moved the screen up inch by inch to her neck, and then sawed off her head. Working with a bag on his head, he slipped a bag over hers and then wrapped it in bloody medusa dress.

A search of the room turned up no loot, but a note that said:

"Trapped! Need Key!


South - no
East - no
South - no
North - ?"

They took the note, the head, and Dryst, and headed out through a side door. They realized the trap door was shut, because the alarm gong had finally stopped.

They basically fled back to trap door, lights out and quietly. But when they arrived, it was closed. They tried to open it, but it was stuck. So they went around to the other one. The corridor that led to that, though, turned out to have something translucent moving in it . . . gelatinous cube? Yes. They shut a hallway door, got ready, and then moved back to the attack. A hail of largely ineffective arrows plus a vial of alchemist's fire drove it away, on fire. They caught up to the remains and used flammable oil to burn the rest to clear the hallway. They then moved to the original trap door down another corridor. They disarmed the bells hanging from it (crude alarms, common on this level), and went up. Vryce went first, then let Christoph squeeze by and up into the first level. This is when the fun started.

Vryce was up and standing in the hole and Christoph near it when enemies charged in from the hallway and the secret door they'd come through earlier. Five men and a woman. Four of the men were pointed-hatted cultists, either with dueling glaives (two) or dual-wielding axes and maces (two). Another one was clearly a wizard, who had a sword and a skull, and the woman was armored with a breastplate and a nasty-looking axe. They attacked immediately, led by a precision throw of a skull by the wizard. A natural 3 meant a max-damage hit on Christoph, and he was blown instantly unconscious and Vryce mildly wounded. They charged. For a second, they had Vryce surrounded but couldn't capitalize - he's too damn good and too heavily armored. But they managed to drive him back through sheer threat of back attacks. Raggi popped up, as Galen crouched in the tunnel under the room. Raggi was attacked. Vryce defended him briefly, but couldn't keep it up as he was being flanked himself. The axe-wielding woman swung rapidly, and it was clear she was some kind of expert. The others were no slouches, largely ignoring Vryce's extremely skilled Feints. He even dropped his sword on a critical failure on a parry, and had to fast-draw his spare. Still, Vryce put one down with a heavy torso hit, and badly hurt another one with another hard hit.

It went good, then bad. Raggi got stabbed in the face, but for only a scratch. He got pissed and retaliated with an All-Out Attack (Strong) from his lower-than-floor position, and rolled a 3. Max damage, which was 3d+11 = 29 cut, to a leg. He lopped that one off, hit the next one, and crippled it. The glaive-wielder who stabbed him went down. But his partner dinged a mace harmlessly off of Raggi's helmet and buried his axe in Raggi's face. He dropped unconscious (but not terribly wounded - Raggi is built like a tank). With no help on his side, Vryce was pushed back further and further and down a side corridor. His right arm was crippled and he had to drop his sword and try to quaff potions while dodging attacks that rained down. He did for a while but was driven further in.

Galen, meanwhile, decided to go for broke. He dragged out the medusa head! An extremely lucky roll helped - I gave him 2d seconds to get it out, and he rolled a 2 and a 1. Three seconds to shake it free, eyes shut, and hold it out of the trap door opening. He did, yelling as loud as he could to attract attention. He held it there, then peaked himself, not looking up at the head. He saw two stone statues - the wizard and one of the glaive-wielders. He yelled as he heard the sounds of Vryce hitting the floor (at -61 HP or so, finally unconscious). Vryce's earstwhile slayers took a final shot at him, then ran around to finish the group. Oops. Two disastrously bad HT rolls later, they were stone.

We ended there, more or less, as potions were forced into Raggi, then Christoph, then Vryce. They ran to the surface and back to town, dragging Dryst's statue with them. Oh, and the loot from the un-petrified corpses of the two slain guys. Not that there was much . . . the plan seems to be to sell the medusa's head to Black Jans as soon as they can.

Still in the dungeon - Chuck Morris, petrified.

Still petrified - Dryst.

Loot - as yet unknown, hopefully enough to pay to un-Petrify Dryst.


Not abject failure, but well into "we are sure bad at this" territory. But people seemed to really have a good time.

Medusa in my game are "you see it" not "it sees you." Ouch. But yes, fight won by waving around a medusa head!

A quick Google search told use the density of granite is about 2.7 and one player said flesh is 1. So we just multiplied weight by 2.7. So Chuck Morris at 275 weighs close to 750 as a statue. Dryst around 250, with his gear.

I had a real apartment emergency during the game, so I needed to field calls from my wife and my landlady's handyman during the final fight. I only realized as I drove home how smoothly my players handled making sure I was on track for the next action and did all of the post-fight bookkeeping. Thanks guys! Everything worked out well at home, too, but it wasn't fun to GM a complex and lethal fight while trying to finish quickly to go home and deal with real-world issues.

It's amusing how fun the game is when you barely survive due to awesome luck.
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