Monday, April 29, 2013

Notes on Yesterday's Session

Just a few loose ends from last session.

- Here is a picture of the 33 druagr advancing on the party, after the Create Fire spell died down. The fallen one in the back got knocked over by accident, it's not a true reflection of the situation.

Again, thanks to Bruno for making them for me. Well, drawing them for me, I printed, glued, and based them. Those are my BattleTech boxed set bases and the bases from my Paranoia GM Screen pack.

- Last session was a 2 XP session - no profit (no loot at all, actually) (-1 point), only a tiny bit of meaningless exploration (-2 points), and nothing exciting to report out of it (no bonuses.) Tough day at work.

- We changed alchemist's fire a bit. DF1 says it is a "two hex radius." I made my flaming oil pots the same size. But "two hex radius" is hard to do on a hex map. My players decided extending two hexes out from a centerpoint was too big - it worked to be almost 5 hexes across, with lots of half-hexes of questionable "am I on fire or not?" issues. So we changed it to a 2 area effect, like a spell - so it affects the hex it hits, and the surrounding ones.

- I love the thought process behind "let's throw monster A at monster B," even if they couldn't figure out how to make it work.

- I might have to enforce, or at least suggest, a maximum planning time on my sessions. As in, after 1 hour I'm just going to declare you start heading to the dungeon, and that's that. It was a fun session, but man, it was a long bit of planning.

- there was a brief discussion, never followed through on, of using Illusion Disguise on Chuck Morris to make him look like Baron Sterick the Red and sending him in to talk to the druagr and demand the guy they wanted follow him. Chuck Morris shot it down because he's no actor (it would be at a default, and not a good one, and they know nothing of the Baron's mannerisms, quirks, or way of speaking, which is a further penalty). But it would have been funny. "As you can plainly see, I am your Baron, not some wandering martial artist disguised as him. Obey me!"

- I think they oddly lost sight of the main goal - getting treasure. They really wanted to deal with the druagr and loot them, but it ended up not working and costing so much time they couldn't look for treasure elsewhere.

- My players are firm believers in snaking a victory instead of smashing straight through to one. If there is a clever way around it, they want to find it. If there is any way to make the fight unfair, or completely lopsided in their favor, or beat it with a single spell, they want to try it. Having Wild Talent (Spells only) makes this worse, because it becomes "find the correct spell to unlock this puzzle." They don't like to resort to a fair fight unless they have to. Admirable in general.

But I think sometimes you can overthink a problem, or try to turn a tough fight into a puzzle. Not saying they could or should try to take the druagr straight-up, but it's an example of trying to find a way to use the "rules" of their undead status as a lever to win an easy victory. Throw oil and we win. Send a servant in with no hostile intent and shoot the pot of oil he's holding and we win. Create Earth and use Earth to Stone to put rocks on their sarcophogi so they can't escape and we win. Create a wall they can't get past and shoot them until they die, etc. Again, I'm not saying this is bad behavior, or that charge right in was the right idea (it might be a terrible idea, like the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid level of bad idea). But I know from experience sometimes it's possible to get so wrapped up in solving the puzzle that you don't recognize that it's not a puzzle - think of the Gordian Knot.

- One plan revolved around casting Ethereal Body on a druagr. It's not a resisted spell, and I ruled that if there is no listed resistance, the spell is "willing subject only." There was some argument it meant "resist with the better of Will or HT" but I shot that down - way, way, way too many spells become powerful offensive options in that case.

Like I said, just a few notes I wanted to get down somewhere.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

DF Game, Session 24, Felltower 15

April 28th, 2013

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Dryst, halfling wizard (257 points)
Christoph, human scout (258 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (251 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (294 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (346 points)

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

We started out in town, with folks gathering rumors and doing some shopping, mostly for magical nicknacks and potions (always in too-small of a supply). They heard some interesting rumors, too - a bit about zombie rot, a disease you can get from corpses that turns you into a zombie, some cone-hatted guys asking about travelers (yeah, old news now), and the disbelief from a guy about their last encounter. He scoffed at them meeting a big blue ogre and two boars - yeah, right, you met the Lord of Spite, pull the other one, he mocked. Hmm . . . Lord of Spite? they thought. Interesting. But they didn't feel like they needed to expend any resources on that right now.

In the meantime, we resolved Galen's downtime plans - he'd decided to find some places to watch the top of Felltower and scout, from a position of maximum safety, to see who comes and goes. He saw a lot:

- two groups came up from town. One a group of 5, the next nearly 15 guys, including some from the first group. The first group noodled around in the above-ground ruins but avoided the castle. The next searched the castle for a bit - Galen didn't see them leave so he wasn't sure they all returned.

- orcs. A group of 20 orcs and an ogre, fairly well armed (leather, some mail, swords, bows, axes, spears, etc.) and decorated with tribal fetishes and having at least one witch doctor or shaman type with them, showed up a few times. They would come at night, seach around, and lay low during the day. They concentrated mostly on the burned ruins, but occasionally looked into the castle ruins too. No sign of them going into the dungeons. Over two weeks they came three times, staying a few days each time, and clearly were looking for something although they didn't seem to get the idea of a concentrated search pattern.

- the orcs are coming in from the north/northwest, from the valleys and lesser peaks north and northwest of Felltower. That matches a lot of rumors they'd heard.

After this, it was time to plan the expedition ahead in earnest.

We gathered pretty early, but the players decided the goal of the day was to a) un-petrify and loot the statues of their cultist ambushers once and for all, and b) deal with the druagr. How to do b) is short in the telling, but very long in the playing - over two hours of real time spent in discussion, planning, consulting of books, hiring of sages and discussing his answers, etc.

They eventually came up with a plan involving flammable oil (the sage said, like many corporeal undead, they are vulnerable to fire), alchemist's fire (to ignite it), and magically creating earth and turning it into a stone wall complete with arrowslits behind which they could stage their attack. Also, they knew the druagr need to rest 8 hours a day in their tomb, so they decided to try waking them up, keeping them up with harassing arrow fire, and then going after them after 16 hours elapsed and they were dormant. They also had some ideas about trying to seal the sacrophogi, destroy the sarcophogi, light the druagr on fire one at a time, and more.

So at long last they headed out, plans in mind. The crossed the (murky and polluted) Silver River via Stone Bridge, saw the statueof Sterick at Sterick's Landing, and went out of the growing slums (people moving in displacing the poorer folks within the walls) and up the mountain. At the top of the mountain, they set up camp and then sent their scouts to try to spot any orcs in ambush - nope. None were in residence.

Next they headed into the dungeon, not bothering with any other entrance except the one in the well, that they'd bashed open and later visitors had exposed inside the dungeon by spiking open its secret entrances. It was full of damp leaves, dirt, etc. but otherwise unchanged. No sound of gonging, though, so someone found a way to stop it.

They dropped down and headed toward the odd-shaped room with the trapdoor on the floor. They got as far as the secret doors but couldn't budge the first one open. Some investigation revealed it had been magically shaped shut. They decided to go around another way. So they started down a "new" corridor. They found a previously undiscovered room (or at least one they'd never bothered to check). All that was inside were a dozen piles of moldering old clothes. Their usual magical servants kicked the piles, then dug through them. All they got out of it were a lot of insect bites. They left the room and circled around back to it trying to make their map line up - eventually, they did.

They checked the room again, this time moving the clothes (the servants, again) and tapping the far wall. No, nothing.

More exploration of nearby areas revealed something that, to my great amusement, they'd missed over and over - the well entrance dropped them onto level 1 right next to the stairs down to level 2. They'd been going the long way down to level 2, basically, and the long way back because they wouldn't come up to level one "so far" from their way out. Some exploration showed them how close they are to level 2. They weren't done trying to fill their map in with connections to previously explored areas, though. They found the old "goblin barracks" room they'd encountered long before. This time the door was wedged tightly shut with a heavy wooden wedge from outside. Dryst magically whipped up a mallet for Vryce who bashed it aside in a couple of heavy swipes. They opened the door and sent in the servant with a lightstone, and then Vryce and Raggi went in. They saw some spearheads and arrowheads on the floor, but nothing else. Just as soon as I started to say "suddenly . . ." Dryst said "check the ceiling!" He did, but too late - a jelly-like grey blob dropped on each of Vryce and the servant. The servant dropping, smoking and hissing and whimpering, while the leather straps on Vryce's bag and sword sheath started to smoke from the grey ooze-like thing that dropped on him. Chuck Morris dashed some water on it but nothing happened. So Vryce reached up and grabbed it to try to pull it off. He did, strangely - it was fairly "solid" but oozy - sort of jellyfish-like. Then it started to ooze up his arm and corrode his glove. He backed out of the room, they closed the door, and someone (Christoph? Chuck Morris?) dumped a container of flammable oil on Vryce's arm and the ooze together. Galen struck up a spark quickly with his flint and steel and lit it up. Woosh! The ooze started to burn, and so did Vryce. Once the ooze came off, Vryce smacked out and rolled out the fire. He took a mild burn but nothing else. Galen determined they were some variation of a reek - an oozy creature that eats anything organic, and spawns new reeks from what they kill and dissolve.

They briefly debated trying to capture a reek to throw at the druagr, but they gave up when they realize the plan wasn't as-yet workable.

They went back to the stairs down to level 2 and down. They wound their way to the illusionary-wall covered smoke-filled stairway room, sent in a servant ("I see only smoke") and then went in. Dryst cleared the smoke with a spell and they rested . . . but the smoke steadily came back, forcing them to go ahead or back. They advanced into the druagr area.

(All of the above took some hours, but nothing wandering up to die on their swords)

What they did next boiled down to this:

- build their wall - a few feet thick, with two arrowslits, floor to ceiling, and about 18" clearance on either side to allow their normal-sized folks (including Vryce) to just squeeze by.

- send in a servant. This woke up the druagr, and they assembled in ranks. The PCs waited until they dispersed.

- send in a servant, this time with a flask of oil. The druagr got up and formed ranks.

(All of the above took hours, including rest times)

- Have Vryce squeeze ahead of the barrier, facing the Druagr. He launched a flask of oil at one of the druagr and hit, breaking it on its shield as it blocked. And they instantly charged!

They charged right past what the PCs had thought might be their limit of movement. Nope. They got in and attacked Vryce. He desperately backed up and squeezed alongside the barrier as Galen and Christoph shot at the druagr. They mostly blocked, but a few arrows stuck into them with no really obvious effect - they're all head to toe in mail, but some damage clearly got through. The ones after Vryce, though, got a few easy shots on him with Committed Attack and hacked him - both random, both hit the leg. Both crippled it, trapping a stunned and now crippled Vryce in the 18" between the wall and the safe side of the barrier. He kept getting hacked, as Chuck Morris moved up and pulled him to safety.

Druagr moved to block the arrow slits with their oversized shields, but Galen was having none of that. He stepped up on the rim of his side of the arrow slit and shot over the shield into the pot helm of the druagr doing it. He hit once but it pinged off the helm. Christoph shot the hand of a druagr trying to reach his big sword around the barrier on the other side, doing no damage but convincing it to pull it back. The group fell back, and Dryst lit the whole place up with Create Fire, filling the whole front half of the room.

The druagr broke off immediately, fleeing through the fire to the safety of the far end of the room. A few backed up, covering the rest, and then ran after they were far enough into the flames to be covered by smoke.

The PCs waited. The fire burned down (they couldn't keep it up), the druagr took up positions, and they watched each other. They realized that:

- some druagr formed a line, but some went back to sleep!

- other druagr had crept around the edges of the funnel-like entranceway, out of the line of site of folks in the arrow slits, and tried to stab around the barrier to nail Galen and Christoph. It didn't work, but it backed off the PCs.

This is more or less where it ended up. They fed a nearly dead Vryce potions until he got back up (his cripple was temporary). Then a side trip out of the druagr area to the dust-filled corridors of the burial urns (they couldn't rest there, too dusty), then a rest in a nearby empty room nearly within firing range of the fire-men (safe from wandering monsters) to regain fatigue and eat. After that, another check on the druagr (back in their tombs, mostly, but a servant sent in was killed from ambush).

The group headed back to the second-floor entrance to the "tween levels" area, with the gonging trapdoor. Uh-oh, someone magically sealed it shut. So they went all the way around to the other end. It was closed, and Vryce determined it was weighted down somehow, because it wouldn't move. So 10 minutes or so and a lot of Chuck Morris punching later, and the trap door "plug" broke and fell down . . . revealing that someone filled the tunnel above with solid rock. Grr, they said, this Earth mage is annoying and better at this than us.

They decided to make one last try for cash - they'd expended a lot of stuff, for nothing so far. Seek Earth on gold revealed some 200-250' away and down, to their right. They decided this was in the dusty burial urn place and went there. Another Seek Earth revealed the nearest gold was straight down some 70'. They boggled at the mismatched results, realized they couldn't find anything (it was getting late), and headed to the surface.

It was night, so they headed out carefully. They heard an animal sound cut off suddenly, and went to investigate. Galen spotted a child-sized, maybe a bit bigger, figure bolting away from some ruins and then dropping out of site. They split up - non-scouts in the middle, scouts to either flank, and went to investigate.

They found a strangled deer, of all things, just dead. And a lot of three-toed, clawed, smaller-than-man-sized footprints. They tracked them by moonlight and magical light to the poison ivy covered entrance they'd found before. After that, they headed back to town.

(I forgot to say in the session, they'd need to camp outside - gates are locked at night, no exceptions. But it's safe enough. The growing slums are dangerous, but even crazy-desperate folks stay away from the likes of the party if they can.)



- zero treasure today. Zilch. Too much time on planning, and then trying to execute, a plan to get the one druagr they've been offered a reward to recover. Well, whose remains and grave goods they need to recover.

In any case, the druagr ate up at least 80% of the session time, at least. By the time it came to seeking treasure, there wasn't time to really pursue it.

- the players asked me to include ration replacement in their upkeep to simplify matters, so I'm going to figure it out and add it in.

- they're still relying on IQ 9, Per 9 Create Servant spell entities as their scouts. This is okay for springing traps, but it does mean they're getting no real advanced warning of, well, anything. And possibly missing things the doltist and despressive servants just won't notice. But it does mean door traps don't work on them.

- the players are convinced, perhaps rightly, that they can't take 33 elite druagr bodyguards in a straight fight. So they're scheming to find a clever way to take them one at a time, just snatch the one they want, destroy their sarcophagi, keep them awake until they go dormant, etc. They don't want to deal with it as a straight fight, which is fine, but isn't really working. At least it hasn't yet.

All in all, a fun session, even if it wasn't a productive one for the PCs. Better luck to them next time!

And special thanks to Emily aka Bruno for making me some druagr cardboard heroes.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Helping the DF Thief

Mark Langsdorf took a look at the DF thief. My experience with them is that a) my group had one and he was useful, then died and b) they didn't really NEED need to replace him with another thief.

That's despite me using:

- some magic-proof locks (locks with meteoric components)

- effectively bash-proof barriers (doors of metal)

- traps you can't easily disarm or "soak" - either they're too lethal, never run out of charges or energy, or they're effectively impervious to brute force "disarming."

The fact is, even if a thief is needed to get at everything, it's sufficient for most groups that they get at most things, and bypass most obstacles. And a combination of magical detection (See Secrets, See Invisible), magical disarming (Lockmaster), and brute force (bash the door, set off the trap) plus careful use of those and other resources (clever players), and you get past most of these. A magic-proof lock on a bash-proof barrier just means they move on, if they can't tunnel around or through.

Add in the stuff that Mark mentioned - the relative weakness of the template, and the amount of points invested in what work out to be duplication of effort.

So what to do about this?

GM, In Play

As a GM it's incumbent upon you to use those obstacles I listed above, otherwise the thief is useless. Or at least less fun, because everyone else can solve your niche problems, often better than you can. If you, the GM, create situations that can be solved by anyone, expect them to be. If you create ones that require the full complement of available skills, a thief will be useful. This isn't unfair or rewarding a player for choosing a thief - it's a baseline assumption of the game that these things will be in the world and you will need the thiefly skills to get the treasure behind them. If this isn't true, it's bad form to allow a player to make a character centered on skills that are undermined or reduced in utility by everyone else's.

Allowing a thief, and then providing no obstacles that really demand thief skills is like letting people play wizards and not providing things only magic can deal with, clerics but no unholy things to sanctify or exorcise, or barbarians and scouts with no wilderness challenges at all. You're allowing someone to play a character type and not making that type a valid and necessary solution to in-game problems. Again, this isn't about molding the world to the players, it's about not offering them useless choices, or totally redundant. "Oh, you made a thief? Bad choice man, the wizards and fighter-types can do everything you're good at already. Sucks to be you."

As a GM, On the Template

The thief template, in my opinion, would benefit from some changes to make it a little better in my current sort of game - old school dungeon/megadungeon bashing. Mostly it's beating down what works out to be internal redundancy. Rescuing a few points from places that probably don't need them is a good way to get some points to flesh out your chosen niche.

Here are some skills I think you can pare down.

Filch and Pickpocket fill a very similar niche - taking something without being spotted doing so. In DF, it makes sense to drop Filch, and simply say that it's a function of the Pickpocketing skill. Just use the modifiers and contest from Filch when doing the things described there. This frees up 2 points, as well.

Smuggling is one of those skills that doesn't seem to come up that often - and it overlaps thematically with Holdout. It's worth considering dropping this one and either making it a Background skill, or saying that in DF Holdout covers both. Or vice-versa. Merging them or dropping one will free up 2 more points. Personally I think "Smuggling" sounds better, but more rules point to Holdout so I'd keep that name in a merge.

Shadowing is a waste of points if you aren't going to have a lot of town adventures; even if you do, it defaults to Stealth-4 on foot, and you've got Stealth-18 on the template. I think it can go, and drop to optional. That's another 2 points.

Finally, Urban Survival is useful, but a 13 is probably good enough for most uses. Remove 1 point from it and reduce it to Per from Per+1.

All together, this nets 7 points back. What to do with them? Opinions will vary, but it won't hurt to suck less at combat and have more advantages to choose from. Raise the players-choice advantage pool from 30 to 35. Put the other 2 points in weapons - raise the main melee weapon to [2] DX from [1] DX-1 and raise the missile weapon from [1] to [2] as well - bring them from DX to DX+1, DX-1 to DX, or DX-2 to DX-1 respectively. Your thief is now just a little more combat-worthy, and have some more flexibility to choose advantages.

Another option is to squish down the Background skills pool from 7 to 4, and have 10 more points for advantages - this is better if you still intend the thief to be basically a non-combatant.

As A Player

As always, try to leverage your own skills and abilities. It's not up to the GM to hand you opportunities, you have to make them or take them. Use your Stealth to scout (and if the party wizard or cleric has spells that help that, use them too.) Use your Streetwise in town and your Stealth in the dungeon.

Leave the heavy fighting to others, but learn the backstabbing rules from DF2 by heart, and take advantage.

For more Grey Mouser or Liane the Wanderer (or even Gord the Rogue), you're better off not being a Thief in the first place. You're better off with the Swashbuckler template plus convincing the GM to let you spend 50 of your 60 discretionary advantage points on the Swashbuckler-Thief lens, plus a few points from your Background skill points going to thieving skills.

Thief-Swashbuckler works even better for more of a thief, but the Thief only has 30 points to throw around and the lens costs 50 points. Even a cut-down version of the lens would cost more than you have, just to really keep up. The first seems like a much better option - and it's not like another Weapon Master with a sword and a knife won't be useful to a group. Especially if you can also steal a bit, pick locks, and disarm traps. You can easily improve them, especially since picking locks in DF (unlike in reality) is primarily a question of manual dexterity.

Those are my quick suggestions for tweaking the DF thief to make it a bit more dungeon-worthy, even if it's just a little less rules-compliant than before (in terms of merged skills) or less versatile (if you just drop those skills). It still needs a GM who places challenges that require (or are best solved by) thiefly skills. Llike I've said above and before on this blog, the GM is responsible for making sure the templates and character-types offered in the game actually are required for challenges in the game. If you game lacks sneaking, scouting, stealing, and deft lockpicking action, or makes it so a specialist isn't as necessary as a generalist for doing them, then it's better to just forbid the specialist. Don't punish the player that chose what you offered!

I hope this helps folks who find the thief needs just a little help to be truly useful in DF.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Random Thoughts IX

Just a few stray thoughts and links - not much time to write right now.

- Delta's D&D Hotspot took a look at the drow and his experience running D1 Descent Into the Depths of the Earth at a con. This is one of the modules that I keep looking back on, and thinking I'd like to take them for a spin. I don't recall that much of it from my grade school days, although I do remember running it, at least partly, and remember Q1 distinctly. They'd be very different in GURPS, but there is a pull to them nonetheless. And that's despite my dislike of drow thanks to what I feel is their heavily-overplayed and over-wrought novelization versions that have emerged over the years. I'm glad to hear that a group got to try this one out.

- I've got a new gamer who is supposed to join us on Sunday. He's not new to gaming but new to GURPS. We'll toss him in the deep end, but I'm assigning him a rules buddy who's got the same kind of skill set on his PC to help him. That way he has only one person to ask questions of, and one person to listen to. Hopefully that will mean he isn't overwhelmed by advice coming from many people at once. He's played before with D&D (3.5 I think) so the real issue will be teaching him what dice to roll.

- Confused by cone attacks in GURPS? Want to attack the darkness and actually hit stuff in it? Cones are a good way to do it. Sean "Doctor Kromm" Punch explains the rules-as-written here and some details here. The thread itself is full of lots of, uhm, less than helpful discussion (aka, arguing on the internet). But those two posts hit the main point, which is how to decide on a target hex and deal with scatter.

- John Kovalic is doing a really amusing series of comics on "an intro the roleplaying." Here is the first (very accurate) and second (this would make for quicker play). More follow, and it's always worth reading Dork Tower. Which reminds me, at some point I have to explain my Tolkein Dork Tower claim to fame. Not today, though.

- I really like this, and I'd like to try it - knowledge skills and research. It's a good guideline for "what do I roll against and what does it get me?"

- I've had to pull my dice bag out of my backpack twice this week during tutoring to explain vertices, faces, and edges. Handy when you've got all sorts of dice - I keep one each at least of all of my odd sizes.

That's all for now.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

GURPS Weapons & Tactics: Using Shields Offensively

I already posted about the offensive and defensive tradeoffs of using a shield. But how is it as a weapon? Not bad, actually. Here is a quick look.

Shields are Weapons

Perhaps the most important takeaway point of this post is this - a shield is a weapon. It's a defensive weapon, but it's a weapon. You can Block with it, smash people with it, charge behind it, or slash with the edge (if it has blades or a rim blade, as in Low-Tech Companion 2, p. 20 or Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables, p. 35). But it's a weapon.

This means Shield is a valid specialty or part of a valid specialty for Weapon Master. Yes, cumulative Blocking (Martial Arts p. 123) at 1/2 the penalties, +1 or +2 per die of damage, and halved Rapid Strike penalties.

You have two basic options for attacking with a shield - Shield Bash, and Shield Rush.

Shield Bash - just bash him with your shield. Damage isn't very high, though, even if you add spikes (or a conical boss or disarming spikes, from LTC2, p. 20). A long, sharp spike (also from the same page) will make the damage impaling, but they can break off pretty easily when you block, so they aren't good long-term additions. But if it doesn't do that much damage, why bash?

The real reason to bash is, you're giving yourself a valid outlet for a Dual-Weapon Attack while also retaining the benefits of having a shield. Plus you've got another factor going for you:

Weight - Shields are heavy, often really heavy (25 pounds for a Basic Set Large Shield, and 15 for a Medium Shield!) This makes them hard to parry without worrying about breakage. Few one-handed weapons can try a parry without checking for breakage, and the smaller ones are so light they'll break if they try and fail the parry as well. The lighter shields in Low-Tech, though, work against you a bit here. The heavier the better for bashing versus parries.

Shield Rush - a Slam behind a shield. This has a few things going for it.

- you roll against Shield to hit, and Shield will almost certainly be better than your DX (or you might want to reconsider being a shield-wielder, if it's not)

- you get extra damage on the slam equal to the DB of the shield. Spikes add here, too. The bigger and better your shield is for your protection, the better it is at helping you slam. For a Large Shield with a spike, we're talking +4 to slam damage. This can turn even a moderate-speed slam into some real damage, which increases your odds of knocking your opponent down.

- your shield takes the damage when you slam. So you won't get battered as much even if you get in a heavy slam; it's hard to really damage a shield badly.

If you're using the shield options I mentioned above (rim blade or blades) you can even get some swing/cutting damage going, which means much more damage on a weapon much too heavy for breakage-free parries by most opponents. It also makes them more lethal, but even just with Basic Set, shields are a serious offensive weapon as well as a defensive one.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Defensive Grip and Double-Dagger Notation

I can't take credit for this idea - it really belongs to the SJG Forums member Landwalker, who asked me about this. I hadn't thought about it, but after he asked, I thought, yeah, here is what might work.

I think it's a neat idea, and I'm curious how it will work out in play. I figure that if I post it here, it might get some trials.

Defensive Grip and Double-Dagger(‡) Notation

As it stands right now, double-dagger notation on (some) Polearm and Two-handed Axe/Mace weapons makes them sub-optimal choices compared to single-dagger notation weapons. A double-dagger makes the weapon unready after you swing unless you've got 1.5x the ST stat of the weapon. A single dagger on the ST stat merely denotes a two-handed weapon, no re-readying needed.

Part of the reason some weapons get the double-dagger is because of how they're used - held near the far end of the handle and getting a full swing behind them, and how they're built heavily unbalanced to maximize their impact.

But would it be fair to let choking up on the handle in a Defensive Grip mitigate this? Basically, if you hold a great axe more like a dueling pollaxe, can you skip the double-dagger and treat it as a single-dagger weapon?

Here are an optional rule, which has not been playtested, just eyeballed.

Defensive Grip and Double-Dagger Notation

If you use a weapon with a double-dagger notation on its ST stat in a Defensive Grip, treat the weapon as if it has a single-dagger notation on its ST stat instead, for all attack modes. All other effects of Defensive Grip are as listed on GURPS Martial Arts p. 109-111. These include, but aren't limited to, the +1 to parry from the front, -2 from the side, the -2 damage or -1 per die of damage for swinging attacks.

Some examples: If you use a greataxe (sw+4 cut, ST12‡) in a Defensive Grip with ST 13 (1 thrust/2-1 swing), you would do 2+1 swing/cut, but wouldn't need to re-ready after an attack. You'd get a +1 to Parry, but still have Parry 0U. If you wanted to use it in a Defensive Grip and make a Defensive Attack to get rid of the U on your parry, but you'd be doing 2-1 cutting, but could parry freely. That's pretty crappy, but you're essentially taking an all-offense weapon, swing-and-re-ready and trying to use it as a light and flexible attack-and-defend weapon.

If you use a full-sized halberd (sw+5 cut/sw+4 imp/thr+3 imp, ST13‡/ST13‡/ST12†) this way with ST 13, you're doing 2+2 cut/2+1 imp/1+3 imp. With a Defensive Attack on top of this, 2 cut/2-1 imp/1+1 imp but the Parry 0U becomes Parry 0. A dueling halberd is a better choice, overall, if you intend to fight this way - it gets 2+1/2/1+1 in the same Defensive Attack, and that thrust gets a +1 to Parry since it lacks the U notation.

There is a little comparing apples-to-oranges in this, since Defensive Grip gives a +1 to Parry from the front, too, but penalties to the side, etc. It's not a cheap-and-easy way to turn a double-dagger into a single-dagger with no other costs and otherwise match a weapon better balanced for what you're trying to do. But it does seem fair, and you do have the option of using your weapon as intended - for a mighty fight-ending attack, or (for polearms) at reach and in ranks, shielded by friends. And it might make some of those ‡ weapons into a real choice even for guys who like things like parries.

If anyone tries this, please let me know how it works. No one in my games uses a double-dagger weapon (except Raggi, who's clocking over STx1.5 for a Dwarven axe so it doesn't matter.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What happens when your DF Cleric is Excommunicated

Okay, so their are Clerics and Evil Cleric templates, and Holy and Unholy Warrior templates.

What happens if you want to switch?

Or, well, let's just say your god wants you to switch and encourages you along by damning you to hell and excommunicating you.

What then?

Luckily we already know how to make the Evil versions from DF 3 (Evil Clerics are on p. 23, Unholy Warriors on p. 27). But both are written from the perspective of a starting PC. The lenses can be tacked on later, but the base templates are where you start.

We just need to figure out what to change on the character sheet.

- you're now Excommunicated. Good job. Get rid of that holy disadvantage you took - Honesty, Sense of Duty (Coreligionists), or Vow.

- you'd need to swap out the relevant Holy Advantages for Unholy ones. The Evil Cleric and Unholy Warrior have suggestions.

- Do you get to change disadvantages to more evil ones? I'd say change as few as possible if it's an unwilling conversion, as many as you want if you snap and go all Erac's Cousin.

- Skills? Can you swap them out? This one is a real game-world decision. Can you (new or old) god swoop in and change what you know ("My knowledge of healing herbs is gone . . . but I know how to use them to kill!")? If so, you'd have to swap out the "good" stuff for the "bad" stuff. If not, well, you get to keep your helpful skills and you need to seek out a source of evil to learn the bad stuff. Either is made of pure awesome.

- Spells? This is what sparked this whole post in the first place. Good and Evil get different spell lists. You'd either get to:

a) re-pick all of your spells.
b) re-pick the ones that don't match your new list.

Either is plausible. I'd say a), if only because it's vastly easier to do.

One further idea is to simply grab up all the points you put into spells and holy powers, and redistribute them amongst your new powers. You have 23 points in spells and 35 points in holy powers? Pick 58 points in new spells and powers. Or your GM picks some or all, depending on the circumstances.

That's my back-of-the-envelope sketch of what you'd need to change. If I missed anything that needs addressing, let me know.

So if your GM doesn't seem to be generously handing out Holy items, or that black-bladed howling sword seems pretty nice, actually, maybe you just might make the switch . . .

Monday, April 22, 2013

Doing My Homework for DF - GM's lessons

Here are a quick few things I learned from running my DF game.

I've GMed for a long, long time, but my previous campaigns were wide-ranging, story-oriented, wilderness sandboxes. Loot came on a big scale when it came, the PCs got around on horses and by teleporting and by gates. I needed travel distances, availability of potions, wide-area encounters, and motivations and goals and knowledge for the NPCs. We didn't have a lot of bash-the-door, kill-the-monster, take-the-loot.

My current game is totally inverted, even if it's equally a combat-mad group of adventurers rampaging around. The different setting and different goals ("We must stop the evil wizard we accidentally unleashed on the world!" in the past vs. "Make a profit any way we can!" now) make for some different logistical issues as the GM.

Mostly, it's the same - "Do your homework." But different homework.

Know the Cost and Weight - loot is central to the game, and players are likely to regard almost anything as loot. So I need to note the cost and weight. "Mail shirt" isn't enough, it needs to be "Mail shirt, $150, 16 lbs.)" because I'm going to end up having to either look it up or let them look it up. Even if cost never matters, weight matters a lot right the hell now, and I need to know. I can either write it down, or make up a number that could be right or wrong and then stick with it. Yeah, just being right is easier, it just requires doing my homework. So I write it down whenever possible. Especially for things that change the price - magic and quality modifiers.

Know the HP and DR of obstacles - My players will break things that are in their way. Again, it's easier to just have it down on paper when they try. Doors I know, but I need to have an idea on non-standard obstacles like thinner walls, wooden barriers, etc. for when it comes up.

Put the monster stats in a statline. I use one like this. This saves a lot of time and means I only need to keep eyes on one sheet at a time, since the room description has the monster stats on it. Really crazy-detailed monsters can get flipped to in my monster stat binder, but mostly I don't want to have to.

WYSIWIG Weaponry - Especially for Fodder, if you're using minis or cardboard heroes, go WYSIWIG. He's got a sword and a shield?
That's what he's got all right. Make as few changes as possible. My players are more forgiving on armor ("they all have leather") because they know mini-makers don't always armor up all the stuff that would be armored. But weapons, I just use what the mini is holding. It's easier for everyone all around, and since I started doing this it's made for faster mini setup and faster combat.

If they ask too late, say no. - If they don't give me time to do my homework, or don't do it themselves, the answer is no. "Can I buy a suit of fine elven mail?" "Did you figure the cost and weight?" "No." "They don't have one." If you ask me a week out, even a day out, I'll figure it out. But don't make me spent a few minutes at the table doing it when we could be getting underway, because I won't. I'm not being pissy, I'm trying to keep the game fun. Figuring out gear cost and weight isn't group fun.

Now I'm not perfect on these - I'm still combing through statting up stuff I noted too poorly in the past ("a suit of light plate" - gee, that's helpful chief, how much does it cost and weigh?) but at least I know what my homework needs to be now.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

DF NPC: Lew McTorchy, Torchbearer

Need some light?

Lew McTorchy

Available for hire. Experience includes one trip to Felltower, without being slain. 30 sp ($30 DF) per day plus expenses for new torches. Really, really needs to earn some cash. Won't let you down or run off when you need him. Will happily carry Group Basics or additional loot. Bonuses appreciated.

ST 11 HP 11 Speed 6.00
DX 10 Will 10 Move 7
IQ 10 Per 10
HT 12 FP 12
Dodge 10 Parry (Broadsword) 8+DB Block 10+DB

Torch (10): 1d+2 crushing, +1 burning if lit; Reach 1.

Traits: Compulsive Gambling (6); Fearlessness 2; Lifting ST 2 (BL 33); Night Vision 3; Sense of Duty (Adventuring Companions); Shtick (Can strike a flame anywhere); Shtick (Last thing under); Wealth (Poor).
Skill: Climbing-10; Broadsword-10, Fast-Draw (Torch)-11; Gambling-9; otherwise as listed in DF 15.

Gear: Clothing; Flint & steel; Leather Helm (Skull DR 2); Light Buckler (DB 1); Personal Basics; Pouch; Shoes (Feet DR 1); Torches (4).

Feel free to use Lew in your own games! He's no Master of Light but he's not bad for the cash. He's got a little more gear than he might otherwise thanks to his earlier trip, too. My players chose to put Continual Light on his torches instead of lighting them, but it was still helpful to have a wide-area light.

Friday, April 19, 2013

SJG Report to the Stakeholders

If you haven't seen it yet, and you're interested in GURPS in specific or SJG games in general, check it out:

SJG 2012 Report to the Stakeholders

Short version: Ogre took over SJG, more Munchkin, GURPS Zombies.

Please read it for the longer version. I for one would love more GURPS support, but Munchkin sells like crazy (including to me), and I am eagerly awaiting the giant OGRE box and wondering if I can't fit my painted Ogre minis into the boardgame somehow. I'll try, anyway.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

GURPS Weapons & Tactics: Picks

For the previous entry in this series, see GURPS Weapons & Tactics: Flails.

Another weapon with some special implications for its use are picks.

What do picks have going for them?

They're Axe/Mace weapons - they're covered by Axe/Mace, which includes a wide variety of weaponry - axes, maces, unbalanced clubs, and the pick itself. So using a one-handed pick doesn't limit your choices of other weapons. A two-handed pick, the warhammer, is covered by Two-Handed Axe/Mace, which lets you use all sorts of high-damage two-handed weaponry like long and great axes, mauls, and scythes.

Swing/Impaling - Swinging damage is the best raw damage a muscle-powered weapon can get. Impaling is possibly the most lethal - a x2 injury multiplier after armor against the face or torso, x3 against the vitals (a mere -3 to hit). While it's weaker against limbs and extremities, the easiest target to hit in the game (torso, -0) is all you need to inflict x2 damage past DR. This makes the pick pretty effective for moderate ST attackers, although for high-strength opponents it's a real fight-ender, and they're less likely to worry about getting stuck (see below).

But it's not all fun and games.

Parry 0U - picks are unbalanced, so you either need to Defensive Attack in order to retain a chance to parry, or choose between attacks and parries. This isn't a huge issue, though, because if you're doing it right, your pick will spend a lot of time inside your opponent. You will really want a weapon or shield in your off-hand, to provide some defense either after a failed attack and, especially, after a successful attack.

Slow attack cycling - you can't attack every turn with a pick, not if you hit anyway. Why? You need to re-ready if you actually bury it into someone. Well, this is one thing I think is the main upside to a pick:

Free damage.

Would you like some free damage?

One often-mentioned downsides of the pick is that they can get stuck in a foe. In fact, you end up only attacking ever other turn.

Turn 1: Swing and hit with the pick, penetrating DR and inflicting injury.
Turn 2: Attempt to pull the pick out.

This is a feature, not a bug. That second turn you are inflicting damage for free - no roll "to hit," just a ST check to pull it out.* That's right, you inflict full damage going in, and half damage coming back out without having to get past his DR or defenses again.

Not only that, but if your opponent wants to move away from you on his turn, you roll a Quick Contest of ST with him. Win, and he can't move. Lose, and he takes your pick with him. On a tie, it comes out for your free damage and you don't need to spend the turn pulling it out.

Occasionally it'll get really stuck, and won't come back out. But that's not that common, and you could easily carry two if you want. Or if you really care, you can drop the weapon as a free action - while it's still in your opponent. This is good if you have a backup weapon and you really need to Retreat, move away, or keep yourself free to act.

So pretty much, if you beat your opponents defenses, you get to either inflict 1.5 times the damage you got past his armor in the first place. ST 15 guy with a pick does 2d+2 impaling - average 9. Against mail, that's 5 points past the DR and does 10 injury. On the way out, it'll do 5 more.

Does this hamper him in any way? Yes and no. There aren't a lot of specific rules to deal with this. It's reasonable to treat it as a grapple of the hit location (torso usually), and have it inflict the usual -4 DX penalty for that.

If you go for a pick, recognize the issue above - free damage, but you can't act freely every turn. What's worked for me in the past is:

- use Feint. This is a one-blow fight ender, if you do it right and roll well (that "average damage" hit against mail is 15 injury against vitals, followed by 8 more on the way out - and max is 30 and 15!), so make sure it's going to get in there. Consider Committed Attack (Strong), too, for the extra damage since you get it on both ends (it says half damage coming out, not "half damage minus" anything.)

- Customization is a good idea, too - adding a hammer head to the peen means you can use the weapon as a hammer and only bust out the pick when you really need it.

- don't waste your time attacking randomly. Aim for the torso, or the vitals, or that's it. Don't fritter away your damage striking the limbs.

- if you really want to keep your opponent on a leash, don't pull the pick out. Make your opponent try to pull it out on his turn.

* Over on the SJG forums, I suggested a patch for this that makes it work better outside of the normal range of ST scores - roll damage again. If you equal or exceed the damage you inflicted the first time, you pull it back out. If not, it's stuck. If you roll less than 1/4 of the damage needed to pull it out, it's really stuck (you can retrieve it after the battle.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Point Buy Systems Aren't About Balance

Back in 2000 on a now-defunct message board, I wrote a post about point buy systems. Essentially, the idea being put out was that point buy systems were about balance. That is, 40 points of X was the same as 40 points of Y or Z, and if it wasn't, why use points at all? After all, equal costs should mean equal benefits and equal utility.

My argument was, well, no, that's not why you use point buy systems. It's not about balance, it's about choices.

This morning I found that text, which I'd cut and saved before the ether swallowed it. Here it is.

"> Then why use points at all? Champions works just as well for designing
> powers without points - even better, because you don't have to figure out any
> point costs on anything. What possible purpose could a character's point
> total serve _besides_ checking to see if two characters are comparable?

To me, there are two simple, related reasons (and a couple of long examples):

1) It gives a person making a set of parameters designating outside limits for
what they can do.

Example: You can't start with 4 dots in each of two Spheres of magic in M:tA,
because you don't have enough points. You can't take more than 250 points
worth of Energy Blast in Champions to start, because you only have 250 points.

2) You set a spending limit* so a person making a character has to juggle
their wants. This makes choosing something a zero-sum proposition, so you have
to decide within the parameters set by the game or the GM what you want to do
with a character.

Example: Putting all 250 points in Energy Blast on your Champions character
means that you can't buy anything else. Putting 200 means you can only buy 50
points worth of something else.

* Which *does* allow for comparison between characters. I still think that was
more of an afterthought to "I hate that the dice decide what my character is,
let's just make everything 'cost' something and give you a budget", but I
never said I didn't think it was possible.

#2 combined with #1 to allow a GM to know what a characters range of possible
power is (from how low to how high) so they can set challenges, spotlight
time, etc. appropriately. What it does *not necessarily* do is say that
character A and character B are balanced with regards to each other and will
be able to equally deal with any given level of challenge, seize their own
spotline time equally, etc. They do say they had the same chance and choices
as the other, which is important.

I think that it is the construction aspect of point-based systems rather
than the "Are my 100 points worth the same as your 100 points" is the point.
To give an example, take Mage: the Ascension. You have 6 dots for Spheres of
Magic, and 9 Spheres to choose from. 3 dots in one sphere costs 3 points; but
is more than 3x as powerful as 1 dot. 6 dots in a sphere is the "utterly
violate reality" level, but costs 6 points (not that you can start with more
than 3 dots in something). So, if you chose to spend your dots as 1 in each of
6 spheres, you are very flexible but very limited. If you put 3 each in two
spheres, you have much more power but less flexibility. Is A (6 spheres, 1
dot) balanced relative to B (2 spheres, 3 dots each)? Well, in that A and B
had the same amount to spend, yes. In that they could have made the same
choices, yes. Otherwise, only caps by the system - "no more than 3 dots to
start in any Sphere" - are balancing them. The characters are roughly
comparable, but so are two 1st level fighters in 1st edition AD&D - one could
have a much greater to hit and damage because of ST. The difference is that
the points system allows you to choose what you get. Sure, you try to make X
points or X dots as equal as possible - there is no reason not to - but
balance isn't the prime reason.

As a stranger example, take Rolemaster. You randomly roll up stats, and
then use points to buy skills. Prices for those skills are based on your class
(modified slightly by person choice). Amount of points you get is scaled on
your random stats - high rolls give more points. Two 1st level fighters can
not only choose different skills, but they can also range in points given to
spend on skills from around 20 points to upwards of 50.
For balance, the system balances classes and costs against each other so
no one class is more beneficial (more or less) than another. It also sets
limits on the amount of points you can put in some skills per level (usually
either 2 or unlimited), and gives skill bonuses to make sure that in the long
run, even a fighter with low stats will catch up to a fighter with awesome
stats in weapon skill. A warrior with all average stats at 1st level is far
behind one at very high stats at 1st level - but thanks to level bonuses
around level 10 they begin to close and by level 30 the effect of stat and
skill differences will almost disappear under the effect of per level class
My point? The point system in Rolemaster allows you to build what you want
- but it makes no bones about means that every starting character is balanced
with one another. The balance is imposed outside the point-based character
creation system. Of course, optional rules allow you to change those level
bonuses and skill level limits, so you could undo those controls or make them
irrelevent if you wish. But the act of spending points didn't give any balance
and I doubt it was put in the system for it.

...and you all thought I'd use GURPS as my example, didn't you. :)

Anyway, that's why I play point based games. I don't hold too many illusions
about "balance" - I've seen both well designed and poorly designed characters
come out of the same point totals using the same rule set. I've seen
characters on wildly different ends of the power scale come out of the same
design session, even. Back when I played AD&D, I saw one player roll nothing
higher than an 11 and another roll 3 18s, 2 17s, and a 16 using 3d6. The
difference? When we played AD&D, the dice decided. When we play GURPS, it's up
to the player - *that* is the point. The real balance is the result of me, the
GM, doing my job.

Pretty much, that's my argument for point-buy. I still feel the same way. I want to choose what I can have and not have, and I like the tradeoff of options and inherent limits that comes with it. Ideally the utility and effect of 10 points of X and Y should be about the same, overall, but it's not really the point. I thought people might enjoy reading this, and I wanted to make sure it was up somewhere.

Oh, and that guy with the 18s and 17s and one 16 during AD&D? My cousin.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Random thoughts from last session

Some random notes from yesterday's game.

XP for last session was 4 points. How did I figure that?

Using my house rules:

5 points for a profitable expedition
-2 for exploring nothing new, not much at all, and only one small portion of territory off of their map (even then, it was a previously explored area)
+1 for rescuing a stranded companion. Risking your life to save a fellow PC when it's easier to just leave him = behavior I want to reward.
Total: 4 each.

Busy room

One room on level 1 has become a nexus of events recently. The PCs have fought no less than three battles there, birthed a gargoyle, had an epic snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat, and fought at least four different kinds of foes there. The room wasn't really meant to be a highway from level 1 to level 2, nor a big combat zone. But it's become both.

Flesh to Stone vs. broken statues

What happens when you petrify someone, break the statue, and then turn it back? I ruled the whole body comes back, even the parts you haven't included (if they're nearby, that is), and you're in the condition that the statue was.

How about when they try to "fix" people with Stone to Flesh / Shape Stone/ Flesh to Stone - yeah, sounds safe. I'll rule when it comes but I wouldn't bet a PC on it.

Broken Minis and Accidental Minis

The tails keep snapping off of the war boars I use, originally from a Savage Orc Boar Boyz set. Everything else stays on, but the tails just snap even inside a hard-shell case in a padded cell.

The big blue guy from last session? He's the ogre mini I spiked into the dirt a year back. He's still gritty but I made it work.

Total spell abuse

So Dryst keeps summoning magical servants and using them as free disposable hirelings - scouting, testing doors, setting off traps, etc. Pretty much substituting mana and a single spell for a whole class of adventuring tasks.

Now in the main I think this is fine. It's a valid character concept. I don't really mind that they expend mana to solve problems, even if that mana is in the form of a dull-witted magical servant.

On the other hand, it makes me think that, yeah, folks who charge a minimum maintenance cost for spells have a point. If he had to keep paying for these guys, it would be a decision to make them not a no-brainer. Or perhaps there should be a limit on how many servants you can make and keep around - one per level of Magery, say, or based on relative skill (so up to IQ+1 in the spell is one, IQ+2 is 2, IQ+5 is 5, etc.) So you can't make that many of them.

Still, I have no intention to nerf Dryst, but putting an upper limit on how many servants you can make might be a good idea. Something higher than what he's done so far, for sure. Still, it's amusing to watch someone so thoroughly and morally-cleanly abuse the idea of a meatshield. Without reducing a person to a meatshield - after all, created servants aren't summoned, they aren't people, they are just mana in the shape of a being. It's "Create" not "Summon." We joke that they remember the past mis-uses of Dryst, though, and they all ask which number they are . . .

Sunday, April 14, 2013

DF Game Session 23 - A Gargoyle Shall Be Born

April 14th, 2013

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Dryst, halfling wizard (253 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (286 points)
Vryce, human knight (341 points)

and later

Chuck Morris, human martial artist (251 points)

Still in town:
Borriz, dwarven knight (310 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (292 points)
Christoph, human scout (255 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)

We started in town, and got off to a fairly slow start as we weren't actually sure how many players were going to show up. In the end it was four, with three PCs and Raggi in reserve (a 17 on 3d was too high for his 15 or less availability* so he wasn't handy.)

The group paid upkeep, did some shopping (Dryst for some more faerie-made defensive gear, Vryce for a new fine-quality greatsword). They picked up some rumors - one about the legality of, well, anything done underground, another about a group of guys who headed off to search Felltower a few days back who didn't come back, and one about needing a metal key to unlock a metal door. Oh, and still one more about possible meteoric iron-poisoned potions meant to hurt mages.

Still mulling over the rivals that headed up the hill, the group shopped for potions. I dumped 2d each for the minor, major, and great healing potions available. 2, 4, and 12. Wow, not many of the cheaper ones. We instantly decided that the "rivals" must have bought up the ready supply. The dice reflected the rumor, certainly.

So armed up, the group headed out of town, across the stone bridge, past the statue of Sterick the Red on Sterick's Landing, out of the shanty town and slums, and up the mountain.

They took extra time to track, and see if they could see who'd been there before. They found ration wrappers (oiled cloth, basically), flecks from stone (maybe a whetstone), and tracks here and there. Recent rain made it tough.

At the top of the mountain, they found more evidence of their "rivals" - a disturbed campsite. Galen's tracking skills determined that between one and two dozen orcs and an ogre-sized creature snuck up on and beat on a camping group of about 6-8 guys a few days back. They dragged off their kills although they left a few broken arrows and bloodstains behind.

Further tracking showed the orcs staying in the burned-out ruins, in a hidden-from-casual-site campsite, and using the gulley nearby to travel north. This fit with rumors of more orcs in the area, and probably told the tale of what happened to the rival group. Dryst cast Earth Vision on Galen, who used it to spot a series of tunnels heading out from the poison-ivy and thorn covered area they'd found a long time back.

In the end they went to the tower entrance. They found a crowbar by the metal trap door, and signs that people had been nearby. Dryst's Create(d) Servant tried to open the door but was zapped with black energy and was injured. Dryst dismissed him with a wave and created a new servant, and they headed down the well entrance, which they'd destroyed last time. It was open, although the area beneath the well was now filled with debris from the surface, and both secret doors to it were spiked open.

They also started to hear a moaning or groaning noise, and headed off to investigate. They found the "big room" on level 1, and sent in a magical servant with a lightstone. Wooosh. A gout of flame engulfed it, and it dropped with a whimper and burned briefly and pitifully before it disappeared. They sent in the next one, shadowed by Vryce. It was lit up by fire from a red slorn, which Galen promptly shot and then Vryce charged and clashed up. It died in short order.

Having made sure this wasn't behind them, they retraced their steps to the room with the trapdoor in the floor. They passed through the pair of secret doors that separate it from the section they were in. As the second one was opened (by a servant), a flash swung down and smacked the servant in the head and broke. Woooooosh. Alchemist's fire covered the servant and splashed in a yard or so around him in all directions. Galen was just far enough behind for safety. They let it burn down and then, yet again, created a new servant. They started to get really annoyed with all of the traps.

The room beyond was as it was left - four statues. Dryst magically whipped up a sledgehammer for Vryce, who then cracked off the four heads. They gave them to their (rear guard) servant to carry and climbed down into the crawlway and down to level 2. Once again, the servant was used to test the doors for traps.

They dropped down, and went in a round about fashion to the "gong door" as they're calling it. They passed the airlock-like metal door with a six fingered printed hand sign on it they'd found before. They decided to test it with their servant's hand. Nothing seemed to happen. But as they went past, they heard clunking footsteps and clomping of hooves. And then a whoosh. They turned just in time to see two boars, both large as ponies and black as night, charging at them. They ran down the first servant (which disappeared) and into Vryce and Dryst. Vryce was slammed in the groin, but his heavy armor stopped it cold. Next he was able to avoid his, and in fact in a second or two got it to smash into the wall next to him. Dryst got gored in the leg by his, and then trampled. All the while the boars took massive hits from Vryce's sword and Galen's arrows, but didn't drop. Dryst managed to cast Shield +5 on Vryce, which made all the difference in the fight. Shortly after Dryst's leg was slashed again and was dismembered - it just tore off. He dropped.

As this was happening, the boar's master came up from behind. A blue ogre-like figure, with a big wooden club, a stone-headed axe, and a necklace of skulls. It engaged Vryce. Vryce was able to whack it in the leg but couldn't hurt it past its metal shin guards. Its return strike with its club was easily parried, but it sent shivers into Vryce, who needed to roll HT to resist (he did this every time, no failure, so he never found out what he was resisting).

The boars were finally put down by Galen shooting them in the vitals and eyes. But then the blue ogre-like creature spoke a mind-ripped utterance which deafened and stunned Vryce and put Galen straight into a coma. So it was only Vryce vs. the thing. They dueled extensively - Vryce kept backing off and it kept advancing. Vryce was able to hit it repeatedly - eyes, torso, legs, hands - but it unfazed and only slightly injured. A full-on stab to the eyes only bothered it a little, and while some block ichor leaked out it didn't even blink. Vryce tried to attack its weapons and managed to knock its stone axe out of its hand with a very powerful shot. But it kept coming, and occasional stopped to try and cast a spell, forcing Vryce to pressure it more to keep it from concentrating. Finally, realizing he wasn't making any headway, and that this stumpy, clunky, noisy bastard wasn't faster than him, and that his Shield spell would run out soon, Vryce back up. It started to cast a spell . . . and Vryce ran. It followed. Clunk, clunk, clunk. Vryce ran in what was eventually a big, big circle, through was he (fortunately correctly) remembered to be a big circle back to the fight scene. He did it, pursued all the while by the big thing. It was slow on the corners, though, allowing Vryce to get some space.

He eventually made it back to the original scene of the fight, tired and gasping for air (Fit or not, he's running in plate armor wearing a closed helm). He went past the fight the long way, and took a quick look - Dryst in a pool of blood, Galen unmoving and gazing sightlessly at the ceiling, boars motionless . . . and behind the "airlock" door was a big circular chamber, and the top landing of a set of stairs spiraling down to the left.

Vryce heard the monster coming, so he ducked into one of the "illusion of luxury" rooms and hid behind an illusionary couch. He heard it clump around, and waited. A good five minutes later, it clumped around again. After a while, and some more clumping, and then silence. He waited a good 15 minutes before he came out. The boars were gone. So was the thing. The "airlock" door was closed and its stairs no longer in view. Lucky for Vryce his two companions were as before. Galen in a coma (although Vryce didn't know that, just that he didn't seem dead) and Dryst miraculously alive** despite his wound.

Really lucky.

It was also very, very quiet in the dungeon. Normally they hear rat noises, metal clanking, doors opening and closing, squeaks and drips and groans. But for a while after that thing went by . . . nothing. Nothing was out and about while the blue guy was.

Which helped keep the party alive.

Vryce grabbed an Awaken stone from Dryst and crushed it near both. Both guys woke up, and Dryst immediately quaffed a potion of major healing and Galen just woke up, unharmed. Dryst created a magical crutch for himself, packed his leg into his backpack, created more servants, and then went for Chuck Morris's petrified form.

They found him, using no lightstones except one on a Missile Shielded magical servant sent up the other side of the hallway from where they were (to distract the fire-men). They got into the medusa room through the connected privies, un-petrified Chuck, rested (for a long time, something like almost 90 minutes), and headed back out. No wandering monsters, because nothing goes near the fire-men.

They decided to just head out. This all took a long to play in the real world, and they really had no reserves. They went back to the first floor.

There they started in on un-petrifying the statues of the cultists that attacked them last time. They started with the wizard. No problem. He turned to headless flesh, which gouted blood (as did his head, which un-petrified along with his body, sympathetically). They searched him and found some silver and gold coins, and a silver (edged?) scimitar. Nothing else of note or value. Hmm. How about the woman with the axe? Dryst tried to cast his Flesh to Stone. Missed. Missed. Critical failure - 18. And he's got Weirdness Magnet.

So he instantly turned himself to stone, and at that moment a crunching noise was heard from the wall behind the woman's headless statue form. Hands burst out from the wall, and horns grew out of it . . . and a gargoyle stepped out of a brand-new niche in the wall, shaking off loose bits of stone. It lunged at Dryst, making odd noises. Vryce stepped and whacked it with his sword, leaving a big dry gash-like dent in it. It howled and ran down a blind corridor. Chuck Morris followed, bringing the head-bag servant with him. He decided to play nice, and offered it one of the stone heads.

The gargoyle took it, looked at it for a bit, and dropped it. It held out a claw. Chuck offered it two heads. It took the pointy-hatted one (not the woman's) and played with it for a brief bit before it dropped it. Then it sidled up against the wall and tried to go around them. They let it go.

And it ran/flew (flapped-ran?) down the corridor to "map north" and away from them.

With that, they finished up their plans. Chuck Morris went down and smashed the "gong door" in the open position, so it couldn't easily be closed (maybe not at all) and it was gonging continuously. Now, as Vryce put it, it's someone else's problem to fix it. They left the dungeon and headed back to town, hearing the gonging noise all the way to the surface and a bit beyond the entrance.

Back in town, they got Dryst fixed up (he's crippled for a month, which is tricky if we play in two weeks) and sold the sword, which luckily turned out to be silver, not silver-edged, and worth 4,000 sp sold. So they made a profit after all, even if they (barely) explored anything and found no real new territory.

* Raggi is around on a 15 or less, base. Otherwise he's off carousing, sleeping off a bender, or roughing it out of town. The more money Raggi makes on a trip, the lower his availability. In other words, if you score big with Raggi he's less likely to be around next time as he's still under a table somewhere. If he's broke, he's more likely to be sharpening his axe and getting ready to go dungeoneering!

** I gave him HT-5 not to be dead from blood loss. He made it easily.


- Vryce bought Luck this session, and needed it for at least one roll.

- Poor Dryst has now ended two consecutive sessions petrified. He needed to expend 1,010 sp ($) on magical restoration, used a few hundred worth of potions, and needed to recharge his power item. Ouch.

- Yeah, that's one of the ways you can get new gargoyles.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Internal vs. External Sources of In-Game Information

One thing I like in my games is consistency. What works now will work later, given identical circumstances. The results will be believable and acceptable, and if they don't repeat it's because the circumstances only appear identical.

But I'm not willing to concede the self-consistency of my game to consistency with external sources. The context of my game world is set by what I've written, selected from sources, and then used or demonstrated in game. In other words, my decisions trump books and in-game usage trumps even that.

But if I'm basically changing stuff, where do enterprisingly players turn to find out what the in-game ground rules are?

I think that just like external consistency (matching the books) and internal consistency (matching prior play), you have external sources of information and internal sources of information.

What do I mean by external sources?

Things from outside the game world, not handed to them during or before play by the GM or specifically designated as correct and in use.

These include:

- monster manuals and rulebooks in general
- knowledge of folklore
- information from previous campaigns of mine
- video games
- fiction of all kinds
- knowledge of just how many pirate/pygmy/orc/zombie/genestealer/etc. minis I have and suspicions I might use them this game
- wild-ass guesses

These are hit or miss in terms of value. They might be right (yes, the trolls in my game aren't so good about fire) or wrong (the wights in my game paralyze you). Relying on this is risky.

What about internal sources?

Things from inside the game world, either learned in play or handed to the players by the GM.

These include:

- out-of-game explanation
- evidence of their own play
- sages, wise men, etc.
- written sources
- rumors

These are also risky. The first one is the least risky. In fact it's generally infallible. "Are we handling fireballs the same way this game?" or "Can I run a holy warrior?" or "Are all barbarians in my tribe SM+1?" or whatever. The answer is certainly trustworthy, although it might not be helpful.

The second, evidence of their own play, is the next least risky. Of course if their conclusions are wrong, or facts misinterpreted or not understood correctly it still can be. But it's also the hardest to get.

Sages, books, and rumors are all going to be of varying degrees of accuracy. Mostly degrees of inaccuracy, with some being flat-out wrong and others being mildly wrong or just misleading. Generally what they hear at least has some in-game value, in that they're hearing what some other people believe to be true. It's information that I as the GM am willing to cop to, to hand out, to hand to you to see what you do with it. It's information in play, out on the table, and not something that may or may not even exist.

That's what separates the two - one has automatic in-game merit, good or bad. The other may or may not have in-game merit at all. It might be in the game's canon, but not in the campaign's canon. The internal stuff, well, it's in the campaign's canon, it just might be true or false. But at least it's there.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Melee Academy: What's the Tradeoff for NOT Using a Shield?

Douglas Cole over at Gaming Ballistic suggested that a few do a coordinated series of posts on the same subject. In addition to what's below:

Mark Langsdorf talks DF Knights over at No School Grognard.
Jason Packer discusses two-handed weapons at RPG Snob.
and Doug talks getting past shields at Gaming Ballistic.

Welcome to the Melee Academy.

Should you use a shield in GURPS?

Maybe. Probably yes. Most low-tech combatants chose shields in most circumstances. So you should, too.

There, that was helpful.

How about we put it another way - what do you lose by not using a shield, and what do you gain by not using a shield?

What do you give up when you ditch the shield?

Without a shield, you have some problems that shield users do not.

Missile weapons - thrown weapons can be Parried (albeit at a small penalty) or Dodged, but missile weapons can only be Blocked or Dodged. No shield? No Block. You must Dodge, and you must make the roll. Retreat doesn't help, you need to Dodge and Drop for your +3. Missile weapon users know this, and may preferentially shoot at you because you're less able to defend - and even if you do, the Dodged attack keeps on going and limits your utility as a meat shield.

Shield Rush/Shield Bash - You give up a couple of attacks here. You can't whack someone with the shield for straight-up damage (and damage that's hard to Parry, because a shield can be a pretty heavy weapon if it's big enough.) Not a big deal if you've got a big weapon or two weapons, perhaps. But the lack of Shield Rush means you're giving up a pretty good slam bonus (and taking your slam damage to your shield, as well.)

Kiss your DB goodbye. - Using a shield gives you 1-3 DB, depending on its size. A +1 to +3 to all of your defenses in your front arc plus your shield side = much better defenses. Knocking off that bonus costs an opponent 2-6 points of skill worth of Deceptive Attacks. You don't get this. Your defenses are whatever your skill provides, a +1 or +3 for Retreat, and not much else.

What do you get by giving up a shield?

Ditch that shield. It's dead weight on your arm. What do you get back?

Less encumbrance, probably. Only the very lightest of man-sized shields are as light as most weapons - 2 pounds for a Light shield. Even a Small shield is 8 pounds, which is more than a greatsword and its sheath. It's as much as a fantasy-sized greataxe, and almost as much as some full-sized polearms. Low-Tech has some lighter ones, but still, none are especially light.

An extra hand for second weapon. And thus, a second parry. Nevermind you can now Dual-Weapon Attack potentially with one skill (you can do it with a shield, but that's a second skill). You now can have weapon variety, and even reach variety - the rapier-and-dagger, double sticks, the long-and-short sword (katana and wakizashi, say), a second nunchaku, whatever. Either way, you have two Parries and thus your multiple parry penalties cascade from two different weapons. You can now cross-parry or do a supported parry if you go empty hand. You're no longer (as) vulnerable to crowding in close-combat.

An extra hand for a two-handed weapon. Now you can hold your weapon in two hands. Except for fencing weapons, very few one-handed weapons give you Reach 2. Most two-handed weapons do, however. You can now use distance against a foe and counter those who seek to use distance against you. With the right two-handed weapon, your multiple parry cascade is cut in half (quartered with Weapon Master.) And you get a bit more damage, generally, although there are a few hefty one-handed weapons that do as much damage as two-handers.

You save some points. You don't need to buy the Shield skill if you don't use a Shield. You can spend those points on a secondary weapon or unarmed combat skill, which you can use in your off-hand, perhaps. And with a two-handed weapon, you simply can plow all of those points from shield into your weapon skill, and be much better at it than the shield-and-sword guy is at either of his weapons.

So that's the question - that's what you gain and lose without a shield. If you feel like you can live with those costs and enjoy those benefits, get out from behind that slab on your arm and bring your second hand to the fight. If you're thinking about going shieldless and those things don't sound so good, considered yourself warned, strap your shield on your arm, and head into battle.

Historical Note: Curiously, in the earliest days of GURPS, in Man-to-Man, shields got Skill/2 based defenses like weapons, but it was deemed too good, so the published version had Skill/3. So you saw Block 12 or 15 a lot, rarely an 18, and rarely was it better than Dodging. So it got changed back, and shields are all the more useful for the change back. Skill/3 was just brutal, and on low-point guys it was rarely worth even learning how to use it; just hang it on your arm for what was then PD and hope it helped. True story. Of course, now someone's going to read this and think it's a great idea. Actual Play-based opinion: no, it wasn't.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Never trust a dungeon-dweller

Do your players even bother to try and talk to folks they meet in dungeons?

In my game the players have met a lot of people in dungeons. It started out well, but I think they've come to the conclusion that you need to just kill what you meet.

- they met two men-at-arms in the hobgoblin caves. They turned out okay (and Korric and Orrie might make a comeback, who knows)

- they rescued Raggi Ragnarsson the berserker from some gnolls.

So far, so good. But then, Felltower.

- They met the Choke brothers. Heheheh. Sorry, that's still funny. Five throttlers, who tried to kill them. They got one of the PCs.

- they met a crafty gnome, believed his lies, and they've been stumbling across his vicious traps ever since.

- they rescued a petrified hobgoblin, recruited him, and then beat the survivors of a hobgoblin tribe into working from them. They didn't last.

That's about it for meet-and-greet people in the dungeon. Not a lot, really. But couple that with the various creatures that try to kill them, they've started to think they need to just kill who they meet. They've made good on that, and killed at least two other monster-types that would have happily negotiated with them or made a deal with them without even making an attempt. When they do negotiate, they tend to work from a point of "you capitulate and we'll see if we're willing to give you anything after that. Otherwise you die." Not a real incentive to talk to the PCs, really.

They may have a point, though. Most people, most critters, and in the dungeon with bad intentions. Direct attack at least takes advantage of your constant wariness and positioning. You're ready to fight immediately, and trying to make a deal inevitably gives the other guys a chance to stab you in the back or re-start a fight on better terms. Starting from a totally lopsided negotiating platform might work, and if not, you wanted a fight anyway. It's a good assumption that violence will occur, and often both sides just skip right to the violence. Especially since I've made it clear that officially, what happens in the dungeon is flat-out legal. Fighting has a real cost in resources and potentially in lives (a bad roll in any fight can kill your guy), but getting jumped by "allies" has a potentially worse cost, and attacking everything puts it on a cost basis you are best prepared to pay. You're coming ready and able to inflict violence.

I'm sure they'll just attack the next guys to try to talk to them.

That tells me it's time to make sure there are a few more upright folks who'd honor their deals, just to make sure it's always a potential loss to fight everything you meet. If my ratio of backstabbers to frontstabbers to potential friends is off by too much, there really is no point to try and talk to anyone. There must be a cost to not talking.

And the players will be right: never trust a dungeon dweller.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

GURPS Weapons & Tactics: Flails

One thing I like a lot about GURPS, ever since Man-to-Man, is that weapon selection matters. What you use to fight can heavily influence your options and opportunities. Weapons make styles, and styles make fights.

Some of those weapons come with their own specific utility. So I'm going to do a series of posts on some of what I consider especially interesting weapons in GURPS. That is, weapons that have some particular use or utility that warrants special consideration, special tactics, or special rules. They often give up something - often a lot of something - to fit some specific role better. This isn't a rules classification, it's more of a way of thinking about the different utility of some weapons. Today I'll look at one I like a lot.


A classic. Flails seem pretty straight-up weapons in GURPS, but they have some special rules attached.

Flails all come with a set of defense penalties for your opponent. -4 to Parry, -2 to Block (halved for the smaller ones, like nunchaku or weighted scarves), cannot be parried by knives or by fencing weapons. Your only fool-proof defense against them is to Dodge.

They also come with pretty good damage - a benefit to having a chain section connecting a lever and an impact surface. For two-handed flails, your selection is pretty small - either a flail or a three-part staff (aka three-section staff). For one-handed flails, you've got a bigger set of choices. The king of those is the morninstar, which gives swing+3/crushing, which is pretty much the top end of one-handed damage ranged. Only the mace matches it one-handed and it doesn't give you nearly as much. They're all cheap, too - $80 for a morningstar (which is 4x as much as the next closest one-handed flail), $100 for a two-handed flail (and only $60 for a three-section staff if you want to go all Gordon Liu in combat.)

What makes this a special weapon choice? For starters, it's DX/Hard, you don't get a wide variety of weapon choices. It doesn't give a lot of useful defaults (Axe/Mace, Kusari for two-handed flails, and the other flail skill, that's it). You'll need ST 12, too, for a morningstar, or 13 for a flail, which isn't that high but it's not low, either. ST 10 or less and you're down to the half-penalty nunchaku and the various less effective varieties. Flails are mostly Parry 0U (a few are -2U) so you'll want a shield or an off-hand weapon to protect yourself with.

That's another point right there - your advantage with a flail is purely offense. Unless you're playing DF and have the Dwarven modifier on it, you can't attack and parry on the same turn. Your advantages with the weapon are damage and imposing defense penalties, so don't use it to defend. Stay close, think about Committed Attack for the extra step if you get hassled by Reach 1,2 weapon-using opponents (especially fencers), and think about armoring up. This isn't a light infantry weapon.

Don't forget about Defensive Attack*, either. You can trade off a little of that extra damage for a chance to Parry on your own turn. You can still act aggressively, just hold a bit back to make sure you aren't defenseless. This is especially useful for Weapon Master types (who get a discount on multiple parries and bonus damage to offset the tradeoff.)

Perhaps surprisingly, given that it's DX/Hard, both the One-Handed Flail and Two-Handed Flail skills are ideal for lower-skill fighters. The aforementioned penalties to defend against them make them ideal for guys who can't afford to trade off a lot of skill for Deceptive Attack. But you only trade off 1 point of relative skill compared to a DX/Average skill (in other words, most weapon skills) for a high-damage weapons that imparts steep defense penalties. Score! You can even use Telegraphic Attack and only partly offset the parry penalty and/or to just paste low-Dodge fencers, who don't get to Parry no matter how many pluses you give them to their weapon.

Flails do swing/crushing damage**, though, so they don't get any multipliers for location except for pretty difficult and easily armored targets - Skull is good for x4, but easily armored up, Neck is x1.5, but hard to hit and easily armored up, Vitals just doesn't give you all that much, for examples. You'll probably want to hit for these kind of places anyway, if you have the skill, or just take a random roll. They make a great choice for people so strong they don't need or want to hit specific locations beyond "center mass" anyway, like giants.

Your goal with the flail should be to minimize the chances your opponent can Dodge and Retreat, since that's their best defense against you. As with all weapons in GURPS (and reality), being stronger and more skilled will make it work better for you. But flails give you a bit of a jump on both, by adding in some defense penalties to your opponents and giving you solid damage for only a small skill tradeoff. Point for point you'll lag behind a swordsman or an axeman or spearman, but you'll always be just a little harder to stop.

Full disclosure: Both I (with Tarjan Telnar, my DF knight) and the PC in my game Honus are flail-users. Me because I think morningstars are awesome and made for a fun knight, Honus because it's a high-damage weapon that imparts defense penalties so he's not left behind by more skilled fellow PCs. Please note that I didn't address the kusari and its derivatives - they have a lot of their own special rules and cases that don't overlap with flails. I'll talk about them another time.

* Thanks Joseph R for pointing this out in the comments.

** Well, unless you allow the very silly Bladed Flail from Low-Tech Companion 2. If you do, you're asking for it. It's in the cinematic weapons section with double-bladed swords and barbed chains for a reason.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Car Wars pocket box edition out in PDF

For those of you who don't follow the Steve Jackson Games Daily Illuminator, you might have missed this:

Car Wars is out in PDF

It's the little pocket box version, with a 64-page rulebook and 100 or so counters.

Pretty cool. Car Wars was the first SJG game I ever played, followed later by Ogre, then Man-to-Man, then GURPS. I still have all of my old Car Wars stuff (plus a replacement set of counters I got used, after my originals mysteriously disappeared en masse.) I'm looking forward to the new version of Car Wars but it's cool to think you can play the old for for $6 plus some printing time.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

What would you change if you could reboot your campaign?

Ever have those "It's too late, but I should have . . . " thoughts about your game?

I do. Here are the ones I've currently got about my Dungeon Fantasy game.

If I could do my Dungeon Fantasy game all over from scratch, I would . . .

. . . go with larger, cheaper coinage. I'd make coins 50 to a pound, what the hell. I should have done that in the first place, because it worked for my old fantasy game. I thought 250/pound would make things easier but I find it was a useless change.

. . . ditch Quick and Dirty magic item prices. Oh sure, cheap utility magic is part of the fun of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. I know that. But I think it would have made for a very interesting dynamic if the price per point of energy was just $20 flat, not $1 for items of 100 points or less. Fortify +1 on a whole suit would run you $1000, making better quality armor or just heavier armor a good deal compared to magically enchanted armor. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

. . . use the Alternate Talent Costs from Power-Ups 3. Just because it would make Barbarians cheaper, and thus have more points to spend on beefing up their character.

. . . invite my two newer players from day one. A no-brainer here. I wish I'd known they both lived close enough to come and play and wanted to come and play from day one.

. . . institute my Shape Earth rulings right off the bat. It's hard to run a megadungeon when your PCs can casually tunnel holes right through the walls whenever they feel like it. A one-second duration on Shape Earth makes for a lot less "we shape some stone down from the surface to block up this trap" type stuff, which means more explanation and less engineering discussion.

. . . put my dungeon a little further away from the city. Not that a day trip dungeon is a bad thing. It would just have been fun if it took a day or two of hiking to get there, opening up more wilderness encounters and forcing more of a decision about when to back off.

. . . I'd put more branching choices in entrance of my dungeon. I like my dungeon entrance, but I think it narrows your choices too much, too soon. A big central location with side passages and staircases down right away, that would have been a good idea. The fortified entrance would still have been cool, but it could have lead right out to a branching-choice main room.

I'dd have run a couple of rules differently, just because I'd like to try them out.

None of this is stuff I can change now, not without some violence to the world, the PCs, and the game. I'm fine with that. But if I knew then what I know now, that's what I would have gone with.

What about you guys? If you could restart your game, what would you change?
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