Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tricks: The Load-Bearing Monster

This will be the first in what I expect will be a short series of posts dealing with "trick" encounters - monsters, treasures, and other things. The ones that have something up their sleeve that makes them a bit different than a normal monster encounter. Usually, because there is some clever unknown that preys on the expectations of the players and forces them into different decisions to deal with the monster.

There is an old trope of the movies - kill the boss, his fort falls. Why? Seems silly, and sometimes it clearly is the product of "it's in the script" but with no explanation. But it doesn't have to be silly. You can use this - with some different trappings - for a real treat in your own games.

Careful, That's A Load-Bearing Monster

The basic idea is, the health of the monsters holds up the dungeon. Dead monster, and the dungeon (or dungeon level, or sub-level, or section) collapses. The collapse can be gradual - like in the movies - or sudden and complete.

A dirty, rotten and pretty unfair trick is to do this with no warning. It's also not so productive - it's more gotcha than clever trick -"You acted like I've rewarded you for acting in this game, and now I'm punishing you for acting that way!" On the potentially lethal scale of "drop the world down around you" that's a bit much of a surprise.

Better, and more entertaining, is to let the PCs know that killing the monster will drop the dungeon down around them. The signal can be a shake every time the monster is injured in any way (or one of them is killed, if it's a group of monsters.) You could provide the information in the form of rumors, or Hidden Lore knowledge, of Area Knowledge. It might be written on the nearby dungeon walls. Or perhaps the monster itself will tell them ("Bwahaha! You cannot slay me or the tunnels will collapse and seal your dooooooooom!") It's a great time for a monologue, and they might even listen a little bit if they hear "Let me finish talking or you'll kill your own PCs with your lack of knowledge." Sometimes they won't care, but at least the information was out there.

You could use this concept to create monsters better foiled or avoided than destroyed, in order to get at their loot. If killing the monsters starts a countdown clock, it's better to loot first or you might have no chance to loot later. Putting a tempting bit of loot, protected by a load-bearing monster, presents a choice - take the risk for the loot, or the safer option of just killing it?

While you could do this with very tough monsters, it could provide a violent way out - beat it up, even really unload on it, as long as it doesn't die. A twist on it is a very fragile monster - one that's dangerous to the PCs but which is also extremely vulnerable to the PCs attacks. That makes any aggressive action against the monster(s) risky.

Why does it collapse? - Good question. Magic is the key here - something magical is keeping the level intact. This can be magic-magic ("a mad wizard did it!") or holy magic (the monster is a divine being, tasked with guarding something).

It can occur due to a specific Wish (when I drop, drop my freaking castle on the bastards that killed me!) or because the boss has built a who castle from magic held together with Wishes that won't last after you're gone - or that are sustained due to its personal magical power. These make great sense for mad wizards, mystic wish-granting creatures like djinni, or the like.

This can work very well with clearly magical levels - glowing hallways of pure force with a great treasure at the center, say, or magical dreamscapes inside the very mind of the monster (careful, damage the scenery too much trying to escape/find the loot and the monster dies, and you collapse with the dream), or shadow castles inhabited by shadow beings.


There are a few ways to play this.

Speed of Collapse: The speed is important. A gradual drop means the PCs can flee, movie hero style, after defeating the bad guy. A quick drop means they're just crushed or trapped or killed if they push the monster too far and kill it.

Single Vs. Groups: Is it one monster you need to kill to drop it, or a group that must all be killed? Does each monster in the group drop a different section of the area in question?

Higher Stakes: One of the tidbits I like about the ancient Egyptians, besides signing the insides of the pyramids, is the concept/god of Ma'at - a sort of universal stability. Pharoah needs to be protected or this stability will be damaged - guarding the tomb is important because the stability of the universe is at stake. It's hard to imagine Valhalla holding up well if you whacked the gods, either. It doesn't need to be the question of a single level, it can be the question of an entire dungeon, entire region, or entire world.

It's rough to make a monster hold up the world and expect the PCs to deal with it without violence. But it can be the basis of an interesting reversal:

Save the Load-Bearing Monster! This is just a classic video game mission - protect the hapless NPC/captured enemy spaceship/base from waves of monsters. This just turns turns the MacGuffin into either a Local Load-Bearing Monster (dungeon falls on you!) or a Universal Load-Bearer (reality falls on you!) and the Universe is where the PCs keep all of their stuff.

Have you ever used a load-bearing monster? I haven't, yet, although I've placed a LBM in my dungeon. Either way, I see all sorts of possibilities . . .

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Equipping my Swords & Wizardry Guy

So I generated my paper man for S&W yesterday. I'm still deciding about dropping his 12 CHA to a 10, so I can raise STR to 18 (maybe) or DEX to 14 (probably, for the option of Defensive Fighting). That's assuming my stat stand - maybe the GM will ask me to roll them in Roll20 or something, or video it, or something. In which case I need a new PC. Assuming I get to keep this guy, I have three things to work on. A name. Alignment. And Gear. Alignment, well, Lawful or Neutral. I need to delve into the book more and see what choosing one does to me. I tend towards Neutral with Lawful tendencies, although I find it pretty easy to go full-on Lawful. Full-on nice, really. I need a "What Would John Crichton Do?" bracelet. He's a pretty good model for "nice with some serious backbone."

Either way, he needs gear.

How Much?

Equipment, per S&W Complete page 29, is based on 3d6 x 10 gp. I roll a 10 (and then promptly rolled a 12, which would have changed my options, but the universe and these GW dice I keep in my desk drawer were not kind). That means 100 gp.

The Armoury

First up is armor and weapons, because if I'm a fighter my allies have a reasonable expectation that I have something in that department.


The first rule of gaming is, don't die. Armor helps.

Getting Chain (ouch, it's painful to say "Chain" instead of "Mail") is a bit much at 75 gp. It doesn't leave me much. Ring (Uh, leather with rings on it?) is the next step down and costs 30 gp. It gives -3 or +3 AC, depending on if we're using Ascending AC or Descending AC. Leather is only 5 gp, lighter (10 lbs instead of 40 lbs), and might have the upside of people not assuming I'm a tank. A shield is 15 gp, 10 lbs, and -1/+1 AC. I'll want one of those.

Let's say Ring and Shield, for -4 AC, 50 lbs, and 45 gp. That would leave me 55 to spend and, with ST 17, my dude can carry 105 lbs without dropping below Base Movement Rate 12.
(By the way, the index in S&W lists Encumbrance as page 32, but page 32 doesn't mention Encumbrance, just Weight. Makes it hard on us using PDFs and find, eh?)

I may revise back to leather. Ring has the downside of a lot more cost and weight for not a whole lot of extra anything. But we'll see.

How about weapons?

I love swords. Swords scream "fighter" to me. Plus, if I wasn't so clumsy in real life, I'd learn to use one. (In real life, I'm a fan of sticks.) I like the versatility of a bastard sword - 20 gp for 1d8 damage, 1d8+1 with two hands if my shield gets busted somehow. I think that's worth the expense.

I like crossbows, too, but bows are much better in DnD clones. And cheaper. So, a Short Bow (15 gp) and 20 arrows (2 gp) is a good deal. So are the handaxe and spear. Spears have some nice range but are twice as heavy as axes (are they really? GURPS pegs them at the same weight, and so did my research, but whatever - I'm playing what's on the page. These aren't complaints, just running commentary.)

So this seems like a nice loadout:
Sword, Bastard (10 lbs, 20 gp)
Axe, Hand (5 lbs, 2 gp)
Spear (10 lbs, 1 gp)
Short Bow (5 lbs, 15 gp)
Arrows (20) (1 lb, 2 gp)
Dagger (2 lbs, 2 gp)
Total: 33 lbs, 42 gp

At this point, I'm almost out of money.

(By the way, after years of dealing with "3 pound swords are too unrealistically heavy!" in GURPS, it's strange to go back to 10 pound swords again.)

Other Gear

With 13 gp left, I need to ensure I can a) see, b) carry stuff, c) eat, and d) have some cash to buy stuff my friends need me to have.

With that in mind:

Backpack (30 lbs capacity) (5 gp, ?? lbs.) (weight isn't listed anywhere that I can see, for any of this gear)
Bedroll (0.2 gp)
Flint & Steel (1 gp)
Oil, Lamp x 5 (0.5 gp) (this doubles as Greek Fire, which is why I need some)
Sack x 1 (30 lbs capacity) (2 gp)
Torch x 3 (0.03 gp)
Waterskin (1 gp)
Rations, Trail x 2 days (1 gp)
Rations, Dried x 2 days (2 gp)
Total: 12.73 gp

This leaves me 0.27 gp left.

That might do for starting gear - I need to mull it over

Side Note - Old School Cred

I started in 1981 with Moldvay Red Box and quickly progressed to D&D, played with all the understanding and arguments and lethality that a group of elementary school kids can bring to a game.

I remember how fragile 1st level guys can be. You can even have straight 18s and max HP and still end up with a dead PC on the first turn of the game. It happens. I remember this. I know nothing I do assures my snowflake of protection.

But it's enjoyable to put some effort into the guy, and real thought into what I can do to give him the best survival edge I can. I may only run this guy once, so that means I really need to care about him even more now. So I'm not looking to ensure this guy will survive anything, only that I put the effort into my PC that will make the sessions I get to run him as fun as possible. For me and others.

Now I just need a name. And then we'll see how this guy does. I'm thinking he's a cautious veteran merc, or a city guardsman, or something of that sort. Some urge to get wandering and exploring (death in the family? Crop failure? Took a wrong turn and just kept going?) Not really ambitious externally, but sees a chance to make it big or get buried with a sword as his headstone, and is willing to risk the latter to get the former.

Sounds pretty good. Now he just needs a name.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rolling up a Swords & Wizardry character

So I threw my name in the ring for Eric Tenkar's Swords & Wizardry game's B-Team.

I finally noticed where the chargen rules were stashed, and rolled up my guy yesterday. I remember how fun rolling up a character is, and why I play a game that means I never have to do that anymore. I rarely get to play . . . I might be happier with pure random if I was making like 6 guys and playing every day at school.

The Rules

We're using Swords & Wizardry Complete, which lucky for me, I got as part of the Bones kickstarter last year. Lucky for me, I downloaded it before they took the link down and didn't lose the PDF.

So we get two tries, 4d drop lowest, arrange as you like, can trade 2 points from one stat for a +1 to another (nothing drops below 10). Any race/class combo is okay.

The Rolls

I did that, and got one good set of stats and one bad set.

Here is what I got:



(Much less nice!)

That was my two tries.*

I decided I wanted to run a fighter. I love fighters, although a Ranger seems pretty cool too and Paladins are great in the right group. But a fighter is always okay.

The Paper Man Emerges

So I decided this is the way to arrange them:

STR 16 17
DEX 13
CON 13
INT 11
WIS 12 10
CHA 12

It's not 100% clear to me if I can trade 2 points out of CHA, too, for an 18 ST. I'd give up 1 special henchment for a +1 to damage, +20 carry bonus, and +1 to opening doors. If it's a 2-for-1 once per PC thing I'm satisfied with 17. If not, dropping CHA to 10 for an 18 or CHA to 10 for a 14 DX might be good. His DX is 1 point too low to use the Defensive Fighting tactic - it only has an effect at DX 14+. I'll have to ask Erik about that.

I rolled d8+1 for HP and got a 7, +1 = 8. Yes, I am glad I rolled that particular die. Just for grins I rolled for Much Less Nice dude and got a 3. Yeah, that's like a 50% chance of dying whenever you get hit.

So that's what I have for now. I just need a name for my strong, moderately quick and healthy fighter. I already used up Tarjan Telnar for my short-played GURPS DF knight. I'll come up with one that feels good to say soon enough. Oddly, though, the name stuck in my head is the very western monk "Grimwulf" my friend Jason ran in my Junior High School-era AD&D game. I do like "Grim" in a name. But we'll see - something will strike me:

The Sheet

Mr. Placeholder Name
Human Fighter
STR 17 (+2 to hit, +2 damage, doors 1-4, +30 carry bonus)
DEX 13 (+1 to hit with missiles - stacks with STR bonus, +1 AC bonus)
CON 13 (+1 HP per die, 100% Raise Dead survival)
INT 11 (+2 max additional languages)
WIS 10 (doesn't seem to do anything, regardless of the score)
CHA 12 (4 Special Henchmen maximum)
Luck 5 (we just get this, it sounds like the rule from DCC)
HP 8

Now I need to buy gear and run him past the GM/DM/Ref whatever he's called in this system.

* Then for grins, I did a third, and got Mr. Suspiciously Above Normal But Not Too Suspiciously Above Normal:


Yeah. A 7 thrown in as a ringer ("my guy is a bit foolish" - just stick it in Wisdom) and enough stats for a solid ST, a DX bonus on defenses, maybe a solid CHA, etc. It sounds like "I picked these and then picked one bad score to make it look like I didn't pick them."

Monday, October 28, 2013

Notes from Yesterday's DF Game Session

Just a few things from yesterday.

Martial Arts is Chuck's Playground - Yet again, Chuck busted out some cool martial arts move by Jump Kicking a golem. It didn't work, and didn't backfire on him (it could have, since it was automatically a Committed Attack), but still. He really takes advantage of all the stuff we wrote.

Faith Healing and Mortal Wounds - The way the Healing power works in the RAW is that you roll IQ to heal, IQ-6 to heal a crippled limb (even if it's just a temporary, HP-only cripple), and it says nothing about stabilizing mortal wounds. I think it's a bit much to give a -6 to heal something someone could fix with a really good First Aid roll or a Minor Healing Potion (or a Major Healing spell). So how I do it is this:

- Rolls to heal injuries, even crippling injuries, are a -0.
- Rolls to heal lasting crippling injuries (non-permanent, non-amputation) are at -6.
- You can attempt to stabilize mortal wounds (which takes 1 minute, instead of 1 second), are at -10.
- You cannot heal permanent crippling injuries (although this is perhaps a good spot for an Enhancement). But thinking it over, I'd allow a roll at -10 to put a limb back on if it's right there and intact.

So in yesterday's session, Father Hans has IQ 12 and Power Investiture 4 (he's unusually good). That gives him a base 16 with Healing. He can heal a regular, HP-only crippling injury (such as Chuck's Leg) with a 16 or less. He could heal a broken limb with a 10 or less. And he can stabilize a mortal wound with a 6 or less.

A more generous version would be -6 lasting crippled and mortal wounds, and that's what I was thinking yesterday, but I ruled it a 6 or less (I think I forgot the Holiness/PI modifier) and thus a -10 modifier. I think I said -6 after the session, and maybe that's more fair. I'm not sure - right now, as worded, only Surgery can stabilize a mortal wound. Not even a quick Great Heal spell to heal all HP damage will do it. I'm not sure that's fair, but I also don't like the idea that you can fail your HT roll vs. death and then get fed a potion or two and spring back up. Another option would be -6, plus -1 per -1xHP. So it's -7 at -1xHP, -8 at -2xHP, -9 at -3xHP, -10 at -4xHP, and you're dead automatically at -5xHP so it doesn't matter. What do you think, folks? -10, -6, -6 with modifiers, it's just damage?

TG Would have Been Nice - When Raggi got stomped down by a triger (a three-headed tiger! Mwoar!) I ruled he was basically pinned and helpless. Because he should have been - grappled by the neck with a bite, and being rended by a heavy tiger who is standing on him. This was a ruling, though, because technically the tiger needed to pin him first. Had we been using Technical Grappling, I bet the tiger would have been just as easily able to do this by the RAW. Bite the neck and the body twice (establishing a lot of CP) and forcing Raggi down via a tackle (hard to bite someone three times without a tackle), then just standing on him while he was face down. Doug and I have been talking about this kind of thing, so it was an easy ruling to make, but we've also talked about a lighter version of TG for these kind of "minimal options and fast rules" games that I run. TG has a lot of detail, more than I need for this game, but it has some details I think I would really like.

Setup Attack, Too - Vryce minced a lot of golems with Feint and Attack, using Rapid Strike. This is fine, but one thing about Feint is that it can make for lopsided fights. The golem-armor swordsmen had serious skill (in the high teens) but Vryce's 26 skill made that a joke. They couldn't reciprocate. Setup Attack (from Pyramid), even as I've proposed simplifying it (it's just a delayed-effect Deceptive Attack) makes for a more interesting situation - the high skill guy can trade off against the lower skill guy effectively, but the reverse is also true. This would make for an interesting fight dynamic instead of feint. Have to game that out sometime.

Enhanced Parry - sold for 4 points! - Vryce bought a level of Enhanced Parry (Two-Handed Sword) yesterday, and he was glad because he made a few parries exactly. I'm glad because it suggests my price point might be okay.

XP Awards - the group took home a solid profit (since we don't count expending potions, etc. - just cost of living and item recharge), and ended up with 5 xp each. Vryce was MVP for his defensive rolls and gained +1 XP. Gort got a vote from Dryst's player for being funny, but Vryce got two votes and won out.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

DF Game, Session 35 - Trigers, Wizard, and the Wardrobe

October 27th, 2013

Weather: Clear, cool (mid-50s, cooler on the mountain top)

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (274 points)
     Glarg, orc warrior (?? points, NPC)
     Brak, goblin (?? points, NPC)
Dryst, halfling wizard (313 points)
     Father Hans, human cleric (130 points, NPC)
     Shieldbearer Zed, human guard (62 points, NPC)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (373 points)
     Gort of the Shining Force, veteran dwarf adventurer (?? points, NPC)

Still in town:

Borriz, dwarven knight (310 points)
Christoph, human scout (258 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (318 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (297 points)

We opened in the city of Stericksburg, as usual. The PCs spent their XP and sorted out their gear - buying a few potions, some meteoric iron sling bullets, and discussing a climbing chain. They also picked up some rumors, and Raggi yet again found a cryptic note - this one read "Eat next damn talking mushroom we meet!!!" They also heard a rumor about big metal spiders and even bigger metal scorpions in the dungeon, which they believe since a) they've fought bronze spiders in the dungeon and b) they know I have scorpion minis.

They gathered up the only volunteer handy - Gort of the Shining Force - and trekked up the mountain to the ruins of Felltower. They were just getting ready to enter the dungeon via the bugbear tunnels when they decided it was time to deal with the orcs. And, if possible, the cone-headed cultists.

So they walked to the ruins, right out in the open, weapons sheathed. Dryst put Gift of Tongues on Chuck Morris, who'd declared himself their chief negotiator. They reached the ruined wall and found the orcs had repaired it sufficiently to put in a short (5' tall) wooden gate. They knocked on the door and got some attention from the orcs. They looked out, and then shoved out a hapless goblin to talk to the PCs. Chuck told him they wanted to make a deal, and to send out their leader. They did. Maybe foolish, but you don't get to be chief orc by backing down from danger, so he came out.

Chuck made them an offer for a deal*. Basically, the PCs pay a lump sum now, and the orcs give them safe passage. Some dickering later, and they struck a deal whereby:

- the group paid a lump sum now for safe passage.
- the group will pay a per-trip fee.
- the orcs will get a bounty for each bloody cone-hatted cultist hood they turn over (blood required.)
- the orcs provide one orc warrior to accompany them on their trip. Safety not assured, no bounty if he dies, but if he lives they'll cut him in for 1/10th of the take.
- Chuck Morris gets the goblin as part of the deal.

The PCs turned down the initial demand to turn over Dryst so they orcs could eat him, although Chuck did seem a little tempted. In the end money and potential loot was sufficient.

The orc leader swore on it (by cutting his thumb, sucking in the blood and spitting it out.) Chuck mimicked him and the deal was done.

The orcs escorted them down into the dungeon via the main entrance, which they'd fortified rather a lot, against attacks from both directions. The orcs let them use a crude bridge across the pit, while keeping an eye on them from the pillboxes and the back. But the PCs just ignored them and headed in. One of the orcs went with them - Glarg.

They went through the gargoyle room - and as usual the gargoyles fled. The PCs rapidly marched to the headless statue room, and started using Seeker to trace the locations of the missing statue heads. They found a few, including one right down below them. They Traced that one and went right after it.

Down the nearby stairs to the right were some metal-clad nearly-motionless guardians with shields and swords. They immediately pegged them as golems, partly since they'd fought some corpse-golems in that same room before. (This took some brain-wracking, though, as the only player to be there when that happened was out sick today, but their characters were there.) They headed left, leaving them unmolested, especially after Glarg showed them through sign that it was bad to go there.

This is where their orc deal really paid off - the statue head was in orc territory. Orc guards confronted them, but Glarg spoke to them and they let them by. Glarg told them (once they threw Gift of Tongues again) it was their territory, and which places were "off limits" for the PCs. They had no problem with that. The found the head in a room that had been an ogre's room before he got killed off (by the PCs a bunch of sessions ago, actually). They took it - a one-eyed bearded face of incredible detail - and went back upstairs.

In the statue room, Dryst heaved it up onto the appropriate bust. It merged with it with a flash, and they received a mental message that was basically:

"Free us all.
Find the other heads."
and just a strong feeling of tenacious resolve, and the word "Nemesis."

They decided this was a terrible, terrible idea, and thus that they absolutely had to keep finding heads. They managed to locate another - same depth as before, but in an area they couldn't pin down on their map - in a place they couldn't seem to get to. But trying would mean going right, towards the golems.

So they rested, loaded up, and went after the golems. Glarg told them a wizard lived there, and the orcs who went that way died. Their leaders had a deal with the wizard to leave him alone. But that didn't bother the PCs. On the way they lose a servant to one of the rotating statue rooms when they futzed around with a (false?) door, but otherwise didn't delay.

They moved in to take a look, but as soon as they got close the golems moved on them. Leading the charge were four plate-armored golems with swords and shields. Well, not plate-armored as much as armor-plated. Behind them were six corpse-golems. What followed was a bit of a slog of a fight. Vryce and Raggi stepped up, and Chuck charged and jump kicked a golem (with no effect.) Then the PCs arrayed themselves shoulder to shoulder in a 10' wide corridor and just worked over the golems. Vryce was Great Hasted by Dryst, and then given Might +5 when it was clear his blows were barely injuring the extremely well-armored golems. Vryce stood in the center alternating All-Out Attacks (turn one of Great Haste) and All-Out Defend (Increased Parry) so he could parry for everyone. They managed to slow beat the golems down, using a combination of attacks to Armor Chinks and sheer brute force. It was tough, though - a Great Hasted Red Raggi hit one four times in a row to the neck with his massive two-handed axe and didn't even scratch it once. Eventually a lucky shot from one carved a gash in Raggi, and another crippled Chuck's right leg with a critical hit. Chuck crawled over to Father Hans for healing, and Glarg the orc stepped up to melee. By this point some of the golems had been knocked down and gotten back up, and a couple more had gone berserk. It didn't help them any - they couldn't get past the greatsword parries of Vryce, and Vryce and Raggi started to drop them more quickly with some better damage rolls (and help from a Might spell.)

Once the golem-armor swordsmen were down, the corpse-golems went down as fast as it takes to read this sentence. They couldn't roll a defense to save their lives, and that mean Raggi could decapitate them at one or two a second, and Vryce (now doing 4d+13 thanks to Might) could kill them just as quickly. Glarg hurt one, too, before Raggi pounded it down.

It's about now they realized Brak had run off. Chuck was disappointed.

They quickly decided that they needed to press their advantage and rush forward. They bashed the downed golems all a few more shots each to fully decapitate all of them. Then they moved on. They saw a small empty room, bypassed it, and headed down a corridor - which annoyingly was heading away from where Trace said the head was. Nonetheless, they moved on - and then got attacked from behind by three trigers! They pounced on the PCs, who in their haste hadn't replaced their rear-guard servant. The trigers knocked Raggi down (and pinned him), bit Shieldbearer Zed and bore him down (and right down to -16 HP, and a failed HT roll on his death check), and rushed in on Vryce. The PCs whirled and counter-attacked. Vryce chopped up the third before it could reach him, Raggi got chewed on, and the one on Zed kept coming after Father Hans and bit him on the throat. He was gravely wounded, but Chuck Morris diced up the triger pretty quickly. They pounced on the last one, but a critical fumble by Vryce (after a critical Dodge by the triger) caused him to drop his sword. Gort sliced the triger, Raggi complained as it kept tearing him up, and then Vryce got his spare greatsword out** and killed it.

All three faded away after getting chopped up - summoned or created creatures!

They decided that they needed to press ahead. Father Hans drank a healing potion, Raggi down a couple, too.

Father Hans tried to use Faith Healing to stabilize the mortal wound on Zed. I ruled it would be IQ-6, since nothing says otherwise, and that you couldn't just feed him healing potions to get him healthy (otherwise missing your HT roll by 1-2 would be meaningless). I rolled a 1, 1, and . . . a 5. Everyone groaned.

Shieldbearer Zed was dead, baby. Zed was dead.

They left him where he lay, although Father Hans insisted they come back for him as he was a Good God-fearing member of the church. So they agreed.

Then they moved after the wizard. They rushed ahead into a chamber. As they started across it, though, the lead guys got zapped. A loud cackling laugh errupted, and the servant, Chuck, Vryce, and Gort all took 5d damage (bypassing DR). Ouch! Chuck and Vryce too 18 and 20 respectively, and somehow Gort took 11 (on 5d6, what the hell). They retreated as the cackling continued. They drank more potions, and Father Hans helped heal Gort and Chuck enough to get them to full move.

Dryst whipped up some servants and sent them ahead, and the PCs continued. They were damaged but wanted to deal with this wizard if they could.

At the end of the hallway was another room. In it were two doors out, and a pair of wardrobes. Some servant-led searches of the wardrobes found no secret doors or panels, just some rusty metal-mesh gloves and white robes. Chuck angrily pulled down one of the wardrobes (which was latched to the wall) but there was nothing behind it. Even See Secrets revealed nothing.

They forced the door ahead, but beyond it was a big, dusty room. They decided the wizard wasn't that way. Their servant checked the next room's door, and when it touched it, a loud screaming started up. So Vryce forced the door.

Beyond it was a 20' wide, 20' tall corridor that opened out into a larger area to the left. Ahead was a strange sight, even for Felltower - an 8' tower with a 4' diameter crystal lens on it. They ducked to safety and sent in a servant to point it elsewhere. It did, and came back, reporting the job done. So then Dryst, Vryce, and the servant went in. They saw more of those lenses - all pointed in seemingly random directions. Amongst them were six big flesh golems - each one looking like if you took Vryce's muscle and bolted it onto Chuck's frame. The PCs backed up, hoping to draw them into a choke point. But they golems wouldn't follow. Dryst decided to lure them in with fire - and threw Lightning at them. His bolt curved, however, into a lens, which shot it back at him. He managed to block it with his shield. The golems then moved aside to prevent anyone else from shooting them from a safe location.

Vryce then decided to shoot the lens. He loaded up with a meteoric iron sling bullet and shot on - critical hit! Near to dead center. But it pinged off without damaging it.

At that, a Force Dome started to form in from of the door, around Vryce. He ran out of the room.

They decided that enough was enough - they didn't have what it took to beat the golems and the wizard, and didn't know what the crystal lenses would do. So they left.

They ran back, stopping to grab the mesh gloves and strangely heavy cloth robes. They also grabbed Zed, and then got to the golem-fight room. Some orcs were looting the corpses. Chuck tried to Intimidate them, but failed. So then he went with the true master's method - he Kiai'd one, stunning him. The other looked surprised, and they simply just pushed the orcs aside and gathered up the shields and swords of the golem-armor swordsmen. They also hacked off the sickles, since they wanted to make it harder for the wizard to re-animate more golems, or at least harder to arm them.

They headed back to the surface, stopping to pick up the statue they'd stashed last session. As they passed the otyugh's lair, Glarg told them they could bribe the "friendly monster" with Zed's corpse. Dryst said no, it was Zed's religion that he needed to be returned to the surface, so his god's monsters could eat his corpse. Glarg seemed to think that was reasonable.

On the way out, they handed Glarg a sword as his tip for the trip.

Once back in town, though, they sorely regretted that. They didn't really give the swords a second look until then . . . but each was a fine, balanced broadsword - 4800 sp base value each! They'd handed Glarg a 1920 sp bonus as his share. Oh well. But they sold the statue, the sickles, the swords, and the four Dwarven shields from the golems and netted enough to pay the bills. Probably a loss considering the potions they'd burned, but they felt it was a solid enough trip once you considered that. They also sold the metal gloves, but kept one of the robes - which had ablative DR against fire (from some strange fibers) and electricity (from metal wires embedded in them). Dryst plans to get it sized down to him, somehow.

They decided their next plan involves spreading rumors in town against the cone-hatted cultists, to deny them the city's resources, and to hire a sage to research the lenses.

That's where we ended.

* Crapgame: "So make a deal."
Big Joe: "What kind of a deal?"
Crapgame: "A deal deal. Maybe the guy's a Republican."

** Yes, he has two. And a broadsword. And plate. Excessive, perhaps, but he's got ST 17 - he's more than 2.5 as strong as a normal man, so this doesn't bother him any. He's a light encumbrance with all of this, and two swords strapped together on his back can't be harder to deal with than one, really.


Does no GURPS book have cost and weight for lengths of chain? There is an orichalcum climbing chain in DF8, but I couldn't find chain in any other book. Weird. I only looked for a little bit while the PCs were busy sorting out their own logistics, and I didn't end up needing it, but . . . weird. I could have sworn it was somewhere.

So the oft-suggested plan of "hire the orcs to guard the dungeon for us" has come to pass. I now have toll-taking orcs, which amuses me greatly. I've been told it's a stupid idea, but here we are. Helps that the PCs could kill the orcs, but it's less productive to kill them off than to pay them off.

I forgot, briefly, that you can't use cutting against Armor Chinks. Which is how Vryce took one down in a few short blows. I realized it immediately after, but it was too late - so I said we'd call those lucky blows and move on. Been a while since any of the fighters even cared about the DR of their targets.

Amusingly the fight was a front rank of two-hex-reach weapons, backed by two guys with one-hex reach weapons. Oh well. But the front rank guys in this group as mostly long-reach weapon users, and they really want the lower-rent NPCs to guard flanks and rear areas, not get chopped up in front.

This was the first time the PCs faced golem-armor swordsmen in DF. They fought them in my old campaign, and didn't do so well against them - they weren't willing to slug it out with them, and ended up turning all 9 of them to stone in a series of magical commando raids. In this one, well, they chose to go for it and managed to beat them down with only two wounds to show for the effort.

I need to make some triger minis. Or counters, at least. And some corpse-golem counters.

Do those rotating mirrors sound familiar? They might. I copied them and the room they are in from someone else's megadungeon. Which one? Well, I don't want to say yet, but as the players learn more it'll become obvious to those who have read it.

Also, I took some pictures but my camera is being strange. I may need to edit them a bit to make them look correct, or not - it's hard to tell if it's the camera display or the picture.

Bones II Post-Kickstarter thoughts

This will be a (very rare) double post, as I'm gaming today and I will post a summary tonight.

The core vampire set was pretty good. Compared to last time, not quite as good. Lots of very interesting minis in the bunch, but not quite as much in the way of special minis. Where Bones I gave you fire elementals and ghosts, the water elementals and "shadow" creatures were add-ons or Core Expansions.

A lot of the later core additions didn't excite me. Bases are nice, but I have a lot of them, and finding cheap and easy base material is a lot easier than finding cheap and easy minis. I need minis, not bases. There were a few monsters that got added on, some interesting dungeon dressing, and a few interesting character types (those Frazetta-looking barbarians!), too. But overall as stretch goals came, they always seemed to be adding on to stuff I wasn't going to get anyway. It made me feel like, well, more people pledging isn't helping me any. Terrible to say, but "the more guys join the better for all of us!" is a strong driver for getting people to enlist their fellow man into a project.

There was a bit less flexibility in the add-on duplicates, too. I'd really have loved about 3-4 more of one of the monsters, an extra gorgon (but without an extra chimera to come with it), and so on. I remember being able to get all the owlbears I wanted in Bones I, but not here. Too bad, because when an expansion had a mix of stuff I wanted and stuff I didn't, I generally passed on it. I'm that kind of buyer - when I bought my last car, I told the dealer all the cool extras the car they had on the lot was worth $0 to me, because I didn't want it. So I only put money down if the stuff I wanted justified the entire price. Trade value is bonus, especially since even a generous trade (like I did with Mark Langsdorf) costs shipping, so you pay for the minis and pay for the trade.

Some what become an add-on or a core mystified me. To be honest, I'm not sure why Pathfinder characters are in the core, not as Add-Ons, but maybe that's part of the deal they have with Paizo. Those are generally the guys I can pass on. They are cool, for sure, but scream "kick-ass PC" in a way that makes it hard for me to use them as generic NPCs. That's where my need is.

By my count, this time the core provided 157 minis + about 80 bases fpr $100. Last time it was around 250 minis for $75 without Sophie. Not quite the deal, although still pretty good.

Core Expansions: An interesting idea, but look at it from the perspective of someone just getting the core set - most of the latter stretch goals were add-ons and Core Expansions.

They were themed, but there was a bit of overlap. Honestly, I wanted about half of Core Expansion 2 and half of Core Expansion 1. But there was no mix-and-match, no ability to add on from the Core Expansions. So although I'd have loved a big pile of derro and cultists and so on, there wasn't enough to draw $50 out of me for a mix of stuff I'd like and stuff I didn't want at all.

So ended up passing on all of them. I passed on #1 with regret, #2 with minimal regret (I'll get myself those Anhurians aka City Guards later, if I need them), and #3 with no regret (greys are cool, but I don't need any.)

Add-Ons: Like last time, these felt strong. Lots of very cool stuff. I avoided the "diorama" stuff - Khanjira, Dragons Don't Share II (I wanted it, but what would I do with it?), the Kraken (a steal at $15, but it would sit on my shelf for the rest of my life), and so on. Still very cool stuff, though.

I'm probably going to snag the devils, but I'm not sure yet. I'm certainly getting Mashaaf, because, f--- my player's PCs.

Overall: I am glad I got in on this, on the Early Bird shipping option too by being one of the first 2000 folks to opt for the Vampire set. Still, I paid a lot more for what I got (since there was no metal Sophie to trade back in), and I missed on things I wanted.
My hope is if they do Bones III, there are less clumped groups like the Core Expansions and a lot more a la carte options. I'd have spent more, happily, to just get what I wanted. I didn't because there wasn't enough "want" for the price.

The first one was pure win - I got everything I wanted and more. The second, there was a lot I had to pass on because it was clumped with things I didn't. And that's sad. I will eventually get these things piecemeal from the retail market, but it would have been nice to have them show up next September.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Origin of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninjas

I was reminded about the plethora of samurai in my old GURPS fantasy games yesterday by Jason Packer, and about how I'm responsible for ninjas looting dungeons.

It's no big secret that the origin of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninja was endless successions of players* who asked, "Can I play a ninja?"

They always had this really creative back story - "I was expelled by my clan, so I fled the country, and now they're hunting me down." Which naturally led to "So I hang out with these adventurers and kill monsters to loot their bodies." Of course, what other plot would it lead to?

My answer was invariably, no. Just no. No you can't. I once answered something slightly less than "absolutely not" and one guy statted up his ninja before I even realized he took my answer as "absolutely yes." Guess what? He was exiled from his clan, see, and fled the country . . . yeah, he didn't get to run him.

I never liked that idea, even though it made a really bad TV series that I watched every episode of when I was a kid.

It's just that it was a pretty generic 80s ninja hero backstory. Plus it offloaded a lot of work on to me, the GM - make up the ninja clan, explain the kicking out bit, stat up ninja to send after the PC, determine when they would strike, etc. All to explain a PC who had shuriken and a ninja-to and wore black. The story - without the adventuring - would be a good one for a game, but in a straight fantasy game it would impede the basic aim of the game.

No ninjas, Mr. Ninja Book Author? Really?

But here I am, years later, with my name on a supplement that puts ninjas in dungeons.

I'll cop to doing that.

But I didn't allow for that backstory - not really.

That's the reason the ninja in DF12 are in a clan, and follow clan orders** and have a clan code. I so wanted to not suddenly allow, in print, the same goofy backstory I rejected so often. Beyond that, though, I also wanted to avoid the Enemy disadvantage (not part of canonical DF) and directly justify sacking dungeons. So that's the deal - they're assassins, but working for their clan, and looting dungeons (and/or killing specific targets in them) for the greater good of their ninja clan.

You get to use the cool gear, and wear black, and do awesome super-ninja stuff, too. Just without that terribly thin explanation of fleeing your clan right into the fellowship of dungeon looting delvers.

What about my current campaign?

As of right now, I haven't allowed ninja into my Felltower game. The original logic was it was a lot for people to read, and then digest, and then pester me with questions about. So I only put the much simpler assassin template down on the list. I haven't changed it because the world I defined is very old central/eastern European, so there aren't any handy ninja clans. But word might travel, if someone can convince me they need a ninja in my game. One word about hunted by your clan, though, and it's "choose any of the bargain henchmen templates!" for you!

And samurai? That'll be another post.

* Who I can name, in order, if necessary.

** which oddly yet conveniently, are "go into dungeons and kill monsters and take their stuff." It happens

Friday, October 25, 2013

No Superscience in My Megadungeon, Thanks

I really like post-apocalypse gaming. Not the "World War Z" zombie ones, really (survival horror isn't my thing), but rather the over-the-top Gamma World kind of game. Blasters, mutants, robots, half-buried statues of liberty.

I also really like fantasy gaming. Orcs, magic swords, spells, paladins fighting dragons, zombie hordes under the command of necromancers, etc. Piles of gold and jewels. The whole bit.

But I dislike mixing them in my own games.

For some reason, as soon as the "magic" is revealed to be "technology," I go a little sour on the whole thing.

I probably wouldn't mind playing in it, if I knew that kind of thing could happen or was definitely going to happen.

But it's not my cup of tea for my own games.

What's somewhat ironic about this is that I like both settings and I have a game system that would make adding post-apoc to my game trivial. As trivial as adding orcs into an AD&D game - just pull the stats out of a handy book. I know the rules will work, I know what the defaults for the PC's use of a "magic wand" that's actually .45 caliber would be, etc. The work is done for me. GURPS has plenty of books on the subject - Ultra Tech being just one of them.

I may at some point change my mind - I may run a one-shot or mini-campaign mixing the two. It would be a lot of fun to see how DF delvers deal with a post-apocalypse environment. I'm still undecided on introducing a form of explosives and black powder firearms into my game world. I'm leaning towards no, but it's an option I'm considering.

And I'm certainly up for busting out and re-starting my "Mutants & Mayhem" post-apocalypse game I ran a decade or so back for a group that included two of my current players.

But for my game, I just feel like the mix robs some of the magic from it for me, the GM.

So it's not likely to happen in my Felltower game. The magic is magical, not super-science. And I'm okay with that.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Less-Heroic GURPS Dungeon Delving

There are a multitude of ways you can play dungeon-bashing games in GURPS, with or without DF. One is basically DF style - high-powered heroes with cinematic levels of skill carving through hordes of monsters. You see this in DF Jade Regent and in my Felltower game.

Another is the same style, but with somewhat lower powered heroes - using templates from Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen, for example. The henchmen are dual-use by design. You can go for DF On The Cheap. You can simply use Basic Set and make up 100 or 150 point heroes, without any regard to a specific template.

Even with those, though, you're less powerful but there are some "heroic" elements that make you stronger than you might be in a more gritty, down-to-earth game.

Having run DF for a while, and having run a lot of GURPS fantasy games before that, I think there are some things I think you need to do to make for a more "gritty" feel.

No Weapon Master Advantage - At the very least, restrict Weapon Master to a later add-on that's not simple to get. Weapon Master is basically a have/have-not situation in combat in DF. Having it gives a per-die damage bonus (nice!), but more importantly gives you half penalties on Rapid Strike and on Parries (and Blocks, if you wisely included shield in your WM coverage). This makes a big difference, because it changes you from, say, -6/-6 for each of two attacks and additional parries at a -4 (-2 with the right weapon) to -3/-3 and -2 (-1 with the right weapon). You're much better able to leverage your skill offensively and especially defensively. Spending the same amount of points on ST and skill (to get the extra damage and absorb the Rapid Strike/multiple Parry penalties) won't really get you as much, and won't help as the penalties add up. This is not even counting access to other cinematic skills, if you're using them.

There is a reason every PC fighter in my games has WM - even the martial artist who also has Trained By A Master (which works the same, more or less, but without a damage bonus). It's have vs. have-not, and the have-nots (the NPC and PC barbarians in my game) have less options in combat and need more raw skill to approach the versatility of those that do.
(Not that this is a bad thing, per se, but it's a flavor-changer.)

Removing access to Weapon Master, especially at the start, coupled with lower point totals to make high skills less common, makes for more danger from smaller groups of monsters.

No Heroic Archer - For the same reasons as Weapon Master, you'll want to restrict this. Archers with it can demolish archers without it. You aren't merely a better archer but a quantitatively different archer. It's the advantage for movie Robin Hood and Legolas, shooting arrows like machine-gun bullets and hitting everything. Get rid of this, and you don't end up with a single bow-armed Scout facing down packs of bow-armed orcs with calm poise and killing them as fast as the player can roll dice.

A different way to allow for better archers is to give them access to better bows, and be really harsh about what people are allowed to defend against at range (see Dodge This!). Allowing Zen Archery for long-shooting sniper types without the need for the short-range arrow-matic of Heroic Archer is another way to let archers shine without making them, basically, melee fighters with a lot of reach.

Trained By A Master is Okay - Oddly, perhaps, I suggest leaving access to TBAM. It's not cheap (30 points), and while it does give great access to cinematic skills and abilities, it doesn't give a damage bonus. This makes it more useful for "trick" fighters like martial artists, swashbuckler-types, and ninja-types than for powerhouse front-line fighters. It is still a bit of a have vs. have-not, but you can control this by restricting access to it. If you can only have TBAM with an appropriate Vow, say, or need for regular (time-consuming and/or expensive) practice, or it's limited to some odd class of training, you can ensure it's not a must-have for all fighters.

If that's still to cinematic, then cut down its cost and restrict it to unarmed combat, making it basically a Shaolin Monk-only kind of thing. Especially at lower point levels, this will mean an interesting but not dominant fighter. Their cinematic skills take some time and effort to be good at, anyway, so it's not often Blind Fighting or Power Blow is turn-to-turn dominant in the the way that multiple weapon attacks can be.

Extra Attack - Keep a close eye on this, since it allows PCs to compress a lot of effects (grab-and-throw, feint-and-attack) into one turn.

Cap starting skills - Finally, it's worth considering a cap on how good someone can be to start at any given skill. Even DX+5 or IQ+5 (for spells) can put a cap on the crazy heroics you get with DF, where a starting PC can easily top skill 20 in their main weapon while backing it up with a pile of advantages to make it worth better. A relative cap (DX+5, as above) encourages better base stats, while a flat cap (Nothing above skill 18, say) has an more absolute leveling effect.

Again, this is just a way to make for less cinematically heroic PCs coming out of the gate. It's not the only way to do so, and it's still heavily tied to how many points you give out. 250 point guys without WM will still be scary. 100 point guys will still be kind of weak with access to WM. But the things above will go a ways towards keeping a lid on the starting power of the PCs, and give you more of a old-school Man-to-Man feel to combat instead of a high-powered Dungeon Fantasy one. I personally love the high power level of DF, but sometimes I think nostalgically of the lower-starting-power games I used to run (often with the same exact monsters I use these days). The advice above is culled from running such games; it might not work for everyone but those are the big things I see that change the effective threat level of the PCs in combat.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bones II Kickstarter - Final Stretch

The Reaper Bones II kickstarter is in its last few days. It will finish up Saturday at 7 pm EDT.

I'm pretty pleased with what my Vampire-level pledge will get me, but I've been underwhelmed so far with the Core Expansions. So far, anyway - I'd love some of those "town guard" (aka Anhurians, from the old DHL Army Packs), but I don't need them and I've got more cavalry than I will ever need.

Generally though the core expansions are nice stuff, worth $50, but there isn't $50 of stuff I want in any of them. Some of the add ons are very cool - the kraken, for example - but I'd never be able to use it in game. Nevermind being too big to store in my house once I finished assembling and painting it.

Still, I'm going to get a lot for my $100, and the possibly $50 worth of add-ons - Mashaaf, you I can use! - and duplicates I'll throw on will get me even more monsters for my collection.

I haven't been painting lately. I never paint when it's getting cold. Too bad since I have a few guys almost finished . . . but that is no reason to stop stockpiling minis!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Megadungeon Best Practices X: Room Writeups

More "best practices" I've learned drawing, stocking, and running my megadungeon.

I'm not sure if I ever put this kind of thing up - this is how I note rooms in my dungeon files. While I like the idea of direct notation on the map, I find it's too hard to fit everything I need on the map in actual practice. Some notes go on it (and boy does that make for quick reference) but since multiple trips to a megadungeon accrue a lot of history, and since my maps are so small (8 squares to the inch), it's hard to really for me to put down sufficient useful detail.

So how to make the level key work better?

Make Your Rooms Easy to Find and Read. The goal in a megadungeon is to make it easy to find a specific room on your level key,

Use Unique Room Numbers - The map only says 1, 2, or 3, but coupled with the map label I create a unique identifier in my room key. Something off of, say, the second sub-level 5 layers down might be 5B-16, or room 8D-22 is room 22 on sublevel 8D, which is above level 9 but deeper than level 7. Makes it easy to use "Find" to zip to a room on my laptop.

Have a Standard Layout - Use the same fonts, emphasis (underline, bold, italics), etc for your rooms. That makes them easier to use at a glance, and speed of reference is speed of actual play.

Strikethrough Preserves Room History - I use strikethrough font to cross out stuff that's not there anymore. This lets me update my rooms without losing details of what was there before.

Putting it all together:

1-5) Elf Wizard's Office. Av/Av Door (DR 2 HP 29, -8). Walls lined with books lettered with gold elvish script. Heavy (300 lb!) wooden desk with floral patterns. Covered with writing stuff (10 lbs, 200 sp value total). Damp.

(3) Orcs (ST 13 DX 12 IQ 9 HT 12 Speed 6 Move 5, DR 2, 4 skull, Dodge 8, Parry 9. Axe-14 2d+1 cut Reach 1, Crossbow-15 1d+4 imp + poison HT-2 or 2 HP. Traits: Bully, Fearlessness 5 (14)) near the door, waiting for intruders.*

Treasure: Orcs 2d cp, 2d sp, 1d-4 gp each. One has bronze earring (30 sp). Books worth 1d x 1d x 100 sp each if taken, average weight 10 lbs each, all in elvish script. Total 120 books but only 22 are still intact due to age and moisture.

I also use strikethrough if rooms change. So if the PCs based the door down, killed the orcs, and ransacked the room, and then some other monsters moved in, I'd do this to it in my file:

1-5) Elf Wizard's Office. Av/Av Door (DR 2 HP 29, -8). Broken desk, rotten books scattered on the floor, shelves pulled from walls. Damp.
Walls lined with books lettered with gold elvish script. Heavy (300 lb!) wooden desk with floral patterns. Covered with writing stuff (10 lbs, 200 sp value total).

(1) Crazed Troll (ST 20 DX 14 IQ 9 HT 12 HP 20 Will 10 Per 10 FP 12 Speed 7 Move 7 SM+1 Dodge 11 Parry 11(x2) DR 0 Bite-15 2d cutting C grapple on SM+0 Claws(x2)-15 2d+1 cutting C-2 IT(NB,NV) Regen Dark Vision Berserk(BF)-6 Stealth-18 DFM1 p.31)

(3) Orcs (ST 13 DX 12 IQ 9 HT 12 Speed 6 Move 5, DR 2, 4 skull, Dodge 8, Parry 9. Axe-14 2d+1 cut Reach 1, Crossbow-15 1d+4 imp + poison HT-2 or 2 HP. Traits: Bully, Fearlessness 5 (14)) near the door, waiting for instruders.

Treasure: Orcs 2d cp, 2d sp, 1d-4 gp each. One has bronze earring (30 sp). Books worth 1d x 1d x 100 sp each if taken, average weight 10 lbs each, all in elvish script. Total 120 books but only 22 are still intact due to age and moisture. NO TREASURE.

It preserves the history of it without a bunch of file iterations on my computer. It looks messy but it's surprisingly easy for me in play.

* Too meta of a joke?

Monday, October 21, 2013

GMing Tips: Avoid Overselling the Description

This is one I'm guilty of. I could blame boxed text, Gary Gygax's use of $10 words when a $0.50 word would do, or delusions of being a fiction writer. But it's really just a bad habit. Sometimes I use too many words to describe things in my game when I just don't need to. I add noise and reduce comprehension.

My goal is to cut down on the amount useless detail I give, especially when it's getting in the way of tension and clarity instead of creating it.

These are tips for me, from me, but I think they might help others.

Don't Oversell It
Some Government Agent: "And for some time our astronomers have been noticing an unusual amount of atomic activity on the moon."
Tom Servo: "Isn't
any amount of atomic activity on the moon unusual?"
- MST3K, Ep. 102 "The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy," from the Commando Cody short.

Yes, exactly. "For some time our astronomers have noted atomic activity on the moon." That's all you need. It's the "on steroids" syndrome. "They're like giant killer bees that eat your brain, but on steroids!" Uhm, really? Unlike regular giant killer brain-eating bees? Just go with that. It's sufficient for the job.

I do this too. Not "You see a strange two-headed man, one head beside the other on his shoulders." Right, not like the normal two-headed ones. "You see a man with two heads, one beside the other." Good enough. I want to do more of the latter than the former. "A strange sight" is fine, but the whole "surprising surprise!" thing has to go. I'll keep Tom Servo's comment in mind when I describe my dungeon.

Focus on What's Important First. - The joke in my game is, "You open the door and see a kind of office. There is a desk of some ancient wood, carefully carved with floral patterns, strewn with writing materials. Books like the walls, with titles picked out in gold lettering. The walls are colored a somber color blah blah blah. Also in the room are three orcs with crossbows! Roll for surprise!"

Yeah, don't do that. I do that sometimes. The description is better as "You open the door and see three orcs with crossbows! Roll for surprise!" And done. I bet you could have a whole fight in real life and not notice it was an office, see the desk, or notice the bookshelves until your world expanded past "there are crossbow quarrels coming right at me!"

You had me at "troll." - Another one I fall prey to sometimes - too much description for things the PCs (and players) already recognize. It's wasted verbage, because the players hear "blah blah blah ogre with a halberd blah blah." They're keying on the important words anyway, so just use those.

I have done this right, though - used description the first time, but not the next.

The first time trolls showed up in my game, I made sure to throw in some punchy description - tall but stooped, long arms dragging knuckles on the floor, the long nose, the green skin, the lopsided and toothy grin, the eyes like black pools, the "hloo, hloo" chuckle. Creepy stuff. Let them know there was danger, and because the players knew what trolls were, it was a pretty satisfying moment as they groaned. But that moment was a one-time thing; I couldn't (and didn't try to) repeat it.

The next time I mentioned them, it was just the "hloo, hloo" that gave them away before they were seen and that was it. "You see a troll." Why clutter it up with description? Everyone is waiting to tell me what they do to put this thing down before it kills them. They know what it is. Of course I'd answer questions or throw in detail as they mattered ("It tries to dodge, but fails - the fireball smacks right into its grinning green face.")

Don't Cut Too Far - Of course, you don't want to cut the description down so far you don't know what it is. At one end of the spectrum is "you are eaten by a grue." What does a grue look like? Uh . . . I don't know. At the other end there is a novella describing each and every monster as if you're trying to get the police sketch down perfectly every time they see it. You want to lean towards "grue" but not so far that you aren't communicating what's there.

Key Words - A good key word for a monster helps, though - if I say "smell of cinnamon" to a Tekumel player, they're thinking Ssu immediately. I don't need much else. Establish one if you can, and then cut down to that when the monster shows back up.

And for some things, I have a ritual-like set of phrases I use to describe them. I always use my spiel to start a game: "You head out of Stericksburg by the river gate, cross the Stone Bridge across the Silver River, pass Sterick's Landing and the statue of Baron Sterick on his charger, axe and sword upraised. You go through the slums and head up the mountain towards Felltower." It's a signal that things have started. I don't cut it because it's not extraneous.

Same with the rotating statues in my megadungeon. I always describe the statues fully, the first time they're seen in a given session. Same players or not.

You might wonder, doesn't that tell people they're important? Yes, it does. I'm not running a mystery. Knowing something is a puzzle doesn't necessarily make it less puzzling. Knowing a detail is important doesn't tell you why it's important. I don't need to describe everything in numbing detail in order to conceal what's an important detail, nor do I need to do that to make the game fun. Using description like it's Darth Vader's intro music isn't a bad thing - it tells people "here comes some tension!" - especially if you're going to later pare down that description into a few key words or phrases that tell them to feel that tension again. Like the troll or ssu above, once you know some of the key words, they're all you need to realize there is danger coming.

My goal, like I said above, is to cut down the useless verbage I'm using to describe things in game, while still getting across a good description of what you see. I need to provide just enough structure for your brain to hand the details on, and fill in the gaps with your own imagination.

Eloquence is my goal. If you read this blog, you know it's a long way off for me. But I'm shooting for it.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Felltower DF NPC: Lucky Pete

Here is another DF NPC from my Felltower game. Lucky Pete would love to get hired - he's so desperate to make his fortune he's volunteered to go into Felltower for just the promise of a bonus if the trip goes well!

Lucky for him, this has mostly happened. And luckily he got better after that!

Lucky Pete

Background is unclear. Lucky for Pete, he's always managed to find some work to keep himself fed or with a roof over his head. Or partly fed, or part of a roof. He's happy to come along on your expedition for free! Absolutely free! He's sure you'll get lucky and recognize his part in your success and toss him a handful of coins, perhaps a gem, maybe a new sword - it's up to you.

Oh, and the hand? "Oh, that. Yeah, but lucky for me I'm right handed!"

ST 11 HP 12 Speed 5.50
DX 11 Will 10 Move 4
IQ 10 Per 10
HT 11 FP 11
Dodge 7 Parry (Broadsword) 9 Block 8 (if equipped with a shield)

Light Club (12): 1d+2 crushing; Reach 1.

Traits: One Hand; Odious Personal Habit (Goes on about how lucky he is, -1); Unknown Disadvantage (worth -10 points); Wealth (Struggling).
Quirk: Foolhardy (quirk-level Overconfidence); Glass is half full.
Skills: Brawling-11; Broadsword-12; Carousing-10; Knife-11; Shield-11.

Gear: Backpack; Boots (Feet DR 2); Clothing; Leather Helm (Skull DR 2); Light Club; Light Leather Armor (Arms, Legs, Torso DR 1); Personal Basics; Pouch.

Notes: Pete isn't particularly dumb, but he's a bit foolishly brave. He's been known to engage in fights that are way out of his league. He's eager to prove himself, which can get him or you killed. He's got marginal skills, one hand, and not an advantage or edge to be found. But hey, free hireling!

Lucky Pete can be seen here, unfinished - second from the left.
Unfinished Minis

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Semi-Rare Magic Items

In my current DF game, you can just go out and buy minor items, and order special magic items. They'll take a long time to get, but it's just a matter of money and time. Pay the money, wait the time, get the item. Only NPCs can learn the Enchantment spell, to limit things further and encourage delving over making items for sale.

This perfectly suits the pickup game I run. Minor magic items become another expendable, or a class of gear better than some mundane gear. Greater magic items are great for use or for sale, because they take time to get but I have a method to convert them to cash for people who just don't need whatever it is, no matter how good it is.

But in my previous campaign, I wanted a bit more wonder to magic items. A bit more of "magic as special item" and not "enchanted per GURPS Magic, p. 16-22." A bit like JD Jarvis's ideas on how magic isn't science and that magic items aren't just up for sale.

At the same time, I liked the idea that minor items, charms, etc. were for sale. Not the least of which was because my players were making characters and I was mapping the campaign around their character concepts - and one started with magic armor and a magical power tattooed into his skin. So that had to be possible.

I did three things:

No "Item" Portions of Most Spells - Most spells in GURPS have an Item line, where it details what you can enchant and how much it'll cost. The knowledge to make these comes with the spell plus the Enchantment spell. I said, simply, most Item portions of spells had been lost. What they did have was relatively minor, or straight-up Enchantment (such as Fortify, Deflect, Staff, etc.) So you couldn't go order up a Wand of Fireball because they couldn't be made anymore.

Nasty Critical Failures - I hate being reduced to just rolling on the Critical Spell Failure table. Usually I can think of something much nastier, and more appropriate. That's for when I just can't think of anything. So critically failing led to bad things - and the more powerful the spell, the more powerful the failure.

Risky Magic - Finally, all magic used in the game was rolled for, at least in theory. I took the idea that the cap on Enchantment spell rolls was 15, which is about a 95.4% success rate. A 16 fails, a 17-18 critically fails (1.9% of attempts were critical failures). So what if all spells, all attempts to enchant things, all routine "magic me a sword +1/+1" turned out like this?

Extending a 3d bell curve roll system for adventuring skill rolls to the world as a whole is usually foolish. You end up with planes crashing by the dozens everyday, armies full of amputees after sword practice, huge amounts of patients dying in top-line medical clinics, and farmers mismanaging their crops enough to regularly cause famines. But for magic, what the hell, I liked the idea that even routine use of magic was a failure almost 5% of the time and a potential disaster 2% of the time. Sure made for reluctance to use Continual Light when a torch wouldn't potentially inflict supernatural harm on your household.

What this did was explain why you could go out and order a magic sword - but the more magic it took, the longer it took, and if it failed in the end, everything was lost. Including, potentially, more than just the time and the sword. It could be cursed, the enchanter could suffer, etc. So only the really powerful types could afford it, or compel this to be done. It was too risky, because there was this very real chance of magical failure and the more power in the spell the worse the effects of the critical failure. Few had the skills to try, and the more they tried the more the law of averages caught up with them and brought it all crashing down on their heads.

It also made multiply-enchanted magic items much more rare and worthwhile. It helped explain why there were some wholly unique items, too, because a critical success would lead to some amazing breakthrough - but just this one time. But since screwing up on a minor enchantment wasn't that bad (low power, so low consequence), you could make a living at being a careful enchanter of minor items. I wish I'd thought of JD Jarvis's explanation on astrology and this approach on different item components - they would have fit perfectly last campaign!

So that's how I ended up with off-the-shelf access to Fortify and Deflect, or Umbrella items to keep the rain off, but also kept people from going out and shopping at the Magic Item Emporium's Emporer's Day Sword Sale for a new +3/+3 Sword of Ice Weasel Slaying. Yet I left some space for unique and powerful magical items, such as the sword Grimslaughter or the rapier Malice, or this strange Buckler of Warding that did things no one could figure out how you'd enchant, and so on. It "worked" because the rules as the players understood them allowed for both rare magic, powerful magic, and minor items for sale.

Oh, and selling magic items? It happened, although more often it was trade. You just had a hard time finding someone with the cash to lay out. Trade to someone powerful for influence occurred, usually as part of a larger and more complex trade ("You get these magic stones, and our service for a year, and you get our friends resurrected, and provide us support right now to kill the guy that has this other item you want.")

It seemed to work well. But for my DF game, it's not what we want now. And two of my DF regulars played that game from start to finish, for like 10 years of play, and I didn't want to make them deal with the same problems again. So I chose another route.

Friday, October 18, 2013

GURPS Zombies shambles forth

If you missed the announcement, GURPS Zombies is out.

For those of you who don't know him, Sean "GURPS Undead" Punch is a big, big zombie movie fan. Also, FPS shooter game with zombies fan. And I'm pretty sure he likes White Zombie, too.

So GURPS now has 160 pages of zombie gaming goodness written by the zombie-fan line editor. Good thing I have all of these shambling dead minis . . .

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Defining RPGs for a Non-Gamer

So I was talking to two friends last night and my hobby came up (while discussing model UN, which I never was involved in, but I did once help run a Federal Government Simulation once - GMing is GMing, really.) I said that I generally don't look for people who are involved in my hobby to play with, but instead recruit my friends to play games with me. Also, that I played regularly, running a fantasy game. This almost immediately resulted in me being asked they could play. Since once lives very close to our host's house (actaully, closer than I live to his house) nearby, I invited said friend to join. I invited both, but one lives too far to join.

But this person had never played RPGs. In fact, I said "Do you know D&D?" - No. So I basically explained in a very short version what it was.

Then I wrote down that description and emailed it along with an invite to show up next game session. Here is word-for-word what I wrote to explain RPGs, and what kind of RPG I run.

"Like I said [tonight], you play the game by making up an imaginary avatar that fits into the scenario we set out to play. One person referees the game, and basically acts as a neutral arbiter for everything else in the imaginary scenario. The ref tells you what's happening in the world around your character. You play the part of your character and determine what he or she says, does, wants, reacts, etc. - you can attempt just about anything a real person could. To find out the results of things you try to do, we use dice. Dice rolls compared the abilities of the character and the difficulty of the task let the referee determine how your actions work out. Or the ref can just rule on what happens without a roll of the dice. You keep playing the same character, who can develop over time - get better, learn new abilities, and so on.

As for the scenario, basically the way we're playing this game is that there is a mysterious ruined castle outside of a city, in a fantasy world full of wizards, knights, shady thieves, barbarian warriors, etc. and monsters. Underneath the castle is a series of tunnels of unknown size and depth. In those tunnels are both monsters and treasure - and the players take the part of adventurous folks willing to fight monsters to get the treasure. It's pretty simple stuff, but it's great for a pickup game we can play with whomever shows up on a given Sunday."

I'm rather proud of how that came out. I never have to explain RPGs to people who have never gamed before, so I didn't have a spiel handy. I said basically the same thing as in the first paragraph, above, and then wrote it down quickly before I forgot the gist of what I'd said. The second paragraph was email only, because I originally intended to just link this blog but decided none of my session summaries really would clear things up for a non-gamer.

Also, I mentioned there would be drinks and pie. Well, not pie. There is never pie. Sadly.

But if this happens to work out, I have a new player for my GURPS game. I do think my beer-and-dungeons DF game is a bit harsh of an introduction to gaming. So I also offered to run something else if fantasy seemed uninteresting. But hopefully it sounds fun, and we've got another gamer to toss into the mix. We'll see. At least I have a spiel out of it, if nothing else!

And yes, I do teach new gamers GURPS. Of course. Teach what you know, love, and use!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

DF NPC: Zed Shieldbearer

Here is another DF NPC from my Felltower game. Zed is currently employed, and not available for hire, but he's a good example of a bargain henchmen with a specific niche - the shieldbearer.

Zed Shieldbearer

Background is in city militia service, with well over 30 years in service with a variety of guild-backed forces. Adventuring experience includes multiple trips to Felltower, without being slain. 30 sp ($30 DF) per day plus expenses and replacement of broken/lost weaponry, including his shield. Bonuses appreciated.

ST 12 HP 12 Speed 6.00
DX 11 Will 10 Move 5
IQ 10 Per 10
HT 12 FP 12
Dodge 8+DB Parry (Broadsword) 9+DB Block 9+DB

Cheap Broadsword (12): 1d+3 cutting or 1d+2 crushing; Reach 1.

Traits: Code of Honor (Soldier's); Compulsive Carousing (12); Easy to Read; Fearless 4 (Fright Check 14); Sacrificial Block; Shield-Wall Training; Stubbornness.
Skills: Armoury (Melee Weapons)-9; Armoury (Body Armor)-9; Axe/Mace-12; Brawling-11; Broadsword-12; Carousing-12; Knife-10; Shield-12; Sumo Wrestling-10. otherwise as listed in DF 15.

Gear: Boots (Feet DR 2); Clothing; Cheap Broadsword; Leather Helm (Skull DR 2); Leather Armor (Arms, Legs, Torso DR 2); Large Shield (DB 3); Personal Basics; Pouch; Wineskin (1 quart capacity, full!).

Notes: Shield-12 isn't great, but it's enough for Block 12, Block 14 with All-Out Defense, making for a pretty effective first line of defense for the next rank. If he ever gains XP (rare for a 62-point bargain henchmen) he'd spend them on improving his Shield skill to 14 (6 points) or more directly buying Enhanced Block (5 points). Zed's main job these days is to shield Father Hans, a cleric built on the 125-point Initiate template. Zed's mini is the old "potion taster" mini in this link - he's on the extreme left, front rank.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Group Need vs. What You Want to Play

Occasionally I get a new player in my group - either a returning fellow gamer or an entirely new one.

Just about the first question I hear from them, before they make up a guy, is "What does the group need?"

My response is the same - what do you want to play? What kind of guy sounds fun, given the context* of the campaign?

This is how my current group ended up the way it is. Two scouts. Two barbarians (one PC, one NPC), both built as front-line combatants. Two knights, also built as front-liners. A martial artist built to fight. A wizard with an interesting combination of spells.

Where is the cleric? The standard answer is "blub, blub, blub." Swimming with the subterranean sharks. He died, and the player moved on to a new guy he wanted to run. The party probably "needed" a cleric, but they didn't get one.

I know one scout's player has a holy warrior as his backup PC, in case he needs to whip one out on short notice. The knight has a necromancer he keeps tweaking and re-tweaking, and keeps hoping enough folks will show up with a new-fragile-wizard-friendly combo so he can try him out.

It's possible with a TPK we might end up with an entirely different group - no scouts, no "standard" wizard, no knights, no barbarians, no whatever.

But I don't care, and I strongly discourage caring about that.

Even in my DF game, where it's a pre-designed environment, trying to build out a group to take it on is a losing proposition. It might "work" in that you're an efficient, optimized set of problem solvers for the kind of problems the dungeon environment poses. But if you're running a character you'd rather not be running, or your third choice because the group needed a cleric and they already plenty of fighters and didn't need a second thief, is that good? Is "success" in play the cornerstone of fun, or is "this guy does the cool stuff I want to do in my leisure time?" the cornerstone of fun?

So my response is generally the same - I tell people to pick something that'll be fun to run, and run that. The group efficiencies will work themselves out. The lack of a whatever or a preponderance of too many whatevers will work itself out. The fun will just be different than expected.

For this reason I tend to look at PCs in isolation, not in a party composition context. If you aren't totally redundant, and as long as you've got something fun to do, and you'll enjoy doing it, the game will work itself out. This is especially true in my pickup-game format, where the party might have a cleric one session or not, or really need a bunch of fighters but be nothing but second-rankers, or desperately need ranged fire but lack the folks to provide it. Planning around "need" assumes a steady need, but planning around "I'll have fun with one of those" doesn't assume much of anything.

So that's why - if you play with me, pick something you'll enjoy running** and run it. Group needs will work themselves out.

* So for my DF game, the context is "guys who'd go into tunnels full of monsters looking for treasure." In my last game, it was "guys who'd buy into the idea of saving the world from an evil wizard." For one short-lived game, it was "Victorian adventurers who'd investigate strange magics and conspiracies." Given that context, what sounds like a fun character?

** And know how to run. Yes, understanding the GURPS Magic rules is a prereq for running a wizard. Sorry, but there it is, they're simple enough but you need to get them before you play them or I end up explaining them instead of GMing.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Taking Technical Grappling for a spin

On Friday night, Douglas Cole and I did a play-through of a fight using his excellent book, GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling.

I read the book a couple of times - both in total and in pieces. I was in the playtest for the book, but at the time, I had a lot going on. I couldn't follow the playtest too closely, so much as lurk on it and pay attention when Doug needed a specific answer on things from the authors of GURPS Martial Arts.

And then, the book changed a bit during playtest, when it because clear that some ideas needed to change to accomplish what Doug was trying to accomplish.

Long story short - I needed to try the rules out in play, and it seemed like a good idea to try them out with the author since he's my friend.

Basically, TG changes grappling from simple, binary effects (grappled or not grappled, pinned or not pinned, break free or don't break free, locked or not locked) to an effect-based system. Grab, roll to see how well you've grabbed and how much control you've achieved. Try to escape, and roll to see how much "damage" you do the hold.

There are a little nuances to it, though, which means it's not quite so straightforward.

To call what we did a "fight" overstates it a bit. Doug whipped up a knife-armed strong thug, and I grabbed a BJJ fighter we'd cut from the main text and put into the Designer's Notes. We stopped a lot, considered tactics, discussed alternative moves and how they'd work, occasionally swapped in different stats for the opponent to see how that would work ("If this was a ST 20 SM+1 troll, then what?"), talked about real-world grappling and what it entails in the rules, and so on. But it was a good way to try the rules out and stop and ask when I didn't know why something worked the way it did.

The fight itself was pretty fun. Mostly "my" guy got in trouble when he got overly aggressive. A nice Judo Parry-Judo Throw without a hold worked, except the opponent wasn't stunned so he didn't drop his knife, and the lack of arm control meant that was a foolish thing to do (and lead to a luckily-weak cut to the arm). He'd have been better off achieving knife control and saving the throw for later, but my goal was to get entry and grappling rolls in, and establish how it would start, not "win."

Patience and Time - like in real grappling, or at least how I personally grapple, you need to be patient. While you can sometimes just grab, toss, and submit, without cinematic abilities you really do need to take some time. Grab, establish a solid (and possibly reinforced) hold, work for superior position, inflict submission/damage/incapacitation. You grab, you get some Control Points (CPs), accumulate enough to make it hard for the opponent to escape, then go for moves to finish the job. Very realistic - grappling is time-consuming compared to throwing a successful strike, which either hits or doesn't, finishes him or doesn't. Grappling can be much more involved, and a poor gambit can result in losing everything you worked for.

High Risk Is High Risk - a quickie grab-and-throw with Judo is good, and still works very well in TG, but doesn't give you much control. For my test fighter, the smart move would have been to throw the guy down and then just run - by the time Mr. Knife stood up, he'd have been yards away at stationary and my guy would have been gone. But as a fighting method, it ended up relying a bit too much on hope ("I hope he gets Stunned and drops his weapon!" - Nope.) Which is fine, of course, just worth noting.

There is a lot to digest - You need to know a lot. You do need to know your trained ST for multiple skills (you can't grab with Judo and roll with your Wrestling-modified ST, sadly). You need to know (or look up) your single-limbed grappling ST score. You need to have a solid idea of what the rules let you do and not do in order to either grapple or avoid grappling. Your size modifier, relative weight, and relative ST can change how the rules apply to you. So it didn't feel simple. Good, solid, and very much like real grappling, but not dead simple.

Recursive Math Sucks - TG has a great concept in "Referred Control." Basically, if I get your arm and your neck, my hold on the arm makes my control on the neck better and vice-versa. It also interferes with other moves involving your whole body. Because of this you end up with control of A+part of N on the arm, N+part of A on the neck, some bit of A and N on the torso, etc. For a detailed fight this is awesome, but I'll need a much better handle on it before I can use it in play, especially in my DF game. Doug and I talked about how to automate the process, and about some ideas for winging it (a simple one-calc penalty instead of a detailed calculated penalty). This is one of those areas where there is just a lot of work, even if what you get out of it is great stuff.

Grapple-Heavy Monsters Are Even Worse Than You Imagined - the DFM1 troll we tossed in to calculations once or twice was really nasty. A big grappler is bad already in GURPS if it gets its mitts on you. In TG, the effect-roll based control means it's going to really get a good hold on you and it's hard for you to really inconvenience it. Which is cool with me, because that means a grapple-and-bite threat can be even more serious in a game like DF. They're a threat now, but I like how TG allows for a range of danger beyond simply "grappled and in danger" and "not grappled and fine."

Overall - I liked the rules a lot. I think effect-based grappling is a good idea. Instead of a flat effect, binary, grappled-or-not grappled (-4 to DX), you grab and roll "damage" that gives you CP - control points. I really liked how much the results made sense - moves I could really do really work, and the patient, control-first martial arts style I learn (Kachin Bando) makes even more sense in play since piling on CPs is nothing but good. Now that I've got a better handle on the rules after a run-through, I feel a lot more comfortable with the rules set and I'm even more pleased to have them handy. I also like how it handles weapons, and I'm looking forward to trying that out with Doug next time.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

My megadungeon "best" practices - Part IX

Poor sleep, hard work, and what feels like a cold conspired to derail my day today. But I managed to get a little work done on my megadungeon.

Even One Room Detailed is Progress - One real plus to a single, large, tent-post dungeon is that I can always do a little work on it and have that work be productive later. Even noting what's in one room, or detailing from notes, means I am a little better prepared for the next session.

So what is what I did. I worked on a couple of rooms. Nothing major, but enough to make them playable when the PCs show up. Which might be months from now, but I am a little closer to being ready when they are.

Corollary: You Can a Big Dungeon On One Room A Day - I don't have a need to do this, since I am so far ahead - but an interesting exercise for the folks who find they have a lot of dungeon to fill and little time would be to set aside time for 1 room a day, every day. Just knock off a single room every morning when you sit down to work, or check email, or whatever. Do it, move on to the work day.

That's how I get through my Japanese practice - 30 minutes a day. When I do it isn't so important as long as I do it. As long as it's stuff I need for the next level of progress, I do it. Plug away. Never miss a day even if it means getting up early or staying up late.

You can fill a 364 rooms a year at 1 per day, 728 at 2 per day. Even at 100 rooms per level, that's 7 levels ready to play for just minutes a day. And it's a lot less of an investment that 30 minutes a day, and the payoff is months and months of adventuring, since in a megadungeon the players will repeatedly visit the same rooms, and add their own touches the dungeon.

Related Page:
Megadungeon Design

Friday, October 11, 2013

Some Other Posts Worth Reading

I've read some really good stuff in the past week, and just in case you missed it:

Monsters and Manuals goes into player-character information disparity. When the player knows stuff the character doesn't. My basic take is to conceal as much as I can from the players that their characters wouldn't know. I go as far as to tell folks to roll but not why, or roll without telling them why (or sometimes even really checking the results - it's either a fake-out, or just I fidget by rolling dice.) I love those moments when the players - utterly unaware of approaching danger, or lacking some piece of critical information - react as if they knew it was there all along. Those times they walk right up to the one 10x10 wall section with a secret door and open it, check the ceiling on the only room with slime monsters lurking, or only move that one statue that conceals treasure. And I hate watching the contortions players make when they know bad stuff is going to happen to their PCs and now they feel a need to change their actions to appear to not cheat by being ready for it. Plus, personally, I find real surprise is a lot more fun than pretending to be surprised.

The Dragon's Flagon covers one of my favorite bits about B/X D&D - the attribute bonuses. 9-12 is average, and 13+ gets you some kind of bonus. That and the bonuses being pretty flat (+1 to +3) and standardized. You don't need a crazily-exceptional character just to get anywhere, like in AD&D, and stats matter a lot, unlike how OD&D appears to work (where bonuses are stat and class specific, and some stats seem to do nothing.)

Russ Nicholson
posted a "short" post of pictures, including this gem:

Beedo cranked out a hell (ha, ha) of a megadungeon concept - the God of Death's mountain of challenge, basically. He sits there hoping for heroes to come and die, and stocks it full of monsters, traps, and challenges to do them in and gold to lure them in. It's better than my bs concept, that's for sure.

Finally, check out this excellent advice for a new GM over at Tower of the Archmage. It pretty much nails it - have fun, relax, don't worry, don't over-prepare. I have played with a new GM who was so worried that he had every mini he could need, book to cover places we could eventually go, and rules nailed down that the game crawled and rarely ran. Which is too bad, because we were all willing to just let anything go as long as we got to roll dice. It's easy to forget as a GM that your players will be pretty forgiving if you just keep the game moving and give them chances to do fun stuff.

(I forgot to link these two, initially - so I'm fixing it now)
Also check out Hack N Slash on player agency, defined. It's a good, technical look at what "player agency" means, and I think it is worth reading before attempting to discuss the subject.

And read Gaming Ballistic's explanation of how to do The Black Widow vs. Mooks in one of the Iron Man movies. With the right power level of character and the right settings of the dials, the detail-heavy Technical Grappling turns into glass-smooth mook destruction and badassery. Doug has a tendency to post awesome stuff and then bury it with an admin post shortly after, so you might not have noticed this.
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