Saturday, November 30, 2013

DF Felltower: How Did They Manage to Die?

Yesterday I gave a rundown of how hard it can be to die in GURPS. Yet my Felltower game has a graveyard with 28 bodies in it. How did that happen, give the relative difficulty of dying?

We Forgot About Mortal Wounds


I suspect Volos and Mikel (NPC) may have died earlier than they might have otherwise. It had been a while since we'd played GURPS, and my last game was a 4e conversion (and only partly - mostly we just did 4e for combat, not chargen or death). I can't tell you if Volos failed his HT check against death by 3+, or not. He did have to make more than one, though. But it's possible game rust and not looking stuff up killed him. Of course, being unfamiliar with Mortal Wounds (a 4e addition) would have meant we didn't know to go look it up. Volos maybe have failed by 2 and I thought it was "fail by 1" not "1 or 2." Either way . . . dead.

I recall Fuma failing his roll by a lot, too. Even if he hadn't, he was on the fast lane to -5xHP, being grappled around the neck by a throttler and taking damage by the bucketful.

Don't Swim With the Razor Fishes
Out of those 28, no less than 19 of them died in one session, in the water.

For all that GURPS makes failing a HT roll against death both not-difficult and somewhat forgiving (Mortal Wounds you can recover from, given sufficient aid), there is a limit. That is, there are plenty of ways to die that don't give you rolls.

One of them is reaching -5xHP. A number of those 19 died from reaching -5xHP. Some died before they got there, but most died being ripped apart by razor fish while drowning. I could have given them Hard to Kill 10 and they'd all have died. Others were torn apart by an armored shark.

Guys like Nakar and Inquisitor Marco hit the water hard, sucked in water, went unconscious and never recovered; even though the fish could barely hurt Inquisitor Marco and couldn't see invisible Nakar, they were doomed. They drowned, mostly from sinking underwater while unconscious and suffocating.

In that case, even the primed-to-survive guys had trouble living. Kullockh had a lot going for him, but a bad hit put him unconscious and he went under, and was torn up. Death checks didn't matter because he was torn up and eaten.

The NPCs were Worthless and Weak!

Well, some of them were weak. But even the strongest of them had HT 12, which means only a 15+ killed them outright. Still more failed HT checks by 1-2, but then suffered more damage and went down forever. Others still dropped with very high damage and had to make multiple checks, and failed them.

But also, they are NPCs. There is a meta-game reason they die more easily. If they fail a HT roll by 1-2 and are Mortally Wounded and unconscious (which is a pretty common combo), the PCs don't necessarily know they're still alive. They might suddenly get hit with an area attack in a desperate fight, or left in a bad spot as the party pulls off to a better tactical spot, etc. only to be checked much too late and found to be really dead. But a PC, well, I have to tell them they aren't dead yet. The players play accordingly. I'm totally fine with this - I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt and say they spotted some sign, refuse to accept he's a goner, etc. because PCs are special.

Still, others should have died and didn't. Raggi has almost died more times than I can count - and the PCs only cottoned to his Hard to Kill after they thought he did die against the orcs. They went to check on his "corpse" and he sat up, roaring "What did I miss?" That was back before they declared themselves "Raggi's Roughnecks" and started to joke they'd stay home if he wasn't there to lead them into the dungeon. A couple other NPCs made it despite horrid wounds. "Pigsticker" Paul the spearmen was from HP 12 to -26 without dying, Norman the Axe from 14 to -28, and Basher the Thug to -34 without dying, while Grace the Slick died as soon as she needed to make a roll.

For all that the rolls favor living, you don't always get a roll. And when you do, you still need to make them. Not everyone got the rolls, and not everyone made them.

Friday, November 29, 2013

GURPS 101: Dying is Hard to Do

The lethality of GURPS can be a positive and a negative. As a positive, it makes for tense combats, adds real risk to decisions, and gives a lot of believability to injury. As a negative, it totally sucks to have your character, who you worked hard on to make, just roll badly and die. That tension - characters take effort, but can die easily - makes for the feel of the game. Still, no one likes to die, so let's look at how easy or hard it really is, and ways to avoid it at the last moment - the roll not to die.

This is at least partly inspired by the death toll in my fantasy game, and by Douglas Cole's excellent look at skill levels in GURPS. Also check out Doug's look at the pricing of HT in GURPS.

In GURPS, getting grievously wounded is pretty easy. Most fights in GURPS, in my experience, turn suddenly when a telling blow gets through and changes one combatant from "just fine" to "potential death spiral" in a single moment. Miss a defense roll, watch the other guy roll a critical hit (which gives you no chance to defend), or get hit by surprise or an area attack and you could go right down.

Looking only at GURPS Basic Set. Shock (p. B419), Major Wounds (p. B420), Crippling injuries (which are also Major Wounds) (p. 420-422), Stunning (p. 420), Bleeding (box p. B420), Hit Location effects (p. B398-400), Consciousness rolls (p. B419) - all of these things make it hard to stay above -1 x HP (or below) and not have to roll to see if you don't die.

Not only that, but you don't get a lot of HP. Everyone starts with 10 HP, but getting even twice that is somewhat uncommon except in high-powered play (where it's very common), and you don't get more unless you keep buying more.

But, especially in 4th edition, it isn't easy to actually die.

First, you don't automatically die until you've gone down to -5xHP . . . meaning you can take as much as 1 point shy of 6 x HP and still live.

Second, there are way to deal with even missing a HT check against death. In 3e, if you missed a Death Check (a common but not-official term of art for the HT roll to see if you die or not), you died. Have a 15 HT and roll a 16? Oooh, time for Resurrection or superscientific revivification or a new PC. But 4e has Mortal Wounds, which means you can miss the roll and still be alive enough to get better, given enough medical or magical support.

This significantly changes the odds of death.

Let's look at death, the odds of death, and how much HT you need to reasonably avoid it.


The first thing you want to do is, avoid getting to -1 x HP or below. But once you are there, you need to start rolling to avoid dying. GURPS Basic Set p. 419 makes most of these pretty plain, and I won't re-hash those rules here. They are also on p. 29 of GURPS Lite, which is FREE, so go get it!

How many times do I roll?

One thing that GURPS Basic Set p. 419 doesn't make crystal clear, IMO, is how often you roll against HT to not die. For example, if you have HP 10 and take 30 damage, you are at -20 HP. Do you roll once for -10 HP and another time for -20 HP?

Yes, you do.

What makes it clear is the example of Bruno under Hard to Kill (p. B58), who takes 45 damage and passes two death check thresholds, and must roll twice.

How do I recover from a Mortal Wound?

Surgery skill + time, or the Stop Bleeding spell (no, seriously, I didn't know that second bit until recently either.)*

How much HT do you need?

Read "HT" as "HT including any bonuses." Advantages like Fit (+1 to HT rolls) or Very Fit (+2 to HT rolls) and Hard to Kill (+1 per level to HT rolls against death, a miss has some special effects) make it harder to die. Just add your HT plus your bonuses when you look below. Ex: A HT 12 guy with Very Fit and Hard to Kill 1 rolls against a 15 not to die.

Death checks are very rarely penalized; while unconsciousness checks get cumulative penalties for injury Death checks don't. So to not die you really don't need a huge amount of HT, or worry about counteracting penalties.

Below is the HT, the chance to live (without problems), chance to live or be mortally wounded (with potential issue during or post recovery, per B.423), and chance to die outright.

Percentages of success are taken from p. B171 for consistency.

Remember that in GURPS, a 17 is always a failure and an 18 is always a critical failure (not a big deal on a death check) (per p. B343 / GURPS Lite p. 2) However, it could make a good ruling that if you have a total HT of 16+, a roll of a 17 is a Mortal Wound and a 18 is death. You could further rule that if you also have Hard to Kill you appear dead (although you're still Mortally Wounded). However, an 18 would still failure regardless of your HT, HT bonuses, advantages, and/or Mortal Wounds.**

HT 9 or less: No one takes these; suffice it to say it's easy to die and you don't want HT 9 or less.

HT 10: Roll against 10 to live; a death check at 11 or 12 means you are mortally wounded. 50% chance of being okay, 74.1% chance of being either okay or mortally wounded. 25.9% chance of death.

HT 11: Roll against 11 to live; a death check at 12 or 13 means you are mortally wounded. 62.5% chance of being okay, 83.8% chance of being either okay or mortally wounded. 16.2% chance of death.

HT 12: Roll against 12 to live; a death check at 13 or 14 means you are mortally wounded. 74.1% chance of being okay, 90.7% chance of being either okay or mortally wounded. 9.3% chance of death.

HT 13: Roll against 13 to live; a death check at 14 or 15 means you are mortally wounded. 83.8% chance of being okay, 95.4% chance of being either okay or mortally wounded. 4.6% chance of death.

HT 14: Roll against 14 to live; a death check at 15 or 16 means you are mortally wounded. 90.7% chance of being okay, 98.1% chance of being either okay or mortally wounded. 1.9% chance of death. Note: Maximum HT needed to live on a 16 or less including Mortally Wounded.

HT 15: Roll against 15 to live; a death check at 16 means you are mortally wounded. 95.4% chance of being okay, 98.1% chance of being either okay or mortally wounded. 1.9% chance of death.

HT 16: Roll against 16 to live; technically you can't be mortally wounded anymore because a 17 or 18 still fails. 98.1% chance of being okay, 1.9% chance of death. Maximum HT needed to live on a 16 or less without needing to resort to Mortally Wounded.

However, Sean Punch appears to state that on a net HT 16+, you should treat 17 as a Mortal Wound, 18 as death. So in this case it would be a 98.1% chance of being fine, 99.5% of being fine or mortally wounded, and 0.5% chance of death.

HT 17+: Doesn't matter, see HT 16.

So what does this mean for my character?

Basically, the most HT + bonuses you need to avoid death is 16. The most you reasonably need, assuming you're willing to suffer Mortally Wounded as a condition, is HT 14. Total. That gives you the maximum chance of not dying while still giving you the least cost to do so.

How you get there depends on your other goals for your character. Hard to Kill at 2/level is the cheapest way to avoid death, but that's all it does. Fit and Very Fit are good if you want a bonus to the roll and want to recover lost FP faster (or lose them more slowly, too). HT is best overall because it gives you the roll, plus marginally improved Speed and more FP, too, but it also costs the most (10/level).

But if you ever wondered why 4e monsters have HT 11-13, and most templates for really hardy types rarely exceed HT 13, it's because that really does give you an excellent chance to avoid death.

What if that's not enough for me? 1.9% Sounds high . . .

Get enough HT + Fit/Very Fit + Hard to Kill to not die, buy Luck, and save one use for a re-roll. Or buy Luck with a limitation that restricts it only to HT checks not to die. And try to avoid getting hit in the first place.

Are these odds realistic?

Wrong question, since GURPS put a slightly heroic blush onto PCs. It makes them believably fragile but also throws the odds of dying a bit in favor of the character. It's a game, after all, and matching easy death with detailed character generation is a mix that makes death especially harsh and not-fun.

Doesn't this mean GURPS characters are too sturdy?

No, not really. It's depressingly easy to go from HP to -5 x HP and just die. It's depressingly easy to bleed out out or be too injured to escape. You can drown or suffocate or suffer a heart attack from a truly horrid supernatural attack or fright. And, per p. B423, you can just die automatically from a slit throat, etc. if you're helpless and time is taken. Even HT 16+ and Hard to Kill won't help you there.

Good luck not dying!

* As a house rule, I also allow the Healing advantage to do this.
** I like this and I'd run it that way.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

DF Knight: Tarjan Telnar

This is Tarjan Telnar, my 300-point knight from the sadly short-lived GURPS Midgaard campaign. He is built on 300 points, and is centered on three things I like:
- morningstars
- do-overs (hence, Luck)
- and fighting, hence maximized fighting power.

He's built as a uni-dimensional death machine, basically so that way no one else really needed to be a major league combat power in the game he was for. He could handle fighting, letting other players shine in moments where fighting wasn't important. Not only that, but he could reasonably cut a lot of fights short, further allowing people to have a chance to do something else besids grind down foes.

I edited this off of a GCA export, hence the details and format that I don't normally use.

Tarjan Telnar
300 pts
Human Male
6' 4", 225, Age 30
Brown hair, brown eyes, brown beard and mustache. Open, honest face with a oft-broken nose.

Attributes [202]
ST 17 [70]
DX 14 [80]
IQ 10
HT 14 [40]

HP 23 [12]
Will 13 [15]
Per 10
FP 14

Basic Lift 58
Damage 1d+2/3d-1
Basic Speed 6.25 [-15]
Basic Move 6

Advantages [90]

Armor Mastery [5]
Born War-Leader (2) [10]
Combat Reflexes [15]
Fit [5]
High Pain Threshold [10]
Luck [15]
Slayer Training (Morningstar Swing to Skull) [5]
Trading Character Points for Money ($2,500) [5]
Weapon Master (Morningstar) [20]

Perks [4]

Honest Face [1]
No Hangover [1]
Shield-Wall Training [1]
Trademark Move (Tarjan's Twofer) (Rapid Strike (-3/-3) to Skull (-3 w/Slayer Training), net -6, +1 for Trademark Move = -5/-5) [1]

Disadvantages [-60]

Bloodlust (9 or less) [-15]
Code of Honor (Soldier's) [-10]
Compulsive Carousing (12 or less) [-5]
Greed (12 or less) [-15]
Sense of Duty (Adventuring companions) [-5]
Vow (Never refuse a challenge to combat) [-10]

Quirks [-5]

Affects to hold no grudges against former foes [-1]
Broad-Minded [-1]
Mildly embarrassed by his bloodlust [-1]
Trademark: carves TT mark into his crossbow bolts to ID his hits [-1]
Tugs his beard while thinking [-1]

Skills [69]

Armoury/TL3 (Body Armor) IQ/A - IQ+2 12 [8]
Brawling DX/E - DX+1 15 [2]
Carousing HT/E - HT+0 14 [1]
Climbing DX/A - DX-1 13 [1]
Connoisseur (Weapons) IQ/A - IQ+1 11 [4]
Crossbow DX/E - DX+2 16 [4]
Fast-Draw (Knife) DX/E - DX+1 15 [1]
     includes: +1 from 'Combat Reflexes'
Flail DX/H - DX+7 21 [32]
Forced Entry DX/E - DX+0 14 [1]
Gesture IQ/E - IQ+0 10 [1]
Knife DX/E - DX+0 14 [1]
Leadership IQ/A - IQ+1 11 [1]
     includes: +2 from 'Born War-Leader'
Shield (Shield) DX/E - DX+2 16 [4]
Stealth DX/A - DX-1 13 [1]
Strategy (Land) IQ/H - IQ+1 11 [2]
     includes: +2 from 'Born War-Leader'
Sumo Wrestling DX/A - DX+0 14 [2]
Swimming HT/E - HT+0 14 [1]
Tactics IQ/H - IQ+1 11 [2]
     includes: +2 from 'Born War-Leader'

Hand Weapons
Large Shield  LC:4  $190  Wgt:18.75 
    Bash  Dam:1d+2 cr  Reach:1
    Rush  Dam:slam+3 cr  Reach:1

Fine Balanced Dwarven Silver-Coated Morningstar LC:4  $1040  Wgt:6 
    Dam:3d+8 cr  Reach:1  Parry:15

Small Knife   LC:4  $30  Wgt:.5 
    Swing  Dam:2d-2 cut  Reach:C,1  Parry:10
    Thrust  Dam:1d imp  Reach:C  Parry:10

Ranged Weapons

Crossbow (ST 17)  LC:4  Dam:1d+6 imp  Acc:4  Range:340 / 425 
    RoF:1  Shots:1(4)  ST:7†  Bulk:-6  Rcl:  $150  Wgt:6  Notes:[3] 

Small Knife  LC:4  Dam:1d+1 imp  Acc:0  Range:9 / 17 
    RoF:1  Shots:T(1)  ST:5  Bulk:-1  Rcl:  $30  Wgt:.5 

Armor & Possessions

Backpack, Small  $60  Wgt:3
Blanket  $20  Wgt:4
Boots  $100  Wgt:2.25  Location:feet 
Canteen  $10  Wgt:3 
Cloth Armor  $55  Wgt:6  Location:torso, groin 
Cloth Cap  $8  Wgt:0  Location:skull 
Cloth Gloves  $18  Wgt:0  Location:hands 
Cloth Sleeves  $28  Wgt:2  Location:arms 
20  Crossbow Bolt  $40  Wgt:1.2  Location: 
Greathelm  $373  Wgt:7.5  Location:skull, face, neck 
Heavy Gauntlets  $263  Wgt:1.875  Location:hands 
Helmet Lamp  $100  Wgt:2
Hip Quiver  $15  Wgt:1 
Lanyard, Leather  $1  Wgt:0
Mail Coif  $240  Wgt:3
Mail Hauberk  $380  Wgt:18.75
Mail Leggings  $185  Wgt:11.25
Mail Sleeves  $108  Wgt:6.75 
2  Oil (per pint)  $4  Wgt:2
Ordinary Clothes (Status +0)  $0  Wgt:2
Personal Basics  $5  Wgt:1
12  Rations  $24  Wgt:
Rope, 3/8'' (per 10 yards)  $5  Wgt:1.5

 It's hard to see in the above, but his armor is all Fortify +1, Lighten 25% and it's all layered. This would normally be a problem for a GURPS character but Armor Mastery allows layering without a penalty, and indeed gives him a +1. So his DR is 8/6* most places, going up to 9 on Face, 14 on Neck, and 19 on the skull. His morningstar does 3d+8 with a skill of 22, and his "Twofer" and Slayer Training make double skull shots (on different targets) easy (17 or less on each one, still high enough for a good Deceptive Attack or just maximizing critical successes.)

Tarjan did work as intended - he destroyed anything he came near. I had a lot of fun running him.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ogre, Long Time No See

I played Ogre last night with a friend of mine, Rob Kohr, who was visiting from out of state.

It was my first time playing Ogre at all in years, and my first time with the big game. My countermix is punched out, but most of my Ogres and buildings are still getting the punch-and-Sharpie treatment.

It was Rob's first time with Ogre, ever.

To handicap it, I took the Paneuropeans defending the command post using the example counter mix (3 heavies, 3 missile tanks, 4 GEVs, and - my one change - a Howizer instead of a mobile howitzer.) I also put the CP in the upper left hand corner (I usually go upper right) and the howitzer in the middle. I figured it was his first game ever, so doing something cute like a LGEV swarm or an all-heavies defense or the four howitzer defense or something was just not going to be fair or fun.

I gave him the ogre, because, well, the game is both interesting and fun as the ogre and a little overwhelming on the defense that first time.

He decided on the "straight up the side, I'm a CPU on a suicide mission" approach. It served him pretty well.

I decided on a "swamp the side and shoot of the guns" approach, while my GEVs flanked him.

This was a bit of a mistake, because the lack of stuff to run over meant I didn't get tread kills from ramming attempts, and I swung my GEVs too wide to avoid missile fire and didn't become a factor until the second half of the game.

Some awful rolling against his treads didn't help, either - he was most of the way to the CP before I blew him down to Move 2, and although he had no guns left by then it didn't matter. He rolled over the CP. A turn later I got lucky and mowed off the rest of his treads and crippled the Mark III in place.

Better use of the GEVs - more aggressive use, anyway - and better howitzer placement would have helped.

It was a lot of fun. I don't feel bad losing, even to someone in their first game. It had been years. Rob is a good game player and he's great at prioritizing missions and not being distracted. He had plenty of chances to sidetrack for extra kills, but decided it might jeopardize his main goal (kill the CP) for a chance at an easier escape. I also provided advice and answered his questions - so I made sure he understood that missiles are one-shot and if he didn't shoot them at me I was going to shoot them off of him, the relative strengths of units, etc. Nothing sucks for me, personally, more than playing a game vs. an experienced player who says "Yeah, you really should have . . . " after not explaining that stuff when it mattered. So I'm very helpful until you know the ropes.

We only had time for one game, sadly. I'm looking forward to playing more Ogre when I get the chance. My brother in law will play, surely, if I can lug the set over on the holidays . . .

Monday, November 25, 2013

DF Game, Session 36 - First Six-Fingered Foe

November 24th, 2013

Weather: Cold, windy.

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (294 points)
     Brug, orc warrior (?? points, NPC)
Galen Longtread, human scout (327 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (383 points)
     Father Hans, human cleric (130 points, NPC)
     Shieldbearer Jon, human guard (62 points, NPC)

Still in town:

Borriz, dwarven knight (310 points)
Christoph, human scout (258 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (313 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (297 points)

We opened in the city of Stericksburg, as usual. The PCs gathered rumors, including a few choice ones:
- there is a room that'll take you down deeper without you knowing it. You enter, but when you leave you are down deeper.
- some crazy dwarf with a crowbar has been talking about moving into the dungeon.
- you need a blue ribbon to enter one special area.
- the dungeon has been continuously occupied for centuries, but not by the same groups. Even when Baron Sterick ruled the dungeon his men only ruled part of it.
- there are monsters that disguise themselves as floors, doors, and chests in the dungeon.
- lots of hobgoblin raids to the west, so able bodies are finding easy employment as guards.
- a level or two down is an experimental lab for wizards.

They'd also paid a sage to research the big reflectors they saw last session. He couldn't find much but found some - they are some kind of magical focus. If they are all arranged in the correct pattern, they should focus and amplify magical power. The focus point would need to be out of the room - somewhere beyond the double doors out of that chamber. Are they valuable? Effectively priceless, but also not really valuable outside of an array. They decided they must destroy one in order to defeat the wizard that is down there.

I ruled Red Raggi was available without needing roll because he didn't have a lot of ready cash after the last trip, and it had been a month. He's greedy, he won't work as a guard for a pittance when real loot can be pried out of the hands of dead monsters.

Dryst's player had to work (amusingly, we still played at his house) but I allowed the players to have him make them some light stones and also help identify magic treasure afterward. I also ruled that Father Hans borrowed Dryst's map-making gear. Seems fair.

So they headed out to the dungeon.

They climbed up the mountain top into howling cold winds, and went right into the orc-held upper works. They paid their pre-agreed toll, got their warrior/guide, and headed into the dungeon.

This time they headed right, into an area they'd mapped long before, but had lost when the party was dunked in the water. It took a large number of tries (under the watchful eyes of the orcs) to get open the metal handle-less door that closed it off.

They went through an echo room and checked around a few areas, including a large mosaic'd corridor, located the spot where they'd fought the Choke brothers, and where they fought the trolls and slorn in a big battle.

They went back to what used to be the troll's room. This time they found it was occupied by three acid spiders - 7' legged hunting spiders. The acid spiders attacked quickly and fearlessly, but even with their height advantage (and ability to duck through the doorway and walk over the front rank of PCs) they died very quickly. Tall fighters, long weapons, and a well-placed scout meant they got shot and cut to pieces in short order. They were a serious threat of harm but didn't inflict any.

Looting the room found a bunch of animal husks - giant rats, a deer, something else unidentifiable - and a human in leather armor. It turned out to have an ornate throwing axe, some silver, and two vials of oil (turned out to be Thieves' Oil, and they sold it).

They also checked another room - the former slorn lair - and found three slugbeasts. They spotted them far enough off, so they backed up and Galen just shot them to death. Even with Homogenous, he just shoots too often, too hard, and backed up too fast for them to reach him, and they stopped coming quickly.

After this they headed into new territory, finding another intersection and another door. That opened with relative ease. Vryce went through and his light stone went out. He stepped back and it stayed out - No Mana Zone, dispelling his temporary light. He swapped it out for a chemical glow vial, and Galen lit a torch and handed it to Shieldbearer Jon to carry.

Vryce headed back into the corridor - it was wide, mosaic-covered, and depicted hooded six-fingered folks doing inexplicable things. It extended left, had a door across, and had giant double doors to the right. Chuck demanded he go far enough to see if it linked up with his map details, It did, but it also had illusionary floor sections covered spiked pits. Vryce - vision obscured by his greathelm - didn't notice and fell right in. Lucky for him his armor (and the number of spiked spreading out his impact) saved him from harm. He got off ("Unimpaled himself") and with Galen's help climbed out.

They heaped up their lightstones and covered them with a sack, and then moved on. They forced the door, which showed them a similar corridor ahead, and the double doors, which revealed what was clearly a massive library. The door was carved with librarians doing the usual things - scribing, filing, listing fines, etc., and the inside of the room was barren but had old marks where shelves had been and later been burned to ash. They searched the big room, finding another set of doors out, and a secret floor trapdoor that would have been hard to find except for Galen's keen eyes (Per 19, IIRC, for vision, and Night Vision 6) and a little ash that had filled a gap that shouldn't be there. They lifted the stone and went down.

They found themselves in a room with three exits and an alcove. They chose one and headed that way, then hit a T and went right, and then found a room. Galen heard some breathing - clearly six humanoids - and deduced something had heard them coming and was waiting to attack by surprise. So they burst through the door.

Beyond the door was a barricade, and beyond it were six hobgoblins. They fired crossbows and Waited with ready weapons. The crossbows slammed into Vryce (he was Dodging like crap all session) but didn't wound him despite their armor-piercing heads. Galen started mowing them down and Vryce and Chuck cut down the others. It was all over quickly, and then Galen "made sure" of the dead with point blank arrow shots to the eyes, because he's a bastard and has a Cornucopia quiver of freebies.

They saw some stairs down that the hobgoblins were protecting. So, naturally, they backed off to try to fill in their map. After some discussion, mostly between Vryce ("Let's go down. Let's go down. I say we go down.") and Chuck ("No, let's fill in the map.") and then they headed down. Chuck's player realized he'd gone into "fill in the map" mode and shook it off.

They headed down. They found a landing with another set of stairs down a bit off the right heading behind them, and a 20 x 20 room with a statue to their left. That was of a six-fingered being like the other ones they'd found, but with arms down at its sides and not built to rotate. They checked it, found nothing of note, and headed down.

When they saw the stairs, Galen noticed they had oil on them. The flammable kind - carefully spread out to make the stairs a bit slick and a deathtrap. They backed up, got ready, and lit it with the torch. Fwoosh. It lit up, there were brief sounds of dismay (but not pain) below. They waited until it burned down and then rushed down the stairs. Vryce and the orc were in front, Chuck and Raggi behind, and Galen behind them.

At the bottom was a 30 x 30 room with doors in each wall. In the center was a squadron of hobgoblins in formation. Goblin slaves off the sides, females in front with spear and shield and males with longer spears behind, well-armed bodyguards and the chief and a priest behind them. Well, it looked like a priest - a bit tall for a hobgoblin, clad in loose black clothing, with a shield and a mace and a silvery glove on his right hand. In front of all of them was a belt of poisoned caltrops a yard deep.

The hobgoblins were ready and attacked - three crossbows fired (dinging off of Vryce mostly), the goblins threw Oozing doom grenades into Vryce and the orc's hexes, splatterin them with evil ooze. The chief flung a 5-pint jug at them. Without hestitation Vryce let go of his sword with his left hand (it's lanyarded in to his right), and caught the jug. He asked if he could, so I said yes, if you make your unarmed parry by enough ("Like 5" I said, remembering correctly) and he rolled a 6, needing an 11.

On the player's go Vryce immediately threw it back, lobbing it into the middle of the group to split them up. Smash - 5 pints of alchemist's fire lit up. That brightly lit the room, splattered some hobgoblins with fire (they were scorched, but mostly dodged aside), and effectively demolished their formation. Then the PCs attacked. The hobgoblins fought well but the PCs could reach them past their barrier of caltrops, and started to cut them down. The priest, though, swapped his mace to his shield hand and started to blast out bolts of lightning at the PCs! He zapped Galen a couple times, wounding him terribly and stunning him badly. Father Hans healed him twice, but it mostly served to keep Galen out of the fight. The orc managed to melee the priest, but went down in the exchange without hurting him. The priest also parried or dodge most arrows with ease, and his armor largely repelled another one. The chief managed to close with Chuck, who immediately used Kiai to stun him and a Rapid Strike to kill him (all hail Extra Attack).

The hobgoblins had summoned reinforcements, though - and from two of the doors burst in pairs of siege beasts! Big (SM+2) guys with massive meat-tenderizer hammers bolted to their hands. They attacked, but because of the fire burning had to fight basically in pairs (although that still ended up with two on Vryce). They took an enormous pounding and kept coming - sword blow after sword blow from Vryce, who immediately realize they had reasonable defenses and went for Deceptive Attack -5 (!) instead of his usual trademark move. He missed a lot but they couldn't avoid him when he hit. Chuck tried stabbing (worthless) and cutting (better). When Galen finally got unstunned, he blinded one with two eye shots just after it smashed Raggi for 25 damage (which - ahem - merely took him to low, not negative, HP and knocked him back all of one yard) but it kept coming. One landed a critical hit on Vryce, but Luck averted it.

All the while the priest kept blasting with his gloved hand. Raggi took a weak blast and then the priest stopped doing that, trying to fight with his mace and back away.

In the end the siege beasts all went down, with gaping wounds. The priest went down as well, after Raggi hit him a few times in the neck with his axe.

They looted the room after some quick checks - the room ahead was interesting, as it had an exit, a cave-like tunnel, and a gong. They didn't mess with it.

The loot was pretty good - some coins from the hobgoblins and the chief, some broadswords (always worth carrying and selling), a magic halberd, the priest's gear and his ornate scale armor . . .
But what really got them was the priest. He wasn't a hobgoblin. He has golden skin, elven features but fangs like an orc, pointy lobeless ears . . . and six-fingered hands. He also had some gaping wounds, and appeared dead, but wasn't bleeding. No blood at all. Chuck browbeat Father Hans into a) healing their orc (he rolled a 3, and claimed the orc was clearly a faithful being!) and b) bandaging the "priest." Hans refused to try to heal him, and no one pressed that. But Chuck decided to hand it over to the orcs for possible later interrogation if it was, in fact, alive.

They also questioned the goblins, but learned nothing of real value except that there was a "poison room" one direction, "danger" the other, and extreme danger past the gong room.

At this point the group was still okay, but we'd really had no flow (my fault, largely) so it was very late. so they retreated up to the upper works and dealt with the orcs.

The deal with the orcs was, keep this guy prisoner and we'll come back next time and retrieve him. The orcs were startled by the six-fingered guy, and immediately wanted to buy him. Some negotiations took place (a few hours of back-and-forth, as the orcs on the surface relayed messages below) and they ended up agreeing to pay 1500 sp for the being, to sacrifice to their god. They called them something like "Banes" or "Evils" or something that means "really, really bad" in orc. They said they drink blood, too.

The PCs also sold them the four goblin slaves, and gave them all the weapons they'd towed up from the depths minus a few swords and the better quality stuff. Better armed orcs, they figure, is the way to go.

Vryce also took a thumb from the "priest" for later Seekering. As soon as they headed back to town he said "Oh, we should have taken the hand. That would have been smart. But we're not smart." Oh well.

Back in town they sold off gear, got the glove checked (it's non-magical, no longer glittering silver, and of some odd metal), spent money to get the armor ID'd (it's special ornate scale that gives more DR the more Magery you have), and sold off the priest's oddly balanced and shaped mace (it was non-magical, just unusual). They made a solid profit (well over 1000 sp each) even if not a big one.


- When Chuck's player decided he'd map and sat in Dryst's player's seat, he suddenly found himself arguing to go in directions that were not leading off the paper edge, not going down stairs because that would mean needing new paper, etc. He suddenly realized what was happening and reversed himself. We decided it was the chair.

- many of these hobgoblins, including the chief, had survived multiple fights with the PCs, including one a long time back. The chief had killed at least one henchmen, too. But their luck ran out, despite improved stats and better gear!

- they have a Balanced Dwarven Dueling Halbered (Accuracy +1, Puissance +1) to use or sell. Chuck would need to expand his Weapon Master to use it to full capacity (he's Weapon Master Light Horse Cutter right now), or they'd need to find someone else to lend it to. Tough call, because it's valuable ($11,080 x 40% = $4432 or $1108 each) but it's also a pretty good weapon for someone with the skill to use it.

- they are holding on to the scale and the glove until Dryst's player gets back, at least.

- they are still probably debating if selling the possibly dead thing was a good idea. Maybe not, but it was cash they could really use, and Chuck claimed "We know where to go look for more of them." Still, taking bodies of strange creatures put my head in this weird XCom place. Best loot is a new monster's corpse . . .

- I had higher hopes for the Acid Spiders and Siege Beasts, but hey, they did pretty well considering they were fighting a party where a weak attack comes 3x per turn and does 2d+12. Two-handed weapons also helped make weapon breakage a non-issue.

- I personally hope this is the sign of more expeditions to deeper areas. We'll see.

- I also noticed that if we play every 2 weeks, bullshitting is minimized. If not, a LOT creeps in, because we're all catching up after 4-6 weeks of not seeing each other. It's still fun, but I prefer a better pace to the game. I blame myself because I can put the brakes on it on my end and shut it down, but I didn't.

Really fun session. Lots of things coming together!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

DF Game Highlights

Game ran long tonight - we had a high chat-to-game ratio today, as always when we play more infrequently.

But long story short I don't want to stay up late typing up the summary. I am free a bit tomorrow so I'll do it then.

For now:

- Vryce, Galen, Chuck, and Raggi went into Felltower with Father Hans and a shieldbearer in tow, plus an orc guide/warrior.

- the found a new way down to level 2, although it's sub-optimal as there is a No Mana Zone on the way.

- they followed even more stairs down from level 2, and fought a bunch of hobgoblins, siege beasts, and a six-fingered humanoid disguised as a hobgoblin priest.

- Vryce earned MVP with a left-handed catch of a lobbed 5-pint jug of alchemist's fire, which he then lobbed back to divide up the enemy's battlefield order and wreck their formation.

- they picked up some good loot, including the hobgoblin chief's magic dueling halberd.

- they sold the possibly dead six-fingered guys to some very eager orcs, but not before taking his thumb for some Seeker action next time . . .

Oh, it was the Well of the Worm

I knew the image of human-faced worms was familiar. Our group went down the Well of the Worm on Friday night.

We did just fine.

But stikll, heh. Even reading that post I still had no idea what my PC was getting in to. Good thing, because I prefer actual surprise to feign surprise.

Although it doesn't always help - I lost a PC in White Plume Mountain when my cousin GMed it, and I'd run it like 2-3 times before that as a GM.

(By the way, there will be a rare second post today - it's DF gaming day, and I'll post a summary tonight after the session.)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

S&W in the Southern Reaches: Session 1

Last night I played in the inaugural B-team session of Erik Tenkar's Southern Reaches of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy game. I've been itching to play a game, and itching to try an old-style D&D clone, and itching to play a game with a loose enough schedule that I could make it fit. Last night that all came together. Here is my summary. Nicely, we get bonus xp for writing summaries, which is like getting paid for eating chocolate - you'd do it anyway, but if someone is paying . . . all the better.

I do need to note that we played via Google Hangouts and Roll20. Once again, Google Hangouts did weird stuff and Roll20 just gave me more errors than fun. In four gaming sessions, Roll20 has worked flawlessly once, so-so once, badly once, and failed once. I call that 1W-3L. I never got to see anything except patchy video, couldn't log into Roll20, and got booted a few times. Erik and my fellow players didn't mind, though, so I was able to navigate through their eyes and roll my dice on my desk. Some of my who-did-what in the summary might be wrong because I was losing track of who was who and what just happened, but it's here as best as I can remember.

Mirado, Human Fighter (lvl 1) (me)
Banderas [sp], Human Ranger (lvl 1) (Ray)
Irban - Half-Elf M-U/Thief (lvl 1/1) (Jason)

Short backstory: Some prior PCs accidentally messed up the game world, causing everyone over a certain middle level to basically spontaneously combust, choke on a fish bone, fall on their axe edge, whatever, and die. Also, a lot of undead nastiness started to show up everywhere. Into this chaos our characters stepped into the adventuring life.

We were supposed to be joined by a dwarf fighter, but that player's connection was too troublesome and he couldn't stay in the hangout and play.

The three of us were at a small village whose name I can't recall. The town had two big problems - disappearing villagers, and an old well nearby that was spewing the occasional 3' human-faced worm that would come out. They asked us, wandering violence-peddlers, to deal with it.

They offered up all they had in the way of stored loot - an old hand-me-down suit of mail (which I ended up getting), two potions of extra-healing (taken, it seems, from the now-abandoned temple in town - the cleric had combusted.) We also hit them up for some rope to get down the well.

We checked out the well. It was set on an old barrowland, and now stank of rot and death. It shined with mucous-y slime, as well, and its top bucket-bar was broken off. We tied off the rope to something sturdy and sent down Irban, the half-elf, with a torch and his infravision. Partway down he was attacked by two flying human-faced worms. One missed, the other bashed his shoulder for minor damage (1 hp?) before both fell to the mucous below and disappeared. The hole they came out of was narrow, but lead a larger area beyond.

Irban climbed back up, and we requisitioned a hammer and chisel (best the villagers had) and sent someone (I think Irban, again) to climb down and bash open the hole. "Monster Summoning Zero" basically.

We attached some extra rope to the bottom just in case, and headed into the hole.

Beyond it was a cave with mucous-covered walls with dead villagers embedded in, and a bunch of polearms (pikes, bill hooks) on the floor. We didn't have time to investigate before two "corpses" attacked us. Zombies. We fought briefly, during which I threw my axe and missed, Banderas threw his and hit. The zombies attacked me and ignored the others. This would happen again. And then Irban dual-wielded a sword and a torch and killed the zombies, I think with a cleave. This would happen again, too.

We looted the corpses, and Mirado started to dismember them - heads, hands, feet off - all to avoid zombies later. We scored some minor loot off of one corpse, Irban (I think) grabbed a bill hook, and we headed in. We found a way down (a trap door) and had to get half our rope back to climb down.

We made it down into a deeper tunnel, with some bars on the side and a passage ahead. We tried to bend the bars, Banderas and Mirado, but failed. Channeling my players, I declared all bars to have defeated us and we stopped trying to bend them. We kept on and found a rotten ladder going down. At the bottom was a catwalk over some earthen blood-filled vats, with two zombies stirring them.

(I lost connection here for a bit, but when I got back . . . )
. . . we were down at the bottom, attacking the zombies. They attacked me, Banderas hit one with an axe, and then we killed them off. I can't recall if I hit one, but I was rolling an endless succession of 5s on my d20 and swapped it out after this fight. No fun being a fighter and not hitting.

We debated breaking open the vats, but decided to do that later - too much potential mess and trouble. They were creepy, though - worms from inches to feet long, swimming around in rotting blood, eating corpses stirred into the mix.

We moved into the next area, which was dominated by a bas relief demon face on the wall, with an open mouth with a chute-like tongue sticking out. Wriggling worms periodically dropped from it into a smaller basin of blood. Treasure offerings were on either side of it, but as we got distracted by the loot (Irban checking, Mirado searching, and Banderas standing guard) we were attacked by a dwarf with a crossbow and a pair of zombies. Once again zombies attacked me, but for once one attacked Banderas. Mirado changed his name from "Mirado the Attractive" to "Mirado the Lonely." I was hit (3 hp damage) but we managed to chop up the zombies pretty quickly, as my new d20 rolled better, mostly, and my d8 kept rolling 8s.

We finshed looting the altar, discussed defacing it ("Pissing on an unholy altar makes it more unholy") and if the silvered longsword on it was cursed ("Yeah, good idea giving the demon-god a cursed item.") We scored some potions as well, along with a ring from the dwarf. He also had a pick, which I took, because I don't have enough weapons yet.

Later I'd don the ring, just because a) no one had and b) if the dwarf wore it, it was probably benign, and c) someone mentioned a relative lack of cursed rings in S&W. It was - it was benign a ring of protection +1. Nice.

There was a boulder in the room, which we decided to use to block up the bas relief mouth. Putting our weapons away, we all rolled the boulder aside . . . and a half-dozen feral former-elves jumped out. In moments I'd missed, Banderas killed one, and Irban cleaved a couple. The others died shortly after, doing little except to get killed. The boulder turned out to be too much to use in our plan, so we headed out an exit leading around behind the face. There we set off a small deadfall, injuring Irban and narrowly missing hurting me, as well.

There we saw a big swine-sized worm pooting out evil worms and gnawing on an elf corpse. We attacked, It died quickly, but not before I needed to use 2 luck points for Mirado to force a re-roll of a bite that would have put me to 0 HP. The re-roll only dinged me slightly. As it died, it spewed out acid and wounded our ranger in the process. We drank some of the healing potions we had (parcelling out one extra-healing to three doses) and got back to full.

The room had some curtained off areas, and we began to search them - mostly for the dwarf's living area! - and found another "abomination." It was a a blinded ogre, legs cut off (at least partly), manacled to the wall. It was muscled and I think crudely sewn up as well. In front of it was a wooden level with a leather wrap.

So I decided to pincushion it with arrows. Notice I forgot to say "back off the maximum range and pincushion it with arrows." I took out my shortbow and shot at it twice, missing both times (a 1 and a 4, bad enough to easily remember.) It spewed out acid and sorely wounded me again. Aargh.

So I backed up to maximum range and shot off another 18 arrows. Six hit, doing like 18 damage (lots of ones in the rolls). It was alive but howling in pain. So Banderas shoot off his 20 arrows into it, and hit 9 times and did something like 32 damage. That was enough to kill it.

We approached and retrieved arrows. Some in the belly were firmly lodged in something. So I had Mirado take out his dagger and disembowel it. Inside was an elf corpse, which we searched about on and found a backpack (which someone took, not me), some money, some gems, and another ring. At this point we donned rings (Mirado the dwarf's ring, Irban the other one). The elf corpse's ring was a ring of protection +1, 10' radius (Saving Throws only). The elf also had a spell book, which we gave to the mage.

After this, and more unsuccessful searching for what we eventually decided was the dwarf's invisible bed, we found an underground lake. As usual, despite caution, a ranger, and infravision, we were taken by surprise (the dice didn't love us on surprise rolls), this time by a snake. It missed a couple free shots on us, and then we missed it back. It eventually bite and coiled around Irban. He desperately pulled his dagger but couldn't wound it, and it squeezed him down to -2 hp. Somehow Banderas and I managed to kill it (I missed a few times, but rolled max damage when I hit). We took some valuable glands from it (thanks to Irban for knowing this).

I went back and considered the lever a bit, but never did throw it. I couldn't see what it was for that I'd want it to be for - maybe it opened a secret door, sure, but maybe it just let the ogre out, opened a cute somewhere, or spewed acid on the thrower. I wasn't feeling like there was a real reward for the risk, so I just moved on. No one else stepped up to demand it be thrown, either, or I might have done so.

In the end that was it - we found nothing else, discovered the bars covered the elf-thing's cage, and used the pick to bash up the bas relief's tongue-chute and open up the blood vast to spill out the worm-things. Then we headed up. On the way out, I took the dwarf's head. Turns out Mirado is basically practical, ruthless, and not squeamish. I blame my players and, oh, my friend Don.

We got back to the surface, which surprised the elders. I showed them the head and asked if they knew the dwarf. They did - he'd lead a party to the well about 80 years ago. I can see why they didn't mention it, but it would have been helpful to know.

I can't believe we are such bastards, but we even shook the villagers down for their spare money, silverware, etc. at the end. This came out of Irban, I think, forgetting they'd given us potions and chain armor as pre-payment. I briefly argued we didn't need to shake them down, but instantly backed down - I mean, they were already getting it out, so what the hell. Then the Lawful ranger gave some back, as is the requirement of being a ranger. Nice of him. This tells me a lot about my character's character - he's even more cold and pragmatic and "us vs. them" then I'd thought. He's Neutral for sure.

I left them the head, and told them it did them a bad turn underground so they better keep it above ground a while. Heh.

We ended there, divvying up the cash loot (with Erik let us cash out, just for simplicity.) We didn't do bad at all - slightly more than 328 gp net, and 1165 xp. +5% for my Prime Requisite at 13+, +10% for this writeup, means 1339.75 xp, which I assume round to 1339. Level 2 isn't far off (2000 xp), assuming Mirado survives the next delve.



This was my first time playing a non-GURPS RPG in years, and my first time playing S&W. Last time I played a non-GURPS RPG it was d20 Star Wars, and the last time I played a D&D clone before that was AD&D sometime in the 90s. However, AD&D is my native gaming language, so it wasn't difficult to snap right back to "roll to hit, roll damage, and roll initiative each round" without a problem.

My favorite blue d20 rolled a whole lot of 5s. So I quit using it and switched a black one from my Hundred Kingdoms boxed set. I seriously love my d8, though. I rolled all of one attack that did less than maximum damage! It just came up 8 after 8 after 8. Wow. I felt bad after a while, and kind of relieved when I finally rolled a 6. Maybe this is karmic payback for Tarjan Telnar doing rolling three 1s on damage over and over again. It was fun to roll dice, and nice of Erik to let me do it and trust the results, but I felt bad not using the same system as everyone else. I'll try to find some time to kick Roll20 into working for me.

My experience with zombies, etc. is colored by my GMing. I'd totally make the dead guy you didn't dismember come after you. So if Mirado seems like a total corpse-dismembering bastard, well, yes, but it's him being practical not psychotic.

We meshed really well as a team almost immediately, which was nice. All mission oriented and motivated, too. Interestingly we seemed to have gone for "treasure by most utility," largely. I got the chain mail armor because I had the same armor as the ranger but less HP, so I needed it more. The ranger got the silver longsword because he's got a longsword already and this one is better. Spellbook to the mage. The rings might be an issue - I kept the ring I put on, figuring I took the risk, although Irban does have a point that he really needs a +1 to AC. I may have to reconsider and trade it for the +1 in 10' radius one, since I'm more likely to be standing shoulder to shoulder with allies.

I like the Luck rules. First time, but it gave me the do-over I love so much in GURPS with the Luck advantage.

I also regret not pushing my STR to 18. I felt a little sad that my 14 DX put me last in the initiative order for my side, and yet my ST 17 was also less than the other fighter. And I'm too aggressive to really use Defensive Fighting. Oh well, it's not a big deal.

This game was a lot of fun. I'd love to play more often, schedule permitting. But I have so few free nights it's hard to commit one of them to game, especially since I already commit 2 of my 4 days off a month to game.

Thanks to Erik and the other guys for a great night of gaming! I hope for many, many more!

Friday, November 22, 2013

You saw them here first - New DF Power-Ups in Felltower

Yesterday the newest issue of Pyramid came out. There is long series of Power-Ups for DF in there from Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch and I.

How that happened is that Steven Marsh mentioned the idea of a martial arts-centered Pyramid issue. I said, basically, okay, I have some power ups I've been sketching up for my DF martial artist. Sean said he already had a rough draft. And then the usual Sean-and-Peter-Show happened. We put 2 + 2 together, came up with awesome, and now it is out.

But you've seen some of these before, if you've been paying attention here.

Flawless Nocking and Flawless Fast-Draw were perks I made up for Scouts in my own DF game. It was maddening watching our scout roll two Fast-Draw rolls, then two bow nocking rolls, and then two to hit rolls to double-draw, double-load, and double-shoot his bow. The first four were all at the "only fails on a 17 or 18" level anyway, so it was just a lot of quick rolls to see if disaster struck.

It wasn't a huge issue in my old fantasy game, when we had one Heroic Archer and not all that many combats. But with two scouts and endless fighting, it just added a pile of rolls. I wanted a way to get rid of it . . . so I stole an idea from GURPS Supers and the "No Nuisance Rolls" perk. Normally they aren't allow for combat skills, but a) this is DF and b) it wasn't an attack, it was just readying an attack, and c) failure was annoying and not interesting.

So I came up with those two perks, which were promptly purchased by every scout since. It pays off for the player every turn - cut down a lot of nuisance rolls. It pays off the for GM for the same reason - given sufficient skill that failure is unlikely, it just happens and you can get on with it. Both Galen Longtread and Christoph (and his predecessor) have both of these.

Ramming Speed and Ultimate Ramming Speed are a collaboration between Sean Punch and I. I threw in Ramming Speed in my DF game as a freebie for slams, just to simplify them. Honus has been cheerfully taking advantage since before I put the rule into place. Pricing it as a perk is more fair, though. Ultimate Ramming Speed goes one further and is priced accordingly. Not cheap, but if you both want to be heavily laden and hit like a floored Mack truck, it's there for you.

Fist of Power was one I threw together for the SJG Forums in a rough form, and then re-tooled slightly for the article. The idea is simple - just make the most badass punch I could with the GURPS Martial Arts Technique Design System, without being so top-heavy with advantages that it wasn't cheap enough to get or interesting to use. So, a punch that's basically as hard as a kick (and which can leave you out of position if you miss.) Chuck Morris hasn't purchased it yet, but he almost surely will.

The Hundred-Handed Strike comes from Vryce's player's son playing Streetfighter on what feels like an endless loop in the background when he's over. You'd hear conk, conk, conk, conk . . . "Dad, I beat him!" over and over. But what would draw my eye is E. Honda's special move. So Sean and I put our heads together and came up with something in the same spirit as the hundred handed slap - but using two hands and doing enough damage to puree most DF opponents. The example text shows a guy taking a troll down to -10xHP in one second, with damage to spare. It's a once-per-combat win button. Not used yet in my game, but if we didn't have a special guest every game it wouldn't have been there at all.

Mr. Pushy is more Sean than me - but it's there because of Chuck "I Push Kick him!" Morris. Chuck's player loves the shove move, so I eventually wrote up a power-up for him to buy, and put it in the draft in a much more boring and expensive form. But Sean took it and fixed it to make it more DF-like and more appropriately DF-costed. Which is great, because while there are no doubt folks shaking their heads at the idea of not just doing maximum damage per turn, there are my guys who have needed to clear space on the battlefield and need more tools to do it.

There are others I wish I could have written. I did some of the upgraded power-ups (such as Peerless Slayer Training) but it was Sean that come up with working principle I used to make it happen. And ones like Willful Warrior that I mostly prompted into existence with "but with if . . . " questions and lots of "should it be possible do this, like so . . . ?" and "it should work like this" comments.

And that is a partial list of how some of these came about, and how you have seen them in play already, without quite realizing it . . .

I have to thank Sean for extending our Chain Belt references to yet another GURPS supplement line, though.*


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review: GURPS Locations: St. George's Cathedral

Getting my biases out of the way - I'm a credited playtester, and I have known Michele Armellini online for a bunch of years now.

Written by Michele Armellini
Published by Steve Jackson Games
32-page PDF (2.0 MB)
Stock Number SJG37-1415
Price $7.99

Preview of the PDF

The GURPS Locations series presents a single location suitable for grab-and-go gaming. They're fully worked examples, with enough details and plot hooks and color - coupled to game detail - that you can just drop them in and use them without a lot of prep. Think of the old "Citybook" series, except it's a single large location instead of a collection of smaller ones.

This one is the (fictional) St. George's Cathedral, a medieval cathedral suitable for an Yrth-based game, any game set in a medieval Europe (with or without magic - but especially with), or in a suitable ripped-off-from-Christianity religion in a fantasy game. It even works in a modern setting - with plenty of notes to tell you what's different once the filled walls now house heating vents and the locks are modern.

The Cathedral is mostly finished, although not quite. Lightning damage has set it back a bit. And politics - church and local and regional - hold it back further. You end up with a colorful location that's not static, and has a lot of easy-to-grab handles to get some use out of it. The nice thing is, most of those hooks are really player-dependent. If you just need some details on a local cathedral for someone's Remove Curse to get done in or a marriage to be performed in, fine. But if you want to offer some difficulties getting things done, and people to get involved with - it's in there as well.

Pretty much, if you need a church with some politics wrapped up into it, this is a pretty good place to start.

The upside to it being a-historical is that it's nicely balanced for game. Interesting stuff abounds, and you can modify as needed without worrying about throwing off the verisimilitude/suspension of disbelief of a player that has been to the historical church you went and changed. But it's not static nor tied down by real history although it's got all the trappings in enough detail that it helped me parse a novel's church references (oh, that's what matins are . . . )

Maps: The key bit for any location is the maps. There are two sets of maps. One is complete, and labeled, for the GM. Another set is equally well-labeled, but lacks some features (and some maps) - letting them act as handouts (and guides) for the PCs without giving away anything. No "we check for secret doors over by this mostly-erased "S" mark. I have a hunch about that spot . . . " kind of stuff here.

You could easily use this for the basis of a wrecked church, too, but it's best as a ready-made and ready-labeled cathedral map with game stats.

Game Stats: This supplement does a good job on game stats. If it can be broken into, attacked, or just broken, the text notes the HP and DR. Walls, doors, etc. The information is both inline in the text and is pulled out into a box for easy reference. Same with stats for locks.

How is it for non-GURPS GMs? As good as it gets for GURPS books. Since game stats are also explained in real terms (the roof beams are 6" wood) and game terms (DR 6, HP 26) it's easy to convert it to any other system. Well, any other system that lets you convert real terms to game terms. The book isn't so crunch-heavy that it's useless to people playing another system. It's really fluff (setting detail, character detail, descriptions) with enough crunch to make it immediately useful without looking in some other book.

Overall: I liked this book a lot. Admittedly, I got my copy as a comp copy for contributing during the draft stage, so I didn't have to buy it. I'm not generally one to buy anything unless I immediately need it for a game. But having read this, I feel like I want to use it. Maybe the city in my Dungeon Fantasy game has a mostly-finished cathedral . . . in case I ever want to expand play past the dungeon. If not, I have some handy names and personalities for my priests. It's that interesting, and that ready to go. Good enough to draw you in without being so unique that you'd need to have placed it before you started playing to avoid disrupting the setting. In short, it's an ideal drop-in.

Basically, if you need a cathedral but don't want to read up on a historical one and detail out a set of occupants and problems yourself, just get this. It's $8 for many hours worth of research you don't have to do, and for potentially hours of fun and useful game detail. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mirado the Sharp

I rolled him up, then I equipped him, but I didn't write him up in a final version. Here he is, while I have five minutes to spare and post.

I was debating back and forth - STR 18 (instead of STR 17) or DEX 14 (instead of 13.) I could take a higher ST and fight better offensively, or take DX 14, just because it opens up the option of Defensive Fighting for a -1 to be hit. Or leave CHA at 12 and hope someday to get it higher so I can get more followers.

Tough call. I went with DEX 14 because I thought he'd be more interesting if I had that option, even if I expect to only use it in extremis.

Mirado the Sharp (title subject to whimsical change)
Human Fighter
Level 1

STR 17 (+2 to hit, +2 damage, doors 1-4, +30 carry bonus)
DEX 14 (+1 to hit with missiles - stacks with STR bonus, +1 AC bonus, Defensive Fighting -1 to be hit)
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 10 (4 Special Henchmen maximum)
Luck 5 (we just get this, it sounds like the rule from DCC)
HP 8
AC 6 or 14 (not sure if Erik is using Ascending or Descending AC)
Move 12

Ring and Shield, for -4 AC, 50 lbs, and 45 gp.
Sword, Bastard (10 lbs, 20 gp) - 1d8, 1d8+1 two handed
Axe, Hand (5 lbs, 2 gp) - 1d6, thrown 1d6, ROF 1, 10 ft range
Spear (10 lbs, 1 gp) - 1d6, thrown 1d6, ROF 1, 20 ft range
Short Bow (5 lbs, 15 gp) - 1d6, ROF 2, 50 ft range
Arrows (20) (1 lb, 2 gp)
Dagger (2 lbs, 2 gp) - 1d4, thrown 1d4, ROF 1, 10 ft range
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
78 lbs of gear (next encumbrance threshold is 105 lbs)

Treasure: 0.27 gp

History: Mirado is a warrior seeking his fortune in the world. He has some pie-in-the-sky goals about ruling a kingdom, but otherwise he's pretty down-to-earth. He changes his title as fortune smiles or spits upon him, as he sees it. He's brave but not especially foolish.

Notes: I'll edit in damage details later, my open free time window just closed.

Editing later:

-Fixed Wisdom, which I forgot to knock down 2 points for the +1 to DEX.
- Added damage to weapons.
- Still need to find out how much my non-weapon non-armor gear weighs.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics: The Role Playing Game

I haven't played this game, only read the book. So my review is merely my impression of how this game reads and seems. Actual play might result in a very different game. Or it might not. But I can only review it based on how it reads
I put in this disclaimer because nothing seems more like a lightning rod for complaint than reviewing an RPG and saving you don't love it. If you disagree with my review, please feel free to comment below, or write your own review! The authors will surely appreciate it.

Dungeon Crawl Classics
by Joseph Goodman
480 pages (including full-page art and ads at the end)

Dungeon Crawl Classics, if you haven't heard of it yet, is a old-school style roleplaying game. It's not a retro-clone, it's a retro-style new RPG that shares a lot of traits with D&D and old-school clones. AD&D Plus Rolemaster, perhaps set in Dying Earth - That's my TL;DR, elevator pitch description of DCC.

Like AD&D, it's class and level, random backgrounds for your PC, vulnerable to sudden death from a variety of monsters. It also uses a wide variety of dice, including d7s, d16s, and d30s. Like Rolemaster, there is seemingly a chart for everything. If you flip open a random page in the book, you're likely to find a table to roll on. I'd say DCC has more charts than the version of Rolemaster I played in the 80s. Also like Rolemaster, gruesomely specific critical hit tables give a potentially splatter effect to combat. Spell casting is automatically inherently risky and can fail catastrophically.

And like Dying Earth, magic is inherently risky and can fail catastrophically. Magic items are rare and possibly dangerous. The gods and demons and whatnot resent you if they notice you at all. Everything is always at risk, and only cleverness and power can let you keep what you have or gain more.

So it's got that Dying Earth vibe set to mechanics that feel like what if you ran AD&D and used Arms Law/Claw Law/Spell Law as advertised - as supplements to the game. It does have a lot of D&D 3e feel to it, though - more streamlined mechanics around Saving Throws or attacks, more direct rules support for heroics.

The game uses an interesting mechanic called the dice chain - harder-than-normal attempts or disadvantaged attempts at rolls use a lower die (instead of d20 to hit, you might roll a d16, or a d24, depending on getting a malus or bonus). For example, fighters use a d20 to roll to hit, but if you wield two weapons you roll a pair of d16s - less likely to hit, but you get two chances at it. Higher level types get an extra die to roll, making the terrible failures that come with a low roll less likely and opening up more spectacular successes.

The game also opens with zero-level characters. Each player is advised to make several of them, and to allow luck and play to whittle them down to a single PC to continue playing from 1st level on. It's like N4 Treasure Hunt, only with more lethal rules and an expectation that many will die.

Spell casting, as mentioned earlier, is dangerous. As far as I can tell, every spell has its own full-page description and a table of possible results depending on how well or how badly you roll. The critical hits are much the same - very descriptive, amusing to consult, and no doubt fun in play.

The book is extremely attractive. It is filled with pictures, by old-school artists like Russ Nicholson, Roslof, and Erol Otus, as well as newer artists inspired by those guys, like Stephen Poag and Doug Kovacs. Art is everywhere, there are easy-to-read tables and large fonts, and art matches the text well. Some of it is used cleverly, but at the expense of some readability - the various guilds/groups in the world have their descriptions posted up along the edges of art scenes, angled as if part of the art. But that can make it hard to read, or at least it did for me.

There are lots of little things that bugged me - places where the book contradicts itself, or runs on too long making a point. Like where it comes out and says "Starting characters are peasants and serfs who have never held a gold piece in their hands." Very cool and evocative, but it's contradicted by possible starting occupations like "Noble" (comes with a gold ring) or "Merchant" (comes with some gold pieces.) "Most starting characters" might sound less cool, but when I read that I immediately flipped back to the random list, thinking, no, that's not what you said earlier. It happens a few other places, like the full-page section on treasure that asks "how does a sage charge 20, 50, or 100 gold pieces for a single consultation" as a rhetorical question skewering coin-based adventuring-based economies but then lists sages a few pages later that charge 10-30 gold pieces for a consultation. The book also spends almost an entire page on why big treasure hordes in cash don't make sense, but ends with a suggestion to just use any established treasure system, from another game system, that you prefer. That felt like a let-down - if treasure is different in DCC's world, give me a system for it. If it isn't, why explain how it is when porting another game's rules will match that system's treasure results? It's contradictions like that make me wonder which bit I should actually trust, or if there are other contradictions I didn't notice reading that will come up when I play.

Other little bits bothered me as well - how many times do Heroic Actions need explanation (first as some "examples" and later as more concrete rules for trying them)? How many times do conflicting curses cancelling each other out (both with Cugel's curse dodge from Dying Earth as the paraphrased example) need to get mentioned? And why does, for example, the Wizard get their level titles listed "Chaotic" and "Lawful" and "Neutral" while the Dwarf has them "Lawful" "Chaotic" and "Neutral" and the Cleric "Law" "Chaos" and "Neutral?" Nitpicky, perhaps, but I'm used to getting my work stringently edited and I find this kind of thing annoying. Or how many times do I need that author-to-reader "no really, play it this way, it's the old school way" kind of advice? I prefer to hear that once, and then have the nature of the rules and setting reinforce it, but it feels like it comes up very often on a read-through.

It's got a built-in setting, as well - specific gods and demons. Magic items are rare, unique, and unlucky for the user - any magic sword and most more-than-minor magic items give a luck penalty. Which sucks for would-be heroes, because the monsters are plentiful, many-varied, and often need magic weapons and some luck to defeat. NPCs are generally low-level. There is a thriving medieval economy, with limited cash. Information is rare and valuable, travel is slow and dangerous, and the world feels dark and somewhat bleak - not a bad place for adventures.

But there is a lot to like, here. The game clearly wants magic to be tempting, but cool and dangerous. It's that, in spades, and even allows for magic duels using a special system to allow for direct spell dueling. Learning new spells is more a matter of luck and effort than picking off a list, which is also cool. The monsters are, like I said, varied. Pretty much instead of choosing a given type for a monster, DCC chose all types. Do manticores have scorpion tails or shoot spikes? Some do one and some do the other! The magic sword rules make for some crazy-cool magic swords, but their inherent unluckiness and often . . . forceful personalities makes wielding one as risky as casting spells, it seems.

Overall: I'd be willing to give the game a shot, but I can't see myself running it. It's a big, big chunk of rules to digest if I really want to take advantage of its uniqueness. It gives the feel that it isn't optional detail but expected and basic rules to be used. Playing it would be okay, but again, big chunk of rules to digest. I expect I'd just let the GM tell me what happened when I declared actions and see what happened. Having a stripped down "this is all you need to play, the rest is just extra fun detail" booklet might help.

Overall, I'd suggest giving it a look, but $59.99 is steep unless you're sure this is what you want to play.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

DF Felltower NPCs: Korric and Orrie

Here are two more NPCs from my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy "Felltower" game. Korric and Orrie were generated to fill in details for two men-at-arms in the module B2, which my players romped through as a warmup for the actual megadungeon game play.

Korric and Orrie

Korric and Orrie were originally soldiers from Arras, a western city state, who traveled with the merchant to the keep and got nabbed by raiding hobgoblins. They were rescued by some adventurers who raided the hobgoblins in turn. They served the group briefly in return for room and board but since have since taken up employment as guards at Falcon's Keep. They occasionally travel to Stericksburg while guarding caravans, and might be persuaded to take up halberds and explore the sinister ruins of Felltower.

ST 13 HP 13 Speed 6.00
DX 11 Will 10 Move 5
IQ 10 Per 10
HT 12 FP 12
Dodge 8 Parry (Polearm) 9 9+DB Block 9+DB

Dueling Halberd (13): 2d+3 cut, Reach 1,2* Parry U; 2d+2 imp, Reach 1,2* Parry U; 1d+3 imp, Reach 1,2*)
Large Knife (12): 2d-2 cut (C, 1) or 1d impale (C).

Traits: Code of Honor (Soldier's); Compulsive Carousing (12); Sense of Duty (Rescuers); Teamwork; Wealth (Struggling).
Skills: Armoury (Melee Weapons)-10; Brawling-11; Carousing-12; Knife-12; Polearm-13; Sumo Wrestling-10; Stealth-12.
Equipment: Boots (DR2), Clothing; Dueling Halberd, Large Knife; Leather Armor (DR2), Personal Basics; Pouch; Pot Helm (DR4, skull); Wineskin (1 quart capacity).

Notes: Korric and Orrie have the same Teamwork perk, and can take advantage of either other's Feints.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ensuring No Prep is Wasted Prep

This sprang out of a series of comments on Google+ on one of my posts. Basically, I said to offer rewarding hooks to the PCs if you want them to try new things. But the idea was at least partly rejected as being wasted work - why prep things no one wants?

Thinking it over I realize that fundamentally with a sandbox type of play, and with repetitive use of the same play area (game to game, session to session, campaign to campaign) that to my mind there is no wasted prep. No prep is unnecessary prep, if you know what to do with it when it gets "wasted." Even if the players don't want to interact with the stuff now (or "ever"), it's not wasted if you know what you can use it for.

I think I feel this way because of the style of game I run - a sandboxy megadungeon. The PCs keep coming back to the same place, and if they don't go left today they might do it tomorrow. If they don't run down a tasty rumor this session, they might ten sessions from now. And if they do go too far in one direction I wasn't ready for, well, I have tool to quickly fill in the gaps. And I have clever ways to stall them without discouraging them from keeping on in that direction.

But what if the prep is for someplace the PCs never go, or for interactions the PCs don't intend to have? Or if you overdid the prep a bit, and went beyond a useful work:reward ratio. You started naming each goblin in the random patrol they might not encounter, detailed all the stock in the stockroom at the inn they'll never visit, or drew up dungeons in places they have no intention of going. Now what?

Repurpose - the first thing you can do is re-purpose the details. Find another way to use that prep.

Names for the goblin patrol? You can re-use those names when they capture a bunch of goblins.
Stock at the inn? Ready made list for the next inn they go in. Or the next stockroom they happen to duck into and search.
Dungeon all drawn up? File the names off (if they matter) and place it where they are going.
Diplomatic mission all detailed, but the PCs never meet them? This can suddenly become stuff found on the corpses of the dead diplomats when the PCs stumble across them.

Reuse - lot of prep is reusable prep, either in whole or in part. Monsters, treasures, NPCs, etc. - all of them are there to use again and again.

Dungeons can be re-stocked.
Monster encounters can be bypassed now, but then turn out to have important stuff people need later.
Diplomatic mission details can be re-used when the King keeps sending the same folks out to do his negotiating. They might not get met in play, but they can provide a steady background to setting by always being around and name-dropped by the GM in rumors and news.

Re-play - Even more simply, just keep running games on the same world. If every fantasy game you play is in Greyhawk, then "wasted" prep on the border wars in the region where you dungeon-bashing party simply raided dungeons is still good prep. It's now a rich background of events, with player-driven causes and ends, in a play area you can re-use with different players or the same ones playing a different style.

One of my gamers once played in a Rolemaster game set in a world that had been cataclysmically altered by a previous group of PCs. What made the world so fascinating for him to play (and me to hear about) was the trashed world had been trashed by the GM's previous group. Nothing felt forced, and the drive to investigate what the previous group did fed game play.

As low-detail as my own Felltower game's gameworld is, little bits keep emerging that make it a good place to set another Dungeon Fantasy game, or even a larger fantasy game if I ever feel like running one. So the little scattered stub ends that say "fill me in if someone cares to do this" make for a potentially richer play area sometime later. And even if they don't, the fact that these little bits (the cities of Cashamash and Molotov, the keep on the borderlands, names of holy inquisitors, hints of other dungeons) make the world feel deeper, richer, and endless. And because I can re-use and re-purpose and replay, it really is all of those things.

That's why I feel like no prep is wasted prep, with this approach to the game.

Friday, November 15, 2013

New GURPS megadungeon blog

There is a new blog centered on GURPS dungeon-delving in a megadungeon.

Spiderweb in the Corner

It just got started but it's already interesting. Not just because I get named-checked, although that doesn't hurt.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how someone else builds and runs a gigantic dungeon in GURPS.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tricks: The Look Alike Monster

This is another in my series of posts looking at Trick Monsters - the ones that use some kind of interesting or surprising change that makes them a bit different than a straightforward monster encounter.

Some monsters look like other monsters.

The look-alike monster has the superficial appearance of another monster, either more dangerous or less dangerous. The goal here is to confuse the players into either underestimating a monster (and thus being taken by surprise by the threat) or overestimating the monster (and wasting resources or falling into some trap).

Usually the look-alike is paired with some other awful trait punish you for trying a tried-and-true tactic against a different monster. Sure, mummies are vulnerable to fire, but these mummies are fireproof (or worse, burn like torches for hours while they grapple you.) This looks like a normal skeleton, but it's a lich. Or even, it looks like a chest, floor, or ceiling, until you get a bit too close . . .

This is a bit different from a merely upgraded monster - a leader-type orc or a more powerful ghost or the troll king. Those usually have some defining trait to make them clearly a different monster. What I'm talking here is ones that are functionally identical; where what you see isn't what you get, and clues are an after-the-fact thing.

Some classics:

Gas Spore - looks like a Beholder, actually a flying bomb. This is a trick in two ways - if you engage it as if it was a beholder, you're probably wasting resources blasting it with everything you've got right the get-go. If you don't, you risk it getting close in and doing bad things to you. And either way, if it's too close when you successfully engage it, it will explode and possibly kill you.

Nilbog - Totally unfair monsters from the awesome-filled AD&D Fiend Folio. They look like goblins, but you can't kill them by hitting them. Oh, and you could end up losing your treasure from encountering them, too.

Shapeshifters - pretty much any shapeshifter monster falls under this, either because it's acting like it's not a monster (the Choke Brothers, Throttlers from my own game), or because it's taken the appearance of something weaker with a weakness the shapeshifter lacks (a werewolf in wolf form, say, unkillable without silver).

Reeks - from Yrth, these all look the same, but their powers range wildly from mildly caustic up to spell-casting (or possibly psionic.)


I'm not aware of any variations per se - once it doesn't look like the original monster it's not a look-alike. You do get a wide variation in what is different, though.

It's a Trap! - The exploding monsters, sticky versions of monsters, etc - the ones that make it bad to kill them.

I love silver! - some have different vulnerabilities. Looks like a werewolf, but it's not, so silver doesn't affect it - you need something else to bother it. Looks like a demon, but it isn't, so all that holy symbol waving gets you no where.

I come in peace! - friendly versions of monsters are there to show the cost to shoot-first policies. You know, the whole "we look like trolls, but we're peaceful gift-bearing travelers from the dimension of ----aaagh! Not fire! Aaaaa----what we could have taught you . . . " bit.

I'm a big fan of trick monsters, but I confess I use relatively few of these. Generally I prefer to give a clue - even a weak clue - that the monster is different. Or just use a different monster. But hey, gas spores. And I'm not saying my reeks can't be spellcasters or telepathic death slimes, just because they all look alike . . .

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Random Thoughts 11/13 - Ogre in the house

Ogre Designer's Edition arrived yesterday . . . so I will be spending a bit of time opening it open and checking it out today. Not much because I have a lot of work to do, but it'll get opened.

It's big - very big. I can't call 28 pounds heavy, although that's certainly heavy for a game. It's certainly too big to bring anywhere, or put on the top shelf. I do need to pick up a few copies of the Pocket Ogre edition when it rolls out for $2.95, if only to give out as gifts or prizes for students who beat me at games of skill.

Writing - I am still working on a couple of articles with a co-author, one DF-related and the other . . . DF-related. It happens. My writing tends to center on what I'm playing. I also got a final review look at another DF-related article I co-authored with Sean Punch. Hurrah! Not sure when it'll come out, but it came out well. More stuff for your DF characters to play with, that is, if they like hitting stuff.

Minis - No painting. I always stop painting when it gets cold. I have two almost-finished monsters that I might need, though, and I'll quickly finish them if the PCs head down to level (redacted) of my dungeon.

Reading - I will try to get post about my read-through of DCC and one of St. George's Cathedral up soon.

Felltower - more NPCs are on the way - probably another one on a non-gaming Sunday. I'll take requests to stat up guys from Df15 that aren't from my game, too, if someone just wants to see how a certain type of henchmen looks all worked out for play.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Player-GM Wants Mismatch

There is an interesting thread over on the SJG forums about choosing a "DF" game (GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, a roguelike with pen and paper as my player described it) or a "fantasy" game (a much broader game.)

A somewhat tangential discussion has sprung up about what I refer to as a player-GM wants mismatch. That is, what the GM wants to run and what the players want to play doesn't overlap.

Basically, what if you provide the players with a game that rewards exploration, politics, and diplomacy and downplays looting dungeons, but the players show up session after session and just want to loot dungeons? Or vice-versa, although I suspect that is rarer ("But I wanted to negotiate with the ambassador from Nextdooristan, not fight the dragon! Lame!")

It's not only this type of game. If you provide a hexcrawl and the only things the players want to do is find a hex with a dungeon near a hex with a town and stay until they've cleared it, you've got a similar problem. Or if you set up a megadungeon and the players just poke around on level 1 and then leave, hoping to explore the world you didn't bother to populate or map. Or you give them a starship to explore the universe and they plunk down in the nearest starport, buy a bar, and serve drinks.

It's tempting as the GM to punish the "wrong" behavior. "Killing the orcs in the dungeon is illegal, we have a treaty with them. And the crown claims 50% of the loot as taxable income, plus a 100% penalty for your crimes!" Okay, sure, but if everyone signed up intending to play orcslayers?

It's not railroading (although it can be). It's really a mismatch between the game the players want to play ("In this world, it's okay to go into tunnels and fight monsters and take their stuff - in fact, it's expected that we do this") vs. a different expectation from the GM ("In this world, dungeon-bashing is illegal, impossible, or sanctioned, and you will be rewarded for exploration and politicking.") What the players want and expect to do is different from what the GM wants to run and expects the players to do.

So what do you do if you've got some awesome ideas as the GM, but the players have a different idea of what is fun?

The only solution I have for this, besides "find a game you all want to play" is to offer hooks to the players to draw them into the game you'd like to run, and reward them if they bite.

That's very different from punishing them if they don't.

An example of punishing might be: "You loot the dungeon, and now thieves have moved in and started raiding the neighboring country, starting a war. If you don't act as diplomats and stop the war, it'll impact your every action. Prices rise across the whole country, it's not safe to wander around looking for dungeons, people treat you funny because they assume if you're not on their side you are mercs for the other side, and all of this lasts until you get involved in the politics!"

A better offering rewards might be: "You looted the dungeon, and now thieves have moved in and started raiding the neighboring country, starting a war. You're responsible and the King's men require you to lead a punitive expedition against the bandits, and repel the attack of the neighboring country. The diplomats will smooth it over, but only if there is a victory. Of course, if you choose to act as the diplomats, there are some additional rewards out there . . . titles, influence, social power . . ."

The first punishes the players for doing what they want to do in the game (bash, kill, loot) without doing what you'd like them to do (politic, negotiate, travel). The second lets them do what they want (bash, kill, loot), and then offers them more, with a bonus if they do what you'd like them to try doing (politic, negotiate, travel). Both feature a living world, but only one of them forces the players to spend time on stuff they don't like in order to do the stuff they do like.

Essentially the idea is, keep putting the possible upsides and interesting in-game complications, and the fun there can be in resolving it, in front of the players. Keep baiting the hook and let it dangle. They may bite. If they don't, and you're really not having fun GMing the game they want to play, end it and move on. It'll end either way; you may as well end it before it gets ugly.

My previous campaign had a lot more plot and politics, although nothing really forced on the players. Generally they got what they asked for and then some - it's just that they often asked for trouble. It was a lot of fun, and lasted for years (1999-2010, although while I was living abroad we only got in a few sessions a year). Still, we got burned out on "the big campaign" a bit, so when the game ended we didn't pick up a new game. We took a break and played board games for a while until we tried a DF one-shot. That scratched the fantasy gaming itch in just the right way for us, which is why we've got 30-odd sessions under our belts and have been playing since late 2011. It's the game we all want to play. I think, in the long run, that's the only kind of game that will last.
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