Monday, September 30, 2013

Just Wait Until Our Heroic Archer Gets Here

The end of last session.

"If either of our scouts were here, it would be all over but the crying."

The PCs, menaced by a squad of orcs, orc brutes, orc shamans, and ogres. Lack of the right tool for the job. But next time, I'm sure, they'll be ready.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

DF Game, Session 34 - Playing With Statues

September 29th, 2013

Weather: Cool, cloudy

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (274 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (313 points)
     Father Hans, human cleric (130 points, NPC)
     Shieldman Zed, human guard (62 points, NPC)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (373 points)
     Deadeye Slim, human slinger (?? points, NPC)
     Blackbart aka Bort, aka John Blackbart, human beardman, er, swordsman (?? points, NPC)
     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)

This whole session was spent, basically, playing around with statues.

We started in town, with people gathering rumors and carousing and ordering magical gear. Not much restocking, since there was no combat last session. One rumor in particular annoyed them - some drunk asked Vryce - are you still looking for that gnome? He was here this past week, came down the mountain and bought some stuff and headed back up. Grr.

Once things got rolling, the group picked up some freebie volunteer hirelings and headed out. They got a wild-eyed bearded swordsman with a rusty sword, a young slinger of no means, and Gort of the Shining Force, a veteran dwarven adventurer who came out of retirement to scratch that old treasure-hunting itch.

They headed up, and chose to enter via the bugbear's tunnels (as tight of a fit as that is for Chuck) and crawl into the dungeon, thus putting them close to their objective - the missing head they'd located with Seeker and Trace last time. They were sure it was by the wights, and headed in that direction.

They made it to the gargoyles unmolested, but the gargoyles heard them coming - and got out of the way. Two fled ahead of them, and they effectively herded them into a long room that ended with a half-bricked up wall they'd sealed the wights behind after their first encounter. Something had knocked that wall down, and something (else?) had bricked it up. The gargoyles they'd heard were hiding in the far corner, using their natural camouflage to blend in with the stone. The PCs didn't want a fight, and Dryst refuses to try to capture and Enslave any of them except his "son." Halfling parenting is pretty harsh. So they moved along one wall, and made shooing motions to the gargoyles. The gargoyles took the hint and fled. They're cowardly and the PCs made it pretty clear they can make them dead if they want to.

Dryst put Silence on the wall and used Create Object to give a sledgehammer to Chuck Morris, who charged up Power Blow and Breaking Blow and smashed the wall down. It went down, setting off three embedded flash nageteppo, and a Silence-countered audible spell. Someone clearly set this up.

They quickly headed down the hallway, using a re-cast Trace on the head to pinpoint its location. They moved into the maze of storerooms they'd fought the wights in, and then across the battlefield they'd finished them off on. From there, they found the head was at least 15' beyond the back wall of one of the storerooms. Not wanting to spend time finding a way around (since a quick look told them might not be handy), they decided to go through.

Several (Silenced) Power Blows/Breaking Blows with the sledgehammer and a few Shape Earth spells (and long rests in between), and they'd made a 10' long, 3' diameter tunnel into a similar storeroom facing the other way. In it were a half-dozen statues of various sizes, and the stone head from last trip's magical statue.

Four of those statues were 7' stone men, with two-handed flails, looking exactly like the golems they'd fought several times. So they basically moved everyone in the other room, stationed Dryst in the tunnel, and got ready to pound one of them. Dryst Great Hasted everyone in turn, and once the last guy was hasted, they attacked. It wasn't a fight, exactly. The first "golem" broke up under the massive assault of Chuck Morris. The next Vryce split in two in a second, and the third Raggi toppled pretty quickly. They realized these weren't golems, at least not yet - either from lack of a trigger activating them, or lack of enchantment. Either way, they smashed the last one to pieces.

They moved the big head, but someone had stuck a lidless death grenade under it - and Chuck, Raggi, and Vryce were nearby. All were caught in it, but they all shrugged off most of the effects. They're tough that way.

They investigated the rest of the statues - a pair of praying hands in marble (smallish, but 165 lbs), a clay statue of two women embracing (big, and 665 lbs), a porcelain statue of a leaping dolphin (50 lbs), and a wooden statue of Baron Sterick (160 lbs). Long story short, they examined the Sterick statue closely, and found it good but not perfect (and clearly chiseled from a single piece of cedar), but with its base marred. Nothing was under it, and an Ancient History spell didn't reveal anything too interesting, just that someone had deliberately axed Sterick's name off the base.

They went back the way they came, lugging the head (and the dolphin statue, just in case they couldn't make it back for the rest of the loot). They passed (and scared away) the gargoyles again. They made it to the statue room, and placed the head on top. It glowed, and magically sealed itself back together. Dryst (temporarily run by Vryce's player) realized too late that Identify Spell might have been revealing. Ah well. The statue then spoke to them, saying something to the effect that, now they needed to find the other seven heads. When they did, they would be rewarded by the "Seven Saints of Felltower." There are seven more heads missing, and they picked one and used Seeker and located it - a bit further down, at least two levels down, they decided (since it was like 45-50 feet below them, give or take.)

They headed back to the statues, to take them as loot. They scared off the gargoyles, again, and went back to the statue storage room. They searched around outside the room, but found nothing of interest in the nearby rooms. They couldn't find a way out, either, although they found a secret door leading to tunnels much like the bugbear's, behind a cunningly crafted tunnel cap. No one besides Dryst could fit in after a short distance, so in he went accompanied by a similar-sized magical servant. Dryst used Seek Earth and located silver and gold, in a chest, buried in rock nearby but also about 50' below. No way to get to it, so he headed back.

From there, they widened out the tunnel between store rooms, and lugged out the statue of Sterick, the dolphin statue, and the praying hands statue, and headed to the main entrance.

They hadn't been that way in a long time, but they used some caution. Good thing, because as they tried the door into the main entrance, the "pillbox" arrow slits opened and arrows shot out. Deadeye slim took a shot and went down, poisoned (he'd live, but barely.) As the group tried to deal with the threat, Chuck used Power Blow to yank the metal door open and succeeded. Dryst tossed a Concussion into the room, after spying some orcs - the source of the arrows. It blew off and hurt (and stunned) them, but then he realized Create Fire was better and started in on that. As the group pushed into the entrance, Dryst lit the "pillbox" on fire, and Chuck and Vryce lifted the portcullis.

What was beyond it wasn't encouraging - the pillbox was largely neutralized but a big squad of orcs, backed by some evil-looking dogs, came down the stairs into the dungeon and assembled on the far side of the pit. They realized they'd had to fight their way across (via Walk on Air and a frontal assault by Vryce) while they deal with orcs shooting at them from behind. Dryst was all for this, but Vryce thought it was foolish to bet they could beat them and risk a disaster for little benefit. This would mean leaving the dungeon via the bugbear tunnels, which mean leaving the Sterick statue behind. So they did that - they retreated back, as well over a dozen orcs, backed by big brute orcs, shaman, dogs, and at least two ogres came down into the dungeon. They went back past the (now surely terrorized) gargoyles, found a room to stash "Wooden Sterick" in, and did so - only to find the door was trapped with an oozing doom grenade. They avoided it thanks to Chuck forcing the door so hard it set off the trap away from him, not on him, and stuck the statue in anyway. They decided they'd come back for it, and check it for traps when they did.

They crawled out of the bugbear tunnels, with Raggi trying to hide their tracks as Dryst masked the way out with an illusion of a blank wall. They heard a lot of commotion at the ruins - similar to the orc horns they'd heard in the dungeon.

They did manage to make it back to town, though, and sold off their loot - it amounted to a mere handful of coins, as the statues sold for 40% of their list cost. They ended up having to dig into their previous loot to pay off their henchmen (only Father Hans, really).


Not a profitable trip, but they got some stuff done.

This wasn't our most focused session. I blame me - I didn't really stay focused on the game and keeping people moving, so things moved pretty slowly. Started slowly, went slowly. Picked up near the end, but I think I need to start getting back to putting on the music, getting the ball rolling, and forcing the pace a little. Not that it wasn't fun, but I feel like I took too long to get things developing.

All-Out Concentrate worked really well for Chuck Morris, who used it for a couple of out-of-combat feats of strength with Power Blow and Breaking Blow. One turn of AOC for a +4 reduces the penalty for Power Blow to a mere net -1 (-5, +4). This really let him go for it and multiplied his value out of combat. And his value out of combat for breaking stuff and feats of strength is already pretty high. ST 13 seems low until you realize he's casually throwing 1 FP and making that ST 26.

In response to a question from Vryce, I announced that yes, meteoric iron sling bullets are available. But while lead is $0.10 a shot, iron would be $1/shot, making meteoric $20/shot. Not a bad markup for the meteor dribblings they can't turn into other things, and cheap enough. Beware, wizards, of anti-mage slingers.

Gort got his name and title because Vryce's son was playing a Sega game called Shining Force, and met Gort, a crusty old adventurer in the tavern while they were looking for cheap hirelings. So naturally I threw him in, and made him a dwarf (using an old Citadel mini I got pre-painted, I don't remember by whom. Off eBay, surely, maybe as a throw-in with some orcs I got about 12 years back in an auction.) Gort tells a lot of stories, and answered any and all requests with stories about his adventuring past. "Is this new construction?" "Oh yes, it is. Back in my day we dwarves were all about new construction, and sloping passages. Could have just used a marble, instead." "What's a marble?" "A dwarven sloping passage detector." Anything - "Back when I used to guard the rear, we used to blah blah blah." And so on. Lots of fun. And who or what is the Shining Force? Well, pull up a chair sonny, this is a long story. It was back when I was a young adventurer like yourself, and, in those days we'd have to walk uphill both days to and from the dungeon. Oh, wake up there young fella, you started dozing off . . .

Saturday, September 28, 2013

All-Out Concentrate - Yes, But With Concerns

Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch mentioned an interesting house rule the other day - the idea of All-Out Concentrate giving a +1 or +4, depending on what skills it is used on.

The whole thread is here:

but the specific posts in question are these two:

So, All-Out Concentrate (and give up your defenses) for the entire series of Concentrate maneuvers you need, and you get a +1 or +4 to your roll.

What is the concern?

Here are mine.

Need to Accumulate Rulings - What I'm concerned about is that effectively ruling some physical/touch/melee type skills get a +4 and others get a +1 is that I'll need to decide which ones those are. For some - Power Blow, Breaking Blow - it's pretty obvious. For others, it's not so clear.

Spells - I'm also concerned that I'm basically saying non-combat spell use is at a +1. After all, why wouldn't you All-Out Concentrate out of combat? So all Seek Earth, Seeker, Lockmaster, Dark Vision, etc. spell uses are at +1. Always - no one ever has any reason not to do it. So I will try this tomorrow if everyone is okay with it, but I'm on the fence - I might just say no, there is no AOC for spells. Or rather, just say AOC works for Will-based actions, not IQ or DX based actions. Seems a little unfair, perhaps, but +1 to all spells out of combat and +1 to spells in combat when nothing can attack you is a big deal. Players cast many spells in my games, and the margin of success or failure is often 1 point, so this is essentially pushing a lot of the iffy spell casts into "Yes, it works" territory.

But for Will-based powers, maybe a +4 (physical, touch stuff) or +1 (stuff that works at range) isn't a bad idea. We'll see. I'll see how everyone reacts to it tomorrow (and how I feel at game time), but I'm persuaded to at least give it a fair shake!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Enchantment Speed in my DF Game

This question came up in my game, via email, and I figured I'd write the answer down for all to see.

How long does it take to get something enchanted

Up to 100 points, it can be done in a single day.

Above that, it's Slow & Sure Enchantment.

Per GURPS Magic, Slow & Sure is 1 point of energy per wizard per day.

Also, I assume a skill-20 master enchanter, with 5 assistants. This brings the skill of the item down to 15, for a Power 15 item. Only one circle can enchant an item at a time.

To make it simple, they don't take days off.

So for example, Lighten on a full suit of armor costs 500 points (and $10,000.) It takes a circle of 6 wizards 500/6 = 83.33 or 84 days to enchant the item. During that time, they need full unfettered access to it.

Technically, you could swipe it and return it within 15 hours, but anything that messes it up will mess up the enchantment, and you have to pay in advance, so that's a terrible idea.

In any case, I run 1 real day = 1 game day, so according to this site if that was ordered this Sunday (9/29), it would be done 12/22. Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas!

I want a rush job!

There is a way to get it done faster.

Talk to Black Jans, the Wizard of the Northern Marches, Master of the Black Hand, First Enchanter of Cashamash, etc., etc. He's the strange wizard whose tower just appeared in a previously empty part of Stericksburg just before Session 18, down an alley that used to be a dead end. His tower is sometimes in Stericksburg, and sometimes is mysteriously gone from the city.

If he's around, and he's willing to do it (reaction roll, every time), he'll enchant any item you want in one week, for double cost.

That Lighten spell? One good reaction roll (bribes, gifts, and not being a social misanthrope all might help), double cost ($20,000), and one week. And done.

So why would anyone use the slow method?

Double cost is still double cost.

And Black Jans's tower isn't always there.

And he doesn't always agree to do things. Well, technically, no one has met him, only his mysterious servant(s), the Kio. It, or they (it depends) are the ones who deal on his behalf.

Out of game, he's a great deal, and he's there to expedite the whole process, let me occasionally give people quick enchantment, and otherwise keep things moving. Also, it's a tempting money drain. The enchanters are cheaper and slower, and a good idea if you've got an item you want done and have a spare one/spare set to use in the meantime. It's get some good rolls and pay a lot, or just pay the going rate and get it for sure . . . later.

And that's how I'm doing it.

(And I've noticed that Total Party Teleport I and II were extremely pivotal sessions in my game. Many things were discovered, many things happened, and many events started to roll from there. All because Nakar bullied everyone into a "shortcut" that he clearly didn't fully understand how to use . . . )

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Crossbow Slings are Pretty Cool Actually . . .

I think the Crossbow Sling from DF1 is a seriously underlooked item. At least in my games.

It's pretty cheap - $200.

It's light - only 2 lbs!

And it lets you carry a loaded crossbow hands-free, a Ready action away from firing. And it keeps it from breaking on a drop (since it just re-slings away from your hands.)

Way back in Man-to-Man, our favorite purchase was a high-ST crossbow and a single quarrel. You'd walk into the fight with it out, take a single shot, hoping for a disabling hit. Then you'd drop it and melee since it took too damn long to reload.

Players did that in my fantasy games, too, risking breakage from dropping the crossbow. They'd deal with loading and reloading it daily, the worries of dropping the bolt or securing it in place.

But the crossbow sling turns the $150/6 lbs one-shot weapon in to a $350/8 lbs weapon that's ready to hand when you need it. And if you have a really strong friend, you don't need a heavy windlass to re-load it. It's just "pass it over to the Barbarian." So you just need to get one barely able to be loaded by your friend, sling it, and Ready it when you need to take the shot, then drop it as a free action. With a typical DF party, ST 21-22 isn't even slightly unreasonable, and a ST 22 crossbow does 2d+4 impale . . . more with poison.

Yes, it's mostly a big ridiculous, but hey, you're going into tunnels to kill monsters, you have to expect some silliness.

And yet it doesn't get used too much in my games.

Perhaps until after right now when my players read this and buy them in bunches.

Any equipment you think is awesome but overlooked in play?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Upside of Other People Imagining For You

The Afterward of Dungeons & Dragons, Book 3, reads:

"There are unquestionably areas which have been glossed over. While we deeply regret the necessity, space requires that we put in the essentials only, and the trimming will oftimes have to be added by the referee and his players. We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you? Write to us and tell about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing."

There is an oft-quoted part of that - "why have us do any more of your imagining for you?"

I think about that one fairly often.

Part of it is kind of ironic - it's a failure to see that yes, that's exactly what people wanted from TSR. TSR published graph paper and geomorphs and such, but it's their adventure modules and monster books and rules expansions that sold so well. And people bought them and still buy them - and there are people today running companies that do nothing but make more supplements for D&D-based games.

Is there any RPG out there with as many supplements as D&D has adventure supplements alone, nevermind supplements in general? I doubt it.

One explanation for this is that people are consumers, are sheep, are intellectually lazy.

I think that explanation is a bit lazy. It might be partly true, but it's not complete.

Part of why people wanted so much more of Gygax's writing, and other official stuff, was because it's easier than doing it yourself. But it misses something.

Seeing what other people imagined is fun. It's valuable. It's interesting. It sparks your own imagination in ways it might not have gone. It's especially interesting when you've started with the same baseline, and you see where their imagination took them - what it shares with yours and how it differs.

Isn't that how D&D originated, basically? Gygax and Arneson taking each other's ideas, expanding them, interpreting them in new ways, and handing them back to the other for more modification? Maybe in relatively few iterations, but that's it right there. And it didn't stop. Supplement I: Greyhawk is basically the big book of what happened when Gygax & Arneson's rules met Gygax's players on a regular basis.

This is why, despite not running D&D anymore, I still read other people's D&D adventures. This is why I like reading other people's session reports on their games (often without regard to system).

This is why I've got a shelf full of gaming stuff. It's not because I'm unimaginative, or a sheep following a herd, or uncreative, or whatever. It's because what's there sparks me to make my own things in ways I wouldn't have if I didn't see what others did first.

Now, I need to get back to writing. See, another GURPS author showed me something he's working on that's overlapping with something I'm working on. And what I wrote after that was far superior to what I wrote on my own - because I could springboard off of what he thought of. The cycle continues.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Random Notes 9/24

Just some random notes.

Writing - I'm working on something that involves things I created for my own DF game and have been testing in play. Taking your house rules for a game and turning them into a supplement has some old roots, doesn't it?

We'll see how and when it gets published.

Painting - The September Slump is upon us! When we get that first cold snap, I find my painting drops off a lot. So it went this year too - I just suddenly stop painting. I have minis 80-90% complete just looking at me here, and they aren't getting done. I'll get back into it.

Stocking My Dungeon - We're gaming Sunday, so I better go onto this. But I haven't, I've been distracted. Lucky I pre-restocked a lot of my dungeon. Still there are sections I've tossed some notes down on but didn't work out the details for, and I need to get to them.

Contrary Indicator Reviews - I've realized that all the dungeons I liked in Dungeon magazine are the ones the reviewer over at tenfootpole disliked. Well, not all of them, but it's surprising how many get ripped as bad but were ones I used very successfully in play. One he didn't like in issue #1 I even blogged about, and someone who played it remembered it and which character went through it. I just goes to show that Actual Play can vary from what it looks like something will be like on paper, and how different people have different wants and needs from adventure supplements.

Okay, back to writing.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Getting closer to GMing online

I'm getting closer to running at least a single one-off online game set in my "Felltower" megadungeon.

Taking a hint from Courtney at Hack & Slash, I'm likely to skip all of that online tool stuff and just play by Google Plus Hangout or Skype, let you roll your own dice, and resolve any map issues by using only my quick combat approach. I trust my players to roll their own dice, and I hate the idea of spending time turning my hand-drawn maps into online maps and figuring out the tools. Just jump in the game and tell me what you rolled.

The big question will be, when the hell can I run this? I'm busy all mornings and most nights, and the few free Sundays I have I will spending running my face-to-face game. So it might have to be a series of one-shots, not a regular game, and I'll play with whomever makes it out.

But I'm pretty much going to find a day I can run game, set it up and play it. One of my FTF guys might be in on it, if we can coordinate schedules - he's too far to attend regular games.

So the real progress is, I'm going to do this - it's just starting to be a question of when.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Faster Potion Taster, Drink, Drink!

Here is a house rule - house ruling, perhaps is better - we've been using for so long I can't remember when we started.

Standard rules in GURPS Magic say that potions take effect instantly (Magic, p. 213), but don't give much guidance that I can find on how long it takes to get one out, open it, and quaff it.

In GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, potions are a wee bit slower. Adventurers says that "Drinkables take effect a turn after being guzzled" (DF1, p. 29) and further that "Once in hand, it takes a Ready maneuver to open, another to drink." (DF1, p. 28)

So the rules as written say it takes 2 turns to use a drinkable potion, 3 turns for it to take effect (although you can do other stuff that 3rd turn.) Fast-Draw (Potion) only helps you get it in hand faster, and doesn't cut down on those two Ready maneuvers to open and then drink it.

I use much more generous rules.

As we run it, it takes 1-2 turns to use a drinkable potion. First, you Ready it (1 turn, with Ready, instantly with a successful Fast-Draw roll), which gets it out and open for use. Yes, Fast-Draw includes fast-opening - we figure potion bottles are designed for quick opening with a single hand - you're basically thumb-popping the stopper off.

Next, you drink it (1 turn, with Ready) and it takes effect immediately.

This no doubt makes potions more valuable - it's significantly faster, and can take as little as "I take out and drink a potion" to get some effect from it.

Why not use the RAW?

Why bother teaching everyone the longer sequence and confusing them? Plus I like how it makes potions a quick and easy tool to use, which encourages more choice between immediately useful actions. Further, it means potions are purchased even more (more money drain, more need to adventure to replenish it), fights can be tougher (more healing and more potion-buffing means you can fight tougher stuff), and adventures can be that much more challenging. To me, it's a win-win scenario.

Besides, most of us played a lot of Diablo. We all know using a potion just means tapping a key and, bam, you're fully healed. Heh.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pricing of Enhanced Parry

Is Enhanced Parry priced economically?

Enhanced Parry (one Melee Weapon skill) doesn't get purchased a lot in my games. It did occasionally in 3e, but not at all in 4e so far.

Even folks who really want a high Parry don't buy it.

The price is 5/level for Enhanced Parry (one Melee Weapon skill). It gives you a +1 to Parry with that weapon skill.

Two levels of weapon skill costs 8 points. This gives you:

+1 to Parry, and:
+2 to hit
+2 skill for all purposes of combat options or special attack modes (make or resist Feints, add another level of Deceptive Attack, mitigate use of a large shield, mitigate against a level of bad footing, etc.)

In 3e, the same thing cost you 16 points, and Enhanced Parry (one skill) was 6 points. So 6 points for +1 Parry vs. 16 for +1 Parry + stuff was a potentially good tradeoff.

In 4e, not so much.

So if people avoiding purchasing it because the price is a bit too high for what they get out of it, I think it's worth considering re-pricing it.

So what would be a fairer price?

If you line it up with 3e, 6/16 is 37.5%. In 4e, that would be 8 x 37.5% = 3 points.

That's a bit generous - weapon skills do a lot, but really it's two things - attack, and defend. Attack is pretty big, and it includes some passive enhancement of your defenses (resisting Feint), but defense is huge. Blow a defense roll and bad stuff happens. Make it and bad stuff doesn't. I'd rule that a limitation (Parry Only, -50%) is probably more fair.

That would make Enhanced Parry (One weapon skill) 4/level in 4e.

I think that's more in line with what players will actually lay down for it. Yes, you could have bought 2 levels of skill instead of Enhanced Parry 2, but it's +2/+1 vs. +0/+2, when that +2 is what is important to you. While 3 points is a strong bargain - buy it ASAP as soon as you are allowed, in as many levels as you can get (+3 Parry for 9 points is a great deal, especially at moderate points) - 4 is a tradeoff. I like when things are a tradeoff.

What about the rest?

The full version - 10 points for +1 to all Parry rolls for all combat skills - is still useful. Pricey, but if you use multiple weapon skills or unarmed skills, and want better defense, it's a good deal. Especially if you're buying 2-3 levels of it. Sure, +1 DX is 20 points, but it adds +1 to your skills and +0.5 to your Parry, while 2 levels of Enhanced Parry (All weapons) gives you a nice +2 to Parry. +5 skill is 20 points, too, and that's +2.5 Parry . . . for one skill. If you're using Wildcard skills, 24 points for a +1 Parry vs. 20 for a +2 Parry is a potentially good deal, too.

So I'd say at 10/level, it's fair if you're worried about defense more than anything else.

Enhanced Parry (bare hands) is 5/level for a +1, but it's effectively covering as many as 5 skills - Boxing, Brawling, Karate, Judo, and Wrestling. Since you can't always use the same parry to do the same thing, it's not terribly uncommon for unarmed fighters to master a couple of those skills (usually one striking, one grappling). 5/level is okay here, since it's +1 any time you parry unarmed regardless of what skill you use for it.

The other enhanced defenses are probably okay as well. Enhanced Block is 5/level but the primary use of a shield is defensive. It is also an offensive weapon, but let's face it, people buy it up primarily to get better defenses. Plus its multiple defense cascade is rough (-5, -3 with TBAM or WM.)

Enhanced Dodge is pricey at 15/level, but as anyone who has fought a high-Dodge opponent will tell you, it is the most broadly useful defense. It annoys flail fighters, archers and throwers, slam guys, grapplers, and shooters alike.

How did this work in actual play?

It hasn't, yet, but I think I will offer it up at this price and see if I get any takers. I know one of my players might bite, another might not - he's still more focused on "versatile" than on "narrow excellence." But 4/level makes it at least a tempting choice. 3/level feels too cheap, and it's hard to re-cost something higher, later.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Worthwhile DF spellstones?

My players like to use spellstones. Basically, crushable gems containing a spell.

They're handy because they turn just about anyone into a spellcaster - you crush it, you cast it, and it works like any other spell. This makes it really useful for spells you want at hand to aid friends or annoy foes.


The breakpoint for "quick and dirty" casting versus "slow and sure" enchantment in Dungeon Fantasy is at 100 points. Some enchantments get the favorable break and cost 1 x 100 = $100. Others, such as Deflect, get tossed in on the far side of the line and cost $2000. Yes, 100 costs either 100 or 2000, depending.

Spellstone cost:

Energy 1 = 50 (stone) + 20 (spell) = $70
Energy 2 = 120 (stone) + 40 (spell) = $160
Energy 3 = 210 (stone) + 60 (spell) = $270
Energy 4 = 320 (stone) + 80 (spell) = $400
Energy 5 = 450 (stone) + 100 (spell) or 2000 (spell) = $550 (or $2450)
Energy 6 = 600 (stone) + 2400 (spell) = $3000
. . . and so on, using the formula from GURPS Magic p. 61

The question on a 5-energy spell is whether you round up ($2000) or round down ($100). Like the aforementioned Deflect, spells that are especially effective for their casting cost might get the round-up. After all, take a spell like Great Haste, it's extremely valuable. The demand can be potentially really high. And meta-game, the abuse potential of "everyone has Great Haste ready to go at all times" might make a higher cost make sense. For Great Haste at $550 each, it's a great deal. At $2450, would you still pay? Very possibly. 10 seconds of Altered Time Rate at a cost of 5 FP at the end is pretty freaking awesome, and what if you don't have to wait for the wizard to put it on you guys one at a time?

There is no round-up question for energy 1-4, though. That's probably another strong argument for "next game, all enchantments cost $20/point" though, since it means magical gear does have a baseline cost that's higher than the material cost of much of what you put it on.

Note: This is for skill 15. Higher skill is possible, of course, but at least the way I run it is that you pay for higher skill regardless of whether it's from the enchanter using extra power or it's just native skill. Prices are set by a monopolistic guild, not a market economy.

What are some good spellstones?

To purchase, I mean. Anything you can find is worth it, but not everything is cheap enough to make it a worthwhile expendable purchase. Here are three I think are pretty good deals:

Awaken is my PC's favorite spellstone. They buy pretty big ones - 3-4 energy, usually - so people can crush the stone and affect a small area with Awaken. It's very useful for reviving knocked-out allies. Especially key is that you can center it on yourself (-0 to cast), maximizing the margin of success that acts a bonus to revive the unconscious. And unconscious foes? Exclude those hexes, you're a spellcaster for an action, not activating a magic item with pre-programmed area effect.

Invisibility is another interesting choice in DF, since the cost is only 4. $400 for "and then I'm gone" when you're in trouble. Not bad.

Missile Shield is 5 to cast, so it's $550 or $2450. At $550, it's handy to put it up on yourself for a minute without needing to be near your wizard buddy when the arrows start coming in.

Naturally I control these like any other magic item purchase, but they're an interesting option for PCs with cash on hand and a need for quick casting.

And yeah, I'm thinking $2450 for Great Haste in my game. $550 seems a bit too cheap for what you get out of it.

Any spell stones you guys think are a good investment for the cost?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reading so-so non-fiction for so-good game ideas

Sometimes even a bad book has a good idea. One of them is the book someone must have found for me at a library sale or garage sale, "The World's Most Mysterious Castles."

It's not a bad book, but not a great one either. It's supposedly about mysterious castles. It's more about "mysterious*" than about "castles." So while it does tell the history of some castles - and the associated hauntings, mysteries, and oddness - it tends to veer off into unrelated history, battles, weird speculation, and so on. It also tends to substitute wild speculation for actual mysteries.

That said, there were two bits that made me think, "this might be good in a game." Here they both are:

The Cryptic Message
- In one castle, there was a a carved gravestone with a cryptic message about a hidden treasure. Someone carefully and thoroughly defaced the message to illegibility . . . but before the vandal came along an antiquarian copied it.

So you find what's clearly part of a treasure clue, but now you have to truck around to sages and private libraries and hidden wizard-only bookstores to find the rest of the clue. It's a good reversal of the usual "find the map, then find the spot on the map." You've found the spot the clue refers to, and that there was a clue, but not enough to go on.

This kind of stuff can explain a long-lost dungeon entrance, too - everyone knows the place, but centuries of would-be looters can't figure out the way in now that some predecessor destroyed the clue.

Non-Ray Shooting, Non-Talking Giant Stone Heads - The book makes the suggestion that the giant stone heads (Olmec, Easter Island, Greyhawk, your choice) might be a form of fortress. They could be a psychic focus, making a supernatural defense screen for an area.

Obviously they still need to be enigmatic, talking, and able to shoot death rays from their eyes. Duh. But also, psychic castle! Maybe it's proof versus psis, or proof versus everyone but psis (who can attune to its frequencies and penetrate to the treasures within.) Maybe it's a psychic prison, holding ghosts or tentacle-faced monstrosities inside.

That's about it - the rest of the book is so boring I won't even link to it. But I got two ideas out of it, so it wasn't totally wasted time. Enjoy!

* "Ahh, there's no such thing as mysterious."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

DF Session 33, Felltower 24

September 15th, 2013, but finishing up the session from September 1st, 2013

Weather: Hot, occasional rain

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (274 points)
     Lucky Pete, human volunteer (?? points, NPC)
     Basher the Thug, semi-human volunteer (?? points, NPC)
Dryst, halfling wizard (290? points)
     Father Hans, human cleric (130 points, NPC)
     Shieldman Zed, human guard (62 points, NPC)
Galen Longtread, human scout (318 points)
Vryce, human knight (369 points)

Still in town:

Borriz, dwarven knight (310 points)
Christoph, human scout (258 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (297 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)

We started in town, two weeks after the last delve (to get us back on real-time/date track). Raggi was flush with money and getting over a tremendous beating, so he was around only a 9 or less - and I rolled a 17. Nope.

The group finished making purchases - a "spare," better bow for Galen (also enchanted to Puissance +1), a new and better light horse cutter for Chuck Morris, more and better armor for Vryce (who is now entirely covered in spidersilk under his plate and mail combo), and lots of little bits of gear. They also stocked up on potions, healing potions, and the like. They also decided they wanted a piece of the Lord of Spite, who knocked them silly with some spoken spell before. So they all bought cotton earplugs for 2 sp each (pricey for earplugs, but they are good ones.)

Finally, they picked up rumors. The orcs worship a one-eyed demon god, and their shamans can summon him to aid them ("That's it, we can't fight the orcs anymore.") Also, the orcs call Felltower Grak Yorl, which means "bone yards" or "the boneyard" in their language. A rumor about some unopenable doors (location lost to time) that lead into Felltower didn't impress anyone. The others I can't recall offhand.

They headed out, picking up some volunteers on the way - Lucky Pete and Basher the Thug were both confident of success (now they'd started succeeding again) and healed up from their past delves, so they came along.

The group headed across Stone Bridge across the Silver River, past Sterick's Landing and the statue of Sterick, and through the slums and up and out of town. They arrived at the ruins, and found the the main ruin within the walls had been repaired a bit. Uh-oh. They still used their usual entrance, the well, and found it unchanged.

They went right down to level two, intending to pretty much knock on Durak's door, then lead the Lord of Spite out into an ambush - Galen would lead him on plinking him with arrows from his magical bow, then the PCs would jump Durak from behind to let Vryce and Chuck get some serious strokes in on him. They got all the way to the hidden spectre room when they had second thoughts. They decided it was a bad idea to go after him after all, and went back to finish exploring the lizard man area.

So they did that. Basically they returned to the previous session's battlefield. It stank of rot and death after two damp weeks. The lizard men had been picked over, and many giant and normal sized rats were feasting on the corpses. They made some ROUS jokes, but Dryst claimed "Rats are the natural enemies of my people. They carry off my people. They're what drove us out of our holes." Hmm, didn't realize it was rats. So, halflings hate giant rats. Despite this, they chose to avoid the rats. They circled around the temple to the other side down the side passaged they'd explored many times before (in at least three sessions, if not more, starting with TPT II.)

They basically linked up their map, showing the area they'd explored last time after the lizard man fight did indeed connect through and around with places they'd been before. They backtracked and forward tracked a few times, first determining that the lizard men had been raided in their absence - they found shattered eggs and slaughtered females in a room they'd bypassed last trip/earlier this session. Next they found something had bent the portcullis bars to get into/out of the lizard man area. They went out that way and found that just beyond the lizard man territory was a hex-shaped room with a statue in the middle - one of the statue rooms they'd been finding and fooling around with to great pain and no profit. There was also a short hallway to a set of stairs up.

They then headed into the temple to try their luck with the cabinet behind the big idol. Chuck used Breaking Blow on it and guided the battering ram in and dislodged the doors. He dented what was behind it - a black-shot green marble based goblet, made of gold and silver, studded with a dozen green-and-black stones of some unknown kind. It was 15 pounds, and non-magical, so they swiped it.

Then they backtracked to the lizard man area and explored the far end, around the big pit down they think is possibly where they came up after being dunked in the watery zone after being teleported. They decided against going down, mostly because Chuck Morris put in a pretty start light - "Do we go down the dark pit deeper into the dungeon, or up the stairs and closer to the surface?" Up they went.

They backtracked and went up the stairs, and through a door - and found themselves in a long corridor with a door to the right and a metal door to the left. A check to the right determined they were on the first level near the "apartments." They even found evidence of their brawl with the orcs a few sessions back.

They checked the metal door. It was heavy, and locked, but not magical or trapped. Lockmaster popped the lock open, and it opened smoothly and silently when a servant pushed on it.

Inside was a short entrance and a 30' circular room. In it was a bigger-than-Chuck Morris statue of a man with crossed arms wearing robes standing on a 6' wide base - but missing its head. In seven niches evenly spread along the walls were 7 busts, all equally headless. The busts included a boyish/pre-adolescent girlish figure, an armored figure, a busty woman, a well dressed man, and others - but none had a head. The ceiling above was vaulted and painted like a cheery sky.

Examining the statues showed they heads had been chiseled off, although not a speck of dust was in the room. Chuck lit and waved a torch near the big statue's base, but nothing there, either - no draft denoting hidden stairs. They tried to shift the statue anyway, also to no avail - no purchase to shift it on the smooth floor.

Dryst then cast Ancient History on it, going for the full 1000 years. He got an impression of the statue intact, with a stern, frowning bearded face on it. Many hands touched it and decorated it - and it was not always here, but elsewhere, outside. Then it was moved into another place, perhaps a temple. Then somewhere between 50 and 150 years ago, it was rudely chiseled apart by vague figures and its head bundled and taken away.

Cleverly Dryst followed this up with a Seeker spell, and found the head was on level one not far away, back around where the wights had been. They had little time to explore (in the real world, it was getting late), so they decided to go back to the surface.

They figured on going through the gargoyle area and out the fortified front, until Vryce said, "The entrance we know is occupied and has been fortified more and more?" so Dryst suggested the bugbear's tunnels.

Basically that's what they did - they took a secret side passage, then straight the bugbear's tunnels and crawled out, laboriously.

They covered their tracks as best they could (not well, but not terribly, either), and headed back to town.


No combat this session - not the end of the previous part, nor this one. The rats didn't bother them (and failed a morale check, basically, to fight, and backed off) and they didn't provoke one. No wandering monsters showed up, and they hit nothing that was restocked, oddly. They just waltzed in, grabbed a nice prize (the goblet fetched 12000 sp after it was repaired to bang out the dent), found a great puzzle to work on, and a clue to follow up. Nice session, although it's odd to think that we've got 32 sessions with combat and yet managed 1 without - in a game centered on combat. I'm sure if the other trip had been resolved that night, and this was all session, they'd have found a way to find a fight. And they went looking for one but thought better of it.

I'm curious what they'll do with the heads. They spent some time trying to figure out a way to re-lock the door to the room but not so they can't get back in. They settled for Magelock for now but it's not like it will stay up forever.

I had to rule on an odd magic item request - Puissance +1 caltrops. I ruled a hex worth of caltrops was a single weapon for enchantment, so it was normal cost for a melee weapon - $5000. That put paid to the idea of spreading hexes of magical (presumably cheap and disposable magical) caltrops in front of the Lord of Spite so he'd cripple his feet trying to get to the party. Yes, the plan is magic caltrops. Yes, my players come up with interesting stuff.

DF Game, Session 33 - Felltower 23 Part II

September 15th, 2013, but finishing up the session from September 1st, 2013

Weather: Hot, occasional rain

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (274 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (290? points)
     Father Hans, human cleric (130 points, NPC)
     Shieldman Zed, human guard (62 points, NPC)
Galen Longtread, human scout (318 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (369 points)

Still in town:

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

We picked up in the dungeon, seconds after the bloody war of attrition with the lizard men and their newtmen allies. The room was heaped with dead around the main knots of combat, and the PCs were badly battered.

They set right to action - Father Hans clambered over the dead-choked doorway and into the room to bandage Vryce (who was at -1 HP and unable to act without risk of passing out). While he did that, Dryst rested and Chuck Morris grabbed a broadsword off the lizard man champion next to him and started stabbing every downed enemy in the eye to finish them off. After Vryce was bandaged, Father Hans quickly bandaged up Raggi (bringing all the way back to -76 HP, heh) and then used Faith Healing on Vryce to get him mobile.

While Hans rested, Raggi woke up - his Recovery trait gave him a HT roll every 12 minutes to see if he was awake, and he naturally made the first one. Galen was patched up and he got up as well, and set to looting and stabbing. Vryce just stood guard - he has zero interest in finishing off wounded/unconscious foes and never participates. They continued to down potions and used a gem of healing as well to get everyone who could fight back to nearly fully power.

The loot haul wasn't great - a few thrusting broadswords in good condition, some shields no better than what the PCs carry, and a big heavy sword carried by the chief. They took those. Meanwhile, Dryst got himself a couple of servants created and set them to guard the doors and bar the other side door out.

Meanwhile Vryce - still in his full armor - climbed up the big demon idol. He used his crowbar to chisel out the eyes one by one and pry them free, then toss the heavy (20 pounds apiece) eyes down to Chuck Morris below. Once they were free, the group spent some idol time considering how Dryst could possibly use one as a Power Item (he can't, he can't carry one).

Vryce headed out to scout the far end of the room.

The room proved to be huge - giant PHB idol, vaulted ceiling, and something like a couple hundred feet long and very wide. It had a shallow but long staircase at the far end, which Vryce ascended. He walked out of a BIG door (it was more than 20' wide, and nearly 15' tall) and saw a raised portcullis at a choke point where the hallway out narrowed. He passed that and found a T intersection capped with a bas relief - a crude one - seeming to depict the face of the same demon.

After a while Vryce headed back. The group was now sufficiently rested and healed (except for ambulatory but horribly wounded, yet cheerful, Raggi).

They checked out the big idol and around it. There was a door to it's left side, and a secret compartment behind it. They couldn't open the compartment (thanks to meteoric iron lock components), but they made short work of the side door. That proved to be a treasury - a big pile of copper, a fair amount of silver, and some scattered gold and gems and jewelry. They swept it all up, along with three potions and what later turned out to be two charged clerical scrolls. They also found a secret door in that room (See Secrets, maintained off of HP since they were out of Paut but had healing potions). That was quickly opened but no, sadly, it was long bare.

So they started to explore out the big entrance. They checked the demon face, and the T intersection to either side. They checked a couple rooms and found one was smallish but had three spiked furs on the wall and some spare heavy lances (champions room, maybe?). Another was a big room with 30 furs. They also found a small guardroom with a portcullis, and another room and a corridor beyond a secret door. At this point, they chose to head back.

They worked their way back to the long corridor near where they'd fought the flame lords. As they head down, they heard the shuffle-stomp they associate with Durak, the Lord of Spite. So, they picked a room with a second exit and hid in it. They stayed there quite a while, until they finally hear a loud metallic crash-booooooom and then 10+ minutes of silence. They headed out, figuring the Lord of Spite went back into his metal-doored room and the other dungeon critters would still be heads-down like they had been.

They made it back to the surface and carefully skirted the castle ruins and went back to town.

At this point, they disposed of loot (getting something like 70-75,000 sp aka $ for the eyes, plus some coin for the swords), ID'd potions (two universal antidotes, and a hero's brew - a custom one for my game), and cast Repair on armor corroded by the slorn.


Notes: Raggi was so messed up it was crazy, but he's got Recovery so he wakes up really quickly. He immediately spent $2K back in town to get Great Heal cast on himself, even though Major Healing and some bed rest would be more cost efficient. He's a drinker and a partier - he knew there was a good chance his $17K would be gone before he was done healing, so better to spend it now and heal now.

Otherwise, the group did okay - not too much danger thanks to the blocked off areas around the fight zone, so nothing wandered in to attack them (although if anything wandered in and left, well, their good scout was busy much of the time looting and killing . . . they didn't notice if so.)

They also - probably wisely - hid from the Lord of Spite. He'd be trouble if they came ready for him, nevermind after a knockdown fight with the lizardmen.

This was only half the game session - Session 33, Felltower 24, will come shortly after this posts.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pre-restocking my dungeon

Last game our session ended after 2 am - after 15 hours or so of play and over 12 hours of combat. We did something I hate to do, which is stop in the dungeon. Time rolls by in real time in my game, so pausing in the dungeon means hitting pause on the real world.

Plus it means that if we finish the delve the beginning of tomorrow's session, I need to be re-stocked as if two weeks went by. That way if they leave the dungeon and go back to town, then come right back (like I figure they will), I would be ready.

So I ended up having to pre-restock my dungeon. I know what will happen in the next two weeks, er, happened in the past two weeks, if the PCs just up and leave after mopping up after the lizardmen fight. I also had to pre-restock some places in case they go, wipe out extra monsters/break down extra doors/etc. and then leave and come back.

Complicated. Who knows the actual state of the dungeon when they leave?

And extra work.

Generally I hate extra work, but this time I'm still basking in the glow of a good fight. So it's okay. The work isn't wasted, really, because I can "save" those re-stock rolls for when I need them. I'm considering them pre-rolled dice, pre-thought results.

Still this is the first time I can remember where I had to pre-restock a dungeon. Has anyone else needed to do this?

Friday, September 13, 2013

How I do Encumbrance

Eric Tenkar asked, "How Encumbering is Encumbrance in Your Campaigns?

He goes on to ask:

"Do you strictly track encumbrance? Hand wave it? Ignore it? Give everyone in the party Bags of Holding and hope it all goes away?"

We track it strictly. Down to the fraction of a pound for some items (armor, say).

One nice thing about GURPS is that encumbrance is purely in pounds. It's not an amalgamated weight+size+whatever from, say, AD&D. It's weight. Size is a separate issue entirely. It's purely weight, and we track it tightly. Admittedly, we have to track it tightly, because GURPS movement in combat and your Dodge score are both tightly tied to encumbrance.

We cheat a bit - we use GURPS Character Assistant so it's pretty easy to track your starting adventuring load, and how much wiggle room you've got up or down to a lower encumbrance level.

So yeah, we track it strictly, at least for weight. I can get why people don't want to, but I've never had a problem with doing it strictly.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

GURPS 101: Low-Tech Weapons - Legality Class, Status, & Control Rating

To determine what weapons to carry, consider your situation first, and then your skills, strength, and budget. If you can't use it or don't need it . . . don't buy it.
- GURPS Basic Set, p. 267

When choosing weapons in GURPS, generally people care about a few combat stats - damage, parry, weight. A few people might even consider cost*, or a coolness factor, or characterization. But usually falling by the wayside are two other stats that can be critical - LC and CR.

Legality Class (LC)

Legality Class (LC) is how the weapon is viewed by the legal authorities.

"Consider what the law allows, too. Most settings have laws or customs that govern the weapons and armor you may wear on the street or on the job without attracting attention (see Legality Class,box). This applies in historical settings as well. A stranger visiting the average medieval village wearing a suit of plate armor would be every bit as conspicuous – and threatening – as a person carrying an assault rifle into a corner grocery store today!"
- GURPS Basic Set, p. 267

Okay, sounds good, but Basic Set also makes the blanked statement that "All melee weapons and muscle-powered ranged weapons intended for combat are LC4." In anything short of a very controlled society, this means anything from a dagger up to a halberd and anything in between is fine.

After all, LC4 means the "item is openly available in most societies, but tightly controlled societies might restrict access or use."

So let's talk restrictions.

Setting a Control Rating (CR)

Control Rating is how restrictive - or not - your society is. It ranges from 0 (anarchy) to 6 (total control). It often varies by category - some societies are more permissive of weaponry, others of speech, etc.

So a strictly by-the-Basic-Set way to do this is to set a CR, and then either change the LCs of the weapons, or change the CR by class of weapons.

Aw, do I have to? No. CR just lets you systematize it. But with the default for all low-tech weapons being LC 4, you need a per-weapon stat or a per-weapon decision. You can skip right to writing text that says "Who can use this legally?"

This is what GURPS Basestorm does.

Megalos in Banestorm is a great example of this. Arms and armor are regulated by Status, not strictly by LC and CR. The concepts of LC and CR are there, but they are set out by weapon/class of weapons.

For example, bladed weapons are prohibited entirely to beggars or serf. You need Status 0 for a sword, you need to be in the military or the guard to have a military polearm. Missile weapons are prohibited to anyone but the military.

It's just weaponry, but also magic and armor.

You need to be a knight to own plate armor or magical weapons, and even mail and scale are limited to the armed forces. You want metal armor and a +1 Sword? You need to be nobility.

As written, status can act effectively to mitigate legal controls around weaponry.

Megalos being a corrupt state, you can pay bribes for special exemptions to these rules (and naturally, high-status folks can provide writs to their personal troops). Minor exceptions are made as well, and you can imagine these being enforced about like speed limit laws on US highways - when the police feel like it, they'll swoop down, but generally will ignore minor offenses.

So to be a typical adventurer wearing mail, scale, or plate, with magical weaponry and so on, you need to either pay some hefty bribes to get legal exemptions, or you need to be Status 2. Only the nobility can truck around with weapons.

Using this in your game.

It's easy to dismiss these restrictions - "If the players want to run catgirl ninjas with two-handed swords they should just be able to." Well, yes, and the happy feudal anarchy of a default D&D world, where anyone can own any weapon and walk around fully armed without any social cost is fine, too. But there are advantages to putting in social/legal weapon controls.

- niche protection. It's hard to upstage the knight at, say, heavy infantry tactics when only the knight has the status to use certain weapons.

- class protection. This can help explain class restrictions. Why can't mages carry swords? Not legal. They're effectively part of some restricted social class.

- weapon value elevation. What if composite bows are restricted to the nobility (think early period samurai, say) or only the rich can legally carry crossbows? Suddenly you've restricted "common" foes to more common weapons, making these weapons immediately more valuable within the environment.

- makes a variety of weapons valuable - weapon choices become more than just "best combat stats" but also "best legal weapon for my social class."

- acts as a resource drain - you can sell off, or trade away, that sword you found, or pay for a permit to use it! This can effectively drive further adventures.

- makes status a tangible, valuable goal. You don't want to be a noble just to be a noble - a vanity purchase in many games - but also because it allows you to arm yourself as you choose (and perhaps, issue permits to your friends). It has direct adventuring value - even combat value - by allowing you access to the best weaponry.

- it can narrow the weapon choices in certain adventures - in cities, in restrictive countries, etc. Or more accurately, force PCs to engage in smuggling, disguising, and otherwise concealing weaponry. This can add a big twist to an otherwise straightforward adventure, if folks have to rely on backup weaponry or "status appropriate" weaponry instead of whatever they specialized in because it's the most combat effective.

This can easily be pushed too far, though. Laws and restrictions have to drive two important things: fun and adventuree. If having the restrictions makes for a more fun adventuring environment, whether from "everyone has something to do" because not everyone is socially ranked for all weapons or because the need to get loot for paying for permits and bribes or to try to status-climb. It's not going to work in a place like, say, Krail's Folly (although it might, with a tweak), or in a purely beer-and-dungeons game like my own.

But for a game where social climbing is encouraged but might seem a bit too "endgame"-ish, the idea of legal restrictions on weapons and armor, and a need to socially climb to make yourself fight better, might be just the thing.

So GMs and PCs alike can really get some mileage out of the legality of weapons instead of just their combat stats.

* Although this is often overlooked for modern weapons. "Why would anyone use a weapon other than (X)?" is a pretty common question, but if weapon X is extremely expensive with expensive ammo, well, that's why right there.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What are Bones good for?

So a week or so back I finally got my last bits of my Bones Kickstarter (I'd gotten a duplicate of one bag, and was missing another). Yesterday the single mini that was missing after all of that shipped to me.

I have been painting Bones pretty steadily since I received them, along with lots of my GW plastics and assorted metal minis I've had in my painting queue for a while.

In short, I like them, but they aren't the best minis I've ever painted.

There are good things and bad things about the Bones.

The Bad

Bones aren't perfect.

These really aren't art pieces. The mold lines aren't easy to remove (and often hard to see). Some of them are not as detailed in plastic as they are in metal. The gaps between multi-part minis can be really, really big - big enough to require some serious greenstuff filling. If you paint around them it's extremely noticeable.

They are also a bit hydrophobic - the first wash of paint will often pull back and pool. It's easier to overcome, but it's annoying that you can't just go prime them and then work from there. I ended up having to paint them white or grey or black by hand, watching for uneven paint spots, before I start my real paintjob.

The Good

On the other hand, there is some great stuff about them.

They're often fun to paint - the fact that you can bend them freely means nothing is really "hidden" behind a wing, a shield, a sword, or an arm. Just bend it, paint, keep it bent until it dries, and move on.

They are inexpensive - especially for large minis. Don't want to drop $25 on a big demon? Try $10 or so for a Bones mini, if that.

They're not fragile. They bend and bend back, which means you don't get that "snap" when a resin or hard plastic or metal mini hits the table the wrong way, leaving you with a crossbowless crossbowman or a one-armed orc.

They make great play pieces. Since they are light and not fragile, and inexpensive (compared to metal), it's easy to deploy a fair amount of them and not worry they'll get broken in use. If you're using minis for tabletop games instead of painting showpieces this is all you really need. Detail that is good enough plus what I just mentioned and you're good.

For the larger minis, especially, their lightness and lack of fragility is awesome. Ogres, trolls, giants - these guys are one hard knockdown on the table or one "oops" away from destruction - but for Bones, not really.

The Upshot

They're good play pieces, they're a very cheap way to get a big mini, and their lack of delicate bits mean they're ideal for minis you need to transport around. They can be fun to speed paint if you ended up with a hundred or so "take it or leave it" sculpts like I did. And while they aren't cheap for a plastic mini, they're cheap for minis in general.

I am really happy I got my Bones Kicktarter, and when the Bones Kickstarter 2 comes along (they revealed this at GenCon) I will certainly buy in. Just don't go into them expecting artwork. They're play pieces.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On Railroads and Useless Choices

Reflecting on two posts here.

Tim Shorts mentioned playing a bad railroady game.

I realized that, to me, railroads are bad if you don't like where they are going.

The A-series modules are pretty railroady. The A1-4 supermodule wasn't any better, although it did a better job of connecting one set of rails to another. But the thing about them is that no group I ran through them wanted to get off the rails. The trip was entertaining and they wanted to stop at all the stops and get to the destination.

Where railroady adventures fall down in my experience is when they're either diverting from places you'd rather go, or forcing results on you.

Th end of A3 is kind of like that, with a false choice - either scripted ending is fully scripted. Either you get captured (the setup for A4), or you fight. If you fight, you win and then get captured (presumably as part of a power play by the capturer, who wanted you to clear out his rivals) or you lose and get resurrected for questioning and end up captured. Kind of lame, although the fight itself is really fun. It could have been executed better. Yet the part that galled people I ran through this series was "your stuff is gone!" and not "you are captured!" My takeaway is that people dislike auto-failure and auto-defeat more than a clear statement of "there is one path." At least in general.

So railroady adventures can be good if you're all on the same page about what's fun and where to go.

Wide-open adventures are cool if your choices matter and you have some means to determine which choice is what. Where railroads are fun is when the choice doesn't matter and you don't want to make the choice anyway. Which is partly why false choices are kind of annoying.

Eric Treasure felt the same way I did about Dungeon Robber. Very fun, but when you're faced with four direction choices and all of them are random, it's a useless choice. It's not agency. It's like having someone offer you four choices for dinner - chicken, chicken, chicken, or chicken. Why ask? Just serve me the chicken. You can't make any choice better or worse, and none of the have any different results.

I once got work edited by someone, and he "suggested" a change. I said no, because I disagreed. I was overruled - which annoys me decades later. Yet I cheerfully send in manuscripts to SJG and tell Steven Marsh and Sean Punch to change whatever they feel needs changing without asking. They do me the courtesy of not asking for my approval on things I don't have any say on. I realized that a false choice feels kind of disempowering, like you're a kid again. "Do you want to do A or B?" "B." "Well, we'll do B some other time." Yeah, thanks.

I think that's what's nice about a clear railroad vs. a false choice - if you don't even pretend there is a choice, and you make the single path clearly and fun, it's not a bad thing. It may not be the Platonic ideal of gaming perfection, but it's a good way to spend an evening. Nothing but not-fun choices on a path is about as fun as false choices - it's being stuck on a tour bus seeing sights you don't want to see.

No great insight in the above, I know. But this was rattling around and I felt like it made sense to write it down.

Monday, September 9, 2013

What is a Ninja Tool (DF 12 question)

Sir Pudding (not actually knighted or pudding, sadly) asked about what the Ninja Tools advantage (DF12) covers.

Sir Pudding put together a good list, and I commented on which ones I think belong on it. I'm stealing it for here:

Arrow; $2 0.1 lbs. B276
Blowgun Dart; $0.1 .05 lbs ea. B276
Blowpipe Mount; $10 1 lb DF12 p. 15
Bow Drill; $8 1lb DF8 p. 25
Caltrops; $5 0.5 lbs DF1 p. 27
Door Needle; $4, neg. DF8 p. 25
Fukimi-bari; $5 .1 lbs DF12 14
Nageteppo, Flash; $40 .2 lbs DF1 p. 27
Nageteppo, Smoke; $40 .2 lbs DF1 p. 27
Shuriken, Star; $3 .1 lbs DF12 p. 14
Shuriken, Spike; $3 .1 lbs DF12 p. 14
Torch, Waterproof; $12 1b DF12 p. 15

Personally I'd have no issues having it include concoctions such as Bane poisons or Monster Drool. Why not? They aren't hideously lethal, they're certainly appropriate to the ninja's idiom, and they're within the realm of what seems like a gizmo. Here is that list, also courtesy of Sir Pudding:

Acid; $10 1lb DF1 p. 28
Anti-Toxin; $20 0.5 lbs DF 1 p. 28
Bane; $50 .5 lbs DF8 p. 37
Black Dust; $50 1 lbs DF8 p. 36
Foul Pepper; $50 1 lbs DF8 p. 36
Luminous Dust; $20 0.5 lbs DF8 p. 37
Monster Drool; $20 .5 lbs DF1 p. 29

Otherwise, I'd go with GM rulings on individual items. After all, if the GM and player both think a given item really fits the term "Ninja Tool" and otherwise is covered by the gizmo rules, it should be covered. And certainly a GM is within his or her rights to veto anything from the list above! But it's a good starting point at the very list.

(Oh and don't forget, Ninja Tools lets you trick out your weapons permanently. It's a powerful tradeoff for not having that one little piece of gear you really need . . .

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Random Notes 9/8

Day off today, with nothing particular to do.

So, besides non-gaming things (shopping, cooking, Japanese study, exercise, etc.) I got some gaming stuff done, too.

- I painted some more figures today. 90% finished some demon-things I've had for a while, put final touches on a knight, spot-sealed some golems and monsters (including some D&D pre-paints I re-painted), and started on some other minis. Took care of two monsters, too - Bones figures.

I also knocked off a Chainmail skeletal something-or-other I had white primed and blackwashed, all in a single shot. He was another "I'll paint this while the guy I want to paint is drying" one, and he turned out to be very easy. And I did some touch work on a giant I've been painting for a while (well-duh spoiler alert for my gamers - there are giants in my fantasy world.)

- Statted up one monster, fixed stats on two others, and started preliminary notes on a stats for a figure I have and painted.

- Did some thinking about my megadungeon and outside connections to it, and put rumors to the appropriate effect on my rumors list.

- noodled around on the SJG Forums for a bit, reading Doug Cole's comments on people's questions about his new book. Welcome to "you did it all wrong!" and "Hey, what about this obvious thing you forgot and no one mentioned until just now?" Doug!

- Watched Doug's interview with Sean Punch. Why haven't I done such a thing? Because Sean and I have been friends for like almost 20 years now. Do you really think we stay on topic for an hour? I sure don't!

Key takeaway from that interview: the goal of GURPS isn't realism, it's believability. Works for me.

Okay, so maybe today was pretty productive after all . . .

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Hail Nurgle - Painted Chaos Demon

This post is mostly for my players. Way back in my last campaign, they ended up in the demon world facing off with bunch of demon lords, a lich, and a pile of "lesser" demons. One of them was an as-yet-unpainted, black-primed Great Chaos Demon of Nurgle from Warhammer 40K I'd bought off of eBay.

He's sat in my "to paint" pile for years since then. About six or eight months back I roughly painted him with some green, but that's as far as I got. Last Friday I stopped painting a mini I'd been working on, spied this guy sitting there, and pulled him out intended to do a little brushwork on him while the other guy dried.

Instead I painted him straight through to completion.

Here he is, done (except for re-highlighting the eyes). He's gloss coated with two layers of Army Painter Quickshade, both Soft Tone. I also Dark Tone shaded his spine and the mouth-thing and sword handle. I was going to matte seal him, but honestly, it looks awesome glossy, and he should be slimy and nasty. So I'm going to perhaps gloss coat him in the future to protect the coat but otherwise he's done.

I hate to spoil the surprise with minis with my players, but most of them fought this guy already.

Pictures beyond the cut.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Megadungeon Play Reflections - The Immediate and the Cumulative

Ken Harrison has been posting about megadungeons recently, and asked about the experience of others playing in/GMing megadungeons.

As a GM, and reflecting what I see of my player's approach, is that megadungeon play is a mix of the immediate, and the cumulative.

The immediate in play is what you're doing right now, and what affects you right now.

- your supply of resources

- your immediate goals

- your take this expedition (loot, knowledge, experience, whatever - your gains)

- the obstacles and combats you must face

all of this is right now. But the cool part of a megadungeon is, right now can feed into later.

The cumulative in play is what you've managed to build up in expedition after expedition.

- your maps

- accumulated knowledge of the dungeon

- cleaned out safe areas

- attrition of monsters

- demolished doors

- newly discovered entrances and exits

- set traps

What I like about this is that every trip is both immediate and cumulative. Expeditions have their own problems right now, and their goals right now, but it matters what you accomplish. Even a bad trip, with casualties or a lack of treasure or minimal exploration, accomplishes something for the next trip. It might add a new room to your map, reveal a new infestation of monsters, pick off a few critters from a larger group.

Conversely, even a successful expedition can give you some bad long term results. Perhaps you weaken one group enough that they get displaced by foes more dangerous to you. Or you pick off a few of their guards but they get on to your M.O. and capabilities.

A fight with a monster you can't beat can result in a retreat and a return with more information or firepower. A mission can be planned around things found in one trip that can't be exploited right away, but deal with later.

You get this mix of the tactical and strategic, too. It really matters how you take down doors, guard your six, move in the dungeon, and so on. But it also matters what you plan to do and how you arrange your overall trip, how you make this trip feed into the next trip ("We clear these guys, and next time no one hassles us on the way to and from level 3"), and so on. Killing a chokepoint monster might make a new area accessible. It might make an area safe to explore because the threat of death on the way out is now gone.

So your choices, tactically and strategically, matter both immediately and cumulatively.

This means you can make a tactical choice to back off from a fight, and pay for it later as the threat still exists. Or you could be making a strategic dent in the opposition by whittling away their resources by attrition. Or both - you can be cutting them down, reducing their numbers, but giving away knowledge of your capabilities and relative threat level.

All of this is because it's a reactive environment, not a static one, and it's not a one-trip dungeon but a location you return to many times. This works for the GM and the players, who can mix bold immediate goals with cautious long-term ones. Or the reverse - plan a series of cautious immediate goals, which lead cumulatively to a long-term benefit from the dungeon.

That's what I really like about running a megadungeon. I never did it back in the day - I came of age in the Module Era, and we ran (and even made our own) modules. But yeah, every session matters both now and later, and that's a real plus to megadungeon play.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

GURPS Technical Grappling is out

Just a quick post - long-awaited congratulations to Doug Cole on the publication of his book - GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling.

I saw it in playtest, but it's nice to finally see it on the market. Doug basically did for grappling what GURPS Martial Arts did for combat in general. It dials up the resolution and potential without sacrificing realism or playability. It's good stuff, and I hope to give it a more complete review on a much less busy day!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Resource and Planning Tips for Dungeon Delving

This is just riffing off Doug Cole's post yesterday, and some of the best practices I've seen from GMing my Megadungeon campaign.

Most of this is old news to experienced delvers, and long-time gamers. But if repeating it one more time saves you a frustrating session trucking around without a weapon, or saves an expedition, it's worth writing it down. Remember, it's generally more fun to be prepared.


Carry spare weapons. And not just weapons. Have a spare everything of items you can't live without. That does mean two of your main weapon, not just a backup knife. This goes double if you've got a specialized weapon or you're a Weapon Master or both. GURPS really has pretty generously favorable breakage rules for weapons, yet when it happens it's from your critical failure in combat and you're left weaponless in the worst possible circumstances. Have a spare. If it's too heavy for you, hire a henchman or have a stronger buddy carry it for you. Ideally you want it on your, ready for action.

No One Died From Too Much Healing Magic. Every hear the one about the delver who died because he had so many healing potions that, uhm, somehow something bad happened? Me neither. Carry a lot of them. Make sure everyone can heal themselves, in a pinch. Yes, I know you've got a cleric and potions are expensive and blah blah blah. What if the cleric gets one-shotted with a lucky and nasty critical hit? What if the damage comes so hard and fast the cleric can't keep up? Bring some and bring extras.

Stock Up On Speed-Enhancing Gear. By which I mean delver's webbing, potion belts, lanyards for your weapons, crossbow slings, and so on. Learn Fast-Draw so you can draw it out even faster. It's worth the money to get a weapon into action or back into action a little faster, or to have your gizmos or potions ready to hand.


Quit Before You're Out of Mana, Not After. The time to start pulling back is while you've still got enough magical/supernatural power to cover your retreat, punish pursuers, or seal doors behind you. Or deal with surprise encounters. This goes for fights even when you're planning to win it and then rest - if you've got to drain yourself empty and then hope there isn't a second wave, it's probably too expensive of a fight to win.

Corollary: Always Have A Power Reserve. Never spend to zero unless it's the only thing that will save your life right now. Keep some extra power, an extra paut, a extra source of any kind of power you can think of. You want that still in your pocket when you walk out of the dungeon and back to town. Murphy's Law predicts you'll need it the one time you don't have it.

Walk Before They Make You Run. At some point, you can still end a combat on your terms. After that point, you've got to stick it out until the bitter end, either way. If you've got no real gain for sticking it out, consider leaving. Start withdrawing when you've still got enough power to make it stick. If you wait too long, you've only got two choices: stand and hope to win or rout. You may need to willfully ignore this when there is something to be gained by staying, or a massive lost to be avoided by fighting it out. But try to get a feel for when it's starting to look like you're climbing on the tiger's back and at least know that's what's happening.

(This tip is titled after one of my favorite Keith Richards songs.)

Don't Have a Single Trick for Victory. Or Retreat. If your whole plan is "we attack and cast spells X and Y and the archer shoots their leaders" and the enemy is immune to missiles, then what? What if your plan is "instigate, retreat to a doorway and hold it against counterattacks" and you hit a circumstances were you must attack, or have a time limit to deal with and can't wait for the enemy to come to you?

Conversely, what if your plan is Sir So-and-So covers your retreat, and Sir So-and-So is out with injury? Or that Hugh McStrongmuscle carries the wounded out, but Hugh is the casualty?

This isn't to say you don't want set plans. Have set tactics, have patterns, be predictable to each other - but don't just bring your hammer and hope the dungeon is full of nails. Don't be Nichelle Nichols - "Murder isn't working and it's all we're good at." Be ready for when the usual doesn't work, and have a backup idea.

Have a Plan For Isolated Allies. If your berserker goes berserk and runs out ahead, will you back him to the hilt or back off and hope to recover his body later? If someone gets cut off, do you know how you'll deal with it? Make some contingency plans. This needs to get done, especially in a GURPS game with Sense of Duty (Adventuring Companions). It doesn't say "except when it's inconvenient because they made a bad tactical decision." Or in a D&D game when you're running a Paladin - Galahad wouldn't leave a man behind in the clutches of evil critters just because the fight was going badly.

And this should almost go without saying, but:

Endeavor to Make Every Fight Unfair In Your Favor. Whatever you can think of doing, prepare to do, or attempt to do to make a fight lopsided in your favor, do it. Ambush, flanking, attacking en masse versus a weak point (aka defeating in detail) - whatever. Do it. Use poison. Use trickery. Attack only when it's in your favor. Use whatever you can to ensure victory by the widest possible margin at the least cost for that win.

More on resources:
The Hierarchy of Expendables
Megadungeon Exploring: Three Dos and Don'ts
My Megadungeon Resources

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Gauging an Epic Fight in GURPS DF

So my last session was 15 hours long and features a 12+ hour fight. The entire fight was tense from start to finish.

One of the commentators on that session's writeup, Lars L, asked about how I balance such encounters.

The short version is that I don't balance fights. That this one was such a balanced nailbiter was more luck than anything else. My experience told me this fight would be tough, or at least could be tough, within a certain range. But it could have been a short fight with a few lucky rolls by the PCs, or bad ones by the lizardmen. It could have been a TPK or a walkover, but it was tough enough that the latter seemed unlikely but not so overwhelming the TPK seemed likely, either.

The long version is that, like everyone else, I do balance fights - I gauge the relative challenge of the encounter with how much of an impact I'd like it to have. That does come from experience, not from luck.

So let's talk about that lizardman / PHB cover homage fight. Over 80 bad guys, ranging from fodder's fodder to summon creatures and badass leaders backed by magical support.

This fight was set out a while back, and while the lizardmen learned and adjusted from the repeated skirmishes they had with the PCs, it stayed about the same. They armed up as well as they could. They set plans to call in reinforcements and send a flanking force (one champion and all the guards, etc. he could sweep up on the way, plus a summoned creature). They tried to fight in combined units (lizardmen, acid slorn, and newtmen together) not separately. They pushed when they had to but generally tried to keep their advantage on the defensive. That it didn't work has a lot to do with generally smart play by the PCs and their general man-to-man superiority.

I certainly ran the NPCs with vigor, and bad intentions. They wanted the PCs dead and used the best tactics they could do kill them. I always play my NPCs this way - they fight as if they want to live and they fight with intent to kill (or capture, or escape, or whatever - as appropriate.) I don't pull punches or sacrifice NPCs to make the PCs feel better. My players know this, which makes every fight a bit tense.

After the fight Dryst's player and I talked about it as we cleaned up (me my minis, maps, and PC; him, wiping the battlemat for me.) Had Christoph the Scout also been there, or if Borriz was there, or Honus - basically, if there was just one more PC-level delver - the fight would have been much shorter. Or if Dryst had just a few more paut potions or a bigger power item. Or if Galen had a spare bow once his broke, instead of needing to waste turns scrounging up a tiny shortbow to plink with. We both figure the fight would have been much shorter and lopsided in favor of the PCs.

But had the PCs been a smaller group - say, had Dryst and Honus smashed the door guards with ease a few sessions back and managed to force the door and get into the temple - it would have probably been a TPK.

Had I just stuffed some lizardmen in the room, it would have been a walkover. Instead, I modified the environment to make it more interesting (bad footing, chances to fall, wet air, special supernatural modifiers, no morale checks except under certain circumstances). I also made sure the opposition was appropriately tough. I also made sure I had some idea of how they'd fight and what they wanted to accomplish. These are all things I might not do for a trivial monster encounter, at least not to the same degree.

So really, I say I don't balance fights, but that's not quite true. It's better to say I don't decide which fights I want to be epic, I just set the stage for that potentiality.

I don't balance the fights so it all falls to clever PC tactics and good die rolls, but I make the fights appropriately challenging enough that this could happen.

And I don't decide what the outcome or costs of a fight will be, I just place it and scale it so it's worthy of the time it takes to play out.

So yes, you can call that balancing the challenge. This is actually pretty old-school - if I say "Level 1 of the dungeon" and you say "rats, kobolds, and goblins" then you know what I'm talking about. You just don't put encounters down willy-nilly, there is some kind of external balancing factor. This is especially true for a "Saturday night special" - a special placed encounter, meant to be a real challenge. You might just write down "3 trolls" for a room and figure it'll be tough or it won't, but for something meant to be special, you just can't do that.

To gauge this does take some experience with the game system, or one that has a great deal of balancing built in (such as every edition of D&D I'm familiar with - see level 1 and giant rats and kobolds all the way through Challenge Ratings in 3.x). In GURPS it can be trickier, since points provide equality of choice, not balance of results.

My advice is to play as much as you can, but also to draw off the experience of others:

- the excellent advice on fodder/worthy/boss level monsters in DF2.

- The various Melee Academy posts, so you know what's what with the combat options in front of you.

- My two posts on making tough DF fights - the original and the more recent minor expansion (also read the comments on that one).

- Doug's post about skill levels in GURPS. Don't be shy about giving monsters in DF skill 18+, as they may need it to even concern high-defense PCs and fend off feints, Deceptive Attacks, and so on.

Also, I can't find an appropriate post to link to, but Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch has written often about making some "fights" not about combat. Time limits, stop-the-ceremony situations, unkillable monsters who can only be dealt with via some unusual means (break the soulstone, kill the demon - meanwhile he's kicking your ass), puzzle monsters (ahem, Acerak), obstacle monsters, etc. can help make for interesting and memorable encounters. Everything doesn't have to come down to whittling down HP.

Remember that if the encounters are always scaled to your PCs, and balanced against your PCs, and you'll win by the skin of your teeth if you play well, you know everything is potentially winnable. Nothing is a walkover (or looks like one) because you know there aren't any. But equally nothing is a TPK waiting to happen because it's never too hard for you. That's fun for the one fight, yes, but it's not as fun as an epic that just happens organically, in my opinion.

So the short version, after all, is this. Learn how to make the fights potentially interesting, but don't try to balance them. Make them something that could be fun, let loose, and see what happens. But yes, definitely figure out how to make them appropriately challenging.
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