Thursday, February 27, 2014

Using Fodder in GURPS DF

Fodder in DF can be a bit of an issue. Individually weak, they are often no threat at all to a group of DF delvers. They can get some critical hits, maybe, and do some damage, perhaps, but they aren't very dangerous or, really, much fun . . . unless you use them well.

I figure there are a few things you can do to make the individually weak fodder into a threat.

Superior Numbers

Have them bring friends. Lots, if possible.

"Dinomen don’t come in piddling numbers – they come in dozens, scores, or even dozens of scores." - Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1, p. 11

Numbers are really only limited by physical space.

Since DF Fodder are nothing more than a distributed series of attacks with individual pools of HP, the way to make them tougher is put in more of them - and thus more attacks, and more HP.

Don't be afraid to use a lot of fodder. The "dozens of scores" line above might seem like a joke, but even 240 dinomen is merely a few minutes of action for a group of delvers, with Scouts knocking them off 2 per turn and front line fighters killing them as fast as they can swing. Part of the threat of fodder is that the 4-5 orcs you see now have the rest of their 3,872 buddies backing them up.

Bring a Special Friend

Bring someone tough enough to at least occupy the big bruisers on the superior side.

One of the Mikes, who runs Vryce, brought this up recently. In the Epic Lizard Man Fight, Vryce (and Raggi) were occupied with the really skilled guys. Had they not been there, any number of additional low-ranking lizardmen and newtmen wouldn't have mattered. He'd have been killing them as fast as he could swing. But those guys required his undivided attention, making the fight that much tougher (and letting the fodder accomplish a lot more.)

Equally, the presence of fodder allows the tougher guys to be a bigger threat, because the fodder give them the space and time to use their own skills without getting mobbed themselves. The fodder can mob the weaker delvers, or flank and disrupt the stronger ones, while the tough monsters get their licks in. The fodder also make riskier attack strategies difficulty - you can't all Committed Attack or All-Out Attack the BBEG if that means you take a bunch of clean hits from their lesser allies.

This really only works if the tougher folks treat the fodder as fodder; if they regard them as dependents to be protected they can't really use them as needed.

One subset of the special friend is the special weapon.

Special Weapons

Use special attacks - siege engines, poison, fire, gas, and heavy weapons of all kind. These fill of the role of drawing off some fire from the rest of the fodder, but also provide a built-in threat to the delvers who can ignore the weak attacks of the fodder.

A prepared battlefield is covered here, too - pits, traps, barriers, etc. help to make the fodder just a bit tougher, or at least harder to reach. Ironically (but amusingly for the players) a theoretically well-prepared battlefield can serve to limit the ability of fodder to attack the PCs, if the PCs play their cards right.

Superior Tactics

Or at least, good tactics. I won't reiterate what I already posted here and here.

Remember, though, this can go too far. If the individually inferior foes are so dangerous, so nasty, and so hard to deal with that PC tactics center around avoiding them, you've moved them out of the fodder category. They're no longer inferior. They are no longer fodder, and players and the GM alike should realize they are worthy foes and probably center a bit more of the game's attention on them.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jeff Dee's Fiend Folio Art

I'm backing this Kickstarter.

My players will remember that two-headed troll when it made an appearance wearing The Gauntlet in the module of the same name.

Jeff Dee has followed through on all of his Kickstarters without fail, and the prints have been quite nice. So I'm in on this one, too.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Spores, Molds, and Fungus

This is in memory of Harold Ramis, who between Ghostbusters, Stripes, Caddyshack, Animal House, and Groundhog Day gave me more movie quotes than anyone aside from Dave Thomas & Rick Moranis and the entire Monty Python crew. So you know, he's got that going for him.

These are prefixes you can add to existing GURPS creatures of all kinds. Collect all three!

Spores - For plants and slimes only, generally, but it's DF, so go nuts. The creature shoots a cloud of hallucinatory spores!

Statistics: Add Spore Could (Resisted by HT-1): Range 10, Respiratory Agent, Area Effect (3 yard diameter); Persists for 10 seconds. Failure to resist causes hallucinating (see p. B429) for 1 minute per point of failure. Costs 1 FP per use.

Mold - The creature is covered with a sickly, disease-carrying mold. It's easy to see (+5 to Per rolls to spot) but it might take an IQ-based Survival or Naturalist roll to identify the danger!

Statistics: When struck, the creature gives off a cloud of poisonous mold particles. Poisonous mold (Resisted by HT): Failing the HT roll causes 1d toxic damage, success reduces the damage to 1 HP. Failure by 5+ also causes choking (see p. B428). Creatures with Doesn't Breathe are immune to the choking effect, but suffer the toxic damage normally.

Fungus - A fungoid version of the base creature. Fungoid creatures often have lower IQ than the animal version of the creature, but this isn't required.

Statistics: Change class to Plant. Add Doesn't Breathe; Doesn't Sleep; High Pain Threshold; Immunity to Metabolic Hazards; Injury Tolerance (Homogenous, No Blood).

Monday, February 24, 2014

Handing out XP in my previous GURPS game

In my current GURPS game, I hand out XP based mainly on the profitability of an expedition. I've covered them in detail here:

DF XP Awards House Rules

But that's not how I did it in my more mission-oriented, story-centered GURPS game that ran from 1999 until 2010. In that game, making XP about "profit" or based on discrete trips to a dungeon would have been useless at best and a negative on the campaign at worst.

What I did instead:

Frequency - I handed out XP at certain points in the campaign. It wasn't per session. Basically, if you completed a certain objective or got to a logical point where it seemed appropriate to hand out points, I handed them out. This could be a small amount or a fairly large amount, if what transpired between awards was significant or long.

Generally, this worked out to be once per session, but when we got into epic fights that took multiple sessions (we had at least two of them - still known as "the Lurg fight" and the "the pirate battle"), the XP would generally come after the end of the session that included the end of the big fight.

Roleplaying - the main point haul was based on roleplaying. I'd hand out between 1-3 for good roleplaying, but as many as 4 or 5 if someones disadvantages were played perfectly and significantly impacted play.

Mission - I'd hand out 2-4 points, sometimes more, for accomplishing certain goals. Those goals could be external assignments, or internal decisions by the PCs (they want to do X, if they do X, I decide give Y points for it.) Really easy ones got 0 points, but a huge battle that unseated a major foe might get you 4-5 points . . . and so could clearing out a significant location that advanced the PC's goal of defeating the BBEG they (oops) unleashed on the world while trying to get out of trouble they equally (oops) unleashed on themselves.

I'd occasionally give out bonuses for special things, too, like unraveling a plot thread or dealing with a tricky situation in a clever way.

Warm Body Award - if you couldn't make it, but your PC was in danger, I'd give you 1 point. If your PC wasn't in danger, you'd get 0.5 points.

How did this work out? - pretty well. The PCs had steady, but relatively slow, advancement. The PCs in my DF game are already clocking in where the most high-point PCs in the previous game ended, but they also started with more (a 4e 250+50+5 vs. 3e 150+40+5). Growth was organic and jumps in power were rare. I based all of this on the suggestions in the old 3e Basic Set, and it was fine.

Since the game wasn't profit driven (killing monsters for stuff was nice, but only if they really needed the stuff) and strongly epic goal oriented, we needed things that rewarded chasing that epic goal. As such, it worked pretty well. If the PCs did difficult things to work towards taking out the BBEG, or just difficult things in general, plus stayed in character (a great part of the fun of that game), they'd advance.

It worked well enough. You can see how it would change the flavor of a DF game, though - if rewards were for challenges and roleplaying and mission, the PCs would be played very differently driven than the PCs who are rewarded for profit.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

DF Felltower NPC: Barefoot George

No game this week, so it's another Felltower NPC this Sunday.

Barefoot George was a volunteer hireling who died in the great hireling massacre. He was (unknown to the players) based on a 125-point Killer template from DF15. He wasn't a sneaky assassin type so much as a pirate, and Killer had the right mix of skills and stats for him. Too bad he didn't take Luck.

For more pre-made henchmen from my game, check the DF Henchmen page.

Barefoot George

George is an ex-farmer turned bandit turned river pirate turned pirate turned adventurer. He's money-hungry but loyal to his "crewmates." He's got no concept of proper risk level.

He's the kind of guy who'll back you to the hilt during a "cruise" but then knife you in the alley the next week because he's not your buddy anymore. And then sign back up with you a week later if you survive.

ST 12 HP 12 Speed 6.00
DX 14 Will 11 Move 6
IQ 10 Per 11
HT 12 FP 12
Dodge 8 Parry (Shortsword) 10 Parry (Knife) 10

Shortsword (15): 1d+2 cutting or 1d impaling; Reach 1.
Large Knife (16): 1d cutting Reach C,1; or 1d-1 impaling; Reach C.

Traits: Ambidexterity; Code of Honor (Pirate's); Greed (9); Overconfidence (6); Social Stigma (Criminal).

Quirks: Shoes are for landlubbers!

Skills: Brawling-14; Climbing-15; Fast-Draw (Knife)-14; Knife-16; Poisons-9; Seamanship-12; Shortsword-15; Stealth-15; Streetwise-10; Thrown Weapon (Knife)-16; Urban Survival-11; Wrestling-14.

Gear: Clothing; Large Knife; Shortsword; Heavy Leather torso (DR 2); Personal Basics; Pouch; Sack.

Notes: Doesn't quite balance out at 125 due to overtopping the disad limit. Often dual-weapon attacks for an 11 (shortsword) and 12 (knife). He lacks Garrote skill, as well, because it didn't fit his slightly different archetype.

George's mini (picture soon) is a barefoot pirate mini, either Foundry or Eureka - I think it's Eureka.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gaming Lessons from Ultima IV

As I mentioned previously, I've been playing Ultima IV - mostly when I'm watching the Olympics or killing time that I can't productively spend otherwise.

I learned a few things about gaming from it, including explanations for why things I did previously were good ideas.

Focus on the fun part - Ultima IV is an old-school RPG game; you have to buy food or starve to death. Pretty cool, huh? That's hard core old school.

But it also kind of sucks.

I remembered the food issue keenly from my Ultima III/IV/VI days, so the first thing I did this time around was go around solo and build up gold killing monsters so I could stock up on food. This leveled me up, but also distracted me from the main quest since my first priority was getting food. It didn't take long, but "get gold to buy food" is a recurring issue in the game, even if only a minor one later on.

The thing is, it's not fun to buy food or starve to death. The "challenge" of keeping a stock of food is merely expensive, discouraging you from amassing a full 8-man party until you've got piles of gold because of the expense of feeding them.

In my own GURPS game, I track food. But I also made an arrangement with my players to simply charge a bit extra for upkeep, which includes the cost of replacing their rations. If they have a couple day's worth, we know they won't starve in the dungeon, and they buy new ones and presumably eat the old ones. No one complains, and we avoid an issue that doesn't add much fun . . . while retaining the danger of lack of food if they get really stuck.

If it's not fun, ditch it entirely - aka The Wind, She Blows!

Sea travel (and balloon travel) in Ultima IV is influenced by the wind. Which mainly means you learn the Wind spell (and buy the material components to cast it) and save it for when you find a balloon. For ships, it just means lots of teeth getting as you try to sail directly into the wind and take extra game time doing nothing except pressing a direction button. Sure, you get a few more encounters because the wind pins you in close to the monsters. But that further eats into game time, and combat isn't especially interesting. So all the wind influence on the game does is slow down the fun bits (going places, talking to people, coaxing information out of them) and add more unfun bits ("Slow Progress!" as you hit buttons to no avail, or more useless fights.)

So what does this add?

Not a lot. If it only minorly affected sea travel, and majorly affected balloons, that would be fine. But all it really does is annoy the heck out of me when I want to go to some island city and do something and have a nice save point before I get back to work . . . and to do it takes hammering keys waiting for the wind to change.

It basically is extra detail that distracts me from what I want to do (explore, accomplish goals, talk to people) and makes me spend time doing things I don't (hitting buttons and waiting to do the exploring, accomplishing, talking).

Provide a way around bad stuff - In Ultima IV, swamps can poison you. Poison needs magic or expensive in-town healing to cure, which means for non-spellcasters swamp kills you and for spellcasters swamp costs you money in spell components. In Ultima VI, you could get special boots that avoided this. This was a good idea, because swamp squares in IV are just frustrating and annoying. Forcing a one-time cost to avoid the ongoing (smaller) cost of cures is fine with me, because it makes you find an in-game solution to the problem. Yet it makes the problem go away, so it's not an ongoing frustration. But in IV, it's just "stock up, mix Cure spells, and cast them in spades as you have to trek across swamps to reach game-critical areas." Bleh.

I haven't done something quite like this in my game, I don't think, unless you count orcs allowing passage into their dungeon areas. That's my players' doing, anyway. But yeah, if walking into area X causes damage and costs money to fix the damage, expect that area X is just marked down as "unfun, avoid unless you absolutely have to." A tradeoff (this makes area X safe, but it's not as good as other gear) is totally fine, and encourages choices and thought.

Anyway, besides remembering how annoying games without diagonal movement and weird rules are (fighters can use bow, but not magical bows . . . ), and having some fun finishing up a game I never did get to finish, I think I've learned something from replaying this old game.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

GURPS Video recommendation

I occasionally explain how GURPS does things, but I don't spend any time recording videos on the subject. If you prefer a video explanation of GURPS, has you covered, along with video product reviews.

Recent ones include:

- injuries in GURPS

- a review of GURPS Tredroy

- a walkthrough of a GURPS combat

I haven't watched them all (I have watched the ones above), but what I have seen is good stuff.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Mega Is My Dungeon?

Riffing off some recent posts I've read - how big does a dungeon need to be in order to be a "mega" dungeon?

First, I think it needs to be a . . .

Discrete Area. A megadungeon is a fundamentally interconnected underground area. I think if you blow that up too big, and spread out the connections too much, it goes from "megadungeon" to "series of dungeons" (Caves of Chaos) or "underground wilderness" (ala D1-2). Those are cool, and great campaign settings, but once it's "travel for a week to the next encounter" it's really just a wilderness game with travel via tunnels.

Second, size matters. I think it needs to be big enough to support:

Repeated Play - You need to be able to go back to this place over and over. It's not a question of "can't be cleared out" but rather of "supports continuous play." You should be able to use the megadungeon as the basis for many sessions.

Cumulative play - the play should be cumulative, too, in that what you do to change the environment changes the environment for future trips. Re-popping is your enemy. Restocking is your friend.

Diverse Challenge Levels - It needs to mix difficulty ratings within the same dungeon, all on a large enough scale that those challenges also take repeated play. There needs to be the risk of going into too dangerous of an area, but also both easy stuff and hard stuff mixed together so it can hold up to repeated play.

End Points, But No End - there needs to be things you can accomplish in it, that says you did more than farm gold and grind monsters. But not a single end point that finishes it as an adventuring environment. A dungeon often has an end (a demi-lich, say, or a boss fight with a dragon) but a megadungeon has accomplishments.

Even Castle Greyhawk (mark I) had an end point - the wizard down on level 13 you could meet. But it didn't finish the dungeon as an adventuring environment, since he wasn't a load bearing monster. It was still a place you (even the same PC "you") could adventure in.

Things I don't think matter so much:

Specific Room Count - I don't think it's worth getting hung up on room count. My first two-three levels could swallow most or all of Stonehell, but that's still a megadungeon. It's not the room count that matters. Lots of rooms helps, but there isn't a numerical threshold. Level count, either - Barrowmaze is one big level, and it's pretty mega.

Multiple Groups - doesn't matter if one group of players or one group of PCs do all of the adventuring. It's nice if the dungeon can handle more groups, but that's just a subset of repeated play, above. It shouldn't matter if it's the same group or not.

Game Mechanics - I don't play a class-and-levels game, so I have zero concerns with level advancement, appropriate treasure distribution, or challenge ratings by level. None of that defines "megadungeon" for me, and I think it's too game-specific to worry about those things . . . if you make them part of the definition of a "megadungeon" then you're limiting the definition by the game mechanics. The dungeon should be mega or not based on its non-mechanical features.

Factions - I also don't think factions matter so much. It's a nice feature, if monsters come in groups and you can negotiate with them or pit them against one another or something. But If you have a dungeon that meets the rest of the requirements above, does it really matter if there is only one faction? Moria was pretty megadungeonish, and what I remember was a bunch of orc-kind and a boss monster, and that was that. You could spend a campaign clearing out Moria without ever needing factions.

For me, it's the size (it's big, and can hold a wide variety of challenge levels) and scope (can handle repeated play natively) that make a dungeon mega.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What I'm Up To Today and Recently

Besides work and shoveling snow and getting up early to watch Olympic hockey, what have I been up to?

Writing - Doug and I have been working on some projects together. Yesterday was Doug's turn to edit one of our projects. Today was my turn, so I spent most of my free time together reading, checking, revising, re-checking, etc. This involves a lot of re-doing all the math, re-looking up results, and checking all page refs. It's not bad, and I actually enjoy the process to a degree, but it's hard work and it's what, in my opinion, separates good execution from bad execution.

Doug and I also heard another silly thing we did is officially in the slushpile for Pyramid, which is good news.

Ultima IV - I've been playing this recently in my spare moments, after I remembered I'd gotten it for free from GOG. Good stuff. My cousin (player of Vade, Blackstar, and other PCs I've mentioned before on this blog) used to have this for either his Atari 800XL or Apple IIC, and I co-played it with him. Basically, my job was to navigate, advise, and write all of the stuff down. So I can coast a lot of memories, but I never did get to see the game get finished. The only Ultima games I played start to finish were III (my first) and VI (my favorite). I'm making extremely quick progress, mostly because I already know what I need to do (mostly) and how to achieve partial avatarhood in each of the 8 paths. Yes, Valor is easy and Justice is hard. But it's fun to re-live it, and sometimes I just need to interact with a screen and not write, read, study, or whatever. I'm totally cheating by using someone's complete map. I'm not translating the cloth map by hand again, that wasn't even that fun back in the day.

Reading - I'm re-reading the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander. Once I finish those, I have non-fantasy related things to read. But those books have some legitimately interesting magical items and cool bad guys (huntsmen, cauldron-born), and I highly recommend them.

Game Prep - I'm working my way through my Felltower stuff to make sure it's all prep'ed for next game, too. No major work so much as ensuring I wrote notes about what happened and adjusted the contents for the passed time. It's more tedious and boring than it sounds, but it makes for much more fun gaming sessions, so it's worth the tradeoff.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Heavier Crossbows in my DF Game

So you may have seen these in "action" in my most recent hireling post - my house ruled crossbow weights. GURPS Low-Tech covers crossbows in greater detail than this post does - you have rated strength and materials and a variety of implements to use with or to span crossbows. I wanted something simpler, so I updated a size/cost differential from my old GURPS game to the heroic scale of my DF game. If you want realism, go to Low-Tech. If you want heavier crossbows, with simple numbers picked out of the air that feel okay, this is for you.

First, use only the crossbows on the weapon chart in Basic Set. The rules below replace those in Low-Tech, and are not compatible. Combining them with get extremely odd effects.

Crossbows are available in four broad draw strengths:

Light Crossbow: ST less than 10, normal cost, 2/3 weight ($150, 4 lbs)

Crossbow: ST 10-18, normal cost and weight ($150, 6 lbs)

Heavy Crossbow: ST 19-28, +1 CF and +50% weight ($300, 9 lbs); Pistol Crossbows of ST 14+ use these modifiers.

Siege Crossbow: ST 29+, +3 CF and double weight ($600, 12 lbs); Pistol Crossbows of ST 18-20 use these modifiers.

All of these are changes to the base cost and weight.

Available accessories include those in DF1 (crossbow sling, brace, sight), Basic Set (goat's foot), and the stirrup and cranequin (from Low-Tech p. 79). No other accessories are available, regardless of TL.

New Prefixes
Composite Crossbow - A crossbow made out of lames of different materials for a better bow. +1 damage, +5x to half damage and max range. +9 CF. (Makes a normal crossbow $1500 but thr+5, x25/x30)

Steel Crossbow - A crossbow made out of metal instead of wood. +1 damage, +4 CF, +50% weight. Cannot be combined with Composite. (Makes a normal crossbow $750, 9 lbs. but thr+5)


Light crossbows cost and weigh as much as pistol crossbows? - Yes, but they require two hands, yet have better accuracy. It's a tradeoff.

What's the Max ST of a crossbow? - I cap them at ST 40, which is 4d+1, because beyond that I think it's overlapping siege weaponry too much. I just say you've reached the limits of materials and size before you need a mount and a much larger bow, making it impractical for hand-held use. Pistol crossbows cap at ST 20.

Does this apply to prodds? - Yes.

So the most I could get is . . . - A ST 40 siege crossbow, made of metal, for $1,200 and 18 lbs. doing 4d+6 impale or 4d+6(2) pi, or more with Fine bolts and Puissance, or a ST 40 composite siege crossbow for $1,950 and 12 lbs, doing 4d+6 impale or 4d+6(2) pi, half damage range of 1000 yards!*


* I did a guy just outside Felltower, once, at about 1,000 yards . . .

Sunday, February 16, 2014

DF Felltower NPC: Larry the Crossbowman

No game this week, so it's another Felltower NPC this Sunday.

Larry the Crossbowman is based on 62 points and the extremely flexible Guard template from Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen.
However, Larry is old and hurt, and doesn't even reach the dizzying heights implied by 62 points.

For more pre-made henchmen from my game, check the DF Henchmen page.

Larry the Crossbowman

Larry is a professional heavy crossbowman. Better make that "extremely heavy crossbowman."
Larry is an old vet. He lost his best aimin' eye way back when he fought in a Cashamashian mercenary company serving in the Molotovian Troll Wars, but he's more-or-less figured out a way around that problem - he works for tips!

If he ever hits anything, it's going to die. Hasn't happened in Felltower, yet.

ST 12 HP 9 Speed 5.25
DX 11 Will 10 Move 4
IQ 10 Per 10
HT 10 FP 10
Dodge 8 Parry (Broadsword) 9

Crossbow (ST 36!) (12): 4d+3 imp or 4d+3(2) pi, Acc 4;
Light Club (12): 1d+2 crushing, Reach 1.
Small Knife (11): 2d-3 cutting Reach C,1; or 1d impale; Reach C.

Traits: One Eye; Reduced HP -3 (included above); Overconfidence (6); Weapon Bond (Crossbow).

Skills: Armoury (Missile Weapons, spec. Crossbows)-11; Brawling-12; Climbing-10; Crossbow-14; Knife-11; Stealth-10; Wrestling-11.

Gear: Boots (Feet DR 2); Clothing; Crossbow w/x3 cranequin (21 lbs) and rest; Nice Hat (with steel lining, DR 4); Hip Quiver w/35 normal and 15 armor-piercing bolts; Light Leather arms, torso, legs (DR 1); Personal Basics; Pouch.

Notes: One-Eye gives -1 to his melee weapon skills, -3 to missile weapon skills; included above. Aims first as much as he can for up to +6 to hit (Acc 4, up to +2 more for aiming); using the rest (Ready action) gives a further +1 for bracing. He can't use a sight because he's right handed and missing his right eye. Takes 72 seconds to crank his crossbow, plus 2 seconds to ready the bolt and load it, for one shot every 1:15!

His mini, which I'll add a picture of soonish, is a GW plastic peasant with a one-eyed head glued on, because a guy aiming with his eyepatch is amusing. I also use some variant rules for crossbow cost and weight by rated strength, makes his crossbow $600/12 lbs instead of 150/6.

Friday, February 14, 2014

GURPS 101: Avoiding Combat Analysis-Paralysis in GURPS

As Douglas Cole pointed out with our fighters in Swords & Wizardry, there aren't a lot of options to choose from. As a result, we don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do. Hit, not hit . . . what to hit what, who to hit. Not all that much turn to turn to decide about.

In GURPS, though, combat options are what it's all about. There are many things you can do, if only because combat is less abstracted and there are rules covering such a broad variety of options. You can try anything, and it sometimes feels like you should therefore try everything. Worrying about what option is right for right now can lead to that dreaded condition, analysis-paralysis. You can get so overwhelmed by choosing between things you can do that you don't just do stuff and get on with the fun.

Too Much to Choose From?

If you have a character with a sword, a shield, and pretty good brawling and grappling skills, you can find yourself thinking - you can cut, stab, bash, shield rush, slam, kick, pummel with the hilt. If you do any of those, you may need to choose a hit location. Any of those could be All-Out, Committed, a normal Attack, a Defensive Attack. Should you attack normally, or Telegraphic Attack, or Deceptive Attack; and what about Rapid Strike or Dual-Weapon Attack? Or you could feint, beat, try a ruse, or even just All-Out Defend. And next turn, it starts again.

So what to do?

Limit Your Own Options

Seems like a bad idea, but it's not. Look at that list above - are all of those solid moves in nearly all cases?


Narrow it down.

Look at your skill, possibly at this analysis too, and decide if you should generally attack, Telegraphic Attack, or Deceptive Attack. If your skill is too low to reliably hit without Telegraphic Attack, do that. If you can take a Deceptive Attack and still hit most of the time, do that.

Make a basic decision and stick to that, most of the time.

Look at your weapon.

In fact, if you're just getting used to GURPS, don't go for the most versatile weapon. A simple cut-and-thrust sword is good - save the tricked out-dueling halberds for another time. Don't worry too much about slams and kicking and grapples just yet, because generally if you've got a weapon it is more productive to use it. Be aware they are out there as options, and bust them out of you need them. But don't go out of your way to give yourself too many options at first.

Limit Your Targets

Pick a couple of targets that suit your weapon, either for a baseline move or as a potential kill shot. You don't need to have a mastery of all possible outcomes with your weapon - it's sufficient if you have a pretty good shot you know will work, and fall back on that.

Find A Default Option

Most of the time, just using your highest-base-damage attack, without modifiers, aiming at the Torso, is all you need to get through most fights.

The Trademark Move in GURPS is a heck of a speed-friendly perk. Spend 1 point, outline a specific combination (all options chosen ahead of time), and get a +1 when you do that specific move. It's a nice little reward for speeding yourself up. It cuts the decision time down, because you know if you stick with your pre-decided move, you're more likely to hit.

Consider a backup, even if you can't or don't buy a Trademark Move for it. Just outline what you want to do and mark it down.

In either case, write it down on your sheet for quick reference.

Don't Adjust On The Fly

Stick with what you're doing until you've got some downtime to think about your choices. Sure, when the chips are down and you need to bust out a special move - do it. But save the analysis and worry for it really matters. Do it when you've got downtime, or when it's a nailbiter of a fight to the finish. Don't drag out fights by getting too wrapped up in all the stuff you can do, and just stick with a few moves that will win you most of your fights.

Those are just a few things you can do to make sure you're not overwhelmed by your options. GURPS gives you a lot of substantial, significant options to choose from. Pick a few, run with those, and adjust as you get more familiar with what's on the table. Odds are, though, you'll find you'll return to the basics over and over. I've been playing GURPS since Man-to-Man and most of the time my characters just whack the body with a high-damage attack.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How Much Damage to Kill in GURPS?

Riffing off some recent discussion of death checks in GURPS and how to cut someone's head off with a cutting weapon, I started to think that it would be amusing to map out the kind of damage you need to kill a character.

What's it take to kill someone in GURPS?

Basically, how much raw damage do you need to get a kill?

The Victim: Since all the numbers are linear, I'll just go with a mathematically easy HP 10. No Injury Tolerance, Supernatural Durability, or Unkillable. The victim suffers Death checks at -10 HP, and dies automatically at -50 HP.

I'm also largely disregarding armor, except for the native DR that comes with a very few locations protected by bone. It's worth noting that the locations most easy to kill someone with one shot are also the easiest to armor - Skull, especially, where it's not uncommon to wear 2-3 layers in my games (such as a greathelm or pot helm over a mail coif - if not greathelm over pot helm over coif.)

The Targets:

Here are some prime targets for forcing a kill with a single shot. Limbs and extremities can't do it, because damage is limited to below HP . . . if you want to kill someone with a limb or extremity shot you need to use the bleeding rules. It won't be quick.

Note on Terms: Damage is raw, base damage needed; injury inflicted isn't listed. Damage types are abbreviated cr, cu, imp, pi-, pi, p+, p++ below.

Torso: x1 crushing, x1.5 cutting, x2 impaling, x0.5 to x2 for piercing. Takes 20cr/14 cu/10 imp/40 pi-/20 pi/14 pi+/10 pi++ to force a death check. 60cr/40cu/30imp/120pi-/60pi/40pi+/30pi++ to kill automatically.

Good, solid choice for cutting, impaling, and the larger two piercing attacks. Easy to hit, too.

Vitals: x3 impaling, x3 any piercing, others unaffected or can't target them. Takes 7 damage to force a death check, 20 to kill automatically.

Great choice for either!

Skull: x4 for anything, native DR 2. Takes 7 damage to force a death check (7-2=5, x4), 17 damage to kill automatically.

Great choice for high damage attacks of any kind!

Eye: As skull, but it bypasses the skull DR (and it's very hard to armor the eyes in low-tech environment). Only 5 damage to force a death check, and 15 to kill automatically.

If you can hit them (-9), target them, and as a bonus you'll usually blind the guy in one eye and force some difficult knockdown rolls.

Neck: x1.5 for crushing, x2 for cutting, others same as torso. 14cr/10cu to force a death check, 40cr/30cu to kill automatically.

It's not terribly hard to hit, and it's easy to force death checks with high-damage cutting attacks (aka, most strong warrior's cutting attacks). It's easy to armor, but it's a good happy medium between the torso (easy to hit, easy to armor, needs a lot of damage to kill) and the skull (hard to hit, easy to armor, low damage to kill). It's a great choice if you can't penetrate the nearly-ridiculous skull armor my players put on their character's skulls.

How about some of the GURPS Martial Arts hit locations? Well, most of them are limb or extremity related (joints, nose, ears) or don't speed death (spine), but one does . . .

Veins and Arteries: All the relevant injury multipliers are upped by 0.5, pushing the required damage for a limb or neck down. You can even kill with a limb shot, since you don't get a messy cripple but a messier severed vein/artery. For simplicity, let's say it's just neck we're worried about. Takes 8cu/8imp/20pi-/14pi/10pi+/8pi++ to force a death check, 24cu/24imp/60pi-/40pi/30pi+/24pi++ to kill automatically. Not bad.

Also, at the GM's option Mortal Wounds doesn't apply . . . making it much easier to cause a failure on the death check!

What's the takeaway?

It depends on your weapon, and your opponent's armor, but it's not terribly had to force a death check in GURPS. It's harder but not unreasonably so (thanks to high damage rolls and the occasional 2x or 3x damage critical hit) for even a relatively normal strength guy to cause automatic death to an opponent.

For a cutting weapon, you only need 7 damage to penetrate an unarmored skull and force a death check, and only 10 to the neck or 14 to the torso. Skull is a good option if you can hit it, neck is very solid.

For a crushing weapon, think skull or neck if you can hit them - you only need 17 damage to kill a normal, unarmored guy outright automatically. A ST 14 guy with a mace and All-Out Attack (Strong) can do that with maximum damage, and even minimum damage will force a death check!

For impaling, vitals or eyes. Damage needed is really low for eyes, and not high for vitals.

For piercing, it's vitals or eyes, especially if you're using armor-piercing weaponry . . . slam through that DR and do x3 or x4.

So yeah, it doesn't take much to push someone to death checks in GURPS. Good think for the players it's not so easy to fail the checks.

My DF Game

The characters in my DF game have different approaches.

-Vryce generally goes for the torso, and aims for multiple hits. It's easy to hit, allowing him to leverage his very high skill and damage into a strong Deceptive Attack with no "wasted" damage.

- Honus tends to go for the body, to ensure a hit and no wasted damage. Chuck does the same.

- Raggi has a Trademark Move aimed at the Neck, and cares only about forcing death checks. He's also a user of the Great Cleave (DF11) and needs to ensure knockdown when aiming for a multi-foe hit, and Neck is a good way to do that with a cutting weapon thanks to the x2.

- Borriz smashes everything twice in the skull, turning his 2d+8 or +9 into a x4 multiplier and a fair amount of automatic kills.

- Galen shoots everything in the vitals, if they have them, and every once in a while in the eye if they don't.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Interesting wargaming article in the WP

I saw this on my Google+ feed, I think from Jeffro Johnson.

It's a really interesting article looking at the designer of wargames such as A Distant Plain and The Labyrinth. If I had a regular wargaming group, I'd get these. The games look outstandingly interesting. They'd probably make great learning tools in a political science course, too.

In the world of war games, Volko Ruhnke has become a hero

Really interesting stuff, and the games look like a lot of fun. I'll keep an eye out for a chance to play them.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On playing S&W and GURPS

So Doug posted about his experience playing an avowed OSR system. It's my fault, really, because I encouraged Doug to join the game.

To be honest, I dragged Doug into Erik's S&W game purely because he and I never get to play together and I knew he might be able to make the game sessions. I have very limited free time when people normally run games (I work nights and weekends, and run my game on the free weekends I have), as well, but this monthly game fit perfectly. It wasn't an attempt to turn him on to OSR gaming so much as "Erik is a good GM and the guys are cool and the game is fun." I suggested to another person to join, too, for the same reason - if you get in, I'm in and we can play games together just like we normally can't.

I play both S&W and GURPS, which would seem like an "old school" versus "new school" divide. Player skill vs. character abilities. "I check for poison needles" vs. "I roll Per-based Traps." You know, the great divide between Good and Evil, to hear some tell it.

I'll tell you it's not all of that. Or any of that.

Swords & Wizardry

Part of what I like about Swords & Wizardry is just that I'm getting to play. The game I played in before this was GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game that ran a couple of sessions. I enjoyed playing in Vlaclav Tofl's GURPS Gladiators game, too, although I only managed to play once. I like to play, and I'm much less picky about systems that I play even if I am very picky about games I run.

It helps immensely that the S&W game has a great group of players and an excellent GM. Erik Tenkar has his finger on exactly what the game needs to be fast and fun. The other players are all guys I've been immediately comfortable playing with. It's really fun and I've made new friends out of it, too.

It's not the ruleset I enjoy, although a rules-light ruleset makes it possible for me to play without investing a lot of time. Pathfinder seems extremely cool, but I'd have to learn a lot and read a lot to play in it, and I don't have that kind of time, not if I intend to keep working, training, blogging, studying, etc. at the pace I'm doing now and spending time with my family, too. But it's not the rules. If Erik ran Basic D&D, White Box D&D, Holmes D&D, Basic Fantasy, AD&D, whatever - it would be fine. I'd be in.

I do like the rules, though, and they're easy to follow and seem self-consistent (especially with a good GM.)

I turn off the part of my brain that wants to argue that even 3 pound swords in GURPS is a bit of a heavy weapon, nevermind 10 pounds in S&W. Or that 1 minute rounds are really long (my first and second MMA matches combined went about 2 minutes, and we both got in a lot of attacks). Or that whole thing with armor making me hard to hit not harder to injure. Because none of that matters because they don't get in the way of the fun parts of the session.

But then I turn around and run GURPS.


A couple days after my last S&W session I ran my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game. For my group, it's a very light game, with a lot of fudging of stuff that doesn't directly involve whacking things and a lot of stuff that does. Unlike the S&W game, exactly where you are standing matters. Turn to turn decisions can change the battlefield. Armor sucks up damage and skill prevents hits. Death spiral mechanics ensure getting hurt is bad, bad, bad.

And it's also fun. We had five of our eight players and I'd have loved to have more of the guys make the session. We fret over details like the weapons you have out, the spacing in the movement order, and the exact range of light sources.

It's the same theme of the game (kill the monsters, take the stuff) with different dice and very different dial settings when it comes to detail. Even a fairly light version of GURPS, with my group, is pretty damn detailed compared to the S&W game.

But I deeply enjoy both. I may not ever run S&W (it's doubtful, I love to run GURPS) but I'll cheerfully play in it.

To me it's the classic steak-or-sushi thing. I don't bemoan my steak for not being sushi, or my sushi for not being steak. They're both enjoyable for what they are. I don't worry if your GURPS or your S&W is different than mine, either.

There are games I have little interest in playing, as well, but there are foods I don't like, either. I try to stay out of those games (it's easy) or discussing them (generally easy) because my criticisms aren't relevant. I play the games that interest me, and I enjoy each of them for what they are.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Two DF Action Photos

I found this snapshot of the golem fight from Session 38.

Golem Melee

At the point of the picture, the golems are just starting to pile in while their (hidden) master maneuvers to cast spells. The inverted bottlecaps are Flaming Skulls. You can see Father Hans's mini off to the side of the battlefield, as he's represented with a corpse counter while he's unconscious so he doesn't block placement of the minis.

Two of those golems are Flesh Golem Bones, since I got dupes in my original Bones shipment. Three are two Clay Golem Bones, one a metal of the same mini. Finally, one is a cheap plastic toy from China that I slopped with paint to get a sixth flesh golem on the field.

And this is the gemstone zombie fight from yesterday's session, session 40.

Gemstone Zombies

At this point, the zombies are just in their weird chamber, waiting. The PCs haven't formed up, they're still outside the J-hook descending tunnel (upper right in the picture) discussing their options.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

DF Game Session 40, Felltower 31 - Heads & Head-Gems

February 9th, 2014

Weather: Cold, heavy accumulated snow and ice, later snow.

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Dryst, halfling wizard (325 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (327 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (302 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (401 points)
     6 human halberdiers, (various points, NPC)
     Jon "Bort" Blackbart, human swordsman (?? points, NPC)

Still in town:
Borriz, dwarven knight (308 points)
Christoph, human scout (258 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (303 points)

We started the session, as usual, in Stericksburg. The group gathered rumors, bought some gear (mostly healing potions and strength potions), and headed out. They heard rumors, including a few thematically good ones. They heard about treasure under a statue near a big staircase (or under a staircase near a big statue, one of those), two about dragons (see below), one about how pink slimes reproduce (by converting you into textured meat product too), and how there is a giant staircase so deep you can't see the bottom . . . or even reach the bottom.

So apparently, dwarves hate dragons because they steal dwarven gold . . . and dragons are magical creatures who are the living embodiment of greed ("Hey, like us - we must be dragons" - paraphrasing a bit). Interesting, if true.

The group hired on some hirelings for this trip. They wanted some quality halberdiers to come with them, not the usual bargain henchmen. I countered with a company - a sergeant and his five fellow halberdiers. They weren't all 125-point guys, but they weren't all 62s, either, and they offered to come for 240 sp for all six for a one-day trip. The PCs took them. Jon "Bort" Blackbart came too, as a volunteer.

The PCs headed out to Felltower, but the ice and snow made it hard going and they took until mid afternoon to get up their. After a rest and some scouting, they moved into the castle. The orcs had fortified it further. They put up a stronger gate on the fallen section, and mostly blocked the main gate with a wagon loaded with fallen timber and broken stones. Then, they'd iced the walls down with water and iced over their barricades, too, making them both slick and solid. The PCs were allowed in after their bribe, but no one wanted to take an orc with them. They headed down the well, which took a lot of digging by some servants and then a bit by Raggi and Honus. Some thoughts about the coming need to exterminate the orcs came up. They've certainly been spending the winter expanding their control in the dungeon and their control of the surface.

They headed down, moving directly for the curved metal "airlock" door where they first fought the Lord of Spite. They set up to fight him, putting in earplugs made of cotton ($2/pair, unknown actual value) and banging on the door with their battering ram and trying to activate the six-fingered hand panel with a servant and with the thumb from a six-fingered guy. They are really regretting selling their possibly-living six-fingered body to the orcs.

As they banged away, orcs approached from the old hobgoblin-controlled area, and tried to dissuade them from banging on the door. Honus pointed out that you know you're crazy when the dungeon monsters come to tell you to stop what you're doing. They live in a tunnel complex full of traps and monsters and think trying to get the Lord of Spite to come up was a terrible idea. Channeling George Thurogood we joked the orcs would tell them that "wife kind of funny, she said you can't come in dungeon any more, you know how it is" as an excuse to keep them out.

He didn't show, possibly out of spite, they figured, which just goes to show he's really well named.

They took the opportunity to check a nearby area to ensure their map was correct and that their wasn't any secret room they'd missed. A Seek Earth spell on gold revealed some downward, so since Borriz and Chuck hadn't made it, they decided to skip trying to smash the draugr and instead to head down a level.

They bashed a couple doors - one to pieces with the ram, another pried open with a crowbar. The orcs were pretty seriously blocked easy passage into their new area. They didn't have patrols or guards, probably out of fear of the noise the party was making attracting the Lord of Spite.

The group made it down to the next level, passing up the six-fingered statue on the landing and quickly heading to the trapped secret door. It blasted down a pair of servants who touched it, and Identify Spell showed it to be a 6d deathtouch. So they moved on, and then bashed down the newly contructed wall they found on a previous trip.

Beyond that wall was a hallway and a room. In the room was a statue of a beatiful nude woman, arms outstretched and mouth open just right, head tilted back. Galoob, lecherous goblin that he was, ran up to "investigate" and do a careful hands-on search. He did, and as he grabbed the statue by its breasts, it began to sing, letting out a low, bell-clear moaning note. Immediately a wave of ecstasy washed over them. Most of the NPCs succumbed, but all of the PCs resisted. Honus stepped up and smashed the statue's head off with a massive swing of the Flail of the Gales, taking its head off. Galoob moaned in despair, but the song stopped and the head shattered. A hissing noise revealed a hidden vent was pumping in some kind of gas. The group pulled back out, dragging noodle-limp allies with them. Honus then went back in (he's huge, he's heavily poison resistant, and he's got a solid HT score) and found the gas was poisonous but also low-lying. He hoisted Dryst up and brought him in to magically investigate. They found the vent for the poison, but also found their was a heart-shaped red stone in the statue's head. They took it.

Next up was the chain-sealed room with the blast-shadow on the wall. Long story short, the group set up with a servant in front, two squads to either side, and after Galoob unlocked the door's locked, they looped rope on and had Bort pull it open.

Out charged a loose formation of little green-grey big-eared shark-toothed guys with big knives, all laughing and cheering and giggling like dementedly happy children. Doomchildren, represented by Pathfinder Goblin pre-paints. Immediately realizing what knife-armed mini demons could mean ("Stygian Dolls"), the PCs tried to engage them at a distance with Wait and long reach and arrows. They did to a degree, shooting up some as they charged, triggered explosions as the fragile little demons exploded after a single solid hit (especially since the least damage anyone was doing usually put them well past -1xHP). The doomchildren got in amongst the group, though, as after the initial wave more came, first in small groups and then one by one. The explosions hurt several of the halberdiers badly, wounded Honus and even bothered Vryce when fratricidal explosions set off one that had closed with a foot of him, and set a couple people on fire. Raggi even grabbed one and ran away from the halberdiers to shield them, only to have the little demon chop him in the leg and drop him, crippled! Raggi went berserk. Galen kept shooting down the doomchildren, though, and after the ones that had been closed in had all been detonated before they could kill anyone with direct attacks, he was able to systematically keep back the steady reinforcements that showed up.

They group got everyone safely extinguished (with magic and Galoob patting one guy down), healed Raggi after he calmed down, and then advanced into the room. At the far end of the room beyond they found a statue of a "man" with four legs ending in stumps surrounded by a fringe of snakes, four arms ending in six-fingered claws, and topped with the head of a pretty young boy. It would bring two of its arms together and then apart, and a doomchild would appear in mid-air and drop down, ready to fight. More charged, and a short brawl took out the doomchildren. Great Haste on Vryce let him run the length of the room and hack the arms off the statue, stopping it from summoning more. After some debate, they let Honus chisel the head off the statue, and realized it was a head to one of the busts up on a level above. They put it in a pack after using Ancient History to determine it had been installed on the statue body by the cone-hatted cultists a long, long time ago.

Next up the group investigate the hydra's lair again, to ensure nothing else had moved in. Nothing had. They moved on past its area, and found a bizarre corridor and room.

First, a corridor led off in a long, smooth J-shape, 30 degrees down, with slick (but not ice-slick) floors. A servant went down, falling all the time, and told them a metal door awaited. So Dyst walked down with Walk on Air and Galoob just did so with his 16 DX, and they checked it out. A locked door with recessed hinges was there. Galoob checked for traps and found none, then popped the door open with ease.

Beyond it was a big trapezoidal room, 70' on a side, with the door at the end of one side near a point. Near each wall stood 5 "zombies" with a green gemstone in each of their foreheads, armed with clubs or bent cleaver-like blades. Tempted by the loot, they decided to go for it. So they went back (and the door closed itself), and used Create Object to make enough rope to climb up the slope without issues. They left the NPCs behind to guard the rear and hold the rope, and then went down. Vryce used a Blur spellstone, Galoob popped the lock (it took a while, this time), and then Dryst Great Hasted Vryce. They went in. What followed with a relatively one-sided fight. This was mostly because the players decided instantly that they either needed to decapitate the zombies to take them out, or destroy the green gems. They tried both. Vryce determined his undead-slaying tassel sword wasn't helping against these oddly non-undead undead, and sheathed it and went with his normal sword. He chopped off a head, and chopped through one gemstone to put one down. Raggi went to chop heads. Galen (after an amusing 18) recovered his bow and then started shooting gemstones (at -8 to hit). They found that if they fully sawed off a head, though massive damage, the zombies wouldn't get back up. Any solid damage to a gemstone also killed the zombies; well, the least done was 9 by Galen, so maybe "any" damage is a bit generous.

While the fight raged Galoob held the door to keep it from locking shut on everyone. Raggi suffered some damage when he ran in using All-Out Attack, and Honus was grabbed and held by a zombie and was unable to score a break free, but allies with ridiculous skill were handy to take out zombies with a hold or a threatening position. In short order 9 had their gems destroyed, and 11 were decapitated. It was in this fight someone pointed out the whole session was about heads, and heads with gems in them, and magic heads in general. It would have been more so if the hydra had been dealt with this time, too!

The PCs pried out the stones (which turned out to be magical within the room, not later once removed), and headed back to town.

The next score, after sending Galoob to find some especially interested parties for that very useful ecstasy stone willing to pay 10,000 sp, was 2200 sp each after giving some to the NPCs.

MVP was Galen, for turning what could have been a horrid slog through exploding Doomchildren into two rushes and a series of distant "boom" noises.


We expected Borriz and Chuck today, but neither showed, which was odd. It's rare to have no-shows after they say they can make it. No worries, but it was odd. Because of this, the plans changed - the plan was, lure the Lord of Spite out and kick his butt, and if not, go for the Draugr.

Fully 50% of the group today lived and worked in Japan at some point (the GM, Honus-san's player, and Galoob-kun's player), which is kind of interesting. I think we were northern, central, and southern Japan, too, ranging from me in Niigata all the way down to Galoob's player Kyushu. Counting visits to Japan, maybe only one of the players hadn't been. Just an odd travel note.

Plans to deal with the draugr continue. At this point, the concern is generating enough firepower to kill them and being able to minimize the effect of their high-damage strikes and reduce the odds and effects of the inevitable critical hits. Still, 33 of the guys dealing above 4d damage with real tactical intelligence in their reactions means it won't be easy no matter how loaded for bear the PCs come. Blur spellstones all around seems to be part of the thinking, though. Probably worth it - the druagr are loaded, and spending a few thousand to get extra boost to fight them makes total economic sense.

The NPCs got a 30-odd sp bonus from each player, working out to a nice little bonus for all and enough to make Bort happy he came (although not delighted, obviously). Raggi also took them all out drinking, because he has money to burn. So he says - the running joke is that either Raggi drinks all of his wealth between sessions, or that he says that but he's going to suddenly announce he has been saving it in a diversified portfolio of investments and settle down.

Dryst was thinking of keeping that stone. 3x a day, for free, 6 area, on ecstasy . . . not bad as a weapon. But it was specially 6 area, no exclusions, user too. Better for "those kind of parties" than for fighting, and worth a lot!

I usually don't reveal these kinds of things, but yes, had the gemstones not been destroyed or zombies decapitated, they'd have kept coming. There were other tricks but the PCs didn't fall for any of it.

Also, we did some grappling using bits of Technical Grappling. I like CP a lot better than binary on/off grapples. More people need better Wrestling, though. Only Raggi and Vryce had enough Wrestling to really take advantage.

Good session, lots of fun. Had the Lord of Spite come out (I rolled, and while I won't say what I rolled I will say it meant he wasn't going to come up and out) it would have been a very different but equally amusing session. It's still an open question, will earplugs help against his shout? How tough is he, really? We'll find out another time . . .

Useful GURPS Resource - Fillable Monster Cards

John Morrison posted these over on Google+. But for people who read this and not that, here is a link to his set of fillable PDF monster cards.

I don't use these yet, because I've long gotten used to using scratch paper and document files written up in the SJG official writing format. But they're very cool, and for people who prefer a better organizational method than mine it's a good tool.

Playing Card Sized

Index Card Sized

Saturday, February 8, 2014

S&W in the Southern Reaches: Session 3 - Clerics in the Dark

Friday night was the third session of the Southern Reaches B-Team. We spent a fair amount of time just chatting before we got underway, not the least of which is characters had to be scrounged up, rules to be remembered, and because we hadn't gamed since 12/22 so there was the inevitable chattiness that comes with intermittent play. I expect much the same in tomorrow's DF game, as well.

Mirado the Bloody, Human Fighter (lvl 2) (me)
Irban - Half-Elf M-U/Thief (lvl 2/2?) (Jason)
Rul Scararm, Human Fighter (lvl 1) (Douglas Cole)
Starlander Bek, Elf M-U (level 4?) (Joe D)

All of our characters awoke with a dream of a skeletal armor crushing a village, and trampling the sign reading "Aberton" underfoot. Being adventurers, we totally failed to realize that "Keep Out" doesn't mean "Free Money and Beer" and decided to investigate. Eddie Murphy's comment about Amityville came to mind. A vision of a glowing magical sword didn't hurt - although Mirado immediately realized that we'd be tracking it down for Rul, whose total lack of a magical sword is a shame to one and all.

It was a few days' ride to Aberton, so Mirado sprang for horses for everyone because he has more cash than things to spend it on. Mirado's horse is named Melyngrab.

We rode to the town, and found it was marked up as a plague center. So we bravely decided to follow a trail we found nearby and avoid the town completely. Along the trail we found a zombie caught in brambles - and shot it to death with arrows. It had been dead a long time, long enough for its clothes to rot.

We followed a rough trail to a collapsed mine. We checked around to avoid getting jumped from behind - and were attacked by skeletons who rose from the dirt to attack us. They didn't last.

Once they dropped, we dug. Mirado pitched even after claiming fighters should supervise, and clunked himself with falling rocks for 2 HP damage. Sigh. The stench of death from inside was strong, but only Irban was affected.

We pushed inside, and found a bunch of zombies in tattered uniforms (from a nearby monastery.) We put them down pretty quickly, and moved further into the dungeon, keeping to the left mostly because it seemed most likely to secure our rear than going right would.

Next up was a bigger room, with a plate-armored skeleton with a glowing sword, and some glowing spots on the ground that inevitably sprouted more skeletons. We fought, and some web spells (lit up by Starlander), a few sweet cleaves, and some general brawling put them all down. Mirado took out a few pretty quickly, but once Bek backed off to let the fighters handle it the rolls went south. He waded back in with a 20 and put things to right. Mirado isn't much of a finisher without mages in melee to keep his enthusiasm up. Rul went down, seriously injured (negative HP) and we had to close in around him to kill the enemy before any of them did any PC-like thing such as finishing the wounded.

Once they were down, Mirado was granted the plate armor (which, despite my concerns about his movement rate and mobility, he took, mostly because it was funny.* Rul took the sword, which turned out to be +1, +3 vs. undead, and glows blue when drawn.

Next we found a bunch of goblins up on a dead-end rise. We negotiated by identifying the one that could speak Common, and Bek casting Sleep on the rest (who looked sickly). While the goblin (later named Brak) told us tales of being inflicted with diseases by some evil dude(s), we tossed oil on the sleeping goblins and lit them up. Mirado's oil, actually, which just goes to show how much of a callous person he is.

Further exploration revealed a wide open coal mine area with prompted Loretta Lynne/Sissy Spacek comments under the place went all Harryhausen on us and ranked skeletons with matching weapons and shields rose up from the ground. Awesome.

We backed off to narrow, higher ground, and held them off. They attacked, but we basically trashed them although injury was incurred and we ended up needing to break out potions again.

From there, we continued to explore, aided by Skylander's extremely useful undead-detecting wand. We found a collapsed area we chose to leave for the moment. We next found a cul-de-sac with a shadow in it. It didn't last, because stating with Bek we opened up on it with everything and hit it hard. It went down without hitting any of us.

From there we found the BBEG. A cleric with a magical lantern and skeletal guards, and an alter with an otyugh all cut up on it to generate whatever disease magic he was working. What followed was a messy fight. Hold Person paralyzed Irban, and the cleric and skeletons swarmed in to attack Skylander. He tried to Magic Missile the lantern out of the guy's hand but didn't manage it, and took some hammering back from the cleric for his trouble. Mirado, who'd been holding back in the darkness, waded in swinging. A mix of misses and bad misses leeched away a few HP (I forgot to ask Erik how it manifests, actually), but eventually Mirado started to tee off with 19s and 20s as Rul got in hits, too. Rul had his sword, and Mirado just sucked up a -4 to hit in the darkness. We eventually got the cleric down and were able to feed potions to Bek and get him back up and going. Mirado took the cleric's head as proof we killed him, but that never turned out to be needed.

We looted the guy, finding magical armor and a magical mace (given to Irban, because he lacks a magic weapon), and eventually some cash and what turned out to be crappy gems.

We did some miscellaneous looting and exploring, but it mostly ended there. We did great on magical loot and general slaying, and got a bit of coin, too.

* Actually, Doug offered me the plate, and I said "Okay." Almost immediately he suggested as a lower-HP fighter he might benefit more, so I just snapped out "I already said OK." Everyone burst out laughing . . . . which is mainly why I did it. Still cost me some better armor later - same AC, lower weight. Oh well.


We explored the dungeon out in exact room order, 1-8.

As discussed last time, we needed better fight coordination. We got it in spades today. Shots were aimed at damaged foes trying to set up cleave results (generally; once I nailed a full-HP skeleton because I thought killing it was more important than scoring a cleave . . . lucky me I got it anyway). Downed PCs were rescued but first we secured them from damage. PCs stuck close to benefit from area-effect powers (Mirado's ring, for one) and so they could aid each other. It was much more solid teamwork and it showed in the way we generally plowed through the opposition and survived what could have been death.

Once again, Mirado's quick claiming of some mundane gear cost him better mundane gear later. Last time, it was a longbow that cost him a longbow +2. This time, it was old plate armor that cost him banded armor +1. Hopefully we'll find something magical in the future and I can leverage my lack of magic armor into claiming that! I'm not so comfortable with armor that D&D-style game systems feels is clumsy and heavy. I'd rather take a few hits than drown or sink or clank. But for now, I'll keep it.

Mirado's Ring of Protection (10' radius, saves only) has been really useful. I'm glad I traded for it, it makes me a real close-in asset.

Woundlicker cost me 2 (might have been 3 - I erased instead of crossed out, it's hard to tell now) thanks to 1s, and got me 2 back (thanks to hits on the cleric.) Its inability to suck HP from undead makes it risky against them, because it's risking HP loss just to get a +1 to hit and damage. But screw it, Mirado isn't carrying a spare sword just for undead. Might have to take the axe out next time though.

Mirado's ogre head has been interesting. Ever since I got it and started dual-wielding it, I've been rolling generally better. I got off a few 2-3 foe cleaves this session, and at least one of those hits (two, perhaps) were by the +1 for dual-wielding. It's a damn lucky head. I marked off some money to cover getting it preserved and weighted so I can keep bashing folks with it. It would be funny to turn it into a helmet and then turn the cleric's head into my "new" weapon. Heh. Nah. The ogre head is cooler.

I love playing S&W, but it's hard not to get the idea out of my head that my armor should be protecting me from damage, not hits, and that when I get hit and hurt that I'm not really reduced in combat ability. It's not a system complaint, it's just that going on 30 years of GURPS/Man-to-Man play means its concepts and concerns are deeply embedded in my reactions.

Doug blogged about this sooner and better than me.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Wishes, Part III - GURPS & My War Stories

You can find the rest of the series here: Part I: Wording and Whatnot and Part II: Limiting Wishes.

I've only had a few wishes used in my gaming history. But I've given a number out in GURPS, in the form of a Great Wish spell. So let's talk about the Wishing spells in GURPS Magic and then what happened with mine.

In GURPS Magic, there are three Wish spells - Lesser Wish, Wish, and Great Wish.

Lesser Wish - all this does is let you dictate a die roll's result before you roll it.

Wish - all this does is let you dictate a die roll's result after you roll it.

Both are cool, but they aren't really that exciting as wishes. They can be exciting in play - my players burned through some in a pretty amazing fight against some really tough opponents. But a called "3" to the head is nice but it doesn't have anything of an Aladdin-like feel to it. My players really like Lesser Wish, since tactically being able to call a critical hit on anything you can get a 3+ to hit with is potentially fight-turning. But again, it's pretty mechanistically "called luck" and not "magical wish-granting."

Great Wish - now we're getting somewhere. This spell can permanently add to your attributes, give an advantage, add to skills, or remove disadvantages. It can do the same to your enemies, too, if they are present. It can also replicate any spell at all, as if cast at 1000 energy (half of the cost of the Great Wish) - which is more than 3x as much as the next most expensive spell I can find in the book, Resurrection. So it can really cast a hugely powerful spell (by trading energy for skill) or a really big area spell (by dint of sheer energy expended.) It can also do "absolutely anything else that the GM feels will not ridiculously unbalance the adventure or the campaign!"

Pretty cool. But it's basically not castable. It makes a magical item, which anyone can then use, but the chance of a permanent power grant is hard to resist. This is especially true if what you ask for is something you cannot get by any other means. Great Wish is the ultimate excuse to suddenly be able to fly or be a Weapon Master or become a wizard. No one every had one of these and used for anything except to gain some kind of power. One spell that could do anything is nice, yes, but when it is so important to cast such a big spell that it's more useful than a permanent new ability you can use session after session? How about a shot at asking the GM for some crazy effect, knowing what the limits are for duplicating spells and for granting/removing traits?

Yeah, exactly. Everyone goes for the permanent grant over the temporary but decisive usage. No room for argument, it says right here I can give myself +1 DX with it, so that's that.

There is also a Wishing enhancement for things like Serendipity or Super Luck in Powers. But since the ability to have lucky events happen to you isn't terribly strong, you can't really grant too much gain. There are ways to amp this up a lot, but again, it generally comes to down to giving someone better rolls, creation powers to make things, movement powers to move them, etc. and a pile of points (GURPS Powers, p. 119, has examples - be prepared to spend hundreds of points for some pretty narrow effects.) I haven't seen a lot of this used in play. If you do use it, the results are even more specific - no wishing someone dead from the guy who has Luck that works on others or can create object for you, it's just not covered. This can be good or bad, depending on how you limit wishes.

War Stories

In my previous, sprawling fantasy game, I granted two wishes apiece to the PCs, albeit with a lot of time between the first and second . . . and they knew the second could and would come. Like I said, I granted these - well, a pair of magnificently powerful stone heads granted them - as a power graft onto the PCs to help them fight the Big Bad Evil Guy.

I made people request the results in plain language, which gave me some wiggle room, and admittedly let me squash more munchkinly requests (like the guy who wanted Magery 1 plus 2 additional levels of One College Magery and tried to work that into a non-game terms wording.)

The first batch included getting Trained By A Master, Danger Sense, +1 to DX, Luck, Wild Talent (one unlimited, one spells-only with retention). The second batch was a bit more varied, since the players realized they could ask for more and (if they had points to spend) could exceed the limits of the spell a bit. One guys asked to be a better demon fighter, and I crafted a Demon Hunter meta-trait for him. Another got an Energy Reserve and a special Leech power. Another got the ability to ignore some spells on (which later became a more limited Perk in Magical Styles), still another got Heroic Archer (making him the first), and one got a big jump in Charisma. One even got a limited Invisibility power.

Even so, and even with this granted specifically as a power grant to the PCs and a chance to buy new stuff, it took a second Wish each before people really got into the idea of using it to ask for wild and crazy powers.

To be perfectly honest, I find the wishes in GURPS Magic to be a bit mechanistic. Cast the spell, and it lets you do something pretty specific. Even the limits of Great Wish are so specified out that I've found it limits what players will try to do with them. Instead of just giving guidelines, the terribly specific nature of what it can do means no one really tried to do anything terribly interesting with it. It was just a convenient way to get some extra power on their PCs, and get things they might not have been able to get otherwise.

In my current DF game, I haven't given any Lesser Wish or Wish items, nevermind a Great Wish item . . . but there are some Great Wish (or at least Great Wish-like) items out there. I fully intend to being a bit more generous with that "absolutely anything" clause and a lot more restrictive with the "power grant" clauses. After all, people can already gain all sorts of crazy powers just with points in my games. If they get their hands on a wish, I want it to be a bit more magical and awesome, not just a chance to get +1 DX without saving up 20 points for it.

I can't confirm or deny, yet, if there are also lesser versions of the Great Wish spell, or if they use the "redistribution" aspect of wishing I mentioned before. Or if all wishes hang together, or come apart all together or not. But they might, they just might . . .

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Melee Academy: Dealing With Superior Foes

How do you deal with superior foes? Not foes with superior numbers, but foes who are just better than you? That is the subject of this installment of the multi-blog series Melee Academy.

These tactics are generic. These days I usually play Dungeon Fantasy, where fodder is meant to lose and be a threat only in great numbers. In fact, the term is ensconced in the rulebooks:

"Fodder monsters appear in hordes that outnumber the party. [. . .] a mob of fodder is essentially a distributed monster that has lots of attacks [. . .] They often have the advantage of mobility advantage, though, nipping in and out like jackels or piranha [. . .]"

I'm writing this from the perspective of the GM - how do you make these fodder, especially fodder that is outmatched in all quality markers (damage, skill, DR, HP) by the PCs, into an interesting threat?

Obviously, you need to give them some ability to threaten the players, usually using one or more of the four basics - superior numbers, special weaponry, prepared battlefields, or superior tactics. It's the last I'm concentrating on today - tactics. Specifically, the minutia of running fodder. What should your orcs, goblins, giant rats, dinomen, etc. do on their turns to be a threat to a group of well-armed delvers with superior skills?

Threat Potential

First, the fodder must have some way to threaten their opponents. They must be able to potentially penetrate DR with attacks, get a hold with grappling, or have some special ability which puts some cumulative hurt on the PCs. If they don't, they aren't fodder, they are a nuisance at best. They won't get anything done in terms of being a threat, and aside from occupying time (real world and in-game), they're generally a combat non-issue.

So now you've got them as an actual threat, now what? But what about actual tactical choices? What are the GURPS manuevers and combat options they need to choose to make it all matter?

Let's break these up into tactics to emphasize, marginal tactics, and tactics to avoid.

Tactics to Emphasize

These are the money moves for inferior opponents, in my experience.

Make Sure You Hit

The most important thing to do is make sure you hit. Fodder don't have great skill, usually, so don't get too ambitious. Make sure you hit.

You can get cute and do Telegraphic Attacks (Martial Arts, p. 113) to ensure you hit and force defense rolls, too. It doesn't help you roll critical hits, but it helps you hit, and forcing your foe to roll and risk a Critical Failure is better than just missing.

Deceptive Attack

If you can ensure you're going to hit, or at least get enough hits, consider using Deceptive Attack. It's a good tactic against foes that are only a bit superior to you. Lowering a Parry 18 to Parry 17 is worthless, but lowering a 12 to an 11 might make all the difference.

One fun tactic is to mix Telegraphic Attacks from earlier strikers with Deceptive Attack from later ones. The first really only want to force you to defend, hopefully with a Parry or Block so you get a cumulative penalty. The latter ones want to hit your potentially reduced defenses with a larger penalty.
The reverse works okay, too - Deceptive Attack, but then Telegraphic Attack to follow up when you are sure defenses are weak and Retreats used up. But it's demoralizing to spend a lot of attacks setting up a shot and then have the defender make it by the +2 you just handed to him.

Multiple Attacks on One Target

To inflict damage, you need to get through the Active Defenses of your target. In order to do this, you must hit first.

This great thread covers PCs charging a pike formation. Formed up weaker foes with long weapons can represent a good pile of attacks, and limit your options for closing with them. Your goal is to swamp defenses, and hope for critical hits along the way and blown defense rolls as a result of cumulative penalties. GURPS isn't attrition-heavy in the way D&D is, but you can effectively attrit defenses over the course of a turn, given enough attacks.

This also goes for grappling, especially if you're using Martial Arts: Technical Grappling. Even if you aren't, dogpile your foes; the more people you have hanging on, the worse off the opponent is.

Flank, Flank, Flank

Aim for flank attacks. One aspect of outnumbering your opponents is you can often lap around them. Get to the flank hex on the weapon side to avoid shields (and the DB from shields). Get to the shield-side flank to avoid a weapon parry. Even if you just do it through superior movement, the -2 to defend is a big edge.

Committed Attack

If your fodder has multiple defenses, or at least one good one that doesn't depend on Retreat such as Block or a non-Fencing Parry, take a good look at this option.

This beats All-Out Attack (see below) because it means attackers still need to expend some effort overcoming the fodder's defenses. They aren't auto-killed when the PCs' turn comes up. But it also gives them some extra movement, damage, or attacking skill to leverage into a threat to the PCs. Shield-armed fodder should seriously consider this, since they can get off one good Block after getting off a Committed Attack. Use (Determined) for a better hit chance or (Strong) to get a little more damage, and the two step option combined with either can let them perform a runaround attack to give their target a -2 to defend (p. B391) and to force the target to keep backpedaling.


Take a close look at the Teamwork or Teamwork (Pack Tactics) perks. With the Teamwork perk, they can form up and use formations to threaten foes. With Pack Tactics, they can surround and harass foes more effectively.

Another good one is Shield Wall Training so fodder can block for each other, and make it a bit harder to kill them off with the old technique of Feint-and-Attack or overwhelming through multiple attacks. You can Feint Blarg the Orc, but if Lurg blocks for him, your deception was useless.

Tactics Of Marginal Value

These moves have their place, but they aren't your go-to moves turn after turn.

Aiming for Hit Locations

Useful if the targets have a specific weakness or if you must hit to inflict any useful damage. Or, if hitting a specific location trumps the value of hitting anything else. If the only way you can reasonably hurt your foe is an eye strike or a Chinks in Armor hit, you have to go for it. But it's not worth aiming for specific locations if a random strike or a torso strike will inflict some damage.

You must be able to hurt your opponent, so use aimed shots for penalized locations when that makes the difference between damaging or non-damaging attacks.

All-Out Attack

Another one to avoid, unless you're running berserker fodder. It seems tempting - +4 to hit, +2 to damage . . . but unless you dramatically outnumber your foes or they can't reliably one-shot incapacitate or kill your, you are toast. It's mostly useful when your opponent can't defend or can't retaliate, or to take advantage for a golden opportunity to rush in and whack someone who really needs hitting. But in general, you are just making it easy for your superior foe to kill you faster, and rarely for a good tradeoff.

Defensive Tactics in General

All the All-Out Defending in the world is useless when someone smashes your defenses with a solid Feint and then stabs you. AOD is useful if you are close in defenses, and you can force attackers to attack the fodder that are AODing while other fodder attack. If that is the case, do it. If not, avoid it.

Tactics To Avoid

These have a big failure mark all over them.

Feints, Beats, and Ruses

Useless, worthless, and pointless. All three of these require a competitive skill level to make them possibly useful, and a superior skill level to make them worth trying.

If a fodder monster tries a Feint, and you conceal the results (either by rolling secretly, or rolling the results on the following turn), you're basically just saying "Kill this guy now, he might be good." So it's got some use as a sacrifice, if you want to ensure the PCs kill a specific fodder monster by pretending it is some kind of threat. If you are using some version of Setup Attack, that can be useful.

Beat is possibly useful, if the fodder types are really strong, and can leverage their ST-based skill into a number that can potentially threaten the better of ST-based or DX-based skills of the delver. That's rare in normal GURPS games and rarer still in Dungeon Fantasy. It's better for, again, marginally less skilled guys.

Getting Fancy In General

Remember you are inferior in skill, and you must maximize what you have. Throwing skill away for Rapid Strikes, eye strikes, Lethal Kicks, defaulted techniques, etc. is a bad idea. Go for the money moves and apply as many of them to the enemy as possible.

And that's how I run my fodder to make them a threat.

Special DF Note: Remember they are still fodder. The odds are they are going to lose, and lose badly. Even in a minor victory (driving off the PCs, say) they'll probably take terrible losses. Many will die, and even if they fight in-game as if they all expect to live (and not like suicide troopers), they will take losses. Groups of fodder lose members like larger monsters lose HP, and "heal" them by getting replacements. The only way fodder can really win is through vastly superior numbers, in my experience, although they can occasionally present an obstacle by sheer threat of costing time or resources the group doesn't want to expend. If you juice them up until they are a real threat, then they aren't really fodder, or inferior foes, anymore. An army of orcs is a boss fight, even if individually they are all fodder versus your handful of adventurers.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wishes, Part II - Limiting Wishes

(For Part I, click here. I'll save the war stories for Part III on Friday - since Thursday is Melee Academy - since most of mine are GURPS related.)

The power of wishes is pretty broad - you are taking specific game-rule effects out of the equation and giving the players a chance to exercise a direct request from the GM.

Yesterday I edged up to the idea that wishes don't need to be adversarial to avoid being game-breaking. So if you aren't going to fulfill wishes with the most ruthlessly technically correct readying of the wording of the wish, how else can you limit them?

I have some suggestions.

Limit The Gains

Put some limits on what you can wish for; perhaps wishes can only directly affect immaterial objects and the wisher. So you can wish to be smarter, gain ability to cast spells, or ask for palace full of money and clothes and food . . . but you can't wish someone dead.

Perhaps you can wish for means, not ends - so if you ask to be smarter you get a big-ass magical book of knowledge that you can study for a higher IQ. You can ask for great strength but get a guarantee of quick success with your weight training. You can ask for knowledge but instead get a scroll that contains what you wanted to know. And so on - means, but not the end itself. A smooth and assured path to success but you still need to take the steps.

Redistribution of Wealth

Another option is that wishes don't create or destroy, but move and redistribute. Money you wish for comes from somewhere. Magical healing is possible so the wish just brings the health from the same place Minor Healing does. This effectively limits wish to being broad ways to get access to knowledge or the effect of any sort of other spell or power, not a way to transform yourself into Emperor.

Beings granting wishes might do this, and just call it wishing. You ask the djinni for food and he creates some with a different spell and says "Your wish is granted." You ask for money and he leads you to a hoard he's known about for centuries. You ask for a ring of unlimited wishes and he brings you the ring that summons his cousin, because, screw both of you guys.

Weaker Wishes

You can also limit how much they can do via weaker wishes. "Limited Wish" is a good example of this. It's a wish, but it simply cannot do as much. It's simply a flexible spell that affects reality in an undefined but limited way.

Limit The Number of Wishes

How about you just cap how many?

Great Cost

The Great Wish spell in GURPS costs 2,000 energy to cast. A normal human has 10 power, and spells in excess of 20-30 points start to be too expensive to cast. 50+ is crazy expensive. So yeah, 2000 power. It can do a lot, but it's generally easier to replicate other spell effects by just casting those spells, and its ability to permanently grant power isn't that great for 2K.

The 9th level 1st edition AD&D spell was sort of like that. You needed to be 18th level to cast it, and unless you wished for some specified healing/helping type effects you'd need 2-8 days of bed rest afterward. It wasn't clear to me if wish rings had the same, but if they did, I wasn't playing them right.

Three Wish Maximum

This is basically a wishing limit per person. I say "Three Wishes" but it can be any number. You can only handle so many wishes. This can be a hard limit, or an increasing chance of failure, or for skill-based systems a simple result of a failed casting. Fail, and it's done. Perhaps it's an IQ-based limit similar to AD&D's System Shock, and if you fail it, your wishing is done. Simply put, you can't alter reality that much that often.

A Wish Too Far

Perhaps asking for too much snaps you back to where you started, much like the fisherman's wife.

You can also limit wishes a bit by saying all wishes made from one source hang together. If you free a djinni from a bottle and he grants you three wishes, and somehow you blow the third, the first two go with it. Or if the djinni is slain or banished or whatever, the materials that came with wishes he granted all go away - no time limit on that. This makes it safer to ask for limited things, or knowledge, or to speed things that would have happened anyway, because it's harder for them to go away.

The adventure "Threshold of Evil" in Dungeon Magazine #10 took this approach. The wizard in the tower used piles of wishes, but it was strongly implied he could lose it all by wishing for too much some day . . . so he would be very careful with his Wish spells even under deadly assault by a group of adventurers.

This means the more wishes you use, the greater the risk of undoing everything. Couple that with unreliable sources and/or limits on their power, and they might not get pushed to the limit. If they do, you can always end up back in the shack with the fisherman's wife.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Wishes, Part I - Wording & Whatnot

"When I wish to make a wish
I wave my hand with a big swish swish.
Then I say, "I wish for fish!"
And I get fish right on my dish.

So . . . if you wish to make a wish,
you may swish for fish
with my Ish wish dish.
~ Dr Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish"

So how about wishes in your fantasy games?

Did you ever give your players access to wishes for their characters, either by spell, ring or dish of multiple wishes, or granted by some being with excessive power over reality?

I have, with mixed results (that I'll talk about next time.)

Be Careful What You Wish For
The idea that a wish is a very specific contract made with an actively hostile universe looking to screw you in the most nitpicky way possible seems to be fairly deeply embedded in the gaming world. I'm going to come right out and say this right away - I've never been a big fan of hostile, lawyerly wish granting. I think it turns "we have a wish, and it will come true!" into a long, grinding period of players carefully wording things to try to get a specific result without getting screwed out of that result because of a tense or grammar or word error.

I can recall my issues of Dragon magazine having reader questions, Sage Advice, and articles about wishes. They all seemed to come down hard on people asking for too much. It always seemed like the goal was to admonish GMs against giving too much away by swaying them over to giving nothing away unless forced to. I think these, combined with the very strict as-written way we played, meant that wishes were excessively rare. We all knew where in the modules to get that ring of wishing (cough, cough, G2) but we also all knew that guy who said he got it solo adventuring and that's why his character now has four character classes and all 18s and a magic crossbow that shoots energy bolts. Naturally, this made us even more leery of wishes.

It seems to me that granting a chance to make a wish or three to the PCs is giving them a chance to use broad magical powers to effect some change they couldn't otherwise. By making it both so unlimited, and so perversely twisted, it makes wishes potentially more dangerous than helpful. I'd like to have wishes be something more exciting than "this could do anything, but I need to hire a lawyer first to ensure it is helpful."

So here is basically how I run wishes.

Wishes From No Specified Source

Your spells and your wish rings probably go here. You aren't asking anyone in the game, just asking the wizard (who might be you!) to grant something to you. Here, I tend to err on the side of being a little generous. As long as what you ask for isn't game-breaking and abusive of course ("I wish for a thousand wishes!" or "I wish for the main bad guy to die permanently right now. Hey, game over, yay, we won, let's go play video games.") You have to be specific, but not crazily so - you're not handing over a signed contract to the devil to see if he can find a loophole, you're using your vague-but-powerful magic to change things in a way not specified in some other spell.

Generally, the more control you have over the granting, the less likely you are to get screwed. Wishes tend to be specific (you get what you asked for) but not necessarily bad (you technically get what you asked for, but with a serious problem.)

Wishes From Friendly Sources

Jake: I wish for - a sandwich!
Prismo: A sandwich, you're gonna waste your one wish on a sandwich?! You don't want anything else?
Jake: Nah, sandwich is good, [Demonstrates the size with this hands] maybe about . . . this big . . . or this big. On ciabatta bread maybe . . . mmm I don't know, whatever you have it's your choice.
Prismo: Dude, I'll just make you a sandwich! You should use your wish on something important.

- Jake & Prismo, Adventure Time, "Jake the Dog."

For these I am the most generous. Your wish-granter wants you to succeed, but just can't do it for you. You may get advice, you may get what you need instead of specifically what you ask for, and slightly vaguely-worded wishes that give leeway to the wish-granter to get you something better are probably okay. You can often even check first - remember, helpful creature. The worst a helpful creature is likely to say is that it can't tell you ahead of time if it's good or bad.

Wishes From Hostile Creatures

These, you're going to get screwed on. Be careful. You must word it correctly, because it's meant to tempt you to well-intentioned mistakes and not really help you. These you get from monkey's paws and from demons who can grant another's wish if you force them too. You are literally making a devil's bargain here. Don't mess up, and always be suspicious of what you got out of it. Also remember to worry about getting too cute - if you try to use the wish to force the demon to banish himself for eternity or something, remember that spells have limits, too - it might not be able to do that.

Next time, I'll look at some ideas for limiting wishes, making them a bit more flexible, and discussing some war stories. Then in Part III, I want to talk GURPS wishing rules.
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