Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Warehouse 23 Sale - 23% off

Steve Jackson Games and Atlas Games are having a 23% off sale until May 3rd. This is rare and also pretty excellent, since it includes physical goods and PDFs.

I (finally) picked up GURPS Ultra-Tech for under $20 and I'm eying some others. But here are some steals for you:

My books, for one, such as GURPS Martial Arts for $21.55, or GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling or GURPS Martial Arts: Gladiators for $7.69.

A 12-month Pyramid subscription for $53.90 (that's just under $4.50 an issue.)

Dungeon Fantasy 1 and most of the DF line for around $6.15 each (actually they range from a low of $3.84 to $7.61)

GURPS Conan and its four solo adventures - all 3rd edition, but easily adaptable - for under $25 for the lot.

Or a bunch of Ars Magica and Feng Shui stuff from Atlas Games. Or even this oddity I spotted: Cthulhu 500. What the-?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kromm on Artificers in GURPS DF

I haven't been lurking or posting on the SJG Forums as much recently. But I do poke in to check if something especially interesting popped up.

This thread on the DF4 Artificer features three posts by Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch.

- this one on the DF11 Spellsmith perk and the importance of the GM/player agreement for the artificer to work.

- this breakdown of type of niches for the various DF templates.

I'm posting it here so I don't lose track of it, and hopefully help others, too.

Four D&D Magic Items I Handed Out Every Game

. . . well, not necessarily every game, but certainly close to every game if they weren't every game. The other day was my top four items I never handed out, and why. Today, four I handed out more often than their power level or utility might indicate. I'm sure +1 weapons outnumbered these, but still, from the standpoint of interesting stuff, these came up a lot:

Nolzur's Wondrous Pigments - these show up in one of the Giants series modules, and I ran them more than once, so my AD&D groups kept finding them but then not using them. My friend Steve's M-U Presto had a bunch for a while but never used them up. I put a version of them into my Rolemaster game, and I put some in my last GURPS game, too. No one ever used them that I can recall except for something minor in my most recent completed GURPS campaign.

Figurines of Wondrous Power. I can't remember a game where these or something like these wasn't around, not in my adult gaming life. AD&D, Rolemaster, and GURPS - all had them show up. Mostly people wanted figurines that turned into combatants, but especially in GURPS the utility type ones had more actual usefulness.

No one should be surprised if they appear again.

Horns of Valhalla - I know for a fact one of my players had one of these in two different AD&D games of mine and one GURPS game. He wasn't the only one with one. Mostly Iron horns, but one Silver horn came up once, too.

Rings of Water Walking - Geez, too many to count! We often had multiples of those in parties in every game. Modules seemed full of them, and they came up a lot in my own placements and random rolling, too. D&D, AD&D, Rolemaster, GURPS - these were everywhere. If you count Horseshoes of the Zephyr, well, add two more to that. They were used often, too, to ride out over water! My DF game is probably the only one so far where it hasn't made an appearance. But it's not like all of my games needed people running around on the water. But the rings just kept on coming . . .

An honorable mention should go to the Ring of the Ram, which showed up in my AD&D game and then in my 1st edition GURPS game, too. Folding Boats, too - many of them have appeared in my games, and will again. But not all of them. The ones above - every game. Every single game for all of them. I'll probably break that streak with this game, my DF game, but you never know . . .

What items came up every game in your games?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Four D&D Magic Items I Never Handed Out

Four is my favorite number, which is why this is four not five.

What are the four magic items you've never, ever handed out in a game? Not "I put one in, but no one found it" but just "no, no, no, not in my game."

Rod of Lordly Might - never put one in. I still don't quite get the appeal of a Swiss Army Rod that is all sorts of magic weapons at once, plus acts as a battering ram. It's just too odd, to me - it doesn't lack for uniqueness but it sure lacks in appeal to me. It feels like a truly weird item thrown in to get a laugh out of players at the expense of that guy they know who surely inspired it.

Hammer of Thunderbolts - too many stipulations on what you need to use this, plus all sorts of stackable powers if you did have the 6' in height, Girdle of Storm Giant Strength, Gauntlets of Ogre Power, etc. to use it. Basically, too restricted followed by too powerful once you unleashed the restrictions. There was no happy medium.

Sword +5, Holy Avenger - the paladin we had, the one real paladin we had - was a Unearthed Arcana-era one and I gave him a Broadsword of Intercession (from Dragon #91, I think), instead, which let him use his Paladin powers but not get quite such a powerful weapon so early. It felt like too much, and so a truly great weapon like this never quite appeared. I can't really say why - maybe just because +5 seemed so incredible that it was something that only fit with high-level play, and so I essentially pushed it off to the end like dessert but never quite got there.

Helm of Brilliance - too much, just too much. Like the Rod of Lordly Might, it seemed like a crazy gimme item that couldn't settle on what it was. I do think it's a lot cooler when I look at it now, but still, I have a hard time seeing me putting something like this in a dungeon early enough to matter in any campaign. It's another item, though, like the Rod of Lordly Might that just seems like a grab-bag of powers.

There are others I never used, of course. I can't remember a single magical Scarab of anything in my games, or gave anyone a Sphere of Annihilation (not sure I knew what it was really good for, except as a trap), or Instrument of the Bards (only a tiny handful of bards in my games.) I don't think Daern's Instant Fortress showed up in a game, or a Ring of Boccob or an Apparatus of Kwalish or a Cubic Gate. No Anything Swords, either, or Swords of Sharpness. The one vorpal blade anyone got was from a Gygax module. I only ever handed out one Cube of Force that I remember. The sole Ring of Spell Turning I remember I didn't give out but it came with an NPC. The Staff of the Magi showed up twice (once providing a memorable end to Q1 in the form of a retributive strike to destroy Lolth.)

But some stick out as ones I made a conscious decision to not hand out or make available, or shied away from. And there are ones I handed out like free candy - which is another post in an of itself.

What are your four? If you blog on it, let me know and I'll link it here!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

DF Game Session 42, Felltower 33

April 27th, 2014

Weather: Cool, clear.

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Dryst, halfling wizard (345 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Galen Longtread, human scout (327 points)
Vryce, human knight (401 points)
     Gort of the Shining Force, dwarf adventurer (unknown point total, NPC)
     Melchior the Malevolent, human wizard (approximately 125 points, NPC)
     Melchior's Zombie Rebel Crazy Boss, human? zombie (NPC)

Still in town:
Borriz, dwarven knight (308 points)
Christoph, human scout (258 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (303 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (302 points)

We started in Stericksburg, as always.

They picked up a few rumors - one about a giant f-ing staircase all the way down to the depths of the dungeons, another about caves so high-ceilinged that tribes of giants could live in them, and still another about an underground burial area used by "orcs, ogres, and other dark dwellers." Some monsters live in two worlds at once, some wizards say. They also heard some dwarf or gnome had moved up to the dungeon, having found a way in that avoids "those orcs you guys are in league with." Galen argued this might be some other guy than "THE gnome" but only he argued that.
Oh, and the occasional rumbles of the mountain? The dragon in the mountain rolling over in his slumber.

Gort agreed to come for beer money. Melchior agreed to come for a 1/2 share of loot, and Orcish Bob offered the same. They turned down Bob but offered him a stipend - he refused to come for just that. They paid upkeep, bought a couple of potions, took delivery on some armor ordered last time, and then headed up.

They headed off and I gave them my usual "getting underway" spiel.

At the top of the mountain they found the orcs had fortified more - they've begun a pair of ditches outside the walls, breaking up the road so you need to zig-zag to get to the gate. They still have that blocked with a wagon but Gort pointed out they had clearly been working at the gate mechanism trying to free it up.

They paid their 50 sp and headed in, noting the guards, hearing some orc wolf-dog mixed canines they use for guards, etc. That lead to jokes about coat checks ("Orcs not responsible for stolen or looted items") and such. They went down the entrance and crossed the pit on the orc's rough bridge. This time, they headed right. The portcullis was up.

They moved carefully through the "noisy" room and past the spot where they'd had a knock-down-drag-out with some trolls. Then to where they'd once fought the Choke Brothers.

There was a staircase up (to rubble, they recalled but didn't check) and a portcullis-blocked hallway with a pair of eerily three-dimensionally painted 6' faces on each side. They knew they'd blast you with strange energy, so they got right to work on dealing with them.

They Acid Jeted one (it shot back once, and when hit from further away it didn't shoot back but the acid did nothing. Vryce got the idea that they needed to charge the black metal door at the end of the hallway with a ram. To do that, he wanted to raise the bent and locked-down portcullis. So he (ST 19), Raggie (ST 18), and the zombie (ST 18) all set to work lifting it. An excellent Forced Entry roll and some straining later, the locks groaned and burst and the portcullis went up. Gort provided a mallet and iron spike to keep it up, although he also said it might stay up on its own thanks to being bent out of shape.

That done, they got to the ram. Dyrst Create Object'd one up for Vryce. Then they put Armor +6 on Vryce and he ran down the hallway, sucking up lightning and fire to land a shot on the door. BANG! He managed to damage it . . . but his ram stuck and he had to rip it free. When it came free, he was blasted again. He figured he'd need at least 6 hits that solid to weaken the door to the point it could fail, and tried again - but couldn't marr it without a charge.

Long story short, he ran back and they regrouped. They almost decided to come back later, but then Vryce insisted on getting that door open. Basically, they magicked up some Heavy Leather armor for the zombie, put Might and Armor on it, had Vryce drink a strength potion (he rolled a 6!) and they charged down. Fire and lightning hit them but didn't bother them much and then cracked the door. BANG! It wasn't down, but they ripped the ram free and again and again they hit it. They kept getting blasted, but luckily it was mostly lightning and fire and not black fire (which causes FP damage and ignores armor) and they smashed the door down after a few hits.

Vryce stepped into the lavender-walled, well, waiting room beyond. A voice boomed out, "Who are you?"

"Lord Vryce!"

The floor instantly turned ice-cold, causing wispy "smoke" to rise from it and hitting Vryce with Frostbite. He resisted. A second later he was hit again and hurt, as was the zombie. They fell back.

The plan became - Resist Cold on people, and Dryst and Galen run down the corridor, everyone else guards their six. But Raggi didn't want to wait. He rushed down the corridor, shrugging off some minor blasts until two black fire jets hit him. They did exactly 12 FP to him, taking him to 0 mid-stride. He crashed into the room beyond unconscious (he's got a terrible consciousness roll without being Berserk). The voice boomed out but no one answered - and no icy floor came. They decided just to ignore it.

The room beyond turned out to the first room in a suite. It had nice furniture but it was old. Not rotted, but very old. They grabbed a crystal decanter and goblet set (they'd end up breaking one but fixing it with Repair) and moved on.

In the suite they found:

- a game room, with a chess set, a backgammon set, and a six-person throws table. They looted the pieces and left the boards which were integral to the table.

- between the rooms was a corridor with plush carpeting and paintings and frescoes and mosaics in purples, greys, and blacks depicting demons and cone-hatted cultists. Vryce recognized the color and motifs from the evil temple back in his early adventuring days!

- there was a master bedroom with a black four-poster bed and lots of valuables, including paintings, perfumes, masterwork furniture, statues of tentacled demons, and a red six fingered hand on the wall behind the bed. They sent a servant in to jump on the bed . . . which it did, and then there was a crack like sizzling lightning. They looked up, and was looked like the bottom a 10' mushroom cap - yet glowing - was above them. It lashed out at Vryce and the servant with tentacles of lightning and zapped Vryce badly. He shook it off but the servant was dispelled instantly. A fierce fight broke out. Galen shot the disc with arrows but one bounced off and the other barely injured it. Vryce All-Out Defended for a better Dodge (which paid off greatly!) and Dryst started up with Resist Lightning spells. The fight was nasty - Galen was shocked in the foot and the body by what turned out to be an electric jellyfish. He fell, stunned, and remained so until much later in the fight. Dryst avoided the tentacles as he protected himself with magic, too.

Vryce found himself attacked by the jellyfish with a strange fleshy tube, which they decided must be supremely bad news. He fended it off for a while but bad luck (despite two Luck uses - one on a critical hit against him) resulted in it getting him. It couldn't pierce his armor put it inflicted 8 CP on him. Vryce kept slashing away, Galen recovered and shot it, and Dryst hit it with an Acid Jet. Finally, it collapsed. Vryce ran out from underneath.

Dryst realized the ooze was good for paut, so he managed to gather up 25 doses worth in a created container. Much of what was in the room was ruined, but not the statues or what was on the wall. They looted the place, getting everything ready for transport. Sense Danger told them the treasures were dangerous to them, and their own need for Fright Checks from one painting with bizarrely three-dimensional paints by Deref Yerej

After that they found more of the suit:

- a play room with lewd paintings and plenty of cushions and pillows (they took the paintings).

- a guest bedroom

- a scrying room with a crystal ball, a (mostly empty) basin of mercury, and a glass mirror.

- a walk-in wardrobe with 50 suits of nice clothing, a black vestment with a black cone hat, and an empty armor doll.

- a corridor of secret doors around the various rooms, with one-way secret doors, spy eye stations, and so on. They got into that by bashing one of the secret doors apart with hammers under a Silence spell. That corridor connected to the evil temple they'd found much earlier, and the "death zone" extended into the corridor. They still sent Vryce to suck up some damage and see what he could see. Nothing special, but they saw into both of the archway rooms from that temple.

- Finally, they found a way out near the otyugh's lair.

They gathered their stuff, including around 150 pounds of clothing, 100 pounds of statues, and 150 or so pounds of framed pictures, and headed out.

They ran into the otyugh, who slapped down a servant sent to scout. It ran after dodging some arrows aimed at its eyes from Galen and then a sword attack from Vryce. Vryce insisted they let it run - better it was there than it dies and some new critter takes over. They'd basically trained it and the gargoyles not to mess with them. The worked their way around, mystifying the orcs who'd suddenly had them appear on the wrong side of the dungeon from the one they'd go in to. They linked back up with their waiting friends.

They headed out of the dungeon.

Naturally, all of this stuff was cursed. Heavily so - Galen ended with a -4 to all rolls and Curse 3, while Raggi, Vryce, and Dryst were -4 and Curse 2. They assumed this was the case, so they were all ready to go get de-cursed. So they headed right back to town looked to get that all removed ASAP.

Luckily, Black Jans, today hailed by his servant as "Chief Wizard to the Khans of Bota," was in town. I made them roll - he's around a 12 or less, but it was -4 for the curses. Vryce rolled a 7. They were ushered in by The Kio, this time a green-furred ape wearing a blue-and-red fez. Jans was only interested in the most bizarre of the paintings, the one by Dereff Yerej. He offered 11,000 for that, but 8,000 for curing the four curses. They paid, and he did it. It was twice as much as at the temple, but his powers are much greater.

That done, they rousted up Galoob Jah and got him to eyeball their loot for value, then went and sold it. Long story short, they took in around 10,500 each for the main adventurers and 5000 or so for the others. They also netted 25 doses of paut, an 8-pack of special incense that speeds up fatigue recovery, and a single hair Vryce found on the hat. Ancient History on that revealed a malevolent, twisted, perverted, and power-hungry man once wore that hat, and used it in evil rituals. The word "Brotherhood" floated in Drysts mind, too.

Where they'll go with that remains to be seen, but they kept the vestments . . .


Good session - lots of investigation of a tight and interesting area, a tough fight handled well, and nice connections on their map that cleared up some things for them.

MVP this session was Vryce, for insisting on getting through that door and making it happen.

Vryce immediately spent his remaining points on ST 20 and HP 29 at the end of the session. Next session he'll use what he saves for HP 30, and then the plan is Striking ST 1 so he can get to a base 4d.

The electric jellyfish (from DFM1) was pretty scary. If Dryst didn't have Resist Lightning it would probably have been too much for them. With it, it was much less dangerous but not harmless. Without it - say, if their early attempt to break in had succeeded - they'd have been vastly less equipped to handle it. It will be interesting when they fight more of them, or in a mixed-foe battle where Resist Lightning to stop the EJs is using points and time needed to deal with someone else.

Overall, good game!

What I want from supplements

What do I want in a published game or supplement?

Basically, I want a box of LEGOs.

You can pretty much build anything with LEGOs, but a kit isn't just a random box of pieces you can make stuff out of.

What's in a LEGO kit?

- all the pieces you need.

- a guide to assemble them easily.

- interoperability with other kits.

That's pretty much it. If a giant spider is on the front of the box with a hapless victim, you can build that. It's all there. Equally you can connect it with any other LEGO kit, pretty much.

And you can freely change out the blocks with other blocks. You can ignore that guide and change stuff.

That's a pretty good analogy of what I want from published games and adventures (although, not from toolkits and settings - see below).

I want:

- a complete map that actually lines up with the rest of the map and is readable (WG4 I'm looking at you)

- all the details provided. Stats, treasure, names of important people, etc. - put it all in. Fill in the details enough that I could pick it up and run it (say, like Stonehell) and not have to fill in missing bits to make it even work at all (B1, in some versions.)

- enough done that if I want to I can pick it up and go and not change, modify, or fill in anything. (St. Georges Cathedral is a good example of this, and so is Scourge of the Demon Wolf)

- advice on how to change or scale it, if you have any (DFA1 does this in spades)

Basically, yes, I want you to do all of my imagining for me. What I'm paying for is the ability to mine your ability and your time for my games. If you leave some things for my "imagination" you're deciding for me what things I will want to change or not. Don't do that. Fill in all of the details and trust me to decide if I want to change them or not. But what you leave blank I must fill in with details, even if inspiration doesn't strike me.

In other words, it's easier to take a 100% done-and-ready-to-go adventure and change it where I need to than take a 90% done adventure with 10% left to my imagination and then fill in that 10% and then change it where I need to.

I know I can change things. It's the basic rule of GMing, for me - I can change things. But when a game says "the GM should decide how much damage this does" or "we've left rooms 1-25 up to the GM to fill in" I'm not so happy. I could have changed the damage if I wanted to, but now I have no idea what the game designer thought was a good idea for damage. Maybe I really don't have 25 rooms worth of stocking ready in my head or the time to fill them in.

By all means, provide me tag ends where I can attach my own stuff to yours and fold yours into my game world. But don't leave big-ass holes in the main part of it where the adventure supposedly takes place.

Now I do understand some people really like adventures with missing bits the GM is meant to fill in - but like "batteries not included" it's going to save everyone a lot of anger if you come out and say that.

But wait, you're saying, LEGOs don't come assembled. This is true - but adventures don't come pre-read, either. You do need to take some time to know what's in them just like you need to put together that kit when you get it home. But the pieces are all there, and that's what I want when you sell me an adventure.

Do I always want all the answers?

No. Not for a toolkit (Any GURPS book leaps to mind, here, as does Dungeon Alphabet). Not for a setting, although the more detail you can provide the better (Faerun is nice, Majestic Wilderlands is better, and Cloudlords of Tanara is best.)

It's fine to provide tools to help do the job of GMing, and things that need assembly and modification. It's just aggravating when it's a surprise, or a supposedly complete adventure requires "finishing touches" and you don't have the time or don't have the inspiration to do that. I'm happy to get a toolkit when I'm buying a toolkit. But adventures aren't, ideally, toolkits, they're assembled places to play in.

And that's what I want from supplements.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

S&W in the Southern Reaches: Session 5 - Castle of the Mad Archmage 2 - Chutes & Slopes

We went back to the Castle of the Mad Archmage in the Southern Reaches B-Team game. For a much better summary, check Doug's blog. Where our accounts differ on specifics, he's certainly the correct version. Mine is from memory, his is from notes.

Here is the GM's perspective on it, too.

Minister, Half-Elf Cleric/Magic-User (lvl 1/1) (Tim Shorts)
Mirado the Bloody, Human Fighter (lvl 3) (me)
     Beggar #1 (lvl 0), human wretch with staff and torch
     Beggar #2 (lvl 0), human wretch with staff and torch
Rul Scararm, Human Fighter (lvl 3) (Douglas Cole)
Alisha, Human Druid (lvl ?) (Michael)

We started out at the gates of the Castle of the Mad Archmage. Rul had wisely purchased some healing potions last time but foolishly didn't buy more this time. Mirado once again hired some hirelings, wasting 50 gp on recruiting considering the two miserable specimens of doltish cowards he ended up hiring. Still, a torchbearer is a torchbearer, and the sunk cost of the 50 gp convinced him to take them along.

The guards from last time were gone - clearly they left in some haste. It occured to Mirado that something must have come up and chased them away, and the idea that they'd fled real authorities or more badass adventurers once their possible scam had been discovered didn't yet occur to him.

We headed down to level 2 without stopping on level 1. We discussed continuing down to level 3 (I was all for it) but everyone else felt compelled by a) Minister being a novice yet and b) level 3 being quite potentially dangerous. So we opened up the double doors.

We immediately started to go left. Minister reminded us Left is Sacred, and indeed, the Church of the Left Turn has treated this flock well. We've occasionally had to bend to the whims of the evils of straights and rights, but often once we re-orient ourselves after passing them, those false rights turn out to be well and truly lefts, and it's okay for us to continue.

We found a Magic Mouth which told us a limerick about an elf that slid down a pit into the depths, or something, and what looked the a Grimtooth trap - a long corridor with spikes at the end. Uh, nah.

In short order we found a room with fungus, a passage on the other side, and five giant crickets in it. There was also a small door - 4' tall and 2 1/2' wide. Our druid tried to listen at the door, but the crickets prevented that. In frustration, Mirado attacked them - briefly considering and then discarding the idea of using oil. Oops. Mirado preceded to whiff over and over on the crickets, as did Rul, allowing them to bite Minister and Mirado. Minister had to bust out his Sleep spell to put them down. Which was actually good, because it also slept a pair of megalocentipedes charging in to the fray. We slew them and searched their room, but nothing.

Behind the small door was a chest with silver pieces, and a suit of human-sized full plate, which Mirado took, and gave his plate mail to Minister.

We continued on and found a long corridor with sloped slightly down. We figured it went to level 3; Mirado argued we needed to see if it did and then Rul argued strongly we needed to check a room. Especially after it took our poor GM a while to pull the map up to look at it. (Sorry)

We tried some doors and failed to open them. Behind another we found a room with a door and 16,000 odd keys hanging on the wall. A message on the floor told us a story, and we started to puzzle out the message. Rul pounced on the answer right away, and selected the right key and opened the door. Nice.

Beyond it was a room with a wardrobe and three chests. (At this point, Michael was tired and had to go, so our Druid headed to the surface)

Mirado looked for obvious traps, because if he was a Mad Archmage he'd put a totally awful deathtrap behind a difficult puzzle, just to be like that. But we found nothing of that sort - just the usual deathtraps on the treasure.

We got the chests open, although Mirado got his arms slammed with a beartrap. We found 10,000 cp and a bunch of silver and 3000 or so gold, and a shortsword. Finally there was the wardrobe. The idea was to pull it open with a rope, so Mirado went to tie it on . . . but got nailed with an Old School Save or Die poison needle. Hah, I say. Hah. He easily made his save this time. Behind it was a leather cloak. We took the better loot and marked the location in our minds to come back to.

We went back to level 2 and explored more. We met and killed some troglodytes - and a timely Sleep spell by Minister put them down along with their reinforcements. Nicely done.

We kept exploring.

We bashed open a door and surprised some orcs playing cards. Mirado rushed in and attacked, killing one and then whiffing on the next - but only barely. So I spent 1 Luck for a +2 and made it barely hit, instead. That told - Mirado sliced down four orcs before he could cleave no more. The fifth and sixth went down to Minister.

We heard orcs in the other room call out. Mirado responded in Orcish with something like "Come help us!" but they weren't fooled. They piled up stuff in front of the door. Heh. Mirado got out oil, but then thought better of it. We looted the downed orcs, and Mirado called out what we found on each one. The orcs on the other side complained they were card cheats. Then Mirado decided to negotiate.

He offered the orcs the copper from level 3 if they'd help carry treasure. They asked for the ep we found on the orcs. Mirado said, sure, yeah, if they help carry the treasure they could have the copper and the ep, but not any of the rest. They agreed and opened the door. Notice that Mirado didn't say anything about not attacking them. Not even close to violating his word - he just offered a job and a reward for the job. When they opened the door, Mirado looked at Rul and said, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Rul had no clue.

So Mirado clued him in - when he attacked the orc leader. Slice, he went right down, as did some of the others through Cleave. The group piled on and the orcs went down.


Mirado briefly considered raising an orc army to back him, but then, nah. Not those orcs. They cheat at cards.

Mirado turned to Rul and said, "I'm disappointed you didn't know what I was thinking." Geez, do I have to spell it out in pig common? "ets-lay ill-kay ose-thay cs-oray."

After the orcs, it would have been pretty smooth sailing back. But right as we were thinking about returning to the surface or pushing our luck a bit, Mirado prompted everyone to see if a corridor on our map linked up. Tenkar subtly hinted we could just go right back to the surface, but we ignore that, mostly because I knew if I didn't check that right now, I'd check it next time first thing, and I was curious if it linked up. That cost us a bit of fun and a brief moment of me wondering if my guy didn't just up and get killed.

As we moved along the hallway, Mirado got a little in the lead. We'd neglected to keep tapping the floor (or maybe just to remind the DM we were doing so) and Mirado hit a pit trap. He blew two pretty easy saves (I needed an 11, thanks to level, DX, and my magic ring, a second one after blowing two Luck, and dropped down a chute. I didn't know it was a chute, and when I heard I'd dropped down and was gone I figured I'd gone where that Magic Mouth told us the elf went. I stopped and asked Erik, "Is my guy dead?" - it would have sucked if so.

It was kind of a Dungeon Robber moment right there.

But he wasn't. Mirado fell into a 30 x 30 room with skeletons in it. He still managed to pop up and attack them first, and began to melee them. The hole in the ceiling closed, but the guys above could hear fighting.

Then - and this is why Mirado adventures with these men - they grabbed the two beggars and jumped into the chute-bottomed pit and slid into the fray. One for three and three for all. One beggar landed on Mirado (ouch), another on a skeleton (ouch). Minister was hurt, too, if I recall correctly. But with Rul there with his undead slaying sword, the skeletons went down quickly.

Naturally, there were no exits. But "Mad Archmage" isn't the same as "total jerk" so we were sure there was one. We found it.

This is where our mapping (well, Tenkar's mapping on our behalf) paid off. And where our scouting paid off in spades. We were somewhere North and East of our way back up to level 2. Heheheh. We kept pushing for a connection, and - after being mocked and questioned by a Magic Mouth (who Mirado owned up to that we had no idea what us dolts were doing here) - we eventually found one.

With that, we headed home. Ah, Mirado's companions are some really good guys.

We paid off the hirlings their two gold (which they barely earned), split the rest four ways, and then hit the shops to get more potions. We did, cleaning them out of healing-type potions for next trip.

The shortsword turned out to be +1, but cursed to always be in your off hand. Mirado briefly considered taking that, but since it's not any better and considerably less cool than an ogre head, he didn't. We sold it off to pay for the Remove Curse. The cloak was a Cloack of Protection +2 and while Mirado would love that, Minister needs better saves and AC so it was a no-brainer that he would get it.

Great game.


- Mirado went from nearly level 4 to nearly level 5. And rolled a 1 on his HP, like the last two levels, but that triggers an automatic re-roll. He got a 7, so +8 HP. He's now at 34 HP. Nice.

- Once again the hireling were largely useless. I'm sort of tempted by getting actual henchmen - level 1 dudes, now that I'm a flush 4th level fighter. With the per-room exploration bonus Tenkar is using, it wouldn't matter if they take a full sized chunk of XP. They're welcome to it.

If that per-room bonus was not per-person but divided amongst the group, then it might be more of an issue (and really tempt people to solo trips.) But it's a mechanism for advancement in a 12-times-a-year game, so who cares?

That per-room bonus is why we gave a full share to the druid even though his player had to bow out just before we found all the good loot. Why stint? He probably needs it, and Rul and Mirado wouldn't have leveled any more with it and Minister couldn't. And the freaking hirlings didn't earn it. The most any of them did was 1 HP of damage to a skeleton he fell on.

- We need better guards for our six and a scout of some kind, preferably a thief. Double-preferably one with secret door detection abilities. Maybe I need to find and hire those two guys I spared last time.

- I always wonder when I'm driving or walking why you wouldn't notice a low incline when you're moving. I might not be able to tell you the degree of slope, but it's really clear when things slope down more than a very slight amount. Or up. Anyway, I bought some clay marbles and I'm going to make a simple plumb line with a sling bullet and a piece of leather and a short wooden handle.

- I need to re-write my character sheet.

- Tenkar has gotten very, very good at slicing the edge on Fog of War. No longer do we find secret doors just by noticing map artifacts, and we've had to check some spots that look likely but turned out just to be well-FOW'ed wall edges. Nice.

- Save or die poison? We need to buy a scroll of Slow Poison, assuming that actually would stop "instant" death poison. Also, I always get a grin out how poison needles are armor piercing in D&D games. It's not like I'd take my gloves off to open a wardrobe, and if I had to, I wouldn't handle the handle. Oh well. Next time, axe.

- Once again, Mirado is living the dream. Cut him for 4 damage? Then he's stabbing you and your sleeping buddies four times and healing up. Rul (reasonably) asked to borrow the sword to heal himself.

I did my best George Thorogood impression when Rul asked.
"Hey, I'm wounded, do you think you can let me stab people with your sword a little bit?"
"I dunno, I have to go ask Wounderlicker."
(moments later)
"Uh, she's kind of funny about that . . . "

Out of game, I'd do it. In game, I suspect Mirado is slightly worried by what might happen if his sword is more willful than it lets on and I go passing it around like a HP-healing soda straw. So he won't be doing that. There is potentially real downsides to messing with a sword that drinks blood.

I do need to stat up a variety of vampiric weapons for GURPS - that might be a fun Pyramid article for DF. I'll get on that. I need to ask Erik if Woundlicker is his and if I can use the name, though, or come up with my own. BTW Woundlicker would make a great Kiss song title.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Metamorphosis Alpha PDF now cheaper & Kickstarter

Post-apocalypse alert!

Jim Ward's Metamorphosis Alpha is only $3.99 in PDF from RPGNow. It's been almost twice as much, and it seems to be a price change instead of a sale.

There is a Collector's Edition Kickstarter, too, if you need new adventures, or a hardback edition including the old stuff from The Dragon. Me, I'll settle for the PDF. I already had read a ratty old copy (literally, a copy) about 15 years back. It's nice to finally have a real, official copy of the book. I've been meaning to get one, and the price drop pushed me over the edge. It's not like I'll run it, and $3.99 is a good price to pay for a read of the original game. Warning: the typeface is tiny printed out.

I'm actually more of a 1st edition Gamma World fan, although I really liked 2nd edition as well. I still have copies of those, and multiples of 2nd edition, but if they come out in PDF I'll surely let people know. Meanwhile, here's the collection, minus the duplicates and the newly-printed PDF of Metamorphosis Alpha:

Gamma World photo GammaWorld_zps396da581.jpg

I may have to dig that stuff out again and have another go at our "Mutants and Mayhem" campaign. Possibly merged with my "multiple PCs" approach from my pirates game. Or just have everyone roll up some poor foolish DFers and then dump them into my Mutants and Mayhem game.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Oops, the GM forgot the PC record sheets

Ah, crud. I think I forgot the record sheet for my student's GURPS character.

I hope I gave it to him and he has it.

However, I can't find the other sheets I had with it - I probably put it in my bag, and took it out with the other spare RPG stuff I brought to show him.

Oh well, I'll scribble one up quickly, and welcome him to the world of "the GM forgot your sheets." It's common enough. I have only a short time before he arrives . . .

Maybe I'll tell him about the time I forgot to bring the entire adventure and had to run The Ebon Stone from memory.

Update! Thank goodness, I gave him the record sheet to take home. He walked in early for class and just pulled it out. Whew. I made a copy so I can stick him in GCA, and why he's not in GCA already I don't know. That's where I made him up for goodness' sakes.

Half-Levels of Wealth in DF

So, maybe you liked the ideal of batch haggling in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, but either:

- you want less rolls


- you want assured results

and yet you can't afford a whole level of Wealth.

How about this?

Half-Levels of Wealth in DF

You can straddle the mid-point between standard wealth levels. The cost is 5 points, which results in the following levels:

Almost Poor [-15]. Starting money is $350. You receive 15% for sold items.

Almost Average [-5]. Starting money is $750. You receive 30% for sold items.

Almost Comfortable [5]. Starting money is $1.500. You receive 50% for sold items.

Very Comfortable [15]. Starting money is $3.500. You receive 70% for sold items.

Quite Wealthy [25] - Starting money is $12.500. You receive 90% for sold items.

If you allow these as starting levels, it's worth noting you are always better off with 5 points sunk into a half-level of wealth instead of 5 points worth of Trading Points for Money at the top level (Quite Wealthy) but it's a tougher call at the lower levels.

These are available to any starting character with the levels above and below the half-level of wealth.. For example, a Barbarian can start with Struggling or Average Wealth. Using this option, a Barbarian could be Struggling, Strapped, or Average. A Thief (Average, Comfortable, Wealthy) could take Average, Almost Comfortable, Comfortable, Very Comfortable, or Wealthy to start with.

You can buy this after play begins, but as usual, you do not receive the extra starting money, and of course, you cannot trade points for money in DF after your character enters play.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tax Farming the Megadungeon

Here is a quick alternative to the usual "the King takes 10%" approach to taxing the PCs. Something I'm generally opposed to, anyway, as adding limited reality for concrete annoyance.

The idea, basically, is like tax farming. Instead of the government exploiting a population via taxes, they sell the right to collect taxes to private concerns. The government gets its cash up front, the private concerns get what they can.

The Romans did a lot of this with mines, for example, and it's how paying up the chain worked in at least one episode of The Sopranos, too - not a percentage a week, but a flat rate to the guy above you. You come by that money however you need to - but you owe a specific amount.

It's a potentially amusing way to explain why dungeons full of loot are left to private adventurers and aren't just surrounded by the army and systematically leveled like The Black Company and friends did to the Barrowland (a classic 15-minute workday approach, actually, but I digress.)

You pay X, and get the right to exploit a given area.

It would explain the utter hostility of adventurers to each other in the dungeons.

It'll explain NPC tax collecting types.

It'll explain why you are adventurers, but those guys in room 2-14 are bandits - you paid, they're claim jumping.

It would also work well enough for groups splitting treasure - you buy in to the concern, and then take out your share. You've already paid what the government gets, and the rest is yours. And it matters not a whit to The King or the Lord Mayor or the local Shah if you die in a pit on level 2, because your profits are of no concern.

Charging a relatively large fee for exclusive rights would make sense if the government can enforce that (the army is around, say, or there are legal punishments to claim-jumping). Charging a relatively small fee for non-exclusive exploitation rights makes sense if the rate of return is somewhat low (lots of dead, a few rich types) or if they can't enforce the rules. Or have an excess population to bleed off. It's an approach that makes more sense in a settled world (lots of people, too many unemployed youths in the cities and countryside and not enough fund to draft them) and less so in a "points of light" game.

It might be a fun explanation of why the PCs get to keep their whole take, and why "strip it of everything I can take" is such an important strategy.

Oh, and you can make it a yearly thing - pay and exploit, or don't and don't. You'd probably see a lot of expeditions rarin' to go during the Spring start of the looting year, and some desperate types in late Winter trying to get in the last trips they can afford and finally hit paydirt . . .

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Random Thoughts 4/22

Just what I'm up to.

Reading List

I need to re-read Beneath Castle Everglory, a partly finished GURPS adventure, and see if I can't help someone rescue it.

I also need to get my act together and re-read GURPS Banestorm: Abydos, which is one of those supplements I think get overlooked by non-GURPS fans yet which has some really wide potential appeal in fantasy gaming.

I also need to finally read Ken Hite's Qelong, but man, I want to print it to read in my spare time away from my PCs but it's odd size makes laying it out for printing a freaking nightmare.

Painting Pile

I've gotten some painting in - most Bones. Some orcs, some monsters, some demons, and some mostly monocolor human types. Plus the rest of the "terrain" from my original Bones collection. I've got a large queue going for quickshade and blackwashing.

Sadly, the el-cheapo brush I'd been using for over 10 years now had a run-in with some still-wet superglue and died horribly. I've had to demote my old W&N Series 7 to el-cheapo bruth, but I still never find myself taking out the new No. 7. Most of my painting is done with craft paints and cruddy brushes, and my techniques have kind of adjusted to that.


I threw in for the Lost City of Barakus, because it sounds cool and there is a S&W version for only $15. I might get $15 of use out of it, too.

There is also a Snarfquest re-print Kickstarter, but I already have the old one and I don't need another. Still, if you don't, you might want one.


I've made some serious headway on my re-stock of my megadungeon for next session (should be this weekend) and stocking some of the deeper levels that are coming into reach.


I started the Alien Menace game and we're taking another delve into the Castle of the Mad Archmage this Friday.

Otherwise I've been busy with work, school, study, and training. And the NHL playoffs, too, mixed in to the bunch.

Monday, April 21, 2014

More thoughts on my Alien Menace PC

Just some notes-to-self about improving A.B. Karabus after the first session of play.

My character portrait:

- I need more Move. Or Speed. I have Basic Speed 6.5, so 10 points for a 7 would be nice. Or 5 for Basic Move 7, either way. My goal is an encumbered 5+ Move.

- I need to learn Observation. I forgot to take it. I took Cooking, but not Observation. Or Orienteering. Oops.

- I, amusingly, have something like 22 points in melee skills and less than 22 points in ranged weapon skills. That's Karate, Wrestling, and a little Axe/Mace (for a hatchet) and Knife (for a Large Knife). But my idea is that when I need my unarmed/melee armed skills, I need them badly and no one can provide fire support. The skills on the page are probably the best rolls I can get, while my ranged weapon gets Acc 5, +4 with full ROF, etc. to counteract the range penalties. In melee, it's Trained ST 19 vs. whatever the universe can bring.

- If I'm going to shoot on the move, I need to learn CQB for my SAW. Bulk -5 is not conducive to hitting anything.

- I need to modify my quirks a little to reflect actual play.

- I need to write a pithy statement on my helmet. I think I'll mimic one of my players from his X-COM: UFO Defense days and write "Aliens Welcome" on the front. Or maybe "Welcome Aliens." That second one makes me laugh when I read it, so probably "Welcome Aliens."

- I should really line my helmet with tinfoil. You know, just because.

- I do need to note my Acc, Reflex sight, and other mods for shooting.

- I have to sit down and read the Fantasy Grounds FAQs and such. The smoother I can make my end go, the easier it is on the GM.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Some Grenadier & Reaper & GURPS on eBay

I have some auctions up on eBay.

Click here for all of them, including two dolls I'm selling on someone's behalf.

For the gaming specific ones:

Grenadier 5001 Dungeon Explorers (complete)

Reaper Gauth (complete)

GURPS Castle Falkenstein (because I have two, and I'm not sure why I need two.)

Alien Menace, Session 1: First Contact (Notes)

Last night I played in Douglas Cole's Alien Menace game.

Doug did a far better job of summarizing the session that I could hope to:

Alien Menace Introductory Session

Basically we met each other, met our employer, saw the "drop ship" and interstellar submarine, and heard audio that beat out even the nest episode of most later Star Trek (at least to me). Then we got dropped off and showed aliens what six highly dedicated troopers can do with careful movement and overlapping fields of fire. Oh, and automatic grenade launcher fire.

Go read his summary, and then come back here and read these notes - they won't make much sense without the summary.

The Game

- Just as a side note, I've been to Changi International. Nice airport. When I arrived on the last flight it was dead - even the customs folks were gone and I just walked right out after passport control (one guy on the late shift). So it was amusing to arrive there.

- We christened the Oliver Industries island "Danger Island." Doug keeps referring to it by its code name, Morning-some-or-other island. Not us. Aren't players mean?

- Naturally when food was offered A.B. loaded up on steamed veggies, brown rice, and steamed chicken. Clean food, no drinks. Once we finally arrived at Danger Island, he wanted to see the gym (training plus a rehab facility) and lifted, because it was leg day.

- A leader with Born War Leader 4, Tactics, and Combat Reflexes? We roll 1d+7 for initiative on Partial Surprise situations. +8 if I'm smarter (IQ 11, so it's only likely vs. robots.) I see some bad guys being caught flat-footed.

- Doug has A.B. down as hitting with 7 out of 12 shots - it was 5. Still, with 5d+10 penetrating (we're using armor as dice)

- Armor as Dice means either the GM rolls your damage, or tells you the armor. Kind of meta-disappointing.

- My choice of a LMG variant a lot of ammo was solid. ROF 12 is tough with a 25-shot magazine, kinda low with a 100-shot magazine. It doesn't shoot well on the move (my last move was shooting on the run with it and missed entirely) but when crouching and aiming it did well (5 hits out of 12). Suppression effects might kick in, too.

- I like using the Speed/Range table for rapid fire, too, and I'll use that in my games in all likelihood.

- we had a lot of interface teething, which slowed us down.

The Interface

Oh, Fantasy Grounds, how you love the all-powerful mouse wheel. That button controls so much that it caused us nightmares.

- The map - you can't drag it to see more or less, just point at the right spot and scroll. Since we all had control of the tokens, this would also spin facing on our guys. And other people's guys.

- Dynamic lightning/dynamic fields of view are really needed, too.

= it needs snap to grid, with a lockdown of hexside to hexside (important for GURPS.)

- the interface is beautiful, but the chat window had tiny text, and it was often too easy to miss it when dragging and dropping dice. It wouldn't automatically add up dice, either, so you'd shoot for 5d+10 and have to roll, then right click and hit "=" to see what it equaled.

- the support for dragging GURPS weapons and skills into the chat box was nice, but keeping the sheet, the chat box, and the map in view at once wasn't practical, so I'd have been faster with a paper sheet in front of me.

- there are non-d6 polyhedral dice that you can't hide when you don't need them.

- the lack of video meant I was clicking back to Google Hangouts and then to FG to play.

- let's say little of the time Doug deleted the map by accident and how it came up without any Fog of War (or any enemies). It didn't make him happy as funny as it was for the rest of us.

- my record sheet picked up some oddities in translation, too - like how I had 1 point in HT-based Guns/Rifle and HT-based Tactics. What?

All in all, it's a pretty interface but man it got in the way much of the time.

Some of it will get better as we learn the system, but man, I was expecting less headaches and less serious damage from hitting the wrong key.

The GM

Doug is a pretty good GM.

I gave Doug some GMing advice, which he foolishly asked for. It boiled down to:

- don't tell us any details we can't observe with our character's abilities. Just tell us to hold on a second and then advance the bad guys (if any) or just pretend to be doing that.

- don't fill us in ahead on stuff that doesn't matter now.

- rolling hidden dice without us knowing why conceals when you are really rolling. Do that.

- the GM is always right, and when GMing for a crowd of four regular GMs, you can be assured we won't complain for a second. At least not during play.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Who will face the Alien Menace?

Tonight is the inaugural session of Douglas Cole's Alien Menace game.

My character is A. B. Karabus, from Passaic, NJ. He's 6'4", 260 pounds, and carries a squad-support sized version of the teams 6.8mm weaponry, because he has ST 17. He's also the team leader, became someone needs to be and he's got Born War Leader 4.

Why ST 17? Because I couldn't afford a 20. Don't ask such silly questions! He's got Bad Temper, too.

He's loosely based on a certain A-Team member, the Swede from Heartbreak Ridge, Animal Mother from Full Metal Jacket, Salvador and Brick from Borderlands 2, Lieutenant Breckenridge from the John Mackie book series "The Rat Bastards", a small homage to Roadblock from the old G.I. Joe toys, and a real life acquaintance of mine who is over 6', over 260, and has six-pack abs. I'm not that much of a mountain of meat, but I tend to have a hey-diddle-diddle-straight-up-the-middle approach to problems. Snipe it or stomp it, done.

(Click here for an animated gif of him in action!)

To be honest, I have approaching zero experience with gunplay in GURPS 4th edition. 1st-3rd, yeah. 4th, almost none. I played a session of GURPS 4th reviving my old Armageddon character, Bota Khan, but he's no fair comparison to gunplay at reasonable skill levels. In Armageddon he was a master of weaponry (by dint of long play) and lavishly equipped with super-tech weaponry. In GURPS he had Guns-24 or 25 or so and a recoilless weapon with ridiculous damage. It's not an experience I could really draw on. So I am really looking forward to figuring out the best way to defeat the Alien Menace with the heaviest MG I can carry.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why Templates in DF?

This is pretty much why I enforce the templates in my current GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game:

Every PC Is Expendable, or, Why We Template

I wouldn't say it word-for-word the same way, but the sentiment is the same. Even the reason I don't bother with variant clerics is the same - too much detail, too much "find the god who gives you the cool spell combos" and not enough Good vs. Evil. You get guys who are good at their specific niche, don't stomp all over the utility of other player's characters, and who narrow down the options enough to give you real freedom of choices while preserving the GM's ability to focus the challenge.

My next game may be template-free, but this one isn't for those reasons.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Batch Haggling in GURPS DF

So you like to haggle, eh?

You want some more money?

But your GM moans about all those die rolls?

How about making it one die roll each for the players and the GM?

Batch Haggling: Instead of haggling for each item, a PC can try to get a blanket better deal for all wares sold on this trip to town (excluding items just purchased in town - it's for selling loot, not running a trading enterprise.) Roll a Quick Contest of Merchant vs. a generic skill of 15. If the PC wins, he's gotten a good deal, he gets a price halfway between that of his current wealth level and the next wealth level. If he ties, he gets no special deals. If he fails, he gets halfway between his current wealth level and the next lower wealth level. Since this represents a series of negotiations and not a since instance, you cannot use Luck on the roll. Once the price has been established, that is the "going rate" for that item in town, even if it is sold later - once you commit to batch haggling for a group of items, you're taking a risk you might get less than the standard rate for the items. You can always exclude some items, but you can't break up the items into groups and roll separately for them, unless different PCs are selling them.

For example, someone with Average Wealth gets 40% for non-coin, non-jewel goods. If he wins the batch contest, he gets 50% instead this trip. If he loses, he gets 30% for his items.

This is risky but can be very effective for high-skilled PCs, or those who need a lot or money right now or none at all.

Black Market haggling can be handled the same way, with the usual consequences for failure and the usual options for going to a merchant, instead.

How does this work out in actual play? - If my players are willing to take the risk, we'll find out!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Megadungeon Best Practices XIII: From Around the Blogs

Here are some megadungeon lessons I stole learned from other bloggers recently. For the rest of the series, check my Megadungeon Design page.

Write iteratively

Get a functional dungeon down as soon as possible, flesh it out just enough to play, and then fill out the details ahead of the players. It doesn't need to be finished from top to bottom before you can play.

You need to have enough to run with - and the usual rules apply. Side view first, overall plan, etc. But you don't need to do all of one bit before you move on to the next. Once you get enough to play with, you can start going through it in an iterative fashion and add more details as needed and as time permits.

A great example of this - with a thorough explanation of the how-and-why of it - is found in John "Beedo" Arendt's post Developing the Dungeon through Progressive Elaboration .

Having that working framework plus a basic concept will help you decide what goes in, and what stays out, of the megadungeon.

Corollary: Do it before the game, not during.

"Any one of us could improvise a room like the Trader Room - the worst case is that it might slow the game down a little if you need to roll a bunch of dice at the table."

Even slowing the game down a little roll a bunch of dice to find out what's in the room is a terrible thing in my experience. That little slowdown can kill a lot of momentum. That's rolling far, far better done ahead of time. Flesh it out on the fly if you have to, but man, do the "what's in the room?" rolls ahead of time. Your game pace will thank you!

So will your players' suspension of disbelief in the setting. If they know you just rolled up those orcs or that trader, they know anything you say is made up on the spot and not part of a larger whole. They may accept it and run with it, but it doesn't feel like something that was part of a larger whole waiting for discovery. If you write it even minutes before the game begins, it'll flow faster in play and seem more part of the integrated whole. Save the rolling for the stuff that's really determined on the fly - do they hit, do they miss, how much damage, where the orc is standing when you come into the room - and not the stuff that is more firmly set.

Even rolling some dice for the orc's treasure ("they all have 2d6 sp and 1d6 gp") and totaling it up is time you could have spent ahead of time most of the time.

Vary the Theme By Area

An overall theme for a megadungeon is important, but it's also incredibly useful to have a wide variety of places and types of places to explore in it. Because a megadungeon is basically a play area (aka sandbox, aka game world) in a box, you need to provide differences within the portions of it. It can't be a single themed area that never changes, otherwise it's not interesting to progress through and can lead to boredom.

One way to avoid this is variety;

- variety of entrances
- variety of monsters
- variety of levels
- variety of themed areas
- variety of challenge levels.

One good place to start for such variety is Courtney's Megadungeon Checklist. -C's list is meant to be sarcastic, but you can't go far wrong using it as an idea list and a rough checklist of things of interest. You could run a whole game in a dungeon using only what he's got on that list and have a blast. It will lack some originality but will it lack fun? Not likely. Using that checklist you can decide what is too hokey or hackneyed or overused and must be avoided, and what you just haven't tried yet and would like to.

Make Every Level Interesting

Don't start with boring stuff and defer the fun, interesting bits for the lower levels. Start putting interesting things in right away. Put in encounters that are special, enigmas and strangeness worth investigating, and clues to deeper and even more interesting levels below. The upper levels should be interesting and exciting. The lower levels should be a magnet primed by discoveries on the upper levels. In other words, front load the fun.

The proper path is not this:


But rather this:

More Interesting

This is why my level one has a strange temple with a "death zone," headless busts that speak to those who replace the heads, and even a few more undiscovered oddities. Some of these (like the missing heads to the busts) pull the players down and then back up. Even level 1 is weird and interesting. The lower levels are more so, and connect to those even further down.

This one comes out of Roger the GS's The Megadungeon Paradox

Thanks to all of my inspirations for this post - I couldn't have written it without your words.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

With Friends Like These

Gaming Ballistic is having a "pick a theme song for Dungeon Fantastic" contest.

I hear he's giving out a super-awesome award and there will be juice and pie.

Go vote!

Giving Out Treasure, Part III - How I Build My Hoards

So I finally sat down and finished my throughts on Giving Out Treasure.

Here are Part I
Part II

How I do I generate my hoards?

First, I generate the size of the hoard. I made my own system, based on 3d6 and the GURPS wealth levels. It's a pretty rough system and it's got some flaws (like, as-yet insufficient testing) so I won't post it. But suffice it to say I determine how wealthy a hoard is with dice modified by the usual - depth, threat, etc.

That gives me a total value for the hoard, for all components - magic, money, gems, etc.

Selecting the Contents

Then I turn that into treasure manually, with some rolls off the hugely fun but somewhat time-consuming tables from Dungeon Fantasy 8 (although the author is working on that).

I put in straight value of coins and gems and jewelry, straight value of magic (because the default assumption is use, not sale), and double value of gear or odd goods (because sale value is roughly half, by default). My working idea is that the value is the actually realizable value of the treasure, not its on-paper pricing. If a barrel of wine is worth $500 but sells for $200-250 for a typical delver, I value it at $250. That also nicely means that delvers with superior Merchant skills, reaction bonuses, and wealth can get even more value out the hoard. That changes a higher Wealth level from "realize more of the true value" into "realize more value than was effectively there in the first place." I like that, because my theory I need to place amounts based on how much they need, and if I do that based on full value I'm only providing sufficient reward for high-Wealth delvers, and that is counter to my goal.

I really put them in by feel and what's guarding it - rust monsters don't have magic (steel) swords, gargoyles in my games are magpies so it's all shiny stuff, hobgoblins might have more supplies and weapon spares than ready cash because of their militant nature, weak monsters tend to have small, concealable stuff they can hide from tougher monsters, etc. But this takes some time - I sit with my calculator, my dungeon key document open to the room, and I add in stuff and subtract out the value from the total.

The good part is hoards are idiosyncratic and unique. The bad part is they're time consuming to do, and probably reveal a lot of my biases instead of those programmed into the Treasure Types by some other guys back in 1972.

But that's how I build my treasure hoards, at least until Matt finishes his automatic hoard generator.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bones Show-Off: Candelabras

I knocked these off the other day, after a long time sitting half-done on my painting pile. And even longer in my desk drawer in the "easy stuff" pile.

To be honest, I don't get a lot of use out of terrain pieces. Not big ones, anyway. Generic stuff - doors, chests, pillars, these candelabras - this stuff I can get some use out of.

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I went with silver touched up heavily with metallic gunmetal grey (to come off as tarnish and wear) highlighted with gold. The candles are pure white.

The flames? Neither of those would be possible without this guide to painting fire on It works brilliantly, even with a line-painted set like this and a poor painter like myself. Close enough is good enough, and it gives a great suggestion of real flame. Mine aren't perfect, but from a white base, to yellow, to orange, to red - all blended, then tipped with dark red - really work well. The ease of the approach also means I can do it consistently, so the candle flames here and the torch on my Grenadier Hireling halfling both look alike.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Felltower Player's To Do List

Not mine, the list my players and I came up with. One of my players emailed it to me the other day, and as requested, I'm posting it. I put strikethrough on the ones they have (seemingly) completed, investigated fully, or dealt with. I put [brackets] and editorial notes next to ones that require some.

- narrow corridor lined with faces shooting jets of magic looking fire

- other narrow corridor lined with faces shooting jets of magic looking fire

- room to the right of the altar in the death zone

- room with altar and pillars that shoot jets of magic looking fire

- pit near to the player's handbook room [goes to the Flooded Prison]

- the statues [meaning the rotating ones, I think, not the lootable ones found much earlier]

- the headless busts [some heads found and re-attached]

- the big front doors

- the chained up doors near near the hydra

- the door with all the wards on it

- the cliff near the ropers

- the draugr

- the Lord of Spite

- the black metal door in the statue room

- the maze

- the doors near the maze

- the sunken stuff in the razor fish area [sort of dealt with - they spotted the mace last session]

That's the list, although there is clearly more out there to deal with - including a trap-laying gnome, the tunnel in the orc's area, the "escape tunnel" mentioned in the last session, Big John the troll, the gargoyles (Dryst still wants to use Enslave to recruit his "son" to his side), and probably even more I'm forgetting.

It is lists like these that make me realize my dungeon really has a lot going on besides monsters and treasures. Not a lot of factional politics that anyone cares about, but just depth of things to investigate. That's why we're still playing this game after a couple of years.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ennie Submission

I went ahead and submitted my blog for an Ennie, with Has That Come Up In Actual Play? and Sneaking In The Dungeon I as my representative posts.

We'll see where it goes. The competition consists mostly of much better blogs than mine, including Tenkar's Tavern and Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog. But my main goal is getting exposure, not victory.

Enworld "Ennie" submission - which post?

So I will put myself up for an Ennie. I think I could use a little more exposure, and so can GURPS.

I'm open to suggestions for posts that represent my blog the best, but I'm thinking:

Has That Problem Come Up In Actual Play?


Giant-sized humanoid striking tactics

Or perhaps:

GURPS 101: Avoiding Combat Analysis-Paralysis in GURPS

it says "Products released between May 1st 2013 and April 30th 2014" - so that last one might be my best bet.

What do you guys think?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Basic Fantasy or GURPS Lite: He chose . . .

My student chose GURPS.

It might have been because I said I could teach him Basic Fantasy, but I could run GURPS from memory. Still, he looked at my GURPS books, my Moldvay Basic Set book, and Basic Fantasy, and had looked at Swords & Wizardry at home . . . and chose GURPS. Can't fault him for that.

I made him a 140-point guy, who I may post at some point. I ran him through an intro scene to Caravan to Ein Arris. He found the tavern where they were doing the 3-touch fights to select guards, talked to the recruiter, and then went and won the fight - barely, but he did it. Nothing fancy - straight-up rolls and no one rolled a critical. He got recruited and now has to find the caravan overseer.

It was fun, and we'll keep it up as the finisher English practice game if he enjoys it.

I figure if he gets really into it and/or wants to run it for friends, I can hand him Caravan, help him with chargen, and run other a different adventure. That's also why I chose Caravan - I know it back-to-front, and I don't mind starting him on it and then handing it off.

His homework was an essay and to read GURPS Lite (after doing his real homework, of course.)

Good stuff.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

GURPS - Back in my day . . .

Someone asked me about an (old) GURPS calculation today, and I was thinking that many rules changed in my years playing GURPS.

Here is a tiny handful.

Back in my day . . .

. . . Block was 1/3 of your Shield skill, because Block at 1/2 Shield skill was deemed too effective.

. . . Karate did impaling damage to the vitals!

. . . Head was one location, not two. And then it was Brain and Head, not Skull and Face.

. . . there was no limit to Shock penalties.

. . . Stats cost 10/10/10/15/15/20/20/25/25 (and so on)

. . . you could stack up enough PD (which is also gone, good riddance) that defending wasn't necessary to defend.

How about you? No cheating by peeking in the books. Just from memory, what's changed since you started playing?

This one is GURPS - non-GURPS players feel free to steal this topic.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What To Teach: Basic, or Lite?

So Thursday night, if we have time after grammar exercises and essays, I'm going to explain role-playing games to a student of mine.

I'm still debating:

Basic Fantasy Role-Playing, and I run a quickie session with an adventure by Tim Shorts (although "drop him in room 1 of Stonehell" is also in the running)?

GURPS Lite, and I start him rolling on the Caravan to Ein Arris?

It's not really my decision - I plan to show him both and ask him. Does he want something easy he can run with minimal prep for his friends, or something I can run for him but might need more prep if he does it himself?

I have a copy of Basic Fantasy Role-Playing for the former, and I have a copy of GURPS Lite ready to go for the latter. In fact, I have a copy of GURPS Lite to give him (and will, regardless). Swords & Wizardy isn't in the running because it's gigantically large and I can't print it at home or justify printing it at work for him. Basic cost me under $5, I can loan it to him and I know he can pick a copy easily.

I also need to see if he prefers sci-fi to fantasy. His writing indicates he might, so if he does, GURPS wins, because I can also run sci-fi games with it without effort (and it wouldn't be terribly hard for him, either.)

But ultimately, yes, it's what he wants from me.

I packed my GURPS Basic Set books and GURPS Martial Arts to show him. In all seriousness, most people don't believe I wrote a book until I show them the "About the Authors" sections. I guess the odds that there are two Peter V. Dell'Ortos out there, both of who lived in the same part of Japan and do the same sports and play the same game must seem vanishingly slim. It's too many identical points, I guess. They all still say, "Really?" Yes, really. I typed lots of it sitting in Skylark Gusto on the unnamed main street of my town in Japan, too.

By the way, I have to say - I wish Basic Fantasy Role-Playing went with one saving throw (like S&W) or Reflex, Fortitude, and Will like 3.x. I find those easier to explain and, importantly, to remember, compared to the old, old, old school "Save vs. Wands" and "Monster saves as F8" kind of stuff. Too much to look up, when my goal is "zero lookups." The Attack Bonus method is easy, though, and something I like a lot.

I also wish All In A Night's Work was out for 4e GURPS, and that there was a one-book Powered By GURPS fantasy or sci-fi game I could just hand him.

Oh well. But yeah, if he wants to play, I'll give him the choice - my preference to run, or what's easier for him to master on his own and run for others?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Greyhawk vs. the Forgotten Realms - my play experience

This is me expanding on my comments over at Tenkar's Tavern on the subject of the Forgotten Realms vs. Greyhawk.

So, Forgotten Realms vs. Greyhawk?


For me, looking back on my campaigns - how many, how long - the Forgotten Realms wins.

I had more games go longer in the FR than in Greyhawk, using the FR boxed set and some early supplements - and actually a couple later ones too, now that I know enough to recognize them as post-whatever-that-killing-the-gods-thing-was.


The really simple answer?

The maps.

The Forgotten Realms boxed set had these hexless non-glossy maps with a smaller scale (1"=30 miles to Greyhawk's 1/3" hexes at 30 miles each), and came with a hex-based and ruled clear distance overlay. I could draw on the maps and put in roads, mark spots, etc. and only put down hexes and distances as they mattered - between two actual points. Greyhawk's maps are beautiful, but they are glossy (can't easily mark them up) and the scale was big enough that I needed to draw a new map to really play in a given area. Which was time consuming, so I didn't do it often. I think that contributed in a major way to my play in the FR. Smaller-scale maps you can draw on - that made continuous play in the same area easy.

The FR maps made the place feel very friendly, very changeable, and very accessible to me. The Greyhawk maps made the place feel very big, very expansive, and very cold to me. Beautiful, but without an easy handle. The games I played on it traveled a lot, or plunked right down into a single small place and didn't move much. I think that's because of the maps more than anything else.

Other things might have helped, too - Greyhawk felt like a broad, sweeping wargame map to me. Kings and states, with adventures along the seams between states. FR felt like a playground of adventures, with kings and states laying on top of a rich layer of dungeons and adventure locales. It felt less solid and easier to dig around in, and easier to change. It felt set for adventures rather than set for wars, somehow, to me.

What about canon?

Screw the canon.

Seriously. Just start where and when you want to start, and ignore the rest. It's not important, or relevant, to your games.

I won't lie - the thickness of the later canon could be a problem in the Forgotten Realms if you let it. But Greyhawk came with later canon too. I just killed off Elminister* (who needs another person's Mary Sue?) and let the players run around doing crazy crap. I think canon might make the FR more of a problem for more people - which canon do you use, do you keep up with it, are later supplements useful to you? But Greyhawk has the same - Greyhawk Wars (which I had, played, and then sold for a mint), the 2e/3e Greyhawk setting adventures, the Greyhawk books (by Gygax, Niles, and others), etc.

In the end you need to use your own canon, and I may have just gotten in early enough, hard enough, and with my own stubborn insistence on "my way" not "the books" pushing me through. I'd hear with amusement about Drzzt and Blackstaff and Elminster in the books, but they mattered to me as much as stories about Gord and Mordenkainen and Tenser did in Greyhawk - not at all. They were just other people's war stories, nothing more, and they were superseded by things that had already happened in my own gaming there. No new canon made what I did wrong, but not the other way around.

You also need to completely the ignore the admonishments to avoid killing off name characters, and must largely ignore the Player Smackdown NPCs in both settings. When they tell you that whupping Iuz is bad, ignore them. When they tell you Manshoon is too tough to defeat, forget it and let him die if the PCs beat him.

Look a large amount of supplements for a setting as a huge amount of stuff you can choose from and choose to take advantage of. It's not required. Make sure your players know that, and you can comfortably co-exist with canon.

Forget the canon and just play and let your own canon develop.

And seriously, kill the creator's NPCs. Greyhawk is better once Mordenkainen is dead and gone and Iuz a valid target. The Forgotten Realms are better once Eliminster is a doddering old helpless dude and the PCs, not the NPCs, are the final shield against chaos. Get rid of them. You'll be happier and ultimately so will the players. And you can still use the supplements, since you want locations, NPCs, monsters, and sandboxy places - not more of the canonically important NPCs.

* Technically, I just made him a cranky old sage, not a mighty wizard. The PCs who thought he seemed cool got to talk to him, but that's all they ever did. He wasn't a canon-protector.


If you crave details, here is what I remember running:

In Greyhawk:

- A couple of short AD&D games way back in the day, mostly set vaguely in Greyhawk but not pinned to a location so much as floating from spot to spot. ("You are here, and the dungeon is over here, too.")

- A couple Rolemaster games for my cousin, solo.

- Two early GURPS games using 1st edition GURPS that were very short. One went a single fight and then one player quit (not sure why, but not game-related, and he came back shortly after before taking yet another break from gaming), and the other was going fine but then we suddenly switched to the Forgotten Realms.

In the Forgotten Realms:

- One or two abortive GURPS games set in Waterdeep, using FR1 Waterdeep and the North, which I may have gotten before the boxed set, or not. I can't recall now. These games only went a session or two, before they merged into . . .

- . . . my multi-year, overlapping group GURPS 1st edition/later 1st + Update/later 3e campaign. Something like a dozen players came and went in this one, around a core group. Players changed characters, or at least some did - others stuck around from start to finish with the same guys. The game ranged all over the world, from Waterdeep and the Dungeon of Death (my version, not the module) all the way south the Halruaa and east to Thay. That finally ended in a sputtering end as my gamers moved away or got pulled away.

- . . . my first big 3rd edition GURPS game, which started as a solo game for one of my players and his dwarf fighter with a pick. He then recruited his friends and they started to play. Some of my current group were in this one. This one lasted a bunch of years, and players came and went and games were started, ended, and then re-started all over the map again from Waterdeep to Halruaa (again) to Thay to the Sea of Stars to the far, far south (thank you, Travel Map of the Realms).

It was only after that game ended that I moved on to the Known Worlds of D&D (which I'd used in my AD&D days in High School, and in my Rolemaster days, also in High School) for a GURPS campaign.

So yeah, the FR won just by sheer use.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What if Fleeing Always Works?

This is yet another post inspired by one of Jeffro's posts. This time, I'm musing on rules to allow fleeing. Jeffro bashed Gamma World 3rd edition - which I've never seen, read, or played, having gotten off that ride after the 2nd edition boxed set - for a rule that encouraged GMs to let low-level guys flee more easily. But me, I kind of like how a rule like that might work out.

So what if you could always flee?

I like the concept of a rule that makes it easier to escape from the bad guys when you're lowly newcomers. It a kind of genre switch, in a way, but limited in use. You're saying, for a while, the world is after you but the fates intervene.

I am curious how a rule that allowed low-level, or starting, or otherwise very weak groups to automatically succeed in fleeing from more powerful foes. The rule would apply for a specific amount of time, specific amount of earned XP, or specific levels, and would work as long as the PCs did not engage the NPCs in a confrontation. In other words, if you decide to flee before the fight, you get lucky and get out.

Some effects I could see happening from this kind of rule

- fleeing is a real option, because it always works. It's never "but you fail to get away." You just do, so you're not choosing a chance at victory vs. certainty of escape, and weighing the odds. It's 100% certainty of success, so if you stick it out and fight you passed up definitely getting away. You'd get less chicken with the GM, and less people thinking "Fleeing still results in death sometimes, so I may as well fight."

- players take more risk interacting with the world, because they have a way out for their PCs and know it works.

- there is an even larger premium on information gathering, because the "fleeing always works" is revoked once you engage with them. So you have a real incentive to learn more information, because of that certainty of choice.

- On the flipside, players might get to blase about running away, and either get too risk-averse (run from everything while we still can) or too risk-happy (we can always run.)

- It can also skew behavior in that you don't learn how the "fleeing" mechanics work at an early stage. This might be a problem if you have mechanical rules for fleeing (like in AD&D), less so in a game where the GM is just deciding based on the situation if you get away or not, or in a game where your ability to get away is plain the PCs, too (you won't get away from the cheetah normally, or you'll always get away from the slugbeasts because they are slow.)

You can even optionally extend this kind of rule to any level, or limit it by numbers ("only if outnumbered"), or limit it by types ("doesn't work against flying creatures or hunter-killer robots") or situations ("not in totally open terrain" or "not when fatigued") or something of that sort. But just as a broad genre switch, if you have some freedom to explore around and know you can run instead of fighting with a certainty of getting away, that does pose a real option. Do you fight, talk, or run? Running gains you little, but hey, it will work . . .

I don't see an issue with players using this as some kind of clever weapon to explore exceedingly dangerous areas or provoke biker gangs or whatever, because it's a tabletop RPG rule and there is a GM. The GM can simply declare it doesn't apply because of perceived abuse and that's that, so it doesn't need to be written so airtight that it survives contact with rules lawyers. Nothing really does, so I don't write rules for them.

I haven't tried this, but it would be nice to see what "emergent behavior" - to quote Doug's favorite concept (aside from the GURPS Speed/Range Table) - comes out of this kind of rule. Do they flee more, flee less, or make choices unforeseen? Hmm . . .

Sunday, April 6, 2014

DF Game Session 41, Felltower 32 - The Flooded Prison

April 6th, 2014

Weather: Cool, patchy remaining snow and ice, but warming up.

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Dryst, halfling wizard (326 points)
Vryce, human knight (401 points)
     Ellis, human crossbowman (bargain hireling, NPC)
     Gort of the Shining Force, dwarf adventurer (unknown point total, NPC)
     Melchior the Malevolent, human wizard (approximately 125 points, NPC)
     Orcish Bob, not-orcish orc brute (approximately 125 points, NPC)

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

We started in Stericksburg.

The group stocked up on spellstones (Gems of Healing, and Awaken spellstones) and took in some rumors. Vryce cleaned up on rumors, garnering five.

They heard some good ones, too. How do you know a witch when you meet her? She floats. Newtmen are fanatically loyal to whomever hatches them (explaining why they refused to negotiate, ever, or respond to interrogation). A body dressed as a southern pirate turned up in the (till recently ice-bound) Silver River. A pious old man told Vryce that sometimes doors are locked to keep things in, not keep you out. A listener to last time's story said something about green gem-headed guardians set by some evil race. And the kingdom is thinking of sending in troops to put down the orcs who are establishing such solid control of the ruins of Felltower.

Amusingly, that last one triggered a scoff from Vryce, and then brief musings about getting a reward for fighting the orcs, and then about getting paid by the orcs to repel the kingdom's troops. Perhaps even a fake invasion by cheap hirelings acting the part. Nothing came of this.

Red Raggi wasn't available (I roll a 17 on his 15 or less availability roll) but Gort showed up. Gort told them he'd heard of a dwarven guard set over the tomb of the Orc King down in Felltower. Who set them? Not clear - was it the dwarves to prevent orcs from getting there again, or orcs posting their foes to guard their king in some fashion? It's not known - the stories aren't clear.

Three other hirelings were around - Ellis, a crossbowman. Melchior the Malevolent - a necromancer and self-professed evil wizard- "I have extensive experience working with zombies" and "I know my way around a zombie" were the best quotes dished about him. Melchior keeps talking (quietly) to a phantom companion, but otherwise seems okay. Finally, Vryce met Orcish Bob. An orc. Well, physically an orc. He claims he's human, but there was this time he touched this spooky altar two times, and well, no one seems to be able to fix it. So he's human, looks like an orc, is as strong as an orc, but doesn't speak orcish.

Gort came as a volunteer, Ellis for 30 sp day rate, and Bob and Melchior for 1/2 share each.

The PCs headed up the mountain, crossing the Silver River and past the statue of Stericksburg, and then up the mountain to the ruins.

The orcs still hold sway, and the PCs marched up, paid their 30 sp (kept in a special bag with only the 30 sp in it), and headed in. Orcish Bob had to endure questions, but Dryst answered using Gift of Tongues. They settled up and headed down, but not before Dryst figuratively cornered the orc by revealing they knew there was an orc king someone in Felltower and offering to tell them if they find him. The orc eventually said yes, to tell him, but they could see him squirm and grind over admitting he knew what there were talking about and what to do.

They headed down and left, passing the gargoyles (who still flee when they come), and down the long corridor the "head room." They entered, and placed the boy's head they recovered last time on its bust. There was a melodious voice that said "Free us all from our prison. You shall be rewarded." Vryce asked quickly what the reward would be, but there way no answer. We joked it was "you will get what you deserve" - "We don't want that!"

Seeker turned up a response on one more head, with a vision of a pretty almond-eyed woman wearing a king's crown in a small room with a corpse in it, off a blocked-off corridor, well over a hundred feet down if not more.

The group rested and then headed down to the next level. There they found one of the statue rooms, and Dryst got the (in retrospect) foolish idea to try Ancient History on the statue. It turned and blasted him, knocking him flat and injuring him. The PCs forced a nearby door, passed through a bent portcullis that used to keep the orcs away from the lizardmen. After that, they moved into an old lizardman room and holed up to let Dryst rest. Meanwhile Vryce amused himself looking for secret doors with Gort, who waxed on about hidden treasure chests with odd treasures in them.

After that, they headed down a long, sloping corridor, which Gort detected with his natural dwarven talent for detecting sloping passages by putting a clay marble on the floor. They bypassed the "Player's Handbook Room" and found the room with the pit. After some scouting and listening, they put in an iron spike (while covered with Silence) and dropped a handy rope (after examining it for flaws and finding none). They climbed down (Dryst used Walk on Air) and began to scout the level below. They found what, after some investigation, turned out to be the watery level that doomed so many PCs long, long ago.

After they explored the rooms they found and found a balcony overlooking a flooded but worked underground area, water filled with fish, and a stone dock. They sent Vryce out to scout with Walk on Air. He found a dock and an archway with a flooded area beyond. Opposite it, they found a dry area, with a fishing net and fishing pole sitting idly on the side. Vryce moved down, and a troll climbed up from the dry area beyond. It spoke to him, and asked why he was there. Vryce asked about a boat. The troll ("Big John," they'd later learn) told them that the "food" to his right had boats. Big John took his fishing tackle in, eying Vryce suspiciously. Vryce headed back. They went as far as climing back up to the previous level before Vryce was able to argue that a) he remembered meeting people on this level, and that b) those people mentioned having boats and a leader. At his insistence they headed down to the balcony and he yelled "Hello! We need a boat!"

After a time, a boat came - Orcish Bob spotted it first with his I'm-not-an-orc Infravision, and then they saw it in the light. four Ghost-white humans with wild hair and wiry muscles in a boat with oarlocks made from manacles. They negotiated and a second boat, crewed by one, came to pick them up. If they wanted to meet their leader, okay - a boat came to them. The boat rowed along, with a single white-skinned "crazy" (they'd get named that somewhere during the session) pulling the oars. He silently pointed out "fishmen" and "ghost" held areas, and of course, razor fish shadowed the boat.

They headed to a dock in front of an archway - the standard for this area, and let the PCs off. Inside was a dry ahead with a 15' drop to 12' high prison cages. Most lacked top bars, but all had places for them. Along the 15' level was a 1' wide iron walkway. A mountain of muscle climbed up on top of the walkway and said, "Who is your champion?" Vryce said, "I am." The champion, armed with a mace (they recognized it quickly as Inquisitor Marco's old mace, recovered from wights a while back) and a barbed spear, and wearing a loincloth, told Vryce they'd fight until one was knocked to the floor. Vryce accepted. The champion asked, "Armed or unarmed?" Vryce said "Armed." They began.

The champion howled and threw the mace, but Vryce parried. The champion readied his spear at reach 2, and begin to fight. Vryce used the flat of his blade (and indicated he would to his unimpressed foe), and his foe used his barbed spear to kill. Vryce had a run of bad luck. First, he rolled critical failure on his defense, and needed Luck. Then he rolled another critical failure on his attack, and needed Luck again to bail himself out of that. The bad luck continued - he manage to land a number of really hard strikes on his unarmored foe, but the champion just howled in anger and continued to attack using Committed Attack, and Dodged despite his penalties. He landed a max-damage critical hit on Vryce and punched a hole into his vitals with the spear, and then ripped it out (he - and I - clearly forgot he could leverage the inherent grapple there to topple Vryce.) All the while, despite the hard hits by Vryce and the spear hits by the champion, they managed to stay standing on this 1' wide beam and fight. Truly a battle of warrior elites. But Vryce got him for a minor vitals shot, and - his Luck burned long before - failed a HT roll and suffered knockdown. He fell 15 feet, spear still in him, and landed with minor damage (possibly none), and his opponent yelled in triumph!

Vryce got up quickly, as his opponent jumped down to give him a hand up. He helped Vryce up and ripped the barbed spear out, because macho manly men are like that. They clashed hands and Vryce congratulated him. The champion clapped him on the back, took a step, and collapsed face down from his wounds - he was well negative, and Vryce still more-or-less okay (bleeding, but not negative.) The champion's kids fetched his weaponry, and his womenfolks (who wore silver necklaces sporting hand amulets) tended to his wounds, fearful of both the champion and Vryce.

The crazies were impressed - Vryce's plan to win but make the champion look good failed, but oddly succeeded at the same time. They couldn't believe their champion won but passed out, and that Vryce lost and was still standing. They took the PCs to "the Warden." They warned them to be polite, because the Warden can make your head asplode.

The Warden lived at the end of the flooded area. That turned out to be another dry area full of cages, only twice as big as the ones before. The PCs realized this was some kind of flooded prison - cages that were below water level, easily flooded, filled with razor fish, etc. - hard to escape.

They climbed down and met the Warden - unlike the others, he was shaved bald, and had one squinty eye and one wild, bug eye that wandered crazily all over. He spoke in the royal "we" and wore a gold and silver belt holding up his loincloth, and was guarded by callous-knuckled brawny types. They spoke to him, and the Warden enlisted their aid. Some "rioters" had broken away from the tribe, and, led by "the Crazy One," fled to a different prison section. He asked the PCs to kill the Crazy One, and to take his headband - which made people crazy - away forever. He asked them to swear to it, and took "that works for us" as an answer. He warned them, the headband makes you crazy.

They ferried the PCs over after the PCs tried to wrangle more money and some help in the quest (to no avail). As they were rowed over, Vryce and a scout (spotted by Bob, with his not-actually-an-orc!-Infravision) exchanged sling stones, the scout aiming by the PC's lights and the Vryce via Dark Vision. The scout hit the boat, and Vryce hit the scout's leg (and crippled it) and then hit the crawling crazy's body and he lay still. The PCs arrived and moved in quickly. They found the same dock-and-cages setup. They ate some sling stones, including one that hit Orcish Bob while Gort deflected two aimed at himself and Vryce. Then the fight began in earnest. Vryce jumped down 15' and charged the group below, while the missile troops and then Dryst (using Walk on Air) engaged the ones on top of the cage walkway.

The fight wasn't short, nor easy, but the PCs had the edge and retained it. The crazies were both unarmored and spear-armed, which made it hard for them to penetrate Vryce's magical plate over magical spidersilk cloth combo. A sling bullet from the boss did hurt Dryst, but it was just a lucky critical against his Missile Shield spell (we've used a rule that 3-4s bypass that spell since it was ruled on in Roleplayer magazine). Vryce steadily worked over the 14 crazies below, with help from a fireball from Melchior and a quarrel from Ellis, and then from a stream of good rolls, critical hits, and very high damage rolls from Orcish Bob after he climbed down and joined the fray.

Dryst used Walk on Air, Great Haste, and Acid Jet to great effect, knocking the top-level slingers off their 1' wide walkway perches. The boss avoided him by jumping down the melee Vryce, but he took a hard sword chop and then a scimitar whack in the face from Vryce and Bob, and dropped.

The PCs looted the boss of his magic headband, but then decided to question him. Melchior cut his throat, and then they rested a bit before using Summon Spirit to question him. They found out his magic headband repelled the "make your head asplode" power of the Warden, and sometimes reflect it back. Also, they found he was a fellow "prisoner" but wanted to use the "sacred escape tunnel" to try to escape "down to heaven below." The Warden didn't like that and tried to quash it, so they fought back and had to flee - using the headband the boss had stolen from the Warden to protect himself. The Warden has some power to look at people and explode their heads. Finally, they learned the location of the escape tunnel. They also took a gold necklace, gold earring, magic sling, headband, and assorted jewelry and salable stuff off of the crazies. Nice loot! Four of them - who'd dual-wielded spears and fought just in front of the boss - had only manacles for loot. Odd - they were old, rusty, etc. but clearly cared for.

The headband was magical, looked like crinkled thin silvery metal, but felt like cloth. Vryce put it on under his helmet, at Dryst's insistence. It fit nicely, and it felt warm, briefly, and then felt comfortable.

They rested, had Mechior zombify the boss, and then headed back, with the zombie in the boat and Vryce walking on air. They reported back to the Warden, all friendly (especially considering the loot), but watching their back all the same. The Warden went off on a crazy tangent about his power being handed down by the wardens before him, how the prisoners who rebelled were trying to leave the prison where they must stay, and how the "Savior" who tunneled down to the heavens would someday come back up the tunnel, as written in their holy book. He ranted that the crazy rioters had tried to travel down the sacred path instead of waiting for the Savior. Dryst suggested if they knew what the Savior looked like, they could give him to them or vice-versa. The Warden gave him such a look - the Savior needs no help!

The PCs took a cue when the Warden talked about celebrating their "holy massacre" and needing to consecrate it. They welcomed the PCs "visitation" and said that although no visitors are allowed, sometimes rules must be relaxed to accomplish the higher holy good. They bid them good day, and went back to waiting in their prison, where they belong, until the Savior crawls back up from the escape tunnel he dug. The Warden gave them a heavy manacle of friendship, and told them he'd have other quests for them in the future.

The PCs took a boat ride back and made their way back up, and then out, of the dungeon. On the way out Bob had to deal with orcs giving him racist hell for being a human wannabe, while he kept saying, "Sorry, don't speak Orcish!" in unaccented Common.


Thin crowd today - just the brothers who play Vryce and Dryst. Still, it was plenty of players for us after a long layoff. And in general, really - I'll run game as long as two people show up.

Vryce bought ST up to 19, and now does 3d+12. Or as we say, 12+3d "bonus damage." Seriously. Back in the day I used to convert dice - if we did, this would be 6d+1. Hah. Vryce's minimum damage is almost twice Dryst's HP. His goal is ST 20, mainly because he wants HP 30.

Amusingly they seriously considered attacking the draugr, because with only two PCs they could ridiculously amp up both of them and only have to worry about bailing out one other person if it got rough. In the end, though, they decided to do other things.

I was pleased to hear the list of "unfinished business" - there is a lot. Vryce's player has a list on his phone and rattled off about a dozen things they want to deal with. Nice. A sandbox can be pretty small geographically and still be a sandbox.

The spells History and Ancient History mean that I need to have an idea in my head of up 1000 years or so of stuff that happened to object and locations in my dungeons. Well, not always, not today. But in general, "how it got here is unknown" doesn't suffice - I need to know, or decide on the spot. I don't mind - the first mage in any of my GURPS games took those spells and used them like crazy.

I love how Dryst's player fills in details of Gort's career based on playing the old video game I stole his name from. Whatever the crap he says about the game, I have Gort repeat in some fashion.

The last time the players explored this section was December 12th, 2012, in the infamous "Total Party Teleport II" session, which filled the graveyard and has become a linchpin session in the history of the campaign. The Flooded Prison was a very early addition to the dungeon, even before I had any idea what should go there besides "the descendents of prisoners." I'm glad it worked out, and the background details just fell into place. About 1/3 of what I had today was written (in terms of backstory and details) but the other 2/3s just all made perfect sense hanging on the details of what's been revealed in play. Sometimes I write down details, sometimes I have them in my head as an image. Today was drawing on that image to fill in the missing bits not written down. The walkway cages I stole from A1 Slave-Pits of the Undercity, at least in concept.

Heavy armor saved Vryce today. He often got speared, but his armor shrugged off the damage. Spears aren't ideal weapons against heavily armored types, as good as they are as an overall weapon. Slings would have done better, if they'd hit often enough or hard enough. So would better aim - but sadly, most of them did around 1d+3, and Vryce had DR 9. The champion punched through that easily enough (he did 2d+3) but not the poor rival crazy group.

The haul was substantial - keeping the boss's sling (turned out to have Accuracy +1 on it) and headband (Mind Shield 6, with some tweaks) and a broken ruby chunk, they still managed to get over 11,000 sp today. They gave a 200 sp bonus to Ellis, 250 sp to Gort, and 1/2 a share each to Melchior and Bob. So it was divided three ways, and the PCs ended up with over 3600 each and the NPCs with over 1800 each. A nice, nice haul. One player commented that adventurers don't so much as work as play the lottery for a living. Bob, for one, can fully replace his loadout with better gear, and make himself worth consideration for next time, too.

Melchior has a killer zombie now, but next time it'll be a skeleton. Although I usually declare these guys gone between sessions, yeah, maybe I should let him keep this skeleton or zombie next time.

Dryst picked up enough points (including a self-voted MVP) to pick up Magery 6 (not cheap thanks to Magical Stability bumping up the cost by 40%). He's maxed it, now.

Finally, we had the usual brother split today - Dryst argued free or cheap henchmen are the most trustworthy, because they're too weak to be a serious threat from backstabbing. Vryce argued the opposite, that the really high-cost guys must be trustworthy because they ask for so much up front.
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