Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Demon-Apes, Apes, or Ape-Demon Minis

Because I didn't buy and paint eight ape minis just for one fight against carnivorous dungeon apes.

Ape Minis photo Ape001s_zpsd03e2903.jpg

If I based them again, I'd use a smaller (washer) base so they'd fit better on my battle map. They're very stable, though, on the big bases.

That cruddy flock has to go, too - half of it is gone, and that's despite being cemented to the bases via a dip in watery glue.

They're all Reaper apes, by Jason Wiebe. Three - the crouching ones - I had to special order from their back catalog. The others I mostly bought in stores or online. One, I converted by hacking off his bone club (so he'd stand out as different). Another, I gave a silver back and a scarred left eye. He's the leader if I ever need to designate a leader.

Ape Leader photo Ape002s_zps5adefa52.jpg

And yes, there are more ape-demons and dire apes in my DF game. There is an in-game explanation, but the out-of-game explanation is that I like collecting and painting killer ape minis.

Monday, September 29, 2014

DF Session 48, Felltower 39 - Near TPK

September 28th, 2014

Weather: Cool, clear.

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Al Murik, dwarven cleric (250 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (372 points)
     Father Keef, human initiate (125 points, NPC)
Galen Longtread, human scout (372 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
     Demetrios, Antonios, and Leonatios of Meepos, human spearman (unknown point totals, NPC)
     Gort of the Shining Force, dwarf adventurer (unknown point total, NPC)
     Yellow Liz, human smallswordsman with a very leggy mini (unknown point total, NPC)
     Jon Blackbart, human swordsman (unknown point level, NPC)
     Boohee, pig
     Swoinch, pig

Still in town:
Asher Crest-Fallen, human holy warrior (250 points)
Bern Brambleberry, gnome artificer (265 points)
     Mark Strawngmussel, human laborer (62 points, NPC)
Borriz, dwarven knight (308 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (303 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (302 points)
Vryce, human knight (444 points)

We started as usual, in Stericksburg. A new member joined the group - a dwarven cleric. He'd met Gort, who told him that if was interesting in bringing the Good God's word (and hammer o' smiting) into the depths, he should come along with these youngsters he'd been escorting into the dungeon. Thus Al Murik joined the group.

Since Vryce couldn't make it this trip, they went for hirelings. They found a trio of brothers trained as a shield wall. The Meeposian brothers hired on as a trio for a single share of treasure. They were pretty well equipped (scale, helmets, large shields, spears, swords) and knew how to fight as a team. The others came as volunteers - and included "Leggy" Liz aka Yellow Liz, a smallswordsman and Gort of the Shining Force. They turned down Orcish Bob, though, and I think they missed him in the big fight. They similarly turned down Rexos the Axe, who'd offered to join last time as well.

Well, not Jon Blackbart, exactly. He wasn't around, so they spread around 30 sp in drinks money and bonus money to find him, and he turned up. They wanted him because he seemed to handle Swoinch and Boohee well enough.

They gathered some rumors - including one about a lever on one side of the dungeon opening doors on the other side, another about rock trolls being friendly if you get to know them, and one about an unkillable warrior guarding a fantastic treasure. Al Murik immediately said, "Unkillable doesn't mean we can't hurt him." They also heard that some monsters are immune to magical weapons.

Since the orcs are now too powerful for the group to reasonably assault (oops!) so they headed down through the dragon's cave, hoping to link up with the "behir" aka the twelve-legged wyrm. They spent a lot of time wandering in circles, trying to ensure they hadn't missed anything on their map. They hadn't, and having Galen there to verify when they'd backtracked helped a lot.

They wandered around the cube-shaped room they found outside of the dragon's lair, found another pair (or was it the same pair? Doesn't seem likely) of giant metal doors, and some half-magically dug tunnels. They were chopped sheer enough to be Destroy Earth, most likely, and then chipped out more before work was abandoned.

They heard water drips, the occasional roar or muffled thump, and other ambient dungeon/cavern noises. Nothing came of those, though.

Advancing further, they eventually found a series of tunnels breaking off from a small intersection, along with a set of rough-hewn stairs going up. They looked like a natural slope hacked into stairs, according to Gort. They sent a Wizard Eye with Dark Vision up to scout, and saw that after a landing the stairs continued up a natural pipe, and ended in a half-cave, half-worked room with a white tile floor and a solid door. They moved up, and after being sure it wasn't trapped, got to work on the door. It was triple-locked, a close scan of the opening edge revealed, with no lock or handle on this side. There were hinges, metal ones, but they were mostly covered with a metal covering and stone was worked or shaped over that. Raggi went to work on the hinges with a maul, but couldn't even ding them (vault-level hinges, more or less). The door was similarly too much (it bounces many greataxe blows from Raggi's magic axe) until they deployed a ram. It took almost a minute of solid blows from Raggi and the three Meeposian brothers to take the door down, leaving only a wrecked iron-bound door and bits hanging on the locks and hinges. A Silence spell kept the ram from making noise, but they didn't set it up past the door so its fall made a lot of noise. CRASH.

Beyond it was a cross-shaped intersection with alcoves flanking the door, with pedestals for the stone golem they've encountered. None were there, though. Past that two corridors angled off. From one or both - echoes are tough - Galen heard orcish voices in hushed but fast conversation and then not-too-successful sneaking noises fading away. Ah, orc guards. They realized they'd busted out of door meant to keep stuff in, and alerted the orcs about that.

Some quick investigation by Invisible Galen and Dryst's Wizard Eye showed they were near the place they'd fought the hobgoblins and siege beasts and the six-fingered elven demon vampire master thing. So they took a side tunnel past the roper lair and climbed down the cliff, lowering the pigs.

From there, they advanced in a very tight, very close formation, waiting for a strix attack. Sure enough, dozens of the stirges flew out and attacked. They killed a couple dozen with only some minor injuries - mostly because even when stirges attached themselves to bare flesh, either Raggi grappled them and ripped them off with ease, or Galen shot them off the victim from the other side of the crowd (Bow-30, effectively, with his bonuses, so a mere -10 to -14 meant easy shots). Armor spells on the few vulnerable folks bounced many attempts, too.

They chose to rest right there, and naturally, the stirges came back and attacked again, disrupting their rest. They killed another half-dozen or more and then finished resting as the survivors didn't come back.

Past there, they met the wyrm, who was very impatiently waiting for his months-ago promised pigs. They fed it Swoinch, who it devoured in a big gulp or three. Then they started talking. It told them about some nearby dangers (a flying shadow with hundreds of friends, some apes they promised to feed it, some other stuff like poison mushrooms). It also told them the easy way to the dragon (which it knew was dead) was to stick to the left after skipping the first left (a dead end on their maps.) They figured that might take them past the cloaker and they didn't want that. So they went right, aiming for the treasure they'd spotted with a Wizard Eye a while back.

They went down a long gallery, hearing stone-on-stone scraping but seeing nothing. They found another cube-shaped room with a faint feel of magic. Beyond it was a big room with thick stone columns with a staggering amount of treasure scattered around the area between the columns and spilling out. They formed up, advanced cautiously, and sent in a servant and Wizard Eye. The servant disappeared before it reached the treasure, the spell ended. Maybe dispelled? It wasn't attacked. They began to hear flapping noises, so they quickly buffed up and started to advance slowly. Dryst decided something might be hiding, and started throwing See Invisible on Galen. He rolled - I swear this is true - 18 (converted to a normal failure via Magical Stability), and then an 18 which was followed with a 17 vs. his sub-16 maximum skill. Critical Failure, confirmed - his first since spending a boatload of points to get Magery 6 stabilized. I made up some possible disasters and it came up as "Forget the spell for 1d weeks" - 2, it turned out. They also got off lots of buff spells - Haste and Shield, mostly. The first was invaluable, the second, because it's front-arc only, only helped a few important times.

They kept moving in, spreading out as they exited the tunnel entrance. The flapping revealed itself as a mob of flying demons - identified as the shark-mawed Shurakar by both Dryst and Al Murik. Shark-Bats is what they actually got called. Galen started shooting them, and as each one was hit it blinked out of existence. Illusions? Some real, some fake?

Meanwhile the flapping got louder, and a stone grinding "voice" or "roar" was heard from in the room somewhere.

Galen moved around the edge, and once he was well into the room, he shot the treasure - it disappeared. Illusion. The loud flapping stopped suddenly, although some distant flapping was heard, and last of the grinding noise stopped.

That was when it went badly. As he did that, with so many of the party spread out and facing away from the door (and the pocket-like corners to the right and left), they were jumped. Literally. Four till-then invisible demon-apes leaped out, landing behind them, and grappled. One grappled Dryst's neck, one Galen's, one Raggi's, and a fourth dropped in front of Raggi and clawed his face open. The fight was on - except even the least-grappled person had 8 CP on him, thanks to strong and skilled grapplers.

The fight got nasty right away, as the brothers advanced to help Dryst, backed by Keef and Al Murik. Galen tried to shoot the demon grabbing him over his shoulder - he was Great Hasted, most of the turns gone from shooting illusionary shark-bat-demons - to mixed success. He was shooting at something like -19, thanks to shooting blind, being grappled, shooting with a reversed grip, etc. Basically, almost impossible to even do for anyone, which for him meant a 11 skill to hit and a miss might hit himself (he nearly did, a couple times.) He shot the ape at least once, and it told him, "You'll pay for that. I'm bringing you to Hell with me!" He also took a mild fear effect from the demon's touch.

The one on Dryst tried to neck snap him, but his damage cap was low because of only 10 CP so he couldn't hurt Dryst (despite having his "backup" armor while the main stuff is being enchanted). The ones on Raggi started to grapple him for more CP, even as he dropped his axe (he'd have had a sub-10 chance to do anything, even All-Out Telegraphic) and grappled back.

The others moved in, leaving Keef, Gort, Blackbart, and Liz to guard the rear.

Just then, Gort yelled "Gargoyles! Hell gargoyles!" as a pack of 5 especially well-fanged gargoyles and a giant sized fanged gargoyle flew from where the party came from and horn-slammed into the group. Gort went right down, missing his defense roll and getting creamed after bouncing his sword off the gargoyle. He went right out, which ultimately saved him. Liz and Blackbart got mobbed, with Blackbart falling back even as the big leader went after him, and the others tore Liz apart even as she desperately tried to hold position. They'd all made their Loyalty rolls (well, Gort doesn't roll) but they were badly outmatched.

That grinding roar? The call to the gargoyles to come and get some. The demon-apes noted the scout and reacted to it in the intervening sessions, making some plans for backup.

The fight kept rolling. Raggi was borne down to the ground and taken to 0 ST and DX from CP (which takes 40 CP on him!) even as he drove himself Berserk just to make sure he'd stay awake. He was helpless but berserk.

The demon holding Dyrst turned to fight the brothers and Al Murik, even as Dryst - in an ultimately suicidal but gutsy move - quick-drew and opened a flash of Alchemist's Fire and dumped it on the demon grappling him. He made his DX roll but not critically, which, naturally, meant they were both soaked with alchemical napalm doing 1d(5) burning damage per turn. ("Way to commit, soldier!")

Galen's foe did some neck snaps on him after foiling some attempts to break free, and Galen was eventually forced to drop his bow and go for his sword. Raggi was getting chewed on. Dryst's demon-ape got annoyed by getting hacked with Al Murik's axe and speared by the brothers so it jumped 15 yards over them and into a corner, carrying the now-helpless Dryst (ST 7 vs. lots and lots of CP = helpless) The brothers rushed to help him, Keef took cover, and Al Murik ran to help Galen. He put an axe into the back of the demon grappling Galen, who then let go, turned invisible - and probably jumped away, based on later events. Things looks extremely bleak despite Galen suddenly being free - he was barely alive, making death and unconsciousness checks.

The fight went worse - Blackbart went down after whacking the boss gargoyle for a while, and it failed lots of Bloodlust self-control rolls, and just kept biting him (it and its buddies were Ravenous, per DFM1) for 3d+3 vs. Blackbart's leather armor. He reached -5 x HP in no time and died. Dryst went unconscious from neck snaps, even as the demon and he burned. More and more, the fight went badly. The brothers finally reached Dryst and the demon, which neck-snapped him (nearly killing him outright) and dumping him on the ground before turning invisible and leaping away. The brothers couldn't know he'd left, so it took them precious seconds to stop waiting and try to put the fire on Dryst out. They'd be too late - they missed a roll to pat out the fire, got burned themselves, and the next turn Dryst took just enough damage to put him to -45 HP and automatic death.

The demons on Raggi were just gnawing on him. One kept biting his face and attacking to establish more CP. Once it had 40+ itself, the other let go and jumped Father Keef, cracking him down in a single blow (random location was Neck, for 15 penetrating damage, which became 30 for 10 HP Keef.)

The group did finally get a demon down around now - the one on Galen re-appeared and sucker punched Al Murik, who failed to resist the Fear effect despite a +8 to resist and Will 15 or something like that (a 17!) It jumped to "safety" but "within line of sight" isn't safe with Galen around. Galen acrobatically rolled to his bow on a prior turn, avoided the demon's previous strike, and readied the bow. With it now far away, he plugged it and killed it. It turned into a howling cloud of greenish smoke and disappeared, leaving only a piece of jewelry behind.

The gargoyles entered the fray now, with one branching off to engage the Meeposian brothers. It couldn't seriously threaten them, but they couldn't bother it with spears. Even when they later changed to swords, all they managed was to annoy it a little with a single hit and fend off its claws. Gargoyles know they can't die from non-magical attacks, so they aren't very serious about combat sometimes. They literally have forever to beat you to death and act that way. That saved the party.

The fight went on, with Galen eventually shooting down another demon, Al Murik sticking one with his pick and then ripping it out, and the one on Raggi getting shot by Galen a couple times. The one that was on fire never re-appeared (it died 1-2 seconds after killing Dryst, before it could re-engage in the fight.) But several misses by Galen meant that what should have been a death-shot on the demon wasn't. He ended up running around the battlefield dodging gargoyle slams and being chased by the big gargoyle. Al Murik got cornered by three gargoyles. The final demon - only wounded by Galen - went invisible.

Right here, that miss by Galen was huge. It almost cost them everything. The demon grappled Galen from behind and inflicted a 9-point fear penalty on him. I ruled that didn't affect Attacking to Break Free and its terrible rolls to parry or even get more CP meant Galen eventually got free. In the meantime, though, the boss gargoyle starting rending on him.

In the meantime, desperate, Al Murik blew all of his available FP on a huge Awaken spell to wake up Raggi, who was very near death (-85 HP or something like that) but not dead. It was barely successful, and Raggi was no where close to the 9 or less he needed and stayed down. He'd have been in terrible shape anyway, one hit from going down at all times.

The demon yelled on Galen yelled at the gargoyle and said to go away, and it did, wandering over to deal with Al Murik. That helped Al, because the big boss started pulling gargoyles away from Al to get in himself, and Al ran for it. He managed to get free of the pile-on, which thanks to his Armor spell hadn't been hurt but he was rightly scared of the gargoyles getting bored and grappling him.

At this point, Galen got free, and despite the -9, turned and shot the demon-ape down. Four for four, they were down.

It was really late, and at this point I told them it was clear that a) they didn't have the firepower to deal with the gargoyles, even if they got Raggi back up, and b) it was hopeless to figure. They took the direct suggestion I gave them to deal with this in some way that would let me get home (I have early work on Monday, and it was very late). Galen said, "They like gemstones." Dryst's player said "I have my emergency gemstones - you've all been told about them in case I die and need Resurrection." So Al Murik rolled Public Speaking and offered to bribe the gargoyles with some gems.

The boss said they'd kill them all and take them.

Al said, no, you'll never find them.

They managed to convince the gargoyles to turn around (no peeking!) and not look. They took out the five most valuable stones from Dryst's collection and offered them. The boss demanded six, so they'd have one each. Al produced the "last one" (He's Honest, but not truthful, apparently) they had to give away, and the boss was satisfied. They flew off, leaving the party in a huge mess.

Thanks to a beaker of great healing potions, a charged healing scroll, and a 4 on a healing roll, they managed to get the non-dead guys up and fully mobile. They took Jon's corpse and Dryst's corpse, left the remnants of Liz where they fell, found the four pieces of jewelry the apes had, and fled. They got past the wyrm (it was full from eating like 30 stirges and two live pigs, and in no mood to bargin for Dryst's delicious corpse), climbed back up, took the stairs back down, and wound they way out to the dragon cave mouth and home.


So in the end, the finaly tally was:

Dryst - dead, at -5xHP (almost exactly - at -45 or -46 HP)
Liz - dead, at below -10xHP (the gargoyles weren't happy with her)
Jon Blackbart - dead, at -6xHP (the big gargoyle kept failing his Bloodlust self-control roll).
Swoinch and Boohee - eaten; such is the lot of sacrificial pigs in a dungeon.

Everyone else is alive, but Father Keef is going to have a scar from that neck wound. He's lucky he's not dead.

Dryst will possibly get resurrected - they need to fork over $15,000, which they don't have, and then I'll roll the spell. Dryst has some of that, but we'll see if Vryce has some handy. Raggi, sadly, had been sitting on some money for a while (he'd done well) and then spent it all in a fury of partying and sped-up gear upgrades, and he's nearly broke.

I doubt anyone will resurrect Jon Blackbart, showing again the Curse of the Henchmen Page.

Raggi was freaking angry at being useless in the fight. You could say he kept 50% of the ape-demons completely occupied for most of the fight, and came out of it okay. This is true, but as he sees it nothing died horribly from his axe or hands like they damn well should have, so he's annoyed at being useless. This may affect a) his availability and b) his patience.

It could have been much, much worse. It was almost a TPK, and the casualties are so light only because of lots of healing stuff expended, good rolls on healing, and some luck when I checked to see if anyone died of their frightful injuries.

Invisible demon-apes attacking by surprise is tough. I figured they'd either leverage invisibility and super jump and do a lot of good stuff, or not and die. It was the former.

This session went way, way, way too late. Like, 3 hours late. Mostly this is because:

- the fight went long. Way long for the actual seconds of game time and the number of combatants.

- as the fight got bad, and the stakes got high, people took a long time to decide what to do. Every decision was magnified, or so it seemed, so everyone took forever to make a decision. Things got slow.

- people took a long time between turns, for the same reason.

- Morale got low as it looked like it was nearly a certain TPK, so talk turned to "What character next?" and "What went wrong?" and not "What do I do now?" which also slowed it down.

I think I need to get my timer going again and do 3-2-1 countdowns even when it's life or death, TPK or not. I don't think anyone did anything at 10 pm they wouldn't have been able to do at 8 pm just because they dragged their feet.

Honestly, I obliquely hinted the gargoyles weren't defeatable, but I think everyone was too tired to notice. Since it was late, and I didn't want to spend any more time playing out a slow, helpless grind of death, I basically said in some like these words - "You can't outrun the gargoyles and you can't kill them. So find another way or just get ground down." That's when they negotiated. I charged a -1 point "Hint Fee" from their XP.

Al Murik is a dwarven cleric with a mysterious Y-shaped scar on his cheek. There are two references there, if you can find them. He's run by a player new to this campaign but not new to us - the player has gamed with me since High School, and joined our 10-year-long GURPS campaign about a year into it and played until it ended. He's got a little more free time these days and jumped back in. Good thing, they need a cleric.

Awaken probably needs a tweak - right now, it's + margin of success, -3 for injury, -6 for drugged. Probably makes sense to scale the injury penalty to the HT penalty to wake up, from -0 (above -1xHP) to -4 (-4xHP and below), actually. Got to think about that.

The group - or at least members, like Galen - had a chance to break off from the fight and run. It would have been the smart move. But everyone, or close to everyone, has things like Sense of Duty (Adventuring companions) and wouldn't consider it. Had Al dropped, though, I bet Galen would have made a break for it. If he dropped some gear he could make No Encumbrance and would have had Move 13 with Haste and could outrun the gargoyles. But he wouldn't stop fighting while his buddies were up.

This was also a fight that, thanks to lots of terrible rolls, went worse than it should have. Galen missed easy bow shots a few times, rolled minimum damage a lot, and otherwise had some issues. Twice Al Murik had a fight-ending shot on his axe or pick and did too little damage to matter. A max-damage axe throw would have taken that demon out, yet his minimum damage hit meant it lived to nearly win the fight for Hell.

So why Swoinch and Boohee? Swoinch is the sound Hen Wen makes in The Book of Three. Boohee - aka ブヒ - is onomatopoeia for pig noises in Japanese. So now you know, and knowing the half the pig.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A small crowd for Felltower

It looks like we're down to 3 players today for Felltower after some last-minute illness-and-family-related cancellations - with one possibility who hasn't confirmed or denied his attendance. So maybe 4, none of whom are really front-line fighter types.

I might just need to bring a side quest just in case - I'm not sure the group has the firepower to deal with Felltower today. But you never know - they might just manage, and they're a bold group, generally. But who knows, maybe they'll go back to the Caves of Chaos, or explore that rumored ghost tower, or raid the orcs . . .

It's so much easier when everyone comes and I know the plan is "go deep, kill anything that looks rich."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

GURPS & Wasteland 2

I wish I could live in the alternate reality where Fallout used GURPS (like it was originally going to), and that Wasteland 2 followed suit somehow.

It's a fun game, but really, it gets tiring shooting people in the head and having them keep coming as a matter of course (hey, it's only a round of .30-06), seeing guys running across the map and then stabbing you, or (my personal favorite) having sniper rifles with a 30 meter maximum range (not optimal, not "effective range" but "stand at 31m and I can't hit you.")

I've started fights with a headshot from cover and had the shot guy run up and shoot the sniper at point blank range.

Ah, video games.

Good thing I have my tabletop group playing tomorrow.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sinbad in GURPS terms

Phil "Arabian Nights" Masters (okay, staying on topic here - also known as Phil "Dungeon Fantasy 9" Masters) has just released a book about Sinbad the Sailor.

He tied this in to GURPS with two forum posts:

Historical Sindbad the Sailor (notable traits: doesn't die, inexplicable forces aid him, normal guy)


Hollywood Sindbad the Sailor (good at everything related to sailing and swords, handsome, lucky, gets the hot female lead)

I approve of these Sinbads.

Other People's Posts this week

Here are a few posts this week I wanted to make sure people read. And comment on myself, of course. I read a fair amount of good stuff this week - and generally, it's worth clicking on all the blogs in my blog roll (or they wouldn't be there.) Still some posts stood out as needing my special commentary. Heh.

On Magical Hearts

I'm a sucker for magic items with downsides, going all the way back to White Plume Mountain. My own magic items frequently have this kind of twist.

How you get these hearts into you is a fun topic, too - in a fairy tale-ish game, it should absorb into you in some fashion. In a gritty, splattery game you should have to carve the person open and keep their real heart in a jar somewhere.

How to Deal with Elminster

Jurgen makes a case for keeping powerful NPCs in your game. Me, I still think it's worth killing a lot of them off, especially if they're someone else's Mary Sue or serve to keep players in line. But he's right - the powerful and successful are busy, and they're not going to be trivially accessible and not going to have a lot of time to spend fixing problems you can fix without them . . . even if fixing those problems costs you dearly.

Even so, it's worth remembering - in the real world, people can't wave their hands and change the world. In fantasy games, they can. So you have to realize the players will always think - if you're not handling this problem, it must be because it's not really that important. Outside time constraints and issues of right here, right now help that a bit though.

Orcs are a disease

Now, I don't play OD&D, but I do really appreciate when someone picks apart what it's implying with its odd monster entries.

And hey, aren't orcs a fungus in Warhammer?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Adding new rules to GURPS

Matt Riggsby had a nice Daily Illuminator and then a nice blog post about adding rules to GURPS.

What I tend to look for in a new rule:

- Covering new ground. This is pretty hard, because a) the basic rules already cover a huge variety of circumstances directly so you don't need new rules to do so, and b) a lot of the potential special cases are already covered.

- It has to drill down on the detail for something worth drilling down into, or scale up in a way that makes the game faster and more fun. In other words, it has to expand on something that works at a grainier/most abstract scale already or takes a more detailed rule and makes it more grainy/more abstract.

- It has to be 100% compatible with the rules you're mostly likely to pair it up with.

Ideally, you want all three. In fact, if you don't get all three, it probably needs more work. Technical Grappling does this well (covers new ground in terms of details and special cases, drills down the details, 100% compatible with the rest of the system). So does Social Engineering (covers new ground in terms of social skill roll effects, drills down, 100% compatible) and so does Action 2's concept of BAD (covers new ground in abstraction, abstracts some things yet makes them concrete, 100% compatible with the rest of GURPS).

Above all, of course, the rules have to be fun. Fun for the people who want rules for that sort of thing. Detailed rules on weapon length, martial arts styles, and special rules for smacking people's faces into car doors make you grit your teeth and moan about GURPS having too many rules? Take a pass on Martial Arts. Look at Social Engineering and roll your eyes and say "You're supposed to role play!"? Not for you. Look at Action 2 and say "You can't just abstract all the difficulty in taking down the bad guy to a number!"? Also not for you. On the other hand, if you say, "We need to make Goju Ryu different from Shotokan in this game," or "I want some mechanics for social climbing," or "I need a concrete way to explain why Bond doesn't just drive up to Blofeld's house and shoot him," well, you have the rules you need.

That's essentially what I look for in new rules. When I write them, though, I have another criteria: is it possible to do this already with existing rules? If so, I do that first.

When I'm writing rule-heavy books - say, DF 12: Ninja - most of what I write isn't new rules. Most of the opportunities to write those are past at this point. Mostly what I do is demonstrate new things you can do with the existing rules. Nothing in Killing Strike or Weapon Master (Ninja Weapons) is really new-new, it's just showing a new execution of existing concepts. On the other hand, somethings you need more detail. The very light rules for Loyalty in Basic Set are fine, but not when you've got a gaggle of hirelings you're taking into the haunted castle to fight monsters. So a new, expanded rule was needed there.

New rules, house rules, and new executions - in all cases I want fun and compatibility and actual newness of utility. If I can't get rules to do those things, I don't want to use them.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Some Wasteland 2 thoughts

This isn't a video game blog, but, in between writing, I've been playing Wasteland 2, which I backed on Kickstarter. I'm a big post-apoc fan.

I played for an hour or so with four pre-gens, to get some idea of how it played and what skills I'd need. After half of them died (and I had no surgeon to stabilize them, and I saw how well and poorly some weapons worked) I made up my own guys.

Overall, it's good stuff.


- "one more" syndrome is strong here. I'll stop when I get to town. I'll stop after this fight. I'll stop after checking out this box.

- Humorous. Nothing quite like finding a relic in the form of a 30 meg hard drive that says "The last hard drive you'll ever need. You'll never fill 30 megs." Heh. I remember when I had a 30 meg hard drive.

- The weapon customization/add-on and strip-for-parts system is a lot of fun.

- Weapon choices stay valid. My pistol dude is still worth having.

- Leveling drives play - it's neither too slow nor too fast.

- Effects of equipment are clearly spelled out.


- No formations. Seriously, I can't tell you how annoying "run around in a big mob" is, especially when I have to re-position everyone before a fight. That they sometimes snap to grid when a fight starts in an odd way means two guys I had next to each other are now front-to-back and block each others' line of fire, stuff like that.

- The mob formation means I've had characters step on land mines or walk into traps because they tried to crowd around the edge of something instead of just following the leader. They've even stepped on mines we'd spotted, proving that even Intelligence 10 out of 10 doesn't mean the characters aren't idiots.

- No pre-set combat options means I can position everyone for an ambush, spring it with a sniper shot, and then have the enemy swarm us while everyone sits. I should be able to select "Ambush" (basically, Wait) as an option even out of combat, or get a round for my guys if I start the fight by surprise.

- Tiny white numbers. Honestly, for some equipment, I have no idea how much I have.

- The camera. I'm either in so close I can't see anything, or out so far I can't see important stuff up close. I've actually missed key things and had to go back because my camera angle didn't make it seem like there was a tunnel there, or a door there, or whatever. I end up pixel-bitching too much.

In all, I'm having fun. I've had to enforce a daily work time and word count restriction - no Wasteland 2 until I've done my work and my studies and my class prep. Fun stuff, and I'm very glad I backed this one. I never played Wasteland, but I played the designer's other games, Fallout and Fallout 2, and this feels much the same as that one in terms of feel and fun.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

More Rules, Less Rules and Choices

I was responding to an anonymous comment on Gaming Ballistic this morning. It repeated something I hear a lot - in old school D&D, you can attempt anything.

This is true, but the way I see it, the sentence should be, "in tabletop RPGs, you can attempt anything." It's not a rule set benefit, it's a game style benefit. It's the difference between having rules to let the ref adjudicate the results of actions and having a game with rules all follow. The difference between an RPG and other games in large part to me is that you can attempt anything in the former, and the rules are there to provide support to those attempts. In non-RPG games, the rules are generally there to list the only things you can do (and often specific things you can't do.)

But I don't see quantity of rules as being anywhere on the scale of availability of choices. You could play a whole RPG with no rules, and attempt anything at all and leave the decision about what happens up to the GM. Or you could play an RPG with lots of rules, and attempt anything at all, and leave the decision about what happens to the rules and GM together. The effect of those choices might be wildly varied (because of the GM and/or the rules) or pretty much all the same (because of the GM and/or the rules.)

Rules light games can be great, because you'd effectively being told to just try stuff and see what happens. But on the other hand, sometimes limited rules can effectively hold you back, by amalgamating all of your choices into a small set of results. Not to pick on Swords & Wizardry (because I really like the game!), but in general combat choices work out to be:

- Who do I swing at?
- With what weapon?

and then the effects are resolved with a die roll unmodified by much else. A GM can rule bonuses or penalties, to be sure, but there isn't a lot of support for different combat choices in the system itself. There are rules for high-DEX fighters lowering their AC with parries, but it's not a particularly effective choice and it sees about as much action as that rule did in AD&D (basically, none.)

Compare that to, say, Rolemaster 1st edition, which I played back in the day. It was:
- Who do I swing at?
- With what weapon?
- How much of my bonuses do I put into offense or defense?

and then you go. Only one more choice, but you could make or break your character with that last choice. Do I put my 70 with Broadsword into full offense and hope I score a fight-ending crit? Do I hold back and maybe miss a chance to end the fight with my timidity? Lots of choices, because of that extra rule.


- Who do I swing at?
- With what weapon?
- With what attack mode of the weapons?
- Aiming at what target, if any?
- What maneuver do I select to do that?
- Where do I step to do it?
- What combat options do I select?

and then you go. There are so many choices that I wrote a post about avoiding getting too hung up on them.

The additional rules-supported options in Rolemaster and then GURPS add more meaningful choices with concrete, supported results and thus more choices.

On the other hand, additional rules can limit you. If clerics can turn undead in D&D, by default that means no one else can - the rules for doing that are covered by that one class's abilities. Either you're a cleric and can or you're not and can't. The poor wording of Thieves in Supplement I: Greyhawk effectively say only thieves can sneak around or climb walls, even if the intention was different. The rules in GURPS for effectively 5 shades of offense or defenses (All-Out Attack, Committed Attack, Attack, Defensive Attack, All-Out Defend) means you don't get to choose nuances between them like in Rolemaster with its open chance to split points out. So rules can also say, that's not a valid choice, and cut "can attempt anything" down to "attempt any of the following" or to "can attempt anything except (whatever)." The lack of attack options in S&W can mean you worry more about the larger issues around the combat, and don't worry about each individual blow. And if you read this paragraph and said, no way dude, anyone can attempt to turn undead in old school D&D, the GM just has to decide if it works - I'd agree, but that's any argument that rules quantity isn't a limiting factor on choice. Those rules can also empower you - without the turning ability listed, maybe the GM wouldn't let anything turn undead. Having them, it's a clear sign that kind of behavior is expected and called for, and is thus a new option (for some characters) in the game.

In short: Additional rules can limit your effective choices by telling you what you can't do, but additional rules can also open up new choices and differences between choices and therefore give you more options.

When I look at rules sets, I basically want:

- enough rules that the decisions I make matter, and have different effects from other decisions I could make.

- but not so many rules that getting from decision to rule application to result disrupts the game.

Obviously, that's going to vary from person to person, game to game. It won't always be the same for the same group session to session, nevermind campaign to campaign. But in my opinion and experience, the "heaviness" or "lightness" of a rules set doesn't limit your choices. It just tells you how many of those choices are explicitly going to affect play more often than not.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe

Normally I review RPG materials I find especially interesting or helpful. This is not an RPG book at all - but it was an incredible source of material for GURPS Martial Arts. It's one of the best books I had access to, it's a great introduction to the topic, and points out specific resources you can use to dig deeper into specific topics. It's a book well worth reading if you have any interest in the time period, or just want a better grasp of "I hit him with my sword" means when you're roleplaying faux-Middle Ages fighting. It's later than the Middle Ages, of course, but so much of fantasy fighting is influenced by the Renaissance, or freely mixes in weapons all the way from Roman swords to late Renaissance rapiers. For those reasons, it's an excellent and informative read.

The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe

When writing GURPS Martial Arts, Sydney Anglo's The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe was very possibly the single best resource we had for European martial arts. The only source that possibly edged it out for overall utility was Thomas Green's Encyclopedia of Martial Arts 2-book set (which, indirectly, led me to training Kachin Bando.)

Now, we did have access to a lot of the actual texts - Talhoffer, Silver, the Codex Wallerstein, Ringeck, and more. But having a book that pulled those sources together, along with many others we didn't have access to (or just flat-out couldn't afford access to), was excellent.

The book takes a look at the entire scope of the martial arts, from foot to mounted, from one end of the Renaissance to the other. It covers not just swords but also pole arms, spears, daggers, wrestling, unarmed striking, fighting in armor and unarmored, ritualized combat versus larger scale combat, and more. It does so in a very readable, well-referenced, and well-indexed way. You could pick this book up having little or no idea about the martial arts and learn a lot. If you already have some interest in the martial arts, it'll fill in a lot of gaps you might not realize existed in your knowledge. It certainly did that for me - I knew I didn't know everything, but it brought to my attention things I didn't even know existed. If what you know about swords and armor is that you hack people down with swords and never grapple in armor, this book will be a revelation and a treat. It can be a great source of inspiration for game and add verisimilitude to your descriptions of fighting.

One of the great strengths of the book is that it works to tie those sources together by time period and topic - you get Silver's look at the "short staffe" and discussions of other master's use of the staff, you get the influence of mathematics on swordsmanship tied together across stylists who espoused that, and so on. You get a look at personal violence vs. war, and how that differed. Styles and weapons ideal for stabbing another swordsman in the streets of London or Genoa varied from what you needed to push a rank of pikes through an enemy army. The book's look at, say, lance on foot vs. sword or jousting or even siege machines makes sense in that kind of context. It's tough when you a bring a dueling weapon to a battlefield and vice-versa. (That said, I do need to go back and give a full review to this more in-depth book on the subject of Renaissance war.)

As well, the book jumps into the controversies of the time and the biases of later historians and stylists (who occasionally saw everything before as leading up to their modern, "ultimate" style), too. It also addresses the nomenclature of the time - one section is titled "What was a rapier?" Modern readers might assume the answer is obvious, but what swords fit under what description (and what period authors felt were good terms) is a muddled and complex issue. Add in terminology of the actual styles being idiosyncratic, deliberately coded to confuse those who didn't learn from the master directly, translated and then re-translated, and you get an idea of the issue. Anglo does a great job making it as clear as it possibly can be.

Nicely, this book also addresses something often overlooked when discussing weaponry and martial arts - the social aspects. As much as you would think combat would be all about efficiency, style and social acceptibility and the law matter a lot. Sometimes it even makes that point indirectly - George Silver argued that the best self-defense weapon was a polearm called the forest bill, but socially and practically, you can see why it loses out to the vastly more portable and socially acceptable sword or a handy short staff even if it's superior to them in a fight.

The book is also lavishly illustrated - with both black and white reproductions of art and manual illustrations but also some color plates as well. Point of fact, one of the illustrations showing a swordsman losing both hands to a sword counter lead directly to Kromm and I realizing we needed a way to do that in the rule, and Extreme Dismemberment came directly from that.

The book came out way back in 2000, but I didn't discover it until 2004 when I was researching GURPS Martial Arts. I felt it was such a good resource that I bought a copy to send to my co-author so he'd be able to read and use it. Considering the budget for research materials on the book was $0 - everything came out of my profits - that's a true sign of its value to me.

It's a highly recommended read. I could go on about it all day. You can read part of it online at the HACA website. While without a doubt some parts of the book may have been overtaken by more recent looks at specific parts of the subject, consider this the best gateway to the subject that I can find.

For more reviews, please see my reviews page.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

DF Felltower NPC: Jon Blackbart

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

Jon Blackbart is a volunteer hireling - he comes for tips, which generally works out to be much more than a day's rate at a real job. Plus, there is always the chance of a big score and a big payoff. He is mostly based on the Guard template from Dungeon Fantasy 15 but he's both better and worse in some ways than that.

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

Jon Blackbart

Jon is a mystery - his background is not known, and he's quiet and doesn't talk much about himself. He's fairly grim. He may have some kind of farming background, as he handled pigs well when asked. He does have some kind of fighting background as he owns and can handle a sword well. He doesn't have any other weapon skills, though, really - no ranged weapons, no backups besides Knife (and he doesn't carry a combat-useful one.) He does wear the traditional red shirt of the local militia.

ST 14  HP 14     Speed 6.00
DX 11 Will 10   Move 6
IQ 10  Per 10
HT 13 FP 13     DR 2 (Neck 4F, Skull 6)
Dodge 8   Parry (Broadsword) 10 + 2 DB   Block 10 +2 DB

Thrusting Broadsword (15): 2d+1 cutting or 1d+2 impaling; Reach 1.

Traits: Code of Honor (Stays Bought); Fearlessness 3; No Sense of Humor; Ridiculously Thick Beard (DR 2, Face 1-3 in 6, and Neck, front only); Stubbornness.

Quirks: Delusion: My sword is Ornate; Doesn't talk much; Willing to answer to "Bort" but resents it.

Skills: Animal Handling (Farm Animals)-10; Armoury (Melee Weapons)-9; Brawling-12; Broadsword-15; Forced Entry-11; Climbing-10; Knife-11; Shield-14; Sumo Wrestling-10; Stealth-10.

Gear: Clothing; Thrusting Broadsword w/cheap glass "gem" in pommel; Heavy Leather Armor (DR 2); Medium Shield; Personal Basics; Pot Helm (DR 4); Pouch; Sack; Small Knife (tool).

This is a straight-up Mordheim mini. The GW Mordheim minis drip with personality without being cluttered with too much detail. This guy is no different. These minis are a joy to paint.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

I have a secret GURPS project

It's true, I'm working on a project. It's not so secret anymore now that Dr. Kromm mentioned it on his Livejournal weekly GURPS update.

I can't tell you much except:

- the draft is due pretty soon, so if I seem busy or I'm being on your blogs or requests for anything, that's why.

- it's for GURPS, which should be no shock (gee, a GURPS author writing a project for the GURPS Line Editor is writing a GURPS project! Gasp!)

- I can't tell you what line or topic it's for, but it's related to things I've written about being. I'm not expanding into a new line. So that cuts it down to, what, three possible lines of support? Low-Tech, Martial Arts, or Dungeon Fantasy. Or a mix. That's technically possible, too.

- I'm the sole author. I like co-authoring better for a lot of reasons (for one, I can hand off what gets me stuck) but this one has largely flown off of my keyboard and I wouldn't have needed much writing help. Editing and rules question help, yes, but not to get most of the words down.

- and that I had a goal of getting 250 new words down this morning before MMA class and instead I edited and edited and added, like, 2 new words. Sigh.

That's all I can tell you now.

I'd also like publicly resent the fact that Wasteland 2 came out yesterday and I tried it briefly last night. I got sucked right in, which tells me it has to go on the "after you've done your writing for today!" pile.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Digging further into Tactical Longsword Sport

I mentioned this morning I'd take a deeper look at Doug's post and do so comments on it here. So, here they are.

Stealing Doug's writeup, but with my own comments:

Red: Attack, a swing to the head. Maybe a Committed Attack? It would explain . . .
White: Parry [4]

White: Deceptive attack. Swing to the torso.[5]
Red: Cannot parry; must dodge. This does not go well and he's hit.

Red: The hit hasn't registered with him yet, and he's already made up his mind. Attack, Committed, to the head.
White: Drop to knees and parry [6]

Following Doug's numbers, as well:

[4] I think that attack by Red Socks that leaves his sword high can be one or both of the following:

Committed Attack (Determined)


A critical miss. Either because of a stellar parry by White Socks (maybe, probably not) or just a poor roll. One of the results on the Critical Miss table, with a roll of 7 or 13, is "You lose your balance. You can do nothing else (not even a free actions) until your next turn and all your active defenses are at -2 until then."

That squared-up stance he takes after a failed attack? That doesn't seem to be part of the attacking strategy so much as a miscue. I've seen fighters doing really well, then suddenly put a foot wrong and leave themselves unable to stop a strike.

Note that 7 and 13 say "nothing else" - so a -2 to defenses, and loss of the expected and planned for Retreat makes it a 5-point swing in defenses. Not only that, but a 7 or 13 result stops a turn dead, which means anything you intended to do after the strike that failed doesn't come off - no step, no more attacks (if it was part of a multiple-attack turn), no dropping a weapon, nothing. You just have to stand where you chose and take any counter.

Now, any of that could have resulted from the parry if White rolled a critical success. It just goes to demonstrate that GURPS is positing dice rolls giving results, not necessarily saying the rolls individually tell the whole story. Aparry that doesn't look so good but which is good enough, and then which causes the attacker to be unable to respond effectively (in other words, Critically Miss and have bad stuff happen) can be a Critical Success. Probably a Critical Failure, though.

Or, it could be a Riposte Martial Arts, p. 124) - taking a slightly riskier defense to leave the attacker open. Although I'd say it doesn't really resemble what fencers call a riposte. It does fit into the GURPS terminology, however - Riposte as a term of art, describing game effects. That's iffy because White Socks doesn't seem to be taking a risky defense to open up Red Socks to retaliation, nor does it looked like a rushed defense (another way to be taking a GURPS Riposte.)

[5] This can also be a Counterattack (Martial Arts, p. 70). It's something you see a lot in sword manuals - the parry-counter, the masterstroke that delivers a blow while leaving you covered completely and your foe open, the immediate response. Counterattack is one of those techniques you need to train to have it matter (a quirk of the Deceptive Attack rules - if it was not so, it would either just be DA or be better than it), but it fits the style of German longsword really well based on the manuals. And clearly, how it's fought in modern reconstruction.

In any case, it's clearly a Deceptive Attack - probably through sheer speed, as the retaliation from the parry of the high-line strike is instant and fast. It's nothing "cute" but just hard to stop. That, per What Is . . . a Deceptive Attack? (Martial Arts, p. 111), is a wholly valid explanation for a DA.

This is a good split-second to remember when you deal a potentially fatal blow in GURPS combat - unless your blow is so good, so well-placed, so effective that it makes the attacker unable to retaliate, you might still die. If you hit someone with enough damage that they will certainly die (from bleeding (p. B420), from lack of medical care, from eventually failing a death check) but they make a check to not be stunned and stay conscious in the meantime (or, luck forbid, act simultaneously with you) and kill you dead too.

I've had occasion (funny) moments when someone death a death-check causing blow, the "dead" person made the check, remained unstunned, remained conscious, and then acted with great consequence. While the players in my DF just go for torso shots not to "waste" damage, in my more gritty games you'd see a lot more arm and legs shots (yes, and eye shots) aimed at making retaliation impossible.

Don't forget Dying Actions (p. B423), too - if you're using them, the person might just get that blow in after failing a death check. If you killed your foe with a Committed Attack or All-Out Attack, well, you might just get to chat about it while you're walking down the long white tunnel together.

By the way, GURPS doesn't allow this exactly, but I do like the idea of dropping to one knee in lieu of a step back for a Retreat with a Parry. Take a knee, take a +1, and hope you don't need to move. It looks cool, too. It just sucks when you're kneeling and his buddy attacks, hammering your in your new, lower-defense posture.

Finally, I'm surprised Doug didn't highlight Setup Attacks, which also might explain the progressive opening of Red Sock's defenses. Perhaps the Setup Attack forced him into a limited line of attack, which made for an easier followup the next turn by the eventual winner?

It's All Fun and Games

None of this is a knock on the fighter we've been calling Red Socks. This is clearly some high level swordsmanship on both sides. But when you cut down to fractions of a second of movement, even a tiny error can cause a loss. I'd say most fight losses in high level combat sports result from one person's small error. We're simply taking an excellent slow-motion look at a combat sport exchange and showing what it could represent in visualization of game effects and what it could be modeled as using GURPS.

It's rare to get such a good example of concepts built deep into GURPS, so you'll have to forgive Doug and I for posting incessantly about it for a couple days. I promise I'm done with that one exchange.

Ironically, I don't do this kind of breakdown with MMA. This is because MMA is my sport - I have fought, I still train as if I might fight again, and I work on it constantly. So I don't really look at fight video and think of it in game terms, I think of it in application to what I do and how I can utilize or counter what I see. It's just not where I keep my head when I watch fights.

Incidentally, all of this reminds me of why you don't see this stuff in the movies - it happens too fast, the moves are too subtle and then too explosive. It's stunning in its execution but mostly unless it's slowed down you can't even see it happen. To an untrained eye the full speed stuff isn't going to look cool, anymore than watching high-level grappling is as entertaining if you don't know enough to spot all the stuff that's going on.

Technical Longsword Sport

For those of you who may have missed it, Douglas Cole took my post yesterday, and extensively analyzed the 2-second exchange of blows I highlighted.

It's good stuff - both his eye for technique in the real world and how this all looks when the dice hit the table in a game.

Technical Longsword: GURPS gets it right

I have some more comments on the video, and his post, but I also have work, so it'll have to wait for tonight!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Longsword Sport

So one of my friends sent along an excellent video about modern longsword competition.

Here is the video on youtube.

And here is the article.

It's pretty inspirational stuff for two-handed sword fighting. It gives you an idea of:

- how fast an exchange of blows is.

- how you can parry, attack, then parry in fractions of a second for each movement - especially check out this bit here, which makes the whole article for me.

- the sheer maneuverability of a two-handed sword. Lots of systems rate big swords as slow, clumsy hacking weapons. This is a good demonstration of something we found researching Martial Arts - the people who used such weapons in combat rated them highly as defensive, fast weapons.

How would Longpoint style fights look in GURPS?

This style of fighting would best be represented with either Two-Handed Sword Sport, or a style that teaches both Two-Handed Sword Sport and Two-Handed Sword. Most of those blows look potentially lethal and hard, but there is also a sports targeting aspect and safety restrictions that might hamper you in a fight, so Sport makes sense as a separate skill you'd learn. They don't seem to judge the blows on artistry alone, making Two-Handed Sword Art a bit unlikely. You can check out Art vs. Sport vs. Combat skill in the GURPS Martial Arts Designers Notes. You'd want Games (Longsword) as well, since understanding the written and unwritten rules and scoring system of a sport is critical to doing well in it. Knowing the history of the sport would help, too.

Just based on that one source (the video description), and the Longsword Fighting style from p. 180 of GURPS Martial Arts, you could make this fairly stripped down ring-ready version.

Longsword Sport

Skills: Games (Longsword), Two-Handed Sword, Two-Handed Sword Sport.
Techniques: Counterattack (Two-Handed Sword).
Cinematic Skills: Power Blow.
Cinematic Techniques: Timed Defense (Two-Handed Sword).
Perks: Grip Mastery (Longsword).

Optional Traits
Advantages: Enhanced Dodge; Enhanced Parry (Two-Handed Sword); Weapon Master (Two-Handed Sword).
Disadvantages: Delusions; Obsession (win tournaments).
Skills: Broadsword; History (European or German).
Perks: Weapon Bond.

I didn't list Targeted Attack, because it's not clear from the video what the valid targets are. I'll have to do a lot more reading to sketch out the rest of this. An enthusiast (or a PC, who reasonably expect to take this and use it in real fights) would do well to also learn Longsword Fighting, with its mix of strikes, grapples, armed, and unarmed techniques.

What this reminds me of a lot is full-contact and real-contact stickfighting. I did a lot of stuff copied from the Dog Brothers back in the day - my first experience with grappling and groundfighting, actually, was learning to do a fang choke (a stick-assisted choke) and a figure-four arm lock with a stick (aka a Kimura.) The guy who plays Chuck Morris in my current DF game once cracked me so hard it spun my fencing mask around and dented it so deeply it was hard to remove it. Ah, good times. In any case, it looks similar in some ways, although the Dog Brothers scoring is, uhm, broader and cruder. This doesn't look like a sport where parry-takedown-choke would win.

The scoring system is reminiscent of kendo - just hitting isn't enough, but the quality of the strike, the timing of the strike, and your demonstrated skill in execution and control are all important - although it clearly differs in many particulars.

I only wish more of this stuff was going on and was more widely available back in '04-'05 when GURPS Martial Arts was coming together. A lot was out, but the full wealth of manuals, practical feedback from sports competitors, and so on just wasn't as plentiful as it is now, 10 years on. Ten years earlier than that, even a smaller fraction of the material would have been available. The internet has made available an explosion of good research material and historically rigorous re-enactments and testing possible. And, naturally, competitive games based on it all. It's worth looking to see if someone has taken your favorite gaming weapon and tried it out with historically-based techniques or turned it into a contact sport. It really helps visualize what you are doing in play, and appreciate the skill and beauty of martial skills in action.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chainmail Ogre Mercenary Mini

Here are some closeups of that Chainmail-line Ogre Mercenary I used as a cave giant in my game on Sunday. I can finally show them off because the players have seen this guy in person.

The chainmail line is very 2D. Even this guy is very flat front-to-back. The upside is that I could make him fit easily on a battlemap without a giant base.

You can probably see pretty easily that I didn't do all that much blending on this guy. Colors tend to start and stop abruptly. Honestly, I just got tired of painting him at some point, did some touch work to make him look good enough, and stopped. Still, he's a pretty good paint job and I expect if I need more giants in the future I'll bust him out again.

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Click on any of those for a larger version.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Technical Grappling + DF = Awesome

I mentioned a couple times that we're using Technical Grappling for Dungeon Fantasy.

At first glance, this must seem odd, especially given my emphasis on stripped-down combat for DF.

But actually, it's not that crazy. Admittedly, we're using a stripped down set of rules from TG, not all of the bells and whistling going with all of the rules for realism turned on.

But we basically aren't doing any of the cinematic rules for it, either.

The key here is the basic utility of the underlying mechanic - Control Points (CP).

First, realize that TG in DF is for the monsters. It's not for the PCs. It's not a way to make a grappling badass who choke-slams and arm locks monsters two per second - although you can do that. It's a way to make grappling monsters both scarier and a more nuanced foe.

We had a fight with crushrooms last time. ST 40, 4d crushing bite, Constriction Attack. By the Basic Set rules, a graby by that is game over - it bites for 4d, it holds on, and crushes you to death while you hope you and your friends can kill it. It misses, nothing. That binary switch (grappled & hosed, not grappled & fine) is so coarse it means when they hit people assume they're dead. Or at least, suffer -4 DX and wait for the crushroom to do a Takedown (easy) and Pin (easier) and end it.

But with CP-limited grapples, even with the massive CP they can inflict (one did 34 CP on Vryce, enough to reduce a normal man to total immobility almost twice over), there is a cap to the badness. Even as the penalties for being grappled are so much more harsh (Vryce was at -17 ST and -8 DX at one point) the ability to treat a grapple as a progressively counterable effect is dramatic. A few good rolls by Vryce and he whittled the CP on his arm down until the crushroom's grinding constriction was merely dangerous instead of potentially lethal - that added to a sense that trying to get free is worth it even when the odds are against you. The direct correlation between the quality of the grapple and the ability to act despite it is also crystal-clear with TG.

So there is a chance of a marginal grab. There is utility to using Break Free to whittle away at CP so a hold is progressively loosened, without the non-drama of "I roll vs. ST 20, it rolls vs. ST 40, oh look, it won!" There is the chance for a so-so grab to merely slow you down in your monster-killing.

But at the same time, a grab-specialized monster can now inflict ridiculous top-end effects. No longer is being grapples by 6 tentacles from a tentacled horror just "-4 to DX and I can't Retreat" but it could take you all the way to effectively pinned and helpless in seconds, all because you couldn't stop its initial grab. Running CP so that toothy maws grabbing onto your plate armor and - despite not penetrating - holding on means bite-based grapples suddenly become a continuing problem even if their damage is too low to be a direct means of killing you.

So monsters that grapple now have a wider breadth of lethality - not just yes/no. Counters to being grappled are now set so even weaker PCs can slowly work out of the grasp of monsters, so attempting to break free is much more often a useful exercise.

The change from a binary grappling system to a CP-based system has made grappling better. What's more, it makes the game flow more smoothly. No one argues, or tries to explain why they can somehow pull off X or Y despite being grappled, or groans that they'll need a new guy because they missed that Dodge roll vs. the crushroom bite. It's all clear, nothing is insurmountable, and the effect-based rolls for grapples fit smoothly into how GURPS does things otherwise.

All in all, using TG for DF is why the crushroom fight last time was such a fun one and a dramatic one, not an excuse to sigh that even ST 40 gets you nothing special when you chomp and hold on. Oh yes, it really does. But with a CP pool to whittle down, it's not the end of the fight.

Good stuff. It's improved my game.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Finally Matte Spray Weather

Finally, we had:

- humidity under 50%

- temperature around 70 (but feeling like 75+ in the sun)

- no rain

- and no real wind.

So I was able to matte seal 37 minis, including:

- finally re-sealing my frosted 6-man gladiator set. That still didn't work out well, but see below.

- two 100 Years War archers (they'll make good hirelings)

- an old AD&D priest figure turned armored wizard

- a Reaper Battle Nun

- fully-to-somewhat-intact Star Frontiers robots.

- some Hundred Kingdoms minis I'd been meaning to finish for years.

- a re-paint of a 70s-era mini I'd inherited but wanted to fix. You'll see him when I bust him out next game session - he's a perfect volunteer hireling.

- my Spanish sword-and-buckler men.

It was about time, really. I hope we get some days like this, since I'm all caught up on the finishing and the next batch of minis need to get finished painting.

Speaking of those Star Frontiers robots, I have another boxed, shrinkwrapped and new. I keep waffling between "sell it!" and "paint them!" It's a tough call because I really don't need 6 more robots, especially when they're just not-damaged versions of the ones I have now. Broken ones are pretty Gamma World, too. But they're fast to paint and pretty fun, and I don't have a lot of robots. We'll see how I eventually decide.

And speaking of frosted, sandpapery minis, I've tried a few methods:

- re-sealing (no effect)

- gloss sealing (looked fine) and then re-matte sealing (reverted to frosted, snowy, and sandpapery)

- the olive oil treatment. This had some effect. I basically covered the mini with olive oil (I used the cheap stuff, not extra virgin), rubbed it a bit, then washed the mini off in warm, soap water. It dramatically improved one mini, and noticeably improved another in the patches I was able to abrade a bit with my fingertip.

I kind of doubted it, and so I just tried the warm, soapy water on two other minis from the set. No effect at all on those. So the olive oil is clearly having some kind of effect - possibly stripping off the finish without stripping off the paint. We'll see, as I will repeat the treatment. I will also try brush-on varnish once I get some. But although I've read a few people saying the olive oil treatment can't work and doesn't work well, it;'s at least moved some of my minis into a better state. I may ultimately leave them in that state and not spray-seal them, I may try one mini again, we'll see.

But at least those minis are starting to get better. Had I only waited for a day like today in the first place. Oh well, I didn't realize the weather wasn't sealing weather until it was too late last time.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

DF Session 47, Felltower 38 - Crushroom Combat

September 14th, 2014

Weather: Cool, clear.

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Asher Crest-Fallen, human holy warrior (250 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (350 points)
     Father Keef, human initiate (125 points, NPC)
Galen Longtread, human scout (360 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (444 points)
     Gort of the Shining Force, dwarf adventurer (unknown point total, NPC)
     Jon Blackbart, human swordsman (unknown point level, NPC)
     Larry the Crossbowman, human crossbowman (low point level NPC)
     Orcish Bob, not-orcish orc brute (approximately 125 points, NPC)
     Boohee, pig
     Swoinch, pig

Still in town:
Bern Brambleberry, gnome artificer (265 points)
     Mark Strawngmussel, human laborer (62 points, NPC)
Borriz, dwarven knight (308 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (303 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (302 points)

Christoph, human scout (258 points)

Christoph the scout was basically retired, as he'd fallen so far behind while his player was unable to game for much of the past year. Rather than be a backup Galen, he chose to make a new PC and settled on a holy warrior. That's a template you could use to make a Paladin, or a religious zealot. Asher kind of straddles the two. He'd have gotten along well with Inquisitor Marco, and probably is just from a branch of the order that deployed the Inquisitor way back when.

We started up in Stericksburg, as usual. Vryce cemented his reputation as a Dragon Slayer, but the others let it ride (Raggi too, sadly, for lack of points.) We joked that in a short time the story will be of heroic Vryce battling the dragon as his cowardly companions stood outside, shaking at the terrible sounds of battle within. Heh.

They gathered rumors, including a warning to beware of snake-bodied demons, that demons can use blood to power spells, that the six-fingered vampires wear necklaces of blood, of the inability to scry the dungeon below the third level down, and others. Also, the orcs have been excommunicated, they say, so now it's legal to kill them. ("That's retroactive, right?" asked Galen, and "Uh, how far back does that cover me?" asked Raggi)

The group replenished their supplies, and the loot they spent pushed the town up another wealth threshold, so a lot more general adventuring supplies were available. They added their new members, and culled down a very large group of volunteers down to a handful, of whom they took only a few volunteers (Gort, Blackbart, Larry) and one half-share member (Orcish Bob.) They also picked up two pigs, intending to find the twelve-legged worm and pay him in pigs for passage. Gort admitted to wrangling pigs back in the Shining Force, so he and Bort aka Jon Blackbart were assigned duties.

They headed out of town, out the northern gate, across the Old Stone Bridge over the Silver River, past Sterick's Landing with the statue of Sterick on his rearing horse, axe and sword upraised, and trekked up to the ruins of Felltower. They turned off partway up the mountain and headed to the dragon cave.

Once there, they spotted some signs of traffic - orcs. Booted and muddy feet left prints and dirt and hobnail scratches. Graffiti on the wall with orc names ("Glarg was here." "Bruk rules!" and so on, some crudely crossed out) was a dead giveaway. They moved in, past the shattered barrels and chests and scattered coins of the dragon's hoard and down the split cavern. They passed a side passage and went into the batchala lair. They found three badly eaten orcs, and then were attacked by some foul bats. 11, total. Last time a buffed Vryce took them down. This time, they swarmed the group - but the result was the same. With Galen there, bats fell two per second for a few seconds. Vryce and Raggi told for others. Then the last one, the tough leader, fled, but Galen shot it up with arrows and killed it. All dead inside of a few seconds.

The group began to wind their way through a series of caves. An echoing roar, distant drips of water, and occasionally fluted whistling noises (not like wind, but like something or someone whistling lightly) echoed about. They mapped as best they could, as the tunnels and caverns rose and fell and twisted. Even with Absolute Direction all they were assured of was good distances and relative direction, not an unerring ability to put down sizes on maps.

They found a 30' cube room with four exits, which felt vaguely of old magic. They recalled finding one before, right before the trog fight, but this turned out not to be that room. They found another, later.

Making a lot of wandering short, they eventually came to tunnel that was unnaturally smooth-walled and which ended in 20+' tall, 10' wide double doors. The doors were made of iron, covered with magical runes and wards and holy symbols of all kinds (all from the religion of the Good God and his saints, though.) The runes weren't enchanted but were generic wards. The holy stuff? Father Keef didn't know and Asher admitted he was in the monastery on a full athletic scholarship There was an inscription in slightly-old common that read:

Go not into the center,
Danger lurks within,
That which should not waken,
All should not enter,
Rests but not rests therein,
Turn back now, Return not again.

Based on the big rings and giant hinges, they could tell the doors weren't locked but were probably a foot thick or more. Like, say, the big giant doors on the Doomchildren room. They decided to leave well enough alone until they were clearly short on making their loot threshold for the trip.

Heading back, they wound around into a room full of mushrooms and rotting vegetation. Some of the mushrooms ambled toward them on tentacle-like stumpy "feet." Dryst torched the entranceway with Create Fire and they backed off.

More exploring brought them past an area where they sensed some supernatural beings, demonic, perhaps, according to the sensitive Asher. They avoided it, though, and using Sense Earth found some nearby silver. They headed there.

They found a room with a chest with a skull (elven, it turned out) sitting on it. The chest was chased with silver. They send a servant in to retrieve the skull, and it brought it back. Nothing special. It went back to the chest, and couldn't open it. Galen popped the latch with an arrow, but still nothing. So then Galen started shooting the floor after he noticed there was an odd line across the room about halfway to the chest.

That did it - the whole floor moved toward them. They decided it was a trapper. It didn't last long. Even the giant 7 yard diameter thing didn't do more than make it part of the way to the party before Galen shot it full of arrows and Vryce, Raggi, and Asher slashed it to an oozing but dead mass. Raggi finished it off, and Galen started the job, so they jointly called it their kill. Underneath the group found a carpet, a chest with some gems in it, and three potions (they'd much later turn out to be 2 major healings and a plant control potion - like the spell).

More exploring and winding found another cube room. Off of that, they ran into the mushroom room again, and once again used Create Fire and backed off. The next room nearby was more eventful.

They moved in from a narrow corridor into a larger cavern, and saw a big shape in the middle. But as soon as they saw it, it saw them - it was a giant rhino beetle. It charged, going from motionless to full speed in a split second. It trampled the Created Servant without slowing down and then slammed and trampled Galen a moment after he put an arrow into each gigantic eye then tried to tumble out of the way (default Acrobatics). All of that failed and Galen ended up under it, facing its huge crushing mandibles. His situation was dire, and the group was stuck in the hallway plugged up by a giant beetle. Raggi, Vryce, and Asher struck. They did enormous damage to it despite its heavily armored front plate, and stunned it.

As they fought, though, a big rock flew out of the darkness behind the rhino - a giant, it's owner! The rock slammed into Asher's shield, breaking it and knocking him aside but not down. The beetle kept getting pounded, keeping it from killing Galen. Asher drew his spears one after the other and put one into each eye, Raggi kept hammering the beetle, and Vryce waited for the giant's attack with its 10' long "axe."

When the giant struck, Vryce interrupted and struck his axe, twice. One hit and damaged it heavily, but didn't break it, and he dodged the axe blow itself. Dryst, who first Great Hasted himself, Great Hasted and Shielded Vryce.

 photo photo1s_zps2705f31b.jpg

Larry put a siege crossbow bolt into the giant, wounding it horribly. Vryce clambered over the rhino beetle and went face to face with the giant. Raggi dropped his axe once the beetle seemed dead, and grappled its corpse to try and lift it off Galen. Vryce tried to Evade past the giant but failed, and when the giant backed off and clubbed him with the shaft of his axe (stopped by the Shield spell, but still knocking Vryce back), Vryce was able to recover and attack. That did it - the giant was dead, all the way past -5xHP, in two seconds of slashing.

They finally got Galen free, and looted the giant of what little enough he had (a pelt, a chunk of ivory, and 1200 or so silver coins in a bag.)

From there they headed out the other side of the cave, and found the source of the whistling - shrieking fungus. They fled, as some of the PCs and NPCs picked up Hard of Hearing from the keening. They hid and waited until they were better, then snuck past the fungus. Eventually they found the moving mushrooms again, and decided, let's attack.

They engaged 6 crushrooms and 2 tough crushrooms in a big brawl. The crushrooms used slams, telegraphic attacks, and tramples to engage the group, trying to get in a bite. They rarely succeeded, but drove everyone back. Sadly for the crushrooms, they group really does handle being pushed back well, and left spacing, retreat channels, and covered hexes for everyone. Still, crushrooms are tough, and Asher was slammed and trampled, Vryce bitten and held onto (once for over 30 CP!), and Raggi driven back. It was a hard fight, as the crushrooms couldn't stop being hit but take a ferocious pounding, and their bites and slams threatened to overwhelm the group. In the end, Dryst shocked one badly and fireballed one down, Asher was trampled but rescued by Galen wielding his shortsword, Gort waded in, and Raggi kept systematically backing off and hacking. Vryce eventually got bitten on his right arm and kept trying to free it from the crushroom, which ground away at his arm for damage that would have killed lesser men, but which merely hurt Vryce (and didn't even cripple his arm). Vryce eventually took 29 HP of damage past his 17 DR on his limbs, but it never got him down. The last crushroom went down under shocks from Dryst, sword hacks from Asher and axe swings from Raggi, and arrows from Galen, all while Vryce tried to pry it off of his arm.

 photo photo2s_zpsaf29bb7f.jpg

It was getting late, so the group searched the room (finding nothing) and then headed back to the double doors. They took a rubbing of the inscription, used Gift of Letters to ensure they missed nothing, and then headed home.

On the way out, they stopped to rest and systematically find the copper and silvers they'd missed before in the looting frenzy of last session, and finally made sure they had it all. It didn't amount to much, but it was something.


Vryce left his undead-slayer at home, now that he has three swords. He's thinking of putting the undead slaying tassels on Gram, which would make it a +1/+1, +3/+3 vs. Undead and Dragons, Undead and Dragon slayer. Wowsers.

Foul bats now how the most names in my game. In one session, they were called all of:
- Stink Bats*
- Skunk Bats
- Mobats
- Foul Bats
- Batchala
- Giant Bats

* "The Stinkbats" would be a good bad band name.

I'll admit right now some of this area - and in fact, part of the map, too - is directly stolen from a published adventure. If you recognize it, please don't tell say so. It's changed enough that my players don't have any useful meta-knowledge, but it's possible a couple might if they knew the name. I'll tell them (and everyone) once it is done.

Detect has suddenly become a big part of my game. The Holy Warrior has sunk 18 points into Detect (Supernatural Beings) and Vryce now has Gram, which can Detect (Dragons and Dragon Kin, Vague). They use these all the time. That's fair and fine, but it's a noteworthy event in any case.

Speaking of which, Asher's player went pure Holy powers on his advantages. This was probably a good idea, as he can improve combat power later but for now he suddenly added a whole raft of new powers to the party's arsenal.

The magic carpet? Very cool, but no one wants to fly a vehicle that doesn't let you hover around and retreat with ease, so they sold it.

Yet another upside to having a professional artist as a player is that he'll make a Giant Rhino Beetle counter during combat to make up for the GM not having one. The "giant" is a Chainmail Ogre Mercenary, but he's too big to be an ogre in my game, but good for a giant.

We used CP to determine how pinned Galen was under the Rhino beetle. That was better than "keep rolling until you get a crit" or wasting time figuring out the weight of a rhino beetle vs. Raggi's ST.

Crushrooms do 4d crushing and 8d CP, simplified as one roll with x2 CP. This is bad news unless you're Vryce, and think, 34 CP? Man, I might miss with one of my Rapid Strikes into close combat against the crushroom on my leg! ST 20 pays off well. Amusingly, the crushrooms tried ST-based parries to stop Vryce systematically breaking free (it seemed to fit, for sure), but they failed roll after roll after roll - it only worked once, despite very high ST! And yes, 17 DR. You read that right. Vryce's armor could stop a round from an M4 carbine cold.

But yeah, once again, Technical Grappling proves perfect for DF, especially with some simplified effects rules to keep it flowing fast.

Oh, and the dragon bits? They made elixirs from one horn (Dryst did it), Galen is searching for a bowyer who can make a bow of the other, and they divided up the teeth amongst themselves to turn into magical arrows. The rest, they sold and pocketed the cash.

The pigs, and orcish Bob, didn't do anything useful this session. Oh well. Half a share, and $900 on the two pigs, down the tubes. The pigs, though, will be around next time, but they'll have to pay upkeep on them. Heheheheheh. Sadly, I don't have pig minis. Maybe I have counters in my Cry Havoc set somewhere . . .

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Revised GURPS Magic: Resist Water

This is just a quick one today, noticed, naturally, when someone wanted to access to this spell.

Resist Water basically keeps you dry.

All I did was:

- remove the DR 2 vs. acid. I don't see why that's there. It doesn't help vs. steam, ice, etc. And there is a specific spell to stop acid!

- noted the spell clearly keeps you dry but doesn't keep you from contact with the liquid. Otherwise, it would help vs. steam, ice, etc.

- this spell doesn't help you swim, breathe water, or keep you from drowning. You'll be nice and dry, but dead, if you're submerged in water, inhale water, etc. and drown.

Basically, it's all about the dryness. This is excellent to keep equipment safe and clothes clean and people dry for purposes of illness, disease, resting in damp conditions, etc. But it won't save you from the acute effects of water.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Charlie and the Megadungeon

"The place was like a gigantic rabbit warren, with passages leading this way and that in every direction."

"We are now going underground! All the most important rooms in my factory are deep below the surface!"
"Why is that?" someone asked.
"There wouldn't be
nearly enough space for them up on top!" answered Mr. Wonka. "These rooms we are going to see are enourmous! They're larger than football fields! No building in the world would be big enough to house them! But down here, underneath the ground, I've got all the space I want. There's no limit - so long as I hollow it out."

"The passages were sloping steeper and steeper downhill now."

All of this is on page 62 of my copy of Ronald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Mr. Wonka is surely a megadungeon designer. He:

- stocked it with diminutive workers with strange outfits and attitudes, since he couldn't trust the people who dwelled near his factory-lair

- pulled back from human contact to conduct further experiments

- and filled his enourmous underground factory complex with his special, secret works he couldn't share with anyone . . . until the time was right.

Then he uses tricks and guile to whittle down the visitors until only one remains, who he-copts into running the dungeon. We all know how that turns out. He does clearly label all the rooms, though, depending on misunderstanding and the flaws of the delvers to spring any traps upon them.

In my world, we call that a megadungeon run by an evil wizard. Only the loot is any different.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rule of Cool (Improvised Weapons)

Here is a rules option I just banged out in response to a thread on chain weapons over on the SJG Forums. I didn't want to lose it, so I'm reposting it here in a cleaned-up and edited form.

People make dedicated weapons for a reason. Part of this is because the form and quality needed to have a man-killing weapon that won't fail against other weapons and armor doesn't match that of a similar tool. The axe developed from a tool, but the features you look for and need (and don't need) in a work axe are not the same as a weapon. Swords, even more so - compare a rapier and a machete and you'll see what I mean more clearly. Even simple weapons like clubs have weaponized versions along side improvised versions.

But the Rule of Cool insists that dedicated weapons are not as effective as improvised weapons. A stool or frying pan is a better club than a club made for war. A handful of sand in the face is worse than a spray of mace. A fireman's axe is better than an axe made with the express purpose of killing people, because grabbing a fire axe off the wall to fight with is bad ass. By the Rule of Cool, the tow chain/chainsaw chain/whatever will be a better weapon than a kusari, just like a broken off glass beats a knife.

Thus, I present the following Rules Option:

Rule of Cool (Improvised Weapons)

When you first use an improvised weapon in combat, it is an inherently superior and more effective weapon than actual dedicated weaponry. The weapon is only -1 to hit (no penalty, with the Improvised Weapons perk), does +1 damage compared to the weapon it most resembles, and the penalties listed under Cross Cultural Encounters (Martial Arts, p. 212) apply to all of your opponents even if the defender is familiar with the basic weapon you are aping.

This normally lasts only one combat, extended scene in an adventure (breaking into a complex, escaping the prison, that first day in gladiator school), or action sequence.*

Another variation of this rule says the improvised weapon is always better. Pick one aspect of the above - improved skill, improved damage, or penalties to the defender, and apply them whenever the weapon is used. This never changes, although a different improvised weapon of the same type might give you different bonuses (a heavier umbrella might be +1 damage while a lighter one only removes the skill penalty.) Such weapons never count as cheap quality.

* This is the Jackie Chan rule. Pick up a ladder, fight with it, abandon it.
** This is the John Steed/Tika Waylan/that guy with the stool from the Brust books rule.

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