Sunday, November 30, 2014

This sounds like a job for . . . Player Characters!

Admin note to start: No Felltower today - 3/4 of the players who'd been able to make it had to cancel out, so we decided to postpone.

The players in my DF Felltower game have been thinking about raiding some orcs who've been making a serious nuisance of themselves in the dungeon. They know (thanks to their scout Galen) that the orcs live in a canyon/valley north of the mountain that houses the titular megadungeon of my campaign.

My players basically asked for a complete intelligence report on the orcs. Maps, patrol patterns, water sources, defenses, range of control, armaments, paths to and back, etc. Everything. A hex map they can fill in, with most of the details filled in. They were willing to pay, quite well, for this information.

My response was, basically, NO.

Or rather, No, because that's a job for PCs.

I don't fault them, at all, for asking. It's a valid question - is any of this stuff available? If so, we want it. It's asking, is this the kind of game where we buy this stuff and then go fight, or the kind of game where we go get this stuff on our own?

My answer was the latter - go get it yourself.

I couldn't see random scout types or independent farmers or trappers bringing this kind of complete information back. Or even a Royal or city officer pulling all of that information together, collating and sorting it, and then putting together a cohesive set of documents and maps that convey all of this. As for giving it to the PCs - that's trivial to justify, given the lack of resources for killing the orcs and an ongoing war to the south. It's just the initial work and mapping that's harder to justify.


Because that's the kind of thing PCs do.

The PCs are the ones making the big, useful, navigable map of Felltower. The bits NPCs have are incomplete, of dubious accuracy, and old. They might have extremely valuable little bits or clues that make the map come together. They might have treasure maps or guide maps or notes that reveal things the players missed.

But the main core of the map is done by the PCs.

Example Starting Map for the PCs:

The PCs kill the tough monsters. The nasty stuff in the dungeons? Any NPCs who run into it end up as picturesque corpses to warn the PCs about the kind of danger ahead. It's up to the PCs to clear the monsters.

The PCs solve the puzzles. The puzzles in the world stay puzzling until the PCs solve them. Clues are out there, but NPCs don't have the answers.

The PCs tame the howling wilderness. The wilderness stays wild until the PCs do something about it. NPCs will help, they'll settle, they pass on information, but it's the PCs that do the real job of making the wilderness into civilization.

The PCs verify or debunk the rumors. NPCs tell the PCs all kinds of crazy stuff about the world and the dungeon. They might be right or wrong, but the PCs are the ones who find out.

Why is that the case?

First, the in-game reasons.

Simply because the number of 250-point people in the world is finite. The number of 125 point people in the world is also finite. Most of the people running around don't quite get to the 62-point bargain henchmen level. So the competence and expertise just isn't there. Where 250+ point Galen Longtread can pretty casually solo explore the forests and avoid and spy on the orcs, a 125-point guy is risking his life and a lesser scout will get killed (or get only basic information before being warded off.) There aren't a big squad of NPC experts out there, doing adventuring-type things. So stuff that is challenging to 250+ point PCs is lethal to most NPCs. The ones better than the PCs are often, like the PCs, wrapped up in their own thing and aren't wandering around looking to upstage the PCs.

The interest in doing so is a little limited. The wilderness is seen, largely, as a useless borderland. It's marginal farming, good for trapping but hey trapping is risky, and has monsters and literally There Be Dragons. Why muck around up there? Nevermind "raid the orcs to take the pressure off Felltower explorers" is of interest to, basically, the PCs and the Cone-Hatted Cultists and a few independents.

The resources aren't really there, either. I didn't create a war in the south because I wanted the PCs to go fight in the war. I created it to make sure the whole northern wilderness is a problem needing a solution and to take away NPC resources from it. When the orcs get out of hand, yeah, well, there is a war going on. If Stericksburg suffers some orc problems for a year or decade or so while the war is going on, that's fine with the King. It's too small of an issue. Even if the orcs besieged and seized Stericksburg, the King can come back and crush them after he's done ensuring he wins his bigger war. At least, that's how they'd see it.

So it's a dangerous task, requires skills that aren't common, is of relatively little interest, and requires resources needed elsewhere.

Next, the out of game reason. There is one big one.

From a purely meta perspective, the game world is there for the players, not the NPCs. The PCs have the most interest, the most resources (man for man), and the most to gain by solving these issues. They are the heavyweights on the scene. They are the ones who, for better or worse, will make the most impact. What's the point of a game world where the PCs are marginal? I'd rather have the world full of opportunities the PCs can take advantage of.

If I hand the PCs a complete map and extensive details on the orcs, what would I be giving them?

If I did so I'd be giving them a set-piece problem to solve, and a big fight. I'd be doing so by taking away adventure. I'd be saying, don't worry that you don't have Druids or Barbarians* or Scouts, I'll give you what their skills would have given you. I wouldn't be putting up a challenge and then seeing what they'd do with it, I'd be giving them a solution. Where is the fun in that?

So deep down, all in-game justifications aside, the north is a wilderness in need of taming by the PCs, and the map of that area is largely sketchy and unknown, because I want the players to be the ones who do that stuff. They aren't SEALs or Delta Force, to go in and strike the baddies after the intelligence guys gathered all the goods they could, with strike aircraft in the air to help them out. They're Lewis and Clark, heading out with a broad mission and little support once they detach from base.

The map is mainly blank because it's the PC's map to fill in.

The adventure is there for the players to experience.

That's gaming, right there.

* Raggi is a barbarian, but he's not a terribly expert woodsman. He's the guy the expert woodsmen brought with them to kill owlbears and merchant caravan guards. He's okay but he's upstaged, easily, by any template-built PC with outdoor skills.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Universal but not Universally Compatible

First, to have any idea what I'm talking about, you'll need to watch Douglas Cole's interview of Hans-Christian Vortisch.

Gaming Ballistics Firing Squad Welcomes Hans-Christian Vortisch

At one point, Douglas and Hans start talking about GURPS Martial Arts: Fairbairn Close Combat Systems. I'm a credited playtester on that one, not the least of which is because the work in that is based on the work Sean Punch and I did in GURPS Martial Arts. But also because I put in a lot of time on the book, reading and commenting and try to help make it the book Hans wanted it to be.

It comes in to "conflict" with GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling, though, in that it says you can do things in a given time that Technical Grappling says takes longer.

Part of this is a fork in the road. FCCS is based on MA and Basic Set. TG is based on MA and Basic Set, but not on MA+Basic+FCCS. The later work takes the raw concepts in Basic Set and the expansions in MA and then says, basically, what if the grappling wasn't binary grappled/not grappled but rather a continuum of control based on an effects roll?

So naturally, some of the things in FCCS don't quite gel with that. FCCS takes real-world combinations from the system covered and then tried to tied them to the (necessarily) abstracted rules of the game and the way the game says things happen. TG changes some of those abstracted rules, expands some, and changes the way some real-world actions play out in the game. So it's hard to trace a line between them.

This isn't a bad thing, but it is a thing. GURPS is fundamentally a toolbox of a game, and it's universal, but all of the parts don't really work together perfectly. Some just aren't meant to ("A Matter of Inches" vs. "Shout It Out", for example) and some just don't because, like FCCS, it went too far down the road of using the basic rules to operate smoothly with something that changes the basic underlying assumptions of the rules it used.

Since so often a complaint is that, basically, Book A Says X, and Book B says Y, so therefore one of them is wrong or we need a Z to unify them . . . but it's not something that is ever going to be achieved, not even if we all had unlimited time to go back and iteratively change our books to reflect all the work of the others.

It all basically works together. As long as you follow the thread of abstraction and recognize that supplements that don't required Other Supplement A or B won't necessarily use the rules in Other Supplement A or B, you'll be fine.

It's universal, but all of the parts aren't meant to mesh together like legos. It's a bit more complex than all of that.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Basic Fantasy 3e out on Amazon for under $5

The 3rd edition print version of Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game is out on Amazon, for under $5.

Also quite inexpensive on Amazon is the Field Guild, a monster book for the same game.

I've reviewed the game before, so has Tenkar. You can buy the entire range of books for this game for less than a single book of most of the other old-school clones. They're good stuff and I highly recommend it. A lot of applause needs to go out to Chris Gonnerman for putting together a great free product and then putting it out in print for a lower-than-PDF price.

Speaking of buying stuff on Amazon, check out this 30% any one book code. It's limited to $10, and one book sold directly by Amazon. I used it to pick up a copy of the Monster Manual, myself, and saved almost the full $10. The Basic Fantasy books are so cheap the coupon is hardly worth using, and that's a serious plus to the system above and beyond its quality.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Painting: Goblins

While the turkey is roasting, I've been working on these guys:

Half-done Goblins photo GoblinsHalf-Done001s_zpsc69608e5.jpg

On the left are 3 of the Legendary Encounters pre-paints I'm using as a guide.

Matching the colors turned out to be trivial - black, burgundy, and grey from my Apple Barrels Paints collection and Bronze Flesh from Vallejo Game Colors. Exact matches, all. The silver, though, I'm re-painting as metallic gunmetal grey, even on the pre-paints.

The big problem I'm having is that I wanted to paint directly onto the Bones, with no white or grey base, for the flesh. I tried, but you can see a lot of open patches. The hydrophobic Bones plastic and the naturally very thin Game Colors meant that even after 2-3 coats I'm still not done with the flesh. This is why I'm being deliberately messy around the edges of other areas - that way when I go back to the flesh again I only need one coat next to armor, shields, weapons, etc.

I got some of these in the Bones Kickstarter, and I may have traded for more. Once done, I should have something like 18 goblins. I could use a few more, since I tend to deploy goblins in large groups, but they'll do. I can fill out groups with counters and Cardboard Heroes. The only complains I have with these guys is some of the plastic bending is so bad and ingrained (like bent spear shafts) that I can't correct it, and the maces are ridiculously big. Especially on plastic minis, you can make them much smaller with no issue about fragility. A real mace looks almost like a lethal little package, but mini figure weaponry looks like a comically oversized inflatable mock weapon.

I also have the Pathfinder goblins, but they're becoming Doomchildren, instead, same as the pre-painted I bought off of eBay.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Martin Ralya walks into a Megadungeon

One thing I dislike about feeds like Google Plus, is that I miss a lot and it's hard to find what I liked again. I can't just dial back like on a blog, and I can't always remember who posted what.

So when I saw this post by +Martin Ralya, I bookmarked it right away.

It's mostly a look at Dwimmermount, but it applies to all megadungeons. Does your megadungeon pass this test? Does it draw you in the way the writer is describing?

If you're on Google Plus, you will want to read this post by Martin Ralya:

Start from the main entrance and imagine myself moving deeper into the dungeon.

What I like about that post is that it really highlights what I think you want in a megadungeon entry in a very succinct way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NPC Groups & Centers of Gravity

What is the center of gravity of a group of NPCs?

In other words, what's the thing they center on, which, if lost, will effectively destroy the cohesion and will of the group?

The NPCs in my case are the factions and groupings in the megadungeon (and amongst outside intruders).

The basic idea is to decide what will cause a group to cease functioning other than total extermination. Or what will keep them coming back no matter how many of them you kill off.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

Let's say I have a mish-mash group of NPCs led by an evil cleric seeking a powerful item in the dungeon. The evil cleric might be the center of gravity. If he's killed, the group will disperse. It can survive anything but the loss of the cleric. This is traditional kill-the-head-and-the-body-will-die stuff.

On the other hand a group of hobgoblins might have a center of gravity of their females and young. As long as they're okay, they'll keep coming back. This is a social center of gravity.

A group of trolls might have a specific cave system they need to hold, because that's where they get their water. If they get cut off from that, they'll leave the dungeon (or die off, or whatever). This is a logistical center.

A rival party of adventurers might have a goal of seizing a certain amount of money. If they can get it - even if through bribes, scavenging treasure left behind by the PCs, etc. - they'll head back out. Their center of gravity is money. They might also have a key member or two, that, if slain, will cause the others to leave.

A faction seeking something in the depths of the dungeon might have an external center of gravity - they'll keep going until that item is recovered, no matter how many minions they need to deploy to do so. Unless the campaign either encompasses their origin point, and thus their true center of gravity, or the PCs eliminate the goal item, they'll keep popping up.

Mindless undead, animals, scavenger types - they might have none. Kill off 9 out of 10 of them and the 10th one keeps on keeping on. They have no center of gravity beyond just being.

It's something worth thinking about for NPC groups, so they won't just be hordes you need to exterminate to get rid of.

(This was occasioned by me reading a military biography of Hannibal. Great example - he continuously attacked Roman armies in the field, and trashed them. He'd pry away some of their allies, too. But since the strategic center of gravity wasn't the Roman Army, he couldn't win because they'd lose but wouldn't surrender.)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Elegant Monetary Systems vs. the Players

If you're thinking of coming with a cool monetary system for your game, I think there are at least three things worth considering. There are probably more concerns, but these are big and useful issues to put some brainpower into.

There are four things I'd consider when setting up coinage systems, in no particular order:

1) Treasure Hoards. Two things to think about here: Size, and appearance.

Size: How big do you want them to be, and how portable? Big, difficult to haul away hoards vs. small, easy to haul away hoards. If you want dragons sleeping on mountains of coins but don't want such a haul to be an automatic upgrade to the best possible gear in one shot, go for less valuable coins. If you want a backpack to hold a lifetime's wealth in coinage, go for smaller, more valuable coins.

If you have a money = xp game system, changing how much a hoard is worth changes leveling!

Appearance: Do you want dragons sleeping on piles of silver and gold, or on jade pieces, or on bronze rings cashed in for credit chits, or polished rocks, or what? Pick something that fits what you want to place in hoards.

2) Utility of published materials. The more you vary from the basic system in your game, the less valuable published material is. A minor change - different weight, say, or saying "read sp for gp," or addition of more coins - won't do much. A big change (gold is 20,000 units of value to the pound instead of 5,000; or there is only barter, or something like that) means tossing a lot of material.

For example, with GURPS, if you ditch the basic values of metals by weight, the system in Treasure Tables is not helpful (jewelry will either end up way more valuable than its weight in metal, or more valuable as metal than jewelry). If you get rid of gold as a treasure type, you need to change any descriptions that feature gold as valuable. If you want to make your own, this is not an issue.

3) Tolerance of the players. If you make a system the players don't have a feel for and interest in using, it just won't fly. You can create the most beautiful and elegant and down-right interesting coinage system in the world, but if the players just instantly turn all of your carefully crafted money into "We each get $17,150 worth of whatever money is" or "blah blah whatever, it's the same as 1000 gp, right?" then you may as well admit defeat.
It's well worth asking this kind of thing ahead of time.

4) Logic of the System. Make sure the materials you choose for the system make sense. Metals that are rare enough to be valuable, durable enough not to break down, and not more useful for something else are a good choice.

One odd choice that the Dragonlance setting made was to introduce "steel pieces" and declare gold, etc. largely worthless. In other words, they said that gold, which is easy to form into coins, easy to recognize the purity of, and doesn't rust, isn't valuable but steel coins, which can rust, are harder to identify the purity of, etc. are valuable. The logic was something like steel being valuable because it was useful, but putting it into coins isn't taking advantage of its usefulness, it's reducing it's usefulness. You could make that work, but you'd need to issue other coins that represent a value of steel pieces or paper money based on steel pieces to make it fly, and people would still wonder why their sword costs less than its weight in steel pieces.

Gem stones, big carved stones, etc. can work, but it's going to be potentially inconvenient - see #3. Plus, it's tough to kill a dragon and then have to go find out which rai stones it owned that you now own, and try to cash them in to pay taxes and buy some new mail for your henchmen.


For this reason, my treasure systems tend to be a bit simple. More simple than actual, real-world monetary systems, which at least have the advantage of being worth actual money. It's hard to justify a lot of time counting your coins for your paper man, and figuring out how many hemi-decimes there are to the Westian pound, or how many moss agates there are in the diamond-cored platinum piece, or whatever. Even the relatively simple system in my game occasionally throws people a little . . . so it's probably a good idea to get cute only if the players are on board and find fun in the cuteness!

This is not to say you can't have interesting treasure. It's just useful if the underlying system fits the mental picture of hoards to you and your players, lets you use a level of published material acceptable to you, fits your player's tolerance for complexity, and fits your game system's effects of rewards. I have interesting treasure all the time, even if it generally gets sold and turned into $1 silver coins 99% of the time. The trick is just getting a monetary system the players can get their heads around without trouble, and which gives the mental images you all want to see when someone says "Dragon on a pile of treasure."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What makes Felltower hang together?

During the BSing on Friday night during our S&W game, we talked about megadungeons that hang together. That got me thinking, what makes Felltower hang together?

It certainly does, if the proof is by longevity. We've been playing our DF game since September 2011, and in the megadungeon I wrote since April 2012.

We've had 42 sessions in Felltower, which Douglas Adams told us is a pretty significant number. Despite that, there is still stuff to do.

Why does it work?

Here is how it looks from the GM's side of the screen.

It is Cohesive. Even the really obscure weirdness and odd bits strewn through the dungeon are there for some reason. The layers on top of each other aren't just thrown there. Well, they are - but I threw them there with a vision.

Back in the old days putting down things for challenge, not with a plan ahead, probably flew a lot more than it does now. My players aren't coming into a game without an experience of fantasy role-playing, and we can all get "random dungeon to loot" by firing up any number of video games. It all has to feel like it will ultimately make some kind of sense, if you can just get to the right angle to look at it.

What this means is that all of it - the cone-hatted cultists, the orcs, the stomping demon lord, the fortress entrance of the dungeon, the mix of level layouts and construction, etc. - ultimately it all has some meaning. Nothing, even if placed by random rolls or encountered by wandering monster rolls, is really random and meaningless.

I often make rumors up just as I go. There isn't a master list of 100s of them. But they fit what I think is ahead and what I think people would think about what's ahead. They feed information and feed hooks to the players.

So even if the PCs can't figure out the why for everything, they can for some things. From there it's enough that they know there is a why? Even if that why is "this is what it looks like after adventures do something that made sense at the time and then left them remnants" it's there.

Corollary: It Has Some Game Mechanical Sense. Joe the Lawyer was complaining about something in a published adventure that basically threw him right off his game - an encounter that's basically a bit of cute nonsense but would take a variant version of a spell castable only by a ridiculously powerful wizard, which is then used for a totally trivial purpose. I did my best to avoid the error of putting in weirdness and cuteness that, according to our rules-set, doesn't make a lot of sense to do. That helps it hang together, too, because the rules support the dungeon's experience as encountered as well as as-played. Encounters might show extreme magic being used for small problems, but in ways that have consistent game-mechanical sense and which directly tie into further revelations about the dungeon. It's not just a red herring that takes breaking the game rules as known to the players to happen. So the rules feed the cohesion.

It's Big Enough. The megadungeon is big enough that there is a lot to do. More than the players can ever do, but anything they want to do is "deep" enough that they can get some enjoyment out of it. But it's also not so big you can never finish any particular task or goal. The orcs aren't endless. The draugr have limited numbers. There are only so many statue rooms and missing statue heads and unopenable doors. There are just so many pools. There are limitless adventure possibilities but the adventures themselves are not endless.

It's a bottomless pit of discrete, potentially solvable puzzles and completable challenges. Like the hobgoblins - remember them? Gone. The demon-apes? Banished. The lizard men? Temple smashed and the lizardmen routed. Things come, entertain, and then are ended through PC action. There are dozens and dozens more things to do. The dungeon won't ever end. But parts of it will pass.

It's Varied. There is a lot of variety in my dungeon. Not a huge variety, but a large variety.

A too-large variety can be bad, because you don't get a sense of cohesiveness. It can be tiresome. A too-small variety is bad - you just feel like you're doing the same thing over and over.

I think I got this right. There is enough variety that no one can really relax and say, "It's all orcs" or "it's all monster-types" or "it's all undead barbarians." It's all of them, but with enough regularity in the encounters to reward their knowledge, experience, and tactics.

There are fights, puzzles, tricks, traps, and things to explore. And all of those vary. Trends appear (cohesion) but encounters aren't cookie cutter replications of each other. Players bored of orcs know they have to work hard if they want the game to only be fighting orcs, not that they need to work hard to find some variety.

Problems are Player-Active. Or to put it another way, There Are No Cutscenes. The players don't walk in and watch NPCs, or illusions, or whatever, do stuff. They do stuff.

This is not to say I don't use in media res or have things that do stuff on their own. There have been paintings that change over time, traps and statues that seemingly activate or replicate themselves, and the occasional ghost going through the motions (although I think they bypassed that.)

But it's sparing. It's all based on the players doing things. You don't go from room to room looking at the paintings or looking at the history or watching the NPCs do something. In fact, most of the "show the history" or "read history at the players" bits in my dungeon actually require the players to go get that information. Magic, research from clues, examining paintings, setting up shop to watch for something, talking to the ghosts - if you want to watch NPCs do stuff, you have to actively choose to do so. You'll be rewarded, perhaps, if you do, but cutscenes don't come in and take over your controller and make you watch just as the fighting and fun got good.

I keep such things short and punchy, too, which is what I learned from Borderlands 2. A 10-second cutscene that screams "This woman is worth talking to!" or "This fight is going to be awesome!" beats a 2-minute one showing you stuff you need to know. Especially if it leads to a reason to seek out knowing more. Everyone likes to read the book they chose, not the one chosen and handed to them. I try to make all of my dungeon encounters demand action from the players and then reward that (the players - the PCs sometimes suffer.)

I Wrote It. This is a big part. It's a dungeon that is intimately known to me. I know what I wrote, where it is, often when I wrote it, and why. I know what it grew from and where it is going to. The whole place is mine from end to end.

This means whatever sense I'm trying to convey isn't a question of author -> GM -> players but author/GM -> players. We've removed one level of the telephone game, and one level of confusion. All that stands between my vision and their seeing is my ability to summon the right vocabulary to convey it to them.*

Knowing it intimately means I can ensure isn't a whiff of "I don't get this part either" or mis-representing something to the players.

From the GM's side of the screen, I think this is why we've done 42 sessions in our temporary, let's-play-for-a-while DF game's megadungeon. My players probably have more insights, and maybe they'll chime in (or maybe not.) But I must be doing something right. I think what I outlined about is why it's hanging together so well.

* Not a small issue. One thing I've learned teaching, as well as learning from teachers, is that you need to find the words that convey the most meaning to the student. The same sentences said to different people will produce a different effect. I can still remember the day, after many, many class hours, when my MMA coach said exactly the right thing in the right way to turn a particular from something I couldn't do except by luck into my A-move. Settling on a proper vocabulary for describing and conveying dungeons isn't easy. I'm not even done doing it. But it's critical, and deserves some thought and time.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Southern Reaches: Session 9 - Castle of the Mad Archmage 6 - Arena Blues

Friday was the S&W Southern Reaches B-Team. Here is my summary, to fill in the gaps left in my teaser. There are some other related posts:

Tim's Summary - We Laughed Like Manly Men Who Wore Flannel

Doug's Summary - Return to the Mad Archmage

Tenkar's Take - Castle of the Mad Archmage - Session Report "Whatever" - More Fun Than a Barrel Full of Drunken Monkeys!

Minister "Quantum" "the Pink", Half-elf 4/3 Cleric/Magic-User (Tim Shorts)
Mirado Gargoyle-Friend, Human 6 Fighter (me)
Rul "Rainbow Warrior" Scararm, Human 6 Fighter (Douglas Cole)
Rosco P. Coltrane, Halfling 2/3 F/T (Joe the Lawyer)
Bronan, Human 3 Fighter (Reece Carter)

We picked up two new characters this session - Joe the Lawyer running his Flailsnails guy (Flailsnails? It's kind of a bring-your-character-between-GMs game thing), and Reece Carter running a just-made-up 3rd level fighter. Apparently Tenkar forgot the highest level guys are 6th level, not 4th or so. Oh well. They'll just level faster. They successfully transited the 5% slope down without great mishap.

We headed right down to level 3, and did a little more exploring. There were a few doors on our maps we hadn't opened. The first one we went to we bashed open and found nothing but broken glass. Bronan searched it but found nothing.

A little more searching found us a room (labeled with a letter). I decided this was a bad idea so Mirado voted with his feet to go elsewhere. We found a door, and in it were stored orange cones and orange-and-white construction barrels. We decided we'll use them in the future to detour wandering monsters away from us. A detour sign pointed to a pit should do. We didn't implement that yet.

We kept looking. We soon found a way down, and took that. Finally! We've been trying to find a way down and back up for a while.

We moved down, and immediately there was a left, and down it we could see the steady glow of Continual Light spells. So Roscoe and Mirado snuck down - Roscoe with his thief skills, Mirado with his Boots of Elvenkind. We saw a blue-decorated room and some guys training inside. They were humans, and Mirado was confident that no human ever did anything evil, so we could negotiate. In we went.

The humans stopped training and casually summoned their leader and some reinforcements. In all, about a dozen human warriors in blue, two trolls (wearing blue tabards), and a half-orc in banded mail and blue, came out. We "negotiated," which tends to be very chaotic with our group. Roscoe yelled stuff from the back, Mirado and Bronan spoke from the front. The confused mess of negotiation and grumpy threats about sending guys out to kill the little voice yelling from the back eventually prompted two things - one, Roscoe came up with the rest. Two, Mirado got into some verbal sparring with the leader when he wouldn't take "we just want to get some information in peace" for a reason to be talking to them. Annoying questions like "How good are you?" and calling Roscoe a gnome was a bit too much. Mirado said he was the best, and nothing faced him yet and lived, which is possibly even true. The leader challenged Mirado, and Mirado wouldn't back down. We got down to dueling, to the death. Roscoe bet 10 cp on the half-orc leader.

We tied for initiative and Mirado shrugged off a Hold Person spell as he whacked the leader for 8 damage. The next turn, Mirado did 4 and took 8. Then it went downhill - Mirado couldn't hit to save his life. Then it was 6 damage, then 8, then 10. Mirado kept refusing the (generous) offer to yield until he was down to 15 HP, which is close to one turn's bad rolling from death. At that, Mirado yielded. The half-orc asked for his silver dagger as the yield price.

Cheap, at that. Mirado handed it over and acknowledged his loss. The rest of the party mostly hooted and made fun of Mirado for losing. Good thing the leader didn't ask for Woundlicker, because Mirado wouldn't yield that no matter what. Mirado changed his name to Mirado Blue Beaten, but reminded Rul that last time something challenged Mirado Rul ended up with a sword +2 vs. mammals, so there. The half-orc also healed Mirado 5 points, which is partly why Mirado doesn't resent his loss. Hey, he was more fair to Mirado than Mirado has been to anyone except those mail-armored men back in session 4.

We spoke to them some more, and they filled us in on some level 4 politics. Apparently this the Arena Level. There are five factions who send fight teams in for pay, or gambling profit, I was never clear on what, from whom. The green are lead by a gnome. The red had a minotaur, but they're hurting a bit. I think they have gnolls, too. The blue are the tops. The purple are weak, and least likely to "enslave" us. I don't recall anything about the Whites. We decided to go check out the Purple, as the Blue felt we weren't worth it for them, although they ranked Mirado as better than 1/3 of their members, equal to some of the middle-rank ones, and below the top 1/3.

We asked for them to show us the arena. They did, escorting us, somewhat oddly, through the White faction's door into the arena. Sure enough, it looked like an area, with a 1' deep layer of sand and spikes to keep the duelists from coming up into the three-deep stands. Not only that, but you can't cast spells in it. As soon as Mirado heard that, his interest in fighting in the arena dropped from "How much do we get paid?" to zero. No way. Leaving our escorts, who were about as useful as tits on a boar hog, we headed into neutral territory. We moved around the area, finding the entrances one by one.

We also found stairs down to level 5, but the GM wasn't ready for that so we backed off.

Right around this time we found a bookie, oddly empty, but with a live video feed (okay, a magic video feed) of the arena. Also, a metal door. We got right to that. Bronan was ready to kick it down, but Roscoe stepped in . . . and rolled a 97 on his Open Locks. He had a 53 to open it, so he used Luck to try again. 67. Nope. We all tried to force it to no avail. Bronan was ready to hack it down but, metal door. Now what?

Minister stepped up and used Knock, which is how it works - the experts try and fail, and then the mage steps up and solved the problem with a spell. Minister was hit with a curse, but shrugged it off. Good thing - he'd have lost HP every day until we put back what we found. Round these parts that's called a fatal curse with no escape clause. (I have to wonder if Remove Curse would work, and if not, why not.)

Inside was some money - 6000 sp, 4000 gp, 19 gems, and 2 pieces of jewelry. We took it all.

We kept exploring, and found stairs going down deeper than level 5. Nice.

We found a room with four entrances and a statue of the god of athletics. Ah, Arnold Schwarzenegger. There was a coin slot so Mirado put in a gold coin. Nothing happened, so he put in 9 more. Still nothing. That's okay, Mirado was just getting serious.

We went back, through a door, and down a short flight of stairs. The door at the bottom defeated us, but some acid from Roscoe weakened it and Bronan kicked it open. Inside were cages with stuff like bonesnappers, giant scorpions, and so on. There were also an elf and a gnome (I think) with a phase panther coeurling away. They demanded 10 gp to repair their door. Bronan offered 5. They asked for 15. Bronan started to berate them about being idiots who don't understand how bargaining works. They started to threaten us with their panther, and the situation started to turn into a threat contest. Mirado got sick of this stupid crap. They were clearly a tough fight with no obvious treasure, or point. So he said he'd paid 10 gp and we were leaving. We did, but the elf and gnome respected Mirado's willingness to deal and said that if we faced one of theirs in the area, Mirado should let them know ahead of time. Mirado agreed.

We explored some more, and found a gated off cave full of bats. We left that alone, but made guano jokes.

We found a room full of some odd shaped winged things - eye killers! We ran. Don't fight creepy Fiend Folio monsters if possible.

We found a door and went through, and found two tough skeletons. We killed them (although Mirado wasn't able to fit into the fight in the tight doorway, and just stood guard), mostly with Rul hacking, Minister throwing Magic Missile, and Bronan and Roscoe whacking away. Once they dropped, we found a 2' diameter copper disc on the wall with a 7th level Lightning Bolt spell on it. We carefully removed it, and Minister took it.

After this, it was late and we had no clear line to anything worth going to. We headed back to the surface.


- a bit under 5000 XP for loot, exploration, and fighting. We spent a lot of, well too much, time bs-ing. Fun, but it slowed down the gaming a bit.

- The first two rounds of fighting the half-orc, Mirado hit and did okay damage - 8 and 4. But then I never rolled above a net 16 again, and rolled a lot of sub-10 totals, which sucks since I have a +5 or 6 to hit. I won't lie, it was pretty frustrating and not fun but my luck just wouldn't turn, and I had no other tricks up my sleeve. Sigh. But I survived it, and the cost was pretty low. Those first two hits and saving throw were the only successful rolls I made the whole session! I rolled a lot of 6s on hit rolls, and 1s on initiative. I still think doors should roll high.

Still, a session gaming with bad rolls is still a good day, and I made it out. During the session Joe was talking about how he kept gambling in Rappan Athuk because it's imaginary money and he doesn't need it to pay the rent. That's how I feel about HP. I can get beat on by a flail, bitten by spiders, whatever, but it doesn't hurt me. I can have the fun of fighting without the consequences. Once I was down to 15 HP, I knew I was a double-damage crit away from death and gave it up.

- If I remember, Mirado is going to give 10 gp to the Arnie Statue every session and thank him for "Commando" and "Pumping Iron." Maybe for the commentary on Conan the Barbarian, too.

- It was good to have a thief - it's so much better than doing without via healing potions and Saving Throws. The loss of Joe the Lawyer's high-powered wizard, though, meant we didn't have a lot of destructive firepower in case we had to fight those trolls or the panther-handlers.

- Rolling gems and jewelry at the end is fun. My approach is to roll them before, but I use a hoard total approach, so I have to know what they are worth. For D&D, though, I like it. Too bad we didn't get any exceptional stones.

- not sure about the Arena. Mirado isn't excited about non-combined arms fighting. I'm not excited about going back to the bookie we robbed to try and place bets. Or dealing with secret masters and the politics of the groups. Maybe if we can pit them against each other, but really, it feels fight-heavy and loot-low.

Overall, fun session, but Mirado needs like 4+ like that to hit level 7 so I'm hoping we can loot more and explore more next time!

Teaser of the Mad Archmage

Last night was a session of the S&W B-Team, run by Erik Tenkar. For Doug Cole's summary, see here. For my teaser of my later session summary, read on.

During the session.

. . . we found a way down to level 4.

. . . we found a bunch of colored factions who run fights in the arena.

. . . Mirado fought an unsuccessful duel with a half-orc faction leader, partly do to being outmatch but mostly because he couldn't roll above a 10 for most of the fight.

. . . blagged a bookie.

. . . ran from eye killers.

. . . killed some touch skeletons.

. . . found ways down to levels 5 and 6.

. . . negotiated with some guys who don't understand how haggling works.

. . . met a statue of the god of athletics, Arnold Schwarzenegger

. . . and somehow made it home alive.

Not a terrifically profitable session, and Mirado was basically useless after a brief stint of good rolls early. After that, no foe or no door was too weak for him to fail against. We did find a teaser in the form of a bunch of gems, but they only averaged out 200 gp each so it wasn't so exciting after all. Not a 10,000 gp one in the bunch! Oh well, next time.

I'll get a full report up this evening.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Evolution of the CRPG

Not only do I like tabletop RPGs, but I also like computer RPGs. So I really enjoyed this article:

The evolution of the RPG

I played a number of these - the Ultimas, Wizardry, Fallout, Pool of Radiance, Diablo. Not all of them by any stretch. But it's interesting to see the development of the CRPG over time.

It builds from, and up to, a bit of a Dragon Age teaser. But that's fine, it's all tied together, from Adventure and the origins of Link and the way CRPGs have tuned the elements of RPGs as they went.

Very entertaining reading.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hireling Loyalty: Obey Under Protest

So what do you do when a hireling really has no choice but to cooperate with an order?

DF15 addresses the question of following exceptionally dangerous or unreasonable commands. But what if the hireling is in extremis, and can't really say no?

This could be because of external threat, or poor planning, or bad circumstances. What if they are stuck in a fight or trapped in a dungeon and then issued a command they'd prefer to refuse?

Try this:

I Obey Under Protest: If a hireling is ordered to do something especially dangerous or unreasonable, but can't refuse do to circumstance, make the Loyalty check (per Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen, p. 30) normally. If the hireling passes the check, he will obey normally. If the hireling fails his or her Loyalty roll, the hireling will obey anyway, but Loyalty will permanently drop by 1, or by the penalty for Poor Treatment, p. 30, whichever is worse. On a critical failure, Loyalty drops by 5, and the hireling will bad mouth the PCs back in town, for a -1 to their ability to recruit new hirelings for 1d months. On a critical success, the hireling's loyalty will increase by 1 temporarily (due to increased confidence, or from resignation!) The effects are immediate, which means continued lack of choice will steadily degrade the hireling's loyalty. If the opportunity arises to refuse, desert, or shirk, the hireling should make another Loyalty check; on a failure, the hireling will do so. If the original check was a critical failure, this second roll automatically fails!

That is a circumstance that DF15 addresses, but doesn't exactly spell out consequences beyond "otherwise fails to perform." This optional rule deals with that exact circumstance - when the PCs essentially give orders a hireling would refuse except that he can't. These aren't really necessary rules, but I have fun spelling out just how badly people take it when you order them to do things they don't want to do, but can't avoid.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How do you treat henchmen and hirelings?

Tenkar asked if you use henchmen and hirelings. We use them, and I like them so much I co-wrote a book on them.

If so, how do you treat them?

Personally, I think the "meatshields," "mine detector," and "potion drinker" approach shows the wargaming roots of D&D. In a persistent wargame setting, it makes perfect sense to risk your least experienced and least valuable resources on the unknown. In a game growing out of a tabletop wargame, where you are moving your characters like pieces and promoting them between expeditions when they do well and survive . . . doing anything but expending your pawns and husbanding your queens and bishops and rooks and such would be foolish.

But a lot of adventuring groups aren't run that way. It's more like communal exploration group with a mix of senior and junior members. The junior members aren't suicidally bound to the commands of the senior members. Even senior members who employ junior members may do so as additional forces, not as resources per se. A hireling isn't a 10' pole, even if you may need one to carry one.

I personally tend to run NPCs as people, so they aren't all that willing to take risks they weren't hired for. Or do things the PCs won't do. I liken it to officers ordering troops around - the hirelings are the troops, and react about as well as real soldiers do when an officer orders them to do something the officer wouldn't do. They react much better when led from the front. I've noticed that my players play that way, perhaps partly from my influence. They lead from the front, and generally expect that NPCs are willing to do what they're willing to do and not much more.

Admittedly, they've squared the circle by using magically summoned, utterly expendable resources. But for living NPCs, they put them in no more danger (and no more risk of automatic death) than the PCs. They treat NPCs as more fragile but less important PCs.

Of course, most of this changes for NPCs who are either magically compelled, or who were hired for a specific task. The lockpicker doesn't balk at being assigned all the locked doors. The potion taster sips away. The suicidal fool who signed on to "check for traps" by walking point doesn't worry when he's on point. But the default isn't obedience to foolishly dangerous commands.

Similarly laborers resent being pressed into the front line to fight, and often solid fighters protest when the PCs treat them as pack mules. It's a matter of what their job is, and what they charged for.

Close allies are more like PCs in our group, but then they tend to be expected to carry more weight and do just as crazy things as the PCs. Of course, they're in it for much more than a salary - they get a piece of the action, or are fulfilling a stronger, deeper contract.

You get into an issue of "send these guys, they're expendable" vs. "watch out for these guys, they're vulnerable." The first attitude is the hireling as meatshield and walking trap detector. The second is that henchmen and hirelings as junior but important delver.

Which do you, and your group, default to?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Set-Pieces, Choices, and Homages from DF Session 51

A couple notes on Sunday's game.

The Unholy Temple

This odd twinned temple - a trapped and dangerous front temple with an unusual connection underneath to a nearly identical temple full of monsters - came about in a fit of mapping inspiration. I just drew the first temple, had some space, and drew the second and connected them. I figured out a reason for it after, after I let it sit on my map for a while. I knew based on the rooms in the area that everything in that spot was kind of strange, so I came up with a reason why and what that would mean. That area of the dungeon had the twinned temple, the dooomchildren-spawning statue locked in a room by big secure doors, the slick curved tunnel to the diamond-shaped room with the gemstone zombies, the hydra, and some other odd stuff.

I needed a monster, and I had one I wanted to use but mostly in a setpiece. I settled on the Demons From Between The Stars.

The Demons From Between The Stars are Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch's creation. Oddly, when we were doing DFM1, I had a shadowy group of life-draining shadowy monsters on my list of things to use. They'd been featured in my previous game, and matched the TDFBTS in a lot of their style and substance. So when I saw Sean's, I was basically like, "Dammit!" and crossed mine off the list. Way, way too similar.

But I still had these seven homemade cardboard standups for them. So I dug around and found them, and although they're more shadowy capes than ebony humanoids, I knew they'd resonate with the players who'd fought them at least 10 years back in our big campaign.

The setpiece of the temple was fun. The floor had three kinds of floor - 1/3 of the hexes cast a powerful Slow spell on the victim, 1/3 did Cosmic, irresistible, ignores all DR damage and FP loss, and 1/3 caused Fear, using my house rules. There was a detectable pattern, but not an easily detectable one. Magical light was reduced dramatically in effect, and the foes had access to Blackout spells to turn non-magical light sources dark, too.

So it was a combination of foe that's lethal in the dark or by surprise, using darkness and surprise on a battlefield primed to disrupt their foes constantly and prevent free movement.

The PCs figured that out last time, and managed to flee. This time, they came back with Dark Vision to deal with all of the darkness, putting them on equal footing with their foes. They also used Walk on Air, in order to circumvent the floor traps. Thus they turned an easy massacre into a solid fight they could win with a little effort.

The Altar

Yes, had someone taken the altar up on its offer and sacrificed a member of the same race, they'd have gotten an attribute boost of their choice. Evil isn't always about false choices. Evil is sometimes about making someone else suffer for your shortcut to power. If the shortcut to power that is evil doesn't come with the power, no one is really tempted to take it.

The Special Space

So what was in that special, 'tween worlds (?) 2d/3d secret door?

It's a secret, and will stay so. But I wanted to give the players a 3-way choice of actions, and make the evil temple more than just a set-piece fight.

Choice 1: Investigate the place, and see what was beyond the (evil?) secret door.
Choice 2: Exorcise the place.
Choice 3: Back off and leave things alone.

Had they chosen 1, options 2 and 3 would be off the table. Option 2 took options 1 and 3 off the table. It was very probable based on their actions that choice 3 might have resulted in the loss of the chance to do anything later. So it was very much a "what do we want?" choice that couldn't be left for later decision.

I didn't present it as an explicit forked choice, but I did volunteer a roll to the Holy Warrior about it. His basic professional knowledge told him that exorcism wasn't "make it safe to investigate freely" but rather "get rid of the evil and much of what came with it."

Pretty much the only poor choice, here, would have been an attempt to temporize, get the loot, and then leave the door and exorcism as a later choice. That wouldn't have gotten anyone a bonus XP, and might have come with more costs. I like the occasional choice that is "Jump left, jump right, or stay in the middle and lose out" to make up for the sheer weight of choices that are more like "jump left, jump right, or leave everything alone and you can decide later."

The Golem

The golem and its illusionary treasure is a straight lift from an AD&D module. I always liked the idea of that encounter. It went spectacularly well, since almost everyone was immediately interested in the chest. That allowed the magic to take effect and weaken the party. Lucky for them Vryce got that 3 (using Luck) and turned the fight from a systematic slaughter by the golem into a straight up fight. It could have been worse.

The golem's look and weapon were based on a Mage Knight terrain bit I had and intended to use at some point. It came in a pack of generic pieces I thought I could use, so I planned from the time I put that room down and brought it every session just in case. Top row, center:

And yes, all of those things will show up at lease once in Felltower. I love that squat idol and the altar!

The Holy Place

Just a question - why are players deeply, deeply suspicious of peace, calm, and holiness? Yet the same suspicious players will see a blatantly obvious falsehood ("Trade your crappy magic items for your choice of almost anything that is way, way better!") and investigate it more without proper precautions? "You sense calm and holiness!" "Stomp it!" vs. "You are offered an unlikely generous offer by a giant statue with a sword." "Oh, what is it offering?"


I wonder if I do that when I'm playing Mirado?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Vryce's 30 HP

Some HP fun, based on discussion of the same at our game on Sunday.

Vryce has HP 30. That's 3x as much as a normal human. This is totally unrealistic, especially as it only comes with positive mass effects. DF falling damage is standardized, for example, and we don't double it when your HP are 20 or triple it at 30. That may or may not be the intention, but either way, I like HP as pure upside. So HP 30 is pure upside. What's it do for Vryce?

- He heals 3x as much. A $120 Minor Healing potion heals 3-18 HP. A $350 Gem of Healing heals a straight 8 HP, which means 24 HP of healing. The weakest Minor Healing spell heals him 3 points. The best Major Healing spell available (A PI 6 Major Healing) would heal him 36 HP.

- His HP are so high, he's at half Move and Dodge at HP 9 or less (Less than HP/3). A slightly weak human has HP 9. However, Vryce at HP 9 still has 158 HP to go without hitting automatic death, that 9 HP human has 53.

- In a single blow, it takes 16+ HP to cripple Vryce's arms or legs. It takes 11+ HP to cripple a hand or foot, and 4+ to cripple an eye.

- It takes 180 HP to kill him automatically. This would take, say, a 47 HP of damage strike to his unarmored skull. 47 HP of damage to the torso would force a 10 HP fighter to make 3 death checks.

- He makes his first death check after 60 HP of injury. 60 HP of injury is automatic death for a 10 HP character.

This wasn't cheap - Vryce has 100 points in ST and a further 20 points in HP. So, 120 points, which is more costly than Unkillable 2 and only 30 points less than Supernatural Durability. But it's made him almost a comic book hero version of a delver.

Yet for all of that, he's only alive because of a plethora of defensive abilities, armor, and careful deployment, augmented by lots and lots of healing and magical defenses and offensive buffs to keep him on par with his foes. The threat of instant incapacitation or quickly accumulating fatal damage is quite real. Good stuff.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

DF Session 51, Felltower 42 - the Holy & the Unholy

Novemeber 16th, 2014

Weather: Cool, cloudy.

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Asher Crest-Fallen, human holy warrior (250 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (374 points)
     Father Keef, human initiate (125 points, NPC)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (454 points)
     Gort of the Shining Force, dwarf adventurer (unknown point total, NPC)
     Antonios, Demitrios, Leonatios of Meepos, human spearmen (unknown point totals, NPCs)
     George Greenbow, human archer (unknown point total, NPC)

Still in town:
Al Murik, dwarven cleric (252 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)
Galen Longtread, human scout (372 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (302 points)

We started as usual, in Stericksburg. The group gathered rumors, restocked, and otherwise made plans. Most of these involved finding something to do in the dungeon, and how to ensure the orcs weren't able to bother them. They also picked from a large crop of volunteers and would-be junior partners.

One special note - Vryce broke his original sword, the one he had since game 1, to recover the Undead Slaying tassels from it. He put all three on Gram, which is now +3 Puissance and Slaying versus Undead on top of its other abilities.

The rumors included a few good ones, such as the rules of world warping the deeper you go; something about the "blue ribbon" of Felltower being a metaphor, not a real key or ribbon; one about the orcs shaking down the independent farmers and trappers for protection payments, and a couple others.

They headed up the mountain and into the dragon cave. Signs of even more recent passage were there. Booted feet stomping around, lots of camp fires, brush gathered and fallen branches all scooped up as fuel, etc. Nothing was waiting within, although the group moved in carefully to ensure they weren't ambushed.

From there, they began some steady, careful exploration of the area around one of the cube-shaped rooms and the so-called banana shaped room. Mostly they closed off some map errors, but they also found a "dead end" was a mapping error. They headed down that tunnel, and found it ended in a dead end cave. The cave was holy and sanctified, and Asher sensed this immediately. In it was a pool of cold, clear water surrounded by scores of mushrooms, all 6" tall and in single file around it. Naturally, in the face of peace and calm, they sent in a servant to kick over a mushroom. It did, sending it flying into the pool. Asher sensed the holiness and calm fade a little. So he stopped them and took the mushroom out of the pool, and felt the calm return.

They scooped up a few mushrooms, took some of the water, and left the peaceful place behind.

Some more exploration found another 20' wide corridor ending in a dead end, and then a smaller side passage. They followed that and found a semi-circular cave. At one point was a statue - a big, squat, intimidating thing with a axe-like blunted two-handed sword sculpted into it and a demonic visage. At either side of it was a weapon stand with a weapon on it (one side, a flamberge, on the other, a y-tipped yari). When they advanced a little, it spoke to them they could trade any magical items they had, and take their pick from others left by previous visitors. At that, a chest appeared full of armor, weapons, wands, rings, amulets, a staff, etc. in front of it.

Of course, this was a magical trap. Everyone except Vryce (who used Luck on his resistance roll, and got a 3) and Asher (a high resistance roll, +8 for resisting Evil Supernatural Powers, and this was) was taken by this. They dropped their ready weapons and shields and crowded forward to find a good item to trade. Even a magical servant came forward, offering its Continual Light stone. Meanwhile, the statue disappeared, and a quiet stone-on-stone clunk, clunk, clunk was heard by the non-greedily pawing characters. Asher backed off, trying to use his Detect to spot it. Vryce started slapping Dryst, hard, to get him to snap out of it. He did, thanks mostly due to Dryst's strong Will.

The statue (golem) attacked from behind, invisibly, striking one of the Meeposian brothers down. Thanks to solid HP and scale armor, Antonios went to -17 but didn't die, and didn't actually pass out for a few seconds. Vryce moved up, but the golem disappeared again. Dryst slapped See Invisible on him even as Vryce slapped at Raggi, who wasn't fazed - in fact, he said, "Wait your turn! I'm next!" as he kept pushing to the chest. The golem stepped up and struck Raggi, and knocked him back, down, and unconscious. Vryce finally moved up to engage.

Idol Room photo GameNov162014001s_zps27fac405.jpg

The golem kept up its rhythm - attack, turn invisible, move and attack again. But Vryce could see it, and was able to force it back and beat down its defenses. A number of hard blows later, and it broke up and fell apart.

Once that was done, it was just a matter of time to snap everyone out of the spell . . .and naturally the loot disappeared too. As they got ready to rest up and heal up, they heard scraping sounds and figured it was the gargoyles. They set up for combat and waited. The gargoyles came, pushed the servant guard aside, and came into the room. They didn't attack. They simply asked for gems. Their massive leader tried to convince the PCs to give it the gemstone eyes of the golem, but they wouldn't. Dryst tried to intimidate them off, but they weren't impressed. Sometimes, being a SM-2 halfling isn't an advantage. Vryce offered them a pair of gemstones, though, from a trio he took way, way, way back from the Caves of Chaos. He offered two to the leader if they'd not attack the PCs "forever." The gargoyles agreed, although it's not clear if they know what "forever" really means. Whatever - Vryce is convinced keeping the orcs at bay is important, and the gargoyles can ensure that just by being roving annoyances who are effectively immune to non-magical weapons. The gargoyles left them, and they waited for a while to get wounds tended and energy recovered.

Next, the group moved up carefully, loaded to crush the orcs by surprise. No need, though - the orcs weren't there, the warning gong was gone, and it turned out the orcs (or someone else) had blocked up the stairs up to the level above (were the PCs fought last session.) Their rear secured, the PCs headed to the so-called evil temple.

The altar they'd moved was back in place, so they shoved it aside, stationing the Meeposian brothers to try and shield them. That worked, sort-of, by adding them to the targeting list from the energy blasts from the pillars. Everyone was hurt, but no one seriously. They healed up and sent their top guns down. Raggi, Vryce, Dryst, and Asher went down into the connecting passage, and back up into the evil temple. With Walk on Air and Dark Vision on everyone, they didn't fear the weird darkness, Blackout spells, or cursed floor tiles of the far temple.

Evil Temple photo GameNov162014003s_zpsfa5687f9.jpg

Raggi and Vryce came up, and immediately saw some black beings (no one asked, but they were Demons From Between The Stars, from DFM1). Others attacked them from behind, striking them with armor-ignoring life-draining touches. Vryce and Raggi engaged. Raggi moved forward, Vryce backward, but the attackers kept close and Dodged well. A few stepped out of view and disappeared. Raggi managed to get a few together and went for a Cleaving Strike but only clipped one, and then got mobbed and badly life drained. He went berserk. Vryce hacked one badly, and it went berserk.

Demons From Between The Stars photo GameNov162014002s_zps8cb331f2.jpg

A confused melee followed, as the DFBTS kept ducking into shadows and re-appearing behind people and double-draining them. Injured ones quickly went berserk, however, and even a wizard DFBTS who covered itself with Blur was clipped and went berserk. Raggi was mobbed, and engaged in a point-blank battle of berserkers with the blurred one. Vryce took down a couple. Asher joined the fray and wounded one, then started doing some serious damage once he was Great Hasted. Dryst got drained, Raggi took more damage (and this damage healed the berserker attacking him), and the PCs whittled down the DFBTS one by one. Dryst used his magical wand to shock and stun one who was trying to reach cover so it could backstab again, and then Vryce killed it. Asher struck one attacking Raggi, but then critically failed and dropped his sword . . . only after clipping and injuring Raggi, forcing him to make a death check (he passed.) Dryst finished that DFBTS with an amazing lightning bolt (6d-6 for 25 damage!)

All seven of the DFBTS were banished. That done, they investigated the temple, after sending Raggi (who was awake, thanks to a 3 on a consciousness roll) back to the rear for healing. In it was an altar with assorted valuables on it, along with the expected bloodstains. The altar had some big, heavy brass candle stands (like, 100 pounds apiece!), a gilt brass bowl full of black opals, a chaos symbol made of blood-rusted twisted spiky metal, and a sacrificial knife decorated with gems. Beyond it was not a painting like the "other" temple but rather a larger recessed area. That seemed oddly 2D sometimes and 3D other times, and like it sloped in from all angles. Dryst's analysis was that it wasn't wholly "here" or "there" but simultaneously both. Not only that, but there was a secret door at its apex, visible to Dryst's See Secrets. To figure out what's up with it, Dryst created a halfling-sized servant and Vryce tossed it into the "special" area. The servant slowed down oddly and then disappeared, either destroyed or dispelled. A tossed slingstone hit the secret door, but did nothing.

Also, while Vryce was near the altar, a telepathic message to each of them told them they could sacrifice a member of the same race on the altar, and the first one to do so would receive a bonus to their strength, agility, mental acuity, or health. But only the first. They all got them strong sense this was a real offer - it felt true. Evil but true.

A vote of 2-1 went for "ignore the door, exorcise the cursed evil temple," once they figured out it was an either/or thing (go into the "special area" and into the secret door, or de-curse the place and know that would go with it.) They called Father Keef over, and he used a complementary skill roll to help Asher do the three-hour exorcism. It was tough, but Asher made his roll by 9 and beat the Will of the evil force that tainted the temple. The 3D area snapped to pure 2D. They started to check out the altar's loot . . . and the back wall went fuzzy, and the chaos symbol because to warp and twist of its own accord. They grabbed stuff, more quickly as the floor, walls and ceiling started to get fuzzy and blurry at about an inch a second. They sped up as the fuzziness sped up. Vryce grabbed a brass candle stand, Dryst the bowl of gems, and Asher the knife, and they started to run. Even then, a weird buzzing noise was sounding in their heads. The fuzzing sped up, to over a yard a second. The PCs sprinted, the cursed floor ignored thanks to Walk on Air. They ran down to the 'tween temples area, and then up into the other cursed temple. They started to run from there, too.

The fuzzing stopped at the other temple, but the back wall picture stopped being weird and changing, and the paint peeled off of it. The altar they'd shoved with so much trouble crumbled into rubble. It felt back but nothing seemed to go down the hole. A few of them were deafened, too, with severe tinnitus, from the sound of the shredding, twisting, shrieking end of the temple.

With that, they walked the terribly wounded Raggi between two of the Meeposian brothers and managed to get back to town safely. They kept a careful watch as they went, and scouted for ambushes outside - good idea, even if this time there was none.

Eventually, the sold most of what they took (including 88 x 2 carat opals at 420 each), and the haul was close to 10K each (half that for the Meeposian brothers, who take a half-share.)

Good session.


First, a personnel note. We've temporary lost Galen Longtread's player due to a medical issue. While Galen's arrows are missed, mainly we miss his player's pithy comments, casual contempt of the orcs, and fist-bumping with Raggi after killing things. We're holding his spot for him and looking forward to his return. So for folks playing along at home, no Galen for a while.

Asher is buying the Cleric lens piecemeal, right from the start. After this session he purchased IQ +1, his first step to the full lens. He didn't get the price break for reduced Per, but I don't generally allow that when going for something piece by piece.

HP 30 is just stupid. Vryce drank a Minor Healing potion ($120, 1d HP) and rolled a 6 . . . and got 18 HP back. His player had some comment like "Normally being down 6 isn't a big deal, but this might be a big fight, so heal me up." Also this session Raggi has 22 HP and took 70 injury in that big fight and was making his usual death checks. If he was a HP 10-12 guy, he'd be dead from that, not just injured.

XP today was 6 for everyone, 7 for Asher. It was a profitable trip (5 each), +1 for the exorcism, and +1 MVP for Asher for performing the exorcism. Had they gone for the secret door instead of the exorcism, they'd have gotten +1 for that as it would lead to a "special area." It wasn't possible to do both, though, and it was possible to do neither.

Not sure what they'll do next time, in two weeks, but we'll find out.

Pictures tomorrow - Asher's player took a few good ones. I just don't have time to edit and add them right now. I'll post something tomorrow and then update this, as well.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Secret Project: Dungeon Fantasy

You heard it here second! The subject of my still-in-process GURPS project was leaked here:

A Week in the Life of GURPS

No surprise, it's Dungeon Fantasy.

Also no surprise, it's drawing on things I've used in my GURPS DF Felltower game. So you may have seen some of it in action without me drawing attention to it. My game is a great proving ground of publishable material. We'll feature more of this on Sunday at our next game . . . watch and see if you see something that might be new.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Labyrinth Lord in a Bundle of Holding

The current Bundle of Holding is up, and it has:

Labyrinth Lord Revised Edition (retail price $6) AND the Advanced Edition Companion (retail $7): The full illustrated retail versions of Daniel Proctor's Labyrinth Lord rulebook (a leading B/X D&D retro-clone) and his Advanced Edition Companion (a compatible AD&D first-edition clone).
Dyson's Delves (retail $10): Over 140 pages of beautiful subterranean maps by Dyson Logos, including five adventures for levels 1-8.
People of the Pit (retail $7): Brave Halfling's compelling and dangerous adventure for levels 5-7, based on a classic 1918 short story by A. Merritt.

I can vouch for the interest and value of the first two (here is a review of Labyrinth Lord. Dyson's work is never to be missed, either.

$7.95 for the lot is a good deal if you don't have any of the four.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Master of Magic for $2.99

So, GOG is having a sale.

Two thing worth noting:

- Mount & Blade, free. This is my first time with this game - it's amusing enough, and free.

- Master of Magic is 50% off. $2.99 for MOM is pretty excellent. Fun game. Who wouldn't want to be an immortal wizard-rule competing with other wizards across two planes to cast the Spell of Mastery and achieve utter victory over reality?

There are other things for sale, but my rule is one purchase at a time. I know MOM will occupy my attention for a while. It's a nice little game to have for when I have minutes, or maybe hours, to spend on some relaxing.

Felltower Armor Enchantment Roundout

I use a mix of rules and house rules for the armor enchantments, specifically Deflect, Fortify, and Lighten. All of these are house rules unless marked as RAW.

First, I apply the percentage discount for casting spells on armor pieces after calculating price, as described here: GCA Coding my enchantment house rule

Deflect: Only usable on shields.

Back in the day, we allowed this on armor, and it only applied to the top layer. But to avoid a per-location DB, and because defenses are so damn high in DF, we ditched it for this game.

- Unaffected by Mana levels except for No Mana Zones.

Fortify: DR from different Fortify spells stack.

- Fortify is limited to the DR of the item, or +1, whichever is higher. Fine armor doubles this limit!

- Ordinary clothing with Fortify +1 is allowed, but it counts as a layer of armor for DX penalty purposes.

- Layering rules are strictly enforced.

- Regardless of the Magery of the enchanter, DR is limited to +5.

- Unaffected by Mana levels except for No Mana Zones.

For example, Scale with Fortify +2 over cloth armor with Fortify +1 would provide (4+2) + (1+1) = 8 DR. A greathelm with Fortify +5 over a pot helm with Fortify +5 over a giant spider silk cloth cap with Fortify +2 provides a whopping (7+5) + (4+4) + (2+2) = DR 24 to the skull. You'll pay a pile of gold for that, though, and you'll face monsters that make DR 24 just about enough.

Lighten: Affects only the armor enchanted. (RAW) However, two house rules apply:

- the reduced weight affects the armor at all times, even if not worn.

- the reduced weight is unaffected by No Mana Zones or Low Mana Zones. The Lighten spell is effectively a one-time removal, permanently, of some of the weight of the material by removing some of its essential makeup without reducing its protective qualities.*

These rules ensure as little work as possible during play, but serve to both reward players who careful plan their armor layering (since it stacks) and restrict how much that matters overall (because layering reduces DX). It also gives everyone a load of head armor, which is good, because it keeps instant PC deaths down to a manageable level.

And like I detailed in this post, if I could do it again, I'd make all armor enchantments require a prefix. It would be nice if Fine was more common than enchanted.

But that's how I do my armor enchantments in my current GURPS game.

* This is inspired by the enchantment of physical equipment in the Morlock the Maker series of books. It's also to prevent NMZs from making people track two levels of encumbrance - or having to force people to buy Power-20 armor to prevent loss of efficacy in LMZs.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dwarven Forge Orcs & Repairing the same

Years back, my players plunked down some change on some minis for me - some skeletons, and these guys - pig face orcs.* The skeletons and these orcs were made by Dwarven Forge, back in the day.

 photo DwarvenForgeOrcs1_zps6933d14c.jpg

As you can see, I re-based them. I used hollowed out slotta-bases, inverted to what I call a cup base, filled with glue, green stuff, and other filler material. Then I topped them with glue and put on flock.

I use these guys a lot, but honestly, as much as my players forked out for them (they used to run to $12.99 for a pack of 3!), even on sale, they're kind of bad minis. They are attractive, and well-painted for pre-paints. But they are resin, and break fairly easily.

 photo DwarvenForgeOrcs2_zpsd8930cd1.jpg

I need to try to glue the arrow back onto the archer, but it's not critical. Even without the arrow, the mini is okay.

Without the axe, though, the greataxe guy is useless. I'm not sure if I want to snap that off and try to re-bore his hands or glue the axe back on. Superglue does a poor job here, and I'm not sure how resin and epoxy mix. Does anyone reading this have experience gluing hard resin minis like this?

Any protruding spiky bits tend to break in transit. It doesn't matter how good the minis are - I have some beautiful ones, well made, but spear tips made of pewter just snap off. These resin minis, though, have some serious shatter potential. They're hard but brittle.

So I'm not sure what I want to do with this guy. Maybe swap the useless greataxe for a flail? It's rare for me to even deploy a greataxe orc, because it's a poor weapon choice for them. An orc with a greataxe is just arrow fodder. An orc with a two-handed flail is arrow fodder, too, but at least if he gets a swing he's got a chance against a serious foe. Plus, I have a much, much better metal orc with a greataxe, who both looks more intimidating and better armored. So if I need one, I'm covered.

* Also a horde of Foundry pirates, which might need a "pirates I've painted" post of their own.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kromm's GURPS throwing master advantage

I just don't want to lose this in the ether:

Throwing Master [20]

I'm curious if it would be effective in DF. Possibly, depending on the way you put the character together and just how many effective throwables you could carry. Cornucopia Shuriken would be interesting - I'd be tempted to make it a bandoleer, which always shows three of them but never seems to run out. That fits basically every comic book ninja ever!

By the way, GURPS Martial Arts has two different rules on throwing lots of stuff.

One is based on Rapid Fire. This was heavily inspired by Ogun, the ninja master in Kitty Pryde vs. Wolverine - especially the amazing panel where he bursts into the scene in a seeming cloud of shuriken. This is the "hurl a big handful of things, and see who gets hit" approach. It's very useful when using very small, very low damage weapons, where quantity is the quality.

The other is based, more realistically, on actual shurikenjutsu techniques. The sources I read on shurikenjutsu emphasized rapid throwing - one after another, with a quickened rhythm as you went. So each successive shuriken would come with just a slightly lower delay between throws than the last one. This was designed to catch people off-guard. One source - a (former) samurai in the Meiji era - mentioned using shuriken in this way, aiming to catch a troublemaker recidivist samurai type off-guard with a shuriken toss. Dodge one, eat the next one as you get into a rhythm and the thrower does not, and now you're trying to swordfight with a shuriken sticking out of your leg. Concealing shuriken and throwing them as part of a standing katana drawing motion was another - a Deceptive Attack for sure. Fun stuff - and a good tonic to the "ninja use shuriken, samurai don't" meme that doesn't reflect any actual sources that I could find.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Wandering Monsters: Totals and Origin Points

Two things I like in published adventures:

Wandering Monster Totals, and Origin Points.


When I was reviewing A1 The Slave Pits of the Undercity I remarked on something it did that I like - it gives totals of the possible numbers of all monsters you can encounter as wandering monsters. You can only encounter X orcs, or Y ghouls, or unlimited green slime.

This makes it feel like the monsters aren't just appearing out of nowhere as a tax on time consumption or just as wandering damage. They are as subject to attrition as you are.

Wandering monsters - at least - were like this in SSI's The Eternal Dagger. You could literally wipe out all of the Dwarven patrols, for example, or whittle down the most dangerous monsters.

I make some use of this in my own game - some critters are unlimited (there are too many to be worth counting, or reproduce too quickly) and others limited.


I also like to know where the monsters are coming from. Not in a general sense, but specifically - 1d6 goblins from the barracks on level 2, room 15. Rats from the rat-filled rooms, level 1 rooms 3,4, and 5. Big John the Troll from room 22.

That also makes wandering monsters feel more organic, more natural, and more rooted in the area. They aren't just sweeping in from nowhere. If you don't stumble into them in a hallway or while looting a room or searching a forested hill for that dungeon entrance, you'll find them eventually exploring.

These aren't big things, really, but they change a vanilla wandering monster table into a way of directly interacting with the population of the area. I like when published work uses these.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Three Trademark Moves from my DF game

I'm a big fan of the Trademark Move perk in GURPS, as described on DF2 p. 27. So I mention them a lot in my summaries, because they come up so often.

Here are three Trademark Moves form my current game.

"Borriz's Tricky Double-Tap" - Borriz Borrizman

Mace Swing/Skull (-3), Rapid Strike (-3/-3), Deceptive Attack -4 (-8), +1 for TM = net -13

Note that Borriz has Axe/Mace-28 and a Balanced weapon (+1 to hit). He also has Weapon Master, and Slayer Training (Slayer Swing at Skull), which accounts for the lowered penalties for some parts of his TM. Two skull shots on a 16 or less. Borriz started with this TM, and hasn't done much with it except expand the Deceptive Attack level as his skill has climbed from "high" to "highest."

I used this as the basis for Tarjan's Twofer, my morningstar-wielding knight's attack in the short-lived game I played in.

The upside of this one is clear - it's an efficient killer against things with the Skull hit location. Those without, it's useless, but it does mean for quick elimination of foes with natural limitations.

Raggi's unnamed Trademark Move - Raggi Ragnarsson

Greataxe Swing/Neck (-5), Deceptive Attack -1 (-2), +1 for TM = net -6.

Raggi has something like a 21 skill before this TM, usually giving him a 15 or less to pull it off. Raggi also has Cleaving Strike, and this makes a tremendously synergistic move with it. I suppose "leg" might be better, but Raggi has zero interest in "I leave a carpet of one-legged wounded in my wake" and total interest in "You'll know me by the trail of headless corpses." Besides, Slayer Training (Swing to Leg) isn't on offer in DF11.

Raggi added this somewhere along the line. Against foes with a the Neck hit location, it's been really effective, mostly because of the x2 injury multiplier.

Vryce's unnamed Trademark Move - Vryce

Greatsword Swing/Body (-0), Rapid Strike (-3/-3), Deceptive Attack -3 (-6), +1 for TM = net -8.

Vryce has Two-Handed Sword-26 right now and Weapon Master. Most of his other frills are defensive, not offensive. This is a very good TM to have, because it's almost universally useful. That also speeds up play immensely - it's rare that he needs to vary from this, so he can start rolling and I instantly know the margin of success needed to defend.

This one has changed during play, as Vryce's skill has gone up. At this point Vryce can pull this off on a 16 or less even on bad footing (-2). You might that was very risk-averse but it's not if play in my game."Bad footing" and its attendant -2 to hit / -1 to defend is a very common thing in my games. He may have changed this - I don't have his current sheet with me - but my notes still say "DA -3." That'll probably change as his skill creeps up further.

Like I said, this is almost universally useful, especially for someone who isn't looking for a quick incapacitation (Borriz) or knockdown (Raggi), but rather for the fastest route to -5xHP versus the most foes. Since nothing in TM says you can't split the strikes, Vryce uses this to quickly take out fodder in great numbers, too.

No one else has jumped onto TM, yet. I think this is because the other folks either have to vary their targets up too much (the Scout, for example) or just don't have the raw skill and power to benefit from locking themselves into a regularly valuable move.

As you can probably see, I don't strictly enforce the "entire turn's worth of actions" requirement - as long as it's a fully described and discrete action that has no moving parts on it. The three above are like that. All three speed up play a lot, and are will worth the tradeoff for the player and the GM. All three speed up play, because there isn't any fiddling around with modifiers, so flexibility on who gets hit or how the PC launches the strike is fine.

Trademark Move is one of those ideas that can easily port over to D&D games, too. Give each character (or, if you prefer, each fighter-type only) a "Trademark Move" slot. They put a turn's worth of actions, with all options that are relevant, into that slot. In return, they get a +1 to hit when sticking to that plan exactly. In games where the options are pretty much Attack and Do Something Else, this won't matter much or add much. But in any game where you can make per-turn decisions, offering to move those per-turn decisions to the pregame in return for a bonus for sticking to it has a place.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Picks getting stuck alternate mechanic, play report

About a year and a half ago, I suggested an alternative mechanic for the "getting stuck" rules under Picks (p. B405).

It wrote it up here, in my Weapons & Tactics article on picks.

GURPS Weapons & Tactics: Picks

What I originally said was:

* Over on the SJG forums, I suggested a patch for this that makes it work better outside of the normal range of ST scores - roll damage again. If you equal or exceed the damage you inflicted the first time, you pull it back out. If not, it's stuck. If you roll less than 1/4 of the damage needed to pull it out, it's really stuck (you can retrieve it after the battle.)

How I implemented It

We started using this right away, but few people used picks. This changed when a pick-wielding dwarven cleric came along recently. We did it as written - on the turn following your strike, roll damage again.

Basic damage, or inflicted injury? - Good question. I went with "basic penetrating damage." So a pick doing 8 HP of damage vs. a DR 5 target inflicts 3 HP, which is 6 HP of injury. So it takes roll of 3+ to pull it back out.

The logic here is that injury is just how much it affects the target. Damage is how deeply you nail the pick in. Using penetrating damage prevents weirdness like hitting a DR 10 target for 11 damage and then needing to roll 11 damage to pull it out, when you obviously didn't penetrate very far at all! (Note I'm using damage and injury as terms of art, here - they are tightly related but not the same in GURPS.)

This does make for some issues with things getting really stuck - basically, they don't. A ST 12 wielder with a pick doing 1d+3 damage rarely will roll under 1/4 of the damage inflicted. Compared to penetrating damage, it's even more rare. I briefly toyed with "minimum damage" but that's rare with 2d+ dice. I may still try that ("minimum damage, or under 1/4 of damage") and see how it goes. At least then, if a bunch of ones come up, you can still have your pick stuck for a while.

If the target moves away, we treat it as any other impaling weapon grapple from Technical Grappling.

How does this work in play?

Not bad at all. It's not easier than a ST check, nor is it harder. It's just re-rolling damage and remembering what you did. It also feels better with really high damage picks, and high-ST characters, who otherwise pull it out nearly-automatically.

Overall, thumbs up. It's not necessarily faster than the original rule, but it's a little bit more consistent with your damage. That's fine and it suits us.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Scaling damage bonuses in the Martial Arts Technique Design System

This springs from a question posed over on the SJG Forums about technique design in GURPS Martial Arts.

It's totally unofficial, it's not errata. I just want to get that out of the way since I know some people regard "you could do X instead of Y" from an author as "X is the correct way to do this and Y is not." It's more like, if I wanted to do this, how would I do it consistently?

Basically, can you make the damage bonuses for techniques scale?


The options for damage bonuses built into techniques are:

+1 damage
+2 damage or +1 per die, whichever is higher.

If you want all of these to scale, treat the first one as this instead:

+1 damage or +1 damage per two full dice of base damage, whichever is higher.

That matches how Committed Attack does it.

Or if you really want people to gain a second point of damage at the 3d mark, instead make it +0.5 damage per die, rounded up. That would turn, say, Uppercut, which is a punch (thrust-1) with +1 damage into thrust-1 damage, plus 1 damage for ST up to 26, and +2 for ST 27-44, and so on. That's more generous, and if you do this, I'd suggest changing Committed Attack's +1 damage bonus to work the same way. +1 per two full dice is more consistent with the existing rules, but it means you need ST 35 before it matters for thrust-based techniques.
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