Thursday, December 31, 2015

DF Game, Session 70 - Lost City 4 - Arachno-Assassins & the First Bell

Yesterday we played out session 4 of the 5-6 that the PCs can manage in the Lost City of D'Abo before the caravan home departs.

December 30th, 2015

Weather: Varied (mix of rain and one torrential storm)

Characters (approximate net point total)

Angus "Mithrilbraid" McSwashy, dwarf swashbuckler (250 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (285 points)
Hasdrubul Stormcaller, human wizard (259 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (258 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (265 points)
Quenton Gale, human druid (252 points)

In reserve:
Kenner Baumfellen, wood elf scout (250 points)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mapping the Megadungeon World Anyway

Yesterday I said you don't need a map for your megadungeon world. That's even if your outside world affects the megadungeon and the megadungeon affects the outside world.

But I'm not oppose to maps. In fact, I love maps. I have lots of them myself. I filled in a hex map by hand, with pencils and colored pencils, instead of paying attention in science class in High School. I pretty much picked the Forgotten Realms for one game because it had very usable maps, and the Known Worlds (aka Mystara) for the same reason when I wanted a complete break with my FR game's history.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Do you need a map for your megadungeon's world?

This was inspired by Beedo's post about needing a map for his megadungeon-as-crux-of-the-world game of Dwimmermount.

Basically, he wants/expects the events in his megadungeon to have world-affecting ramifications, such as wars and so on. So he needs a map of the world, right?

My response boils down to, not really.

You don't need to map what you don't need.

Unless the PCs are going to go to a place on the map, and unless the map is necessary for such a trip, you don't really need it. It's nice to have, I suppose, although what you define limits you - it's the canon conundrum. The more canon, the more answers you have ready, but the more you need to keep in mind when creating more or answering questions. What is defined limits you.

You want your campaign world to be complete, but that doesn't mean "has all possible details." Remember that "complete" means, in part, "having all necessary parts, elements, or steps". Necessary. Things you don't actually need to play the adventures at hand are just extras. You can have a complete megadungeon-based and megadungeon-driven gameworld without mapping the world that is affected by the dungeon. You just need those parts that will come up in play.

Incoming Consequences

But what if things in the far-off land affect the megadungeon (or limited sandbox / bounded adventure area, or other campaign area definition)? All you really need to know is how and why. If a war breaks out between North Valmont and the Empire of Madeupicus, so what? Unless either the player characters are going to those locations or folks from there are coming after the player characters or coming to the dungeon.

Outgoing Consequences

What if stuff done in the dungeon affects the outside world? Maybe that war happened becasue you found the Lost Crown of the Empire in the dungeons in that pink slime choked 10' x 10' room on level 2. Well, unless the players are going to that war, you still don't need much of a map. Or more than "this sparked a war in the far West, beyond the Plains of Aramore and still even beyond the Dust Dunes of Kawaku." Again, if the players are expected to go, you might want a map. If they'll direct the armies, you'll need one. Otherwise, roll 1d6 and give the side the PCs hand off the crown to a +1 to the roll, higher roll wins the war, tie is a stalemate. Done. Now back to counting torches and finding a way down to level 3. You'll soon enough meet victorious wandering fighters and defeated folks who can't go back home in the streets of the Megadungeon Town, looking to join or oppose your crew of adventurers.

Check out what I said about the bounded adventure area - if the players know the real adventure is in the dungeon, they'll stay in the dungeon. If they ask to go abroad, is it because you made abroad more attractive than the dungeon? Do they just want a change? More on that below.

Sometimes players can push for a map, though, even when it's not necessary.

So ask them.

Why do you want a map? If the players are insisting on a map, find out why. What is it about the map that they except to want or need?

Sometimes you have to keep probing. I learned this as a trainer - ask questions like a two-year old. Why? Why? Why? Why do you want to do X? Because I want result Y. Why do you want Y? Because if I get Y I'll also get Z. Now we've gotten somewhere - you don't want to do X, you just want Z. Let's go get Z.

In a megadungeon, often "go somewhere else" is a sign the players want something the dungeon isn't giving them. Find out what it is and stick it in there, or explain how it is already.

They won't play without a world map.

Some alternatives, though, for players who just have to have a map.

You come from it, you map it. Give the player the description of the location that you have in your notes (whether you wrote them or got them from a published source.) Tell the player to draw the map and provide the description.

You can do the vague outlines, if it's really necessary. But otherwise go all early Greyhawk on them and parcel out the land. You're from East McGinty? Map it. Tell me about it. I'm the GM but I don't know what "homeland" you have in your head.

This is especially true if the player has a character concept in mind. "I'm an Amazon from the jungles in the southern part of the Kingdom of Talmus." Okay, great, there are jungles in southern Talmus. There is much more chance of that being true if the player maps it than if you do. You don't want to hand them the map and have them say, "Gee, I wanted to be a jungle Amazon . . . " Detail restricts!

Rough sketch. Like it says. Do a rough sketch. Don't fill anything in that doesn't absolutely need to be on it. Don't go overboard. Don't make work for yourself until your megadungeon game is now a world-traveling game that happens to have a megadungeon in it.

All of this boils down to - don't make extra work for yourself. Don't end up telling stories that end with, ". . . but they never ended up going there." This is especially true if you're using someone else's material - plow your extra prep time into digesting and adjusting what's there, not making up a world you might never need.

(And if you want to map it anyway . . . )

Oh, nevermind, not hosting game

Turns out one of players is back from a brief hiatus, and can host game in his much-better gaming area. So all of that miniatures-hiding and chair counting and "How do we turn the living room into game room without moving the Christmas tree?" stuff was not very helpful.

That'll teach me not to leave things until the night before!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Megadungeon Best Practices XV: Themes, Knowledge, and Links

It's been a while since I wrote about Megadungeon Best Practices. This mostly because my DF game was rolled on outside the megadungeon. As we slowly move back towards playing in Felltower, I've collected together a few more of the lessons I learned from doing a megadungeon-centered game. They might be useful to you, as well.

Have Discernible Patterns

I don't necessarily mean themed areas or a one-theme dungeon, although those are fine. I mean have large patterns to your dungeon that are easy for the players to spot with a little attention.

A few of mine are:

The deeper you go . . .

Depth matters in my dungeon. The deeper you go, the more dangerous the monsters. The more lethal the traps. The more knowledge of the dungeon's background and contents you need to understand to solve the puzzles. The more rewarding the treasures. And, in a game world specific twist, the further you go from the eyes of the Good God - and thus the deeper into evil, weirdness, and bent logic (and yes, into some humor as well) you will go.

These aren't unique to my megadungeon, by any means. The lesson I learned is, make these more rather than less obvious.

You can even go as far as just saying they are themes to your players. Then, reinforce it in play. Link up in-game reasons for them. Put in a spin on them so hewing too close to "that's how it is" provides a new challenge - like rich treasure and a tough trap on level 1, easy monsters on level 5, areas of total normality surrounded by pockets of weird evil, etc.

But make it possible to see them, preferably even over the table chatter and worries about HP remaining and how much time they have left to delve today.

If you assume really sharp attention to every word and action by the GM, you're going to end up with players who miss things. There are a lot of things going on at the gaming table in most games, and it's hard to focus perfectly and completely on the GM at all times. Expect details to be missed. But if you make the themes generally discernible enough and self-reinforcing, the players will notice and can act on it.

Corollary: Listen to the player's themes.

As usual, if the players see a connection that's not there but cool, add it.

If they see something that's better than your own theme, consider stealing it.

And if they see something that's patently false and misleading, take a look at it. Is it something you need to correct because it's causing a problem? Or is it something they'll realize it wrong with more information? If it's just a misread that leads to better delving, let it ride. If it's a fundamental rules or game world physics or campaign style misunderstanding that'll come and bite the players in a bad, un-fun, or game-wrecking way, correct them. Tell the guy who thinks druidic magic doesn't suffer dungeon penalties in this game that in fact, it does. Warn the person aiming at domain that this isn't a game that will ever get there. That sort of thing. But if they think that dungeon depth doesn't affect the rules of physics and in fact in your world it does, well . . . that'll sort itself out later with more hints and experience.

Don't be shy about sharing information with the players.

John Arendt kicked off a recent Dwimmermount game by starting at the door and giving a handout with common knowledge about the dungeon. I do this through rumors - and by posting historical bits about my dungeon on my blog before my players go there. I even collect the rumors into one big document for me, and share out an updated list of everything the players heard.

Even then, it's not hard to be too secretive. That might be how it ran in the old days, or maybe it wasn't. But I find that in my games, the more information I hand out the better the game runs.

The challenge in my megadungeon, at least, is a combination of exploration and problem-solving. The former basically is getting around and finding things, the latter is combat, trap clearing, puzzle solving, resource expenditure and replenishment, and similar issues. But it's not a mystery. There are mysterious unknowns, but the game is less about spotting clues and figuring out the big issues than about dealing with clues and big issues. In murder-mystery analogy, I tell you there is a murder and give you clues to solve the mystery, I don't conceal the fact there is a murder. In dungeon terms, this goes hand in hand with discernible themes, maps to lost treasures, known monsters mixed in with the unknown ones, and a general knowledge of the situation.

I don't hand it all out at once, but as you discover the pieces of the new it'll mesh with what you've heard before.

The more maps I hand out, the more details on monsters they might find and factions they might contend with, the more information I rely - the better. The more informed their choices, the more interesting those choices are. Blind choices are fun for a while, but informed choices are fun for a long time.

So err on the side of more information about the dungeon. Don't worry, it'll never be 100% understood, 100% utilized, or 100% recognized as such until after the fact.

Tie it to the side quests and vice-versa.

If you want a megadungeon-focused game, but you still want side quests and outside areas, tie them together. I've mentioned this before on this blog. But make it all connect.

There were links from the dungeon in the Cold Fens and its tomb for Sakatha back to Felltower. And vice-versa - I made sure to modify the AD&D module I spun into the "Cold Fens" so it linked to themes and elements from Felltower.

The Lost City absolutely contains really obvious links to Felltower and its past, present, and - if the players use that knowledge - its future as well. And like the Cold Fens, I made sure to port some of the themes, elements, and enemies (pronounced "apes," heh) to the Lost City.

That way it's not just a side quest with treasure and monsters - its a chance to learn more about the megadungeon before you go back. And to leverage what you learned in the megadungeon in the side areas. Both reward you more, the more you manage to do.

By all means make each distinct side area unrelated in its own way, with a unique element. But either one big link or lots of little thematic connections to the megadungeon will greatly enhance the feeling of it being one world.

You can even physically link side areas with the megadungeon - miles-long corridors to other dungeons, gates, teleport pads, weird confluences of reality where they temporarily overlap and then drift apart, whatever. (Note to my players: these are examples, not necessarily our-game facts or hints.)

That's three more lessons I've realized was waiting out there for me to learn as I did.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Getting ready to host game

Normally on Sundays I post something related to my DF game. Today, not so much.

Partly this is because I had a lot of other things to post about.

But also partly because this week we're gaming mid-week, not on a Sunday.

Also, I'll be hosting.

I haven't hosted a game in probably about a decade. As such, I'm woefully unprepared to do so.

On the bright side, I don't have to worry about getting my minis ready for game. I'll have them all pretty close to hand. All my books, too. I've got nothing to pack.

On the downside, this means I have to hide all of the in-process minis. Can't just leave half-painted giant monsters on the shelf, or have my maps spread out on the wall, or have notes about game pinned to my corkboard. Nope, I have to clear it all out and cover them all up. I'll put some tanks and my IG-88 out to distract them, perhaps.

Also, I need to figure out how many people are coming and cram them all around the table . . . we're not really set up to host a gathering of this sort. We'll manage, though, and I am really happy I can just come home from work, put the lights on, and wait for game to come to me. It's funny how specific hosting gaming is versus hosting friends for dinner or having someone over for a movie.

We'll see how it goes . . . but you should see one more game summary before I do a year-end retrospective of 2015's gaming. It's not done yet.

BTD Sale Minis: Purchased

I snapped up some of the Black Tree Design minis I'd been eyeing.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Casting Room Miniatures free shipping reminder

Just a quick reminder - Casting Room Miniatures is doing free worldwide shipping until the end of 2015 . . . just a few days away now.

Here is my post about them:

Casting Room Miniatures

I ordered a pack of those adventurers myself. I'm still waiting for them to arrive - cross-Atlantic shipping isn't so speedy. They did turn around my order and get it shipped in under 24 hours, though, so it's just waiting for the Titanic to finish its trip to the East Coast to deliver them to me. :)

Black Tree Design minis sale

Black Tree Design is having their annual miniatures sale.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Loot 2015

Just two gaming-related presents this year, barring turning a spiffy new tie into a dragon.

I received Chris Pramas's Orc Warfare:

and this cool War of the Worlds book:

Both are Osprey, who seem to have gone full-fiction. Maybe they ran out of WWII and Napoleonic battles to write up. I'll review the Chris Pramas book soon enough - the other book if it seems gaming related enough once I read it.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

DF Power Enchantment: Every Item Is Its Own Power Item

This was inspired by Mark Langsdorf's in-depth rules idea which seems to have springboarded off of my own half-baked musing on campaign direction.

He mentioned a way of curbing the Power enchantment, something I've worked on the extending and limiting abuses of self-powered magic items.

But his post sparked another idea, which is kind of obvious in light of DF's approach. This can potentially work as a replacement for the Charged Magic Items in Pyramid 3/36, as well.

(Editing later: I forgot to mention Power Reserves from DF 8, pg. 47. This is essentially the same idea as
Dedicated Reserves except that it fully removes the idea of self-powered items and user FP powering magic items.

What if, for DF, we eliminated the Power enchantment?

You could still use it as a mechanism for determining the cost of an "always on" item that doesn't already have a preset price - GM's discretion.

But in general, it's gone.

Instead, every item is a Power Item. These would not be limited to the usual one-Power-Item-per-caster rules, because it wouldn't be useful for anything but casting the spells of the item itself.

You have to recharge the power normally, in town, basically between adventures.

Magic items being recharged would not be able to maintain spells, eliminating the "cast for free on everyone" hand-around of magic items. You can't cast the spells in town, then get the item re-charged.

Two approaches work for this:

Mundane Value (AKA Normal Power Item Rules)

A magic item can hold power based on the mundane value of the underlying item. If you have an ornate wand studded with gems worth $5,000, it acts as a $5,000 Power Item = 18 Power.

Magical Value

A magic item can hold power based on the magical value of the underlying spells. Straight up $1 = $1 costing makes for very high power levels. Instead, use 1/10th of the magical value (at $25/point this means $2.50/point) to determine the maximum power. Have an item with 2000 power worth of spells? That's $50,000 item, and acts as a $5,000 Power Item = 18 Power.

You can use both - the higher of its magical value or its mundane value's Power Item value. It's probably worth tweaking the value of enchantment to taste.

This approach is basically saying, generically enchanted magic items never depend on user FP to power them. They must always have some kind of internal charge, be it making it a Power Item (in DF) or having a Powerstone (in normal GURPS Magic rules). You could apply the usual rules - Powerstones would be 3x as effective for their size because they'd all need to be Exclusive Powerstones, for example. You just don't allow other options.

You may discover better items that have absolute self-power (a staff that can throw 1-pt/turn fireballs for free, say), but they're the result of lost enchantments, powerful wizards, happy critical successes, etc.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Magic Item Shops vs. the Domain Game

That's a pretty grandiose title for a pretty simple thought I had.

I think that in a game where you can buy significant adventuring power, you end with a choice between:

- upgrade my PC with magical power

- upgrade my PC with mundane power

Buy some magical power at the magic shop, and you are better at adventuring. Especially in those areas where merely adding more manpower (hirelings, henchmen, etc.) just won't matter. All the crossbowmen in the world won't help much vs. weapon-immune demons or when you have to crawl down a tight corridor to face a lich in his lair.

Spend those resources on establishing a fortress, hiring guards, etc. and you expand out in the political world.

In a game without the ability to spend loot on dramatic personal power upgrades, you start to automatically get drawn into the "domain game."

But in a game with only one, you've essentially made the choice. No magic shoppes or NPC enchanters? Loot is useful mainly for expanding your non-dungeon power and your control over the larger campaign map. Have them? You can get personal power.

In fact, having them is a strong signal that the intent of loot is that you upgrade. If building a fortress or hiring some guards and henchmen doesn't help you adventure better, but magic swords are for sale, you're saying that you're handing out loot so people can buy magic swords.

In my current game, buying additional adventuring power is the name of the game. Wealth is a tool for the players to expand the power and resources of their adventurer's personal abilities. While we could expand the game out to be "establish a domain" I'm not sure we ever will. It's a feature, not a bug, and I have to remind myself of that when people think of the best cash-based upgrades they can get when they hit a large pile of loot. $200K worth of gold and silver isn't a downpayment on the walls of Mi'Pee'Cees Castle; $200K is a signal that you darn well need $200K worth of magic upgrades for the upcoming adventures.

In my past games where magic was only found - not made or sold - mundane power was where the money went. PCs own inns and taverns, cleared mini-dungeons and lived in them, cleared haunted mansions and lived in them, worried about getting to name level (in D&D-based) or enough cash flow because they wanted followers, and so on. That's pretty much what money was good for.

I don't think this is a good vs. bad issue. It's just that I feel like allowing magic item purchases might be a signal that loot is provided so you can upgrade your personal power. Also, people tend to worry about winning the last war. So even if upgrading personal power isn't the endgame, if lack of it made the previous adventure hard, then it's reasonable to expect they'll spend on personal power.

It's possible circular as well - play games where you don't really have a "domain game" as a goal, and people start to wonder what all the loot is for. Let them buy some personal power, and then loot becomes all about it. And vice-versa - play games where "domain game" is the up-front goal, and personal power isn't easily for sale, and people will gravitate the other way.

Just something I was mulling over while thinking of spending habits of PCs in my own past games.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Metamorphosis Alpha minis

Speaking of miniatures Kickstarter projects, here is one for Metamorphosis Alpha minis:

$4K of the funding is the license from James Ward, and there is a Metamorphosis Alpha adventure on tap for it, as well.

The mini prices don't seem bad, either. The sculptors include people I know of (I'll bet Jason Wiebe is doing the Gorrilloid, for example.) The creator runs a miniatures company, and seems to have delivered on a previous minis Kickstarter. So if you like what you see, it's worth looking into a little further.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Heavily Armoured Halfling minis Kickstarter

In the "these are amazingly cool" department:

I have no comment on this Kickstarter in terms of success, failure, likelihood of either, etc. And I'm not in on it, because I don't need heavily armored halflings. Or dealing with cross-Atlantic shipping and pound-to-dollar conversion rates. Also, I don't like resin figures.

But I do like the look of the minis. The combo of, say, historically accurate looking plate armour and war-goats is just fun. They're really visually interesting figures.

And who knows, maybe someone reading this will be shocked and delighted to find there will finally be halfling knights in full armor to put on the table. I can think of one, and I just hope his swashbuckler PC stays alive and he doesn't run his halfling knight with a human-sized sword.

Wrong but fun? Is that okay?

I was reading a review of a game that I quite enjoy (it doesn't matter which one) that had a fair amount of "you're doing it wrong!" criticism in it. Basically, there are people who like this game but they don't follow all the rules, so that's not proof the game is fun.

I kind of thought, well, so what?

This distinction kind of percolated to the top of my brain:

What if:

. . . you're playing the game wrong, but having fun? I think the "enjoying the game" part trumps rules accuracy, rules intentions of the game designers, and pretty much everything else.

Ideally you'd be playing the game right, and enjoying it. But it's the second part that matters.

My mental image here is Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes fame) doing crossword puzzles, and bemoaning the lack of space to write the correct answers. He's having a blast, but not actually doing crossword puzzles as intended. Who cares? Having a blast. If you're doing something to enjoy it and you're enjoying it, it's fulfilling its purpose.

. . . you're playing the game wrong, and not having fun? Then I think the "playing the game wrong" can be an issue.

For example, I remember talking to a gamer about GURPS. He hated it - it was way too lethal. It was really easy to hit with guns, and then you just died. A little talking later and I realized that they didn't allow any defenses against guns because you can't dodge bullets. Which is a misreading of the rules - GURPS does allow Dodge rolls against gunshots (and even laser fire!) that you see coming. There are a lot of reasons for this - game lethality for one, the need to fold defensive movement into the results of combat, and the built-assumption that defense rolls are normal and expected, to name a few. So they were doing it wrong, by the rules. And not enjoying the game when they did it that way.

Essentially in this case you're not having fun, which is usually the main point of game playing. It's not necessarily a fault of the game or the rules here - it's possibly because you aren't playing it as intended. I think some "X is broken" arguments stem from this - rules misunderstandings that lead to not-enjoyable play.

It's like when people say Monopoly sucks because it takes too long, and then you find out they put money under Free Parking and allow bank loans - both of which extend the game. It's valid to point out the rules changes are possibly what is causing the issues you don't like. You might still not like it played as intended, but it's not a useful critique of the underlying game. "Used as directed" might apply here.

And back to the first example, if those rules are making the game fun for people, then that's fine.

I'm not sure how useful this post is to anyone, but I thought it was a good mental exercise for me. It's a good way for me to look at games - and at reviews and opinions of games. If it's fun, correct doesn't matter so much. If it's not fun, it's worth asking if a misunderstanding is causing that. If it's still not fun, that's something else - at least it's accurate and potentially informative.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Wither Felltower, Stericksburg, and the Cold Fens?

Well, they are all just exactly where I left them. It's just that "Wither Felltower" sounds better than "What the heck is up with Felltower?" or "Where is Felltower at these days?"

While I'm at it, let's look at Stericksburg and the Cold Fens, too.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ice Trolls WIP

I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with these bugbears.

First, I don't have a "bugbear" analog in my games, and I used the name for something else entirely.

Second, they have comically large weapons.

Third, I didn't really need more "humanoid" types for my game.

But they're pretty cool looking figures, and I do have seven of them from Bones II.

I started to paint them in some standard Bugbear yellow-ish, figuring I'd paint them and them use them as . . . something. Mutant gnolls or hairy ogres or something.

Friday, December 18, 2015

DF Hazard/Monster: Pink Slime

Here is one of the slime monsters I've used in my DF Felltower game. My players have figured out all about it, and since I posted about Icky Goo yesterday I wanted to add some of my own goo to the mix. I didn't write this in "standard" monster form because it's a hazard more than a monster.

Why pink slime? It was all over the news when I wrote that section of the dungeon.

Why not green? A change is as a good as a holiday.

Pink Slime. This slime is red-pink in color and is finely textured. It smells slightly of meat (beef, perhaps) and is very greasy looking. It does 1d corrosion damage per second to anything that it falls on, touches, or is touched by. Does not affect stone or metal; DR with Tough Skin does not protect. Materials damaged or destroyed by pink slime immediately turn into pink slime - it doesn't just digest you, it transforms you!
HT 12, 3-8 HP (1d+2) depending on size, Move 1 yard per minute.

Variants: Metal-eating pink slime dissolves metal, but is harmless to flesh! They look identical, making dealing with them a bit tricky . . .

It's threatening but generally harmless to prepared delvers. Unprepared ones, well, sometimes you get the slime, sometimes the slime gets you. It's cancer-causing if you burn it to death and then try to eat it. Not that anyone ever tried that . . .

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2: Icky Goo

Here is the usual disclaimer for a GURPS book written by Sean Punch - Sean is my friend, often my editor, the GURPS Line Editor, and sometimes my co-author. I'm not remotely impartial. But I am using this still in play, and I do know a thing or two about monsters for GURPS.

For more reviews, please see my Reviews page.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2: Icky Goo
by Sean Punch
22 pages

Icky Goo is the second in the Dungeon Fantasy Monsters line for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. Like its predecessor, it is a monster manual. Unlike it's precessory, it is a very specific monster manual. Instead of a mix of monsters, it is just slimy stuff.

Each is done up in a full, ready-to-go (and ready-to-roll) DF monster stat block. Each is lethal in a DF kind of way, which is more "save or die" than "realistic, slow, long-term effects." Mold in DF doesn't give you immune system issues five years down the road, it inflicts horrible things on you right now. Often with the help of painful puns and nod-and-wink nastiness that brings to mind NetHack and very old editions of fantasy role-playing games.

If I've done my math right, you can generate:

36 kinds of fungi
2 kinds of jellies
27 kinds of molds
1 ooze
6 colors of puddings
15 kinds of slimes (ranging in lethality from "weak" to "virulent.")
36 kinds of spore clouds

In total, that's potentially 123 monsters.

That's not counting pre-statted scaling for larger patches of all of the above. Sometimes much larger patches. And some of them change as they get larger. And that's not counting applying aspects of one kind of slime to another kind of slime - you could give an ooze mold defenses, or give slimes pudding colors and powders, etc. as well if you'd like.

One great thing about these slimes is that they are nasty. They are minor foes in most cases, but not dinky distractions. Their abilities are dangerous, their poisons potentially lethal, and their attacks potentially fatal. They aren't without their defenses, either - ask my players, who ran into fire-resistant slime that gave them quite the surprise.

The books is complete. Want to know the sale value of slimes? There. The technical split between a fungi and a pudding and an ooze? Done. Which skill to roll to identify them, categorize them, or salvage their salable bits? Done. You won't be left with a lot of slime-related questions.

There is art, as well, although it's not up to the same size and detail of the art in DFM1. It's all older art (mostly Denis Loubet) re-purposed into slimes, etc. The good part about that is that if you have Cardboard Heroes you have all the counters you need to deploy these suckers (slimers?) on the map.

Great quotes, too - Lovecraft, The Blob, and this Sean Punch gem:
"Goo lack the weaknesses of organisms that have internal organs, eyeballs, debts, and regrets."

If you need more slimes for your Dungeon Fantasy game, this is the book for you. If you just want some perfect wandering monsters and mindless (and soulless, and remorseless), get this.

Overall: I like Sean Punch's work a lot, so I like this. But even more so, I've already used slimes and molds from this book in my game. I've written a couple of my own monsters using spins off of the powers involved here. And I've revised some oldie-but-goodie monsters of my own to bring them more into line with this book. It's great material and I highly recommend it to Dungeon Fantasy GMs.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Oooh - Cone-Hatted Cultists minis!

The cultists who occasionally have fought my PCs have their lower-rankers wear cone-shaped hats. These is largely because I based their dress on these Mordheim figures:

Barbarians-related quote I wish I'd noticed earlier

I gave away a copy of a book on Vikings I had on my shelf. Mostly because it sat there, unread, for about 20 years, and when I took it down to read it I found I just wasn't looking for what it had.

But I did take a skim through it before I passed it on to a friend who likes Vikings.

I wish I'd seen this quote before I finished DFD Barbarians:

"I've been with swords and spear
slippery with bright blood
where kites wheeled. And how well
we violent Vikings clashed!
Red flames ate up men's roofs,
raging we killed and killed,
and skewered bodies sprawled
sleepy in town gate-ways"
(stanza by Egil Skallagrimsson, c. 925)

Quoted on pg 146, Else Roesdahl, The Vikings (seen here on Google Books)

That would have been a good one, had we had the room.

Oh well, I can always use it for something else!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

FFG Star Wars systemic thoughts

Here are some thoughts on the FFG Star Wars RPG system, based on actual play.

Never tell me the odds! In fact, I have no idea how to easily calculate them. I'm sure it can be done but it's not instinctive math for me.

This is good and bad.

The good is that you have a lot more, "Just try it!" moments. Will it work? Maybe. Is two green dice and a yellow vs. a purple and a black die a good enough shot of success? No idea. Roll and we'll see. It certainly drove a lot of very directed play.

The bad is that you have no idea if something is supposed to be reasonable or not. Did I fail despite the odds, or fail because what I tried is totally unlikely to succeed? There is a line between "heroic risk taking" and "betting success on dice" and it's easy to go over to the latter.

It's fun rolling, but it's also novel, and we'll see if it's still fun when the novelty runs out.

False Hope I have to say I was disappointed with the number of times the blue bonus die didn't pan out with anything. Four in six it does something positive, but when we needed it, it mostly did nothing. Sigh. Same with the black die - we granted one to someone when we really needed bad stuff to happen to him. The GM rolled a blank. It was like, well, too bad I wasted that. Some of that is just complaining that things didn't go well, but as a game design issue, it did feel kind of lame that our ability to shift the odds in our favor really wasn't mattering very much.

I can't think of an advantage. A few times we had, say, a fairly trivial action come up with one success and two threats. Uh, okay, they are what? Play slows a little for a few moments. Or failure with some huge stack of advantage (I got a failure and four advantage once), say, and we all need to figure out how to work that. It's fun when the rolls really matter, but it means the more trivial "all we need to know is pass/fail" rolls that were still of consequence were more complex. I bet we smooth over and brush over a lot of that in the future.

Chargen vs. In Play

I was pretty excited because it seemed like "XP" for Chargen and "XP" earned in play are one and the same. They are, except stats bought up in play don't feed into secondary traits. If your Wounds are 10 + Brawn, getting Brawn 3 at Chargen is worth 13 Wounds, but if you then buy a Brawn 4, you stay at 13. Hmm. You can buy talents that up Wounds, for example, but it's not tied to play.

I dislike that specific kind of chargen vs. in play splits. Bah. Just making it work the same way all the time is easier on everyone involved, don't people realize this?


I'm intrigued by the Career & Specialty approach. Especially since you can have multiple specialties and cross-career specialties. It's just weird trying to fit the guy I want to play in my head into the path that lets me do that the best. I have some cool character ideas that flow from careers, but they aren't actually guys I'd want to commit to running. I may yet change my mind and do so, but mostly I've been flipping around two different rulebooks trying to find the guy that has the stuff I see myself wanting my guy to be.

So as usual I'm trying to shoehorn myself into a career. At least in fantasy games I just want to be a fighter or a monk.

You never know. But it's down to picking where I want to end up, and finding out which career leads there.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Star Wars: Episode I - Escape from Mos Shuuta

Today one of my gamers GMed Star Wars for us. He ran a short campaign of d20 Star Wars for us back in the day. Similar plot - get a ship and get off of Tattooine. That campaign ran a few sessions, the last of which happened shortly after I moved overseas. It didn't continue for a lot of logistical reasons. But we had great memories of it. So when he mentioned this game, our instant response was, "YES, we will absolutely play any system for Star Wars if you run it."

Today, that's what we did, using Edge of Empire and pre-made characters in a starter adventure.

Unmitigated BAD

I had a couple of off-line discussions about my Boss Attack Difficulty idea.

What it came down to was, basically, it's got no downsides, and that's potentially a bad thing.

As written, that's on purpose. It is a pure Power-Up for boss monsters. It makes them flat-out better, and it's not meant to come with balancing downsides.

It's a genre power switch.

There are two options worth mentioning, though:

Only if the boss leaves you alone. This is the "the boss does boss-like things in the background" switch. You get a penalty to attack as long as the boss isn't doing offensive things to you. Summoning a demon, finishing the Kill-O-Matic's Death Countdown, ranting about his evil plan, etc. - fine. Attacking? BAD goes away.

Why I didn't do this: Because I feel like it just makes a Boss + Minions fight into a Minion fight and a Boss fight. They may as well be in separate rooms or otherwise separated. The boss is hampered by this, changing it from a power-up to a temporary plot shielding. If that is what you want, this is the way to go. But it's not really any different than putting the boss behind a defensive screen that only drops when the minions are killed, or otherwise splitting the fight in two. It's at cross purposes with the original goal of forcing you to deal with the minions while taking shots from the boss if you want to level the playing field with the boss.

Weaken the Boss. This approach uses a basically weaker boss monster, which depends on the penalty you have to attack it to defend itself. Instead of a giant death-dealing dragon, you just get a more normal dragon but with BAD -5 so you're at -5 to hit it or enspell it.

Why I didn't do this: Again, it's meant as an unmitigated power-up. Weakening the boss creature but giving a big penalty to attack it works, but this was meant to effectively boost the utility of minions for already-strong bosses. This works, it's just a little odd to give, say, an otherwise not-boss-level Goblin Chief a BAD of -5. I think it will feel a little more meta-gamey, where the boss suddenly feels weaker. With a strong boss, it feels like you're suddenly able to concentrate more than zero in.

Anyway, those are two ways you can mitigate things, and why I didn't choose to do so.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Star Wars - Edge of Empire

I'll put up a summary tomorrow - but for now, suffice it to say we played some Star Wars: Edge of Empire.

The highlights:

- droid jokes. And Futurama bot jokes.

- terrible Star Wars names

- a GM who pulled out all the stops, such as a soundboard full of Star Wars music, wookie noises, sound effects, and more.

- shopkeepers who are tougher than slavers.

- fooling droids and rescuing other droids

- crazy dice

- our first steps towards rebellion

- finally a game where our off-topic Star Wars comments are on-topic roleplaying.

It just made me sad I can't find my DVD copies of the movies. I may have to re-attach my VCR and watch Star Wars again.

DF Guilds in Stericksburg

So I'm thinking through how to implement the elements I like in Dungeon Fantasy 17: Guilds.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Random Notes

Just some random notes over coffee.

Acknowledgement. I think that's what you call it. I took my hardback of Swords & Wizardry and my yellow folder of sheets concerning the adventures of Mirado, the Black Warrior off my desk and moved it to my shelf.

Once Erik Tenkar has more time, we can play again. But until then, it's actually kind of better if I have a little more vertical desk acreage. I put it on the shelf next to ACKS, which I keep promising I'll pick up and finish reading.

Grappling Supers! I forgot that Doug and I were contacted about using our OSR grappling rules in a new book, but he found a post we'd both missed. Is it out yet? Doesn't seem like it. But we did inspire some further development of our idea. Not the first time, either. As a game designer (I think I qualify in this respect), this is very satisfying.

Reviews. I haven't forgotten my marching orders (hey, I did get to G1-3). But I have a lot of other things going on and looking back in my module collection keeps getting bumped back.

Speaking of reviews: I generally review stuff I like. I have a limited window of people's attention, and I want to spend it saying, "Here is stuff I liked and why I liked it - you might be interested in it, too!" If I really disliked something, I'm not that likely to take the time to go over it and write about it. Plus, I think it's more useful to the reader to hear about what I liked and why than what didn't match my taste. So it's more "share what I like" than "objectively examine material for its upsides and downsides."

Ogre minis sale. Yes, this will happen. When? Not sure. It's busy around here, and I need to take the time to list everything, take pictures, etc. I have a LOT of minis in the collection to sell off. And if I'm going to go eBay I may as well list some extra books, some other minis, etc. all at once.

I need to find a price guide for the individual Ogre minis - original MSRP would be fine. I paid that for many of them, so it would be nice to just know what the heck my cost basis is.

Star Wars. We're on to play Star Wars tomorrow. I'm curious how it plays. I already know I'm well behind the canon curve because all I know is stuff from the original three movies. That's the era we'll play in, but even so - I have no idea what the names of things are, what all the alien races are (I keep needing to Google them when they get mentioned), and so on. I was a huge Star Wars fan as a kid, and I still love the movies, but I just didn't keep up. Or remember all of that stuff. Or, in some cases, even know. I know the orcs in Star Wars are Gamorrean, though. Hmm. Sounds like gamers if you say it fast enough. And based on the rescue in the beginning of Return of the Jedi, the best plan is the most complex possible plan you can imagine.

Map Evolution. Warning - this has spoilers. But Mark Lawrence put up a few versions of the maps for his Broken Empire series (Prince of Thorns, etc., Prince of Fools, etc.). It's very cool. It's a good blog in general, but it's not gaming related so I don't link to it much.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Cheap Egg Foam / Pick Foam?

I was shopping around for pick foam to make some "large monster" sized mini cases. But what I've found has been pretty overpriced - in the $12 + $8 shipping per block of foam.

I store my unpainted minis and plastic in Plano 2-3700s. But for painted, I'd like foam trays, egg foam, etc. - and I'm shocked at how expensive it is.

Anyone know a cheap source for either?

Boss Attack Difficulty - BAD for DF

One concept I love in GURPS Action (specifically, in Action 2 - reviewed here) is "Basic Abstract Difficulty," or BAD. Doug mentioned Action yesterday, and this idea sprang to mind.

BAD is the penalty you have to most of your rolls during an adventure. You can whittle this number down by your own actions, especially ones like planning, hacking, finding clues, dealing with side issues, etc. It goes up as you get closer to the boss, as well. (Alternately, it can just be the bonus to the skills of the bad guys, which is important here.)

So the PCs can just drive straight to the boss bad guy's HQ and shoot him, but if the BAD is -8 or so, it's going to be a rough fight even getting past his mook guards. Spend some time cutting it down to -2 or -3 doing the kind of stuff you do in the first 75 minutes of a 90-minute caper or action movie, and now it's a doable task. It's beautiful because it is player-driven - the players want to do all the action movie stuff because it matters, but they can skip it if they're willing to suck up penalties.

You can use this in DF to deal with the Boss Monster and Minions situation. Generally, PCs go for an alpha strike on the boss and then mop up the minions. As anyone who has ever seen any movie or played a side-scroller video game knows, the boss fight isn't resolved with an alpha strike.

Let's find a way to encourage that without requiring specific sequencing (aka, a puzzle monster.)

Basically, we're going to merge (and invert) the concept of the Last Ninja rule (from Fourth Edition Festival) with BAD. Instead of a bonus as the numbers go down, or a basic penalty for non-combat situations, the boss is harder to deal with offensively until you've knocked off their lesser allies.

Boss Attack Difficulty

For Boss-and-Minion situations, set a BAD for the boss. This is the penalty for:

- attacks aimed at the boss (or including the boss, if area effect)
- spells cast at the boss (or including the boss, if area effect)
- attempts to Fast-Talk, stun with Rapier Wit, etc. when aimed at the boss
- general attempts to harm, restrain, or otherwise deal with the boss offensively. Not sure if it counts? Then it counts.

In cases where a penalty doesn't make sense (such as a Quick Contest, or resistance rolls against poison, Mass Sleep spells that cover the boss's hex, etc.), give the boss a bonus equal to the BAD instead.

Noteably, this does not affect the players, unlike standard BAD. It specifically doesn't reduce their resistance rolls or defenses - having someone hold off the boss defensively while you take out the minions is a great tactic.

Divide the number of minions by (-1 x BAD) to get X. For every X minions taken out, BAD goes down. Always round in favor of the boss monster!

Example 1: Netherwail the Dark (cleric-necromancer-demigod) has his eight high priests with him. Netherwail's BAD is a staggering -8; each priest is worth 1 BAD. PCs are at -8 for any attacks against Netherwail, -8 to cast spells on him, etc., but not to any rolls to defend against him. As each of his priests gets killed, the BAD is reduced by -1. If all eight are killed, the PCs can attack Netherwail freely!

Example 2: The Goblin King has seventy (70!) goblin guards in his throne room. His BAD is only -5, because he's not as big of a baddie as Netherwail. His seventy goblins are each worth -5 / 70 = 1/14th of 1 BAD. For every 14 goblins taken out (slain, knocked out, put to sleep, routed, etc.) the Goblin King's BAD is reduced by 1. If the PCs manage to take out 30 of his goblins getting to GK, they would be at -3 to attack him. Eight more goblins would take him down to -2, making him more and more vulnerable as his bodyguards go down.

This can work for non-minion situations - a boss dragon who has its essence in each of four pools (one for each element) that must be drained might be BAD -10 but lost -2 bad for one pool, -5 for two, -7 for three, and -10 if all four are drained.

This is just a way to turn the BAD concept into an in-game penalty for circumventing the "action movie" logic of a boss fight. The PCs can still go right ahead and alpha strike the boss or otherwise try to cut off the head so the body will die, but it's not as easy if they don't play by the genre rules.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

12 Days of OSR Christmas FYI

If you missed it - despite Tenkar's actually reasonable posting frequency these days - the 12 Days of OSR Christmas has started:

12 Days of OSR Christmas is LIVE! - Big Dragons and Not So Small Hobbits - Oh My!

Erik has links to several Christmas giveaways in that blog post.

New Release: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 17: Guilds

Some GURPS books I know are coming, and I can't wait for them to come out.

Some I know are coming, but my brain discards this information as useless.

Some are both.

This one was both - I knew about it, I peer reviewed it, and I was really excited about having it come out. Also, I totally forgot about it and if you'd asked me this morning what DF17 would be I would have said I had no idea. Thanks, brain.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 17: Guilds

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Review: City System (Waterdeep)

Time for another review of a product I own and like.

For more reviews, please see my reviews page.

Written by Jeff Grubb with Ed Greenwood
Published by TSR, 1988.

Ten (10) 22" x 34" city maps
One (1) 22" x 34" Poster of Waterdeep
One (1) 22" x 34" map of Castle Greyhawk
One (1) 32-page book

It's a Hex of a Portent! A Portent of a Hex!

The gym I work at is near a printing company. When I wrapped up my morning training today, I found this wind-blown piece of printer detritus next to my car door:

A single one-inch hex.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Where did the "rats in the basement" thing come from?

One of my players sent me this really amusing story:

The Innkeeper has a rat problem

It's a fun read, weird grammar aside, and it's a great setup for an otherwise inexplicable encounter area.

At the same time, though, it brought up a question:

Where did this whole "first adventure is killing rats in the basement" thing come from?

The first time I encountered it was playing The Bard's Tale, where it was already being used a joke. And I didn't even get that game until it was a freebie for backing Wasteland 2.

The next time I saw it was in Will Save the World for Gold, and again, joke.

But I'm not sure I ever encountered it for real. Did I miss something during my hiatus from D&D-based games in the very late 80s and into the 2000s? Was it a 3rd edition first adventure? My first adventures were always "go into the dungeon and fight monsters." My first ever game session was in B2 and I fought gnolls. No rats, no basements.

So where is the serious origin of this that lead to it being a joke meme? I'm really curious . . .

Monday, December 7, 2015

DF Felltower: Necromancers

If you check out the list of races and templates for my campaign, you won't see Necromancers from DF 9.

Yet we have Gerry the Necromancer adventuring around the Cold Fens and the Lost City.

I have some basic guidelines to determine who is a "necromancer."

10+ points in Necromany spells: Access to Necromancer power-ups, access to Foul Arms (DF 11 and Pyramid 3/01), and Necromancer perks (Lesser Lichdom, etc.)

10+ points in Necromancy spells including Zombie: Access to Ally Groups of skeletons or zombies. Can make their own Foul Arms.

20+ points in Necromancy spells: Any appropriate advantages from the Necromancer template (DF 9).

We don't use the Necromancy Power Modifier; instead, any powers gained depend on Magery.

I don't use Deathliness (since they have Magery anyway), so it's really just a question of providing a basis. I don't really want to just open the door so you have fire-wizards and illusion-wizards and so on buying Foul Arms and Lesser Lichdom and a squad of zombies. At the same time, I feel like as cool as the Necromancer template is, it's better off in my game as a lens on wizards.

We've expanded the Necromancer spell list a little, too. While I don't let PCs develop their own spells (it's a game of discovery and looting, not between-session research) I do take suggestions for new spells from players. And Gerry's player has suggested some pretty excellent ones. Those might be out in forgotten tomes (and tombs), etched into sarcophagus lids, written on mummy wrappings, and scratched into the flesh of undead beasts.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

DF Writing Update

Yesterday I turned in my revised first draft for my next GURPS Dungeon Fantasy book.

It took a lot of work - there were many little issues and a couple of bigger ones to work out.

As I said to my wife, "This is the second worst book I've ever written, and the worst one didn't get published!" - meaning the amount of wacky errors I left in, not the content. The content is good, and some of it has been featured in my game already. Not sure if my players know it - my game features lots of official published stuff (but not all of it), lots of home-made stuff (some of which will never be officially published), and some things that are in the process of being published.

I can safely give a few hints:

- it's for a sub-line of DF books. Existing, New - I can't say.

- it draws on work I've done in at least two other books for DF already, and draws inspiration from things written by at least two other GURPS Dungeon Fantasy authors!

- you've seen some of it in play without realizing it. Which isn't so much a hint as a statement of the norm.

It should come up for peer review, then editing, then go into the whole art-and-layout procedure. I can't wait!

(And yes, I'm already outlining my next project. I have more ideas . . . )

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Free Car Wars Classic rules

Check this out over at the SJG Daily Illuminator:

Free Car Wars Classic

You can download the rules in PDF.

They look good, and the improved images for maneuvers (compared to the old sets I used to play with) are really nice.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Painting "Ice"?

Does anyone know a good tutorial on painting "ice"?

I have a mini I'd like to do up as made out of solid ice, rather than whatever the heck it is (crystal, maybe, who knows?). It's opaque metal, if that matters.

Obviously, white and blue tones are what I'm going to need here, but I just don't have a basic technique that comes out with anything good. I keep ending up with "blue with white slopped on" or "creamy blue" or "blue with white highlights" and not something that says, "ice." I've done an "electric" sword with dark blue, and flame is easy, but ice . . . yeah.

Any pointers to a good tutorial would be greatly appreciated. Except by my players, who probably assume this means doom (you know, from the ice golems that dwell in the Lost City). Really it's just because this mini would look cooler with an ice effect than as jagged rock (easy) or obsidian (easier) or something equally typical.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Bones Froghemoth

This is for one of my players:

Reaper Bones 3 Froghemoth

New releases: GURPS Aliens: Sparrials and GURPS Social Engineering: Back to School

Quick note:

This was just released today:

GURPS Aliens: Sparrials

It's written by Elizabeth McCoy, and it's 44 pages all on the kleptomaniacal sparrials (originally from GURPS Aliens.) It pretty jam-packed, and if you remember the entertaining sparrials from David Morgan-Mar's campaign way back when you'll find these quite in line with that. Plus, DF notes!

A week back a few months back (apparently) we had GURPS Social Engineering: Back to School.

It's by William Stoddard, and it greatly expands on the rules for learning in GURPS. If you've ever felt that GURPS makes learning too linear or doesn't really take in account all the variables, or want to run a school-based game where the learning matters, check this out. It's more depth that I need, but it's a useful tool if what I hand-wave you want to make central to a game. Call it the GURPS 301 of learning rules: compatible with the Basic Set but expanded well beyond it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

My dungeon coffee mug

Here is how I drink my dungeon coffee.

There used to be two of these, but the red one broke a couple days before I returned from Japan.

This one has a small chip it in, but it's still going strong otherwise after 8 or 9 years:

 photo SJG Coffee Mug_zpscio35kpz.jpg

I think SJG sent these out to employees and freelancers. I was just surprised to receive it - it just showed up one day.

It needs game stats, though. Let's say it gives me a +1 to run away in Munchkin. And +1 to Writing rolls.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Dungeon Coffee

Adventurers are made of pretty stern stuff. Such stern stuff, actually, that besides sleeping in armor and getting in a full eight hours of Z's while being ready to wake up and take their shift at any moment . . . they get up and go adventuring without coffee.

Breakfast? Cold rations.

Lunch? Cold rations.

Dinner? Cold rations.

And not a spot of tea or a cup of joe to get going in the morning.

Let's fix that.

Delver's Breakfast Tea - If drunk hot, the character is at +1 to HT rolls to resist weather-related effects and +1 to Per rolls for 1d-3 (min. 1) hours. Gives a +1 to reaction rolls from anyone given some tea. Preparing tea properly takes 15 minutes and requires a hot fire. $1/packet or cup's worth, 10 packets/1 oz. (A nice tin holds 100 packets and weighs 1 pound full, and costs $110)

Cartman (as Peter Panda): "Wow, Eric, you are the coolest guy in the world. This is tremendous tea!
Cartman: "Why thank you, Peter Panda, It's a distinctive Earl Grey."

- South Park ep 113

Knight's Roast Morning Coffee - Like Delver's Breakfast Tea, If drunk hot, the character is at +1 to HT rolls to resist weather-related effects and +1 to Will and Per rolls for 1d-3 (min. 1) hours. Aroma while brewing gives +1 to chances of a wandering monster encounter, and preparing coffee properly takes 15 minutes and requires a hot fire. $2/cup's worth, 5 cups/1 oz. (A nice tin holds 50 cup's worth and weighs 1 pound full, and costs $110.)

So, Tea is friendly and makes you sharper. Coffee draws in wandering monsters who want some coffee, but it also makes you a little sharper than tea.

A harsher reality would be to start everyone down 1d6-3 FP (min. -1) if they don't get some coffee. Or better yet, to stop players from just saying, "We rest an extra 30 minutes and we're good" give them a -1 to all rolls for 1d-3 hours (min. 1) if they don't start the day with coffee or tea.

I prefer the bonus approach.

What about Swords & Wizardry?

Change the cost to gold pieces (this is good tea or coffee). Change the bonuses from Tea to +1 to Saving Throws or Int or Wis stat checks for one hour. For coffee, the same, but add +1 to any stat check or +2 to Saving Throws for one hour. Shift the wandering monster die one smaller (So 1 in 12 becomes 1 in 10, 1 in 6 becomes 1 in 4, and 1 in 4 becomes a coin flip!)

Now start adventuring with some nice coffee.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Rolling when it matters

Just a brief thought today, occasioned by Doug:

When you roll the dice, make it matter

Pretty much, that. Especially this:

"But bringing out the dice should either mean enabling something good, or inflicting/avoiding something bad. Otherwise, just keep moving."

What I said in the comments way:

"Yeah, this. Roll when success matters and/or failure matters. Preferably both. If nothing interesting can come of the roll, skip it. And if something interesting should come regardless of the roll, just go with that."

The first part is pretty self-explanatory - use the dice to settle things that could go either way, when having them go one way or the other has consequences.

This means:

- no "roll until you succeed" rolls unless the number of rolls matters (time costs, energy costs, consequences outside of the roll itself.)

- no "roll until you fail" for the same reasons. If you've got 100 death checks to make, you're going to die. But if it matters how far you get before you die, well, get rolling. Maybe you'll hold on long enough.

- ideal rolls are interesting no matter what happens - they're determining which of a range of interesting outcomes will occur.

But that second bit needs a little explanation, I think.

It boils down to don't roll when only one interesting possibility exists. Don't roll for Wandering Monsters if the game will be far better if something shows up - just have it happen. Chandler didn't roll to see if a gunman would burst in and give Marlowe the business and advance the plot from a stuck point. You don't have to either. Just make it happen.

If the bad guy falls off the cliff and his dying or surviving both have cool outcomes, roll. If only him living has a cool outcome, just select that. And vice-versa.

That way you get a nice mix of narrative interest (of course the daughter of the evil high priest has a weakness for one of the party members, don't make a reaction roll!) and random effect (and that party member is [roll, roll] the horrifyingly ugly half-orc assassin!)

Remember that dice are tools. Die rolls are tools. Rolling the dice doesn't commit you to accepting their outcome (although general, it's worth doing so.) And having dice doesn't commit you to using them to determine everything. Keep it moving, keep it interesting, and use die rolls as a tool. Bust them out when it matters, not just because you've used them in that situation in the past.

Nothing new there, but I felt like I needed to get that out in words.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

GURPS Gamma World, 20th Homeland - Session 5 - Sweep & Clear & Crows

Busy game session - we got a lot done in this one. I probably missed stuff in the summary - details, mostly.

"Hillbilly" (me) - medical specialist
"Short Bus" (Mike D) - computer programmer
"Fatbox" (John M) - demo/EOD
"Momma's Boy" (Tom P) - computer programmer
"Love Handles" (Vic L) - demo/EOD

Present but NPC'ed:
"Caveman" (Jon L) - demo/EOD (back at Bal'Kree)
"Barbie" (Mike H) - demo/EOD (MIA)
"Princess" (Andy D) - cryptographer/sniper (with us but NPC'd)

My Gamma Terra t-shirt

This is the shirt I bust out when we play Gamma Terra, like we're going to today:

Admittedly I own (and wear) a lot of WFMU t-shirts, but that one is my Gamma Go-To.

I'm hoping my PC doesn't end up resembling that guy too much.

As for our GM, he comes head-to-toe in Vault Tec apparel. There is no out-doing a person like that.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Five More Monster Cards

I've been methodically cleaning and reorganizing my gaming materials as I try to neaten up my office.

I found five more of my monster cards. I have all but one of these collections at some point.

Here are the bugbear, stone giant, merman, sylph, and hybsil. I wonder if anyone ever uses the hybsil?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Rolemaster C&T in-joke

I busted out the Rolemaster Creatures & Treasures book this morning because I was reminded of one of their oddball treasures.

I figured I'd look it up and see if I could use it or a variant in my own games. But I stumbled on this:

"Rune of Illiteracy: All within 50' cannot read or write for 1-100 days. (Also known as the Rune of Fluvanna.)"

Pre-internet, that was meaningless to me. No longer. Fluvanna is a county in Virginia . . . and the writers and producers of the book were based in Virginia.


(My old home town gets slammed repeatedly in Futurama, so I'm still one up on the Rolemaster guys.)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Old School Grappling Revised/Revival

There have been a few articles about grappling recently that I'd like to link to:

First is a grappling system for a DnD-based game still in development. The original rules are over at Goblins & Greatswords:

Goblins & Greatswords: Grappling made simple(ish)

And before I could even link it over to him, Doug spotted it and wrote up a really nice look at it:

Grappling at The Flagon

Doug is the man when it comes to grappling rules. He's got a very solid grasp of what's needed and how things work. Not only that, he's simultaneously the guy that made GURPS grappling much more complex and made the core of the rules much more simple with GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling.

Meanwhile, here is a nice spin on the DnD/Clone friendly grappling article Doug and I co-wrote for The Manor #8.*

Dynamic Grappling

It's both flattering and inspiring when someone takes what you've written and gone and worked on it more.

In theory, that's how Doug feels about all the emails I send him saying, "I made TG simpler again by ditching all of your hard work. What do you think?" Heh.

* Standard joke: Doug writes something awesome but complex. I saw, "Make it simpler, like so." Doug fixes it. I claim half the credit.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Vic's D&D 4th and D&D 5th Session Summaries

One of my players - Vic - is also a GM. He's got session summaries up of two campaigns.

The Unlikely Heroes of Nentir Vale (D&D 4th, completed)

Greyhawk's Lesser Known Heroes (D&D 5th edition, current)

Folks familiar with Caravan to Ein Arris will find some of the second group of summaries quite familiar . . .

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Minor DF Page Updates

I updated a couple of pages on this blog:

- The Monsters Encountered So Far list is now current, as far as I can tell. I got a few sessions behind.

- the DF Campaign list of PCs (added Kenner)

- the DF Campaign list of sessions (broke up the listings by setting)

- minor format fixes on Revised GURPS Magic for DF

Just FYI - all are related to my current DF game.

Monday, November 23, 2015

DF Game, Session 69 - Lost City 3 - Slimes, Why Did It Have to Be Slimes?

November 22nd, 2015

Weather: Varied (mix of clear and some rain)

Characters (approximate net point total)

Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (285 points)
Hasdrubul Stormcaller, human wizard (257 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (258 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (259 points)
Quenton Gale, human druid (252 points)

In reserve:
Angus "Mithrilbraid" McSwashy, dwarf swashbuckler (250 points)
Dave, human knight (252 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Kenner Baumfellen, wood elf scout (250 points)

We started in the trading camp.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

DF game pre-summary

We had a fun DF game session today. I don't think I'll have time to do a writeup with full details, so here are the post-game bullet points:

- Army Ants + "Dislikes Insects" + a really bad Per roll to see them coming is funny.

- Even funnier is "Dislikes Insects" and "that includes spiders" and then being the unlucky one who gets bit by a deadly venomous spider.

- the PCs checked out the pillars, found another way out (sort-of), discovered an ape-filled cave, explored a "pyramid" (actually a tetrahedron), discovered an illusion concealing a structure, checked out the five towers building, cased another place, found a bit of historical information about the city, and managed to revisit some old stomping grounds.

- the party talked to some headless stone columns.

- not that much fighting, but there were combat rolls that really mattered.

- Sean Punch may have topped me on my players' "most hated monster maker" list. Two words: Icky Goo.

- I do declare that one of the party had a spell of the vapors. It's okay, though, Esoteric Medicine kits include smelling salts and a fan to fan victims back awake.

- 6 XP session, thanks to good loot, no casualties, and lots of exploration. Well, heavy, heavy, heavy loot. 120 plus pounds of it.

Good session - this might be the exemplar of what I was hoping to see in the Lost City.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Two DF game rulings

Here are a couple of rulings I've made in my DF game. And naturally, rulings become rules by repeated use, and I expect to keep using these.

Attacking Crippled Limbs. If you strike an already-crippled limb, you can't do additional HP damage to the target. But you do cause shock penalties normally, and dismemberment works normally. Attempts to use grappling to inflict pain (Technical Grappling, p. 38) work normally, as well.

I will apply a penalty to the HT roll to determine severity of a crippled limb (p. B422) as well if there are repeated strikes to the same limb. Such a penalty generally is in the -1 to -3 range, sometimes more.

Why? A crippled limb isn't a numb limb that's immune to damage. One that has been dismembered is, so if a berserk animal has your crippled hand in its mouth chopping it off at the wrist so you can escape and stop suffering pain and shock is a valid tactic. Not a long-term good tactic, unless it keeps you from dying. Also, this means if you arm lock someone and break the limb, they don't suddenly become immune to pain compliance. In fact, they're worse off . . .

Resisting non-Resisted spells. What if you throw a utility spell on a hostile opponent for some nasty effect? For example, Purify Air on a hostile air creature, or Minor Healing on a Nilbog, or Phase Other on a foe being touched by his own ally for a touch-based buff spell. It's resisted by the better of Will or HT. Spells that don't come with a native resistance are assumed to be poor at overcoming resistance and so targets get to choose their better resistance to stop it. Creatures who automatically take damage from certain effects may not get a resistance roll, but the default is allowing a resistance roll.

Why? Because it's not addressed in the rules, and it's clearly a case that should be. Turning utility spells into attack spells that bypass the rules for attack spells isn't really fair, it's trying to bypass fair. And yes, you can resist Great Haste, so your enemies can't toss that on you while in Ethereal Body and wait until you run down to -FP and pass out. Not allowing resistance is allowing clever loophole-hunting instead of clever play.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Random Notes from DF Template School

One amusing side effect of a rigid "follow the templates!" DF game is that characters of a type resemble each other.

Scouts tend to be loners who hate city folk and have Mimicry (Bird Calls).

Wizards all studied Magical Writings (and a large number like to be Excommunicated.)

Thieves all seem to be Greedy.


Naturally, our group has spun these into a whole system of education for templates. Here are some bits we're come up with at the table.

Swashbuckler School

The written test questions feature the following four answers:

A) stab it in the vitals!
B) stab it in the eyes!
C) It's too tough, we're all going to die.
D) Both A and B.

(If swashbucklers having a written test seems odd, let me tell you about the time I took a kendo written test before I could go on to actually doing forms and sparring to achieve a promotion.)

Scout College

The dorms are all singles. No roomies in Scout school. Also, groups larger than three scouts are only allowed for brief excursions.

Mr. Aragorn teaches Tracking class. He goes on and on and on about that time he tracked halflings in the dark. Also, according to Galen Longtread, Mr. Aragorn is, "a total d**k."

Mr. Legolas's bow class is pretty fun, but again, it's always why elephants count as multiple kills.

Mimicry (Bird Calls) class is the best elective, although none of our scout players has revealed why. Just that it is. Maybe the teacher is hot.

Barbarian School

Barbarians don't have a formal school, but they do seem to have a traditional and formal education system.

They have basketball teams. Played with monster heads, but still, everyone is SM+1.

"Berserk" isn't a personality flaw, it's a major.

Also (and this is Honus's fault), barbarians raise giant frogs. What kind depends on their background - mountain frogs, swamp frogs, jungle frogs, great grassland frogs, snow frogs, etc.

Holy Warrior

They've got a Psychology (Undead) practicum before they graduate. "Acererak, you seem quiet in group today. Maybe you should tell everyone why."

And one tangential one:

We had a discussion going about Gerry the Necromancer getting along with Asher the intolerant holy warrior and El Murik the cleric. His player said, "Gerry doesn't have any evil traits other than Magery."

That right there tells you all you need to know about Wizard school.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

GURPS 101: What does Tactics do?

Doug asked about expansions to Tactics yesterday, and Chris responded.

But what does Tactics do already?

Here is what it does by the rules-as-written. Which you can take advantage of depends on which books you are choosing to pull rules from for your particular GURPS game. I've hit some obvious choices.

What does Tactics skill do now?

Using the Basic Set only:

- Allows a roll at the beginning of a fight to achieve a better starting position and/or cover. (p. B224)

- Make a Tactics roll to determine good places to position your forces. (p. B224)

- Win a Quick Contest vs. an opponent to determine their immediate plans, or to outmaneuver them (off the battlemap). (p. B224)

- Use the better of Tactics or Per when ambushed or surprised to see if you spotted the danger in time. (p. B224)

- Gives a +1 to initiative rolls, +2 with Tactics-20 or higher. (p. B393)

Adding Martial Arts:

- Replaces the rolls from Basic Set with either an Abstract system which allows a character with Tactics to grant re-rolls to his or her allies based on Tactical reasons ("He re-rolls Dodge because I told him where to take cover!")


A Quick Contest of Tactics determines who places figures on a mapped encounter first, giving the winner the chance to seize better terrain or position based on the foe's choices, and re-position some forces at the end of placement.(p. 60)

- Can use Tactics to resist Ruses. (p. 101)

- Can use Tactics to spot Feints against other people. (p. 101)

- Can press more effectively in the "Detailed Method" of tournament resolution. (p. 134)

Adding Action 2:

- You can roll against Tactics to retroactively revise your plans to reflect what your characters would have known to do. (p. 8)

- Gives bonuses to rolls for bodyguards (or assassins) during a hit. (p. 28)

- Acts as a complement to rolls related to sneaking or spotting sneaking opponents. (p. 28)

Adding Dungeon Fantasy 2:

- Allows you to give one ally advice, giving a bonus to certain combat rolls on a success and a penalty on a failure.

Adding Mass Combat:

- Substitutes for Strategy for fights with 1-4 elements on your side.

Shouldn't it do more?

I don't think Tactics really needs a lot of expansion, Doug and Chris's posts to the contrary. Tactics already does a lot.

People don't use it very often, and I think that's for three reasons:

- they don't know about these options. (This applies to you if you said, "I didn't know I could do that!")

- they prefer more direct actions. ("Why roll Tactics to help my buddies when I can help them by attacking things myself?")

- they don't invest a lot of points in Tactics, so these options don't succeed every time they try them. That pushes the moves down the chain to "if I have nothing else to try." ("I only have a 10, so I lose Tactics contests, so it's a worthless skill.")

That last point is critical. Sometimes people will throw 1 point or 2 points at Tactics, end up with a 9, 10, or 11, and then never use it. It's not going to succeed very often, so why try? I don't try that approach, so why raise Tactics? It's a vicious circle.

On the other hand, the more the skill does, the more attractive it becomes. As written, using all of the above rules, it's a pretty broad skill. It has applications in every single fight where surprise is an issue, tactical position matters (and isn't pre-determined), and it can be used to defend yourself or aid your allies. That's even before just broad GM-determined uses like when it's an appropriate Complementary Skill roll (see Action 2, or Gladiators, for that rule.)

All of this does depend on the rules you are using, and having enough skill to ensure you probably won't fail.

(And to my players, who will otherwise ask - my current game is using the rules from Basic Set and DF2 and parts of Action 2 - the bonuses to sneak/spot in certain situations. We're not using the re-rolls or map setup from Martial Arts - they don't fit the circumstances of how 90%+ of our fights occur.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Let the slog of revision begin!

I started revising my latest GURPS Dungeon Fantasy book tonight.

It's a slow slog of going through comments, finding errors, correcting them, and then re-checking them. It's finding weird formatting errors that crept into Word's Styles because I tapped the keys and typed something with a Japanese keyboard setup (or on my Japanese PC). It's a lot of changing , to ; and ; to , or deleting them both or noticing that I made one bold and italic but the end comma only bold. Stuff like that.

It's kind of a pain.

It makes a better book on the other end, but while you'll hear crud about "you have to kill your babies" and authors fighting editors over a word . . . you don't hear so much about how it's a slog through corrections.

One thing I like about SJG is that they make authors do those corrections. I get a lot of little stuff wrong - but less of them wrong than before. I'm learning to do more of it right the first time.

There is great joy in writing. But writing to spec is tough and correcting to spec is part of the deal.

That's what I'm up to, if my blog seems a little on the brief side for a few days. I'm trying to knock this stuff out, finish my update of The Lost City for game on Sunday, and roll into next week with this off of my plate.

Life in a DF World is Tough

There are some things in GURPS DF that are tough.

So tough that it's almost unfair.

Well, not really unfair so much as extremely harsh.

But still, imagine how hard life is for those 62-point schleps in Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen, considering how hard it is for 250-point delvers from Adventurers.

Here are some of my favorite ways things are just tough.

It should go without saying that my players (maybe all players) hate this stuff.

Exploding Monsters

Some monsters just blow up. They fight until you kill them, and then, BOOOOOOOM. Take some damage for your trouble. Revenge is a dish best served the instant you fail a death check for some monsters.

Automatic Hits

Still more monsters just hit. No attack roll, just hit. Often without even giving you a defense. In close combat with the thorn hound? You're hit with spikes. Within a certain number of yards? Take some automatic death field damage. Hit the flame lord? Burning aura. Nevermind some monsters just auto-hit at range, like the Eye of Death. You have Dodge 15 before DB? Nice, you just get hit.

Cones and area attacks are great for this, too - did you carefully position your mini for the best facing, best Retreat room, and best possible defensive and offensive action? Great. Here's a toxic death cloud that covers you and 1 hex more than your Move score. Don't bother rolling, except maybe against HT.

Speaking of which:

Penalized HT rolls

Want to randomly guess the HT roll for something in DF? Just guess "HT-4." It's not always the answer, but it's the answer pretty often. HT-4, HT-4, HT-4. It's a world where HT 12 and Resistance to Poison +8 isn't "near-total resistance" but "Generally okay against standard threats."

Add on top of that virulent diseases, magical powers, paralytic strikes, etc. - straight-up HT rolls with no penalties are for mild threats.

Cosmic: Ignores DR

Perennial favorite of GMs, it's the attack that ignores DR. Your weakest point has DR 8, the strongest DR 15+? Great, take 1d+1 toxic damage that ignores your armor. Amusing when combined with auto-hit and penalized HT rolls.

Lava Traps

Lethal traps in general abound. But special mention goes to lava doing 8d+2 per second if you're immersed in it. "Use sparingly" is the advice DF2 gives you. Yeah, too much 8d+2 per second damage can really put a crimp in your style. Minimum damage from that puts a normal human to a death check in 2 seconds.

Mind Control

Against the PCs, or against NPCs who otherwise might have been allies. You need a solid Will to shrug these off, and if not, all the lethal powers you built up are now you friend's problems. Plus, it means a lot of the time you have to fight the kidnapped princess (who's probably a ninja, given the way the world works) if you want to rescue her. All the while dealing with attempts to mind control you, too.

I could go on, but those are some of my favorites.

What I think is a positive about all of this is that you can't solve all of your problems with any one approach. You are never invulnerable. You always have another thing you have to deal with - and you can't remove all risk by clever buff spells and investment of points. At the same time, you are challenged to get more skill, more defenses, and more options because all of them are always under threat. It's a rough, tough world.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Miniatures are about visual impact

Miniatures are all about the visual impact.

Let me say that again.

Miniatures are all about the visual impact.

Without an appropriate visual impact, a mini isn't worth anything.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Some Tank Model Irony

So I was taking a look at some tank models, because I'd really like to make a "Hetzer" - a Jagdpanzer 38.

The irony?

It's twice as much over on for a 1:72 "Hetzer" model as for a 1:72 Panther model. Actually, 3x as much but it's closer to 2x once you factor in shipping.

For those of you who just blink and shrug:

Hetzer: Basically a late-war German assault gun built on the chassis of the Czech 38t tank, which was obselete by that point. No turret, more armor, excellent gun, and a low profile made it a great ambush vehicle. Cheap, too.

Panther: A high-end complex tank design equipped with all the bells and whistles of a late-war tank model.
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