Sunday, May 31, 2015

DF Game Session 63, Cold Fens 5 - the Cavern

May 31st, 2015

Weather: Varied (mix of clear and some rain)

Characters (in the dungeon): (approximate net point total)

Asher Crest-Fallen, human holy warrior (279 points)
     Koric, human guard (~70 points)
     Orrie, human guard (~70 points)
Bjorn Felmanson, human barbarian (256 points)
Dave, human knight (250 points)
El Murik, dwarven cleric (269 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (262 points)
Hannibal the Flammable, human wizard (264 points)
Rahtnar the Vegan, dwarven martial artist (265 points)

In Swampsedge:
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)

We started in Swampedge, as usual. The group gathered rumors - including ones about denizens to the far south, one about swamp trolls (water breathing trolls), and that the leaping leeches are starting to multiply and swarm. Some local residents told Hannibal that maybe since the bandits were gone now, maybe they should leave well enough alone?

The rolls for potions and paut came up empty, so we realized it was the annual Crone Convention and Young Crone Hazel was taken her broom and gone off to attend. It also turned out that Old Crazy William was gone, and people had heard screaming a few weeks back from down by his hit. Did they confirm what the screams were? Yeah, of course, the villagers were in a huge hurry to run down and check on screams from by the madman's hut near the edge of the monster-infested swamp.

With that, they set off. Bjorn was late (player was late getting into town), but he came on his own boat later with Koric and Orrie. Rahtnar joined much later, also on his own boat.

Cold Fens today, with possible new player

We've got another session of the Cold Fens portion of our actually quite long Felltower DF game going today.

It looks like we'll have a trial player, running a Knight. It's his first character build, but as another of my players said, it's hard to mess up a DF template. Even odd choices result in a capable character.

I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully, his first session won't be a stare-at-secret-doors-and-argue session. But if they can figure out how to get those doors open, it should get interesting . . .

Now I have to quickly find a mini to match his probable loadout!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Show them the map

Probably the best wilderness adventure advice I found in Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures was pretty simple:

Show them the map.

I put down a map of the swamp of the Cold Fens (at least the wet, everglades-y waterways portion they are in) and cover up the bits they can't see. Then I move and reveal it as they go. I leave it revealed from then on, so exploration always widens their (wholly accurate) map.

All they know is, they can still get lost (from bad rolls or bad decisions), they still don't know what happens in any given spot on the map if they go there. They still don't have fully actionable knowledge about the entirety of the map. But they have enough to make clear decisions.

It makes it easier to run as the GM, almost as easy as (actually maybe easier than) dungeon adventuring. It's also exciting. The players get into it more. They are more active in marking the map and making decisions. Everyone can see at a glance just how nasty the surroundings are, and decide based on it. The only thing that could make it better is if I could draw pictures of the swamp I see in my head when I'm describing the place.

You can see this in Delta's sandbox games, too. Having the whole map in front of you means choosing your path with more clarity, but it doesn't reduce the mystery of what is to come.

I highly recommend doing this with wildness adventures - show them the map. Let them find out as they go what's in the dark places and ruins on it, but spare yourself and them the hassle of describing a wilderness.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Animate Shadow edited

I edited in some answers to questions from my players about Animate Shadow.

Corporate Sponsorship for Adventurers

Joking around in the comments, Vic aka Bjorn said he'd donate to charity for each decapitation he pulls off. Or seek a sponsor.

I mentioned Boris the Half-Ogre, run by Borriz Borrizman's player Aaron, wielder of the throwbar and the genius behind the insight into the origins of dungeon dwellers. He had a large selections of cheap-quality weapons to start with. So much so we started joking that he was sponsored by Cheap(tm) brand weapons, and would do commercials for them, have "Cheap!" logos on his shield, etc. Like our Corporate Car Wars days, only with less clones and linked VMGs and more Resurrection spells and broadswords.

I have to wonder, has anyone ever gone as far as to have corporate sponsors for fantasy adventurers? Either in a joking fashion like we have, or a more serious?

I'm not talking, "tasked by the crown to expunge the evil of (whatever of where ever)" but rather "Talroc's fireballs are brought to you by BW's Bat Guano. BW, when your fireball really counts."

The amusement value alone might make this worth putting some serious thought into. Plus, you'd get some great adventuring behavior. "Kill it with fire!" "I can't, my sponsor is Frost-eez Liquid Ice Grenades! They'd cut off my funding!"

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Revised GURPS Magic: Animate Shadow (VH)

The necromancer in my current DF game is looking at Animate Shadow, GURPS Magic p. 154, so naturally I had to, too.

Much like Phantom, the spell has some unbalanced upsides - such as, the animated shadow having DX equal to the caster's skill. Again, like Phantom, that's fine when skill 15 is solid, 18 is high, and 20-25 is a master of the arts. Not when 20+ is pretty much baseline for a really serious PC mage.

Also, I think some of the effects are a little . . . undramatic. Like how you can parry or block, but only if you had those items on you when the spell was cast. Eh, I am a huge fan of people grabbing some random weapon to fight with or getting tossed a friend's weapon or shield to fight with, and I don't want to ensconce an exception to that kind of awesomeness.

On top of that, it's not clear why:

- it should do either thrusting or swinging damage for what's ultimately an insubstantial touch attack.
- if it has any DR.
- it dies at 0 HP instead of -1xHP like other Fragile (Unnatural) things.
- it doesn't specify if it gets DR or not. A shadow generally shouldn't, but it also gets shadowy weapons and shields.
- it is resisted by HT. Doesn't Will seem more appropriate for wrenching someone's shadow away from them and making it attack them? The physically weak are easier prey than the weak of Will? Seems odd for a Necromantic spell attacking an insubstantial aspect of someone.

Even so, it's got a lot of HP, it's hard to hurt. It's got a very short duration (5 seconds), and a solid cost for the effect (4 FP, same to maintain).

Here are the changes to Animate Shadow (VH):

- Resisted by Will.
- the shadow has DX 15 and Speed equal to the subject.
- the shadow has HP equal to the subject.
- Attacks do thrusting FP damage. Attacks can be Parried, Blocked, or Dodged by the subject only.
- the shadow has any Injury Tolerances of the subject.
- the shadow has the Body of Shadow advantage (short version = half damage from physical attacks.)
- shadow is destroyed at -1xHP.
- the shadow has 0 DR, even if the subject has DR.
- effects of FP loss is per the rules on p. B426.
- shadow disappears automatically if the subject falls unconscious from reach FP 0 or below.
- it will only ever attack the subject; however, it can be affected by outside attacks (and defends normally against them.)
- Reach is per weapon type; the shadow can use any weapon the subject had on him at the time of casting!
- Shadow has active defenses equal to the subject and Dodge based on its unencumbered Speed.
- Shadow has all movement modes of the subject; the subject only has Ground move the shadow can only walk but is unaffected by bad footing, won't fall into pits, etc. - treat it as having Walk on Air for most purposes.
(Editing 1/25/2016: ST of the shadow is equal to the caster's skill in the spell)

For example, cast on a ST 20, DX 11, Move 6 Ogre the shadow would be ST 20, DX 15, HP 20, Move 6, and do 2d-1 FP damage per strike. It would have 20 HP and die at -20 HP automatically. Cast on a ST 13, DX 13, Move 5 man it would have ST 15, HP 13, and do 1d+1 FP damage per strike. On average you'd need to inflict 52 physical injury to get rid of the thing before 5 seconds have elapsed!
(Editing later: ST of the Ogre would be equal to the caster's skill - the example still holds if the caster has Animate Shadow-20)

All in all, this seems like a more interesting, more complete, but also more balanced. It lasts all of five seconds but it can do a lot in that time.

Some questions from my players I answered:

Can you cast spells on the shadow? No. It's a spell effect, not a character.

Who runs the shadow? The GM. It's a spell effect. The GM runs spell effects and summoned creatures.

Does the shadow get weapon skills? No, it just attacks at a flat 15.

Is the shadow affected by shock, stunning, crippling, etc.? No, none of those affect it at all.

Does the shadow benefit from the buffs on the subject at the time of the casting? No, base stats only.

Does the shadow benefit from special characteristics of the subject's weapons? No. It just does flat FP damage.

For more spells I've changed, check out my Revised GURPS Magic for DF page.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Hit Location: More on armoring the Neck in DF

On Monday I introduced some simplified Basic Set armor compatible neck protection for a DF game. Basically, to offer more options that the current Greathelm, Mail Coif, both, or nothing choice.

There are other ways to go.

Use the 3e Rule. Basically, that rule is using Torso armor unless you have a heavy helmet.

The tricky bit here is that this implies that torso armor covers the neck - front, sides, and back. Okay so far, but then you put on a heavy helmet - they should stack if that is the case. If it stacks, this means either you waive the penalty to DX for stacked neck armor (hey, it's part of the head, in contradiction to p. B282), or you apply it. I can't see waiving it. Yes, that's simple, but your ability to freely move your head is restricted by lots of layers around the neck (especially interlocking layers). Applying the penalty means giving a -1 DX to anyone with a mail coif (or modifying it so it doesn't cover the neck anymore) and Greathelm (shades of 3e again, here.) Since the penalty is per-layer not per-location, this means those guys may as well go ahead and add another layer everywhere.

It also means DR on the Neck suddenly goes up for heavily armored fighters, changing it from a potential weak point into a strong point second only to the skull.

This one only sounds simple, in my opinion.

Use Torso DR. Per B282, Neck is part of body. With this rule it is assumed to be included in any Torso armor protection. This just makes it, much like Vitals, a high-damage location for certain types of attack, but otherwise no more or less armored than the torso. It's -5 for an additional +0.5x damage for crushing or cutting.

This is by far the easiest, but it makes Neck much less valuable of a location.

Use head DR. As above, but treat it as covered by head protection.

Tricky because, which head location? Skull? That means a skullcap pot-helm or cloth cap also gives neck DR. Face? Mail coif loses Neck, Greathlem loses its prime benefit of all-over protection, and Leather Helmets gain Neck. Kind of an odd problem. You could say, however, it is Skull from behind, Face from the front, and anything that says Neck already covers it from all angles.

Out of those three, "treat it as body" is probably the best. I still prefer the additional armors from my previous post, however. The neck still has value even if torso DR covers it, especially for high-damaging cutting weapons. Or against The Kurgan.

It's worth noting, of course, that DF is full of monsters that have Injury Tolerance (No Neck) or (Homogenous), ones with universal DR that isn't differentiated by location (in fact, that's the default), and threats where neck chops won't do the job even if they do damage (anything with a hit location specific Unkillable weakness.) This mostly affects PCs fighting high-skill opponents.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Follow Me And Die Review of The Manor #8

There is a review of The Manor #8 by someone who purchased it to get at the grappling system written by Douglas Cole and I.

Review – Manor #8

First, I want to thank the author for writing the review. Authors get precious little feedback on their work - and what you get is often skewed to detailed complaints or vague praise.

I'm also glad the system reads as clearly as it's meant to play.

The goal of the system was to be use existing game stats from the minimal stat blocks of Swords & Wizardry. Nothing you couldn't quickly look up on your character sheet or monster stat block. Yet at the same time, we wanted to use the concepts that drive GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling, which is somewhat ironically the more complex option for GURPS.

"I think this system is what we have been needing for a simple mechanic for grappling, that makes grappling an option players would choose. Various options and outcomes that are realistic in grappling are discussed and addressed. While not perfect, I can’t think of how else to handle it without building yet another new subsystem just for grappling. This is simple enough that it can easily be implemented at your next session. I know that I will use it, if I need to resolve a grappling issue."

It's not a perfect system, for sure. We erred for "simple" whenever potentially "better" would be more complex. It's the hallmark of a good basic approach, I think - works well, most of the time. Handle the edge cases in a special way if those edge cases are truly important. What counts as important is really a group, genre, and setting issue - what in one game for one group is unnecessary detail is for another group the detail that drives the game forward and provides the drama.

Although it's bad form to complain about a review, there is one line that really bothered me:

"I have no idea how grappling works in other versions, or other rules, but they must all be clunky for someone who likes GURPS to come up with a simplified system."

Hey, what's with the backhand to GURPS fans? GURPS is pretty simple, at its core. It's not that other systems are so complex us even us apparently complexity-loving GURPS fans balked. It's that the other systems for grappling are both so different from normal combat and such a risky or ineffective choice that we went to work on a simpler, more consistent system. Like the one in GURPS.

It's just easier to see what that simpler system is, coming from a system background like GURPS, where grappling is an effective choice that doesn't require an odd subsystem.* It doesn't require an embedded mini-game. Since Doug had come up with a very cool way to make GURPS grappling more nuanced (and actually, a lot more fun in my games), it seemed reasonable to port that concept (grappling as "damage") to other systems. Lo and behold, it worked . . .

But I'm glad the article is going over well, and the elegance of the solution - which is still mainly Doug's solution, at heart - is coming across. I hope it makes peoples gaming better.

* It does function as a binary system based on Contests of Skill, instead of attack/damage, but GURPS has a lot of those. It's a basic system, widely used, even within combat.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Hit Location: Armoring the Neck in DF

Apropros of this post, here are the options for Neck armor in my DF game:

Greathelm: includes coverage for the Neck. Excellent choice at DR 7.

Mail Coif: includes coverage for the Neck. Acceptable choice at DR 4(2), but it also doesn't provide a problem with vision restrictions.

Anti-Garrote Collar: +4 DR for the neck vs. strangling, not blows. Not sure exactly how that works (I assume it's leather stiffened with metal wiring, so it doesn't collapse easily but doesn't help much against impact.)

And that's about it. Otherwise, your neck is wide open to attack. It's -5 to hit, though, and it's not common for monsters to go for it for that reason (a -5 off your attack skill is giving up a Deceptive Attack -2 plus change.) It's a great target for skilled fighters vs. moderately armored foes, or patchwork armored foes. It's not a bad choice for arrows, either, because it's rarely got more than 4 DR . . . still, most Heroic Archers shoot the vitals with armor-piercing arrows for the x3 multiplier.

Any other options? I should probably allow a couple, just because this post will instantly make my players paranoid. How about these?

Leather Neck Guards: An aventail/gorget combination of stiff leather. DR 2. $10, 0 lbs. Commonly attached to leather helm.

Scale Neck Guards: A lobersterback/gorget combination of scales backed by stiff leather. DR 4. $50, 1 lb. Commonly attached to a barrel helm, pot-helm, or legionary helmet.

Plate Neck Guards: A lobsterback/gorget combination of segmented plate. DR 6. $125, 2 lbs.

The above neck protection can be layered with other neck armor; this gives No Peripheral Vision (you can't swivel your head freely!), or Tunnel Vision if you already have No Peripheral Vision.

In almost all cases, you're probably better off with a Mail Coif (or a Greathelm, if you are adding to a Barrel Helm.) Why is that? Mail is DR 4(2), $55 and 4 lbs. and also covers the skull. You can layer a lot on the skull - IIRC, Vryce has a Mail Coif under a Pot-Helm and puts on a Greathelm when fights come, for a base non-magical DR of 17(15) including Skull DR. You can even put a Mail Coif under a Leather Helm and get solid skull, face, and neck protection.

How did you calculate them? Basically it's 50% of the cost of a helm that provides the same protection, and adds 20% to the weight, rounded off.

How about Face, while we are here? Yes, you can add Face Guards to a Pot Helm. It's $50, 1 lbs. AKA, just take a Legionary Helmet.

So my torso armor doesn't protect my neck? No, not since 4e. 3e GURPS had it use the greater of Head or Torso armor, per Compendium II p. 52. 4e changed that.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Stripped-down Wilderness travel in the Cold Fens

For the Cold Fens portion of my DF game, we've been using a subset of the rules in Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures.

Not because I don't like all the stuff in the book, but rather because I always use only a portion of the rules on offer. Pretty much, here is what I do:

Travel Time: I used the rules to figure travel time on foot, on a skiff, and the cost of failed Boating rolls on time. That worked out to 3 miles a day (failed Boating roll) or 6 (on a success). I haven't referred back because we haven't needed it.

Daily Survival: I also only have two Survival rolls per day: One general one for safety, gathering water, and otherwise not doing foolish things. One roll for a campsite, with the "choose of these three" of comfort, concealment, line of sight. We use the Complementary skill rules from Action 2 (review) (also used in Gladiators), which means usually at least two people are jumping in on the roll.

Compressed Encounter Rolls: I roll for encounters 4x a day. Once for every 1/3 of their travel time, and once at night. As I mentioned in some of the sessions reports, they are a mix of nuisances and lethal encounters.

Navigation/Getting Lost rolls - I haven't required these. I should, but the PCs first went with a local expert. Since then, they've followed his path, and I made them make all of one Navigation roll to follow the same path. They made it, I haven't asked again. I really should, especially as conditions in the swamp change with the weather.

If they adventure further I will certainly roll for Navigation and see where they wander to. There are rumors of ruins, another ruined temple, a dragon's lair, and other things in the swamp.

One Roll Home: Since the trip back to town from the dungeon is the least fun thing we do all day, I compressed it down to a single set of rolls that determine, overall, how long it takes and how it goes. I don't roll any wandering monsters (not fun), nuisance encounters (don't matter), or extraneous rolls. Make you rolls, see how long it takes to get back. Done. It was fun once, but not fun again, and forcing the players the hold back in reserve and leave the dungeon earlier to get back to town isn't that exciting. Perhaps if they have a critically injured person, a weird disease, are being pursued, etc. - then yes, we'll play it in detail. Otherwise, no thanks.

Other than that, I haven't required much. The swamp is still dangerous and interesting. It's still a challenge. The PCs still need to stock up on extra food, make sure their boats are okay, and be wary of the wilderness. But it remains only part, and not the focus, of the adventure.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Evreaux's great megadungeon player intro

I have an "Introduction to Players" for a megadungeon game cut-and-saved on my computer.

I found it here, in a thread on Dragonsfoot's forums in a thread about megadungeons:

Evreaux's Introduction for Players

I've read it a few times, but I don't think I ever posted about it.

First, here it is - although it is worth reading the entire thread, this post is extraordinarily valuable on its own.

"Evreaux wrote:
Introduction for Players

The Dungeon--by which this author means the generic category and not any specific instance, though the principles apply in both cases--is a weird, unfathomable, and deadly place, and as such it should sound an irresistible call to those with the doughty hearts of adventurers. Importantly, it is also vast--do not fall into the trap of trying to "defeat" a level. Set goals, work to achieve them, and don't be afraid to move on when the opportunity presents itself. You can gauge what sorts of risks you want to take, and what sorts of rewards you wish to win, by considering the party level versus the dungeon level, as a rough equivalent exists in terms of PC abilities, appropriate challenges, and rightful prizes. Cautious parties may stay on safer levels, but the treasure will be less; daring parties may make forays deeper into the place for richer reward, but the danger will also increase. Choose the path that suits your party best.

Within you will find ferocious monsters, lethal traps, cunning tricks and buried secrets, tortuous layouts and forgotten ways, baffling riddles, and best of all, fabulous treasure beyond imagining. You the player will be challenged as much, if not more, than your PC, and it will take the combined skills of both to succeed. This place is not merely a workaday, subterranean lair, with logically arranged sleeping and eating areas for a species simply somewhat different from (or even antagonistic toward) humans and demi-humans. The door you open is a portal, the stairs you descend a path, into the mythic underworld, luring you farther from the rational and sane daylight lands above, where a man may plot his way with confidence in the laws of nature, and into a nightmarish world of magic, evil, and elements that can devour your PC's very soul. You must be constantly on guard for peril from any quarter; you must manage your resources carefully, retreating when it is wise yet advancing when the time is right; you must demonstrate bravery, intelligence, and prowess as well, if your efforts are to be repaid with wealth and power. Not everything within the crumbling walls, forsaken chambers, and winding ways is hostile, and you may find allies in strange places or negotiate safe passage from others--but be wary of treachery and ill will. Those who think and fight their way back out may bear the riches that will spread their names throughout the realms of Man; those who do not will die a lonely death far from the places they know and cherish.

It's a very inspirational read. It's also a good summary of "old school" megadungeon delving, without falling on either side of the "PCs as playing pieces"/challenge the players' skills vs. "PCs as characters"/challenge the characters split. It's equally applicable to either style - mine, FWIW, is more the latter than the former, but still involves both. No matter how your game system works, if you're delving into gigantic mazes of underground peril, it's good and useful stuff to put in front of the players.

What I love about it is that it is . . .

Evocative. It makes you feel like a megadungeon is a pit of despair full of grave challenges and unimaginable treasures. It's a prose Erol Otus picture.

Practical. For all its evocative language, it's practical. It's got sold advice for a party looking to delve into a dungeon in less words than the Players Handbook spends on the same subject.

Challenging. Read that, and you feel the offered challenge of a megadungeon. You don't think, what a waste of time. It's all, "Can you succeed where others have failed? Do you have what it takes?"

Doesn't that make you want to dare Felltower, when the PCs come back? They haven't been to even half of the levels I've detailed, or even a quarter of the sublevels in that place. But they will, because of all the things Evreaux said so well.

Plus, hey, he's got the Captain of Space Battleship Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマトto my fellow Japanese speakers) as his icon. That's a bonus.

Slightly related - here are two things I put in front of my players about the megadungeon they've explored in my game:
Felltower's History
DF Game: First taste of the megadungeon

Friday, May 22, 2015

Innovate in Systems, or Settings?

Erik Tenkar posted about this, and just about every other cool kid did, too.

My thoughts on this are simple: Innovate either system and setting and you'll get innovation in both.

If you innovate in a system, you will naturally have spill-on effects that influence the setting. Decisions you make about spellcasting, about technology, about character power, about style of play will all spill over into the setting. D&D settings generally have dungeons and dragons in them for a reason.

If you innovate in a setting, you will naturally have some influence on the rules. After all, you need rules or guidelines and system support to keep the magic zeppelins in the air, have dog-men aliens, deal with the ray guns or meson cannons, and so on. An innovative setting will always have some influence on the rules used to play in that setting.

You don't have to consciously do both. You can innovate in one, and petty much just work with what exists for the other part. But if your setting is innovative, it will cause system innovation, and vice versa. Even an homage to another system's basic setting will be influence by the new system, and an existing rules system will be warped by an innovative setting that needs more than that system provides. Only stale retreads will fail to innovate in either. Those stale retreads might still be fun, of course, but I don't think when you think "innovation" you really need to worry about either/or.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

How I do "silver or magic to hit" in DF

One of the things I wanted to emulate in my Felltower/Cold Fens campaign was the old "need silver or magic to hit" rule from D&D. Not for any reason except it added some challenge and otherwise helped match the feel of the games I was pulling concepts and ideas from.

Christopher Rice wrote great post on this subject the other day. Which prompted me to write down how I do this myself, mechanically, in my own DF game.

So, how to do this?

Since GURPS doesn't tie "to hit" with damage directly, you don't want to directly port the concept of "silver or magic to hit." Hit all you want, it might even do Knockback, but it won't cause any injury. Plus, in my games, it's Puissance that counts.

I went with Damage Reduction (GURPS Powers, but especially GURPS Supers, p. 146). Also, I make use of the suggestion for Cosmic from GURPS Powers p. 119 for allowing Cosmic, +50%, to drop minimum damage from 1 to 0. Finally, I couple this with an Accessibility limitation that restricts its effects versus certain attacks.

For example, one of the critters in my DF game has the following:

Damage Reduction/10 (Not vs. Puissance +1 or better)

Hit that guy for 20 penetrating cutting damage and he takes 30/10 = 3. Not likely to go down from even hard blows, but eventually non-magical strikes can wear it down or something like Mungo the Giant Troll can pulverize it in a handful of hits.

Another is basically immune to non-magical damage, and thus has:

Damage Reduction/100 (Cosmic, minimum damage 0; not vs. Puissance +1 or better)

Hit that guy for 20 penetrating cutting damage and he takes 30/100 = 0.3, dropped to 0.

Still another can only be hurt by the greatest of weapons or by bare hands, because godlike invulnerability often forgets to cover all of its bases.

Damage Reduction/100 (Cosmic, minimum damage 0; not vs. Puissance +3 or unarmed attacks)

I did say "silver or magic." For those, just add "silver" to the exclusions. It's up to the GM if silver coating is enough; if not, perhaps it just cuts the reduction down a notch, so /10 goes to /5. Solid silver should always do the job.

What else? I find that DR only vs. non-magical attacks will work okay, too, but generally means you can still get splattered by a sufficiently hard non-magical blow, like from a dragon or giant. That's okay, too - high HD critters could do that in D&D, too, according to the 1st edition DMG, p. 75.

I also couple these with Injury Tolerance and a variety of Vulnerabilities and Weaknesses and things like Unkillable, Regeneration, and Supernatural Durability to get the "right" mix of toughness and survivability.

What about spells? Mostly I stick direct-damage spells under "magic." Dehydrate, Frostbite, Deathtouch - they all count, generally, as magical damage. Ones that inflict it indirectly via an effect or missile (Create Fire, say, or Lightning) are mundane damage. However, many such critters have other vulnerabilities, so you might have a creature basically immune to non-magical weaponry and many spells, but which is vulnerable to fire. For them I'll expand the accessibility limitation on their Damage Reduction.

Just harder to kill? You can also make creatures just less likely to die from such weapons. Supernatural Durability (Achilles Heel: Silver or Puissance +1 or better weapons) is one way to go, as is Unkillable with the same kind of limitation.

And that's pretty much how "silver or magic to hit" works in my game.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Delta's OD&D wilderness romps

I really enjoy reading Delta's con game summaries. They are very interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking.

One series especially - Outdoor Spoilation.

Outdoor Spoilation I
Outdoor Spoilation II
Outdoor Spoilation III

What I like about this series:

- You can see clearly the wargaming roots of D&D. The reason this works so well - rampaging PCs going through a wilderness looking for treasure - is that the rules for individual heroes grew out of this. In a way, this runs smoothly for the same reason D&D sometimes doesn't run as smoothly on the micro scale - this larger scale is what it grew out of.

- So much of the encounter tables, stated percentages for NPCs do do X or Y, treasure types, and reward system of OD&D and early AD&D shows through here. The "implied setting" of D&D is largely because of cramming a lot of adventure into a dangerous area oddly adapted from a simple hexcrawl survival game's map. Why so many castles, caves, etc.? Accident of Outdoor Survival making a bang-up area to battle around in. The world around that battle area? Hey, keep your mind on your success rate. What's off the map matters about as much as the rest of the world does in Monopoly.

- Delta's notes on how he ran it, rules effects, Rules As Written (including house rules) vs. Actual Play, are a gold mine for anyone writing any rules. Which, experience tells me, is every single GM.

- In a way, it sounds more like a Refereed playthrough of a micro wargame than of a modern RPG. This isn't an insult, it's a compliment, because it's very much structured like that. Enter this sandbox, and leave with 100,000 in loot before time runs out. The loot and monsters are set, and I'll ref the game and run the bad guys. GO!

And some reflections on the play in the series:

- I like the lairs, castles, settlements approach. A wilderness should have lairs scattered around. With oddball monsters in them. I liked that about Legends, the PBM game. Is the half-gyger in the cave dangerous, or a pushover with loot? Feel free to find out!

- the large numbers of high-level characters you find in D&D, especially for groups of men, seems all about this kind of challenge. Castles have high-level characters running them. That's how it goes. If castles were run by 3rd level NPCs or something and 8th-9th level PCs just showed up, you'd expect them to sign on to the winners not resist first. But a high-level leader is much less likely to just knuckle under, because that's not how they got to run a castle full of troops.

- If it didn't make sense that orcs come in groups of 30-300 before, it should now.

- A sandboxy crawl like this is a natural place for real and fake treasure maps. Especially with a time crunch and a monetary goal. Is that the win, or a waste of valuable time?

- anytime it's "group of PCs with magic vs. NPCs without" magic pretty much wins. It's such a game changer. NPCs need magic to survive. All good tactics does is extend the life and increase the difficulty, and perhaps cost a few extra spells. But you don't see the PCs lose a lot when magic can shift the odds immensely. This is something you'll see in just about all of my games, too - even the best tactics and cleverest and toughest foes can be undone by superior magical firepower, and sufficient hostile magical firepower can equally do that to the PCs.

- the importance of magic in older D&D sets is even more critical when you think about the damage weapons inflict - aka, not very much. Enemy HP aren't high, but spells can do a lot of damage compared to swords and arrows. That said, masses of archers are trouble for PCs.

- Clever play is always interesting. The use of smart tactics, diplomacy (occasionally), and magic for non-artillery purposes is nice to see. We still tell stories in our own games about clever tactics bypassing hard obstacles just as much as stories about hard obstacles going down in brutal heads-up confrontation. It's also fun to see when overly-clever moves backfire.

- It's always fun watching people scramble for a goal. You get some odd real-world decisions (let's let our friend die and recruit our enemy to replace him) and the occasional short-term thinking decision, but you also get to see a mad rush for loot. It's kind of funny, and it drives play the same way you get in miniatures games, on that final turn of a wargame (seizing VP locations you can't hold), and video game boss fights. Not terribly realistic, but really fun.

- Someday, I'd love the see the character writeups and their magic items. I'm curious to know what they've got to work with to get that 100,000.

- And will the stakes be higher next year?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Things I Misunderstood in AD&D

When I was a kid starting out gaming, I didn't have a lot of resources to turn to. No internet, no discussion groups, not a lot of fellow gamers. So some things I just didn't get, or understand, or wholly misunderstood. Here are a few I remember.

Men are mean. It's true. The Monster Manual says so. Under intelligence, it says stuff like "Mean: average to very." I figured, okay, they're average to very intelligent, but mean. Fair enough.

Knowing the "mean" in terms of "average" is probably still not something most 10 year olds know. Or maybe they do, now, but no one corrected me back in the day. And it never occurred to me that this was odd enough to go look the word up.

So, men are mean. My NPCs are still, on average, mean.

Night Hag Rides. It was decades after I first read Night Hags (also in the MM) that I stumbled across the phrase "hag ridden" and realized it had a connection to sleep paralysis. The whole odd actually being on the person's ethereal back thing is still a little odd to me. But as a kid, I just thought, what the heck? And moved on. We never, ever used Night Hags or their special power if they happened to show up in an adventure. It was confusing, we didn't get the reference, and thus it was left aside.

"1 of each magic excluding potions & scrolls." Oops. Good thing so few monsters have treasure type U or V. Because I read that as one roll on each table. Yes. On each table. One on rings, one on rods/staves/wands, one on weapons, one on artifacts, one on each of the miscellaneous magic item sub-tables. Every. Single. One. That's 11 items.

I just assumed that those monsters were supposed to have great hordes of magical treasures, 70% of the time. The other 30%? Nothing. Like I said, good thing those monsters were rare. And that we generally ran modules.

Lucern Hammers are for clerics. What? It says it's a hammer. We ignored most of the odd polearms because we didn't know what they were, but this was clearly a hammer. We were victims of the "put in everything Oakshotte mentions" syndrome without knowing it until we hit those illustrations in the original Dungeon Masters Adventure Log. Suddenly, no more hammers doing 2-8 instead of 2-5.

There is other stuff I didn't "get" but which are so oddly written nobody seems to have gotten - treasure types being for wilderness only (er, why is that?), the helmet rule (you can choose hit locations?), how initiative worked (we thought we got it, but we didn't), encumbrance, etc. But my total misunderstandings? The ones I remember are above.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Apropos Nothing: 1/72 Scale Tanks

Recently, I've been poking around looking at some WWII tank models. Mostly German, because I think their tanks are interesting and cool. But also some moderns (the T-90) and Allied (I do kind of need a Sherman.)

As far as I can tell, I already have:

(All in 1:72)
- two soft plastic Tiger Is from some unknown manufacturer. I had a T-34A from the same company, but lost about half the bits over the years.
- two hard plastic Tiger Is (one Airfix, one ESCI)
- two hard plastic Panthers (one Airfix, one ESCI)
- one Elefant (ESCI)

I even have a 1:35 scale Tiger I that I purchased because I couldn't find a production-turret Tiger II model. It's unassembled because, well, where I am going to put a 1:35 scale Tiger I? If I finish it, it'll be a dust magnet and need to be stored in a box. No display case here, or space for one. So that's been sitting around so long I can't remember where I got it. I can tell you I got one of the Panthers and the Elefant in Venice, Italy, so technically those are souvenirs.

I keep thinking I need a Panzer IV, because they're also a visually interesting tank. And a Tiger II, because I think they are really cool looking. I always was happy having a Pak40 7.5cm AT gun in whatever video game or board war game I was playing,

But "need" is a tricky word. It's more like "want." I don't even play any games that would use these, but I tell myself I would if I just got a few more models. It's probably a lie - I bought and played with 1/72 scale soldiers endlessly as a kid, and I have a few surviving guys who somehow didn't get lost in the dirt of my backyard when it got too dark to pick them up - mostly Gurkhas, a few German, US, and British paras, and some odder types (Russian winter infantry, Napoleonic Highlanders, and Australian commandos). If any part of me is reclaiming lost kid-dom, it's the part that say, geez, you need a Tiger II. And a Pak40. And a Stug would be nice. Maybe a couple of T-34s to face them off against?

All that said, I'd jump on a good Tiger II model. If only to stash it in the box with the others, until I have a place to put these guys once they're assembled . . .

Sunday, May 17, 2015

How many monsters?

There is an excellent post over at Aeons & Augauries about the number of monsters in a campaign.

The short version is that he did a campaign with about 60 monsters, excluding normal animals and PC races.

My current count is 82 discrete monsters, with a lot of sub-types counted as one (all the various zombie types are just zombies, for example.) That includes normal animals, though - if they were a combat encounter, they are listed. If they aren't identified, just seen, or act as wandering damage (like my bug swarms in the Cold Fens), they don't make the list.

Monsters I've Used So Far

But even so, there are piles of monsters on my list that are already stocked into the Cold Fens and the depths of Felltower that haven't been encountered yet. I think my game will end up with more like 120-150 monsters encountered.

Part of that is the genre. It's Dungeon Fantasy. It's a bash-the-monsters game. It's a loot-the-trapped-chests game. You know there is going to be a lot of monster fighting. It's a game that thrives on a variety of monsters and variations off of that variety.

Part of it is because it's my goal. I'm going to use every stupid monster mini I own. Every cool one. Every weird one. Every oddball ones I ended up with for no reason I can explain. And I'm using some things that aren't even intended to be minis as minis because, you know, I can.

Not only that, but I hope to use every single monster from DF2 and from DFM1. Every. Single. One. The ones I made up I've mostly used before or used already, or have a place for in my games. The ones Sean made up I just want to use because Sean made cool monsters.

Like I said, though, it's that kind of game.

I used a much tinier subset of monsters in my previous GURPS game that went on for 10 years. And, as you can see in the post, the idea of a thinned monster list can make for a real change of pace when the venue changes. If you've used a subset in a specific area of the campaign world, it feels like a real change when you move to a new area and suddenly the monsters change. If every badlands in the whole world is full of orcs, gnolls, and bugbears, it doesn't matter which badlands you are in. If the Eastern Badlands are full of gnolls and the Southern Badlands are full of Bugbears, which the PCs haven't seen to date, a change of locale really does make an impact.

Not only that, but using a subset allows the players to get a feel for what's out there, predict based on a smaller set of possibilities, and general get comfortable with the game world. As much as I'm throwing the entire collection at my players this game, I recognize that what you exclude defines your game and shapes it as much as what you include.

Really thought provoking post. If you've gotten this far in mine without reading it, please go and do so.

And count the monsters you've used. It's a lot of fun.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

GURPS Mars Attacks announced

I was only familiar with this setting from the movie, which I really enjoyed. But I like the look and feel of the setting in general, and so it's cool to see that this is coming out. I liked GURPS Atomic Horror, and this is kind of the same feel for me.

Far Away Land Quick Start

Erik Tenkar is a big, big fan of Far Away Land.

I think thanks in part to him, there are some FAL Quick Start rules available. They are PWYW - Pay What You Want. AKA, get it for free, come back sometime later and give them some money because you liked the work.

Here is Tenkar's post about the rules availability:

Free - Far Away Land Quick Start

Or if you prefer a direct link from here, click on the image:

You have nothing to risk getting them. And from what I've seen so far of them, they are attractive and a fun read. Hopefully I'll get to sit in on one of Tenkar's Roll20 sessions and see how it plays.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hit Location: Feet (Part II)

Following up a little on yesterdays Targeting Locations: Harder to Hit the Extremities?, here is a possible unified approach.

Feet (-5): Crippled on a single blow of over HP/3.

Hands (-5): Crippled on a single blow of over HP/3.

Optional Rule: Hitting the Floor. It's tricky to attack a supporting extremity without risking hitting the surface supporting it. In other words, a stab at the foot might hit the floor. Any Critical Failure on an attack against a foot, a hand supported on a table, a body resting on a bed, etc. hits the supporting surface in addition to the normal results of a Critical Failure. For hard surfaces, such as stone, hard wood, metal, etc., roll full damage and apply it to the attacking weapon. For softer surfaces, apply the same damage at half damage.*

In addition, attacks that blow through a target in contact with a surface (a hand on a table, or a foot on the floor) may hit the surface beneath the foot, at the GM's option. ("Nail that man's foot to the deck.")

* If you are using Technical Grappling, soft surfaces will inflict CP on a 1:1 basis with damage and will require Attacks to Break Free to get it back.

Notes: I think this would be a very simple adjustment. Slightly harder to hit the extremities, which makes them a viable target but adds a lot of better targets into the mix for similar difficulty. The risk of hammering your weapon into the floor makes high-powered ankle-cutting a workable tactic but a bad idea with a delicate weapon, and the overpenetration issue means you can use arrows to nail people's feet to the floor, potentially.

For additional rules about focused defenses and the effects on hands and feet, see GURPS Martial Arts: Gladiators.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Targeting Locations: Harder to Hit the Extremities?

The other day during our game, we ended up talking about how relatively easy it is to hit the hands and feet in GURPS. A good part of this is the tactics of Rahtnar the Martial Artist, who lops off feet as the easier way to one-shot a foe.


Hands and Feet are pretty easy to hit, compared to more lethal locations. They're hard to armor. They're easy to cripple and crippling is a direct path to stunning, knockdown, and impaired (or totally ended) combat capacity.

It provokes as much bad feeling as the "I only shoot at tires" guys from Car Wars - it can feel a little cheap to everyone. Plus it doesn't always work - a mobility kill often just means an extended fight with less movement.

As a GM, it's also a lot annoying, because I end up with a large amount of partly-crippled foes to deal with. Many guys who I have to track with Stunning, standing up, changed Move, reduced combat skills, etc. A straight-up kill shot either works or it doesn't and wounds the guy. A cripple means a lot of logistical tracking.

As a player, the fact that your hands and feet are both hard to armor and easy to cripple, plus not terribly hard to target, means "better gloves" and "the best foot armor possible" trumps anything else. You get a lot of people trying to open doors with their Ham Fisted 2-granting gloves and sneak in metal-covered boots because their feet are very vulnerable and their hands are too important and they don't want to be caught in a fight with vulnerable extremities.

Putting aside game issues, it does seem like it's harder to stomp or whack a foot or hand than to get a head shot.

So what if we changed how hard it is to hit the hands and feet?

Some important notes:

- Armor assumptions are using Basic Set. It might be possible to get better armor with GURPS Low-Tech, but that's not actually germane here. Even if it was, it doesn't completely undermine the idea that these locations should actually be harder to hit.)

- Combat rules are assumed to be the core rules plus the core additions from GURPS Martial Arts.

- I'm leaving off the extra hit locations in GURPS Martial Arts, since generally I haven't been using them in my game unless an attack specifically targets them (like the Spine, vs. Wrench Spine.)

- As is often this case, this is just me brainstorming ideas. I haven't tried these yet, and they aren't a rules change for my game. They may be, someday. But for now it's just an idea.


Let's look at the locations in question.

Feet: Not that hard to hit (-4), easy to cripple (only >HP/3 in one blow), hard to armor (best low-tech armor is DR 4, and heavy and loud, 1-2 DR is more typical). Crippled foot means you fall down and your movement and actions are restricted for the rest of the fight.

Hands: Not that hard to hit (-4), easy to cripple (only >HP/3 in one blow), hard to armor (best low-tech armor is DR 5, DR 2 or 4 are more typical). Crippled hand means you can use a weapon (including bucklers) with that arm.

The Face and Skull, on the other hand, are larger than a foot or hand. You can also argue they are harder to defend as they aren't quite as mobile (they're got a smaller area they can move in without moving the whole body).

You can make the argument this should affect defenses, instead. That it is easier to Dodge with hands or feet, or that the head is usually the focus of a lot more defense. This is true to an extent, but to what extent?

Possible Rules Changes

What if you make the hands and feet as hard to hit as the Neck (-5) or Face (-5)? Or harder to hit than the Face and Neck and nearly on par with the Skull (-7)?

Hands and Feet at (-5). At this level, Hands and Feet are just as hard to target as high value targets Neck (-5) and Face (-5). The main value in going for the hands and feet is a better chance to cripple, but it's not easier than a potentially fight-ending kill shot.

Hands and Feet at (-6). At this level, hands and feet are specialized targets. They are harder than nearly all high-value targets, and only braining someone on the Skull (-7), poking an Eye (-9), or aiming for Chinks in Armor (-8 or -10) are harder. Legs, arms, and torso - all very easy places to armor up - are vastly easier targets but require substantially more damage to take out.

Another possible solution is defense:

Hands and Feet are easier to defend. Give all active defenses used to protect the hands or feet a +1.

Hands and Feet Dodge better. As above, except they only get a +1 to Dodge.

These solutions mean that it's still a good idea to aim for hands and feet on Berserkers, but otherwise, it's easier to defend.

A final one is to make armoring those locations easier - but I'm reluctant to add to DR to the hands and feet. Many of the specialized threats against hands and feet, or general damage effects, are pretty low damage. Adding a couple DR wouldn't change the fundamental ease of crippling, either. It's a better solution overall if the location is harder to hit or easier to defend than easier to armor up to create an even more complete shell of invulnerability of the high-DR guys.


What about Aggressive Parry? It is also harder to hit the hand or foot - you're almost always going to be better off trying to injure the arm or leg. Use the to hit penalty (or defense bonus) listed above when resolving the strike potion of the defense. It would explain why so many aggressive parrying styles aim for the legs and arms instead of feet and hands, because your goal is to inflict damage on the easier target. -2 vs. -5 or -6 is a big jump, as is -2 vs. -4 and a +1 to defend.

I'm curious how this would work out. A -5 vs. a -4 is only a small change, but it suddenly means your options are not Hands or Feet, but Hands or Feet or Face or Neck. And it kind of feels right that hands and feet aren't easier to hit than the entire head is, especially when the head is a larger target.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dwarves love The Manor, too

Over at The Dwarven Stronghold, Boric took a look at the latest issue of The Manor.

If you look, there is a house rule on our article already in the article and expanded on in the comments.

Review: The Manor #8

There is a self-centered aspect to this review: I co-wrote the cover article for the issue, with an article that fills 9 of the 24 pages of the issue. But I wanted a chance to discuss that article a little bit, and discuss the good stuff that is in this issue.

The Manor

Published by Gothridge Manor Games
24 pages
$5 in print to the US, $2.50 PDF

Grappling Old School (by Douglas Cole & myself)

Doug and I have been collaborating on a number of small projects for GURPS and for S&W, as well. Naturally since we both play S&W, and Doug and I both like writing rules, and Doug loves grappling rules, we ended up writing an article about it. So what is this article?

It's a grappling system that uses only existing stats already statted up in the vast majority of D&D-compatible systems - HP, damage, AC. The basic idea is to treat grappling as an attack vs. normal AC, roll a "damage" roll that determines your amount of control of the victim, and compare that to HP to see how badly it affects them. Equal or exceed their HP and they're basically controlled. It's a pretty simple adaptation of the concept that Doug wrote up in GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling. At the same time it's not a copy, nor does it do the details as finely as TG will let you. The point is to just have a grappling system that isn't a hidden risk like in RAW S&W or a crazed subsystem like in AD&D. The other point was to make it work across all sorts of systems, specifically including S&W, Basic Fantasy Role-Playing, and Labyrinth Lord.

Overall, I'm very pleased with how it came out. I personally seen Doug's fingerprints all over it, and my role as mostly cutting things down to the minimum rule necessary to do the job right the great majority of the time. Still, it's one of those things we couldn't have done separately as well as we did it together.

Plus the art is fantastic.

Strange Stars Data File: Ibglibdishpan (by Trey Causey)

This is a race for Strange Stars. Short version, they're the hyper-smart weak unfriendly cone-headed guys. They have enough stats to run them, a cool special power (with a cool side-effect that happens on a variety of situations), and nice art. There is enough detail to lift these for any other Sci Fi system to adapt them.

If I used these guys, the name would be the first thing to go - Ib Glib Dishpan? Yeah, my players make fun of the better names I come up with, I can't just hand them "dishpan" straight-up. But otherwise, they seem interesting and a great add for a space operatic setting.

Hirelings (by Tim Shorts)

I love hirelings. So much so the first thing I did when I started my DF game rolling was write some up, and then turn them into a book with a lot of help from the GURPS Line Editor.

Tim loves them, too, and provides a lot in a short article:

- a list of hirelings and their costs.
- a settlement-sized list of hireling availability.
- a table of special traits, all good, that enhance the hirelings.
- six fully statted and interesting hirelings.

It also opens up with a great biblical quote I wish I'd used for the Loyalty section of DF15. It's an excellent article.

If there was one thing I'd add is that if you rolled a 1 on the table of special traits, you'd roll on a subtable of not-so-great traits. Or just roll on useless hirelings.

Torchbearer (by Tim Shorts)

I also love torchbearers, and I'm not the only one to think they need a writeup, or even a power-up. This article gives rules for trained vs. untrained torchbearers, a bunch of special torches (some of which I'm listing for my own GURPS DF game), and some special skills for experienced torchbearers. You won't be so tempted treat these guys as simple light sources and throwaway trap detectors when they can aid you in battle, detect flammability of things they see, and otherwise keep you alive longer when they're with you.

Overall, this is a pretty meaty issue. I'll get a lot of use out of Tim's articles, I'll keep Trey's in mind when I need weird smart guys, and you know I'll keep quietly lobbying to use the article I co-wrote when I play Swords & Wizardry.

For more reviews, please see my Reviews page.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Clichea, or, my new game world

So, where is Felltower, the Silver River, Stericksburg, and the Cold Fens on this map?

Clichea by Ryan.

Clearly, this is an ideal DF world.

And I'm only partly kidding. Its just as good as many other fantasy worlds I've seen, and at least here you know if a cliche seems to be missing, it's just because it's not marked clearly enough on the map yet. It's out there, sure as your mother is smoothing her silks or tugging on her braids, as sure as the length of the song of the dwarf-folk who are invading your house at the behest of a wizard, and as sure as the good guys will be to send your 14-year-old self off to save the world.

These also remind me of Mark E. Roger's maps from the Samurai Cat series, which always had Delaware and The Author's House marked on it, right next to his pastiche of whatever he was satirizing in that particular story.

Thanks to Tom for sending this to me. And thanks to Ryan for making it in the first place!

Editing later: I realize this place could be very effectively re-purposed by adding a island kingdom of depraved evil elves and/or a pirate kingdom. Perhaps those preceded, and post-date, the rise and fall of the dark lord.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Revised GURPS Magic: When Do You Maintain?

We ended up need to make a rules clarification on Flame Jet - and by extension, all 1-second duration spells - in my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game.

In pre-4e GURPS, Flame Jet was clear:

Turn 1: Concentrate.
Just before Turn 2: Roll for Flame Jet, pay for the spell.
Turn 2: Attack with the Jet. If you don't still need it, simply don't maintain it.

In 4e, you get an issue:

Turn 1: Concentrate and cast Flame Jet. Pay for the spell.
Turn 2: Maintain Flame Jet. Use it to attack.
Turn 2: Use it to attack. Maintain or don't maintain Flame Jet.

For example, in 3e a Flame Jet-15 caster with a 4d Flame Jet pays 3 points to use it once. A 4e caster pays 6 points to create it and use it once. Or 3 points to create and use it one, if you maintain after. So when you maintain is a big deal.

It really depends on when you maintain spells. GURPS Magic doesn't seem clear on this, nor is GURPS Basic. Mostly, it doesn't matter - spells tend to last long enough that a second either way doesn't affect things.

So we ruled that it's "maintain at the end of your turn." Do you stuff, and then pay before the next guy goes. It just happens automatically when needed, and deciding not the maintain is (of course) a free action. This approach seems to cause the least damage, and gives you a full turn of utility for those 1-second or otherwise very short duration utility and movement spells (Walk Through Earth for example).

But it's interesting how the shift from "end of your turn, which is just before you decide on your next action" casting to a cast-and-it's-there approach changed things. No 0-second casting time spells saved a lot of headaches, and this makes the whole process more clear, but it doesn't seem like when you maintain is ever formally addressed/ Or maybe it is and I just can't lay a finger on it. A subtle change that didn't really come up until last game, which shows you how rare it is to use short-duration spells in combat in my games.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Teamwork Perk additions

In my DF Felltower/Cold Fens game, a number of foes have turned up with the Teamwork perk.

In addition to what the Teamwork perk does, as written (in Martial Arts, p. 52 and Power Ups 2: Perks, p. 8), we also do the following:

- members of the formed-up unit may strike in unison with other members against a target they can all hit. Roll for each "to hit" roll before resolving defenses, damage, etc. If the defender Retreats, he is considered to still be in range of all of the strikes that hit. However, Retreat counters against all of the strikes.

Basically, this means members of the formation can strike a target together, without worrying that the foe will Retreat and end up out of range of the members.

You could reasonably say this is treated as a Dual-Weapon Attack, and if 2+ strikes hit, the defender is at -1 x (number of strikes that landed - 1) against each of them. Dual-Weapon Parry can sweep all of those strikes aside with one parry. We don't do that, because this addition is largely about making it easier to have a large group attack a single fighter without a lot of time spent on "which attack should I Retreat against?" and switching targets for the Teamwork formed-up group and so on. That the defender usually benefits a lot from this is outweighed by the way it speeds up play and makes for a better in-game feel.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Games I'll Probably Never Play: War to the Death

I have some games I've picked up over the years, refuse to part with, but I'm pretty sure I will never play.

One of them is Omega Game's War to the Death.

 photo WTTDs_zpsrv3w0feb.jpg

Years back, probably when I was replacing my badly worn copies of the TWW series, I chanced on a sale by Omega Games. I promptly bought several games including WTTD.

Why I Bought It

It was a bargain!

It was, actually. I remember the games being very inexpensive, although I can't tell you now how much each was. Plus the topic is pretty unique and interesting. There aren't exactly a glut of games on the market that cover that war.

So, interesting topic + inexpensive. Seemed like a good deal. Even if I played it once, I figured, it would be worth it.

Why I'd Like To Play

The grind of a conquest-and-hold game against a weak-ish army and a guerilla resistance is a pretty interesting one. The topic of the French invasion of Spain is interesting as well. You have a fantastically effective field army vs. a country that just refused to be fully conquered, in an invasion resulting from accident of history instead of pure miscalculation. At least, how I read it. Seems pretty interesting.

Why I Probably Won't Play

My wargaming time is severely limited, so I can't see busting this out and spending my limited time on it.

I've also read reviews that say it's pretty much inevitable that one side - the Spanish - will win. So "winning" for the other side is just prolonging the game. That might be an interesting challenge for a pair of experienced gamers - who can keep the defeat off the longer? But that supposes multiple play-throughs and deep competitiveness.

Another Omega Games wargame I have is Victory in Europe, which is absolutely a "hold on against the inevitable" game. But I think it's got a different feel when you are Germany trying to stave off annihilation as long as possible vs. the Allies than playing, say, the the French knowing your best decisions are all going to come to waste. At least in Victory in Europe, the goal is holding on, without any illusion that you are supposed to somehow win. It's also vastly more likely that I'd be able to talk someone into playing a WWII game than Spain vs. France.

Why I Hold On To It

It's an interesting read through, for sure.

It helps that it takes up a tiny bit of shelf space.

I do hold out some hope I will eventually play it, or at least utilize elements of it. It's a game I periodically look at, and decide I'd like to keep in my collection. Even as I know I'll never use it, I feel like it adds more than it takes away by sitting on my shelf.

I'll do more of these, with RPGs as well. Some I hold onto for nostalgia, some to re-read, some just because they aren't a burden to hold on to.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Iron Wind Chaos Wars Kickstarter

Speaking of Kickstarted minis, Iron Wind is doing a Chaos Wars Kickstarter.

Remember the adds for Ral Partha Chaos Wars back in Dragon magazine?

I sure do.

Bones III Kickstarter Coming

That didn't take long.

I'm in as soon as it starts. Thanks to the Tower of the Archmage for posting the news.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Reflections on DF training costs

I use the DF3 training cost rules in my regular DF game.

I use the rules on DF3 p. 43 as a guide. Basically, to learn new skills and abilities, you have to pay some cash in game. To learn new skills and abilities off your template, you have to pay double. I don't charge anything to improve what you've got on your sheet already.

There is only one big change I made:

Raise something you have: Free (this is changed from $20 to raise skills, abilities, etc. other than attributes)

How has this gone?

What I thought this would do is:

- drain a little cash, to keep players hungry to earn more for their characters.
- push people, especially early on, to improve what they have before they expand into new skills and abilities.
- provide a brake on acquisition of new powers and lenses.
- allow free training to be a noticeable, albeit small, bit of reward.

What it actually did is:

- drain a little cash, to keep players hungry to earn more for their characters.

Yes, this happened as expected.

- push people, especially early on, to improve what they have before they expand into new skills and abilities.

No, not in the slightest. Even when resources were scarce early on, players chose bankrupting their characters, chose to risk starvation from inadequate resources, chose to risk Survival rolls and forgo benefits from spending money in town in order to train in new powers. Existing traits were generally not improved until the "build" was complete through the addition of planned-for Power-Ups, desired spells, additional perks, and expanding to things on the template left off with the intention of buying them in play. Wizards especially want to learn as many new spells as possible as fast as possible - so much so we had to put special brakes on how many spells you could acquire during downtime to avoid the "let me check my list of 95 spells and see if I have that one" syndrome.

Instead of "I'm nearly broke, so I'll up my existing skills and leave buying a Power-Up until I've got some cash" I got "I'm nearly broke, so everyone lend me money so I can get this Power-Up. Maybe someday I'll raise my existing skills, once I've gotten through this list."

This is probably why a number of long-serving characters have substantial cash reserves - not enough for powerful items, and zero drain from training costs because they went broad early and now go deep with points only.

- provide a brake on acquisition of new powers and lenses.

See above. Didn't even provide a speed bump.

- allow free training to be a noticeable, albeit small, bit of reward.

This turned out to be true. The mage getting new spells via Wild Talent instead of paying for teaching has saved a good chunk. The occasional free learning or free training I've offered hasn't been passed up. No one really seeks it out, which is fine, too, because I didn't want every downtime to devolve into, "I look around and see what free training is available, so make me a list and I'll decide if I want it or not."


Overall, I am glad I put the rules in place. I'm sad they did not work out as planned, but they did add an element to the game that I like. People do make decisions based on training costs, and training costs drive adventuring goals a little further (it's not just make a profit, it's make a profit with cash for training.)

At the same time it's not as onerous as the AD&D rules could be, where you'd seemingly need to pay almost every coin over to level up (not literally true, but it felt that way.) And they are easy enough that they don't get forgotten in play.

Feel free to use my experience in your own DF games. Did I say feel free? I meant, that'll be $40, silver or gold preferred.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Manor & OSR Grappling

Just to let you know - Issue #8 of The Manor is out, and it contains an article with a Swords & Wizardry (and mostly OSR in general) compatible grappling system that I co-wrote.

Tim Shorts has the official announcement here and my co-author Douglas Cole blogged about it here.

You can get the PDF from RPG Now, below:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

OPM - the problems running Other People's Megadungeons

OPM means Other People's Megadungeons.

There are not a huge amount of megadungeons out there, ready to play.

I think that beyond the logistical challenges of publishing a megadungeon, there is a deeper issue:

It is not easy to run someone else's megadungeon.

One reason Felltower is so easy for me is that I wrote it.

Bits on the map? I put them there. I can't run my dungeon without the maps, but I can picture the maps in my head. That's where they came from in the first place.

Factions? I made them up.

Room descriptions? I know what's supposed to be there.

Everything I have down on paper is a reminder. It's not new information. Even when there is a blank, I know what I was thinking when I wrote it and what would thematically fit. I don't need to roll on the "What does the faction do?" table. I know what they'd do. I might flip a coin to find out which option they choose out of two, but I know which two and why.

Contrast that with a published megadungeon. I've seen it with Erik trying to figure out what the heck something is intended to be during out own B-Team delves. You can see it with Jeffro having to puzzle over room descriptions in Dwimmermount. I've had it with reading Barrowmaze and Castle Zagyg to see what is in it. You need to become intimately familiar with someone else's work. Not only that, but they need to have written in a way that's accessible on a read-through, clearly communicates intent, and which is easy to use in actual play.

You get that with any published adventure or setting. But the scope of a megadungeon can make this so much harder. I've read Stonehell through a couple times, but I don't know it so well that I could run it without notes. I could run my megadungeon with just the maps, if I had to.

That's tough. It's a problem I don't have with my own megadungeon. And it might be yet another reason there aren't a plethora of them out there, why playthroughs of them don't seem to be very common, and why you can see a big of struggle from GMs running them even if they otherwise run games smoothly and easily.

It's the OPM problem. It's not yours, and it take a lot of effort to really own something that big.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

DF Game Session 62, Cold Fens 4 - Altar, Books, Wights

May 3rd, 2015

Weather: Chilly, clear.

Characters (in the dungeon): (approximate net point total)

Asher Crest-Fallen, human holy warrior (270 points)
     Koric, human guard (~70 points)
     Orrie, human guard (~70 points)
Bjorn Felmanson, human barbarian (256 points)
El Murik, dwarven cleric (264 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (257 points)
Hannibal the Flammable, human wizard (259 points)
Rahtnar the Vegan, dwarven martial artist (259 points)

In Swampsedge:
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)

We picked up in Swampsedge. The group gathered some rumors, including a couple more dragon-related ones. They stocked up with what few paut and minor healing potions were available from Old Crone Hazel, and sent off an order for some gear (potion belts and some improved weaponry.)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Nepal aid gaming bundle

In case you missed it, there is a bundle of Asian-related RPG books bundled together as a fundraising effort for Nepal:

Game for Nepal - Charity [BUNDLE]

I have Qelong already, and it's good (it's Ken Hite, which automatically means it's good).

Take a look. It's good books for a good cause at an excellent discount.

Friday, May 1, 2015

My take on Snap Cut: Snap Strike

Over on Michael Eversberg II's blog Chain Link and Concrete, there is a nice idea for a combat option, the Snap Cut.

It's a very nice idea - trade some damage for a tricky, speedy shot. It's a gap that is worth filling in the options on the table. It's one that has come up, but I don't think I every fully ran with the ideas that I've had about how to deal with these kinds of strikes.

However, as written uses a flat tradeoff of damage for penalties to the opponent to defend. That's problematic in a high-powered game as the article notes it might be. Even my beginning DF front line fighters generally have 3d+8 or more damage. Many monsters are doing in the 4d to 10d range with bonuses on top (Mungo was doing 8d+24).

While it's funny to muse about letting Mungo do "Snap Cuts" at -20 damage for -10 to defend and merely roll 8d+4, you can see the problem - strong people can take more off of their blow and reduce defenses. Even a per-die minus is merely more painful, but nearly always worth it (Mungo doing -3 to defend for doing 8d instead of 8d+24, say, or Vryce doing 3d+3 instead of 3d+12.) Especially against fodder and glass cannon monsters, where hitting is the issue (Eye of Death, for example.)

In the comments, I offered my own take on Snap Cut. Naturally, I used the Technique Design System from GURPS Martial Arts.

I came up with two options, both of which I renamed here to Snap Strike so there isn't confusion about thrusting being disallowed:

Combat Option: Snap Strike
You trade off some damage for speed with a quick strike that doesn't get your full body behind the blow. Can be used with any Melee attack. Your attack, if it hits, does -2 damage or -1 per die, whichever is worse. If it hits, you opponent suffers a -1 to defend. This can be combined with All-Out Attack or Committed Attack, but not with the (Strong) option.

(Built as:
+4 for -2 damage or -1 per die.
-4 for -1 to all defenses (-1 to the first is -2 default, the other two are half cost)
Net: -0)

(Note that this effectively makes sport, touch=victory skills always -1 to defend against, because you may as well Snap Strike since damage is a non-issue.)

or you can use a technique, which I've also rolled up into a Power Up.

Snap Cut, Hard
Default: prerequisite skill-4.
Prerequisite: Any unarmed or Melee Weapon skill; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

You trade off some damage for speed with a quick strike that doesn't get your full body behind the blow. Can be used with any Melee attack. Your attack, if it hits, does -2 damage or -1 per die, whichever is worse. If it hits, you opponent suffers a -2 to defend. This can be combined with All-Out Attack or Committed Attack, but not with the (Strong) option.

(Built as:
+4 for -2 damage or -1 per die.
-8 for -2 to all defenses (-2 to the first is -4 default, the other two are half cost at -2 each)
Net: -0)

As a DF Power-Up, the second one comes out like this:

Snap Strike*
6 points
Prerequisites: Any unarmed or Melee Weapon skill, ST 11+, and either Weapon Master or Trained By A Master.

You trade off some damage for speed with a quick strike that doesn't get your full body behind the blow. Can be used with any Melee attack. Your attack, if it hits, does -2 damage or -1 per die, whichever is worse. If it hits, you opponent suffers a -2 to defend. This can be combined with All-Out Attack or Committed Attack, but not with the (Strong) option.

Perks: Unique Technique (Snap Strike) [1].
Techniques: Snap Strike (H) Skill+0 [5].*

Remember the * means you must specialize by a combat skill. The prereqs are there to keep out the non-fighters. It's a DF Power Up, after all.

Another option on these, if the defense penalty seems too small, is to do one of two things:

1) Make it a +4 to Hit Combat Option. Remove the inherent defense penalty, and just saying taking -2 damage or -1 per die (whichever is worse) is something anyone can do to get a +4 to hit. It's the "don't hit the fly full power" thing. Then you can trade that +4 for a -2 to all defenses via Deceptive Attack. Be warned, though, this means an All-Out Attack (Determined) Telegraphic Attack Snap Strike against a weak target (or a touch-only-needed target) is +12 to hit.

2) Change the balance of defense penalties. Making it only hard to Dodge, say, at -4 to Dodge but normal Block and Parry. Or -2 to Dodge and -2 Parry, and reduce Snap Strike to Prereq-2. Maybe shields help against these because they only have to be in the way, not actively be moved in reaction.

I just want to repeat that although I've basically rewritten the concept in the post I linked to above, I really like the concept. Anything that makes me read it, and drop what I'm doing and write for 15 minutes before I leave for work is a good concept. It's just that I didn't want my comments to lay quietly in the comments section.
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