Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Diesel on Forbes on D&D

It's not a secret, despite what the article says, that Vin Diesel played D&D growing up. It's nice to hear him credit creating things for an RPG with how he creates for a movie series.

How Dungeons & Dragons Informed 'Fast And The Furious'

It does help to think like a dungeon master. It's a skill - knowing what makes sense and how to plan for what's clearly coming, keep it all together in your head, and what to improvise and what to map out.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Rulings from last session

We always have rulings in play. It's the nature of tabletop RPGs. Here are two and a musing on a should-have ruling from last session.

Carrying Concentrators

Can you pick up and carry someone without breaking their Concentration? No. Just no.

I would let someone Levitate someone who is Concentrating, but to move the person you need to Concentrate, so it's not an effective way to get a Move 3 flying guy to use True Faith with Turning while the party runs along at 3. The caster will be limited to Step.

No, I'm not allowing some wacky explanation of Riding (Barbarian) as a skill so you can do this with a roll. It's just a no.

Botched Invisibility

All I came up with for the 18 Gerry rolled for Invisibility was increased odds of monsters attacking, and then had them attack him as if he'd put some kind of Visibility spell on himself. Even that came up after I drew a blank and then Gerry rolled two really freaking lame effects on the Critical Failure Table, none of which would have been a problem unless he was one second from being brained by surprise from behind. Even then, it would have been no worse than just failing.

So I came up with the Visibility spin.

But honestly, I should have done better. A perk-level Distinguishing Feature (Translucence) would have done - Gerry is mildly translucent for a while after using his Invisibility spell. Not enough for any positive effect, but just enough to make him seem disturbingly unreal, like a bad CGI character, for a duration as long as he was invisible. Not scary - it's not Terror - but more like a situational "-1 reactions you want to be positive because the mage is weird." Heh.

I may still do this* instead of the increased odds of attracting random monster attacks he's got on him now. After all, he rolled an 18 and has Weirdness Magnet. Right now, he's just getting the bounce going against him when it's an even shot of monsters showing up. That's nice but it's extremely minor. The critical failures rolled by other mages with Weirdness Magnet have created monsters (often especially hostile to them), floating mana changes - temporary or not, caused weird reversed effects, alerted mana-sensitive monsters to their presence in a wide radius . . . and I never tell people which of these have happened until they encounter it, and I don't always tie it back to the original event. I probably should, though. It's 15 points worth of the world doing weird - not cute, not fun - stuff to you. It's Unluckiness with -5 worth of supernatural effects tied to it.

Right now I think people see Weirdness Magnet at -15 and think it's an easy choice that offloads work onto the GM and doesn't really cause 15 points worth of issues. I should remedy that impression.

Maybe I just have . . .

* I have done delayed effects in the past - an 18 on Continual Light a few sessions back caused every subsequent stone the caster made for the next few hours be flawed so they'd all extinguish at the worst possible time. Which they did. Still further back an 18 on a Seek-type spell gave wrong information repeatedly to the caster, so the original failure wasn't simply triangulated or tested away with an extra casting. so maybe Gerry will flicker a bit for a while after he re-appears.

Heal Thyself

If you heal yourself with a damage-healing spell, you suffer a penalty equal to the injury you have. So what about Regeneration and the like? If you go for -1 x the injury that caused the original problem, you end up with a HP 10 guy suffers a -6 to self-Restoration his arm, and a HP 16 guy suffers a -9.

A flat penalty would probably make more sense - a HP 10 person would give a -4 for an extremity to heal the injury, -6 for a limb. That seems pretty fair for a self-healing penalty for all, regardless of their HP. Things deemed beyond "lost limb" (Casting Instant Regeneration to counter an Evisceration spell that took out your kidney or something) would probably be in the -7 to -10 range. One try. Usual rules for critically failing healing spells (Magic, p. 88).

I don't care if you healed the HP or not. Or rather, I do, but I expect you'll have healed them, otherwise I'd cheerfully apply a penalty for lost HP on top of this to the guy casting it. Those spells fix problems, they don't replace healing, and you are expected to deal with HP of injury and limb replacement separately.

This is, parenthetically, an oddity with HP. You can lop off someone's foot, heal the injury, and they are now a smaller person with identical HP and no foot. So you get guys partly dismembered, they down a few healing potions, and they are full HP but just lack a few limbs. Which is fine, but odd when it's during a game session. Whack, arm off! Heal that injury and you're fine!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

DF Game Session 65, Cold Fens 7 - Traps & Lizard Men

June 28th, 2015

Weather: Varied (mix of clear and some rain)

Characters (approximate net point total)

Asher Crest-Fallen, human holy warrior (302 points)
     Koric, human guard (~70 points)
     Orrie, human guard (~70 points)
Bjorn Felmanson, human barbarian (279 points)
El Murik, dwarven cleric (274 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (275 points)
Hannibal the Flammable, human wizard (264 points)

In Swampsedge:
Dave, human knight (252 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Rahtnar the Vegan, dwarven martial artist (270 points)

We started in Swampsedge, where they players vacuumed up only a couple of rumors - not much to tell them, anymore, since no one is going into or out of the swamp. The church did tell them the hidey-hole they found surely would decrease in safety the longer they stayed in it, so they could use it as a bolt-hole and rest area but not depend on it long term at a single go. It's a good safe base, but not a wight-proof fortress or endless sanctuary.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Tiger II kit, 1/72

Although this is mostly a fantasy gaming blog, model tanks and painting the same are gaming to me - and this is primarily a gaming blog. And a little while back, I mentioned I was looking for a nice King Tiger tank model.

So I did find a King Tiger after all.

GURPS Live broadcast. and a blatant book hint

I missed this on Thursday, not the least of which is because I had no idea they even did these Hangouts on Air. I was at work, anyway.

But here is Sean Punch and Steven Marsh talking about the GURPS line, for over an hour:

If you listen closely at the end with the what's coming up part, you will hear a totally blatant hint about my upcoming book, which I talked about here earlier this week.

Sean Punch did on his blog, too, mentioning that it is in production now.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Why of Combat Veteran's writeup

The Why? of Combat Veteran:

- I put all of the "isn't shocked by combat" elements together into one package, price out as Combat Veteran. The logic here is that these elements all represent how a trained combat professional would react. It's not necessarily faster on the draw or more likely to get out of the way of a bullet, but less shock and surprise from combat, and better overall ability (hence the +2 to Battle skill, from earlier editions of Mass Combat.) This is priced at 8 points because 7 seemed inelegant. Cost was totally eyeballed, which is consistent with the origin of Combat Reflexes as a Man-to-Man advantage.

- I coupled the +1 to Fast-Draw skills and the +1 to Defenses together in a "reacts quickly" package. This is for folks whose experience has also translated into quicker reactions overall. The improved bonus to initiative at this level is because you react just a little bit quicker, and therefore your whole side is more likely to get off to the jump first. This is priced at 7 points just because Combat Veteran is priced at 8. This is a steep discount compared to Enhanced Defenses, but I accept that those prices assume you're stacking them onto Combat Reflexes, and thus are an increased cost for +2 and beyond to a specific defense. You're supposed to buy CR before ED, and it's extra to get beyond a +1.

I did like the split in practice. I could make mid-grade experienced enemy troops that were harder to shock and surprise but who didn't get improved defenses. I could have PCs who reacted coolly without reacting necessarily faster.

It was a good and effective split in play. As I said elsewhere, I didn't allow this in my current DF game, despite the request of my players. A starting DF guy has 250 points, -50 in disads, and 5 quirks, for 305 points to spend. I wasn't really concerned that the lack of 7 points to get Combat Reflexes was an issue, and I wanted to make people choose - do I spend 15 points, or risk surprise?

New GURPS Advantage: Combat Veteran

This is for Martin, who suggested it yesterday in the comments. It's something I used in all of my campaigns up to (but not including) my DF game. This writeup was found in a file called FANT.RUL and dated 7/3/1996. Actually the file even says, basically, here it is again for you guys who don't know this advantage.

Combat Veteran (8 points)
Combat Veteran is a halfway mark between nothing and CR, and can be “upgraded” to CR by spending the additional points.
CV gives a +2 to Battle Skill
+1 to initiative if you are the leader of your group
+2 to Fright Checks
+6 to wake up and suprise and mental stun
Will not freeze.

Yes, I know surprise is spelled wrong above. Now I do, anyway.

And there you go. 8 points, can be upgraded to full Combat Reflexes for 7 more, and that 7 more is a steal. Yet not one magic user every took CR, because it doesn't add to Blocking spells, so it wasn't important that they waste 7 points instead of getting 7 more spells.

Feel free to use this.

* Remember when extensions didn't matter, because the computer didn't run things for you automatically anyway? I do.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pre-Choosing Your Improvements in GURPS

This idea comes from Rolemaster. Back in the edition I played, you did three levels worth of point spending at character generation:

Level 0
Level 1
Level 2

You only received the first two, but you had to pre-map your spending for level 2. At level 2, you'd get the level 2 improvements (and roll for stat increases) and pick those for level 3. There was even an optional rule for half-levels, so halfway between 1 and 2 you'd get part of your improvements.

Here is how you can implement this is GURPS, especially with an eye to DF.

Pre-choosing Improvements. Instead of spending earned XP, you must choose where they will go before you earn them. Each session you must designate where your next 10 points are going after they are earned. You may buy advantages, lenses, or other multi-point purchases on installment. However, once points are dedicated to those advantages, lenses, etc. they may not be retracted. As points are earned and expended, you must replace the missing points in the pool.

For example, Honus dedicates his next 10 points as follows: +1 to Flail (4 points), +1 to Survival (2 points), and 4 points towards raising ST. He earns 5 points, and puts them in Flail and 1 point towards ST. He can now choose where to dedicate 5 more points, but still has 3 points dedicated toward ST and 2 towards improving Survival. He can continue to skip them as long as he wants, but he cannot change them without explicit GM approval.

Why do this? - Basically, the idea is to force you to plan ahead, and not just react to the last session's revealed needs. You also get the "training" effect, in that you know what the PCs are working on learning. It has a nice built-in effect of wizards being in-process of learning spells, clerics praying for new spells for more than "between sessions," warriors training sword or bulking up to get more ST, etc.

Did you do this already? - Yes, sort of, with the "Slow and Steady Experience Spending" article way back in an earlier incarnation of Pyramid magazine. But it wasn't quite this implementation.

This would add some extra bookkeeping, but it also might add some verisimilitude and (like S&S Exp. Spending) encourage people to aim for, and save for, long term improvements.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

XP bonuses, disadvantages, and gaming on hard mode

Erik Tenkar was wondering about reversing the old-school D&D approach of giving earned XP bonuses for high stats. Have a high STR as a fighter or a high WIS as a cleric? Get +5% or more XP. Reversing it would just mean low STR and low WIS means more XP for that fighter and that cleric.

I said, in the comments:

"Sure, it could. It depends:

- Are you looking for something simulationist, that says people better suited for a job learn faster?


- Are you looking for something gamist, which says you get a bonus for playing on hard mode?

If it's the former, high stats get a bonus. The latter, low stats.

Both are valid choices, really, but end up with different curves. I'd bet, given the utility of high stats in most systems and the paucity of XP bonuses, most people will go for high stats over bonus points given the latter approach."

Pretty much this is how Disadvantages work in GURPS - are you really a better swordsman, a smarter scientist, or a more effective assassin because you are Greedy or have a Sense of Duty to your friends? No. But as a reward for making a deeper character, and giving it flaws that restrict your actions as a player, you get some more points to make a stronger, more effective character.

Talents cost points, and give you all sorts of bonuses (including learning faster, which isn't the same as an XP bonus but it's not totally alien to the concept.)

As I see it, any time you reward a player for making it harder to do well with their character or restrict their options, it's a game balance / gamist decision. It's giving a boost for playing on hard mode. Any time you reward in-game ability with more rewards because the stronger, the more talented, the more wise, the more agile should do better and learn faster you're making a simulationist decision. Neither is a bad thing, and you can do both- GURPS has disadvantages and talents, and encourages giving XP out to people whose disads trip them up (and less to those who ignore them) while coupling higher stats with higher skills.

It's just what you want - if you want people to get a bonus for taking on something hard, sure, give them bonuses for doing so. If you want an in-game effect of the top people are the top people, give a bonus for high stats or its equivalent. How you decide will matter in the game, but they are both valid approaches.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

DF book writing update

As you might have seen on Dr. Kromm's blog, I've got a DF project more or less set for text. That means it's in production and we just needed to play around with the wordcount to make it all fit right. By "we" I mean I did some words, and people much more qualified than I did the rest - editing, layout, etc.

I can't really say much about the book itself, except that:

- it's a PDF, not a hard copy (as is generally true these days);
- it's in the Dungeon Fantasy line, where a lot of my attention has been lately (My last, uhm, three books and four articles have been DF related*);
- you'll recognize bits if you've paid attention to my own personal DF game.

I also put in an outline for yet another DF book. Of course, it'll draw on my current DF game too. Whenever possible, I like to turn my gaming material into other people's gaming material, and I like to know that what I put in front of others has been used in actual play.

I had ideas past that, but it's one book at a time. Not only that, but I prefer my players discover things in play (or try them out) before I turn them into books. Plus I'm crazy busy - three jobs, and two are pretty big ones and the other requires a lot of outside work. I can't write at the pace that I'd like. Still, SJG is nice enough to allow me to set some pretty far-out deadlines, sometimes, so I can contract for a book and still be sure I'll get it in on time.

So, hurrah, one book is getting closer and closer to release, and another is starting to be born. I'm glad to close off the gap between them and get writing on the next.

* DF12, DFM1, DF15 for books, Power-Ups for Assassins, Terrible & Dire Monsters, Horde Ninja, and more Power-Ups for articles. For links and details, click here.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Temple of Elemental Evil - History and War Stories

Over on Wizard's website, they have a Village of Hommlet walkthough and an interesting look back at T1-4 and its successors.

And the history of the various versions of the Temple of Elemental Evil:

The Return of Elemental Evil

Its interesting how it all got changed around as ideas were purposed elsewhere, sometimes to really good effect. I have to wonder, what the temple that Rob Kuntz apparently solo'd with his guy was like compared to T1-4. Still, what they put out in print is what I ended up playing, so that's the T1-4 that's of the most interest to me personally.

War Stories

I used T1 a lot back in my early gaming days, since it was an official AD&D module (not kiddie D&D like B2!)

As I think I've said before, we didn't spend much time in Hommlet, itself. It was way, way, way too detailed for how we handled town back in those days. And now, in my DF days. People would go to the Inn of the Welcome Wench and order off the menu, argue prices, maybe get into fights, and then never come back to town again. The detail on that town was wasted. Nevermind my tastes being more to towns and cities than to dinky little villages.

The moathouse was more interesting, although it's bizarrely packed full of a lot of monsters for such a tiny space. Nowadays I'd feel it was overpopulated with half the residents. Anyway,the player would usually lose a PC or two fighting the bandits, explore the downstairs for a while, and then die fight Lareth and his cronies. I don't remember anyone clearing the place, offhand. Some came and then left. Many encounters I know by heart (everyone fought those ghouls and bandits!) but others, like the crayfish, never once came up in play.

T1-4, though, we had some stories there. I had that for my high school Unearthed Arcana-era game. The PCs started raiding it as a group - the Paladin was instrumental in clearing the upper works, with his followers in tow. One player repeatedly raided levels one and two - mostly two - with hired henchmen and hirelings. They died in droves, but he (with his fighter, Tomas deCon) eventually cleared much of the second level. The rest of the group joined in for a big fight on level three, where most of the remaining temple folks were slain.

They never freed Zuggotmoy, or even broke down a single pair of the doors - they knew well enough to leave them alone. Same with the side pocket plains - lots of detail on them, but no one went. Probably because they gave the impression of being generate-as-you-go spaces instead of places of singular interest.

Pretty much, they killed the active cultists and factions to a man (or a monster), and then left the place alone. At least that's how I remember it - unless some vague recall of Paladin vs. Demon is from that, which is possible. The paladin could have solo killed Zuggotmoy in her weakest state. If he did, it didn't make much more than a vague impression.

(Actually, I have a stray memory of someone getting trampled by Zuggotmoy, so they may have gotten after her and killed her. Maybe my remaining player from those days remembers.)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

DF Secret Doors, secure doors, & my games

In the dungeon in my Cold Fens game, there are a pair of secret doors (and some not-so-secret doors) that didn't just open when found.

In a world with See Secrets, Earth Vision, and other seeking type spells, a secret door isn't good enough if it's merely secret. Detection is trivial with the right magic. Nevermind detection with mundane means - guys with very high Perception, supernatural detection powers that say something is behind that otherwise "blank" wall, and so on.

It's not enough to conceal the means of opening them, either. They'll be found just as easily.

Nor is making the doors tough to open. Shape Stone, Lockmaster, and related spells will take a door apart. Mundane means will do for most doors. A door thin enough to be an actual moving door in a small area of space is going to be breakable, eventually. Thick ones have vulnerable hinges, somewhere. Bash, bash, bash - it might take a while, but unless it's very thick, it changed the issue from "how do we open it?" to "how long before it falls?"*

To be a challenge, it needs to be tricky to open. Otherwise they are found trivially and opened quickly.

Here are some ways I've made secret doors, and secure doors, more of a challenge, in both Felltower and the Cold Fens:

- Doors that fade into ethereal (?) insubstantial translucence for those who are wet with unholy water.

- Doors of magic-immune metal set into walls of magic-resistant stone, shot through with anti-magical metal.

- Doors of immense weight and size, with concealed hinges, no handles, and no visible lock, which open only to voice command.

- Doors which only appear at all if the key is brought close to the door.

- Doors which are magically trapped, even to the point of attacking semi-distant casters trying to open them.

- Doors with a remote trigger to open them.

- Doors with a remote lock, which when undone stays unlocked long enough to the get to the door and open it.

- Doors in such tight quarters you can't swing a hammer, battering ram, or other brute force device to get through.

- Secret doors in Low and No Mana Zones.

All of these are generally coupled with thickness, internal or external armoring, concealed hinges (so they can't be attacked with ease). A passive defense like a door will never stand to PCs given unlimited time to work on it. It will slow them down, and cost time and resources - great if you expect to be able to get to your door to chase off intruders or just want to slow them down.

They also reward those who just have the keys, know the secret passcode, know the trick of the unholy water, etc. In other words, the security slows down those not allowed in but doesn't bother the knowledgeable.

None of the above will really stop blowing past these doors with sufficient brute force or sufficient magical power and skill. But these types of special challenges also reward non-brute force solutions and de-trivialize bypassing secret and secure doors.

* The usual counter is wandering monsters and "but we'll be heard." These are not always issues, and a person concealing a door and using it for secure access control can't depend on 1d6 wandering whatevers or alerting the ogre in the next room. I find these aren't really big concerns for PCs, no matter what comes a-wandering if they make too much noise.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Game Inspiration: Brothers-at-Arms & Medieval war contracts

I'm slowly reading a book on Henry V of England.

In the usual explanation of how Medieval warfare is a wholly different thing than modern warfare is a nice collection of details on the office of herald, the way loot is divided*, the importance of ransoms, etc. there was a bit about what are best called early adventuring compacts:

"Another more sophisticated method of distributing the dangers and rewards of war were the contracts between soldiers which made them "brothers-at-arms." Such agreements were genuine legal bonds, sometimes for life, sometimes for a specific period, which were usually arrived at by a solemn oath or by sealed letters. Their terms normally provided that the brothers-at-arms should share equally in all gains of war, and should contribute equally to ransoms if one of them became a captive. If both were taken prisoner, one served as a hostage and the other went to raise the ransom for both. All classes of soldiers might become brothers-at-arms -[. . . ]"
- Margaret Wade Labarge, Henry V, p. 67

It goes on to give the example of an English duke and a French duke who were brothers-at-arms despite serving different kings and having different allegiances. Still another specified two captains would pool their loot and send it to London - whoever got home first would invest it, and if only one got home he would get all of it except 1/6 set aside for the widow of the other.

So, early adventuring contracts. Maybe pooling all the loot, dividing it up, and providing for healing and resurrection of the slain (basically, paying a ransom to death!**) is not a strange modern let's-all-get-along thing but rather an extension of how loot-hunting men-at-arms dealt with similar issues.

* For example, as of the time of Henry V and soldiers serving for pay and loot not out on a temporary callout, the finder gets 1/3, his captain 1/3, and the king 1/3. The captain also pays 1/3 of his take (so, 1/3 of that 1/3) to the king.

** Which is an outstanding gaming concept, right there. It would explain and/or justify level based costing for Raise Dead in D&D games.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Alignment, D&D, and GURPS

Tenkar asked about alignment.

Pretty much, Alignment didn't matter much in my games. It mattered more in my High School Unearthed Arcana days, since we had a Paladin and a Ranger/Druid in the party, so the most evil person in the group was Lawful Neutral. People chose it, and it "mattered," but I don't recall it being a big deal. The players were on one side, the bad guys on the other, and you fought. No evil PCs, no backstabbing party members, no worrying that the LG guy and the N guy were together for 32 adventures in a row and pretty much acted the same way, which was they killed monsters and tried to complete the module and level up.

Believe it or not, I used Alignment in my first, 1e GURPS games. We had a full (well, too full) collection of disadvantages and people chose their Alignment, too.

It mattered here and there, for magic weapons with alignment. But in general, it was there because the setting (the Forgotten Realms) and my players expected it. We had lots of "Chaotic Evil" comments to work out of our system. I don't recall it coming up that much overall, and later copies of the PCs lack an alignment at all, which means it was mostly cosmetic adaptation to the game system that underpinned the world we chose to play in.

Once that was done, my next group - not that many years later - was pure GURPS. No alignment. Evil is what evil does, Good is what good does. Only supernatural creatures got the truly Good or Evil designations, and they mostly didn't matter in play since there wasn't a lot of magic or whatever that affected you based on that designation.

Looking at it now, I can see it be useful in either a Law vs. Chaos game, or a Good vs. Evil game (they're similar but not the same.) It seems like it started as a simple, "What side are you on, if any?" and grew into a complex system of action-restriction descriptions coupled with languages and game effects from spells. I don't think a nine point system with everyone taking one is really that useful. It ends up being potential proscriptive, not descriptive, and a weight on actions. Disadvantages might seem the same way, but they tend to drive a lot of interesting play rather than restrict actions per se. They limit by opportunity costs (the Overconfident guy loses out on the chance to run away, the Greedy guy goes for the money and misses the moral reward elsewhere, the guy with Sense of Duty chooses potential death over leaving a man behind) rather than by "Alignment X wouldn't act that way." Which, sadly, is how I remember Alignment mattering when it mattered at all.

Is it needed? No. Useful in selection situations? Yes. You could do the same thing without the tags, though, given a system that supports it. Or bolt-on support in a system that uses Alignment.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Revised GURPS Magic: Madness, untouched

We had yet another "the Madness spell is broken" discussion at game the other day. Not that anyone cast it, but a foe did, recently. It came up out of play, though, so it derailed nothing except my oh-so-random order of putting away my minis.

Long and short of it is that my players feel it is too cheap, too hard to resist, and potentially abusive. I think it's fine as-is.

Personally, I don't feel it is a problem spell.

So I'm milking a cheap post out of explaining why. This isn't meant to bash on my player's concerns, but to explain why I think they're not valid concerns in the context of the game we're playing.

- "It's too cheap." 6 points for totally incapacitating? Yeah, that's cheap. But look at the other totally incapacitating spells. While many are in the 8-10 energy range (Flesh to Stone at 10, Entombment at 10, Agonize at 8), others are less so (Total Paralysis at 5, Sleep at 4, Panic at 4). So 6 cost for extreme, 2 or 4 for the rarely-used weaker versions, are not out of line.

Madness also doesn't work on low-IQ beings. It doesn't work on large swaths of monsters (Immune to Mind Control is pretty common for supernatural threats). IQ 6+ and sapience and free will is not a broad combo in a fantasy world. It basically works really well on normal, PC-race types. You can crank this up to slam people with it, but it really only works on people. So not only the cost not out of line for a "save or be useless" spell, but it's appropriate given the target restrictions.

- "In the right campaign, this could be really abusive." Yeah, maybe. But I don't see how it is abusive in DF, nevermind in this monster-heavy DF game where Mind Control spells are so target-limited. I don't fix current campaigns to solve future problems that may arise. If I someday run another straight-up fantasy game that's not about killing stuff and looting and use GURPS Magic, I may change this spell. Take a look at spells like Teleport and Create Door - fine and interesting in my last game but potentially fun-killing in DF. What spells can be allowed, and the effects they have, are always campaign dependent. Here, I don't see the fun-killing effect of driving mundane foes crazy temporarily.

- "Nothing else has a Will-2 resistance." Except for Permanent Madness, this is true. I suppose I could change it to resisted by Will to make it "consistent" (in other words, easier to resist) with other resisted spells. Since I don't think it's a big problem, and I like having a spell that isn't trivial to resist (honestly, most resisted spells end up being trivial to resist in DF), and the only harm is that the spell is temporarily incapacitating (not lethal, not permanent, doesn't require very specialized counters - heck, unlike most you can wait until the guy can't afford to maintain it or 1 minute after he dies), I'm not swayed. Besides, a number of spells are easier to resist - that is, you roll with an innate bonus - which implies that unmodified resistance is the standard, not the way all resistance works.

(A corollary comes up with "But they fixed Levitation, and it had a penalty to resist" - and that's true. GURPS pre-4e Levitation was a ridiculously effective attack spell, resisted at a penalty, worked on anything animate, and was cheap, too. And I had to play 10 years with it being the be-all and end-all of ends for non-spellcasting foes. But just because a previously available broken spell came with a resistance penalty doesn't really imply that all spells with resistance penalties should be fixed.)

So, overall, I feel like the spell is pretty effective in DF, but the combination of limited targets and appropriate cost means it's not actually abusive. I'd be fine with PCs taking the spell and abusing the living heck out of it. It's still base cost 6 to use on one SM+0 or smaller mundane foe. It's potentially useful against sapiant free-willed foes who lack a pile of Magic Resistance and Will, but most useful against weaker-willed mundane foes.

One question about Extreme Madness came up - if you get Flashbacks, does this mean you roll vs. a 6 or less to see if you suffer from them, and if so, how often do you roll in combat? I feel the last paragraph of the spell makes it clear - you automatically fail all Self-Control rolls. While the 6- on Flashbacks isn't technically a Self-Control roll, the only way it's on par with Catatonia is if the Flashbacks happen automatically. Otherwise, it's a 50/50 shot of Daze you can't snap out of vs. roll vs a 6 or less once, or each turn, or something, to suffer an effect with a duration longer than the spell. That's complicated and odd, and means you have very lopsided effects. So, it just fires up Flashbacks and you suffer away, right away. Same for the weaker versions, but those flashbacks are not incapacitating . . . and you can't choose what madness to inflict anyway.

So this is one spell I haven't fixed, despite calls to fix it. And why. Am I wrong? Am I missing something that makes it totally unfair or abusive? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bones III on 7/7

Just another FYI post - if you missed the announcement, Bones III will start on 7/7:

I'm in. I wish I could still use Amazon.com, or at least Paypal, for payments, though.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Apocalypse DF (game silliness)

My players are talking consequences of a hit-and-run strategy and/or attrition strategy vs. the undead lizard men they encountered last session.

So now all I can think of is Apocalypse DF.

"Swampsedge . . . shit, I'm still only in Swampsedge . . . getting softer. Every minute I stay here in this town, I get weaker, and every minute Sakatha squats in the swamp, he gets stronger."

Cue The Doors, and PCs wigging out and practicing Brawling naked and punching mirrors.

Monday, June 15, 2015

DF Game Session 64, Cold Fens 6 - the Endless Feast

June 14th, 2015

Weather: Varied (mix of clear and some rain)

Characters (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 (264 points)
Dave, human knight (252 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (265 points)
Rahtnar the Vegan, dwarven martial artist (270 points)

In Swampsedge:
El Murik, dwarven cleric (269 points)
Galoob Jah, goblin thief (256 points)
Hannibal the Flammable, human wizard (264 points)

We started in Swampsedge, gathering rumors and taking stock of their goods. Bjorn, flush with cash, spent extra on his stay on town for a bonus to his rolls. It helped, but even so, no potions were available and only 2 paut - Gerry snapped both of those up. This lack of potions would influence their later decisions. El Murik wasn't able to make it, so the group had very little healing magic, no backup for Asher (not that El has Turning), and not a lot of firepower.

They headed off, but decided to check out Old Crazy William's hut one more time. They did, and took the time to search it thoroughly. In his home-made firepit and stone vent, they found a loose stone concealing some treasures. He had a bag with 45 silver pieces, a large gold coin with an image of a crowned lizard man on one side and a trident wrapped with a snake on the other, and a wooden holy symbol with the same trident-and-snake symbol. They had been there for a long time (as in, not a new hiding spot.) It was pretty well concealed but Gerry and Asher were especially observant that day.

The group headed out into the swamp.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cold Fens quick recap

We played another session of our Cold Fens game today.

It featured:

- finding Old Crazy William's secret (incriminating?) stash

- a singular lack of potions

- skirmishing with wights and casualties inflicted upon same

- Poor wording on a "check for traps" attempt

- an endless feast

- a lot of nasty undead lizardmen backed by lizard spellcasters

- and Running away! From an encounter they're sure will be tougher next time. Good choice, bad choice, the only choice that made sense? Up for internal debate. But they ran, nonetheless.

I've got part of the recap written but I won't get it up online until tomorrow. Hopefully, with pictures.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

B-Team Far Away Land, Session 1

Last night was our first B-Team game in a while. We had to cancel the last one because of a lot of business for a lot of people. Last night, we played, but put aside our Swords & Wizardry guys for a while. But we added gaming with Far Away Land to our B-Team adventuring. I'm not sure if we've just switched to Far Away Land, or we're going to alternate in some fashion.

Hargrim the Archer (Tim Shorts) (Tim's Summary)
Odarim the Human (me)
Tanky the Tank (JoeD)
Thizard (Douglas Cole) (Doug's Summary)

We started in a colorful village called Yor, where us three newcomers met an adventurer ranting about some treasure he'd missed out on because his previous group had been unable to reach it. Being total fools, the rest of us signed up right away.

We headed out of the village along the river, and met an old crone Grizella ("I dated a girl named Grizella!" said Odarim. "Or maybe her name was Angela.") The witch invited us in to a hot meal, saying it was the last we'd get for a while . . . maybe ever. She was wrong but we didn't know it yet. There was a quiz, too. Answered we her riddles three, and a potion of something helpful granted were we. Or, Tanky got it. Hargrim got a magical arrow, which he could re-use until it broke.

We continued on until we reach a cyclopean mountain at nightfall, called Mount Solis ("Soulless or Solace?" Odarim asked.) It was getting dark, but adventuring is the time for boldness. We went in. Inside were some Gobbos, or Goabs (I was never quite sure) led by a young giant that the witch had warned us about. Naturally, we attacked.

Tanky drank the potion and muscled up like The Crusher, and got +2 BRT for the fight (giving him 6d to roll.)

Tanky slashed up the giant after one of the archers put out his eye. Odarim slashed a Goab but barely hurt it. We ended up in a melee where Tanky and the others killed the giant, Odarim whiffed a couple times, and then the Gobbos backed off in good order. We pressed them and took down a couple more, and they broke and ran.

We looted them, and found a roasting sheep (which we ate while it was hot - nice accurate divination there, Grizella), a silvered shortsword (turned out to be +1 damage, and Odarim took it). We rested for the night and moved on. Tanky explained there was some sort of minotaur cyclops giant thing here last time, and they'd slain it.

We moved on toward a dark temple, possibly full of loot. We reached a rickety bridge over a gorge. There was a (formerly elven) pirate ship below, manned by Goabs or Gobbos. They demanded a toll, we told them we'd mess them up, and Thizard backed this up with a magical bolt of energy to the face of one. Tanky said we could all do that at will, and started making wizardly gestures. In the end they left and we crossed the bridge in peace.

On the far side we reached a dank swamp. Lucky for us, we had a rowboat seized from near the pirate ship. We rowed out to the island temple in the middle.

Ghosts swarmed the boat. Our ever reliable guide, Tanky, yelled a warning - some variation on "oh (deleted), we have to do something, or not do something, I can't remember." Just like an NPC guide, the kind that can get you to danger but doesn't rightly recollect how that danger worked. See, not just a GM ploy. As the ghosts swarmed us, we put weapons away and avoided eye contact, just as the patron saint of adventures, Saint Indiana, told us to do.

It worked. We reached a three-tierd ziggurat in the middle. It was dark, so Odarim lit a torch and we moved inside. Four demons waited for us around a strange pool. We attacked. We made fairly short work of the demons - mostly thanks to arrows, the magic arrow (which didn't break), and Tanky's demon-slaying sword he'd recovered last time he tried this delve. Once they were down, we headed up the stairs.

There we found five demons in a corpse-strewn area. Again, we fought, and again, we won, although with some damage. Hargrim was seriously hurt. We found a chest marked "open in case of emergency" and it had 6 green potions inside. Hargrim drank one and then another, healing up almost all the way.

One more floor - we climbed it, and found a demon seated on a throne, wielding a spear. We attacked, and landed a pile of heavy blows on him, including a bolt of demon-searing lightning from Thizard. He fought back but it didn't matter - we piled on him heavy and hard, and although Odarim merely dinged him with his silver shortsword Tanky landed two heavy blows and Hargrim's arrow pierced him (and didn't break). The demon was destroyed.

We took his magic spear (a Spear of Rot - 1d, +1d3 rotting) and gave it to Thizard. We may have found other loot but it was late and I lost track.

The demon purged, we got enough XP to level up (10), and called it a night.


The dice mechanic of FAL is that each point gives you a 1d6 roll. You keep the highest, and any sixes after the first are a +1. Roll 5d and get 1,1,1,5,6? You rolled a 6. Roll 2d and get 6,6? You rolled a 7. It's actually really quick and easy. Take the highest or count your sixes.

Odarim is BRT 2, DEX 2, WIT 2, Melee 2, Athletics 1, Sneak 1, Flaw: Ranged 1 (counts as three), Flaw: Poor Choices of Words 1. He's now Level 2 with 13 HP, 3 Luck, and I'm trying to decide where to apply my 10 XP for improvments (add a Boon? Raise Sneak and Athletics? Raise Melee? Save it for upping DEX later?)

Oh, and AC 3. And armor is DR. This is normal and natural to GURPS players.

And yes, since FAL seems so Adventure Time inspired, I had to add "the Human" to my guy.

I mock Tim Shorts, in good fun, for all of his 1s. And pretty much I rolled the most ones, mostly on damage, the whole session. I'm not sure there was a single foe that got more than slightly dinged by Odarim.

Speaking of which, damage gets a margin of success bonus in FAL, if it lands. Or so we here. Erik rolled a lot of 5s and 6s on defensive rolls, so usually we rolled base damage. This was fine, though, and it made the margin of success feel more like a bonus than a reliable form of damage.

Overall FAL played fast and easy, and we had a lot of fun. I'd happily play again.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Hobbit Interactive Map

One of my students showed me this:

The Hobbit Timeline and Map

I love The Hobbit.

Even more so, I love interactive timeline maps.

Very cool.

I need one of those for my own dungeon map of Felltower.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Some play reflections on 5-second turns

A few days back, Doug posted a column on his blog about time scale in games.

Violent Resolution - Time after Time

In it he mentioned the 5-second turns he used for our GURPS Alien Menace game.

In that game, they worked pretty well. Given the constraints of:

- online play
- multiple players
- PCs wanting contingent actions ("advance in overwatch until we see something")
- ranged combat

. . . it worked well. It allowed for us to more or less work as a group, fight as a unit, and otherwise blast anything that came into range. It felt realistic, too, which was important. Plus, it meant that most of the time there were steady and (for GURPS) long lulls between actual in-game actions.

It was a good call by Doug. Perhaps doing it another way would have worked as well, but the option chosen was effective.

This isn't the first time I've played with modified turn structure in GURPS. andi jones ran Gamma Terra with declared actions - go round the table, say what you'd do, then resolve them all in order. It made for a bit of a faster play pace, with overlapping actions that made sense when you decided on them but occasionally had odd results based on prior decisions by others.

I wouldn't use either outside of the genre we put them in, though. In a fantasy game, it might work, but equally, you have so many people crammed into tiny spaces slicing at each other with hand weapons most of the time. Fights are time-crunched grappling, split-second multi-foe kills, magically enhaced speedsters running around, area magic going off, strange special effects of all sorts. Either a longer time resolution or a declare-first approach would give more weirdness than verisimilitude and pacing.

In both cases, you can see where making a change to the resolution scale (or resolution mode) can shift the game's play for something that fits the specific situation.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Link Roundup

In the past couple of days I worked a lot, and read a lot, and did some work proposals.

A few things I did read one ones I wanted to share, here, to make sure other people didn't miss them. Or just ones I was amused by.

Dungeon Puzzles - If you struggle to use player-facing puzzles in your game (IOW, ones that require player skill), this is great advice. It's actually such good advice it's worth reading even if you're pretty sure you have puzzles nailed. Its a good bit of advice about how to signal solutions, and what's probably the most fair and useful approach to riddles.

Taking a Popular Setting and Making it Your Own - interesting approaches to running a game in a popular setting. I've had my own experiences and my own take, but Tim's got some experience I found thought-provoking.

Intellect Devourers - I feel the same way about them. Mind Flayer hounds? Nah. Pure nightmare with no connection to anyone else.

Table of Wandering Damage and Doom _ I was right there until the "not to be taken seriously" note at the end. Why not? I have wandering damage in my GURPS Cold Fens game! It's an idea with deep roots.

Speaking of wandering damage . . .

Rot Grubs: Dungeon Hazard for D&D 5th Edition - Heh. I wish I'd thought of posting that.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2: Icky Goo

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

This is the (for me, anyway) long-awaited second volume in the Dungeon Fantasy Monsters series.

You get 7 basic types of icky things - fungi, jellies, molds, oozes, puddings, slimes, and spore clouds. All of them have a lot of variety - which you can either pick and choose or roll randomly for.

For example, let's look at Fungi. They have a base set of stats, plus stats for three larger patches of fungi. Then they had 6 potential long-range defenses and 6 potential short-range defenses. That's 36 potential combinations of the two, with 4 potential sizes. These are very low-prep, too - you could pick a size, roll 1d6 twice, and be ready to play immediately.

Oozes? Less random rolling, but a lot of choices you could make for size and attacks. Mold? Comes in multiple colors, sizes, and effects. Puddings? Six varieties depending on their climate and terrain preferences. And so on. There are hundreds of potential combinations, here, and a good number of the powers of one class can be ported over to the other classes without a big hassle, because it's GURPS.

Each class is illustrated with a single picture, as well. GURPS books are art-light these days, but like the previous book in the series each monster gets an illo.

After the seven categories is a chapter dealing with more general goo-related issues. Spotting them, using them, selling them as loot, and other issues bound to come up.

How is it for non-GURPS players?

It's a big book of monster stats for GURPS. However, it's pretty inspirational for goo, ooze, slime, etc. variations for another system. Take that from someone who has a large collection of monster books for inspiration - I do that from other systems to GURPS. It's a good deal for the amount of inspiration.

Overall: Good stuff, well executed, and entertaining and clearly written. A must for DF GMs, a good buy for anyone who likes slimes and oozes.

Monday, June 8, 2015

We lost a great Paranoia GM

I got an email yesterday saying that one of my long-time friends, Ed, had passed away. But this is a gaming blog, not a personal blog. So by way of memorial, let me tell you about what an awesome Paranoia GM Ed was.

Remember when I posted about wanting to play the game you imagined, and how that could clash with the game the the GM was imagining?

With Ed behind the "Ignorance and Fear, Fear and Ignorance" emblazoned Paranoia GMs screen, that was not an issue. Not for a second. Ed's grasp on what Paranoia could be and was, was second to none. It was exactly the game you'd see in Jim Halloway's illustrations and in the game books.

I'd practically memorized the books from reading them so many times, hoping to play.

All that got me was more ignorance and more fear.

Playing with Ed behind the screen felt like playing with the Computer itself behind the screen. He was cheerful and happy, eager to have you enjoy the game, and cruelly logically "fair" as you'd squirm and die.

Ed was the kind of GM who'd give you a big red button not to press, and wait until you pressed it. He'd give you the terrible choice of R&D weaponry or not taking R&D weaponry - knowing if you did, it would kill you, but if you didn't, the adventure and the R&D weaponry of your fellow Troubleshooters would do for you. He'd give you a task you couldn't complete without getting past a door you weren't cleared for. He'd give you all the rope you asked for and let you hang your own six clones with it, one after another, laughing heartily with you as they died.

Every decision was horrible, was wrong, and was indefensible in the eyes of the computer. But they only seemed unfair in the sense of Paranoia, not because the GM was being unfair. You knew there was a way to explain your actions, but that your explanation wasn't going to win Ed over just because you'd cowed the GM. Oh no. You would have to have airtight explanations of your traitorous actions to even have a chance at getting him boxed into a place he couldn't justify an execution. You could argue for support and leniency, and you'd sometimes get it, but it wouldn't save you in the end.

You wouldn't necessarily end every mission with a TPK. But you might end it wondering how it was you didn't manage to die six times.

Yet the game was fun. Just fun. You didn't feel frustration, not matter how much your hapless PC was frustrated (Paranoia speak for "repeatedly killed while failing.")

It was good stuff. It's been years since he was up for gaming, or healthy enough to even entertain the idea of even a one-shot. But I enjoyed all the gaming I did with him. Online (endless hours of Mechwarrior as part of Clan Godzilla, mostly fighting each other instead of other clans), by mail (PBMs, I mean), and in person, gaming with him was always fun. I'll miss that chagrined chuckle and sigh of his when we'd once again all team up to take him out because he was too dangerous to let live in a multiplayer game. And I'll remember those Paranoia days.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Hidden Lore (Dungeoneering) - Gort's main skill

From the time he showed up until he was eaten by trolls, Gort of the Shining Force was a very amusing NPC to have in my game.

He was cast as a retired former adventuring hero with a lot of experience but badly deteriorated skills. But it was fun to have him blurt out all sorts of "Back in my days with the Shining Force" reminiscences that could potentially be useful. After all, he was a been-there, done-that, back-in-my-day type of guy.

So I added a new, one-character-only skill to his sheet:

Hidden Lore (Dungeoneering)

This skill covers oddball bits of knowledge and experience picked up by an extremely (but randomly) experienced delver. It involves little bits of monster lore, professional knowledge about how to coil rope, hammer in iron spikes properly for keeping doors open or closed, how to tap for pits properly with a 10' pole, what monsters might like to eat, how it was done back in the Palace of the Silver Princess or that time in Felltower, etc. If these are covered more specifically by another skill, roll against that instead - this is more like Jack-Of-All-Trades for dungeons.

On a successful roll, you know how to do the task at hand in a "proper delving fashion," or have some tidbit of possible useful knowledge. On a failure, you have a useless piece of information or have some not terribly helpful way of accomplishing the task.

Why not a Professional Skill?

Because it's not just knowledge about the ways and means of doing a specific job. It's a catch-all category of:

- dungeon lore
- professional knowledge
- monster lore
- reminiscing
- everyman skills for dungeoneering

Is this a serious skill?

No, not really. It was an excuse to roll against a 10 or 11 or less and have Gort chime in with some information or be able to accomplish some "basic" delving task that is probably not that trivial (like, tap for secret doors, or spike doors open, or tie up prisoners). It was just a "Is Gort going to say something useful or useless?" roll.

I wouldn't allow a PC to take this. It's potentially too broad, and turns from "What does Gort know?" into "GM, tell me how to solve this problem." I hate those kind of rolls. I prefer people to come up with solutions themselves, and then use Knowledge skills to determine if the solution is a good one . . . not assume their guy has a hidden stock of GM-provided answers at hand. How to, not what do I know.

But "What does the NPC know?" is a really valid concept for the GM. So if there was another Gort-like NPC out there, I'd use this again.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

An overabundance of caution III; Fight them next time

One one more possible result of potential PC death/lethality is the "fight them next time" approach.

Essentially, the PCs engage, then immediately back off if it doesn't look like they can win the fight without cost.

This approach is really common in my games - engage, back off, and come back with tactics, weaponry, magic, and backup plans customized to the specific foe. It's happened against a demon-temple, the bandits in the Cold Fens, the orcs in Felltower, the druagr, and a number of other encounters.

There is a lot of sense in this kind of plan - you never engage willy-nilly, but rather launch deliberate assaults only when you have stacked all of the odds in your favor.

If this always works, though, it's pretty much the GMs fault. Set piece monsters that wait for intruders to come back when they are ready and don't make a second trip a dicier proposition than the first encourage this behavior. And why not? If you're not dealing with a time crunch, you may as well come back when the odds are in your favor.

For a lot of encounters, this makes sense - mindless undead (or area-limited willful undead), guardian statues, traps, ancient temples of the darkest evil, test encounters left in place. They simply can't or won't change. They will stay static and await your approach.

But others will change.

The AD&D DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE has a great section on this. It's on pp. 105-106, MONSTERS AND ORGANIZATION. It has excellent advice, some great Gygaxian admonishments from on high, and interesting insight into very old school gamers (they attacked a lot of lairs, camps, and towns). It assumes the party engages, inflicts damage, and pulls back because they don't achieve victory.

However sometimes you'll get none of that - just sheer backing off as soon as possible.

I'll try to split these into two general categories - rewarding immediate action, and punishing delayed action.

The Rewards of Boldness

These approaches encourage you to take risk right now.

Opportunity Knocks. Make some encounters have action going on - action that gives a chance you won't get next time. One AD&D adventure has you accidentally interrupt a duel, and the distraction serves to get one duelist wounded - now you have half of your opposition wounded. Other examples are thieves looking over loot, monsters drunk on liquor or drugs (they won't be next time), sleeping guards (who won't be unwary next time), or distracted sentries. Or even just unprepared monsters - maybe they're doing their weekly maintenance on the giant crossbow, or just expended a bunch of spell power to impress each other. You could catch a lot of critters together in one place (a nice target), or catch them strung out (vulnerable to defeat in detail.) Or maybe they're just exhausted - they just finished exterminating some other poor guys and aren't up to another fight.

Make it clear this is temporary - jump them now and you can take advantage. Back off, and next time this isn't there anymore.

Time limited rewards - this approach puts an additional reward in for acting right away. Here I'm thinking treasure, valuable items, etc. that are obviously there . . . but won't last. A rust monster just waddling up to a suit of gleaming and glowing plate armor is a pretty clear choice. So is anything valuable but edible near a hungry monster. Prisoners are a form of time-limited reward. "We'll come back and deal with the mind flayers in a few weeks, and rescue their hapless prisoners then. I'm sure they'll be fine until then!" Yeah, or not. Maybe not.

You can also do a meta-award, if you want to be heavier-handed. Bonus XP for stuff killed in a first encounter, or a penalty for things killed routinely or easily. Rolemaster did something of this sort, actually, for repeat experiences. A bonus for bold action (maybe ala the Awesome bonus) is possible, too. Many players will just weight the cost here, too, though, like it was a sale ("It's +X xp if I do it now, but I might die forever, which is -100% XP and -100% stuff, so it's a bad bargain.")

The Cost of Caution

These basically say, go ahead and back off, but this was as easy as it was going to get.

They just leave - Much like the bandit camp in situation 2 of the DMG p. 105, many foes will just up and leave. They'll take their loot and go elsewhere, expending their resources on foiling pursuit. Flighty opponents who aren't around very often are a form of "Opportunity Knocks." This doesn't have to be monsters fleeing. Maybe they just aren't around very often - the temple that unseals once in a thousand years, or the traveling gold caravan, a temporary moongate, or some other event that is encountered in transit across space or time, not a fixture to be dealt with at leisure.

Reinforcements - Make it clear monsters multiply. They recruit, they grow, they spawn, they go from "small tribe" to "legion of doom" if not dealt with. Some classic AD&D modules did this - T1-4 and WG4 made excellent use of these. I loved both of those adventures, so, so do I. See, the Orcs of Felltower.

The idea here is that monster numbers might be stable, or might make the encounter tougher.

Intelligence - monsters aren't limited to what you show in your arrival and back off. If they have allies, they can get info from them. Or they can us magic to divine more. Maybe they recognize the signs, seals, and symbols. Maybe they've run into different adventurers and prepare based on that experience. But if you come back later, you come back to foes who have prepared for you just as you've prepared for them.

Even if they only react to what you show them directly, the more hit-and-run and show-up-and-run encounters you have with a group, they better they know what to do next time you show up. Maybe even wall you off near a demon lord.

Decreasing Reward - the longer you take, the less reward. The monsters spend some of their money regularly, and don't accumulate it as fast. There is an outstanding reward on the head of one of the critters that someone else might come and claim. Your sponsor gives you a bonus for speedy completion. Basically, the reward will go down. This overlaps a lot with Opportunity Knocks and Time-Limited Rewards.

This puts aside the issue of encounters you can't flee from - room entrances that seal off behind you, attacks on your camp or base, exceptionally good pursuers, etc. That is the kind of stuff that justifies extreme caution, in a lot of ways. That's kind of off-topic here. I'm thinking in the examples of above of giving the choice of caution or boldness, and either rewarding boldness or attaching a cost to caution.

Some of these have happened in my game - some encounters disappeared. Some monsters took their treasure and left. The orcs have gotten so many reinforcements (and money from the PCs, and accidental extermination of their rivals by the PCs) that they have become the preeminent problem for the PCs in Felltower. Others spent treasure on weapons to counter the PCs. Most made tactical adjustments based on what they saw. A few gained intelligence directly and indirectly on the PCs. Still others dealt with their security lapses. And still more made alliances to deal with the threat next time.

Even if backing off is the sensible thing now, or just the tactic of choice, it isn't always without cost. Yet it shouldn't be a universally bad choice, or players will rightly feel railroaded into always fighting before it gets worse or gets away. Hopefully the ideas above will make sure that "when the going gets tough, come back later and deal with it" is not always a successful or wise choice, without making it never a successful or wise choice. You want just the right level of doubt about fight vs. flight.

Here are Part I and Part II of this post series.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Icky Slime!

There is a new DF book out - the long-awaited second volume in the Monsters books series that launched with a Kromm/Yours Truly co-written book quite a while back.

The new one is a lot more focused. Instead of a catalog, you get 7 kinds of slimes, spores, mold, and fungus and a staggering amount of potential variations.

You can read more about it here:

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2: Icky Goo

I'll try to get a review up ASAP.

ACKS Encumbrance - A question

I've been slowly reading through ACKS.

One thing I've been wondering about is the encumbrance system?

As written, it seems like it's reaching for a simplification of encumbrance but manages to make it pretty complex. Instead of a single unit (coins, gp, pounds, kg), you have a number of "stone" you can carry. But a stone isn't really equal to a specific weight (not even the common measurement, the "stone"). Heavy items are 1 stone. Armor is 1 stone. A bundle of smaller items is 1 item, and 6 items is 1 stone, although it's not quite clear to me what the standard, assumed bundle size is.

So it reads like it would take a lot of actual thinking and tinkering to get your encumbrance worked out.

But I've said, the rules aren't the game, how it plays at the table is the game.

So - for ACKS players and refs:

How does it actually play at the table?

Basically, if you run it as written, how is it to run? If you're changing it, that's fine, but not my question.

I'm curious if this is actually smoother and easier than accounting for everything with a common real-world or common in-game metric of weight.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Big Dungeons & Bacon

Tim Shorts asked about rations. Well, bacon. But he meant rations. Mmm . . . bacon.

"How often do you have a party keep track of food? Do you make them take supplies for a two week trek they are about to begin? Or is that something you just hand wave?"" - Tim "1 is the loneliest number" Shorts

Yes, we track it. I tend to abstract a lot, but I don't abstract consumables.

Yet at the same time, when we do our megadungeon delving, it's not like the number of rations is a limiting factor. But it could be. It might be important if PCs want to bribe denizens with food ("Hey, want some trail mix?"), get stuck ("So, the runes say this door will re-open automatically in three days"), or otherwise end up needing food.

Not only that, we've recently had a significant wilderness component to our adventures. In these recent sessions, food is critical. So much so our recent addition, Dave the Knight, had to be sponsored for food by an ally* in order to make to the dungeon and back.

Dealing with ration replacement is a pain, though.

So we abstracted it down a little.

We figure you eat your rations during your downtime, and replace them with new ones. Thus, the cost of replacing any "spare" rations (ones brought back to town) is zero. Pretty much, this means you don't have to pay for rations for day trips, they are rolled into your weekly upkeep (base $150).

If you eat special rations - Elven rations, Dwarven rations - you have to pay the extra cost as additional upkeep. Paying an extra $30 for your special rations? Pay an extra $30 for upkeep.

Dwarven rations come with a weekly cost, since eating them weekly gives a Resistance.

All of this works because GURPS Dungeon Fantasy assumes a basic $150/week for upkeep. Or, between delves, in our case, since "per week" didn't work well with our 1 real day = 1 game day tracking method.

You know what we don't track? Water. Generally, it's been available. That will change in a desert, of course. We track what matters, when it matters.

How has this worked in actual play?

Quite well. We've adjusted a couple of PC's weekly upkeep costs. We had a few teething issues with an actual need to stock up on rations (in the Cold Fens, largely), and one or two with confusion over the pricing of special rations. But it hasn't been a real issue. It worked out quickly.

Overall this allows food to be a valued commodity and a potentially useful tradeoff of cost and weight vs. lower encumbrance, but not something we need to tick off ration by ration.

* Paid for by his dad's PC. Like Chris Rock says, "You're supposed to care for your kids." We'll still give Gerry the cookie.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

An overabundance of caution, Part II - The Invulnerability Trap

Monday I mentioned that Tenkar's post had pre-empted one I've been tinking around with. Here is is - another consequence of perceived lethality.

GURPS combat is potential lethal. As a friend would say, "In GURPS, a kid with a pointed stick can kill you." It's unlikely, but possible. There is almost no such thing as a safe fight.

But with GURPS - probably with any character-building system instead of character-rolling system - you can make choices that improve your survivability.

You can get into what I think of as the Invulnerability Trap. That is, trying to make your defenses, armor, and death checks perfect.

Airtight Defenses: This manifests itself as the "16+ even under bad circumstances" approach to defenses. The true munchkins want Dodge at that level, because barring optional rules it doesn't decrement from multiple uses.

Why it is a trap - it's expensive to do, it's not foolproof (rear attacks, surprise attacks, multi-hex attacks, and the inevitable 17s and 18s you'll roll.) It puts you in the trap of thinking you can defend against anything you face except critical hits . . . which I've found makes people focus a potentially paralyzing amount of concern on critical hits.

Ironically, it also means your maximized defenses means it is foolish to attack with something you can defend against. Unless your GM has totally set up the entire world and then backs off forever, you can expect that high-powered challenges won't be things you can trivially Parry or Block or Dodge.

On top of that, the temptation to run into near-certain peril is strong - hey, I rarely fail to Parry, so I can take on this bunch of guys all at once! I can win this unwinnable fight as long as they don't roll any 3s or 4s!

The counter-argument to this is the "what about that time I was mobbed by (whatevers) and I had a -alot cumulative penalty to defenses?" argument. Which is fair . . . but its an example of putting yourself into a bad spot and then saying, look at how bad this spot is!

Immunity or near-immunity to death: This shows up as HT 14-16, Fit, and usually of Hard to Kill, too, if possible. Basically, no rest until your death check is 16+.

Why it is a trap - it's already hard to die in GURPS. A solid HT is worth it, so are Hard to Kill, Hard to Subdue, and Fit or Very Fit. It's just the fear of a failed death check (that is, even suffering a Mortal Wound) is so high you end up putting more points here than you need. It can pay off when there is no one to stabilize your wound.

Never Unconscious: - A related trap is the "never unconscious till I die" approach of HT, Fit, and Hard to Subdue. That one is oddly suicidal - if you (almost) never pass out, your opponents don't stop attacking you until you drop . . . automatically, at -5xHP.

Why it is a trap - Basically, because you are spending points to stay conscious in a fight that is going badly . . . and to stay functional in a fight that is going badly. It's a double-edged sword. A merciful foe might spare you if you pass out . . . but even a merciful foe is going to keep hitting you if you are half-dead on your feet but swinging for his neck. It's "I stay up until I die." That ends with death . . . and it costs you points to get this "benefit."

Sky-high Resistance: - This one is a little less of a trap. It's generally a good idea in a game with supernatural powers to have a high Will, solid HT, and some kind of bonuses against the roll. But it's not terribly cheap to have a high Will, high HT, lots of special bonuses (Resistant to, etc.) all at once.

Why it is a trap - For resistance to offensive powers, the Rule of 16 means going past a total 16 is generally not worthwhile for the victim. And while horribly virulent poisons and diseases exist they generally don't exceed a -4 to -6 penalty for resistance. Some do, but not so many. Generally what makes this a bit of a trap is trying to stack side-bonuses on top of high base stats - it's the combo of high HT, high Will, every Resistance you can get, Hard to Subdue, Hard to Kill, and Very Fit. Hurrah, you have a base 18-20 vs. everything and conditional bonuses running from +3 to +8 or more . . . but a base 14-16 and half of those conditional bonuses would have been more than sufficient almost all of the time.

Armor up! - This is the old "get the most armor you possible can" approach. Best, highest DR, most enchanted armor in the game. Start at the top and don't look down. Also get as much natural DR as you can. Harass the GM endlessly about special armor for any locations below your maximum DR. Ask if you can wear 2-3 pairs of gloves and put oversized sollerets over your boots which you have on top of steel-soled slippers.

Why it is a trap - The trap here is that heavy actual armor is going to restrict your ability to move (Move is reduced by encumbrance - and so is Dodge), . This one I see the least often - my players have always had a sharp eye for the tradeoff between movement and DR. Low move on a tactical map means the fight goes on without you most of the time, unless someone really wants to come and attack you. The counter is higher ST, higher Lifting ST, and higher Speed or Move . . . all of which are useful, but aren't free. Also you might see more DX to absorb the -1 for layered armor and offset some of the penalties to Stealth and Climbing. Points you are spending on Lifting ST and better Move to reduce the effects of your high armor are, in effect, being spent on getting some gadget-based DR.

Natural DR is limited, but it's almost always the very first buy for those who can get it. The progression is, buy as much natural DR as you can, then buy the rest before you branch out. Not a bad choice, and you always want this eventually, but in the short run it's got the opportunity cost of not improving other things.

Meta-traps here are that if everyone has a lot of DR, the bad guys get stronger offense. It will happen, because otherwise the game is over (no threat, no risk, no fun, IMO). So in a way very high DR means foes either are very good (to aim for weak points), very strong (to defeat DR), or have armor-ignoring attacks. This might seem unfair, but I can tell you it happens - check out Doug's post on armor, where he posits a baseline ST 14 for determining the effect of GURPS armor. Back in our 100-points-no-disads Man-to-Man days, a ST 14 guy was pretty awesome, having spent 45% of his points on one stat! And yeah, DR 6 was high back then. Escalation happens.

This leaves aside Luck. Luck isn't terribly expensive, and it's actually a good argument against this trap of trying to be immune to everything - it gives you three chances at a roll, which counts for a solid bonus to any roll you need. It can bail you out when even maximized HT, defenses, etc. fail you. If you get a do-over or two, you don't also need a 98.1% chance of success on all of the rolls.

(Aside: Someone mentioned giving a discount for defensive-only Luck. In my games, that's barely even a -5% limitation, since everyone saves Luck to undo critical hits, re-roll failed Death checks, and otherwise stay alive. I've seen Luck used offensively, but it's rare. One odd behavior, though, is the "run when I'm unlucky" approach. It's not that common, but you'll get people who takes great risks while they still have a use or two of Luck, who then refuse to take risks until it is back.)

Ultimately, all of this is sensible behavior . . . except it's spending from a limited pool. Points spent on pushing defenses, armor, resistances, death checks, etc. to "only fails on 17-18" comes from somewhere. Given unlimited points, you may as well have maximum Will and HT 20 and levels of everything. But no one has unlimited points. Even 1600 point superheroes run out in the blink of an eye during chargen.

It's very expensive to be tough. It's extremely expensive to be tough against everything. Even then, you are never totally safe, even with active defenses layered over passive armor over immunities over high stats bolstered by advantages with a Ridiculous Luck umbrella over the whole thing. It's never really enough to fully shield you in combat. Or from direct physical or magical harm. It just makes it less likely. You get to be extremely survivable, until something comes along you just can't hack - a critically successful offensive spell that one-shots your guy, a trapped room with no air, a demon lord with Death Magic, whatever. You aren't buying immunity, you're buying better odds against a diminishing return on investment.

Yet points spent there are points not spent on offensive firepower that might be needed to win a fight. Or social skills to get out of one or better leverage your opportunities in town. Or spent on outdoorsy skills that let your adventurer move about the badlands and haunted woods with aplomb. Those points are Allies not purchased, depth of skill ignore, and so on.

That's the real trap, here. It's having Parry-20, Dodge-14, lots of DR, HT 14, Will 20, a pile of resistances and HT-bonus advantages . . . and rolling against Swimming-12 or Survivial-11 or trying a contest of your Boating vs. the escaping bad guys with your default roll, because you didn't have the points to waste on them. It's having a tremendous Block but being hosed when you are grabbed from behind because you have 1 point in Wrestling. It's having a net -5 to reaction rolls because you are an Overconfident guy with a Social Stigma and no Charisma, no Reputation, no Rank or Status. Points aren't unlimited, and there are a lot of things to roll for and roll against that benefit from actual point investment. Opportunity costs are the entire basis of the point-buy system.

So that's another thing I see in the way of caution - the temptation to spend, spend, spend on risk-reducing and consequence-reducing abilities in reaction to perceived lethality.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bard's Tale IV

So there is a Kickstarter for Bard's Tale IV

I'm hesitating on this - I'm not sure I want another "all of my guys go one at a time, then the bad guys" combat game. I haven't enjoyed that as much as I had in the past. Part of the fun of Bard's Tale I (besides fighting 396 berserkers) was the whole giving commands and then seeing what happened. That massive 396 vs. 7 fight of the mid-80s would take a whole day to finish going one by one.

But I might change my mind, we'll see. If I don't change it before the Early Bird tier goes away, though, I'll have to pay $27 instead . . . which means actually paying $0 and taking a pass on it. It's tempting, though - Wasteland 2 was fun enough, but at the same time I have Torment: Tides of Numenera on my "not even shipped yet" to play list.

Monday, June 1, 2015

An overabundance of caution?

I started to write quick response to this post at Tenkar's Tavern, but a longer response emerged. I've actually been plinking away at a more GURPS-specific post about risk and PC safety, which I'll finish up tomorrow if I have time.

The meat of the post Erik wrote is this paragraph:

"In game, I think it's important to remind PCs (and their players) of their relative vulnerability. If the players discuss running instead of engaging (even if they do engage 90% of the time after having said discussion) when things look horribly tough, you as the DM are doing something right. If your players always run head long into each fight, never thinking twice, never considering escape, you need to remind them of their vulnerability. Sometimes all it takes is a single PC to die to make it real (in the context of the game, of course.)"

I think just as often I see the opposite - excessive caution due to concern about potential lethality.

A lot of what people celebrate and hold up as a perfect example of old-school play - getting the treasure without fighting - can feed into this. If you celebrate lopsided unfair fights engineered by the PCs, the risk of jumping into danger, maximizing reward to risk, and ensure that beyond any door you open can be a pot of gold or death with no saving throw . . . and couple that with high lethality play, you can easily get the "any risk is bad risk" approach to gaming. The risks are so high and the most celebrated way to win is with clever risk minimization over bold action - so caution is called for and rewarded. You can end up with the "only open chests in town, never fight the monsters the first time you see them, back off whenever you can" strategy.

Which makes sense in reality, even if you do lose a lot of opportunities by not taking risks. Still, you do what you can to minimize risks or prepare for their eventuality and then, as Erik says, put them to the side and get the job done.

But with imaginary paper guys, it's kind of odd. Your real world risk is nothing. The sunk effort into that character is lost, possibly forever. But the character is there only to facilitate fun experiences. That's pretty much it. It's a paper marker meant to let you have imaginary fun. That's import to remind yourself - any loss, ultimately, is just a gateway to having different fun with a different character. You don't really lose anything except the unrealized potential of the lost character . . . and that has no more or less unrealized potential than the next guy you make up.

Throwing away a character with foolish play isn't the goal, either. There is not a binary choice between "assured PC victory" and "possible PC death." Instead you have a continuum of automatic success to automatic failure, and between them are vary levels of assured risk and potential reward. Push it too far toward lethality and you can trigger a very cautious response, going as far as to do nothing knowing it's better to fail by not doing than to fail by doing. Push it too far away from lethality and you end up with no reason to be cautious at all.

All of that said, yes, I play cautiously most of the time with my own guys. I try not to take risks that I can't see giving a proportionate reward. Yet I try to keep in mind that, if I get whacked, all I lost was the fun of succeeding with that particular paper man. It's something I try to let everyone know - losing guys is part of the game, and (ultimately) part of the fun.* And that there are rewards out there commensurate with the risks, even if they don't always show up in the same exact place and time. Balancing the risk to reward as a GM so the players feel that way, too, isn't always easy.

In short: lethality is good, but there is point where too much pushes the players to risk minimization instead of risk:reward maximization. And I think the second is way more fun, if somewhat tricky to do.

* With some games, like the ones James Ward has written about or Paranoia, getting your paper man killed (six times, in the latter) is really a major part of the enjoyment. I'd argue both come with big dollops of reward for the risk to your paper man, in terms of what you get out of the game, out-of-game.
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