Sunday, January 31, 2016

DF Felltower Upkeep Costs

Here is how I handle upkeep in my DF game:

Upkeep Frequency

Pay once for any gap of time between sessions. One week, two weeks, a year, whatever. One payment for the downtime. This avoids becoming broke from real-world gaps in time that translate 1:1 to game time. You are assumed to have worked freelance, gotten a job, lived on the cheap, done some successful gambling, etc. - depending on your style.

You can skip the costs by living on the cheap, normally, but you cannot take advantage of any in-town benefits (learning skills you can't self-teach, learning new spells, getting rumors, etc.)

Upkeep Costs

Costs are calculated in this way:

Basic Upkeep: $150/week
Special Rations: Pay full cost for one week's worth of special food (21 meals worth of special rations)
Any spendy disadvantages: +10% per -5 points unless a higher cost is specified.
Any spendy quirks: +1% per -1 points.
Martial Artist: +100% cost.

So a character with Compulsive Carousing [-5] pays $150 + 10% = $165 as normal upkeep.

A character with Compulsive Carousing [-5], Compulsive Gambling [-10], and Gluttony [-5] would pay $150 + 40% = $210 as normal upkeep.

Martial artists pay $300 base - high, but they're spending a lot of special food prepared in special ways, teas, incense, etc. Yes, they effectively cost more than drunken spendy types, but $300 is basically a ceiling as they rarely have other costly traits. They also don't have to pay for new Chi-based skills or powers they learn, because they just meditate them into being.

Disadvantages like Miserliness do not reduce upkeep costs, but will require a roll to replace equipment that is still functional, or to live above one's means, or spend on extras of any kind in town.

Also, on a related note, here is how we deal with rations:
Big Dungeons & Bacon

Saturday, January 30, 2016

White Star B-Team, Session 1 - Chicago & the Flying Cow

After a gap of many months, we reconvened the B-Team. Since Erik Tenkar has been on a White Star kick, we played White Star. I'm now playing in three active sci-fi games and in one that's on hiatus, and running one fantasy game. I might need to nickname this blog Science Fantastic.

Sadly, though, this session our friend Tim "I rolled a 1" Shorts was replaced by an impostor who rolled really well. Sadly? I meant luckily. We'll miss the original Tim but those were some timely 19s and 20s by the new one.

For a look at the game through Doug's eyes, check here: S&W B-Team White Star

And for Tim's: I Shot First

Prior to play, we rolled up characters - 3d6 rolled seven times, arranged to taste. I got 14, 13, 13, 13, 9, 8, 4. I chose to dump the 4, but it would have been frelling funny to keep it. Instead I put my low stats in STR and CON and made my guy an old man, new to adventuring and new to being a Star Knight. Why a Star Knight? Because I doubt I'll get to be a Jedi in Darth Milk's Star Wars game.

I rolled low on money, and sank it all into camping gear. Much mock was made of my sleeping bag, flashlight, rope, etc. but they were different makers in the game.

Payne Stalk, human mercenary (level 1) (Doug Cole)
Chicago Jones, human scoundrel (level 1) (Tim Shorts, supposedly)
Velo Kalavas, human Star Knight (level 1) (me)

We started in a bar call the Bloody Leech, named after its bloodsucking original owner. No, really, his race drinks blood. It takes all kinds.

A scummy gangster whose name I can't remember (Velo couldn't be bothered, apparently) hired us to retrieve something in a downed ship a half-day's speeder bike ride out of town. We were all either broke or nearly so, so after some tough negotiations we agreed to a ridiculous deal where we got paid a solid amount of money but needed to rent needed gear from the gangster. Being broke, we took it. We needed to get to a ruined ship, retrieve some bovine-avian mix DNA and anything else of similar type we could find.

We took our speeder bikes out to the plowed-in ruins of a ship. It had burrowed itself down, leaving little but some gun-shot wreckage on the surface. Strange, our employer said it crashed due to technical issues. I guess multiple hull breaches from gunfire is a technical issue.

We split up, leaving Chicago at the bikes and Velo and Payne circled from opposite ends to examine the ship and then meet back at the bike. While that was going on, Chicago saw a glint of light in the distance. He also accidentally stomped the brakes and accelerator the wrong way and flipped his bike. He despite the embarrassing flip he saw enough to decide someone was watching us.

We left the bikes and went inside the darkened and ruined ship, which was apparently a F*ing BS-class freighter. Of course, it was dark. But - haha - I had a flashlight. I got mocked for my hobo-load of belongings but I had a flashlight. We had some flares on the bikes, too, but hey, I readied a flashlight and my laser sword, and we headed in.

Although the power was mostly out, we managed to work out way through most of the doors with lots of low rolls and one by cutting it open with my laser sword.

The watchers that Chicago spotted finally made an appearance, trying to sneak up behind us. But Payne was watching the rear, backed by Chicago, as I swept the room we were in with my flashlight. The sneakers didn't make it far - a quick flurry of shots left two dead and another ran away.

We quickly looted them and divvied up their weapons (a laser pistol for me, rifle for Payne, and a spare energy cell for each of us, plus daggers for Payne and Chicago) and continued on.

We found a computer terminal and against all odds Chicago got it working (roll a 6 on a 1d6). He was able to locate our target.

We worked our way across the ship, but blundered into a pair of giant intelligent space cockroaches! Thanks to Payne's good initiative rolls and Erik's typically bad ones, we got the jump on them. Payne shot and missed with his rifle, I charged and missed with my laser sword, and Chicago blew one away with his laser pistol.

The cockroach attacked back, biting me with a 20. Erik chose double damage - 3, which became 6, and dropped me to 0 HP and I dropped. I made a save to not be dead.

The next turn the roach took a bite at one of the others, but quickly went down in a rifle shot from Payne.

Lucky for me, I had a med kit. Lucky? Velo is prepared! Payne applied it to me and I was healed back up.

We made it to the storage area and extracted all of the DNA sample vials. Lucky for us, we had a sleeping bag to double as a vial storage bag.

We headed out, and outside the ship we met a trio of humans. A small guy and two hired goons. The small guy demanded our vials, in return for our lives. Chicago Jones, though, is a scoundrel, and he had a special power that once a session gives him a chance to shoot before initiative is rolled. He made the roll, and then shot the mouthy small guy and blew him prone and bleeding out. We eyed his muscle. They eyed their boss, and said, "See ya!" and took off.

We made it back to town.

There, we got into some intrigue. Chicago had pulled a black market hiring chit off the mouthy dude we'd killed, and had a friend of his run the details in return for 400 credits - most of what we had advanced to us from our gangster patron. We found where the rendezvous was and sent Chicago.

He made the trade in a restroom, handing over a vial we'd re-labeled as the real deal and got a credit stick in return.

Then we headed to our original boss. Of course, it was he that made the trade with us. We haggled a lot, with Chicago pressing very hard for more. In the end, since we hadn't taken sufficient precautions to stop a violent attempt to take our stuff, we settled for 2500 (the restroom trade) and our original 1000. He was played, but took it in stride, and we took our money and left.

Our employer chose a very strange approach - 1000 to us, 2500 to the guys who'd take it from us. Probably would have made sense to promise us 2500, but 1000 to the guys who'd take it away. If we succeeded, he'd be out 2500. If the second group did, he'd be out 1000. The way he did it, it seemed like he'd be out 2500 unless we succeeded and he was weighting the scales to the guys who'd cost more. Serves him right to be out 3500 instead.

Good session.


- We got a remarkable amount done considering we started an hour later than we used to and talked for about as long as we usually do. It was good to chat with Doug, Tim, and Erik before we got rolling but also to get things rolling.

- The Swords & Wizardry roots of White Star are pretty apparent in the way we leveled up with loot. I didn't really expect that, but it's fine.

- Tim is a heck of a good scoundrel.

- I feel less heroic than helpless (or hapless) in combat sometimes. I got lucky - critically hit but not killed outright, and I made my 15+ save to stay alive. But it's tough to be a melee guy with light armor in a game where your options are "hope you don't get hit" and "make sure you roll high when it's your turn." Still fun, but I'd have been sad if I'd died off. Velo Kalavas is fun - crotchety old man, but also a knight of the sword, and a solid character. I'm looking forward to eventually getting enough XP to level and get spells, er, meditations. I'll post his stats when I have time to write them up in a nice format.

Black Tree Minis arrived

Most of my order of minis from Black Tree Design arrived today - some backorder stuff is coming later, but the rest is here.

Here are two of them - the others I prefer to keep back for now as a surprise.

Below are (left) the orc chief and his victim, and (right) the barbarian king and his ride.

Friday, January 29, 2016

What I like in other people's summaries

I write my own game summaries. I read a lot of other people's summaries, too.

I realized there are some things I like a lot in summaries.

- Omniscient GM perspective. I want to see this through the GM's eyes.

- After action reports (AARs). How did it go? What went wrong?

- Rules commentary and reflections on the rules. "ACKS does this." "In GURPS, we see PCs do a lot of this." "In D&D 5e, I noticed monsters do less X and more Y."

- Maps and pictures, if possible.

- A cast of characters at the beginning, so I can see who to look for. Games are like Russian novels, so please let me look up who they are before I confuse Ruslan Ivanovich Kotin with Ruslan Illych Kotin during actual play. Or, to go all Robert E. Howard, confuse Amlaric with Almaric or Amluric.

- Matter-of-fact summaries.

- Notes. I love end notes talking about the good and bad of play, decisions, rulings, etc.

There are things I don't, too.

- in-character writeups. Maybe entertaining for the other players, but "let me roleplay my guy for you" is right up there with "let me tell you about my character" for me. They're fun when you were one of the players, honestly, but I'm less interested in what Grondar thought of the session and more in what Grondar's player did.

- fiction. I don't want to read stories, but game summaries.

Just my opinions. Pretty much I seem to like the matter-of-fact GM-written AARs more than the punchy fiction approach. I learn a lot more from a GM reflection on a game than from stories about game, too. My own writing reflects these, I think.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

GURPS DF: Magical Questions in the Lost City

Here are some questions from my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game. Most of them came up on Sunday. We don't allow hypothetical questions in play - actually we do, but you have to pay 1 xp for an answer - but between sessions and on breaks, sure. These came up on breaks (except for the Windstorm one, which was just a misunderstanding of what the spell could do) or during play setup/closing up.

Can I get one-spell Energy Reserve or FP?


For three reasons:

- Cost. I'd have to cost it, and that cost is probably 1 point. That's very low, especially since it would be used to power high-cost and high-utility spells, like Zombie or Great Healing, and thus get a lot more bang for your buck than 1 point per suggests. 2 points per wouldn't make sense to purchase.

- Recharge. We'd have to track recharge by "which comes back first, my one-spell reserve or my regular reserve?" Allowing concurrent recharging of them would not be an option, due to cost.

- I hate one-spell solutions. In fact, I hate one-approach solutions. One-spell Energy Reserve encourages that. I don't want to give a discount for players putting all of their eggs in one basket. Spend 3/level and be able to do a lot of different things, you'll need to, in order to succeed.

Do Permanent spells keep going after the caster dies?


Double yes!

Why wouldn't wizards do this? I joked that the first thing a caster did after discovering magic was think, how do I make sure stuff I do to my enemies remains after I die?

Besides, even a No Mana Zone won't break them, it just suspends them.

Temporary spells will last until the maintenance period comes up - and since the caster is dead, it won't keep going. That might be a rules change, but it's sure cool. Lasting spells will continue until the usual end point specified in the spell.

Effective skill, or base skill, for spell effects?

Certain spells use "caster skill" to determine effects - such as ST, for my version of Animate Shadow. Use the base skill the caster has in the spell. Effective skill only matters to see if you get the spell off, not how well it works.

Can Windstorms move up?

No, you can't fly a storm around. It's a ground-effect Area spell. You can cast it in mid-air. Conceivably, you could cast a taller one (just stack the area costs) or cast one on mid-air. But it isn't "flying."

What is the FP cost of a shortened Great Haste?

If you cancel Great Haste on someone before the spell's usual termination, they immediately pay the FP cost associated with the spell pro-rated. That works out to 1 FP per 2 seconds, round up. Cancelled after 7 seconds? The caster pays 1 FP (to cancel a spell early) and the subject suffers 4 FP. And no, you can't pre-shorten the spell on a tired friend to avoid the extra cost and time to cancel it yourself.

It occasionally comes up that people muse about casting Great Haste on a foe, then hiding out for 10 seconds and letting the take 5 FP. Repeat until he's unconscious. Cute, but no. I allow the better of Will or HT as resistance to any spell without a defined resistance. I don't mind cute spell usage, but warping a buff into an attack because it doesn't have a listed resistance? No, be clever, not a rules lawyer.

The other option, of course, is to say resistance is automatic for spells that don't list a resistance. They only work on willing or unconscious subjects.

Those are just some recent rules/rulings questions that came up.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

No Arguments (at the table)

So about 4 1/2 years ago, when I still might have deserved that "Newbie Blogger Award" I refuse to take down, I wrote the following:

"I really hate rules questions, rules complaints (gah!), and rules commentary during play. Hate, hate, hate. I hate "I thought we were using rule X, but I guess not," I really hate "I'm pretty sure he gets a situational +2 on this because of blah blah blah, we should look it up," and I utterly explicative deleted despise "I don't like this rule but I'm going to accept the results even though it's a bad rule" comments.

I feel all of these trash the game system, break the atmosphere, and poison my enthusiasm for running the game. I think all of them are some form of "I don't like rules that don't favor my guy" combined with "let's maximize our benefits at all times, not matter how slow the game gets."
- Possible Table Rules (August 2011)

I was reminded of that post when I was reading about Mark Langsdorf's Caste of Horrors game. I commented there, about rules arguments:

"I have a "no rules arguments" rule at my table for just that reason. You're welcome to argue later, but not during game. You can point out I might be doing something wrong, but that's it. No one person in the history of gaming has ever said, "Wow, that was a great argument about rules that session!" so there is no reason to do it.

I pretty much do the same, though - the NPCs do stuff like the PCs do stuff, I give them the same benefit of the doubt (If you reflexively dodge stuff that is out-of-game known to be a threat, the bad guys can, too) and if the players don't like it, we'll change it next time. Not this time.

It's not a magical solution or anything, but it's the best I've got. Players arguing with the GM over rules and rulings is just pure loss of game time. Arguing during email between sessions? Great time to figure out what everyone expects and wants done.

I'm not singling out Mark here - I look forward to those summaries. It's just that games getting bogged down in rules arguments is not something I have happen that often.

Some of it is group dynamics. We've played together a long time, mostly - the core players have played with me for 20+ years. We've already had many of those arguments out.

Another is the rule I mentioned above. It's not even one argument we tolerate. We're all happy to spend a handful of seconds checking if we've got it right. We're all willing to slow down briefly to settle on a ruling if something seems badly wrong.

Otherwise, we argue later. By email. On breaks. Between sessions. By phone, even (rarely that, these days.) We find a way to resolve it after play. If someone got badly done over by a mistake, we find a way to keep the results that happened in play and make it right.

If it turns out something was wrong, well, it was just a freak occurrence. It must have been a critical failure, or critical success, or the tidal pull of the moon pulled that guy's weapon back into balance, or there was a special on heavy crossbows that day.

We're pretty strict with looking rules up. And strict about arguments.

The GM's decision is final, but you can always argue with me about how it should go in the future, between games.

At the table?

Like I said, no one looks back on the rules arguments and says, "Wow, I really loved that argument!"

That's not why we play.

Is anything, including avoiding character death, worth making the game more argument than game?

I think not.

I'm glad my group and I have managed to settle on that, even if we argue about spells and weird edge cases during our breaks in play. The play is the thing, after all.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

All D&D editions available in PDF?

Today, Wizards of the Coast released the Original Edition - aka White Box D&D - in PDF.

I didn't get it, because I have all of the books already.

But it's on my list for their next sale.

It seems like, at least up to 4th edition, you can get the core rulebooks for almost all of the earlier D&D editions.

So what have we got?

Original Edition

B/X & the Cyclopedia

1st Edition AD&D

2nd Edition AD&D

3rd Edition D&D

4th Edition D&D

5th Edition D&D (no rule books yet, that I can see)

Nice. I'm glad people who want these books, and who don't have them, can finally get to own them all legally and buy them on demand.

Lost City 5, Part II - In Pictures

Here is Sunday's big fight in pictures, in chronological order. Some shots are only seconds apart, so they're just more perspectives and less steps in the fight.

Monday, January 25, 2016

DF Session 72, Lost City 5 - Part II, Rangol Grot

January 10th, 2016 (but played on 1/24/2016)

Weather: Light but steady rain.

Characters (approximate net point total)

Angus "Mithrilbraid" McSwashy, dwarf swashbuckler (261 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (287 points)
Hasdrubul Stormcaller, human wizard (267 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (269 points)
     Brother Ike, human initiate (135 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (271 points)

In reserve:
Kenner Baumfellen, wood elf scout (250 points)
Quenton Gale, human druid (252 points)

We picked up where we left off last session.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Wandering Monsters in Specific

Yesterday I mentioned my experiences with wandering monsters in general.

Here are some specifics on how I've been doing them in The Lost City, the jungle-and-ruins section of my DF world.

I decided on a few principles, learned from my wandering monsters in Felltower and then my attempts to merge non-monster encounters with monster encounters (ala Mirror of the Fire Demon) in the Cold Fens.

In the Jungle

Wandering Monsters
Roll every 4 hours, once overnight if camped. 12- is an encounter.

1-Obstacle (Appropriate skill roll by the point man - usually Navigation to avoid it, Climbing to go over it, Swimming to wade it, etc. and a 30 minute delay. Failure doubles the time needed.)
2-Major Obstacle (As above but 1 hour delay.)
3-Nuisance Bugs (1d-4 FP, plus HT roll to avoid Jungle Rot at -2 to +3 based on roll.)
4-Nuisance Bugs (same.)
5-Nuisance animals (rats, army ants, fire ants, spiders, snakes, etc. cause 1 hour delay.)
6-Lethal Encounter

Obstacles are anything from washed-out sections of trail, fallen trees, flooded areas, collapsed root tangles that once acted as a path, etc.

The "nuisance bugs" roll elicits the most groans. The rule is really poorly written - I'm trying to say that :

- you lose 1d-4 FP (so, 0-2) that must be cured by rest.
- everyone gets bitten by bugs when this happens, causing a HT roll vs. Jungle Rot at HT+4, minus your die roll. Roll a 6, take 2 FP and roll at HT-2. That's probably how I should have explained it.
- It doesn't say it, but I allow substituting HT-based Survival (Jungle) to avoid this.

For Lethal Encounters, I just have a list for the jungle, and I know what's in the area or that I want to use to have a proper jungle flavor. So it's pre-decided monsters, basically, that I roll to see if they appear. These have been:

- rhino beetles
- poisonous ants
- giant snake
- an octopus blossom (a killer plant I made up warped by evil druids)
- a single extremely venomous normal spider (roll randomly to see whose bare skin gets bit, and go from there.)
and probably others I'm forgetting.

For the lethal encounters, I have any watchers/scouts roll Perception to see if they spot it. The better they win the contest by, the further out they see/hear/smell it. This has the added benefit that low-IQ low-PER skeletons, magical servants, and knights with vision-narrowing helmets might be handy in a fight but aren't significantly useful guards.

In the City

Random encounters happen every hour in the city on a 9- during the day, 12- at night. Add 3 if the party is being especially loud or engages in combat.

Encounter is either a close-by resident coming to investigate (or heading home) OR roll on the table.

Wandering Monsters
1- 1d6+2 [redacted] from area P in the Northern part of the city, or 2d6 [redacted] in the South.
2- [redacted] from S (66%) or R (33%), double numbers at Night.
3- Giant snake (50%) or 1d6-3 Giant Bombardier Beetles (50%)
4- Giant [redacted] (50%) or 2d Giant Ants with 1d6-2 soldiers (50%) (no ants at night)
5- Giant Rhino Beetle (once!) or 1d [redacted] (will spy on PCs unless they look vulnerable).
6- (Night) [redacted] (Day) Harpy and dire vulture fly-by.

Distance: 1-2 close, 3-4 medium, 5-6 long.

The distances are vague, because it lets me choose by location and monster what that means. Even a "close" fly-by is going to be further than "long" for a giant snake encountered inside of a ruined building.

These are more specific than the jungle because I have a specific set of creatures in the ruined city. I'm basically just using a random roll to help me pick from the critters and residents that might be out and about if there isn't something hostile and mobile close by.

And yeah, there are technically spoilers in that list even with the redacted parts. That's okay - my players have encountered some of those critters already, and I only roll if I don't have something to hand.

Some more lessons I learned:

I Prefer Lists over Tables

Especially during outdoor travel, I found I prefer to pick from a list instead of rolling. Sometimes I roll something that just doesn't fit the circumstances well. Sometimes the players have been acting in a way that really should attract certain creatures. And as people travel, they go from the likely spots of certain creatures into the likely spots of others. I found I'd make a list, roll, and then cross stuff out (leaving automatic re-rolls for later) or I'd just re-roll when something that didn't fit came up. It was annoying.

So I went with just a list of likely encounters, and pull from that. Walking around with a bunch of zombies in the jungle? More likely you get flying bugs, scavengers, carrion-eating beetles, etc. Being stealthy and quiet but always take the exact same path? Ambush hunters are likely. Making a lot of noise? That might scare off the low-IQ animals but really make those nearly-sapient ape-men interested or attract that group of bandits. Etc.

Wandering Damage is Good

The travel delays, the obstacles, the nuisance bugs - those are really a lot of fun. I roll them, they get the job done without actual play time delays, and we move on. They add a lot of color, have significant impact on the game, but not significant drain on the fun. They also drive a lot of player experimentation and reaction when trying to deal with them. I highly recommend them.

How about my megadungeon?

I'm still debating how I want to implement these ideas in my megadungeon. I can't just stick in delays, but I can stick in more nuisance animals, bugs or spiders, strange smells or spills, residual spell effects, new traps (a number of residents set traps), etc. I think I will try to do that.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Wandering Monsters in General

I've written about wandering monsters a few times in the past. Here are some of those posts:

Mixed Feelings on Wandering Monsters
Dragon Magazine: The Wandering Damage Table
Cumulative Wandering Monsters, or, Dogpiling
Wandering Monsters: Totals and Origin Points

But recently John "Beedo" Arendt has been running Dwimmermount as a pick-up game for his neighbors and/or their kids. He wrote about Wandering Monsters. As often happens with his posts, I'm inspired to write more.

Today I'll post about wandering monsters in general. Next post, probably tomorrow, will be the specifics of The Lost City and what I learned from the method I've used there.

Living Dungeon

One aspect of wandering monsters that I like is the way they make a dungeon active. It's both the illusion of an active, living space and the reality. Illusion in the sense that the dice tell you if something moves into your area, but nothing is actually moving around. The player-centric approach of gaming means you concentrate on them and just figure out if something comes to them or happens to be in an otherwise-empty area. It's reality in the sense that having wandering monsters means things really are changing during a trip.

In any case having the dungeon have some activity means you can't rest in utter safety and ease even in already-explored areas.

On a 12 or Less, A Monster Exists

I don't like "monsters from nowhere." A lot of the time I end up turning wandering monsters into just sounds heard or ones wandering by or distant sightings is the geography of place. If I roll up some phase serpents, they might well get to the PCs despite all the closed doors around the area. If I roll up a slime, it makes sense that it might have gathered in some corner of the orc-held area. But sometimes I'll roll giant beetles but doors block the way. Or a mana-dependent undead monster in a place bounded by No Mana Zones.

While I can explain these in some way, it's a strain that makes the wandering monster roll an exercise in GM quick-thinking. It also makes player precautions less useful (why close the doors, beetles and slimes get through any way) and makes the whole less believable. Players are less likely to see the subtle mystery in the giant lizard in the corridor between two secret doors you can only open with a magical passcode and more likely to think, "Geez, dungeons don't make sense."

I attempt to make most of my rolls "something nearby comes by" and less "some monster basically sprouts into existence thanks to the dice." This is why I like totals and origin points. Tell me how many are around, where they come from, where they are when they aren't around.

You don't need to be so meta or silly about it, but still, for me, this beats "pop in out of nowhere":

"Room 8: The Wandering Monster Ready Room
A kobold, a troglodyte, a troll, a giant, a lizardman, and a giant toad are sitting around the Wandering Monster Table [. . . ] An hourglass is sitting on a nearby table [. . . ] Then one points at the hourglass, and all the creatures cut cards to see who has to go out wandering."

- Ken Rolston, in RIP1 Orcbusters (for Paranoia).

It's Not Safe to Rest Here

John Arendt mentioned how wandering monsters mitigate against the 15-minute adventuring day. In my experience, they actually put an obstacle in the way of longer trips. To go on a longer dungeon trip you need time to rest and recover. This is especially true in systems like GURPS but also in ones with finite resources you recover with time (AD&D spells, Rolemaster spell points and spell adders, etc.). If you track food and torches and such, people will need to either tote more or go back to town for more. Wandering monsters will bleed resources, which calls for in-game speed (to avoid them) and yet drive in-game resources consumption (from time or HP or consumable losses in fights, or avoiding them) and push the in-game pace. The threat of them can mean the need to cut short a delve just to ensure you can survive the way out, which again pushes towards shorter delves.

That's without even knowing if the monsters appear out of nowhere or come from a finite pool. Without the dwellers of an area reacting to invaders, maximal resting and maximal use of power is essentially a good decision. With the dwellers reacting (or just showing up)

So, lots of wandering monsters: adds risk to expending resources, but also a resource expenditure. Can push players to get in, do the maximum killing-and-looting they can, and get out.
Fewer wandering monsters: makes expending resources less risky. Can push players to longer trips, because they more generally choose the encounters.

At least in my experience. Once I stopped rolling for multiple deadly encounters on the way home, making "run home" safer than "push forward," players were more willing to push the trips a little longer. I decided that, as the GM, I liked the threat of getting eaten by a grue on the way home but also to cut it short so more time was spent on the exploration and delving than on the dealing with lizards and cube-monsters and orc patrols on the way home. You can't bet you get home without trouble, but you can bet it's easier to go back than go forward. Which, perhaps counter-intuitively, drives you forward. Forward is reward and risk, back is just risk, and I want my game to be about pushing for the former and mitigating the latter.

If my players started to meta-game this too badly ("It's always safe on the way home, so let's expend everything!") I'd change back. But they're good about recognizing it's a compromise and realistically, their characters would hold back resources to ensure a safe trip. Plus, if they leave in good shape, I'm willing to handwave the trip back . . . but if they limp out trailing blood, dragging loot, and clearly low on resources, things will attempt to take advantage.

Short version? Perhaps one (or two rolls when Dogpiling) for horrid monsters on the way home. None if we're short on time and the PCs are in great shape.

You can see more on this tension in this post.

They Don't Need to be Monsters

My wandering monster tables include lots of non-lethal things.

- surprise obstacles ("the trail is flooded out!");
- unforseen trouble ("the rickety stairs collapses.");
- nuisance trouble (bugs, swamp miasmas, leeches, bothersome rats, etc.) resolved as Wandering Damage;
- noises and smells and sights

I find I like these more than the actual monsters. They're fast and efficient, they make the environment come into play, and their effects are felt in a purely negative way. It makes the lethal monsters more interesting. Giant ants feel more interesting after two or three times you've sat on fire ants or had army ants roll through your lunch break. The dungeon feels nastier when you keep rolling up dampness issues and fast-growing mold. The caves feel less empty when the PCs keep stumbling across blind little purple-ish worms and know it presages something much bigger.

Plus, at least in my game, it means every 9 or less I roll isn't a quick fight followed by casting Zombie and then resting. Which leads to more encounters, and more zombies. This way, some of the non-lethal rolls just suck away resources and deplete character abilities.

Lucky Us, It's a Friendly Beholder!

One thing I don't do enough of, though, is just roll a reaction roll for monsters. I should do this more often - just see, is this thing looking for trouble? Maybe it's friendly. Maybe it's unfriendly. Maybe it's normally a lethal and ornery monsters but today - geez, today has been awful, let's just pretend we didn't see each other. Maybe it's totally uninterested in them.

That's a flaw of my play style, and I think it's worth exploring. Make all of those reaction penalties players like to pile up worth something. "The beholder rolled a 13 reaction roll! Oh, wait, -2 for your Social Stigma, -1 for your body odor, -3 because it's Intolerant of Dwarves, -1 because you're all pointing weapons at it . . . , eh, 6 . . . it attacks."
"But what about our bard?"
"You made him invisible and stuck him four ranks back. Sorry."

Friday, January 22, 2016

Making snow for mini bases

I tried this:

It works pretty well. I'm going to use it for my snow trolls!

Revised GURPS Magic: Air Vortex

This spell has an interesting history.

Originally, it was Carpet of Yimsha, in GURPS Conan.

It's a GURPS conversion of the transport spell used by the wizards in The People of the Black Circle:

"Down the mountain-slopes, like a whorl or shining dust blown before the wind, a crimson, conoid cloud came dancing. [. . . ] The crimson cloud balanced like a spinning top for an instant, whirling in a dazzling sheen on its point. Then without warning it was gone, vanishing as a bubble vanishes when burst. There on the ledge stood four men."
- Robert E. Howard, "People of the Black Circle" (quoted from The Bloody Crown of Conan)

Those wizards use it to whisk away folks with them when they go, too. They take (of course) the woman of the piece, so Conan can go and rescue her. It's not clear how they take her (grab her, different spell, same spell) but they do and whisk her off. Conan sticks around, and it's possible he's staying because he resists the spell or because they don't want him at all.

Either way, in its original form, the spell is mainly transport. In the GURPS version, it's the same, although frustratingly it seems like you can't resist it.

"This spell allows a caster to fly all persons in the area of effect in the form of a giant, swirling conical crimson cloud. [. . . ]. The caster can choose which persons to pick up, and which to leave behind."

The other particulars are similar - Move 10, casting cost and time, etc. It says the affected subjects are "insubstantial" and can't cast spells, but cannot penetrate solid objects. It never says who directs this - the spell in the story is clearly directed as a unit, which probably means the caster. In GURPS Conan and later GURPS Magic, it's really not clear, especially if the caster isn't in it. If the caster can move it, it's an offensive spell and a transport spell. If the subjects can move it, you need to figure out who and it's an odd transport spell useful for when it's okay to lose everything but 6 pounds of clothing,

Air Vortex turns this, basically, into Mass Body of Air that can be resisted by DX or HT. Why DX? That's not clear. Body of Air is resisted by HT.

It changes the cost (8, 3) and prereqs (from Body of Air and Flight to Magery 2 plus Body of Air and Windstorm.

I figure I have three ways to go with this:

- turn it back into Carpet of Yimsha as much as possible.

- turn it into a mass transport spell.

- turn it into Mass Body of Air.

I like the idea of a mass transport spell. The cost (8, 4 in the original, 8, 3 in Magic) and movement is pretty cool. But that's not really fitting the air theme - if you want Mass Flight, it's better if it's scaled to work more like that. I'll leave that aside - my DF game doesn't really need Mass Flight.

Mass Body of Air is easiest, but it's not really very useful. It's actually more useful for offense (disarms your foes) than defense (we lose our gear) or utility (we can move together, and lose our gear.)

But perhaps just a utility version of the original spell would do - no as restricted as Body of Air, but a lot more focused.

Air Vortex

Turns the caster and any willing (or unconscious, incapacitated, or helpless) subjects in the area into a vaporous cloud with the Body of Air meta-trait (p. B262). Any equipment carried, up to the caster's skill with the spell in pounds, also transforms with the subjects, but lose any magic powers they might have had while in this form. The cloud is the same size as the original casting area, but can squeeze into smaller spaces like other vapors. The cloud moves as one unit, as the caster wills, with Air Move equal to the 2 x the caster's Basic Move.
This is also a Movement spell.

Duration: 10 seconds.
Cost: 8 to cast, 3 to maintain.
Time to Cast: 2 seconds.
Prerequisites: Magery 2, Body of Air, and Windstorm or Body of Air and Flight.

I feel like that's a useful spell, but isn't an attack spell. I like tying what converts with you to the caster's skill one-to-one as BL, too - physical strength shouldn't matter, magical skill should. I may need to do that with Body of Air and Teleport (assuming I use that again). We'll see.

(PS - That story is where the spell Evisceration is from, too.)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

My latest draft is in playtest!

Hurrah, my latest DF book draft - cryptically mentioned in a deliberately vague fashion in a series of mysterious posts - has hit the playtest circuit.

By which I mean, "other GURPS authors are looking at it."

I've playtested a lot of it, and I hope to playtest the rest soon. If not, at least one of the authors I mentioned will do that.

In short, hurrah!

Melee Academy: Why punching/grappling armed guys is a bad idea

On my post Melee Academy: Why I Don't See a Lot of Disarming, one of the commenters (TheOneRonin, posting as Unknown) said, in part:

"-Weapons are not significant DEFENSIVE threats. [. . .] Given that in GURPS defenses will most likely be lower than offensive skills, and given that often times, the PCs will be more skilled (sometimes significantly so) than their opponents, the chances of suffering damage when punch a guy with a knife are VERY low…almost negligible."

The idea that weapons are defensively weak as a threat versus armed attackers runs fundamentally counter to my own experience in GURPS. Not just in my high-skill Dungeon Fantasy game - it's run counter to my experience ever since GURPS started allowing successful parries to injure unarmed attackers.

The running comment in my game is that an armed character gets to attack on his turn, and then parry and attack for free on his unarmed foe's turn.

I figured I'd look at some of the numbers involved.

These rules come from Parrying Unarmed Attacks, p. B376.

Assuming an attacker steps into close combat and punches or grapples, or stays at reach 1 and kicks against a melee weapon-armed foe with no Deceptive Attack and no prior Feint or Setup Attack:

Skill-10 Defender: Parry 8. 25.9% chance to Parry, 37.5% with Retreat. On a successful Parry, 50% to successfully strike the attacker, 9.3% vs. Karate or Judo.

Skill-12 Defender: Parry 9. 37.5% chance to Parry, 50% with Retreat. On a successful Parry, 74.1% to successfully strike the attacker, 25.9% vs. Karate or Judo.

Skill-14 Defender: Parry 10. 50% chance to Parry, 62.5% with Retreat. On a successful Parry, 90.7% to successfully strike the attacker, 50% vs. Karate or Judo.

Skill-16 Defender: Parry 11. 62.5% chance to Parry, 74.1% with Retreat. On a successful Parry, 98.1% to successfully strike the attacker, 74.1% vs. Karate or Judo.

Skill-18 Defender: Parry 12. 74.1% chance to Parry, 83.8% with Retreat. On a successful Parry, 98.1% to successfully strike the attacker, 90.7% vs. Karate or Judo.

You're allowed to parry with any legal weapon against a melee attack (such as a kick) coming at Reach 1. You are also allowed any of your normal, legal defenses against a close combat attack on the initial turn your opponent steps in to attack you (see the GURPS FAQ, case

Shields, by the way, make this worse. Canonically, all you need is a successful Parry, and a parry by the margin of the DB of a shield is still a successful parry. An attacker-friendly GM can just say you hit the shield instead, and inflict damage on it (and possibly yourself, if the shield is wooden or metal, see Hurting Yourself, p. B379), but a defender-friendly or rules-literalist GM is free to do both. Ouch.

Fencing weapons get a +3 to Retreat, too, not +1, so they push the Parry numbers down two rows. A Skill-12 Saber fencer has a Parry 12 with Retreat and succeeds 74.1% of the time, and has the same 74.1% chance of getting in a free attack.


- Each 2 points the attack trades off into a Deceptive Attack pushes the defender up a row (towards lower skill and chances.) For this reason, unless the attacker is constrained by time, it's always better to maximize Deceptive Attack even if it reduces your overall chance to hit. Better to hit with a penalty to be parried or miss than just hit and take your chances with a full parry.

- Given an extra action before striking to use for a Feint, each point of skill greater for the attacker is, on average, a -1 to the defender's chances to defend.

- Given both, every 2 point skill margin the attack has is at least a -3 to defend.

- Given high skills for both attacker and defender, the potential risks of attacking are high, but the potential to ram down defenses are also high.

For the defender, All-Out Defense (Increased Defense), with a +2 to Parry, is a good way to fight defensively. A Defensive Feint is a good call, too, if you have superior skill, since it forces foes to forgo Deceptive Attack. You need a higher relative skill to pull it off.

I'd argue here that this makes sense - a large disparity in skills makes for a heroic edge for the more skilled attacker. An unarmed attacker vs. a more skilled armed fighter is in real trouble. An unarmed attacker vs. an equally skilled armed fighter is a risky situation. An unarmed attacker vs. a much lower skills armed fighter is relatively safe. The unarmed fighter's potential edge is magnified by proper tactics (Feint, Deceptive Attack, etc.), which can be negated to an extent by proper armed defender tactics (Defensive Feint, exploiting Reach, All-Out Defend, forcing the unarmed fighter to Move and Attack, Wait, etc.)

Since my old GURPS 3e game, I have made the "free attack" from parrying into a half-damage attack. You roll normally, inflict half of that, rounded down (usual minimum of 1 on cutting, impaling, etc.) I was pretty generous for animals biting to get the -4 as if they had Karate or Judo. Even so, it was free attack city for armed defenders.

In my own DF game, I've expanded these greatly:

Punching vs. guys wielding swords

Now, there is one part of that comment I strongly agree with - if the attacker has significantly more skill than the defender, the risks above drop. But not by much - the only way to ensure you don't get hurt by a Parry is to ensure that the opponent cannot Parry. This post -
Melee Academy: Unarmed vs. Knife - covers methods to do that in more detail. Short version: Feint, and maximal Deceptive Attack.

But yes, whenever you privilege one side in an opposed situation, such as attackers having significantly greater skill than the defenders, that side will have an edge. Often a significant one. If that's coupled with further advantages (healing spells, superscience healing, good arm DR, weak foes, Extra Attack, a large skill gap, etc.) you are further making it more likely they can pull of the difficult task of going unarmed vs. armed.

That's really a system feature, not a bug - by default, around human norms, with modern realism rules, there is much to risk in going unarmed vs. armed. Also, by default, with equally matched foes at any skill level, unarmed vs. armed is a risky situation for the unarmed fighter. If you want to ensure the unarmed folks are in trouble, don't let them have too many advantages above their armed foes. A knife is no way to make up for a large deficit in skill or in special abilities. If you want to ensure unarmed isn't really a problem, you need to bolster what they get. It's cinematic, not realistic, but the tools are there to do it.

You can make it worse for the attacker - allow that "do I hit the limb?" roll even if the parry is failed by, say, 3 or less or even 5 or less (which pretty much means all parries), or just all parries that aren't critical failures. Don't penalize it versus Karate or Judo. Make failed unarmed parries allow both a strike to the parrying limb and the original target.(None of these has been playtested, by the way - my experience is that unarmed vs. armed is already really bad for the unarmed, but there are things you can do if you don't agree.)

You can make it better for the attacker, like I do - suggestions fill the Punching vs. guys wielding swords post.

And by the way, if you're feeling the pain for the unarmed striker/grappler, then I have some help for you there.

Unarmed DF Martial Artists

Now I recognize that my experience may differ from others. But my long experience in actual play is that GURPS is pretty nasty to unarmed attackers going against armed foes. I think the numbers above back that up. If you don't, well, I have suggestions embedded to change the odds.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Spoilers of the Mad Archmage

So that is what's up with those hobgoblins in the corner of level 3 of the Castle of the Mad Archmage.

Surprise Kills Obmi


Me, I know him from the Gord books, and of course G1-3 originally.

The Repulsor Ray story I know from Gary Gygax's Dragon column.

I didn't realize we'd skated so close to it.

We probably weren't going back, either.

Oh well. Let's just say we heard about what's there from rumors in town.

Thursday is GURPSDay - are you in?

So Thursday is GURPSDay, thanks to Douglas Cole's pronouncement on the subject many Thursdays ago. I've held to that, quietly(*) but consistently.

If you blog about GURPS on Thursdays, please go over to the SJG Forums and let Sean Punch know:

Today would be a good time to do this, because tomorrow is Thursday.

And I've got something melee related in the queue.

* Some bloggers post schedules - I just kind of quietly have a schedule in my head for my daily posting. Nothing so clever as GURPSDay, but it's there.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Revised GURPS Magic: Explosive Spells

In my DF game, we changed around explosive spells a few times until we settled on something we liked. The following is how we run the spells. I can vouch for it being fast, easy, and free from argument and problems.

Explosive Spells: There are no specific explosive spells. All missiles spells which create their own projectile can be cast as an explosive version at double cost. The caster must decide before making the initial spell roll if the missile is explosive or not.

Spells which are specifically a ray (Sunbolt) or which use ammunition (Poltergeist, Winged Knife) cannot be made into explosive spells.

This was previously written up in this post.

Explosive Diameter: All explosive spells cover a 5-yard diameter, regardless of the energy placed into it. Damage is full on impact and in the center hex, 2/3 in the ring of hexes around that, and 1/3 in the outer ring of hexes. Roll damage only once and divide. Spells may be targeted at the ground in a specific hex, at +4 to hit, but misses are subject to Scatter (p. B414) and Hitting the Wrong Target (p. B389), as appropriate. (In other words, if you miss, you may toss it long or short, but if you had friends in between you and the target hex, you might hit them directly.)

This was previously described in this post.

Some exceptions/rulings/FAQs for my Dungeon Fantasy game:

- If a caster's spell list includes either Fireball or Lightning but does not include Explosive Fireball or Explosive Lightning, then they are not able to cast the explosive version of the spell. For Example: Druids have Lightning as a PI4 spell. They do not gave Explosive Lightning at all. Therefore they can learn Lightning but cannot cast the explosive variation. In cases where there is no Explosive variation to compare to, the GM makes the call.

Why? Same reason clerics can cast Stone to Flesh but not Flesh to Stone even after the spells were merged - it's a specific carve-out, and I want to retain that. Druids, for example, are nature priests, not artillery pieces (a wizard niche), so they only get to toss lightning not blow up whole areas.

- Just a FAQ answer: No, you cannot "airburst" explosive spells. You generally cannot aim them in such a way as to hit the hex of a foe and have the foe block your close-by friends. That may happen automatically with large foes (see Combat Writ Large, p. 5, Pyramid 3/77) but it can't easily be finagled with aim.

Why? It's come up where people want to, say, target someone with an explosive fireball and hit him and his surrounding friends, but not a friendly in the blast radius. To avoid long discussions about "if I hit his shield side, wouldn't that mean my buddy is shielded by his body and take less damage?" and so on, we treat it basically as a thrown, short-duration, diminishing-effect Area spell that radiates out from a center point. Sufficiently large obstacles (and yes, foes of the right shape) can occlude areas.

- Explosive spells that impact on a target preferentially damage that location even when inflicting Large Area Injury (p. B400). This can matter for crippling injury, stunning, etc. IOW, if you hit a specific location, it will take damage (DR permitting), but it is generally better to just hit the area.

- Explosive missile spells do not automatically fill the volume of a 5-yard sphere - walls, solid obstacles, etc. stop the expansion of the blast. It's magic, not physics, and damage is spraying out not being created to fill an area with uniform density.

- They also ignore most of the usual "explosion" rules - fragmentation, damage divisors by distance, etc. It's not an explosion per se, it's an area-filling missile spell with diminished effects further out from the center. Diffuse creatures are still affected as if this was an "Area effect, cone, or explosion" attack.

That's a lot of little rulings, but it takes more time to write them then to follow them in play.

11/18/2023 Addition:

- While full cover does block an explosive spell, it has to be strong enough to resist the spell (sliding paper doors, for example, wouldn't help much), otherwise it merely acts as DR. A target's body doesn't provide cover unless it completely covers the potentially shielded victim. For example, a child or pet covered by a prone adult, or anything beyond a dragon larger than the radius of the fireball so nothing can "leak" past. Generally, assume everything in the covered hexes gets hit.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Revised GURPS Magic: Hold Fast & Wallwalker

Here are some tweaks to some Movement college spells that don't get used. Why don't they get used? They're a bit specific and weak, at the same time. For more, see my roundup page of these posts.

Hold Fast

Never used because it's so weak and specific. But it can be better!


What's with the -2 for odd angles instead of the usual penalties for height and posture? Maybe it's in addition, but generally, spells that let you move under your own volition don't come with DX penalties. One cast on you where movement is externally controlled, even by an ally, do inflict penalties - Levitation gives a -3 DX, for example.

It's also expensive. Ugh.

Here are the revised versions:

Hold Fast

Negates knockback. Can also be cast instead of making any DX-based roll to fall down; if the spell succeeds the subject remains standing. The spell is cast at a penalty equal to any penalties to DX!

Cost: 1. Cost 2 if cast on a subject other than the caster.


As written, but replace the last line with "Combat may be affected - apply the usual penalties for combat at different levels (p. B402)."

Cost: 3 to cast, 2 to maintain.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Revised GURPS Magic ruling priority

I've changed a fair amount of the spells in this book:

Just for reference for my players (and people following along at home), here is the priority order of rules for spells in my DF game:

Rulings made in play
Revised GURPS Magic posts on this blog.
Wizardry Refined (Pyramid 3/60: Dungeon Fantasy III)
GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers

That's pretty much it. What I say, what I wrote, what Sean Punch says, what the book says.

I do actually go look at the last two before I do the first two, but ultimately, I like to change things to fit the specific flavor my campaign is aimed at.

Not really news, just wanted to get this down.

Revised GURPS Magic: Windstorm

Here is another spell from GURPS Magic I've chosen to modify for my DF game.

Windstorm has a few problems.

- a ST roll. This is not terribly effective in the first place, and outside of human scale it's basically useless. I like ST vs. ST rolls, because they work fine in play. Straight rolls against a stat that is routinely well above the bell curve of 3d? Not so great.

It's odd that you either get blown over, or you're fine.

- Odd penalties. -5 to DX skills is okay, but -10 per hex to "ranged attacks" - so, lasers, Lightning spells, etc. are at -10? They're ranged attacks. -10 is also steep. A Scout with Bow-20 standing adjacent to a target shoots at a 10 skill. Maybe a 5, if these stack (-5 to DX-based Bow, -10 per yard.) Plus distance penalties, presumably? It doesn't replace them.

Wall of Wind has a similar effect, but it's -3 DX and 2d knockback. Shape Air can do up to 5d of knockback damage at the 10-point level. Neither of those is terribly effective - 5d is 17.5, which knocks back all of a ST 19 person 1 yard, or a ST 7 guy two yards. Not much for 10 points, even if it's on for a minute. Air Jet does 2d/energy of knockback (also weak, but damages swarms and vaporous beings.)

- strength for moving objects varies by size, but nothing else does.

- Inconsistent effects between the two strengths.

We've played it as written and it's mostly been okay, but it really could smoother mechanics.

Here is what we'll try in play.

Windstorm (VH)

As written, except:

- All DX-based skills are at -5 within a windstorm.

- Thrown weapons, physical missile spells (such as Stone Missile or Fireball), and low-tech missiles are at -10 if they pass through any amount of Windstorm. Bullets and similar missiles are at -2. Energy missiles and energy-like spells (Lightning and Sunbolt, for example) are unaffected.

- +1 Movement cost per yard of wind crossed, and each yard moved (or each facing change made) requires a DX roll to remain standing.

- Blows small objects up to approximately 5 pounds.

At the tornado level, as above plus:

- Visibility is limited; Vision rolls are -10 per yard.

- Thrown weapons, physical missile spells (such as Stone Missile or Fireball), and low-tech missiles cannot penetrate the storm (or fly off course, per Scatter, if cast from within it). Bullets and similar missiles are at -10. Energy missiles and energy-like spells (Lightning and Sunbolt, for example) are unaffected. All of them require some way of spotting the target!

- +1 Movement cost per yard of wind crossed, and each yard moved (or each facing change made) requires a DX-3 roll to remain standing.

- Blows small objects up to approximately 30 pounds.

I'm not sure how this will play out, but that's the version I expect to try in play. I may tweak any or all of the above aspects, but I like the movement/falling rules.

This has spill-on affects for Spark Storm (as written, but the Windstorm portion works as above) and Body of Wind (the knockdown and DX effects are as above).

Next up might be Air Vortex, which is really very strangely worded. I may have to go back to its original form, Carpet of Yimsha, in GURPS Conan, to see how it's all written in the first place. It comes off as a weird attack spell, but it's really "Mass Body of Air plus we all move together."

Saturday, January 16, 2016

War Story: That One Time the PCs Didn't Kill Anyone

"Sometime we should sit down and have a spiritual discussion about the sanctity of life, Max."
"BAM! And then he was mucilage. Did you say something, Sam?"
"Oh, nevermind."

- Sam & Max, "Bad Day on the Moon."

The discussion about disarming and the propensity of PCs to solve all of their problems with murder reminded me of a fun challenge I used back in my previous GURPS game.

That game was set on the Known Worlds (aka Mystara), and the PCs were in Glantri City in Glantri. I had this spiffy map of the city from the Glantri gazetteer, and some ideas for things to do in town.

I wanted something that worked with the PC's predilection for action, but which posed a unique challenge.

Riffing off an idea in the gazetteer, I ended up with with a cursed merchant, an angry wizard, and fighting within the law.

The Setup: The PCs get offered a job by Dmitri, a rug merchant. A very smelly rug merchant. He delivered a rug to one of the great Glantrian nobles, Prince Vladimir Morfailov. The Prince was annoyed by him in some way, and cursed him with a terrible odor. Later, the Prince thought it over a bit more, and decided, that wasn't enough. He sent some hired thugs (from the Guild of Thugs) to beat the man up. And kept escalating it from there.

The players had to step in and:

- stop the rug merchant from being beaten nearly to death;
- save the merchant's business;
- convince the Prince to stop doing all of this;
and critically:
- stay within the law, which could be bent or twisted with enough money and influence but never broken.

Not only that, but that needed to do all of this without making Prince Morfailov look bad, and thus solve Dmitri's problem but create their own.

We ended up with a series of brawls, some excellent diplomatic maneuvering, bribed officials of the law, and so on. No deaths. No serious injuries. Lots of things that could be taken care of with routine healing magic and exchanges of money. A lot of schmoozing and brown-nosing and complimenting of the Prince's official representatives for the great wisdom of the Prince. And so on.

And yeah, people probably used Disarms.

What made me think of this was that I basically contrived a situation where:

- the PCs were limited to cleverness and non-lethal force (in fact, generally non-harmful force, whenever possible)


- there were legal consequences, social consequences, and game consequences for going too far.

and further

- social benefits for handling these restrictions well.

In this one, we saw a lot of blunt arrows, sword flats, grapples, and even disarming people.

Basically, this happened because I made it risky to use the usual favored solution of PCs: Killing everyone.

"Something's wrong. Murder isn't working, and that's all we're good at." - Nichelle Nichols, "Futurama: Anthology of Interest I"

That quote is every group of PCs I've ever GMed for. They try murder, and if it doesn't work, they double down on murder. If that still doesn't work, they try to find someone they can murder and hope it eventually helps them murder the first problem group. Game worlds tend to reward that - the players run characters in lawless post-apocalypse areas, are secret agents above the law (or They Are The Law), are adventurers in a pseudo-historical setting without limitations on their subterranean actions, are commandos at war, or are just criminals in the first place. And so on.

I found from that mission I gave people that, yeah, you can force the PCs to choose to not kill. You just have to stack all of the arguments against it so high that they can't even see murder as useful. What made that particular mission work was that I constrained their actions but didn't constrain their clever ways around it. Everyone bought into it, too, and "the rug merchant" does come up from time to time.

I don't have too much in the way of clever suggestions here. But if you do want a game session free of corpses, try putting restrictions on deadly force coupled with problems that can be resolved without force. It can't hurt. If me and my gamers managed to do that without the story ending in, "And all the PCs were arrested and executed," well, you can too.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Recent Party Addition WIP

I've done a little painting on the newer party member minis.

Hjalmarr is finished, but these guys are still ongoing.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Melee Academy: Why I Don't See a Lot of Disarming

This is part of a multi-blog look at disarming.

For more on this specific topic, check out the links on Doug's page:

Melee Academy: Disarms in four systems

For more Melee Academy posts, please take a look at the Melee Academy page at Gaming Ballistic.

I don't see a lot of disarming attempts in my GURPS games. Armed attempts, rarely. Unarmed attempts, almost never.

For disarming to really be useful, you need a number of cases to all be true at the same time:

- your opponent's weapon is the most dangerous (or only dangerous) weapon they possess.

- your opponent's weapon must be more vulnerable than your opponent; that is, it must be easier to disarm the opponent than to just cripple, incapacitate, or kill the opponent.

- you must have some reason not to directly attack your opponent for damage.

- you must feel you can overcome the opponent's defenses against the weapon and overmatch his ST or DX based weapon skill with yours in a Quick Contest. Which means you're net/net more skilled than your opponent, or stronger, or both, by a margin that exceeds the better of his scores.

Break the sword?

Even if all of those are true, it's generally a little easier to attack the weapon to destroy it than to disarm with skill and grace or with brute force. You also need one of these cases to be true to make disarm worth more than attacking the weapon to destroy it:

- you either can't damage the weapon at all (it's invulnerable to your attacks, but is still possible to remove from the enemy)


- you don't want to damage the weapon (it's valuable loot, you need to pick it up and use it, you hope to give it back to the foe if it's also someone you don't want to harm.)

(Low Tech Companion 2 (p. 22) stats out a lot of lower-tech weapon DR, HP, and HT. I wrote that, so thank me when you snap someone's nunchaku chain.)

Those are tough cases to satisfy in a game.

Generally, you are better off:

- Attacking the limb (base -2, which is easier than hitting most weapons) or hand (base -4, not much harder than striking the weapon.) You only need to inflict injury greater than HP/2 for a limb, HP/3 for an extremity.

- Crippling a supporting limb. If you can cut a leg or foot out from someone and cause them to fall (automatic, if you cripple it), they will be in a poor position to use a weapon.

- Knockdown and Stunning comes with the bonus that they drop their held weapons. Locations such as the Skull, Face, and Groin are good locations for causing such effects.

- Accumulating some damage on the target. Shock can apply up to a -4 to the defender's retaliatory attacks, and eventually any target will run out of HP. You can make an attack less viable via Shock penalties and get you closer to ending the risk of counterattack at all as the foe eventually drops.

Not only that, but most of the above also significantly reduces the chances of the opponent to successfully continue to fight. And they work against natural weapons, too, in most cases - you can't disarm a dragon's claw but you can potentially hack it off at the wrist/ankle.

The tactics above reflect my own real-world armed martial arts experience - Filipino Martial Arts makes a big deal of defanging the snake. You want to get rid of a knife? Slice the knife hand or arm. Get rid of a stick? Break the stick hand or arm. Want to avoid the issue at all? Follow your limb strike with a finishing blow. Unlike the movies, you can't just sweep aside someone's blade and stand together watching it fly away. The high-percentage moves are damaging strikes, and GURPS reflects that, and so does my experience. Want to keep the guy with the axe from chopping you? Incapacitate him. And if you can't do that, remove his limb. Can't do that, break his weapon. Can't do that? Then disarm is starting to look good. The easy way to disarm a foe is to pull his weapon from his cold, dead hands.

You can make this all easier in play, but it's hard to get buy in from players - they're generally the most enthusiastic users of weapons, and in a fantasy game they depend on them more than the monsters. No one wants it to be too easy to disarm.

In a cinematic game, of course, it should be easier. Take a look at genre switches like Unarmed Etiquette (Martial Arts, p. 132) and Gun Control Law (Martial Arts, p. 132), if you just want to privilege unarmed or let folks kick guns out of other people's hands.

In my last game session, a fighter facing a were-creature seemingly immune to his attacks used disarm against the were's axe. It worked on the third try - he failed twice, once after successfully triggering a Quick Contest of Skills (the werebear used ST-based weapon skill, which was considerable) and once because he either missed or the were defended (I forget.) The third time worked because he rolled a 3 on the initial attempt to make contact with the weapon, so I just ruled it worked automatically. Even then, that's only because if I treated his ST-based weapon skill Quick Contest roll as a 3 he had a serious chance vs. the were's ST-based skill. The were was rolling versus something in the high 20s vs. the PC's 20 (Axe/Mace @ DX+6, ST 16, -2 for a non-fencing weapon.) I might not have extended the same courtesy if the PC's net skill was too low, anymore than I'd allow a 3 from tiny foe to automatically disarm a PC.

He didn't attack the axe because they believe it is special in some way, and he wanted to hit the were with it (spoilers: he did, and if it's special it's not that kind of special - it was harmless, too.) Had his weapon been able to tell on the werebear, he'd have been hacking the body, slicing the neck, or trying to shatter its skull. Disarming? A low-percentage tactic that paid off with a low-percentage roll (A 3 on 3d6 is 1-in-216).

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Kevin Adams Orcs

This might be old news to some of you, but I just noticed this.

Wargames Foundry has a spin-off website for orcs and "greenskins."

Warmonger Miniatures

I generally don't go for these style orcs, but they have a lot of character. Plus, it seems like postage is free for a time.

Old Minis: Grenadier Drider and unknown wizard

Here are two minis from my collection.

I doubt I painted the drider. I did re-glue his crossbow on, but otherwise, he's as-traded-for, probably from Jay A. back in elementary school or junior high. He's pretty intact, if only because I never use driders so his job is to sit in a padded desk drawer for decades on end and do nothing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

D&D 5e SRD

Thanks to Tenkar and Rob Conley for posting about this:

Systems Reference Document (SRD)

Interesting. I need to look into this!

No Game for Heroes

One of our players* quotes a friend of his saying, "Now is the time for heroes."

I was thinking about our last session. The PCs found what seemed to be a temple and someone else's treasure. So they took it. There wasn't even a split second of discussion about right or wrong, let's try to be friends, maybe we should leave this, this isn't what we came for, etc. Not a moment. The only question was, can a sack that says it can hold 40 pounds of loot really hold 20 pounds of lapis lazuli chunks and almost 7 pounds of silver? Can skeletons with their bony hands really pick up coins and stones quickly?**

Is this really a time for heroes?

My previous campaign really needed heroes. The player characters may or may not have intended to be heroes, but they accidentally unleashed an evil artifact on the world. Or more specifically, helped an evil wizard get an evil artifact to unleash on the world. Oops. The campaign became about trying to stop him. (Spoilers - it didn't work out so well.) That wasn't really an accident. Right from the start I told the players there was a big plot out there and they'd have a chance to grab a hold of a handle on it and get into it. They did, and they did.

All good.

Being a greedy, money-focused, loot-focused adventurer who seeks personal aggrandizement was possible, but it did need to reigned in. The fate of the world was at stake. You could be saving it for the money but you needed to want to save it or you didn't fit in. If your guy had a choice between "loot" and "undermining the enemy" and you would choose loot, well, wrong game for your guy. The players, at least, had to buy into the central conceit of the game - saving the world.

My DF game is very different.

This is no game for heroes.

It's not a Capital-G Good verses Capital-E Evil game. It's not a Capital-L Law versus Capital-C Chaos game, either.

It's just a romp through monster-infested whatevers (tunnels, swamps, jungles and lost cities) in search of loot. It dispenses with the larger world concerns in favor of the smaller concerns of survival. It in fact ignores the larger world except in the bits where that directly impinges on you going into dangerous areas to seek out loot.

The characters are centered around that.

This isn't to say you couldn't run a paladin-like character, full of shining goodness, honor, and decency. You could easily be in this for the saving of lost souls and honorably cleansing the world of evil. You just would need to be equally interested in seizing loot to make that cleansing happen. You'd have to be comfortable in the company of tough men and women mostly interested in wealth in the here-and-now and less in the big conflict.

This isn't to say that greed, ruthlessness, and other unpleasant social traits aren't a problem, either. They're a huge problem if your greed causes you to kick down one more door or rob something you can't survive robbing. Or if your ruthlessness causes you to exterminate some foes root and branch only to find you've cleared the way for worse foes they were helping hold off. This is the game for less-than-moral characters but just as much as morality is a set of handcuffs on your actions, lack of morality is a set of pitfalls around you. If you're so nasty that you can't be trusted, or the church won't bring you back from the dead, or that surface dweller and subterranean monster alike regard you as better dead than alive, you've got your own set of limitations.

But all in all, this isn't a game for heroes. It's not really a time to be bold, forward looking, self-sacrificing paragons worthy of sagas. It's a time for you as a character to be pragmatic, risk-taking but not risk-seeking, cautious but not cowardly, and opportunistic. It's a chance for you as a player to enjoy the simplicity of a game of tradeoffs between "must risk my life for gold!" and "must not risk my life too much for gold." It's weighing the risks versus the rewards. And then making a new character when you push a little too hard on the risks.

But heroes?

Not exactly.

It's more like a time for Vikings. At least in the general (superficial?) historical sense - sword in one hand, trade scales in the other, eyes on the horizon. Loot where that's the best route, trade where it's not, explore with the goal of more loot and more profit. Whoever goes home with the most loot and the best stories told about them wins. Ideally, you go to the afterlife on a pile of loot and people (the players) tell stories about you (well, your paper man) for years to come.

That's what my current game is about.

Maybe the next one will be Good versus Evil again, or Order versus Chaos. You never know. But that time isn't right now.

* This post is inspired by, but not intended to slam, my player.

** No, and no. Size matters, and I figure bones need skin and muscle to hold small rounded things and dime-sized coins.

Monday, January 11, 2016

DF Session 71 Pictures

Here are four pictures of the fighting in yesterday's session, in chronological order.

DF Game, Session 71 - Lost City 5, Part I - Mowgli Battle

January 10th, 2016

Weather: Varied (light rain)

Characters (approximate net point total)

Angus "Mithrilbraid" McSwashy, dwarf swashbuckler (261 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (287 points)
Hasdrubul Stormcaller, human wizard (267 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (269 points)
     Brother Ike, human initiate (135 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (271 points)

In reserve:
Kenner Baumfellen, wood elf scout (250 points)
Quenton Gale, human druid (252 points)

We started in the trading camp. Hjalmarr made the roll for Brother Iklwa Juma Deswayo N'Zinga ("Call me Brother Ike"), his new hireling cleric, to be available. Brother Ike dresses in the traditional garb of his grassland people, although he lives in this jungle area these days, and is a devoted healer in the service of Saint-In-Waiting Buyya Duad. The PCs also gathered rumors at Rumshackles. One especially amusing one was a man who told them never to speak of the gargoyle statues (meaning the ones in that domed building), as they are evil monsters. "You brought it up!" said Angus. Two others concerned the statues - one about the headless kings (sometimes they talk), another about how if you leave the guardian statue along, it'll leave you alone.

Meanwhile Gerry kept upgrading the gear on his skeletons, who now have a mix of arachno-assassin gear, better axes, better armor, etc. etc. They're getting better equipped than most still-living people.

Mo finished getting healed, and Gerry's arm was Regenerated as part of the deal for the sword traded for Resurrection but it was only half-grown back since that was less than two weeks ago.

They also plunked down 800 to get some sage advice - here, in the form of asking a few different older folks, local intellectual types, and of course, Dr. Nick Mako ("Free advice upon per-consulting payment!"). They found out a number of things about the Bells of D'Abo - you have to ring them with some kind of external clapper (doesn't seem to matter what kind, you can even use your fingers), they're not affected by magic, they have some kind of powers together and separately, and they chime differently when near each other. Chiming it in town set off a clear, sweet note that lingered for about 30 seconds and was physically felt across the whole camp.

Armed with that knowledge they headed out.

The trip to the city was mostly uneventful - only one person picked up Jungle Rot (which Brother Ike could cure), and their only encounter was a 15' long nearly 2' wide anaconda that snuck up on Hjalmarr during his watch. He was able to hack it to death and avoid its coils. Gerry happily cast Zombie on it (he has Huge Subjects 2 for that spell) and added it to his growing undead arsenal. They started to think about using the snake as a pack animal by feeding it treasure to retrieve later - Hasdrubel coined the term "Lootaconda."

The weather cooperated and thanks to a lot of Haste +1 spells they made it to the city near nightfall on day 3. Gerry and Hjalmarr (defaulting Stealth) snuck to the edge of the city and looked down on it, bringing the bell. They found it wouldn't go Invisible with Gerry. They watched for an hour, hearing noises and catching glimpses of movement on the East end of town but nothing really identifiable. Mo snuck up on them (with a 3), and tried to get them to ring the bell but he wasn't too insistent. Gerry didn't want to make noise and then stay in the same place. Overnight, Gerry pulled out one of his skulls and made a Skull Spirit.

Come morning, they decided to climb down the tree. Gerry tied off a rope. Angus jumped over; Mo climbed, as did Hjalmarr. As they went down, though, the harpy and her dire vultures flew over to investigate. A couple of Lightning spells by Hasdrubel drove them far enough up to be out of range. The vultures tried to snatch the helmets off of two of Gerry's skeletons, though, once the mages were down below and the skeletons were still being levitated down. The snake? It climbed.

The harpy and vultures circled around but didn't come too close, and the thick branches and leaves frustrated Mo's attempts to find a shooting vantage in the tree.

The reached ground and rested for a short time in a nearby ruined building. Their goal was to head to the "gargoyle statue" location, see if the bell would let them in, and if not, heal up (it's 6d damage, cosmically ignoring DR) and go to Rangol Grot's house. They rang the bell to see it sounded differently - nope. But it did seem to stir up some locals. They headed out, quickly, decided to take the main streets instead of skirting around the walls as usual.

They passed a three-step pyramid next to a grove of trees. They clearly heard monkey-like noises, and realized the Mowgli might be in the trees. But the pyramid was too tempting. They climbed up the first two levels via a front staircase, and found the top 20' x 20' x 12' section had a door-like opening. Looking in, they saw a large stone chest set into the floor. So they posted Mo and the skeletons outside and several of them looked inside. The walls, ceiling, and much of the floor were covered with crude paintings with primitive paints. They all depicted stick-figure types with tails, trees, lots of ones with a really big stick figure with a stick or club or something in two hands, and similar things. They all seemed to be layered on top of each other without much regard for order or sections, as if time after time more pictures were added as others faded without regard to what went before. It also smelled of monkeys. ("It's the monkey temple - we should defile it!" "You have to clean it to defile it." Cue "mop of defilement" jokes.)

They decided to check the sarcophagus-like chest. Hjalmarr tried to pry the top off while Hasdrubel waiting with Purify Air. He couldn't budge it - too heavy. Mo came in, though, and in two tries they managed to get it off. Inside was a mix of silver coins and hundreds and hundreds chunks of what Hasdrubel identified as lapis lazuli. With Mage Sight on, Hasdrubel spotted one faintly magical rock, which turned out to be a chunk of some dense rock, shaped like an eye. Maybe for the giant statue? They called in the lootaconda and a skeleton and started filling sacks.

As this happened, though, the monkey noises were getting worse. A lot worse. They started shrieking in a frenzy. Also, some weirdly layered cat calls started, and a ferocious bear-like growl. Uh-oh. The PCs didn't want to leave without their loot, though, so they hurriedly started to organize into a better formation. Too late, though, as mowgli started to leap from the nearby trees onto the pyramid.

Mo was outside by this point with his bow, and drilled one clean through while it was in mid-jump, killing it outright. More landed and rushed them. Two big cats also bounded out of the trees onto the second level of the pyramid. Hugely muscled panthers, each with five heads! Mo dropped his bow as a mowgli leaped at him with a wooden knife, and he fell (17 on Dodge) and was slashed with a clearly-poisoned tip! He grapped the mowgli in both hands, planning to squeeze him to death. But worse yet, one of the pentanthers jumped on top of him and started to bite, ignoring the mowgli in its way. Within a couple of seconds, Mo was badly wounded and bitten and being held (in the 26 CP range, not good even with Trained ST 18) and raked with claws.

The mowgli jumped all over the PCs, grabbing and throwing down nooses. Their envenomed wooden knives weren't much help against skeletons, and even thrown rocks didn't work so well (cloth armor and DR 2 makes them less fragile than you'd expect). However, the second pentanther jumped in and engaged Angus, driving him back and away from the downed Mo. Further, an almost man-sized mowgli (SM 0) dropped down into the doorway and transformed into a full-sized bear! It bit at Hjalmarr, who whacked it three times and did nothing except have his axe bounce off. Uh-oh, are weres immune to non-magic weapons? Maybe silver would work? Hasdrubel tried to help but accidentally zapped everyone in the room when he critically missed and put a 3d Explosive Lightning spell into Hjalmarr's back. He rolled 2 damage, though (3d-3, rolled a 5) and no one was hurt.

Hjamarr fought the bear, and saw it had something strapped to its back. He sliced at that, cutting a strap and causing a shield and axe to fall to the ground. The bear was still ignoring his strikes, though, and those of a skeleton in the room with him. Hasdrubel zapped the bear with lightning, and it seemed to hurt it but not too badly. The lootaconda was deployed. It bit the bear and held on. The bear bit back, though, and in a couple of seconds it smashed the snake's skull and tiny zombie brain, destroying it.

Meanwhile in a swirling fight, the skeletons kept the mowgli busy and one even managed to slash up the pentanther on Mo pretty badly. Gerry Great Hasted himself and then Angus, who then carved up a number of Mowgli (first cutting a noose one looped around him neck) and then carving the pentanther up next. The skull spirit pretty uselessly sparred with a mowgli, which dodged pretty easily and couldn't die so easily from 2 damage each hit.

Mo meanwhile was helpless - five heads bit him and held on, even as he tried to squeeze one of the mowgli to death with his left hand. The cat raked at him with its claws, wounding him fairly badly. But Angus managed to get off a Kiai and stun it, which kept it unable to respond until he and some skeletons could kill the pentanther.

Once it was down, they went to Hjalmarr's aid. The bear had transformed from a bear into a bear-mowgli shape, and crouched down and readied its shield and axe while still ignoring lightning and axe strokes. Worried by the axe, Hjalmarr decided to disarm him. Two strokes failed, but a second later he rolled a 3 and I ruled that was good enough for an instant disarm (otherwise, the werebear's ST-based Axe/Mace was a lot better than Hjalmarr's score to disarm). Then Hasdrubel nailed it with a 6d Lightning spell and stunned the bear. Hjalmarr dropped his axe and fished for the bear's dropped weapon, in case it was magical.

At this point, Angus got behind the bear and swapped his rapier to his left and then drew his silvered falchion, picked up way back in Lost City 1. A second later, still Great Hasted, he attacked and slashed the bear badly for a couple of seconds. Silver clearly worked. It became unstunned, turned, and double shield-bashed him. Angus Dodged one but not the other, which randomly hit left hand . . . and did exactly 2x what was needed to cripple. Worse, the shield had an embossed tiger head on it, which pushed out of the shield and bit. Angus's hand was bitten off at the wrist and eaten. His rapier (Signature Gear) fell to the ground. Angus wasn't stunned, though, and sliced it back with the knife. More lightning and then two more slashes killed the bear, and it dropped.

With the penthanthers dead and the bear down, the mowgli panicked and fled. Few were left, though, as Hjalmarr had readied the bear's axe and attacked some mowgli ripping at a skeleton, killing four in two seconds. Hasdrubel blasted one into cinders as they ran for the trees, and perhaps 4-5 escaped out of 20 or so that had attacked.

Angus sliced off the dead werebear's left hand/paw, because Pirate's Code of Honor says to avenge insults. Someone, I think Mo, decapitated the bear, who by now had turned into a somewhat Weismuller-looking man with a bad case of back hair.

They quickly huddled up on top of the "monkey temple" and finished gathering the loot. A quick glance at the shield showed it didn't detect as magical, but it was clearly good (it's a Targe of the Tiger, a variation of something in DF6), and the axe seemed normal. Now convinced that "doesn't detect as magical" means "actually an artifact of great power," Hjalmarr kept the axe.

We did some emergency healing, and as it was clear the whole place had been stirred up, the PCs got ready to leave (or stay, you never know.) Meanwhile, Gerry ripped off a couple of Zombie spells, bringing back the two pentanthers but skipping the were-bear (it wasn't clear if it would retain its were-powers, and they were inclined to think not.) I needed to roll to see if anything came after them, so we decided this was the place to cut it. Next session in a few weeks, resolving Part I of The Lost City 5.

I have some pictures, I'll post them later. (Editing Later: here they are!)


Late start today because I wasn't ready for game, I was actually trying to reorganize before I did my stocking, rumors, etc. We ended our usual time, too, so it was a little less gaming.

The PCs had a multi-pronged "to do" list so I expected they'd want to end in the lost city and not run back to town at the end, especially because this trip is the last safe and easy trip. Once the Spring rains start and the pilgrims head back to more civilized lands, they'll need to go back, too. So I was expecting them to want to stick this out as long as their PCs have resources in-game, and I prepared for that.

To add some drama to poison, I just have people keep track of how many times they've been hit with poisons, if those poisons aren't instant effect. Then as cycles come up, I'll have them roll for resistance and effect. That's why Mo was cured of it - no one wanted to wait around to see if that scratch was really okay.

This was our first 4e Skull Spirit, so I had to answer a lot of questions. They aren't nearly as nasty as 3e ones, but in some ways are a little more reasonable. The template in GURPS Magic needs a little tweaking for my game - it lacks some traits it really needs to fit how undead work in my game in general.

Pentanther, my players decided, would be a good band name. So would "Lootaconda" and "Mo and the Skeletons," in my opinion.

No XP for today, because it's not a complete delve, but MVP was Angus for the Kiai, fighting with his hand bitten off, and killing the man-mowgli-were-bear.
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