Monday, February 29, 2016

DF Session 73, Lost City 5 - Part III, Fort Vegepygmy

January 10th, 2016 (but played on 2/28/2016)

Weather: Heavy 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)
Quenton Gale, human druid (267 points)

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

We picked up where we left off last session. Quenton Gale managed to catch up with them and meet them at Rangol Grot's house in the city, because that's how we deal with people joining a delve late. He had been back at town taking his blowpipe final exam and missed them and had finally caught up, and we're sticking to that story.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

DF Pre-Summary

We had our final session of The Lost City today. It ran a little late, so I won't have time to get a summary up.

It featured:

- Talking to statues

- Fighting crocs (briefly)

- A big long brawl with vegepygmies, shambling mounds, and ambulatory killer plants in a swamp

- And a look at the revised Windstorm spell (short version: Still cost effective, less roll-y and less unbalanced)

The fight took much of the time, once you factored in a slow start because we hadn't be able to get everyone together for a little while.

It was all in all a good session, though. I'll spoil it - no major casualties.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Negotiating with Monsters: Common PC Errors

I've been thinking about how players negotiate with monsters. This post is about the errors players make - I'll get something up about GM errors with negotiations in the future.

Here are common approach errors I see when negotiations with monsters come up.

What is Negotiation?

Let's get this started with a definition. Negotiation for purposes of this post is when you're talking, trading, intimidating, and/or otherwise using non-force approaches to accomplish your goal. It's not a euphemism for killing everything or for Charm spells.

Not Negotiating

Quite simply, some PCs don't negotiate. Everything is a fight to the death. They win or they lose, win the field or flee. They might sneak and steal, instead, or go around a foe. But they don't really talk to them.

The error here is that you're leaving a lot of potential benefit on the table.

Negotiation is, ultimately, a trade. You're offering to give something for something. Combat is equally a trade - you're risking death, dismemberment, loss of resources, etc. and trading off time, consumables (ammunition, magic, potions, etc.) for whatever loot you can get, and the benefits of defeating those foes.

If you look at negotiations as "we give up stuff to get stuff" and combat as "we get stuff basically for free" then you're never going to see negotiations as an equally valid choice. It's a sub-optimal choice, but only because you're not seeing risk and loss as costs. Instead, see it as using means other than combat and total destruction of your foe to get things done.

There is also the meta-reality of game time. If combat is large, time consuming, or complex, it takes a lot of time. Negotiation is likely to take less time - so negotiating is potentially saving the players time to do other fighting, other negotiations, and get other things done.

Negotiating from Imagined Strength.

One more problem is the "excessive demands" approach. Many time I've seen PCs negotiate with demands that are basically this:

- unconditional surrender.
- some variation of "give us everything and maybe we'll spare you"

It's a demand pattern that works if the opposition's situation is totally and plainly hopeless, but surrender or bribing the PCs is a possible way to survive.

The problem is that it's often the basic negotiating strategy. The basis of the negotiation is that the NPCs have to accept that they are automatically defeated, with no chance of causing real losses to the PCs and no chance of escape or survival otherwise.

I call this "imagined strength" because it's not likely you're negotiating from a position of utter and complete dominance. You might be, but if not, it's going to fail. And if the cost you want to impose is higher than your foe is willing to pay without convincing (say, Intimidation rolls or combat), or higher than you could have gotten without winning the fight in the first place, it's likely to backfire. It can poison the well for future negotiations, too.

Negotiating from Weakness

PCs will often wait until things are bad to negotiate.

If you're fighting and losing, or the NPCs have reinforcements coming, or you've cornered yourselves and it's clear it's a tough fight but you'll only win or die . . . the NPCs have reason to ask for higher compensation.

Better to negotiate while you still have something to trade.

Sometimes you have to negotiate from weakness - you realize you can plead and bribe your way out of disaster and merely get away with loss. This is often when a secondary error comes in - unwillingness to pay up.

Sometimes this is a logical fallacy - if I pay them off, they'll ask for stuff I can't give up, so I won't consider paying them off. Better to die with my stuff than to surrender it all.

Of course, you can attempt to negotiate to keep things you can't part with. "I'll fork over my cash, and some other things, but I need to keep my sword or we'll keep fighting."

But if you have to negotiate from a position of weakness, realize that you still have room to make offers . . . and that "fight to the death" is probably worse than "make some painful concessions."

The demands only go up.

"Give us 100 and we'll let you go."
"How about 50?"

Okay, that's fun to do.

It's a bad faith negotiation, really, and ties into the "imagined strength" issue. You've basically said you aren't negotiating, you are demanding, and the demands only go up. If you're dealing with genuinely weak foes, they might have to accede to this.

If you ask for 100 and they don't have 100 and offer 50 (let's say they have 70), you literally can't get 100 right now. Or maybe ever. Raising the demand won't get you more. And if you raise the demand and then lower it, what was raising the demand about? If it's a negotiating strategy it's assuming the NPCs (and the GM) feeling intimidated by the growing demands and caving.

Raising the demands works if the situation changes. Offering surrender with terms that will become surrender without terms if you make us keep fighting? Sure, that makes sense. It's easy to understand - if I keep fighting, it'll only get worse for me. But as part of a basic negotiation, it says, don't talk or make counter-offers. Don't attempt to make it clear your position isn't as weak (or you don't perceive it to be) as the opposition thinks. Accept or reject, period. And that pushes you towards, "reject." That's especially true if the demand made is impossible or unlikely.

It's a variation of Vader Syndrome. "Pray I don't alter the deal any further." Also fun, but Vader got away with that because he was negotiating from overwhelming strength against someone cutting a deal to avoid total loss. You can't assume all negotiations have you as Vader and the Empire, and your foes as Lando and his dinky cloud city.

I can see a lot of arguments and "yeah, buts" coming back to this. But, as a player, imagine the tables were turned. Imagine kicking down a door and the orcs say, "Parley! Give us everything you carry and maybe we'll let some of you live!" You accept the offer, right? No, you fight to the death? Yeah. That's why the monsters do that too.

All Deals Are Final

Players sometimes assume a deal, once made, is final. Forever. Permanent.

In other words, if circumstances change, too bad, no re-negotiating.

A deal is a deal, but how long is it for? Was it specified? Was the specified term reasonable? Was it even understood? (Witness the gargoyles in my Felltower game agreeing to a deal "forever." Do gargoyles know what "forever" means to you? Were they just unreliable?)

Alter the deal in any way? You broke it. Want to re-negotiate? Too bad, now we're back to total war to the death.

In historical circumstances, tribute wasn't usually a one-time thing. It could be, but plenty of rulers had "tributaries" that pay them in gifts and money regularly. In the modern world costs go up and prices change. Terms of agreement come up. The lease details change a bit, for good or for ill.

If a deal works for a while, but it shows signs of breaking down (or just breaks), that doesn't automatically mean the other side is unfaithful and worthy of death. It might be the case that they are, but you just make it a little harder to negotiate if word gets around that people have one chance only to win concessions from you. It's as poisonous to deals as giving a pig in a poke (in other words, fake goods).

And it doesn't necessarily mean the deal was a bad one. If you make a deal with Group A to fight Group B, and later you break with Group A because the deal doesn't help you anymore, does that mean you never should have negotiated with Group A? Nope. Just that it's not a useful alliance anymore. Maybe it could be again, but you need to start back over talking.

A corollary to this is that only the NPCs have to hew to the deal. That is, if the PCs break the deal, tough noogies. The NPCs break it? Death to them all! That's also likely to get around.

Another is that "all NPCs are equally trustworthy." Or not. Not a good assumption.

Demanding One-Way Trust

The final error I see pretty often is the assumption that the PCs have a lot to lose, the NPCs don't. The PCs want hostages, concessions, proof of trustworthiness, safeguards, and so on. The NPCs get nothing in return. "You'll have to trust us." That works if you have a Reputation as being trustworthy. If you don't, well, if they agree you better deliver or over-deliver on your half.

If you legitimately can't trust the NPCs you're negotiating with, then you might want to reconsider negotiating at all. Just because negotiating is a useful tool doesn't mean you must use it. It's not more or less reasonable to avoid negotiating with the untrustworthy than to run away from those you can't beat in a fight.

The shorter version is this:

Recognize that negotiation is no more or less a tool in your toolbox than combat. Use it to get what you want. Accept that it's a tradeoff. Don't treat it as one-way demands from NPCs or a total either/or with combat. It's a tool - use it when appropriate and use it appropriately.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Vary Orc Traits by Mini: D&D 5th edition

I did some variant orcs by mini for GURPS 4th edition. How about D&D 5th edition? Fifth Edition Fridays might be a thing, at least some weeks. I could benefit from practice with 5th edition rules writing.

Orcs behind the cut . . .

Thursday, February 25, 2016

GURPS 101: Basic Scout Tactics for DF

One of my players runs a Dungeon Fantasy Scout. But he's also not really conversant in GURPS. This generally isn't a problem, but for a scout this can be an issue. Your options are much greater than just "shoot two arrows per round."

If you come from games which don't require you to make some specific tactical choices, it's a big step to go to a game that does. Think of going from a video game (opening a door means hitting the "Open/Pickup/Manipulate" button on your controller) to D&D (opening a door means describing what you'll do to open it.) Same with GURPS - you need a bit more description and knowledge of what choices matter.

I wrote this with players new to GURPS, or new to bow-armed characters, in mind. It's most page references, because you should not only know the numbers and options but where they come from. Go look it up now, so you don't have to look it up at the table.

Know Your Arrows

This could be "know your bows" but generally Scouts will want a longbow or a composite bow to start with, and then stick with that forever. Just keep an eye out for better ones - especially Elven (better draw strength) and Balanced (better accuracy) ones. Arrows, though, are a constant choice.

The basic options are normal arrows ("broadheads") or armor-piercers ("bodkins"), per B277. Normal arrows do impaling, per the damage line on the weapon charts. Armor-piercers do piercing damage and add a (2) armor divisor. So if you normally do 1d+3 impaling, you'd do 1d+3(2) piercing (sometimes written as "pi") instead.

Impaling is useful against the Torso, Face, and especially vital locations (the Vitals, Neck, and Skull). It's less effective against limbs and extremities and unliving and homogenous targets (p. B380).

Piercing is less effective against non-vital targets and much less effective against unliving and homogenous targets (p. B380). Against vital target areas (Vitals and Skull, especially), it's just as effective as impaling or any other damage type. This makes armor-piercing arrows a great choice against an armored Skull (-7) or Vitals (-3) - assuming you can punch through the armor even with a (2) divisor. Skull is very easy to armor heavily, and Vitals is behind the torso armor. (Special Note: Beware legacy rules knowledge! This is not how armor-piercing arrows worked in GURPS 3e, and especially not how they worked in 1e and 2e. It's not "halves DR and halves damage" or "-2 to DR and -1 to damage.")

If your game is using alternate arrow types besides just normal and bodkin, Low-Tech p. 73 and Martial Arts p. 232 have lists of alternate arrow heads. The names vary slightly (Martial Arts has Willow Leaf, Low-Tech genericises this to Cutting) but the rules are compatible. (Low-Tech p. 78 also introduces arrow guides for darts and multiple arrow fasteners, but generally, they're reducing your accuracy and damage and serve to undercut your most needed traits for an archer - accuracy and damage! They are potentially useful against lightly-armored folks or high-Dodge targets if you can hit with many arrows, but otherwise, they're marginal.)

Cutting arrows are useful for limbs and extremities (assuming you can do enough damage to cripple them), the Neck (-5 to hit, x2 injury multiplier), or the Skull (-7 to hit, x4 injury multiplier). They're the best choice for general torso hits against unliving or homogenous targets!

Blunt arrows are useful for shooting crush-vulnerable targets such as skeletons, but otherwise tend to be fairly weak. Against a target with normal vulnerabilities, your best targets are Skull (-7 to hit, x4 injury multiplier), Neck (-5 to hit, x1.5 injury multiplier), and if you're using the rules from Martial Arts p. 137 Vitals (-3 to hit) can cause knockdown and stunning with any shock inflicted.

Most of the other specialized types are too specialized for much broad use - flaming arrows (p. B410) and fire-cage arrows might set fires in a pinch but don't do so much damage they're a must-have. Flight arrows have more range but generally ultra-long-range shooting isn't coming up in DF. Barbed arrows are only useful against foes you expect to have run off with arrows in them and need to pull them out.

Fine arrows are a potentially useful purchase, too, since fine cutting or impaling arrows will gain +1 damage. Cost makes it hard to get them in a Cornucopia Quiver, however!

Know Your Options

Is your GM using Tricky Shooting (Martial Arts, p. 121)? If so, know them well. Prediction Shooting is the best way to deal with Dodge-happy foes. Block is best reduced with Ranged Feints.

Quick-Shooting Bows (Martial Arts, p. 119) is built in to Heroic Archer, and it is detailed in Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers (p. 14).

Power-Ups allow quicker shooting, double shooting, and other tricks. Out of the gate, though, stick to firing every turn!

Most maneuvers aren't going to help, but a few have special merit:

All-Out Attack (Determined) is worth a +1 to skill, and it is great for unopposed sniping or shooting into melee from a protected spot. Move and Attack takes away your Acc bonus (see below), but you can fire on the full run - great for running away after some actual scouting or charging into closer range. And Aim is handy for distant shots or making especially tricky shots into combat.

Know Your Targets

Out of the gate, a Scout has Bow-18 and Heroic Archer. If you shoot without moving, you get to add your Acc to every shot, aimed or not. If you took a longbow or composite bow (and if not, why not?), Acc is 3. You have a base 21 skill before penalties.

Although ranged attacks come with their own special issues thanks to the Size and Speed/Range Table, 21 is still very high.

Vitals (-3) is a great basic choice for shooting. The improved injury multiplier for both impaling and piercing means your normal arrows do a lot of damage here. A miss by 1 hits the torso, so even a near-miss is still a hit of some kind. Impaling, piercing, and crushing (with reduced effects) only. (Note: Skill 18 before range, counting Acc!)

Eye (-9, -10 if through armor) can blind a foe and has a x4 injury multiplier for all damage as it leads straight into the skull. Supernatural targets are rarely vulnerable to this, though - many have No Brain, No Eyes, or Homogenous. It might still be useful for blinding a target, but don't pin your life on it. Impaling and piercing only. (Note: Skill 12 or 11 before range, counting Acc!)

Face (-5) is often poorly armored compared to the torso or skull - not as many forms of armor cover the face very effectively. If a foe has light facial armor, this is a good target to consider shooting. Damage is normal, but major wounds here are more likely to cause Knockdown and Stunning (p. 420). (Note: Skill 16 before range, counting Acc!)

Chinks in Armor (-8/-10) are useful if you can suck up a -10 to halve DR (round up!) on the target location. It's only -8 on the torso. This can stack with other armor divisors, making it a way to get through very heavy armor coupled with an armor-piercing arrow. Not all armor (and not all creatures) have Chinks in Armor. Physiology or Hidden Lore might help here - ask the GM. (Note: Skill 13 or 11 before range, counting Acc!)

That's another point - game-mechanically you might know Vitals is x3 injury, but that doesn't mean your character knows where a triger's heart is from your shooting angle, or where a siege beast's heart is at all, or where the Chinks in Armor on a dragon's belly are. Knowing it might game-mechanically exist isn't the same as meaning you can target it. A mean GM (like me) will let you take a guess as a player ("I shoot it in the center of the chest!") and take the penalty ("Okay, it's -3 to hit.") and then resolve it. You might be right . . . or might just be shooting for the siege beast's triple-thick chestbone a dozen inches away from its organs.

Against armored foes, a hit against a heavily armored target is often about as useful as a miss. Better to aim for sometimes vulnerable but hard to hit (Eyes, Chinks in Armor, Face) or which maximizes damage and minimizes armor (Skull or Vitals, with a bodkin). Against a high-Dodge target, hitting or missing might not matter unless you've stacked enough enough Prediction Shot on it that you're at or close to minimum skill (10 for Deceptive Attack) because any normal hit will just be Dodged. And so on.

Finally, there are a lot of other ways to expand your effectiveness. Magical buffing, poison on arrows (against poison-vulnerable targets, that is), better bows, magical arrows, Power-Ups, Weapon Master, better vision in bad visibility, etc. But right out of the gate, a Scout is a very effective ranged combatant. The basics above can help you be so even if GURPS in general or bows in specific are new to you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Vary Orc Traits by Mini?

So I have a lot of orcs minis. We've been over that before.

I have orcs from Wargames Factory, TSR, Reaper (Dark Heaven Legends and Warlord-style Bones), Copplestone, Games Workshop, Dark Ages (I think that's the name), and three kinds from Black Tree Designs (one being old Harbringer orcs, I think). Plus some others, probably.

That doesn't count the goblins, hobgoblins, and whatever else I thought was sufficiently orc-like to convert to orcs.

So my orcs are sometimes pig-faced, sometimes flat-faced. Sometimes they have fangs. Some have big heads. Some have smallish heads. Some have thick bodies. Some narrow. Some I got too heavy-handed with the black wash.

So how about some variations?

All of these are just random ideas.

Pig-Faced Orcs

Traits: Add Acute Taste and Smell 3, Overweight, and increase HP by 2.

Fanged Orcs

Traits: Add the Ravenous trait (GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1, p. 38).

Big Orcs

Traits: Raise SM to +1. Add +3 to ST and HP.

Little Orcs

Traits: Lower SM to -1. Reduce ST and HP by 2; add Striking ST 2 so you don't have to change their damage lines on the writeup.

Barbaric Orcs:

Traits: Add DR 3 (Tough Skin, Does Not Stack With Armor). Remove encumbrance from armor.

Dark Orcs:

Traits: Add +1 to IQ and DX and add Magery 0 to traits.

Two-Weapon Orcs:

Traits: Add Ambidexterity, Special Training (Two-Weapon Fighting without TBAM or WM), and Two-Weapon Fighting (Dungeon Fantasy 3: The Next Level, p. 41).

The only weird one up there is the Dark Orcs thing. But in some games I played, "black orcs" were the smarter, nastier orcs. So, that's one way to deal with my overabundance of black wash - I'm making them smarter and nimbler, not a color and wash error.

These all stack except that you can't have Small Big Orcs. But Big Fanged Orcs? Yep. Small Barbaric Dark Orcs? Big Dark Fanged Pig-Faced Two-Weapon Orcs? Sure!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Orc Horde Groweth

Actually, one of these is a hobgoblin, but I painted my previous versions as orcs in the past and I'll keep doing so.

But here are four more of the TSR Monster Tribes figures I picked up a year back. I had a full set when I was younger, but traded some away.

In any case, I had these four fully intact from a recent purchase and painted them up between work.

Monday, February 22, 2016

D&D Combat Done Differently - Heretical D&D 5e

Recently, Douglas Cole had an idea about D&D 5th edition combat and took it and ran with it. In short - what if the narrative disconnect between "the orc stabs you in the guts!" and "I recover all the HP from that with a Short Rest" could be bridged with some different mechanical approaches?

It starts here:

Heretic DnD5: Hit, Miss, Armor, Shield

and continues in this series of posts. It's fun to watch it grow from "what happens if I do this?" into "I can really do this" to "let's see if doing this is fun in practice."

Naturally, because this is the internet and gamers like to argue even without the internet, there has been backlash. There is a "you're trying to make D&D into GURPS" line of comment out there, according to Doug.

I can assure you Doug isn't trying to turn D&D into GURPS. First, because Doug plays GURPS, and would just go play that if he wanted the same rules and results you'd get in GURPS. Second, and perhaps more importantly, what he's driving towards isn't GURPS. It's different from GURPS and from D&D 5th edition as written. It's a tangent to both. It shows some influence from GURPS (injury should have consequences besides death, recovery shouldn't be quick, shields should be significant) but equally it shows ones very different from GURPS (equipment-as-HP, advantage/disadvantage, different emphasis on tactical choices.)

If anything, the wounds/stress split reminds me of Body/Stun from Champions - injury versus temporary loss of ability to fight. The concept of recovery bringing back stress but rest and healing bringing back wounds resembles that as well.

Overall it's a really interesting idea - can you change the very basis of D&D hit points in a way that allows combat to change but the game to keep fundamentally compatible with the materials available out there? Can you bend D&D's approach into something else and have that something be interesting and playable? People have twisted the D&D rules into new shapes before before. It's where so many RPGs spawned from, as changes to D&D. People have written games off the D&D rules that bear little resemblance to the fantasy game they came from.

So why not try to change the D&D combat system and see if something cool emerges? That's pretty much what Doug is doing and it's fascinating.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Felltower: Clearly labeled silliness?

The other day one of my long-time gamers and I were talking gaming and silliness. He's a veteran of a playthrough of Dungeonland.

His comment was basically that a lethal Young Frankstein beats a serious Ravenloft.

So does my DF game have silliness?

Obviously, it has in-jokes, like the Bells of D'Abo, comments about "just another snake cult," "as the stirge flies," or Magery as an "evil trait."

But I mean real silly stuff, in the spirit of the lethal Wonderland homage of Gary Gygax or the Gods of GURPS Fantasy II.

Yes, it does.
There are some truly weird and lethal and silly things in Felltower.

I decided it's probably a good idea to make it clear. In a blatantly obvious way, even, so the players can decide if they're in the mood for silly or not. I don't want a groan of disappointment, I want groans of pained enjoyment.

I might go as far as to actually label stuff "silly" - with a sign, with a fool's coxcomb, actually writing Silly on the entrance to the area, whatever. I haven't decided, yet.

While I can't use Dungeonland again with anything near its original impact, I have my own goofiness there for people who want to take gold from murderous homages to less-than-serious source material.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Designer's Notes on "Better Improvised Weapons."

Here is a collection of random notes on my recent article, "Better Improvised Weapons," for the post-apocalypse-themed Pyramid 3/88 The End is Nigh. Here is also Pee Kitty's writeup of the issue.

I've written up a lot improvised weapons for GURPS already, such as the table in GURPS Martial Arts. So I didn't want to just write up some more weapons. Instead, I wanted to cover some of the ways improvised weapons work in movies, comics, and books. That is, they're better . . . sometimes forever, usually just for a scene.

Meldon Jones is a triple tribute.

Equipment Bond - the bonuses for Equipment Bond came out of a brunch discussion with Sean Punch last time I went up to Montreal to see him. We got sat on the far end of the table, probably because we discuss things like the Equipment Bond perk over bagels* and coffee. Sean mentioned regretting not thinking of that earlier. A while later I emailed him and asked if I could steal it. The price was, I had to mention nail guns. Done and done.

Intimidation - I suggested this Rancid quote as a quote in the article. It didn't make it, but it's probably the initial trigger for Intimidation bonuses idea:

"Police retreated with riot shields in fear of a baseball bat"
Rancid, Warsaw, off of Life Won't Wait.

I had a Simpsons quote for I Made it Myself, too, but it didn't make it in. Probably for the better . . .

* Montreal bagels vs. NY bagels is like French bread vs. Italian bread - equally amazing but quite different.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Door Week: Around a Door in 80 Ways

Door Week continues.

Okay, there aren't really 80 ways around a door in GURPS unless you start double-counting, but I like the song by BAD.

But for players not fully conversant in the first half of Dungeon Fantasy 2: Dungeons*, here are some ways to get through doors in my game. This is basically summarizing the rules from DF2, with clarifications and notes to help you know your options for making it better.

Important Note: All of the force options are noisy. Lifting, picking, and possibly magic will be potentially stealthy, if you yourselves are also stealthy. Using any forcing method is potentially going to attract wandering monsters (more rolls or improved chances of monsters appearing), destroy the possibility of surprise, or otherwise make your presence and actions obvious.

Bashing: We all know doors are the greatest enemy of adventurers, so why not slay them? Forced Entry @ +1 or +2 gives a damage bonus, and Breaking Blow is very useful.

Wooden doors have Ablative DR, so if you keep hitting the same spot you can wear it down to a mere 1 DR per strike (stone is 3 DR, for the occasional stone doors.) Iron-bound and iron doors have normal DR, so if you can't ding it up on a few strikes you're probably not going to take it down. Only the lighter ones give you any hope of inflicting damage - an average-quality metal door has DR 25!

Bashing opens a roughly 10 square foot hole (per Low Tech p. 122); you need to bash up a double-sized spot if you're going to go through without crouching and one half again as big in either case if you want a SM+1 person to fit through without squeezing.

Assume hinges aren't modern pin hinges designed for easy removal - taking them off might be one way to get a door open but it's not quick and easy. IQ-based Forced Entry can help here.

Helpful Tools: Crowbars (DF1, p. 24) do extra damage to doors. Otherwise, use an axe (for the cutting multiplier on penetrating damage). Don't use a sword - there is a 3-in-6 chance of it bending (DF2 p. 8); fine and very fine swords hold up a bit better.

A portable ram (DF1, p. 26) is ideal. A Siege Stone (p. 30) might help, too, in certain cases. A mallet (p. 24) or crowbar is what you need for removing hinge pegs, and a work hatchet (p. 24) is a good idea if you don't want to use your weapons to open doors.

Image of a much bigger ram.

A bit-and-brace might be useful (p. 25) to make a hole to look through or to get at concealed locks and hinges. Finally, acid (p. 28) is another way to deal with locks and hinges.

And if you want to know what's behind the door, a spy's horn (p. 26) might help you hear it. It's much harder without one of those to suss out noises.

Forcing: If the door is merely stuck, Forced Entry will do the job, usually without a penalty.

For locked, barred, or wedged doors, brute force might do - see Muscling Through.

I assume you've giving it the boot or shouldering it open, and this affects your defenses as if you're doing a Committed Attack (Strong), if it matters. There really isn't an option for a "light shove" here. I'd allow an All-Out Attack (Strong) for a +1 to your ST for forcing purposes.

Extra Effort (p. B357) or anything else that boosts ST helps - Power Blow, Might spells, etc.

Helpful Tools: Crowbar (DF1, p. 24) for a +2 to rolls, but it needs two hands.

Picking: If the door isn't stuck, just locked, you can pick the lock. Generally this is DX-based Lockpicking, although complex locks and puzzle locks would be IQ-based Lockpicking. Some puzzle locks are player-facing challenges, though, and you'll have to figure out the trick to open the door.

This takes time (1 minute per attempt, longer if you want a bonus, per p. B436). The Lockmaster spell is faster, but won't work on locks proofed vs. magic (meteoric or mana-drained components.) Such locks aren't uncommon - by default all of the high-end locks are done this way.

What about grates and portcullises?

Bending uses the rules for forcing. No tools will help, although it's possible to engineer ways to get multiple people pulling on one bar (cable, space, and the old heave-ho, for example.)

Lifting a movable grate is just a question of Basic Lift, unless it's secured - go back to Forcing or Picking the hinge or lock, or Bending the bars.

We'll Shape the Walls! Of course, magic might help you simply bypass the door. Costs are for worked stone (6x, so minimum cost 12), even if the door is set in generally non-worked stone (it's worked by nature of having hinges, a lock, etc. put in it). Most walls in Felltower are worked and/or treated with mana resistant enamels, paints, and carving methods, giving a further -1 to -10 to shape. Assume designers putting in a serious door put in serious countermeasures to common and easy magic!

There are other magical ways to get around doors - Apportation might remove a simple bar, although you cast at at least -1 for range and -5 for unseen. Most non-improvised bars will have a locking handle, latch, length of cord, etc. to keep the bar from moving freely until it's unlatched. That will effectively stop Apportation unless you first cast the spell on the latch and then work it free, blindly. Undo is possible to completely remove a door, depending on the construction. And many spells can cause damage to doors, dovetailing with Bashing, above. Spells cast beyond the door are at -5 for an unseen target and normal range penalties (minimum -1.)

Mining. You can also try digging through walls and floors - use the rules under Digging, p. 350-351. Requires a pickaxe (p. 24) to break up the rock, and then a to move the debris efficiently (hands are 1/4th as fast.) Slow against stone - the door will almost always be easier, and if it's not, it's probably because the walls or floors are thick. And tiring - one hour of breaking and/or shoveling rock is 4 FP.

That's not 80 ways around the door, but it's a start. Any I missed, please ask me, point them out, or write them up in the comments. Page refs are appreciated if I missed a rule!

(Important clarification: if I missed tools from the Dungeon Fantasy books, rules from Basic Set, or completely new methods for dealing with doors, please let me know. Minor variations of the above aren't really necessary. Neither are ones that don't deal with doors, like "learn the Secret Teleportation Spell from DF11!" Obviously Ethereal Body or going around a different way that doesn't have doors would work, but it's not useful to discuss here. This about the rules for dealing with doors as physical obstacles.)

* I actually have the first half of DF2 printed out put in the three-ring binder of DF rules for my players, aka "The DF Player's Book." The first half of that book is excellent player-facing material, which really helps lay out the effect of their skills, stats, and basic choices in clear rules.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Improvised Weapons article in Pyramid

A new issue of Pyramid magazine came out, and I've got a short piece on improvised weapons in it:

There are articles from David Pulver, PK Levine, Shawn Fisher and Hans, Matt Riggsby, and Roger Burton West besides mine.

So saw off your pool cue and see what kind of bonuses I've written up!

Door Week: No Roll "Muscling Through" for DF - Take II

Keeping Door Week going.

Back in May 2013 I posted my No Roll Muscling Through rules for DF. I referenced them here recently.

But actually I have a somewhat modified version of them we've been using, which I just tweaked with some better rules for bars.


The rules below replace the rules for Forcing, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 2: Dungeons, p. 8. The rules for Bashing, Lifting, etc. are unchanged.

Simplified Forcing

Roll your against your ST plus Lifting ST, +2 for a crowbar, with a penalty equal to the door's difficulty (see table below.) If you succeed, you have forced open the door. If you fail, you may try again, but each additional effort costs 1 FP and is at a cumulative -1 to your roll.

If you have Forced Entry skill, you may roll against your ST-based Forced Entry, instead.

Example 1: Vryce has ST 20, Forced Entry @ DX+1, and a crowbar. He rolls against 20 + 1 (Forced Entry) +2 (crowbar) = 23. If he raises Forced Entry to @ DX+3, he will roll against a 25, instead.
Example 2: Al Murik had ST 13, Lifting ST 2, and no Forced Entry skill. He rolled against 13 + 2 (Lifting ST) = 15, before he died horribly in a non-door related incident. So they say.

Extra Effort (p. B357) can be used normally.

For Locks/Hinges:
Lock/Hinge Penalty
Light 0
Average -10
Heavy -15
X-Heavy -25
Vault -60

For metalwork:
Construction Penalty
Light -10
Average -15
Heavy -25
X-Heavy -45
Vault -60

What about barred/wedged doors? Use the lock/hinge's or metalwork number, or the bar's number, whichever is higher.

Construction Penalty
Light -10*
Average -15**
Heavy -20
X-Heavy -30
Vault -45

* A light construction hinge/lock backed with a light bar is only a -5 to force.
** A light construction hinge/lock backed with an average bar is only a -10 to force.


- I smoothed out the numbers in my original post, and I've only used them since. So I didn't bother including the original numbers.

- the bar numbers are smoothed penalties based on a bar on an Average lock/hinge door. The higher numbers are actually consistent across all construction in any case, once you round. A light bar on a light door is only -5 using rounded penalties, and it's -10 with an average bar. so I made an exception for those. They don't come up much, though, honestly.

If you do these with non-smoothed penalties you'll need to calculate per hinge/bar combo or use the numbers from my post yesterday.

- Changing Forced Entry from a bonus to a ST roll to a ST-based skill roll makes higher levels of Forced Entry useful.

- the numbers are steep, but generally, well-constructed doors are better picked unlocked or battered down. You can't just put a shoulder or a boot against well-constructed hinges or heavily barred doors and expect them to give. That's not a change from DF2, either, it's just how it goes.

- These work very easily in play - and should work better than my original approach to bars and wedges. It's just one roll, the PC doesn't need to know the penalty if you don't want to share (or shouldn't know), and it's just success/failure not a contest.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Door Week: Bars & Doors in DF

If you're muscling through a door in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, you sometimes have to deal with barred or wedged doors.

When this happens, you roll your contest for Forcing (DF2, p. 8) vs. the higher of the HP of the lock/hinge or bar/wedge with a penalty equal to the higher DR of the lock/hinge or bar/wedge. At least the way I do forcing rolls, it's effectively rolling against DR+HP - plus it's an easy way to visualize something like roll at -3 vs. 14 or roll at -24 vs. 46 as one number.

In any case, you only really benefit from a bar or wedge if the door's DR and/or HP is lower than that of the bar/wedge.

I totally wasted a huge amount of time on this, so hopefully it helps someone. I'll probably use this to make some simplified bar bonuses. I didn't really feel like hand-coding such a long table so I let Blogger do it - hopefully it's readable. It's a look at combos of doors and bars, and the total of higher DR + higher HP.

Hinge Bar Better DR Better HP Total bDR+bHP No Bar DR+HP
Light Light 3 14 17 9
Light Average 3 18 21 9
Light Heavy 4 23 27 9
Light X-Heavy 8 30 38 9
Light Vault 16 37 53 9
Average Light 6 14 20 18
Average Average 6 18 24 18
Average Heavy 6 23 29 18
Average X-Heavy 8 30 38 18
Average Vault 16 37 53 18
Heavy Light 9 18 27 27
Heavy Average 9 18 27 27
Heavy Heavy 9 23 32 27
Heavy X-Heavy 9 30 39 27
Heavy Vault 16 37 53 27
X-Heavy Light 12 23 35 35
X-Heavy Average 12 23 35 35
X-Heavy Heavy 12 23 35 35
X-Heavy X-Heavy 12 30 42 35
X-Heavy Vault 16 37 53 35
Vault Light 24 46 70 70
Vault Average 24 46 70 70
Vault Heavy 24 46 70 70
Vault X-Heavy 24 46 70 70
Vault Vault 24 46 70 70

I bolded the ones that make sense as combinations - the weaker bars and wedges just don't help really strong hinges/locks. And vault-grade bars don't help vaults, actually. Only 15 out of the 25 combinations make any sense. Don't stick a rubber door stop into a vault and think it'll make it harder to open.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Door Week Continues: Door Minis III (& rules)

Yes, it's still Door Week here at Dungeon Door Fantastic. Tired of doors yet? Probably.

But I did find a perfect set of miniature doors, including double doors, that open and close.

The bad part is there were a one-off Kickstarter and the creator doesn't seem to be making any more right now. Grr! "Now" is critical, because a) I'd like doors sooner rather than later and b) there might be a birthday involved.

Here are those doors:

Griffin Tamer Studios

And this video has a nice review, although you really don't want to breathe so close to the mic pickup like that.

So yeah, perfect doors, except I can't get them from the creator. eBay and turned up blank. Double Grr!

Enough Door Minis!

What, you don't love reading about door minis?

Even if you do, you're probably sick of just looking at doors. How about opening them?

First here is a roundup of some posts I did about doors before:

Opening Doors in D&D - How to turn the "open doors" roll into a "roll over" ST-bonus-based roll.

Secure Doors in my DF Game - How I keep doors from just being battered down.

No Roll "Muscling Through" in DF - How I do door opening in GURPS DF with only one roll, not a contest. I use the smoothed penalties, myself, and we roll only if I've determined the door is locked or stuck. Doug will hate this, it has a ST roll. But it works really smoothly in play and is consistent with the rules in DF2.

Second, here is a piece of new gear, just for reading this far:

Swords & Wizardry
Crowbar - 2 gp, 5 lbs. Two hands. Gives a +1 to opening door rolls, or extends your range by 1, depending on the rules you use. May affect rolls to lift portcullises or gates (GM's discretion.)

Monday, February 15, 2016

More Doors & Cardboard Heroes Stairs

Some perusing around found me some doors. A fair amount of pictures in this one, so it's all behind the More tab.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Magic Item Placement in my DF Game

I've been musing about magic item placement in my DF game. Especially the really good stuff, like you'd find here:



I feel like I've got three underlying themes:

The best is found, not bought.

I allow the PCs to buy magic items in my DF game. I do this for a lot of reasons which aren't really germane, here. But I place much better magic items.

If you look at the items people have purchased, they're good. They've enchanted swords and I think even one bow with Puissance, they've enchanted armor so much we've had to limit what can be enchanted, they've picked up Cornucopia quivers, they've enchanted items with Iron Arm and ordered things with Missile Shield. I can't recall a wizard without the Staff spell on his trusty staff.

But they've found two legendary swords - the dragon-slaying sword Gram and a shortsword called The Razor. They took a powerful magical axe from a spectre's trove. They have a magical shield straight out of 40 Artifacts. They've discovered unique items of great power (such as a Bell of D'Abo) and a number of generic items of middling power. They've found some potions that don't appear in any books and which alchemists can't even strain to duplicate.

I could give them unlimited money and they won't be able to buy things to match what they've found - and not just because I limit some of the available enchantments. It's also because some of what they find has powers the generally known spells just don't allow for.

The real "why?" here is because I want delving, not shopping, to be the way to power. Yet I'd still like people to be able to shop and make their own choices about what magic to possess. And I'd like to choose what over-powered items are out there, not settle them with a ruling or an availability dice roll and crossing out some money off a character sheet. The best a wealthy man can purchase on the surface has nothing compared to the true power founds in the ruins, the depths, and the howling wilderness. Otherwise, why go?

Offensive is better than defense.

This is more of GM placement issue. I find it's better to give people more firepower than more defenses.

In my experience PCs, given a choice, will generally favor defense over offense. That's a logical approach - "not dying" is generally a passive power that helps every time you get hit, but offensive "kill stuff" powers are only useful when that's the margin of victory. DR 10 helps vs. everyone, but +3 to damage only helps if you can't kill the target without it.

But I find it's better to have glass cannons than tanks armed with pea-shooters. If you give the PCs too much defense, then you can end up with characters who can't really be killed off without firepower that will flatten everyone who lacks those defenses. Weak offensive foes are just chaff, not even fodder.

Offensive magic items just mean delvers can kill more. They aren't necessarily less vulnerable to foes, and they can't just have battles of attrition with their opponents.

This also means, especially in GURPS, that fights hinge a little more on tactical choices and offensive effort than on long slogs to see who fails first. Give out too much invulnerability or near-invulnerability to attacks and you either need to up the offense to match, or just have all fights become slow grinds.

So if the PCs can buy things, they'll err on the side of buying defense, so I don't want to compound it by given out massive amounts of defense.

Enhance but don't replace abilities.

I prefer to hand out magic items that feed into your abilities, not replace them. Especially if those abilities are central to your character.

I tend to give out magic items that boost spells instead of cast them for free.

I tend to give out weapons that boost damage, not ones that fight for you.

I prefer magic ropes that boost your climbing, not rings of Levitation.

In other words, I like boosters, not replacers. This isn't to say I don't give out items which do these things. But I'm less likely to hand out a magic portal that bypasses doors than a magic key that undoes non-magic-proofed locks. I'm more likely to give out boots of Perfect Balance or boots of Silence than a ring of Mage-Stealth.

This is pretty simple - as amusing as swords that fight for their master are in fiction, or no matter how cool a ring of Invisibility sounds - in my experience it's better when the PC's abilities, driven by the player's skills, move the game. Items which too completely solve a problem just take away the need to learn to deal with that problem. They remove challenges instead of give you a chance to solve larger versions of those problems or deal with smaller ones more effectively.

Those are pretty much the three things that drive my magic item decisions in my GURPS DF game.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Door minis?

I think I need some door minis.

Solid 28mm scale ones I can use with my games.

I have a couple of door minis and one portcullis, both old Dwarven Forge stuff. They're okay, but only fill up 1 hex on the map.

You can see them on either side of this picture:

Friday, February 12, 2016

Save or Suck doesn't actually Suck

It's possible I'm not using save-or-suck the same way other people do. What I mean here is game effects where, if you fail a roll (usually one, maybe two or three), you suffer from results that make your character unable to act effectively. These may be severely reduced effectiveness, or total inability to act, or similar effects.

This is a post that's been stewing around in my head, especially when I'm working on monsters or traps or spells with potentially fight-ending resisted powers. It's not a specific criticism of anybody, just a thought about the concept itself and my perspective on it.

Does Save or Suck really suck?

In other words, if you get nailed with something that makes your character less effective, useless, or otherwise out of the fight, is that a bad thing?

I think it is not.

Realistically - by which I mean in meta-game-around-the-table reality, not reality-reality - almost all save-or-suck results are better than actually suffering traumatic damage.

Temporary paralysis?

Knocked out without long-term brain injury?

Afraid and have to run away?


Pretty much, you've been rendered combat ineffective. That does, indeed, suck.

But the alternative is potential death.

Basically, the way I feel is this: Save or suck is the GM being clever, fair, and appropriately challenging. It's a way to introduce a serious challenge that doesn't end either with total victory or you have to rip up your character sheet and start over. It's scary and adds tension without automatically inflicting post-combat healing. It's a way to inflict damage that makes the game better but doesn't take your character out for weeks of healing or piles of healing spell castings.

Which is better - a magic spell which causes your brain to shut down and you go to sleep, unable to easily be awakened, right in the middle of a fight? Or getting hit with 3-4d damage to the skull and going down with a severe head injury? Even just from a "fix it later" perspective, the first is better.

I've gotten the most complaints from players when hit with something that neutralizes or weakens their characters, especially if they perceive the resistance as "too low" or the effects as too steep.

Madness spells? Will-2 save or for only 6 power you're out of the fight.

Paralytic attack by undead? Fail that HT roll, and you're unable to move and helpless.

Punch to the face? Blow that knockdown roll badly enough and you're out like a light.

Grappling? One blown defense and the foe has your sword arm and you're in a very bad way.

I get it. It feels terribly to get one-shotted. It's less fun to be a swordsman with a grappled arm. It sucks to blow a roll versus fear and your brave fighter flees in terror. Or to roll the dice and they tell you, from now on you are a spectator in this fight.

It sucks more if you don't even get to defend. A critical spell roll. A grapple from behind. A net that enmeshes you while you sleep.

The alternative for the GM, though, is powers that end the fight for the victim must kill the victim, or they're just another way to ablate off HP and then kill the victim.

Game design wise, the alternatives aren't better. They are either "fights aren't really dangerous unless your HP are low" or "fights end with you a victor or a ghost." Save or suck is a player-friendly alternative to having everything just do damage and having more danger mean more damage. They are a way to make a challenge come alive even when your pool of defenses and resources and HP are still pretty high. This doesn't mean all implementations are perfect. This doesn't mean that "death with no saving throw" is a good idea. And it sure doesn't mean that it's fun to get put to sleep, or turned to stone, or dropped in a single blow.

But the alternatives to "Touch causes paralysis" or "The poison does 1d + the helpless shakes" and "Blow a parry and he grappled my sword arm" are things like "Touch causes enough damage to potentially take you out" and "The poison do 1d + even more d" and "Blow a parry and he cut off my sword arm." Maybe instead of the monster grappling you from behind, it just stabs you in the gaps in your armor and potentially kills you. Maybe instead of maxing out a Sleep spell the wizard maxes out an area damage spell, and sculpts his tactics around just inflicting maximal damage.

So does Save or Suck suck? I don't think so. It's part of the challenge, without making the challenge all about damage. It's just a matter of seeing it for what it is, and what it's preventing the game from being.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tricky Throwing

Yesterday I mentioned I had an idea for throwing weapons in GURPS.

The "problem" I see is that you throw a perfectly good weapon, and it's not terribly hard to defend against. But what if you want it to be harder to defend against?

Here are some options:

Tricky Shooting (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 121)

You've got two options here:

1) Prediction Shots (aka Deceptive Attack, sort-of). A -2 per -1 to Dodge only (it's prediction shooting, not really a sneaky attack.)

2) Ranged Feints. It's minus range, darkness, etc. - all penalties apply! This also kicks open the door to All-Out Attack (Feint). This does affect Block and Parry - note that only Prediction Shots says Dodge-only.

A New Technique?

Here is a highly optional, completely untested idea.

Another option is to build a new technique that allows for a combined feint-and-attack setup, but which might backfire. This is similar to the approach to Spinning (Strike) from GURPS Martial Arts, so it will use some similar language but come off a different build.

Spinning Throw

Based on All-Out Attack (Feint).

- +2 damage or +1 per die (-4)

- DX roll to stay standing (+1)
- Feint can penalize the attacker (+1)

Net: Skill-2 to throw, allows a Feint (but it can backfire), hits harder (because you're doing a big spin), and you can lose your footing (because you're spinning.)

(By the way, if you are the kind of person who allows thrown weapons to use melee attack's maneuvers (Committed Attack, All-Out Attack, etc.) as written, just use Spinning Strike as written. Simply add a note that the defender can use a Thrown Weapon or Throwing skill to resist the "Feint" portion of the attack. It's fair that if you're a shuriken expert you aren't likely to be distracted by a tricky throw. Note to my players, by whom I mean Greg, I don't allow thrown weapons to do this.)

Spinning Throw (Hard)
Defaults: prerequisite skill-2.
Prerequisite: Throwing, or any Thrown Weapon skill; cannot exceed prerequisite skill.

This technique involved turning in a circle or taking an extra-long windup before throwing your weapon with your full weight behind the attack. You must specialize in a particular skill (or in Throwing, for rocks and similar objects). This is a special option for All-Out Attack (Martial Arts, p. 99-100) - use the rules below instead of the normal ones for those maneuvers.

The goal behind this technique is to generate some extra power for the throw and to deceive your opponent. This may work on a less-skilled adversary, but a skilled fighter is likely to detect your plow and defend more easily. To simulate this, roll a Quick Contest of Spinning Attack against your opponent's best melee combat or thrown weapon skill before you make your attack roll, with any penalties due to range, darkness, etc. If you win, subtract your margin of victory from your foe's defense against the blow. If you lose, you "telegraph" your intentions and true target and your foe may add his margin of victory to his defense!

Next, make an attack roll against Spinning Attack, minus any penalties for range, darkness, etc. to hit your target. If you hit, your throw does +2 damage or +1 per die, whichever is more. You have no defenses. Your your spin is so severe that you must make a DX roll to remain standing regardless of whether you hit or miss with your throw.

If this is combined with Deceptive Attack, you must apply the penalty to skill to both the Quick Contest and your attack roll.

What about DF?

Obviously, you need a power-up:

5 points

Allows you to use the Spinning Throw technique; roll against full skill (minus situational penalties) for both the Quick Contest and the attack roll.

Unique Technique (Spinning Throw) [1]; Spinning Throw+0 [4].

Like I said, I haven't tested that. Like most ranged feints, it'll be good for skilled shooters vs. close targets, only less effective if you roll badly. On the upside, it's only a Feint at -2 plus range and a throw at -2 plus range and does some extra damage. You could easily break this out into a "hard throw" technique, too, that's based on AOA (Determined) and gets the damage bonus and the DX roll not to fall but doesn't otherwise have the feint, and it'll also be Skill-2. That's useful for throwing at foe's backs, for sure.

For my players, I'd probably allow that power-up . . . but it is untested. I may have to nerf it or juice it up. I may decide it's fine at 5 points and as-written and you may decide it's bad. And no, you can't "default" the technique, because DF doesn't use techniques . . . you have to drop your 5 points before you can try it. Buyer beware!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Melee Academy: Opening Moves

Today is an installment of Melee Academy. It's a look at the melee weapons and tactics used in RPGs, and it's aimed at being educational. What do you do, and why do it? Why is it a good move?

Today's installment is about opening moves.

Open more at:

Gaming Ballistic

Mailanka's Musings


My favorite opening move is a thrown weapon attack.

D&D and Swords & Wizardry

I probably started really thinking of throwing weapons as a fight-starter from a Dragon magazine article on tactics, although there is a weapon thrown in the example combat in the D&D Basic Set, too.

The main reason here is that combat is fairly abstract, yet closing distance still matters. With a thrown weapon, you can really reach around the battlefield. Plus, it's not as dependent on range as a missile weapon. Let's look at the benefits I find in particular:

Range - It doesn't matter where you are if your foes are within range when the fight starts. Got a clear line of fire and an enemy? Throw at him.

By the book in Basic Set D&D, ranged attacks go after you move, so they're really only useful if your foes are outside the movement range of your buddies. If you can charge in and all reach the bad guys, well, why not do that? But I've played D&D-based games which do all ranged fire first, so you've got a chance to shoot before any movement occurs.

More Targeting Options - You've got a better shot of the GM allowing you to target the orc wizard in the back ranks or the ogre chieftain that's rallying the goblin hordes with a ranged weapon. This isn't always the case, but I'd rather have the ability to reach around the battlefield on the off chance it'll help.

Dual Use - Most thrown weapons are excellent melee weapons - often with identical stats. You aren't really caught with the wrong weapon in hand, like you are with a bow or crossbow or sling. This also means you've got a shield or another weapon or an ogre's head converted to a weapon in the other hand.


I like thrown weapons in GURPS, as well. I wrote a whole Weapons & Tactics article on them a while back.

I'll refer you to that for the details. But in general, the options match the ones for D&D and S&W. It's especially nice in GURPS where the amount of movement you can execute before a melee attack is pretty small - very small if you want to retain all of your own defenses! If you can put an axe, a spear, or even a rock into a foe long before melee occurs you might swing the fight in your favor before it really begins.

They do have some downsides that aren't found in D&D-based games, though:

Defenses - It's only a -1 to parry most thrown weapons, and -2 for the small ones. No penalty to Block, either, and it's no penalty to Dodge. Ranged Feint (in GURPS Martial Arts) can reduce Dodge but a shield-armed foe is a terrible target for a ranged weapon. I have to stress this because I've seen a lot of people confidently throw an axe at some foe with no Feint, no Deceptive Attack, and no defensive penalties inflicted at all and then be really disappointed when the foe defends. Just because most people just flinch and cover their face in a snowball fight doesn't mean the orc with the shield is going to do that when you chuck a spear at his vitals.*

Readying Time - You need to have Fast-Draw or a lot of space if you're going to toss your weapon. One second isn't long in life but it's an eternity in life-or-death. You don't want to be standing around readying a weapon while your opponent is killing you and your friends.

Weight - If it's a foe-killing thrown weapon, it's not going to be light. GURPS has more finely-grained encumbrance so this can be an issue.

But the upside of a successful thrown weapon strike - when you get a critical hit or the foe fails to defend, or if you catch someone unprepared for your attack - can be spectacular. GURPS is pro-death spiral, and a foe with an axe in his leg or a knife in his face is a foe who is less able to fight you. Consider keeping a dual-use weapon like a hatchet, axe, or spear out in the hands and opening the fight with a throw.

* I do have an idea or two to address this, for GURPS Martial Arts and DF. Stay tuned tomorrow . . .

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

More Painting WIPs Part II

I got in a few hours of home study and lectures, and put paint on eight minis and did some basing and assembly on three others.

Here are two updated shots of the ones from earlier today:

More painting WIPs

Lots of painting and modeling on tap this week. I've got some open blocks in my schedule and a bunch of audio presentations related to one part of my career I need to get in this week. I find I can keep pretty close attention to what I'm hearing while I'm painting . . . but if I go and do something else (cleaning, organizing, reading, just sitting there) I'm not as attentive. So, it's a twofer: I get some simple minis done, and I get in a bunch of hours of work-related education on top of it.

Here is what I'm working on today:

- an old TSR Banderlog. Yes, a banderlog. No, I don't know why they chose them either.

- two of the FA01 Adventurers.

- a pirate from some old toy set.

- filing and prep on a multi-piece mini. I've actually got five of these multi-piece minis, because I needed parts for another project. At the time, you couldn't order just pieces. In any case, it's a slow slog to filing every single piece and them assemble them.

Here is a snapshot of a couple of them:

Sunday, February 7, 2016

DF Lost City NPC: Kasias the Guide

Here is another DF NPC from my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game. This is Kasias, a guide. He's only made one trip with the PCs. He's based on the Native Guide template from Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures.

I didn't make up a mini for Kasias because I didn't have a good "native guide" looking mini, and also, I didn't expect to need him once the PCs had to actually pay a reasonable salary to keep him. I was right.


Kasias is native to the lands near the Lost City of D'Abo. He's made a few trips the city in the past, and so occasionally hires out as a guide when bold adventurer types (or rich locals accused of crimes) make a trip to the ruins. He's a good navigator, has an excellent sense of direction, and knows the jungles (and surviving in jungles) well. He's no fighter, though, and will flee or hide if threatened. He has a low sense of his own value, though, and works fairly cheaply.

ST 10 HP 10 Speed 5.75
DX 10 Will 10 Move 5
IQ 10 Per 13
HT 13 FP 12
Dodge 8 Parry (Knife) 7

Blowpipe (10): 1d-3 pi-, ROF 1, Shots 1(2), Acc 1, Range 40.
Small Knife (11): 1d-1 cutting or 1d-2 impaling, Reach C.

Traits: Absolute Direction; Illiterate; Social Stigma (Minority Group); Wealth (Poor).
Quirk: Gives cryptic hints (sometimes accurate).
Skills: Area Knowledge (Lost City Area)-12; Blowpipe-10; Climbing-9; Knife-11; Navigation-12; Stealth-11; Survival (Jungle)-14; Weather Sense-10.

Gear: Blowgun; Loincloth; Monster Drool (x2); Personal Basics; Pouch; Small Knife.

Notes: He can really use some better venom for his blowgun.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Outstanding customer service from Casting Room Miniatures

I mentioned Casting Room Miniatures a couple times on this blog. They're a sub-line of Wargames Foundry's excellent miniatures line.

I picked up a set of their adventurer minis.

You can see one of those guys painted here: Casting Room Adventurers Cleric.

In any case, when I got them, one was dinged up.

Second draft is in

The draft of my latest DF book pass through peer review and playtest (a lot of playtesting thanks to Chris).

Last night I finished up the edits, made a few last wording tweaks and rules tweaks, and sent it in.

I have no idea when it will come out, but hopefully earlier than year than later this year.

Now I need to get back to the proposal grindstone and get to work. Although I do have an idea for a shorter book, if they'll accept it . . .

Friday, February 5, 2016

What should go on my new GM screen?

I've disassembled my GM screen for my GURPS game.

Basically I use my old AD&D (early and later edition) and 3rd edition D&D GM screens as the physical basis, but then tack on copies of GURPS materials.

Right now, this is what I'm thinking of putting on:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

DFT2: Epic Treasures is out

Everyone's favorite Iron llama has a new GURPS book out:

It's a sequel to DFT1, but it's more of a spiritual successor to Dungeon Fantasy 6: 40 Artifacts than to either DF8 or DFT1.

Matt put up a couple notes about it on his blog, too.

Revised GURPS Magic: the Charm trio

The "charm trio" here are Loyalty, Charm,and Enslave. I've revised them a bit for my DF campaign.

First, some revision background.

Overall, the approach is pretty workable - one spell to ensure loyalty, one to ensure a much stronger charm, one to ensure total control - with no limits.

In practice they're a bit weak for their cost until the top end, when it gets extremely strong. Not only that, but they have some odd cost/casting issues.


Loyalty is probably closest to the "Charm Person" spell of D&D its descendants. The subject becomes loyal to the caster, but has a chance to break the spell if ordered to do anything against his or her beliefs or that is too risky.

What's odd about it, mostly, is cost. It's 2 to cast, 2 to maintain. Double cost if the subject doesn't know the caster, triple if it's a foe. Those types of costs aren't forbidden in GURPS Magic and it's not an issue here, until you look at Charm. Charm is a flat cost on anyone, and it's 6/3. So except for non-hostile people who know you Loyalty isn't such a great deal. The costing based on familiarity is something I don't really like - skill penalties for people who don't know you, sure. That's how a number of other spells work.

Duration is 1 hour. Not bad. It oddly takes Bravery as a base spell, which means Sense Emotion->Fear->Bravery before you can charm people. Okay, but oddly again Loyalty is a prereq for Emotion Control, which is Bravery with less specialization. What a mess. I'd think Emotion Control would be a better prereq for Loyalty than the other way around - before you can make someone your loyal friend, you have to be able to make them friendly. That's a messy fix, though, but I do think it's potentially useful to think of Loyalty as needing a weak will to get through.


Now we're getting some serious charming. This isn't "loyal friend" but "faithful slave" and no risk is too great.

The cost is odd compared to Loyalty. Why not 6/6? It's better than Loyalty cast for 6/6. It's only a 1 minute duration, which makes all the nonsense about being unwilling to discuss loyalty to the caster and such less important. It's not like there is a boatload of Charm-25 folks out there who can keep this up on anyone for any length of time.

It's one second longer to cast, which is good.


This is the top end charm. It's permanent, it's flawless, it's only 30 points, and it comes with a mental link thanks to its Telepathy prereq.

I never liked that Enslave gives so many extra benefits - you get a flawless eyes-and-ears possession out of it with none of the usual costs and problems of such a spell. It also has a flawless telepathic connection. Instead of being a permanent and very strong charm, it's that plus a whole side benefit of a permanent mindlink that's actually better than Telepathy can give you. A fully loyal subject means you can put such spells on the target with ease at another time - it doesn't need to come with them in this over-amped package.

There used to be a whole thread - on GURPSNet-L or the forums, I can't recall - that basically supposed a magical military force would be based on using Enslave to link everyone together into a cohesive whole. Yeah, that'll work - and who relinquishes total personal control of the military? It sounds more like a great explanation why the Great Witch-King of Blackguardia controls every single person in his whole territory. Good campaign backstory, iffy idea in practice. Or at least, if you assume the guy with everyone Enslave doesn't just rule the whole world.

Oh sure, it's resisted by Will. But you don't have to choose to resist. Best way to Enslave? Cast Loyalty or Charm, and then tell them not to resist your spells. They'll do it. Cast and done, permanent slave.

Anyway, I like the idea of a permanent charm. I like the idea of lasting charms, too. So why not just make that a feature of the spells?

I also like the idea of a lasting Charm - that is, you put the spell on and it lasts until it fails a test.

Here are the revised version from my current game:


As written, but for a higher cost, duration can be made Lasting. A lasting version of the spell can be broken with an IQ roll just like the temporary version. A subject who breaks the spell will be mentally stunned (p. B420) for one second, then recovery automatically.

Duration: 1 hour or indefinite.
Cost: 4 to cast, 2 to maintain. Cost 10 to make the spell Lasting, (per GURPS Magic, p. 10).
Prerequisites: Magery 1 and Bravery and two other Mind Control spells or Weaken Will and two other Mind Control spells.


As written, but for a higher cost, duration can be made lasting. If the subject is told to do something diametrically opposed to his or her moral code, or directly suicidal ("Kill yourself!"), the subject may attempt an IQ roll - on a success, the character will refuse the command, but is still subject to the charm spell. Treat this as being mentally stunned (p. B420), but recovery is automatic after one second.

Duration: 1 minute or indefinite.
Cost: 6 to cast, 3 to maintain. Cost 15 to make the spell Lasting, (per GURPS Magic, p. 10).
Prerequisites: Magery 2 and Bravery and two other Mind Control spells or Weaken Will and two other Mind Control spells.


As written, but remove the mental link. The subject does not receive an IQ roll to break the spell. Treat the subject as the faithful slave of the caster.

Prerequisites: Magery 3, Charm, and 10 other mind control spells.

Miscellaneous Rules

Limitations on Control: A caster can only have permanent control (via Enslave) of a limited number of subjects. Find Magery level in the "Size" column of the Size and Speed/Range Table (p. B550) and interpret "Linear Measurement" as "permanently enslaved subjects" instead of "yards." This means:

Magery 3: Seven Enslaved subjects.
Magery 4: 10 Enslaved subjects.
Magery 5: 15 Enslaved subjects.
Magery 6: 20 Enslaved subjects.

There is no limit on Lasting casts of Loyalty or Charm.

Can I cast Loyalty on someone, and then order them to not resist Enslave?

Sure. That's the way to do it. That might seem like it makes it cheap to make slave armies, but it's no more powerful than "Can I kill someone and then Zombie them?" or "Can I put someone to Sleep and then cut their throats" or "Can I Levitate someone who thinks I'm his friend and then drop him off a cliff?" A slow gateway spell into a permanent one is pretty common, and charm-type spells aren't so powerful they need a special carve-out to make them weaker.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Idle thoughts on monster reaction rolls in GURPS DF

Back in the day when I played D&D and AD&D, we rolled for monster reactions exactly never. Well, maybe someone may have rolled one once, while reading the book or something. In play, never.

Which is odd, because in one of the books we used there was a really remarkable rule about reactions.

Yet looking at the Tom Moldvay Basic Set, it's a really critical roll. You should be rolling reactions, at least by a strict reading of the rules, for every encounter with monsters. Doesn't seem to matter which kinds - slimes, dragons, crab spiders, hobgoblins who don't know who Gary is, etc.

Using the chart from p. B24:

Monster Reactions
Dice Roll / Reaction
2 Immediate Attack
3-5 Hostile, Possible Attack
6-8 Uncertain, monster confused
9-11 No attack, monster leaves or considers offer
12 Enthusiastic friendship

It's a flexible table, since you also use it for determining intensity of pursuit, and to allow re-rolls if the PCs try to establish better relations (you can see an example of that on p. B28). Charisma 13+ gives you a +1 to the roll; Charisma 18 gives a +2. A +1 means nothing is going to just attack you immediately, and a +2 skews your results to where a 10-12 is Enthusiastic friendship and a 7+ is at least "No attack." Nice. Especially in a game where treasure provides so much of the XP, the ability to basically waive off monsters with some nice talk is pretty potent.

(It's also worth considering with wandering monsters - you should be table to talk or bribe or distract your way out of fights about half the time, if you assume 6-8 is going to just force another roll.)

Where is GURPS DF in this?

My idle thoughts are, what if I rolled reactions for monsters every encounter in GURPS? The table split isn't terribly different, ranging from "Disastrous" on a 0 or less to "Excellent" on a 19+. GURPS has more native modifiers to reactions, too, which probably makes sense.

The modifiers on p. B561 range from a +1 to +5 for PC strength, -1 to -5 for NPC strength, -2 for being on the NPC's turf, and -2 for no shared language. Plus the PC's reaction bonuses and penalties, as well - and the NPC's, too. If orcs have Intolerance (Elves) you'll get their -3 on that roll. Foes with Overconfidence might knock your +4 for strength down to +2, or ones with Bad Temper might react well but be ready for any "insult" to set them off.

Appropriate actions would help, too - weapons away and friends words would be a +1 to +2, or use of a social skill roll. Of course it might encourage an aggressive creature who isn't smart enough to recognize "weapons away" as s sign of friendliness not weakness. Weapons out might put an otherwise friendly person on guard - if only because GMs have NPCs react like PCs, who regard any weapons on display as prima facie proof the owner is a violent psychopath who can't be trusted and must be killed.

I'd probably zero out any relative strength bonuses and penalties for unintelligent creatures.

I haven't dug around in Social Engineering yet, but I will. There might be useful material in there. I'm just thinking out loud this morning and I haven't had time to really read up.

It might be fun to roll out any reaction like this, just purely mechanically, and let the results stands and see if you can explain them. That slime isn't hungry, thanks to that 18 you just rolled that drops to 14 for "no common language" and "intruders." It just wanders off somewhere else, and you'll never know exactly why. The orcs might be neutral (say, on an 11) except you look weak compared to them (for a -2) and you blundered into "their" section and try to pass off Broken Goblinese as a way to speak to Orcs, for a total of -6. That's a 5, which is "Bad" and "attack unless outnumbered." Begin combat!

None of this is really "new" for GURPS, it's just me thinking . . . what if I followed the rules-literal reading of D&D Basic Rules and applied that to critters encountered in GURPS? In a way, GURPS is natively a lot closer to OD&D, which has a similar table but it seems to be for NPCs being hired, or monsters being negotiated with and induced into service.

Either way . . .

I'll try this a bit more. I do tend to just decide how the monsters would react and do that. I roll a lot for allied NPCs, of course, because Loyalty is a thing. Which is fine, but it's kind of fun to roll for monsters. Of course, I suspect most of the PCs have stacked up massive reaction penalties because, hey, who cares if the monsters hate you . . .

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Guardians RPG is out

So this just shot to the top of my reading list:

The Guardians RPG, by David Pulver and Thomas Denmark.

It features some grappling rules that riff off of the material Doug and I wrote for Tim Shorts' zine, The Manor.

I'll try to read it through and get a review of it out on the blog. I'm really curious to see the final version of the modified grappling rules, and to see how the authors turned very old-style D&D into a superhero game.

Velo Kalavas (Starslinger/White Star)

This is my Starslinger/White Star B-Team guy. I will be updating this post as necessary, so it'll be a living document. What you see now is current as of the dates listed below.

Last update: 2/2/2016

Velo Kalavas
Human Star Knight
Level 1
XP: 2386 (needs 2500 for level 2)

DEX 13 (+1)
INT 13 (+1)
WIS 14 (+1)
CHA 13 (+1)
HP 6
AC 13 (light armor +2 AC, Dex +1 AC)
Move 12
Saving Throw 15
Attack Bonus: +0

Armor and Weapons:
Normal Clothing
Light Armor
Laser Pistol w/1 spare energy cell
Laser Sword

Other Equipment:
Sleeping Bag
Med Kit
Rope (50')

80cr 7cr

History: Vela Kalavas is a crusty, crunchy old man. He's been a knight of the sword for decades, mostly as a second career. He's had many odd jobs, where he learned life lessons he's happy to share when inappropriate.


Chicago & the Flying Cow
- almost killed by an intelligent space cockroach
- used up med kit
- gained 1250cr

Monday, February 1, 2016

Game Summaries, Part II

The other day, I posted about what I like about the game session summaries that I like.

A number of people commented, and a couple people blogged about it and made sure to let me know in the comments (and thank you for doing that). Here are those blog posts:

Archon Shiva's What people want in summaries
Douglas Cole's Session Writeups and the DF Criteria

It seems like some of my "likes" could use some more expansion.

Omniscient GM's View:

This doesn't have to include hidden information, reveals of things the players missed, etc. It just means, I want to see it from behind the screen looking out. I want to view it as if I was the GM, recalling the session. Nothing secret needs to be revealed but:

- focus on the group as a whole, not how one character would view everything;

- focus on the game as a whole, not one aspect;

- tell it to me like one GM to another, so I can see how decisions about game structure and GMing method play out.

If I sat as an outside observer on the group, what would I see? That's the basis point of view I want to see. But I also like it when the GM's look feeds into it via rules commentary, reflections on the material, how it fits together with what the PCs know, etc.

Big Reveals?

You don't have to reveal secret things ahead of time. Not even if you're blogging a few sessions in the past. I get that your players might read your summaries. I write mine for my players, and we use them as game resources. I put in notes for myself, and them, and my readers, but if no one read them except my players I'd still write them.

Because of that I don't let out any secrets.

But I try to tell you later on what new development is tied back to previous ones. So I'd suggest this:

If something gets revealed later, link back to it. Pretend I missed the earlier sessions and link to them. This will also give you a feel for which of your own sessions are really linchpins. For me, Total Party Teleport I and II turned out to be very big sessions. Not just because of the casualties, but because events in those two sessions spilled out to many others: the hobgoblins got exterminated root and branch, leaving the area open to the orcs; the flooded prison was discovered; the back way to the lizard men was discovered; the medusa's presence was detected; the teleportor was revealed to be a trap not a transport device, etc. I only realized how much when I'd go back and link and I was there for all of them. As a reader, it's useful to have those links. I'm not likely to keyword search your archive trying to make links.

Plus, like I said, it's nice as a player or a GM to be able to see how it all links up.

After Action Report:

Do I mean a PC-centered AAR of tactics, moves, and decisions and how they went? I don't know, that could be fun. I didn't meant that exactly. I meant a larger AAR approach:

- What went wrong as an adventure? ("I thought this puzzle door would be a fun diversion, instead, it was a three-hour nightmare of annoyance.")

- What went right as an adventure? ("Turns out the combined wandering monster and hazard table was a lot of fun for me as the GM, and the players seemed to keep play moving as a result" or "I didn't think the hints given in this pre-packaged adventure would be sufficient, but the players picked up on them immediately.")

- What went right in terms of GMing? ("The new lighting rules worked as we'd hoped, and made it vastly easier to track things." or "Putting colored rubber bands on the skeletons and color-coding them was better than naming and numbering them")

- What prep or setup errors or correct decisions did you make? ("Turns out that those monsters shouldn't have been so weak, because I forgot to look up "Shadow Form" before play began and just winged it" or "Cheat-sheeting the climbing speed rules took some extra prep but saved a lot of time in play")

You don't need all of that, or really any, to keep my attention. But I love when it's in there. I'm actually less of a fan of "what the players could have done differently." Even as a GM with total knowledge of the PCs and the NPCs, I've had strong disagreements with my players over different outcomes. I find that kind of stuff is more opening old wounds and starting arguments than helpful. What we could do better next time is always good - I bet my players have a different opinions on some recent tactics. But maybe they don't, and unless you're one of the players, probably not worth getting into. Reporting their ideas is interesting, though.
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