Saturday, July 30, 2016

What kind of low-point DF support?

Some of the comments on my last post, "Why I think DF needs to stay Hack and Slash" have gone off on a tangent - power level.

The GURPS Dungeon Fantasy line is based on, and calibrated for, 250-point delvers. Using Dungeon Fantasy 1, you start out as powerful, skilled, competent, and focused delvers in your given niche. You're a powerful spellcaster, a excellent scout-sniper, an excellent thief, a tough barbarian, a charismatic bard, a veteran knight. You come right out of the gate able to handle challenges that the mere mortals of the world shouldn't really go anywhere near. At the same time, you're pretty far from being safe or okay, given that there are both powerful monsters and the GM has absolutely unlimited numbers of them.

There are official stats for those "mere mortals" I mentioned - 62 and 125 point (and thus also 187 point and 375 point) templates in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 15. There is an unofficial powered-down version of the DF1 templates, too. You can start with those - and DF15 explicitly mentions that (and, also, troupe-style play) in order to help support that.

The monsters generally have an eye to being threats to 250-point delvers, within the confines of the broad "fodder," "worthy," and "boss" levels of threat. That is, many = one delver, one = one delver, one = many delvers, respectively. For a lower power level, such as 125, those "worthy" will be bosses, those fodder will be worthy, and you want to stay away from a straight-up fight with the bosses. For 62 points, even the fodder will be your equals or betters, and you'd do well to ensure you have numbers, tactics, gear, and surprise - and some luck - to come out victorious.

Still, people have asked for more support for low-level DF play.

So I'm asking right out - what would that support consist of, specifically? I could potentially write some, but "more support" is broad. More fodder monster stats? More templates for lower-point PCs? More what, exactly? More GM advice, like the the above re-calibration of monster descriptions (even dinomen are worthy when you're 62 points, say)? More player advice?

Hopefully no one says, "level equivalents for D&D" because there is no way I can do that - I just don't think in terms of "what level would I be?" anymore. Nor do I think I can send a 3.x or 5e D&D conversion system to SJG and expect them to publish it.

But still, if more support is needed, what exactly would constitute more support?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Why I think GURPS DF needs to stay Hack-and-Slash

I know a lot of people use GURPS Dungeon Fantasy as the basis for a larger, broader fantasy game. Or use pieces of Dungeon Fantasy supplements to fill out such games - providing monsters, specific rules on travel and camping and dungeoneering, and so on.

Yet DF is written on the basic assumption that you're playing a hack-and-slash game with a minimized outside world and a focus on killing and looting.

Using Dungeon Fantasy as the basis for larger fantasy games with more details outside the dungeon and a generic Town is totally fine with me. It just flat-out works once you put on all of the extras you want. It's a great basis for a larger game.

But GURPS Dungeon Fantasy supplements work for the more simple game, too - monsters, loot, dungeons, and ready-to-play templates centered on dealing with those issues.

In order to work for both, I think it needs to stay simple at its core. It needs to stay hack-and-slash.

It's easier to add on to a simple and functioning base than to have a larger functioning base and pare it down to the simple.

It's quite easy to run "DF as written" or "DF, plus all this extra stuff to make it a larger game." It's a lot harder to say, "Expanded DF with the following bits cut out because we're not going there." It's less fun, too, as a GM, to sit around subtracting than it is adding to a versatile and effective base.

In other words, if you write GURPS Dungeon Fantasy as "GURPS Basis for A Highly Developed Fantasy World That Happens to Have Some Dungeons" then it's not really going to be a good basic tool for Dungeon Fantasy. You'd have to take that bigger, more expansive DF and carve it back down to DF Lite in order to play, basically, Diablo meets Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord.

That's generally why I support a very focused, very simple, quite non-serious, very town-and-dungeon, beer-and-pretzels, hack-and-slash basis for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. GURPS comes with all of the tools to make it a world-and-politics, exploration-and-combat, social interactions-and-story, serious game. It's stripping it down to just the essentials for the lighter core that DF is all about.

Short version? It's easy to expand a hack-and-slash DF with the other GURPS books. Cutting down an expanded DF into hack-and-slash would be harder. I'm happy that the DF line sticks with the approach that is useful to the most people. Hack-and-slash DF does that.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Monster Ecology: How did it get here?

Four years back I did a series called "Monster Ecology," where I made some die-roll tables for a monster's origin, eating habits, and reproduction.

You can find the wrap-up post and all of the previous ones in this link:

Pulling it All Together

I already did origins. But here is another table, which can answer the more specific question - how did this monster get here? As in, in this dungeon, in this room, in this specific keyed area on the map.

1) Summoned - the monster was summoned to this area. It may be originally a summonable create, from another dimension or world. Or it may be a perfect normal, mundane creature (such as they are) that was brought by magic.

For example: elementals or demons could be summoned by the appropriate spells. An animal brought by a druid's call. A monster gated in from another dimension thanks to some strange portal (which may or may not be here, now - this could just be the end point.)

2) Spawned - literally born here. This is commonly for creatures which reproduce. It was born, hatched, spawned, extruded, or otherwise reproduced from its parent. It might even have been cloned or grown from a split-off part. However, and alternate explanation is likely if you go back far enough - how did its parents get here? Roll again to determine that.

3) Wandered - it got here just like the delvers probably did. It wandered in from elsewhere. It might be in transition to somewhere else (1-2) or here to stay (3-6). In any case, it came seeking shelter, food, loot, something of mystical or religious significance, escaping something, came for work, or any of a myriad of reasons to enter the dungeon. Most likely are food, shelter, or loot, but this is a good chance to tie in to a larger significance of the dungeon. Or to tie the dungeon to another location - if this creature came here to escape a foe at a prior location, perhaps there is a clue to that location. It may have been forced to leave loot behind. Not all maps are to treasure, sometimes they lead back home!

4) Brought - some external power brought the creature with it. Delvers bringing a pet, other creatures bringing pets or guards, etc. or it might have once been a junior delver itself. Orcs may have brought their wolf-dogs with them then abandoned them (or were themselves slain). An owlbear infested with red death beetle grubs might have died and spawned all of those red death beetles. The creature did not come alone, or fully of its own accord. It might like or here or be hoping to leave at some point, or just mindlessly going about its business as if it never left. Creatures placed as guards count as "brought," too, especially if it's not really their decision to be guarding the stairwell in room 4, level 2, instead of being off doing something more interesting.

5) Created - the creature was created on the spot. Created with magic, built from steam engine bits and spare parts, assembled out of clockwork, piled up and given life with an old silk hat they'd found, etc. The creature may know no other life or experience.*

This is generally tied to a construct-like origin, but it's possible that super-science or magictech clone tanks, force of a wizard's will, or evil darkness that spawns bugbears and hobgoblins of the mind into literal bugbears and hobgoblins will also do this. Magic is usually involved, especially critical spell failures (the origin for several of these creatures) or other "use error." Fountains or gates that spew monsters may be summoning them (see #1) or creating them.

6) It's Not Here - tied mostly to special rooms, but the monster isn't there at all. It's elsewhere, and you temporarily go there to deal with it. Usually this is tied to a way back (teleport to the weird space, fight the monster - winner goes home, loser is devoured) or a way forward (teleport to the weird space, fight the monster, winner proceeds, loser is bounced back to start again). In any case, the monster is not actually in the place. More mundanely, this result could mean it's not here now, but it will be back in the future - in a few minutes, in a few days, in a few thousand years, whatever.

As always, you can roll on this table or just pick. I'd just pick, otherwise 1 in 6 monsters are part of a special magical area, 1 in 6 are created, etc. and you've gone beyond funhouse and gonzo into just mathematical weirdness and nonsensical combinations. For a monster you just can't decide on ("How did that otyugh get here, it couldn't have operated the puzzle door or climbed that ladder!") rolling can be a great creative spur.

* And if you don't accidentally scare it with fire, it might stay for espresso.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Random Gaming Thoughts & Links

Some gaming thoughts and links while I'm vacation "relaxing."

- Charles Saeger converted a David Hargrave Arduin Grimoire monster to GURPS in his latest post. For DF, you'd want to deploy a few of these guys at once or just use the larger version he suggested in the text. But it's a good, unique, threatening beast that your players are unlikely to have seen before.

- Douglas Cole posted about our latest game session, which I participated it from abroad. It's got a really good note about how polytheistic pantheons mean you worship all of the gods, but perhaps one more than the other, not a "pick one and that's your only god" kind of thing. That's critical - with a modern eye it can be hard to not think it's my god vs. your god. It's more like, toss a sacrifice into the sea before a ship voyage to placate the sea god, offer prayers to the god of fertility when you wed, seek to ward off the eye of the god of death before a dangerous task, etc. You might even have a patron god, but that's a "first among equals" kind of thing.

- Always bring a note pad on vacation. I use the same one for every trip, making a chronological log. It's handy for anything you need to write down about the trip (phone numbers, addresses, plans, etc.) but also to jot down gaming notes. The one I have dates back originally to my 2009 return trip to my old hometown in Japan, and it's got gaming notes galore in it, much of which made it into Felltower.

- One comment I made on Doug's post needs reiterating. As the GM, it's worth making clear, obvious, and plain language pronouncements about game elements the PCs would perceive. In his session we met with a local official. From his title, it sounded like he was a moderate-ranked guy doing a job passed down from above. In fact, he was like a right-hand man to the top lord of the area. Aha. That would have been clear to our PCs, and our actions as a group weren't appropriate because that wasn't clear to us. It's worth just saying things outright if they're known. Save the hints and subtlety for when puzzles and subterfuge are the order of the day, not for the vast majority of encounters.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Thinking about Player-Facing Challenges

Benjamin Gauronskas put up a post about "meta" challenges in games, kind of thinking them through for his own games.

I've written about these before, but I wanted to address some of the things he brought up and my own experience.

I prefer rolling in general

That is, when possible, I prefer that the character's skill matters. Even if the character's skill is just determining how well you spoke or how well you solved the problem, I want the character's skill to matter. I like that about game systems - you can have playing pieces of different ability, so even a skilled player has to leverage what they have and don't have on the sheet itself.

I'll skip out if player actions are so on-target that failure isn't possible, or if success isn't possible. For example, if the players offer something in negotiation that's so perfect it can't go wrong, the NPCs will just accept it. Or if the players make some terrible error, like, "I tell them I'm allied with their friends, the orcs!" when the orcs are their mortal foes, well, even a 3 on Diplomacy isn't changing their minds. (Although, if the players try to backpedal and then roll that 3, well, sure.)

But I do like player challenges

After all, there are meta-elements to games. Decisions about where to step on the battle map. Who to attack. What spell to cast. Left or right or straight. Whether to search that given room or not. They automatically determine some success or failure.

Puzzles, riddles, obstacles - these are often solvable just by the players showing some skill and ability. There really isn't anything to roll. There potentially could be - if you have to pick between the Red Handle, the Yellow Handle, and the Blue Handle and you can't figure out the riddle, the Intuition advantage might point you to one of them. But just like I don't let you just roll IQ to see if left or right is better, I don't like to allow knowledge skills to bypass riddles and puzzles.

For example, I'll make you roll Search to see if you find stuff, but if you say, "I lift the book and look under it" I'll tell you what's under it without a roll. Occultism might give a clue to a mystical puzzle. And so on. But I can and will put things in your way you need to decide how to deal with, or wholly deal with, through your own thinking. That's part of the game I run. Character abilities can't wholly replace player skills, just like player skills can't wholly replace character abilities.

Don't tart it up

Probably not the best wording for that, but there you go. Tell me what you are doing, how you are doing it, and then let's get it done. I don't need prose explanations of your character's actions. Unless, of course, they add value to it. "I step forward and make a mighty swing of my broadsword at my hated foe, so that we may strike down the evil before us!" = Step and Attack, Broadsword swing, roll. So just say that last bit. That's all I need. But "I yank my sword out of that jerk and say, 'That's for crossing me in Swampsedge'!" or "I quietly shiv the guy next to me while I keep my eyes forward." = yes, that makes it better and helps us visualize the situation in a useful way.

I'm all for roleplaying, but don't complicate the elements of the game not subject to roleplaying. If the dice are telling us what happens, then all I need from you is telling me what the dice don't. Where you stand, what you say, how you react. Not how mighty your swing is or why you so desperately need to open this lock or find those tracks. I'm not handing out a bonus because that's the kind of extra I don't want to have.

Avoid Dead Ends

As a GM, generally, you want to avoid total adventure dead-ends with any challenge if it's feasible. You don't want a door lock that must be opened and the game stops if it can't. You don't want a puzzle that dead-ends an adventure unless you solve it. This is just because sessions are less fun when you spend 90 minutes with everyone trying to roll better or figure out the answer that allows them to actually get on with things.

I know there is a philosophical argument against this, but my experience says, try not to put in a game-stopper with a narrow solution. It's better if a puzzle or an especially difficult challenge is stopping a bonus, not stopping all action.

That's just the series of thoughts occasioned by Benjamin's post.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

GURPS 101: Stunning

What's GURPS 101? Just basic explanations of the GURPS rules as written, in an attempt to make a specific topic clear to someone just getting used to the game. Or, as a refresher for more experienced players and GMs who may have changed or forgotten some of those rules. Any house rules and optional rules on the subject will be in a followup post.

Last week I wrote a GURPS 101 post about Knockdown and Stunning and consciousness rolling when wounded. It was rightly pointed out, though, that stunning and knockdown and stunning are not always the same. Nothing in the previous post said they were, but it's an easy enough mistake to make to think that "stunning" always means "use the Knockdown and Stunning rules." Therefore, here is a look at Stunning.


Stunning is defined in GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns (p. B420), right after Knockdown and Stunning. They can be easily confused with each other or conflates, but they aren't the same.

Stunning is a condition of restricted actions and reduced defenses. How does it occur? "A failed knockdown roll can cause “stun,” as can certain critical hit results and some afflictions." That isn't an exhaustive list - some spells can cause stunning, for example, without being an affliction per se. The sources are physical, or supernatural effects which cause a physical stunning effect.

Note that first phrase especially - a failed knockdown roll causes stunning (putting aside any immunities to stunning.) Get knocked down, get stunned or (if you roll badly enough) fall unconscious. Get stunned, and you do not automatically fall down.

Stunning recovery is a HT roll. There are generally no bonuses or penalties from advantages or disadvantages except for those that specifically add to all HT rolls, such as Fit or Very Fit. Some spells, and some powers (such as a stunning surge from a lightning-based attack) can inflict penalties.

Mental Stun works just like stunning. It represents confusion or mental shock or surprise, and can come about from Surprise Attacks and Initiative (p. B393), some spells or afflictions, Fright Check rolls, and other non-physical sources. Unlike normal stunning, your roll is IQ based, and it's not uncommon to have penalties or bonuses (such as the cumulative bonus to recover from surprise - see p. B393) to the roll. The effects of mental stunning are exactly the same as normal stunning.

Hopefully that clears up any confusion about stunning and knockdown and how they interact. Again, in short, you get stunned (or knocked out!) from a Knockdown and Stunning roll, but you can get Stunned without getting knocked down!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Scaled Stunning penalties?

Stunning in GURPS is pretty nasty. It can be lethally nasty with human-level combatants. It gets progressively less nasty the more skilled you are.

Being at 1/3 HP or below results in halved Dodge. You could do the same for stunning. Instead of a flat penalty of -4, all of your active defenses are halved (round up). If you are stunned and are already at half Dodge, divide your score by 4 (round up).

This can make stunning much more lethal against high-skill foes. No longer are folks with a DB 3 shield, Broadsword-18, Combat Reflexes, and Enhanced Parry 1 being totally unworried about stunning. That Parry 17 becomes Parry 10, not Parry 13, with this rule. That's assuming you don't halve DB (I don't) but do halve anything that increases your actual score. And it scales nicely to a "normal human" - DX 10, HT 10, Speed 5, Dodge 8, bare handed parry of 3 + DX/2 for an 8 - both become 4s, same as the effect of stunning now.

Cumulative parry penalties are unchanged, and apply after halving.

Why after? Because that's consistent with the rules for Limiting Multiple Dodges in GURPS Martial Arts. That book doesn't say to apply it and then halve for low HP, it just says to apply a penalty. So it stands to reason that you apply cumulative penalties (and those from Feints, Deceptive Attacks, etc.) to your final score. Applying it first would mean that halving your Parry also halves any additional problems you have with your Parry, which is bizzare ("That Feint doesn't bother me as much because I'm stunned!")

Of course, any player worth his knowledge of the rule books will point out that technically, stunning is a -7 to defend - you can't Retreat! This is much more than a -7, since it's 1/2 -3 instead of that flat penalty. This penalty approach naturally makes it more. That's intentional.

Scaled Stunning

When you are stunned, your active defenses are halved, round up, instead of being at -4. This is in addition to the normal effects of stunning. Apply any situational penalties to your active defense aftering halving. If you already suffer from halved defenses, divide your defense by 4 and round up before applying any situational penalties.


That would be pretty lethal. I haven't tried it, but generally I find that "half" or "double" approaches work well in play. You don't have to look them up. You do need to know what your DB is, but that's not an unreasonable extra step to take. It's faster than looking up penalties, and is pretty fair.

Monday, July 18, 2016

XP by the Session, not the Session's results

In my DF game, I deliberately set up XP awards based on in-play accomplishments. Roleplaying is expected, not rewarded. Showing up is worth points only if you accomplish specific, tangible, in-game goals. There aren't any missions to accomplish - just looting and exploring - and you get XP based on how well you do those things.

In my previous GURPS game, I rewarded reaching certain, well, "plot points" for lack of a better word. Take as many sessions as you want to get there, but finish a mission or accomplish some goal and you'd get points. Plus, you'd get some minor points for just showing up. Half of those minor points if your PC was involved in danger despite you not being there - it wasn't a pick-up team like my DF game.

Those are far from the only ways to do it.

One other way is just flat rewards per session, assuming you don't just putz around doing nothing or nearly so.

That's how our Gamma Terra guys advance. We get 5/session, and every 5 sessions we get to roll on a table which has some random awards on it worth 2-20 points or so. Play five sessions and you're sure to get 25 points plus 2-20 more in a pre-selected advantage or skill. We're heavily driven by in-game goals we set ourselves, and overcoming the obstacles to those goals.

This guy here, Eric Crapo, is doing it in Pathfinder in the way they say you can in D&D5. It seems to be working for him as well.

It would be an interesting way to play DF in a megadungeon.

How could I do it?

Pick a fixed amount of XP. Say, 5/session. That's what we get in GT, and it would be the same as a good session of DF with our current system or our previous system.

Award that out based on each and every session, as long as you show up and make some kind of reasonable advancement towards exploration and "clearing" of the megadungeon. Find new stuff, figure out a puzzle, kill some significant foes, do some mapping that clarifies how things are (a variation of "find new stuff). Not just killing rats, knocking off an orc or two, or re-mapping a bunch of caverns because two connections don't seem to line up just right. But generally, do stuff, get your points.

You can adjust it by making it point-based, so low point characters earn more and higher point characters earn less, to get a "you learn more early" approach. Say, 10/session until 300 points, 5/session until 400, 2/session until 500, 1/session thereafter. This would parallel a "slower advancement as you level" or "you need more treasure for full XP" system.

That kind of adjustment would mean PCs have to make some early decisions about their approach, and really need to dig after any bonus points for MVP or accomplishing special goals (defeat an epic foe, find a hidden area, discover a new level, defeat a major curse, etc.) or just accept slow growth. Wizards would inevitably be more picky about spells, since they'd eventually run into an issue with "learn at least one new spell per downtime, plus one per level of Wild Talent with Retention" as they got up in points. Not really unfair, but that would be the word I'd expect to hear from nearly all players used to multiple points per session who run wizards.

Potential Impact on Play (in my game)

This would significantly change play. Right now, a treasure-and-exploration based system means you constantly need to push to find new areas, find rich monsters, kill off people with money (or get them to give it to you), and go deeper and deeper. As the session rolls on, desperation sets in if you aren't making that progress. Killing off former allies because you're broke or avoiding fights because they don't seem to come with money - and provoking them because they do - occur often with this system.

Conversely, it might drive players away from looting and the endless drive deeper. If the amount of money you take isn't significant, and rate of advancement is constant, you can ignore money except as your character needs it. It's purely a tool, not a goal.

It may potentially drive PCs stuck on a way forward to just basically mess around trying to tie up loose ends. If it's always X points per session, and it doesn't matter what you do, then you should just do some stuff you feel is doable. You don't necessarily need a long-term strategy.* It's better if you have one - no one likes to spend an entire game on level 1, just putting the time to get the points and it all leads somewhere - but it's not strictly necessary.

On the other hand, it means you can build towards long-term goals without worrying about this session. If you don't get loot this session, but set yourself up for a big payday later, that's fine. You might just grind down some foes, not finish them, but that's something you needed done. You can get distracted by unraveling a puzzle without worrying that "it better have loot behind it." And although I'd be surprised if this happens, it would mean you wouldn't need to tear off door fixtures, steal locks off of old chests, and pull apart tables for the nails to try to make a buck to make ends meet.

As a way of playing, there is nothing wrong with fixed advancement or advancement per session. It's just different, and I think it would have the impacts I spelled out above in my games. The "points no matter what" or "advancement every X sessions" approach, tossing out in-game fixed needs, potentially has a strong impact on play. Or no impact on play, in the case of our Gamma Terra game - we'd do what we were doing anyway, because we have goals to accomplish.

* In training terms, this is "go to the gym and do stuff for an hour" vs. "go and do your day's training that is part of an overall plan." My current XP system is the "train heavy or go home" and "if I'm not straining and sweating, it's not worth doing" approach, but fixed is potentially "each day builds on the next, no matter how hard or easy it seems" approach. Yes, I always think about training. And gaming. Often overlapping, although I don't do them together.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Tools in the Felltower PC toolbox - GM perspective

Here, broadly, are some ruminations on the tools in the PC's toolbox, for dealing with Felltower. How did I build them into Felltower, and how valuable are they?

After all, if I don't account or allow for something, it's unlikely to work. And if I rank something as important and it's not used, the players are potentially missing on an expect aspect of the game and the benefits of it.


Some things in Felltower need to be fought. They're beatable, and you really need to beat them to get the things done that delvers want to do - explore and (more importantly) plunder.

You don't want to fight everything in Felltower, though. That's a sure route to a slow, miserable slog of sessions with lots of casualties, seemingly endless rest times, and coin flowing in rivers to the alchemists who crank out healing potions as fast as they are able to concoct them. You definitely need to pick and choose your battles, even if eventually you want most of the things you meet dead. Some picking and choosing is just going be "for now" - who do you want to or need to fight at them moment?

It's not a universal tool. There is at least one "thing" in Felltower that literally can never be beaten in the traditional sense. Frustrated, avoided, put out of action for a while, or dealt with, but not engaged in a straight-up fight and beaten. Plenty of "things" aren't worth the fight for the reward, or fighting them will cost potential value attainable by not fighting them.

This puts combat as a very useful tool - lots of stuff that needs beating and which can be beat. It's probably the most useful tool, for in-game and out-of-game reasons. In game, because a dead monster is less threatening than a live one. Out of game, because combat is fun when it's going well or turning out to be tight and eventful. The game is designed to ensure combat is an important tool. While Sun Tzu is right, the acme of skill is winning without fighting, part of the game fun are the fights that happen. Some of those fights will come with costs that must be paid. Part of the challenge is dealing with those when they occur, or when the dice tell you the price.


There are plenty of things to negotiate with - or just flat-out distract with bribes - in Felltower. Many "things" are eminently worth talking to and some are even so worth talking to you'll lose out if you avoid them or fight them.

But again, you can't negotiate with them all. Some things just won't negotiate. Some things can't even conceive of what negotiating entails. Some are so hate-filled or evil or just tricky that negotiating is a route to disaster no matter how well you think it's going.

This makes negotiation a useful tool. Lots of stuff is better spoken to than killed. But it's a secondary tool to combat, overall. Given the goals of delvers - loot and reward - it's hard to only negotiate to get them. Still, negotiations are fun and interesting, so they are built in to the game as a valid tool. It can even elevate to more important than combat if you negotiate with just the right parties.

Puzzle Solving

There are some player-facing puzzles in Felltower. Trick doors, revolving statues, odd mazes, teleporter arrays, actual explicit "solve this riddle" or "solve this puzzle" type situations, and so on.

Unlike the previous tools, they always work in the situations where they work, and don't really work outside of them.

You can't treat everything as a puzzle. Some situations are set up as hard fights or tough negotiations, and aren't puzzles per se. Good tactical choices or clever negotiations might make them easier or even easy, but in general, they are what they are: hard fights, tough negotiations. The explicit puzzles, though, generally resist brute-force solutions well enough that they don't work. Or the brute-force solution takes vastly more resources than the puzzle solution would. Puzzles are rarely disguised, too - they're pretty up-front about being an odd thing to deal with and solve, even if the solution (or the reward) is far from clear.

Puzzles are there because they're a fairly common occurrence in the materials I drew on for the game. Puzzle solving skills are critical to confront them, but puzzle solving skills are of less value outside of them. This probably ranks puzzle-solving skills near the bottom of the value spectrum. It's rare for such puzzles to block your advance (although at least one does), but more common for them to shield special rewards, special areas, and special opportunities. Most of them are solvable primarily - or solely - through player reasoning or player trial and error. The puzzles are player-facing, and it's not a question of trying and trying again until you roll a 3 or flipping though GURPS Magic until you find the Solve This Puzzle spell.

Magic in General

Magic is a critical tool in the Felltower toolbox.

One problem with magic is that you need to rely on it, and it's very binary (works/doesn't work), yet it's not reliable. You can't depend on always having it. You can't even depend on it always working even when the spell succeeds. You can be led astray by false divinations, or tricked by your own assumptions about what success or failure means. It can distract you from a clear non-magical solution because there are so many choices of magical ones.

Plus, it's costly. It costs energy and eventually time. It's a nearly-universal tool but most problems solvable with magic are solvable without it, given different resources and time. Recovery from spells takes time, so using too much magic can slow you down and add more problems (wandering monsters, local monsters making adjustments, draining of resources) than it solves.

Magic is right up there with negotiation in terms of importance. You need it, you won't get far if you don't use it, and some problems aren't solvable as puzzles or with negotiation or combat. But it's a tool that acts like a hammer and nail situation - given sufficient magic, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is a spell that solves every specific situation you encounter.


Preparing for the delve is a key tool in the Felltower PC toolbox.

Rumor-gathering (and reviewing), sage-hiring, equipment-buying, and pre-planning are all aspects of this. PCs who prepare are PCs who can solve problems that ones who don't can't.

Felltower is built on the assumption that it is repeatedly visited, and that PCs will prepare with the right gear, pour money into the hands of sages and old-timer former adventurers, and so on in order to learn what they can.

Equally, though, the main elements are designed to be things the PCs find out through hard-won experience, clever action, and specific attempts at actions. The players, more than their PCs, determine success or failure with preparation.

This is a somewhat tricky tool, given the way GURPS works. The PCs have knowledge skills, and it can be tempting to set everything to a roll and ask the GM, "What does my guy know?" and then try to follow up with more rolls against the skill when that doesn't seem enough. I try to solve this by giving a general, "here is what you know" roll, then leaving the rest n the PC's hands. It's tempting as a player to use knowledge skills as a chance to pump the GM for a hint about what to do. I attempt to cut that off after an initial wash of information to set the scene.

As such, this is a middle-grade tool. It's important, but as long as you've done the basics and play cleverly, it's possible to succeed without pouring money into knowledge and preparation. That said, there is a minimum you must do - buy rations, lay in healing potions, recharge power items, etc. - to succeed at all. Having done that, the extra is extra - useful but not an impediment to success if you forgo finding things out before you go instead of in play. It's not that Felltower is forgiving, just that players tend to resolve more through play than through preparing for success.


Risk-taking is an important tool in the Felltower toolbox.

You cannot get rich in a megadungeon, especially mine, without taking risks.

That's worth repeating with emphasis:

You cannot get rich in a megadungeon, especially mine, without taking risks.

Sometimes you need to take a flyer on negotiations and trust the potentially untrustworthy. Sometimes you need to engage in a risky fight. Sometimes you need to pull something, push something, touch something, or stick your hand into something. But equally you need to resort to this when intuition and experience and trial and error tells you to do so. You can neither touch everything or slink through the dungeon touching nothing and get what you want out of it.

Risk-taking is the most critical tool in the player toolbox. Even more so than combat, in a game designed to have lots of combat. Even more so than magic, in a game explicitly about a magical world. Even more so than negotiation, in a game where that's threaded into play to ensure it's worth doing and expected behavior. If you take too many risks, you'll pay. If you don't take enough, you'll lose out. Balance is critical here, but it's the fundamental basis for the other tools discussed above.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Stunning & Knockdown and Consciousness house rules

On Thursday I published a post spelling out how the rules-as-written work for consciousness and for knockdown and stunning: GURPS 101: Stunning and Knockdown and consciousness rolls

Here are some house rules I use.

Stunning and Knockdown

These rules affect the Stunning and Knockdown rules.


A shield becomes unready if you are stunned; you still receive its Defense Bonus but cannot block. You must take a Ready action to re-grip the shield; this takes one second, regardless of size. Bucklers are treated as weapons, per the rules as written, and are dropped!

(Note: these are derived from the rules for critical failure on rolls to block.)

Stunning, Knockdown are two rolls

Roll separately for stunning and for knockdown. The same penalties apply to both, but you can be knocked down without being stunned and stunned without being knocked down.

Variation: Still use one roll, but if you make the fail the Stunning and Knockdown roll by 1-2 points, you are stunned but not knocked down. If you fail by 3-4, you are stunned and knocked down. If you fail by 5+, you are knocked out!

(Note: I don't do this anymore, it takes too many rolls and too much tracking for big fights, and I found it way too generous to high-HT PCs and NPCs. Even players who track only one PC routinely forgot to roll both rolls, or lost track of "stunned, knocked down and stunned, just knocked down" for their status.)

Negative HP

The penalties for negative HP on consciousness rolls (p. B419) apply to knockdown and stunning. It's harder to avoid being rocked by strong blows when you're barely holding on to consciousness as it is!


This rule applies to consciousness.

Critical Successes and Failures

If you critically succeed on a roll to stay conscious, you do not need to roll again until you take additional injury or take any action that expends FP. This includes Extra Effort, spellcasting (unless it is fully paid for through an energy reserve, ambient mana, or external sources), and FP-draining attacks.

If you critically fail on a consciousness roll, you fall unconscious and your rolls to wake up from any means are at -5. In addition, double the length of time for recovery.

These work very well in actual play, especially the critical success/critical failure ones. Nothing like throwing the Awaken spell on someone who rolled an 18 to stay conscious.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Where is Peter?

My posting will be erratic for a number of weeks. I'll post as I have time, but I'll be traveling and I won't post as frequently as usual. Check in when you see a new post go live!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

GURPS 101: Stunning and Knockdown and consciousness rolls

GURPS has two broad circumstances where you roll against HT in combat to stay active and effect - avoiding unconsciousness (see General Injury: Lost Hit Points, p. B419) and Stunning and Knockdown, p. B420.

This GURPS 101 looks at these and gives some examples to make it clear how they affect you. They might change your mind about how much HT you need, as well!

Going Unconscious

When your HP reach 0 or below, you must make a HT roll at the start of your next turn or fall unconscious. At -1xHP, you roll at -1, at -2xHP it's -2, down to -4 at -4xHP. At -5xHP, you're dead, so you don't get to roll.

Note that this roll occurs on the turn of the injured person, not when they are injured. In other words, if A attacks C and puts him to 0 HP or below, and then B attacks C and puts him to -1xHP, on C's next turn C rolls once against HT-1 to stay conscious.

Going unconscious in a fight is mostly a clear-cut bad thing; you're out of the fight and at the mercy of the rest of the combatants. On the other hand, if you're very injured it can be better to pass out and give your foes a chance to move on and not keep beating on you. Foes with Bloodlust and animals seeking to devour you, though, taking away that small grace.

"You stunned him, just as he was wakin' up!"
- The Parrot Sketch, Monty Python's Flying Circus

Stunning and Knockdown

Unlike rolls to stay conscious, rolls against Stunning and Knockdown are rolled immediately, along with the injury inflicted.

This can get a little tricky; remember that stunning and knockdown is one roll. If you're stunned, you drop prone (and drop whatever you're holding), and you are stunned.

When to Roll:

Roll for:

- any major wound (injury in a single blow equal to more than HP/2); or
- any crippling injury (see (Effects of Crippling Injury, p. 421); or
- any injury to the head (skull, face, or eye) that causes a shock penalty; or
- any injury to the vitals that causes a shock penalty.

"Causes a shock penalty" effectively means (HP/10, round down) injury. It doesn't matter if you actually suffer shock penalties or not (thanks to High Pain Threshold), you must still roll if the damage is sufficient to have inflicted a penalty. High Pain Threshold does provide a +3 to the roll, and you don't take any shock penalty, but you can still be stunned or knocked out. And since it's possible that you could be knocked unconscious from this roll, Hard to Subdue provides a +1 per level to resist Stunning and Knockdown.*

Major wounds to the face or vitals are a -5, skull and eye major wounds are at -10. Also, it's important to remember at a failure by 5+ causes unconsciousness, not just stunning!

Those under the effects of the Berserk disadvantage are immune to stun; they still roll, however, with a +4, and only a failure by 5+ affects them at all, by knocking them out!* Those with Injury Tolerance that effectively removes some hit locations remove the special penalties for those locations - No Brain means never rolling at a -10 for a major wound to the skull, for example.

When you're stunned, you must Do Nothing and then roll at the end of your turn to recover (per Effects of Stun, p. B420). If you succeed, you are no longer stunned. If you fail, your turn ends and you must do the same on the turn following. (Special 3e alert - the roll used to be at the beginning of the turn, so if you recovered you could also act. This is not true in 4e!)

Example: Hjalmarr has HT 13, HP 20, and High Pain Threshold. His foe stabs him in the face and the vitals with a pair of attacks on a single turn. The stab to the face does 2 HP, just enough to inflict shock. Hjalmarr must immediately roll against HT 13 + 3 (High Pain Threshold) = 16 to stay conscious. He rolls a 12 and makes it. The stab to the vitals inflicts 12 injury, enough for a major wound. Hjalmarr must roll against HT 13 + 3 (High Pain Threshold) -5 (major wound to the vitals) = 11 to avoid stunning. He rolls a 15 - failure by 4. He's stunned and knocked down. Had he rolled a 16+, he'd have been knocked out! Instead he just drops prone, and his axe and shield** tumble from his hands. On his next turn, he must Do Nothing and will roll against his HT (with no special bonuses or penalties) at the end of the turn to recover from stun. He'll be unable to retaliate for at least one second!

So a major wound to the skull or eye is at -10. Even your HT 15 monster with High Pain Threshold rolls is rolling against an 8 to avoid stunning, and on a 13 or higher (failure by 5) you are knocked out. An average person (HT 10) would be rolling against a 0 - you're stunned on any roll and pass out on a 5+. With an injury multiplier of x4, this means even a low amount of penetrating damage to the skull or eye can incapacitate a foe!

Note that

The penalty for staying conscious at -1xHP (below) does not apply to Knockdown and Stunning; while that might make an interesting house rule it's not the RAW.*

* These were confirmed with Reverend Pee Kitty, Assistant GURPS Line Editor

** Clearly a buckler, since you only drop what you are holding.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Why didn't the crazies run?

I use morale checks in my DF game. Yet, the last big fight by the PCs was nearly a fight to the death. The PCs inflicted unsustainable casualties on the Crazies, but they didn't break or rout. The PCs offered them a chance to, basically, surrender unconditionally (they didn't offer anything except "surrender or you'll die) but they didn't take them up on it.

Why not?

I made rolls for them, but it was hard for them to fail.

- they were on their home ground. That's a bonus, right there.

- they had leaders in their midst. Another bonus. Plus, one of them was their inspirational berserk war leader, and the other was their chief, head priest, and lethal representative of heaven.

- they had nowhere to run. It was fight or surrender, and the costs for surrender were terrible - punishment from their priest and punishment in the afterlife for doing so.

- religion. The PCs basically stepped all over their religion, which upset them greatly.

They succeeded in their checks until automatic failure kicked in when they lost their center of gravity - their chief and their champion.

What could have made them fail a check sooner?

It would have been possible to reduce their roll.

- an avenue of escape. Had they had a place to run to, maybe they would have run. They were cornered in their homes in front of their families.

- take out the leaders. The PCs tried this, but had they managed it sooner, they could have ended the fight sooner.

- avoid the whole "attack their religion" thing. Hard, since that's what precipitated the fight. But once you've pulled the old "I am Lono!" trick, well, the backfire isn't pretty.

That's why the PCs couldn't crack the morale of the Crazies despite inflicting appalling casualties.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Grenadier book Kickstarter

I need another book like I need another hole in my head. Especially a book about minis.

Still, this Kickstarter seems like it'll put out a very interesting book. Grenadier minis are hands-down my favorite minis. Sorry Ral Partha, sorry RAFM, Reaper, Foundry, Copplestone, and so many others. My Grenadiers are my favorites.

It would be nice to get an illustrated retrospective of them. I'll probably pass - but I wanted to spread the word.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Taking Damage Sucks

I just want to highlight this post from Power Score

"The Player Perspective: I'm so glad I am a player in this. It's so easy as a DM to fall into the trap of becoming numb to what it is like running a character. As a player, taking damage is very harrowing! What seems like nothing to you, the DM, is a major ordeal for the player.

This makes me want to ease back on my own players quite a bit. It can be unpleasant when you are getting pummeled on a regular basis. Not that we are in this game at all, it's just eye-opening when your character is in serious peril.

As a GM, it's worth remembering how much it sucks to take damage when it's your guy. And that games where you have a bunch of disposable PCs for one player are a nice change because it's not your only guy getting whacked. When it's you're one of one it can be a bit stressful.

Just the threat of PCs taking damage or taking losses can be effective - and actual damage pretty concerning.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Felltower: The Flooded Prison

The flooded prison is a sub-level of Felltower I'm especially happy with.

 photo Flooded Prison PC Map_zpsab5xcj5w.jpg

The history of Felltower clearly called for prison cells meant to hold dangerous prisoners.

The history equally had very skilled and determined builders who meant to live underground, so this wasn't going to just be some cave area turned into a prison. (Although those are fun, as are "waiting areas" where you stay for untold time, like in the New Sun books.)

I also wanted a flooded area.

And an area with big pillars sticking out of the ground.

And and area with mixed flooded and dry places, like in U3 The Final Enemy.

So that prison level came about.

You enter it via a bit pit, so it's hard to climb out of - you'll need help from above and are subject to fairly easy massacre from above.

It's got a choke point to prevent prisoner escape.

It's got a mirror setup to keep you from sneaking up on the guards around the corner.

A fortified balcony to defend against prisoners.

A flooded area with deep water (30') and a mix of an armored subterranean shark (at least one), barracuda-like razor fish that can hop on land and eat people, and some plecka-like fish that don't seem to have any nefarious purpose.

And cages that are all below the water level of the area outside, and which are easily stopped up and flooded from the access area to them, just in case the prisoners really get out of hand. And as easily unstoppered to let the water flow back out.

And an escape tunnel, coupled with reasons why it wasn't being used. And, me being me, the escape tunnel was to go somewhere awful to explain why no one outside had heard of it.

And it needed to have the descendants of prisoners, ghosts of the slain or abandoned, and fishmen. Because I have fishmen stats and I like fishmen.

The cages you can walk on top of owe a great deal to the aspis-patrolled pits of A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity.

Much of the rest is a mish-mash of inspiration and things I liked about prisons and flooded areas in general.

When I stocked it, I rolled up monsters and treasure, and came up with a lot of "no treasure, tough monster" ones that became the ghosts (I'd planned on some, they made sense as monsters with no treasure.) After all, ghosts generally can't cross water in myths, so if that was true they fit there. And they don't go far from the place they haunt, and it makes sense they'd occur in places where people full of despair or hate died horribly or of neglect.

Then I rolled up a lot of monsters in the big area, but not so much treasure. And a small number of equally tough, maybe a bit tougher man-for-man, ones in the right central area, with a lot of treasure. Clearly, they were allied, or the small group had something that scared off the big group.

So I made the small rich group splitters from the crazy prisoners I wanted there, and made part of the loot a magic anti-mind power headband. And gave the crazy prisoner boss his mind attack power - something I'd wanted in from when I first conceived of them. It made sense and was a lot of fun.

And that's how the dice decided that I should have two warring groups of prisoners - a scary boss guy, and a rebel with something that made the boss less able to just step in and deal with them.

The rest of the placement was a mix of inspiration, ideas I wanted to use, odd traps and weirdness that made sense assuming people had come and gone, and so on. The teleporting book came up as a trick result, and I knew it made sense placed elsewhere . . . so I explained (to myself) how it had come to the prisoners. Nothing was really "rolled up" - only challenge, rough density, and riches. I decided how it went from there.

And I'm quite pleased with how it came out. Lots of opportunity for faction-vs-faction, roleplaying, straight-up combat, exploration, and more. Enough to justify multiple trips but also satisfy a one-and-done approach if the players preferred. They seem done with it now, but who knows, they may be back.

The only thing I didn't see coming, despite clearly placing the possibility for it, was the way they discovered it . . .

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Temple of the Frog thoughts

Thanks to Delta's D&D for pointing this out.

Why the Temple of the Frog, Dungeons & Dragons’ first printed dungeon, seemed unplayable

I bought Blackmoor years before I attempted to use it. But I liked the idea of a temple in a swamp, surrounded by monks and full of killer frogs headed by a otherworldly being. I couldn't figure out what I was going to do with it. We didn't play games with that kind of location - we generally ran modules (as I've discussed before) and you ran one guy, and no one had any army and we didn't play wargames on D&D days.

In High School, though, I aimed to use it. I was running an UA-era AD&D game at the time. I was also playing a lot of 1st edition Battlesystem. So it was pretty clear how to run it:

- set it up for a giant Battlesystem battle.

- have the PCs go in and clean the place out after the army smashed the monastery and the waves of killer frogs.

I can't say I had some deep insight on how it was intended to play, just that I saw a good chance to foist one of my favorite things (playing Battlesystem!) onto the players of my other favorite thing (RPGs.) One of my players was my main opponent in Battlesystem, so it seemed obvious as a way to work it together.

I never did get the run it, but I did stat it out pretty thoroughly. I had images in my head of the PC monk getting to kick NPC monk butt (yes, I read monk and said, well, obviously I'll make them monk-monks.)

But the idea that it was an army-and-party adventure, not a party adventure, was clear to me. After all, I had a system for dealing with 200 soldiers.

Years later, I dug it out for my GURPS game. I used the lower level from the Blackmoor supplement as the shattered remnants of the temple. As if the previous campaign's plan had come to fruition in the past.

There were killer frogs, sure, and some degenerate tribesmen in the swamps around the place. They were descendants of the villagers and monks. And there was a froghemoth in there, as well.

It's nice to hear more details of its background. D&D grew out of wargaming, so it was probably more obvious back in the early days that's you'd transition back and forth between wargaming. And you'd play out inter-player conflict negotiations just like in side-shifting games like Diplomacy. You have to wonder how it would have gone if the players had finally had enough of Stephen the Rock and stomped on his setup. In my game, that was done as background . . . but I really did mean to do it as foreground, too.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Gord the Rogue's stats & Gord's dagger

I really enjoyed Gary Gygax's Gord the Rogue books. I don't love them as much now as I did when I was younger, but I do still like them. Their contents really stick with me, for good (excellent fight scenes, for one, and cool monsters and vile bad guys) and for bad (he's kind of a sexist jerk a lot of the time, honestly, which bothers me more and more over the years.)

One thing I especially enjoyed was the writeup of stats for Gord, going from these as a kid:

INT 16
DEX 13
CON 13

. . . to these as an adult.

STR 17
INT 16
WIS 14
DEX 18
CON 16
CHA 15
COM 14

We never did the aging rules in the AD&D DMG. I'm not sure we really cared about age until my last campaign. We used aging like the we did the rules about weapon speed giving multiple attacks on tied initiative and the random harlot table and the helmet rule - we ignored them. But it's kind of interesting to see the game's author say, yes, aging matters and your stats change as you grow into maturity.

When I read those books, though, I'd already started to play GURPS and Rolemaster. And I'd always felt that narratively those game systems better dealt with Gord's magical dagger, the effect of armor on weapons, characters who push against the grain of a specific class, and more.

Gord gets some special benefits not normally done in AD&D. +1 to hit and damage with shortsword and dagger, no penalty for off hand use of a second weapon (DMG, p. 70). That's a steep bonus, too, negating -2 and -4. So a normal thief would attack at -2 and -4, Gord at +1 and +1 on the two weapons. A +3 and a +5 bonus, net. Yowza.

It's not to say D&D can't handle them, but to handle them you pretty much just have to hand out special benefits and or special restrictions. It's not natively handled, it's a bolt-on per GM judgment. For Gord to be a thief-acrobat he's got to have met acrobats are the right point in his career. To be an excellent sword-and-dagger handler he has to get a special bonus his class wouldn't otherwise give out. All possible, of course, in a "the GM says so" kind of way. But it felt like receive-and-build systems or roll-and-build systems instead of roll-and-choose systems (point buy, roll-class-level-point buy, and class and level, respectively) handled that kind of guy better. So oddly the official writeup of how to do him in Unearthed Arcana era AD&D was something that pushed me to think it would be easier to do him in a system not of the author's choosing. Ironic, I think - the demonstration of how to do it in AD&D convinced me AD&D wasn't the system to do it in.

I've never statted the guy up in GURPS, since I don't expect I'd use him. It's all subjective and especially prone to arguments about how to convert AD&D to GURPS. His dagger, though, or one like it, would be an easy one to make up:

Gord's Dagger

Large Knife (sw+1/cutting, thr+1/impaling, ST 6) with Accuracy +1, Puissance +1, Penetrating Blade (5). The blade can cut through metal, stone, etc. without dulling or wearing beyond normal wear for usage. When used to carve through walls, chests, etc. use thrust+1 cutting damage to represent the difficulty of cutting with the tip of a dagger.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Alternate Hard to Kill & Hard to Subdue

So I was saying the other day, most people don't have issues remembering or account for large bonuses, but rather small ones. If you say, "I have a 22 to resist poison!" no one says, "Hey, did you remember to add your Resistant to Poison +8 to that?" But +1s here and there are easily forgotten, or remembered and asked after like your relatives. "Hey, how is Hard to Subdue 1 doing these days? Did you count the +1 from it?"

Here are two ways to push a pair of leveled advantages to simple two-level packages. I've abbreviated the descriptions; the rules and coverage are per Basic Set.

Hard to Kill
5 or 10 points

Works as per B58, comes in two levels:

Hard to Kill: +3 to the affected rolls, plus the "appears dead" element.

Very Hard to Kill: +5 to the affected rolls, plus the "appears dead" element. (Normally restricted to supernatural beings, supers, Barbarians, etc.)

Hard to Subdue
5 or 10 points

Works as per B59, comes in two levels:

Hard to Subdue: +3 to the affected rolls.

Very Hard to Subdue: +5 to the affected rolls. (Normally restricted to supernatural beings, supers, Barbarians, etc.)

Those are priced based on the current costs, giving the lower level a "round up" to make the costs divisible by 5, which is just generally easier for math purposes. You can also make these resistances.

Resistant to Death
5 or 8 points

It's hard to kill you, per the Hard to Kill advantage on p. B58, but without the "appears dead" benefit. Comes in two levels:

Hard to Kill: +3 to the affected rolls. [Priced as Resistant, Common, +3]

Very Hard to Kill: +8 to the affected rolls. (Normally restricted to supernatural beings, supers, Barbarians, etc.)

How about the "appears dead" part? You can throw it in as a bonus, leave it off as a special case, or make it a perk. Or both.

Left for Dead (aka Possum, aka He's Finished)

If you make your HT roll to avoid exactly (made by 0), or by the margin of Resistant to Death, if you have either level, you aren't really dead. Instead, you appear dead, per Hard to Kill, p. B58.

This way you can hand out that effect to characters or foes without needing to increase their specific resistance to death.

Resistance to Subdual
5 or 8 points

As Hard to Subdue, p. B59, and comes in two levels.

Hard to Subdue: +3 to the affected rolls. [Priced as Resistant, Common, +3)]

Very Hard to Subdue: +8 to the affected rolls. (Normally restricted to supernatural beings, supers, Barbarians, etc.)

You could make these "Very Common," but then the price is a bit steep - 10 for +3, 15 for +8, which is high on the front end. It's hard to justify 10 points for +3 to consciousness rolls, even if 15 for +8 seems like a good deal (it's effectively immunity except on automatic failure rolls, except when terribly wounded, and then only for HT 10-11.) I have a hard time thinking that "rolls versus death" or "rolls to stay conscious" are as common as "all threats that affect only the living" or "psionics" in a game with psis. It's also important to note that the exclusions on p. 80 apply - if the effect would be stopped by or you'd get a bonus from Protected Sense or Damage Resistance, this bonus doesn't kick in.

Like I said, this basically puts the bonuses into the "clearly included" and "clearly not" category. They're still conditional bonuses and they'll require you to remember when to apply them. But they'll be much easier to remember and apply when they give steep bonuses. In addition, you are much less likely to accumulate mixed bonuses or over-patch if it's a clear level choice.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Alternate FP recovery & Alternate Fit/Unfit

So I was musing yesterday about getting rid of Fit. Maybe not for this game, but perhaps in the future.

To do that, though, I'd need to find another way to deal with FP recovery. Pulling in 1 FP every 5 minutes has been critical in my DF game. It's often one less wandering monster check, a few less minutes spent in the danger zone, and the ability to bounce back between fights where Great Haste is being used with wild abandon.

So here are a couple ways to basically replace Fit. None of these are tested, but they don't seem fundamentally unsound. They do use a mechanic that you don't see so much in 4th edition GURPS, though - the "X - Y = Z" approach where Z is the time.

HT-based FP recovery

Lost FP are recovered at the rate of 1 FP per (20-HT) minutes, minimum 1 minute per 1 FP. A normal human with HT 10 recovers 1 FP per 10 minutes. One with HT 12 recovers 1 FP per 8 minutes; a frail person with HT 8 recovers 1 per 12 minutes!

Note & Option: You can potentially scale this; say that FP recover scales just like HP recovery, so FP 20 means you recovery 2 for every 1. I kind of like that, for symmetry, and because it encourages casters to increase FP not immediately branch out into the "safer" independent pool of Energy Reserve. A FP 20 person with HT 10 would recovery 2 FP per 10 minutes, or 1 per 5 minutes. You'd max at 2 FP per 1 minute at HT 19+.

Choose one of the above. Then add one set of these.

Fit (Mark I)
2 or 10

You recover from exertion better than others.

This advantage comes in two levels:

Fit: You recover 2 FP per time increment (optionally, cut the time increment in half). For example, a HT 12 person normally recovers 1 FP per 8 minutes; the same person with Fit recovers 2 FP per 8 minutes, or 1 FP per 4 minutes. A HT 19 or 20 person with Fit recovers 1 FP per 30 seconds!

Very Fit: As above, but also FP costs for non-supernatural, non-extra effort FP expenditures are halved.

-2 or -10

This disadvantage comes in two levels.

Unfit: You lose FP at twice the normal rate.

Very Unfit: As above, but you also recover FP at half of the normal rate.

Mark II is the above, but only Fit changes:

Fit (Mark II)
2 or 10

This advantage comes in two levels:

Fit: You have +5 HT for the purpose of calculating FP recovery. For example, if you have HT 10 and Fit, you recover 1 FP per 5 minutes (20-[10+5]).

Very Fit: As above, but also FP costs for non-supernatural, non-extra effort FP expenditures are halved.

Notes & Options: Right now Fit/Very Fit don't have a stat prerequisite; you can easily make one for Very Fit (say, HT 12 or 13) if you want people to have some basic disease resistance, poison resistance, shock resistance, etc. before they can have elite-level energy systems (that's trainer speak for your cardio-vascular system and your muscular recovery systems.)

Mark II means a HT 10 person with Fit is exactly in the same boat they are now, in terms of recovery. Mark I is just easier ("With Fit it's double, Very Fit halves cost too") but Mark II has the attraction of allowing for finer splits and pushes HT needs lower. That's useful because you don't need super-heroic point levels to have fit people and/or people who take a beating but bounce back quickly. Mark II doesn't scale so well, though, and is less and less useful after HT 15, but maybe that's okay.

I struggled to come up with a "calculation" based one, where "Fit" throws a "1 FP per HT/something" into a "2 FP per HT/something" approach that didn't toss up weird fractions. The minus approach seemed okay, and it gives baseline numbers identical to the RAW for HT 10.

The pricing of Fit and Very Fit is just eyeballing - I think Very Fit is a little underpriced, but without the +2 to HT rolls it can't be that expensive. It might do well as 2 and 5 or 2 and 8, even if the pricing is odd. You'd want to invert those for the disadvantages because they have symmetry now. If I'd tried these I'd be inclined to set them at 2 and 10 and just give the points back if it seemed to be overpriced. So that's where I went on this pass.

Then again, Recovery seems overpriced at 10 points, and it's amazing for guys who get knocked out a lot. So maybe 2 and 10 is fine!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Conditional Modifiers and Simpler Play

So when we played on Sunday, schedule conflicts conspired to having some players run other player's characters for part of the session.

Even given a pretty solid experience with GURPS, and having generally similar character sheets (although not exactly, since some people prefer my choice, others use their own), we ended up with some slowdowns as people tried to calculate stat with conditional modifiers.

I'm generally very positive, and this is kind of rant-ish. It's generally just a thought about what happens with what seem to be nice little conditional modifiers.

Fit was a prime example here on Sunday. It seems pretty straightforward, but we still end up with a lot of questions about when it counts, when it doesn't count, scanning of other people's sheets to see if they have Fit, etc.

It's a theoretically conditional bonus, except it's a conditional bonus that applies close to 100% of the time. It's just a stat bonus with an important special effect and no secondary characteristic spillover.

You'd think "always add a +1" is easy, but not all of my players generally get it, we play two different campaigns and people often have to lean over and roll for a friend's character, meaning you always have to check. And if you miss the roll, people will double check for you to make sure you aren't dead or unconscious.

It's a lot more straightforward if you just raise the base stat. HT 13 is HT 13 is HT 13 is easier than HT 12 but +1 to all HT rolls, +2 versus falling unconscious, +1 to not die, etc.

It's also generally more straightforward if the conditions are clear. Hard to Kill gives +1/level to rolls against death* (what we call "death checks" around here.) Does it help versus falling unconscious? No. Versus poison resistance? No. Some of them are arguable, but it's hard to sustain "my Hard to Kill is +1 versus anything that might directly or indirectly lead to my death." Fit, well, does that +1 count to rolling against your HT for HT-resisted spells? I've long ruled no, just to avoid Rule of 16 edge-cases, but I can't say for sure if that's the intent.

You can mired in them, and a simple yes-no becomes, "Don't forget . . . "

Conditional benefits have a way of morphing, too, and expanding.

A good example is a house rule on All-Out Attack. Although I generally don't like 3e in my 4e, I liked the old 3e writeup of All-Out Attack that said you "ignore bodies and bad footing" for movement costs.

However, Sunday I noticed - probably finally noticed - that it had morphed from "no +1 per hex cost to move through Bad Footing or over bodies when using All-Out Attack" to "ignores Bad Footing penalties when All-Out Attacking" which become "Berserkers ignore Bad Footing" and thus means someone with Berserk who isn't even Berserk ignores Bad Footing on all attacks and if anyone else uses AOA you ignore bad footing.

I'm pretty sure it even went to "If you All-Out Attack (Determined) with a ranged weapon, you only get a +1 but ignore the -2 for bad footing."

Not intentional drift, but drift. The "ignore those bodies and charge!" rule went all the way to Berserk being Terrain Adaptation (All, only during combat).

Again, it's a conditional modifier that drifted and expanded as the rules get passed around the table via the Telephone Game while the GM is trying to keep track of everything but not do everyone's math for them.

As a general third point, conditional modifiers are easy to over-stack, leading to more confusion. You can easily get HT 12, Fit, Hard to Hill 2, Hard to Subdue 1, Resistant to Poison (+3) and Resistant to Disease (+8), and High Pain Threshold on the same character. Quick, what's his roll to get knocked out from a major wound to the vitals? Not quick, is it? And does Hard to Subdue help, since a failure by 5+ would knock him out? How about the HT-3 followup poison?

It's got me thinking.

Some of these things are easily fixable - I'm pretty certain I'm just going to toss the "ignores bodies and bad footing" rule I brought over from 3e. It'll slow down the berserker a bit, but it'll also mean one less special case to deal with. I like to toss out special cases, since there is a tendency to either ignore them (too special) or expand them (clearly this is also that case.)

Some are not, like Fit. Most of the PCs have it and all of them bought it mostly for a +1 to HT rolls. So taking that back would be troublesome. Plus, I'd need to cost the FP recovery element** because time constraint on recovery is a real element in my games. It's potentially doable, and I'll post some idle thoughts about it tomorrow or Thursday. But changing it means means going back and tinkering with PCs and ensuring it's still 5 points of value because of cost trade-offs.

Some we'll have to deal with via better bookkeeping, so people's numbers are easier to track when you have to roll for them. I've gotten some nice suggestions, we'll see if they work out.

But given a choice, I think I might winnow down the special cases and conditional modifiers more, just to speed things along. Not incidentally, I think it might keep people from going down the dead-end road of over-patching, too.

And I may have some ideas on changing some of the leveled bonuses, so they're on-off and clearer in how they work. Hopefully I'll have time to get to that this week. At least that way, if it's ON/OFF and pretty large (+3 not +1, for example) it's more obvious if it's counted, and a bigger to have or not have the trait. No one ever forgets their +3 for High Pain Threshold to shrug off major wounds or a +8 Resistant to Supernatural Powers!

That said, I went ahead and passed out a conditional modifier to Mo as a reward. He's got a +1 to social skills and reaction rolls from elf women. Just positive social skills - I'm not giving him a +1 to scare elf women with Intimidation, but I'll give him +1 on Sex Appeal or his default Fast-Talk or Diplomacy, not that he'll use those last two ever. You had him at "+1 on Sex Appeal." So I'm no saint on this issue. It's such a clear case, though, when it should apply, that I don't expect to have issues with it. Unless all of the named parts apply - positive social interaction + elf + woman + Mo it does not equal +1. That's easy, and it's rare and special.

Like I said, a bit rant-ish. I just find that as I have less time to game, I need to pare things down so it's easy for myself and everyone else to quickly resolve things. Conditional modifiers and special cases tend to slow things down even if just for a few seconds, and those are all precious moments we can spend discussing the orcs.

* And a cool effect of having you seem dead, so people with Bloodlust and foes departing the field might leave you for dead. Like Fit's FP recovery, it's an effect the stat just doesn't give.

** Which is worth 1 to as many as 5 points, probably closer to the bottom end of the range, given a 5 point trait that features it and a 15 point trait that features it plus extras.

Monday, July 4, 2016

DF Game Session 77, Felltower 50 - Part II - Crazies, Ghosts, and Big John

June 6th, 2016 (but played on 7/3/2016)

Weather: Warm, intermittent heavy downpours.

Characters (approximate net point total)

Dryst, halfling wizard (399 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)
Vryce, human knight (468 points)

We started up where we left off, with the PCs launching an attack on the crazies.

At start, the crazies are in the top large cell area, mostly clustered in the left side. The PCs are on the upper right stone dock, with one raft. A rowboat is just out of site on the far side of the upper left stone dock. We clustered the minis together to show who was with who, and relative position.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Preview of tomorrow's session summary

We played DF Felltower today, and had a good session cleanup up the half-finished delve from last time. It'll take a while to type it up, so I'll just have to tease the session summary tonight:

- the PCs had a long (about 4 hour real world time?) brawl with the Crazies. It was a lot bloodier than they thought, as the crazies were dangerous and hard to overwhelm. But it ended. Four hours might sound long, but it wasn't a drag and we kept the pace up. It's just complex when there are a lot of combatants and a lot of things going on. And it was fun.

- the PCs did some ghost-busting with Affects Spirits.

- at least one PC picked up a new quirk or two.

- Mo put the moves in on a friendly female ghost.

- Big John was spoken to, and it wasn't a euphemism for killing him.

- the PCs stashed a boat.

- and some loot was looted.

Good session overall.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Roster Example

Here is a link to a sample .xlsx spreadsheet of the roster style I use:


My newer ones also add weapon damage, DR, stats, etc. off to the right, so I don't need a separate sheet.

I usually use these printed out, so I can mark them up quickly, but it's possible to use them on the computer as well.

Prep for game tomorrow

Tomorrow we're playing our last DF session for a month or so, thanks to scheduling (vacations, mine and others). We're picking up mid-stream, so this simplifies a bit:

- no need to do rumors.

- no hirelings to stat up.

- no worries on spent points or spending time gearing up.

That said, I need to review last session's writeup, assemble my minis, and make sure I'm ready to go right away with the crazies, the combat area, and their head asplode boss. I'm not going to run that on the tabletop - too messy to construct the battlefield - but I need to have my spreadsheets of bad guys ready to go.

That's one lesson I learned - put roomfulls of foes into a spreadsheet. Then I can mark injury one by one, cross out the dead, quick-reference weapons, move reinforcements in from close spots (since I mark who is where on the spreadsheet, too). I can have the benefits of a detailed system and the benefits of clean organization speeding it along.

After the crazies are wiped out - I'm sure they will be, the PCs are tough - it's additional exploration. I think they have the ghosts and "talk to" the troll on the flooded prison sub-level on their check list. Which probably means kill, for both - so I need to review those areas, as well.

And I've got a box full of orcs for just in case they decide the agreement with the orcs is over based on their look.

Fun stuff, tomorrow.

Friday, July 1, 2016

A month of GURPS DFM 3 and a bonus monster mod

The monthly report for my GURPS books sales came out today.

My most recent book came out back on June 2nd, so I've had almost a solid month of sales.

How did it do?

Not bad.

192 books sold.

That's not enough to justify a DFM4, not by a number of sales. But it's a good number of sales overall for a GURPS PDF in a sub-line of books in its first month. That out-sold Barbarians by 20%, so hopefully it keeps up a good pace and keeps selling.

Bonus Content

But I can't just talk about the book. Well, obviously I can, but it's more fun if I add something for people who have it. Here is a pair of manticore variants for you.

Noble Manticore: Some rare manticores are friendly and noble in character but also serious and humorless. IQ becomes 10; Will becomes 12. Remove Intolerance, Odious Racial Habit, and Sadism. Add No Sense of Humor.

Wise Manticore: Some manticores are sagacious and knowledgeable. They aren't necessarily less ferocious, however. Many love puzzles and riddles, and may be mistaken for sphinxes. This is a potentially fatal mistake if the manticore isn't also Noble (see above). IQ becomes 15; Will becomes 18. Add Area Knowledge-15 and Hidden Lore (one of Demons, Faerie, or Elementals)-14.

Note that Wise Manticore is incompatible with Bestial Manticore.
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