Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Dungeon Fantasy RPG

It's up on EnWorld - the secret DF boxed set? The project Sean Punch has been working on?

The Dungeon Fantasy RPG is Powered by GURPS and launches as a Kickstarter tomorrow.

My DF "this is awesome" moment

Back in 2011, my then semi-active gaming group and I played some Dungeon Fantasy.

We'd played a long campaign that had ended a year or so back. We'd get together and play boardgames and cardgames occasionally, including Munchkin. Playing Munchkin wet my taste for giving GURPS Dungeon Fantasy a go. I had the PDFs, and I'd even done some work on the line, but I hadn't really been able to sit down and play the game as written(-like) with my usual group.

But I'd gotten a playtest copy of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventures 1: Mirror of the Fire Demon. I'd asked for it, hoping we could try it out. It was late in the process but still we got the files and I got to reading.

My players made up characters based on the templates in DF1.* Or I made them for them, either way, depending on their interest. I remember doing up a dwarf fighter that became Borriz Borizmann while sitting at the gym between clients.

In any case, we got the characters and started to play. They gathered information, and set out to the quest location (I'd had to skip a bit to keep things moving.) I rolled up a random encounter - an orc shaman and some skeletons.

The players were used to 3rd edition GURPS characters more than anything, and a game where skill 20 was an outlier and wasn't on the guy with ST 17+. One of the characters started with Skill 20 and ST 17. One of them was a cleric with Turning. All of them approached the fight with a little bit of caution, knowing how dangerous fights in GURPS can be.

The cleric turned undead and the skeletons were kept at bay with ridiculous ease. The orcs and skeletons within reach of the PCs went down in seconds. It wasn't even close.

Although later fights would show us the rift between front-line fighters and rear-rankers, and how dangerous glass cannon foes like ogres and well-armed orcs can be, that little random encounter was my "ah-ha!" moment. My "this is awesome" moment.

We had characters of tremendous power, facing tremendous difficulties. But they had skills. Clerics weren't hoping their powers would work, it was by how much and was that enough? The fighter-types weren't betting they were better, they were betting they were better by a sufficient margin to pull off something cool.

It was heroic, and it was awesome.

I was hooked right there.

It wasn't all that long before we kicked off our DF game now known as DF Felltower.

I still remember that moment of, "Wow, these guys are good." I haven't lost that feeling, either - I enjoy seeing the power of the PCs in action, and throwing challenges that would wreck lesser groups. But I can trace it back to that little printed out battlemap of a watering hole and some foes that just got blown away.

So, if you've had a moment of like that with GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, what was it?

* One of them is recognizably a character still around today - Vryce is 90% or so loyal to the original version run in the playtest, for example.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

What's in the DF box?

In case you missed it - Sean Punch confirmed on Friday the big new Dungeon Fantasy product will come in a box:

"• I spent all week on what I spent late January through early August creating. Except that this week was all about planning how to pay for it. The creation? Something GURPS Dungeon Fantasy-related that will come in a box. Paying for it? Stay tuned for a big announcement in the coming week . . ."

This week is that coming week - and so in addition to potentially DF 19 coming out on Thursday - no, I don't know what it is - so it should be public soon.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: Isle of the Unknown

For more reviews, please see my reviews page.

by Geoffrey McKinney
Published by Lamentations of the Flame Princesss, 2011
125 pages
22 Euros

Isle of the Unknown is a Lamentations of the Flame Princess/early D&D-compatible island setting.

Basically, the book presents you with an island mapped out in hexes. Each hex has one interesting encounter in it, which is detailed just enough. Stats for monsters, descriptions for statues, stats and motivations for wizards, and so on.

That's equally where the book falls down, though. By this approach, there really is only one interesting thing per hex. Interesting things are spread equally across the island. The GM can, of course, add more, but the need to add to change the density of encounters means more work.

On top of that, it's only the interesting things. This means it's not ready to play. You will need to have mundane encounters, or at least a system for quickly generating them, ready to go. You'll need to fill in everything that ties the weird stuff to your game world. That's on purpose, since it's clearly labeled as a drop-in for any fantasy campaign. But it means you're paying for a lot of interesting ideas but not all the grunt work of tying them into a larger world.

Basically, it takes the fun of making up your own interesting things out of the process of getting ready for a sandbox game, but leaves you the mundane. It's more of a framework for a sandbox. It's the frame, but you have to fill in the details. If that's what you want, this is useful. If you're the one brimming with good ideas but need a place to put them, this isn't so useful.

The book has "over 100 new monsters and dozens of spellcasters with unique abilities." And statues. Lots of statues. The monsters are "unique" in the sense that they only ever appear in one given hex, and they're wholly made up. They aren't always singular - some are groups or swarms. They feel randomly rolled up. Some have very interesting appearances and powers. Others are just . . . weird for the sake of being weird. A lizard that has the appearance of being a giant raspberry (or is it a lizard-like raspberry?) A number of parti-colored monsters with blades or spears or tentacles for hands or arms that feel like Ultraman enemies. A lot of monsters dripping . . . something - slime, water, acid, etc. They just feel random rather than interesting. Admittedly, real-life mythical creatures feel that way, but that doesn't make those mythical creatures less silly, either. These just lack of the weight of knowing that somewhere, someone seriously thought it existed or made sense.

There are a number of NPCs and weird treasures, too. Generally, the NPCs are dangerous to interact with, and their treasure cursed, dangerous, or both. The weird treasures are the same. Statues feel about the same - you'll need to build a serious clue system or have PCs with divination magic for them to be more than just things to avoid or attack pre-emptively. It just doesn't feel to me like a place that, as a player, I'd want to go and explore. I need to have that feeling myself before I can really sell a place to my players.

Some of the "helpful" text really isn't. For example, "The societies, flora, and fauna [. . . ] resemble those of the French territory of Auvergne circa A.D. 1311." Okay, time to go look up the societies, flora, and fauna of Auvergne. And Auvergne. Combined with the predominantly Roman-ish Greek-ish ruins on the island, and the Roman-ish and Greek-ish theme of the NPCs (mostly wizards, mostly dangerous) and statues, is potentially an issue. I think they'd go together well, except that the core material presented is the old stuff, for a very mythic feel, but you have to find a way to tie it to the mundane you'll add.

The presentation is beautiful, though. It's A5 sized, has a clear and readable typeface, excellent art, and a readable and attractive map. There are two copies of the full-color map, one inside each cover. The first has terrain and hex numbers. The second has color coded dots to tell you the type of encounter in the hex. The monsters are all illustrated on the page where their stats appear. There is also an appendix with the monsters ranked by HD, with their pictures and hex location. Appendixes listing all of the other things - statues, wizards, etc. - make for great ease checking the surrounding hexes or finding something again after a read-through. The organization and appearance of this book is outstanding.

All in all, I wanted to be impressed, but mostly, I was not. I was impressed by the production quality. But the contents were odd for the sake of being odd, and that really detracts from its utility. I'm glad I got to read it, but I can't see getting much use out if it. I'm more of the type that needs well-developed mundane I can add weirdness to, not random-feeling weirdness to add the mundane to.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

DF Felltower: No Quests!

I've talked about keeping my Sunday beer-and-pretzels, hack-and-slash game exactly that - beer-and-pretzels, hack-and-slash.

I've talked about campaign creep, too, and how I avoid that.

Part of this is, no quests.

No quests!

There is a wizard in my campaign named Black Jans. He/she/it has a mysterious nature, a tower that appears and disappears from Stericksburg seemingly randomly (actually randomly - I roll dice for appearance), and strange servants.

Black Jans buys weird items, can enchant anything in one week for twice the cost (violating all sorts of rules about economics and how enchantment works), and provides a good excuse for the market of Stericksburg accepting cursed items and blacklisted books for cash.

We also have a big church that can perform Resurrection and cast Remove Curse, a bevy of nobles, cultists the players have clashed with (and even, once, arranged a deal with), and guilds of every stripe needed to justify in-town rolls.

Occasionally, though, the players wonder - does Black Jans have anything he/she/it needs done in the dungeon? Does the Thieves' Guild have any quests for us? Can we ask the church if they have sometime they want done in the dungeon in exchange for money?

My answer to all of these is, basically, NO.

If the answer becomes yes, then the game shifts from a player-driven sandbox to a GM-driven sandbox.

It's one thing for people to offer special rewards - way, way, way back early in the game one noble offered to pay more than the cash value of good from one of the draugr for its return. Prince Vlashkalabash the III of Cashamash has a reward out for finding and giving unto him Gram, the dragon-slaying sword. Sometimes people offer a bounty for specific goods or items.

Those are okay because the PCs can act on them or not. They're just bait from me, the GM, to the players, to incentivize certain activities or to up the potential awards from those actions. Or to hint that certain things exist. Or to put up a choice - do they keep Gram when they find it again, or sell it for a fortune?

But once the PCs can go to town and start asking around for quests, then it's really up to me, the GM, what they should do in the dungeon. Its an easy out from making your own plans and decisions to saying, hey, GM, tell us what to do. Even if that's not what is intended, it is inevitable it will happen.

After all, quests will come with additional awards. Or come with punishments for not doing them. This limits your actions and gives an incentive to seek them out. Why make your own plans and own decisions when someone in town can tell you what to do, possibly tell you things you didn't know, and then give you extra money for getting it done?

Failure - which is fairly common - means complications. Those complications must be town-centered since the quest origin is town-centered. That means town suddenly acquires more depth because the PCs are having trouble in the dungeon. Social relationships in town acquire more depth with failure. Say Black Jans sends you on a quest and you fail. Either services in town end, or you have to avoid town, or you have to make up for it with another quest. What if - and this has happened in games I've run before - the PCs fail or just find out it's harder than they thought and demand more support or more loot? Social relationships in town deepen or end. Town becomes more important.

You can still seek sponsors and find people and propose special awards, if you're confident of your skill roll results. But you are generally better off doing your own thing. No one helps you for free, and that is not only realistic but helps drive player-centered play.

And yes, you can find people in the dungeon and do things for them. You can ask them what to do. Because any complications that result from this are directly impacting the fun part of play (the dungeon). Bad results from success or failure impact the PCs in the play area. The players dealing with those consequences are all within the play area. Doing favors for Faction A and killing off Faction B has consequences when Faction A isn't your friend anymore.

That's why "No Quests!" is an important part of keeping my game beer-and-pretzels, hack-and-slash, and a player-centered megadungeon sandbox.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Excellent post on game pacing

I'm a big fan of keeping the pace up in my RPGs. I don't always do it, but I prefer it when I can make it happen. I've done everything from 3-2-1-action counts in combat to real-time decision making to forbidding rules lookups and using stripped-down rules and resolution to keep things going.

Sean over at Power Score has a nice post on pacing games:

Dungeons & Dragons - Pacing Your Game

His games seem more scripted and plot-arced than mine, yet the advice is the same. It's a good bit on how not to get bogged down or let the game get bogged down.

And yes, he's spot on - you have to do a lot of prep work to be able to improvise.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Big new DF product on the horizon

So there is an as-yet-unknown Dungeon Fantasy product in production at Steve Jackson Games.

The news has come out in drips and drabs, but there is a post about it on EnWorld which has some information:

A Top Secret GURPS DUNGEON FANTASY Project Coming From SJG?

I'm a lot disappointed that the list of DF supplements at the end is incomplete. It's odd to read "This is what the original series of short PDFs consisted of:" - partly consists of, to be accurate. It leaves of DF 16, 17, 18, Denizens: Barbarians, DFM2, and DFM3. That's six books, two of which I wrote (my other three authored/co-authored ones are on the list.) It's a living series, by any account, with DF 19 in production review.

That's not the first I've heard of this, or the tie to DF. But I didn't really have anything I could share or link to - that post will do, though. I can be very reticent to discuss upcoming GURPS projects, because I can't always sort what I know because I'm freelancing for SJG and what I playtested that wasn't announced yet and what's public. Or what I've written, for that matter. So I try not to mention anything too specifically.

It should be good though - DF is a great deal of fun, and I'd like to see a large, high-impact product come and expand the player pool of the game. And hopefully the revenue stream of SJG - and thus, me, since I write books for them!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

More Game Questions: Arm ST, Gift of Tongues, and self-learning

More GURPS stuff from my DF gaming:

Arm ST

One of my players - the barbarian - wants to get Arm ST. It's on the template as a power-up.

I eventually said, no, please don't.

Thanks to using Technical Grappling, and a simplified version of it at that, we often use full-body ST for grappling. We also have people try to force doors while armed (kick it down), and unarmed (with a crowbar, and arms). We have leg-based and arm-based attacks. We have carrying capacity. We have ST-based rolls that aren't clearly arm or not arm centric. Etc.

In other words, Arm ST would be something that I'd have to pause and answer about on a regular basis. "Do I get Arm ST for this?" "Does my Arm St count?" "Why doesn't his Arm ST count on a break free, can't he work an arm in and get the bonus?" Etc.

Plus, it's 9 points for a +2 to ST, which means +2 swing, +1 thrust. 9 points would equally buy +1 ST, which would be +1 swing or +1 swing and thrust (depend on +1 to what), and +1 HP and a +1.5 to the HP limit. I'd rather have people just do that. It's not like the barbarian is close to his racial max of ST 25, and ST 25 plus 2 Striking ST is fine. All Arm ST 2 on top of that would give is a +1 to both damages . . . I feel like it's a lot of headache just to do that.

It's part of my campaign to minimize special cases.

Also, it makes my inner personal trainer happy. Power comes from the ground up.

Does Gift of Tongues get cheaper if you already know the language?

Sadly, no. Have Broken and want Accented? Still the same cost as if you knew nothing.

This is how magic works, much of the time. It either a) boosts what you have, or b) replaces what you have with a new level or ability. Flight isn't cheaper if you can already fly, Missile Shield isn't cheaper for people with good missile defenses, Resist Fire isn't cheaper for people who already resist heat or fire pretty well. The boosts just give a flat add.

The "Gift" spells just give you a new ability, overlaying your own if it's less than the spell's gift. They aren't making you better at languages, they are just giving them to you.

Good questions, but it's the wrong style of spell. You could potentially convert spells like that into boost spells, but mostly that will make them cheaper at a cost of, well, nothing. There are a lot of reasons for avoiding that - most of the boost spells are only useful if they can take you to a useful level thanks to a solid base, but for languages that's a non-issue. Might +6 from your Magery 6 buddy still sucks when your ST 4 goes to ST 10, even if it's awesome when it takes your ST 18 to ST 24 and dramatically increases your damage. Languages don't have that, just energy cost issues for the spells, so changing them is just making them easier and more critical and more useful than people who actually learn languages. That's not what I want.

Self-learning languages and skills.

In my DF, we use training costs. How you explain the costs are up to you - hired a teacher, spent the money on booze to learn Carousing at the bar, fired off ammunition, paid for lunch from people you consulted with, donated to the church and prayed really hard, bought a book, etc.

But what if you essentially have the materials and a way to make them perfectly accessible? One of my players mentioned this yesterday - Gift of Letters plus a book means you can make your own Rosetta Stone. This is true. But it still comes with costs. Maybe I'd give a discount on the fees, but I'd have it take longer. This is a for a few reasons, in game and out of game.

Out of Game

- Balance. It's fairer and easier if everyone pays the same fees and uses the same rules to learn, and then applies color text after.

- Time. It doesn't require us to budget more sessions between game to account for slower learning.

- More Balance. Some skills require you to find a teacher so the GM can place controls on what skills are available at all, and what ones are available only later or occasionally.

In Game

- Teachers are better. The costs assume you're getting taught or somehow self-learning at a rate equal to that of being taught. Teachers dramatically speed up learning - they can put the next bit of information you're ready for in front of you, and can answer questions, and can sort materials for you.

- Some skills just can't be self-taught without exceptional circumstances.

- Even with access to perfect materials and perfect understanding, using high-cost magic to get that understanding is costly. It multiplies your time. It's cast, read, quickly write (while you can still read - trust me, "I'll remember it" isn't making you faster), and then rest and recover from the costly spell. Eventually you'll have lots and lots of fragmented language bits and know how they form specific sentences but need a lot of reinforcement to get them to work together.* If the materials aren't perfect or are oddly specific or idiosyncratic, you're in even more trouble.

So, basically, if Dryst wants to learn Elder Tongue by finding a book and using Gift of Letters, he can. it'll be cheaper, but much slower, and impede other activities. Or if it doesn't impede other activities, it'll be even slower than that. The cost of speed and certainty is money and some time. The cost of saving money is a cost in time and certainty.

Plus he doesn't have a book, so there is that.

Does casting Flame Jet but not attacking with it disrupt Invisibility?

Yes. It is clearly a combat spell. Casting a combat spell - even if you don't attack with it - turns you visible. I do allow people to cast Missile spells and Melee spells and just hold them while invisible, but a strict reading of the modified spell (DF1, Wizardry Refined) doesn't allow that. I'd be more inclined to enforce that than let people walk around invisibly with Flame Jet on "just not attacking with it."

* This is from person experience. Even with a read-along and an electronic dictionary and pronunciation tags on Japanese, it's slow to pick up new words even if you speak the language at a low level. Starting from nothing, well, be very, very patient, and don't be surprised if you can't apply the bits you learn more broadly for a long time. It doesn't work well for students, either. All of those "I learned English from watching TV!" or "from reading comics!" people had other sources of better English input, too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Prince Valiant RPG on Kickstarter

Greg Stafford has a Kickstarter up for a revision of the Prince Valiant Storytelling Game:

I'm not in on this - I have the 1989 Prince Valiant Storytelling Game. It's exactly as it says it is. It's about Prince Valiant, and telling stories. It rates character abilities in coins, and you flip coins. Heads is a success, tails is a failure, and you can get your coins whittled down from injury, exhaustion, etc. For a simple, straightforward, Arthurian game, it works well. It would make a good generic system for other rules-lite play. Really light - not like old D&D light, rather even lighter. That battle depicted above is one of the examples of play - and it's just a matter of a few opposed coin flips for Prince Valiant to knock off those foes one by one.

Worth a look if you like Prince Valiant, and if you want to see a really rules-light but well-developed game.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

More bits from Sunday's DF game session

Here are some additional followup points for Sunday's game session.

Elder Tongue - One PC picked up a point of the Elder Tongue, I can't recall offhand how.

Improving it in town is possible - it'll take a roll (to find a teacher - same rules as finding sages and hirelings). Once found, the teacher will charge a premium rate to pass it on. After all, it's valuable, teachers are rare, and it's a full-time job teaching it. You can't puzzle it out on your own with a book.* Expect to pay $1,500/point for this. You can search for a cheaper rate at -10% per -1 on the roll to find someone; free is -10.

The limit is Accented; you'll need longer, more dedicated study for Fluent.

Gift of Letters and Gift of Tongues work with the Elder Tongue, but they cost double.

What counts as a perk? This is kind of an odd question, but okay, I've gotten it from multiple players. DF has a limit on combat perks - one per 20 points in combat skills. One per 10 for knights. Magic perks work the same way, except for points in spells. It's very common for my players, who love these perks, to run into a hard limit quickly.

So here goes a stab at an explanation - combat perks are anything listed in Dungeon Fantasy 11, under Combat Perks, or under your specific template. Caster perks are any perks listed as Magic Perks, or under your template. Perks that are completely non-combat related (Artificer's Perks, for example) and non-spellcasting related (ditto). Power-Ups that aren't skills don't count towards the total in skills, and Power-Ups that aren't perks don't count as perks. What does count is spelled out in DF11.

The only exceptions to the perk limits are:

Weapon Bond
Equipment Bond
Trademark Move

. . . and that's it. Two of them are combat related, but Trademark Move theoretically makes my life easier. Weapon Bond and Equipment Bond are very rare because no one wants to "waste" a point getting tied down to a weapon they may someday replace with a better one, and we don't get a lot of equipment-focused PCs.

Sense of Duty and other disads. So I didn't ding Dryst for his Sense of Duty - letting Hasdrubel try to kill Larry. He also has an Obsession to become the world's most powerful wizard, and that was clearly behind the door. The player made a Will roll (I didn't call for it, I'd have given him a 12 self-control; either way he made it) to let it happen. It was a pretty tense moment - does he stop Hasdrubel, or get more power?

This was clearly the most ruthless and evil thing anyone has done in the group. Hasdrubel has already moved on, except for the part about being proud of what a good guy he is.

I ran a number of things, including this, in real time. No spending 30 seconds debating what you'll do. As he was like "Should I . . . ?" Hasdrubel was blasting Larry.

Speaking of which . . .

Running in real time. Lately I've been trying to run more things in real time. Spending just enough points for 1 minute of language skill for your talker? You've got one minute to talk to me, then it's time to maintain or the spell runs out. Stand around talking for a minute or two about how to get that weapon-destroying acid off of the weapon? It's still taking 1 point of damage per second. Debating what to do about the oncoming orcs? They run at 5 yards a second, they'll be here in 5, 4, 3, 2, here they are.

I'll slow it down to resolve actions, but not to resolve questions or to reward stalling ("Hey, what color is that acid? Can I make a roll to recognize the acid?") This does seem to add a little stress to what should be stressful situations.

Obviously I don't do this in combat, although I still start to move on when someone isn't ready. And I run travel as the worst of in-game or real time. So if you spend 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm wandering around mapping, it took at least 2 hours of game time - more, probably, since you're moving at move 1, tops, and halting to draw rooms or to examine things.

* That's what having a linguistics major for a GM does - "I read this indecipherable script until I learn it." Yeah, here is a book written entirely in traditional Chinese, by hand, in calligraphy; go learn Mandarin just using that.

Monday, August 22, 2016

DF Game Session 78, Felltower 51 - the Black Library

August 22nd, 2016

Weather: Hot, light rain shading to downpours later

Characters (approximate net point total)
Dryst, halfling wizard (417 points)
Hasdrubul Stormcaller, human wizard (292 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (283 points)
     Brother Ike, human initiate (135 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (291 points)
     Kian, human pirate (~65 points)
     Larry the Crossbowman, human
Naida River, wood elf thief (250 points)
Vryce, human knight (478 points)

We started in town. One of the players rolled for Raggi, but the dice came up short - still no Raggi. Maybe he moved home? Unlike a lot of the PCs, he managed to make some spectacular hauls and avoid a lot of the major money losses. Maybe he's done for now, or off spending the money at home for a long haul. He's been MIA since January 2015 - the badly failed orc castle raid.

The PCs bought equipment and gathered rumors in town. A few of them concerned keys - one about a "master key" some guys grandda found when he was part of the coalition putting down Sterick (granda is long dead, now), one about how it's the hand that holds the key not the key that opens doors, and some others. One pointedly said that dragons know their hordes and remember people who steal from them. Another ominous one said the city is considering an "orc bounty" - better make that an "orc toll" - anyone ranging north of the river will need to turn in a number of orc ears or pay a per-ear fine for not having them . . . but it's stalled right now because people are worried about this bringing the orc's attention from the dungeon to the city. The players had briefly gotten excited, thinking their orc allies might now become walking loot, but an "orc toll" would be a problem - pay to get into the dungeon, pay the town to get back into town.

A new PC joined, as well - Naida River, a blue-haired wood elf thief. She met Mo, clearly drawn to his presence by his new-found Elf Woman Mojo. "Hey, baby, why don't we spend some more time together?"* "Sounds great, I'd love to go to Felltower. I'll see you tomorrow morning at the gate to town!" "Hey, come back . . . " Good thing he didn't bust out "Thieves should be hanged."

They also looked for hirelings, specifically for Larry the Crossbowman. They found him - he asked for a day rate of 40 sp, as working for tips didn't work out so well last time.

The made their way up to Felltower castle.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

DF Session pre-summary

We played DF today. Summary will come tomorrow, since it's late and I work early on Mondays.

For now:

- we picked up a new player who'd been hoping to join, so we have a new wood elf thief in the group;

- some mapping was done, including (gasp) actually new areas bypassed before;

- there was a return to the room of pools, and a productive one at that;

- the PCs found the way through the maze;

- the PCs discovered the Black Library;

- Hasdrubel demonstrated that he really means it when he says he's evil. Or at least, willing to do "what needs to be done" when "needs" means "will benefit him personally;"

- and I'm not sure Larry the Crossbowman signed up for that.

Overall a really good session.

Summary tomorrow.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dragon Heresy playtest session 8/19

So last night we had a good Dragon Heresy playtest session.

It was a lot of fun.

- we stomped some more kobolds and lizard-folk. Heavy armor helps, so does surprise, sunlight, and Sunshine.

- Shields are great. They aren't an automatic success against arrows, though - charging archers with shields beats charging them without, but it's still going to cost you.

- if you find a key, use it. And label it on the sheet, so you don't use it to open a chest and then 20 sessions later say, "My sheet says, 'Key from dead shaman' - I wonder what that opens?

- every group I've played in has taken trophies. Once it was me (Mirado), but yeah, every group has had at least one "I take his X to make into a Y!" kind of guy.

The dice taught me some lessons:

- don't hit Sunshine. He hates that. Injured and with disadvantage on the roll? Two hits, one for max damage and one for almost max damage.

- don't roll for HP. I was originally planning to just take the round-up dice average (4.5 becomes 5, becomes 7 with CON) but everyone else was rolling so, hey, I did too. I got a 2 (+2 for CON, becomes 4). Bleh. Now I need to roll an 8 somewhere down the line just to get to average again. Eh. I'll probably just accept the fixed amount and accept being 3 points below average forever. Cut my losses, basically.

- even Advantage isn't that great. Nothing like a flat-out pair of misses on an easy shot thanks to two bad die rolls. That wasn't me, but even I felt it.

Nice, though. We made second level (many of us) and I have to go read Doug's notes to see what that gets me.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Do You Demand Perfect Information and Control?

Over on Brian Train's blog, he linked to a scan of an interview done with him in C3i magazine.

Interview in C3i 29

It's a good interview overall. But one part of it stuck out as applicable in all gaming - board-, card-, war-, and especially in role-playing gaming.

Emphasis is added by me:

"I like fog of war, because one of the great drawbacks of civilian wargames is that they are very nearly perfect-information exercises. Some players feel the need for a very great amount of control over their own forces, and for information about the enemy they face. Well, so did the historical counterparts whose roles they are playing, but they didn't have it, did they? One feeling I only rarely get from a wargame is that stepping-off-a-cliff, plunging-ahead-into-the-mist moment, and I would like to be able to put more of that into my games."

- Brian Train, on Page 14

You see this in games a lot - measuring distances before deciding to shoot. Asking for all of the modifiers before deciding to act. Calculating the odds before making a decision. Wanting to know the full range of possibilities for your character at all stages of play, and the odds and effects of all of them.

You also see it more perniciously in play - refusing to take risks, avoiding the unknown, being unwilling to act when information is scarce, preferring to back down and fight another day on the assumption that there will always be another day.

I think this springs from the fact that, as players, even in games with a GM, we have control of a great deal of information. We know how strong we are, to the exact point and to the pound. We know how much damage we do, and how that relates to DR. We know how much more effort we can expend. We know how many spells we've got left. We generally decide what we're doing with our paper man to the extent that we get frustrated when effects (unconsciousness, injury, magical incapacitation, morale checks, etc.) take away our total control.

Etc. Etc.

So it's easy to get paralyzed by the lack of other information. Hey, I know everything on my character sheet, and I can act based on that. But if I don't know the penalty to shoot in the dim light at that guy in the back past his buddy, I can't properly decide. If I don't know what that monster is, or where the enemy has stashed his reserves, I can't really know what to do. If I can't observe the effects of something precisely, then I have no information and I have to just guess if it's working or not. And if I say I'm doing something, my paper man just does it.

In the actual battles and wars that are being simulated by games, there wasn't perfect information. Choices were made based on assumptions and guesses and confidences. Wrong choices were made. People made decisions based on need to get something done - or get it attempted - despite the bad odds they thought they faced. Or without knowing them at all. And without being certain that their forces would actually execute what was asked.

It's an easy thing to be guilty of - assuming that perfect information is basically your right as a player, even if you do it subconsciously. You're going to know where everyone is, what the odds are, what the capabilities are, and so on. You may have moments without it, but those are perceived as not being the norm. After all, you have perfect information about what's in front of you on your sheet, and the GM has perfect information about the rest of the world.

That can lead to a quest for perfect information before you do anything . . . but a great deal of enjoyment comes from those "plunging-into-the-mist" moments. From making decisions based on imperfect information. From taking chances because you accept that the time to act is now and that you are never going to have all you really want to know.

That line really struck me - it's something I see, and something I do. And I think that approach costs some enjoyment and saps some of the fun of playing a no-real-cost game.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Editing GURPS Traveller: Alien Races 4

I've written a lot for Steve Jackson Games. It started with Pyramid magazine articles (in the 2.0 version), followed with GURPS Martial Arts, and kept on with a small assortment of other books.

The Pyramid stuff was written and then submitted - no one asked for it, per se, I just wrote it and sent in it with some hopes.

GURPS Martial Arts and the other books, though, were contracted. Either SJG asked me, or a fellow author asked for me, or I proposed the work. Then outlining, contract, and getting to writing.

My first contracted work for Steve Jackson Games wasn't writing, though, it was editing.

As I recall, I received an email from someone at SJG - maybe Loren Wiseman.* It said something like, Ken Hite said you knew the GURPS rules really well and could you provide some additional rules editing on this book?

That book turned out to be GURPS Traveller: Alien Races 4.

The job paid pretty well, more than I was getting for articles.

The work consisted of taking templates, checking them for rules consistency, checking them for format consistency (I didn't always do that well), and otherwise putting them into game shape. I worked directly with Steve Jackson, Loren Wiseman, and Sean Punch on these. I think with Andrew Hackard as well. Definitely with the first three.

It was pretty tough work. I had to go through the rules, go through the text, run things past Sean and Loren and (especially) Steve. We had email issues. Format issues. The inevitable problems of my inexperience doing this specific job, even though I had the specific skill set needed.

I don't think I did the best job possible. I think I did a more than acceptable job. I got it done. But I still cringe at some of the issues I had, which I just didn't realize to expect. Overall, though, it was a really good experience. I sharpened my editing skills. I went from "kind of a familiar" with SJG formatting to "very familiar" and that helped later with GURPS Traveller: Humaniti and with GURPS Martial Arts. My rules knowledge went from good to much, much better.

It was a good experience.

I didn't really look back on this book that often. I haven't cracked its spine in years. But it's still gratifying to see the title page and the triple thank you's from Steve. And yeah, it was my first contracted, requested work for hire from SJG.

* I can't check, because I swapped email addresses 10-12 years back and I don't keep the old message archive on my current machine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Required Reading for Game - Why I need to do it

Yesterday I posted my "required reading" for game.

Required Reading for Game

Why do I require it, if, as I said, I don't like it?

Here is why, for Background and Rules.


I'd prefer an elevator pitch background and then, bang, let's go.

My game is basically that.

But I do require the PCs to know the world as experienced and relevant to the game. I don't care about your character's background, except as it directly impacts game. I'll happily feed in knowledge that isn't important or that fills in the gaps. Stuff like, "He's from Arras, which is a city-state to the West and slightly South of here." Or "You know there is a guy in town who can do that." Or "North of here are mountains, ice, and some unexplored glaciers." Stuff I never put out there, or stuff I did but it's just trivial color.

But I can't pass along the information learned in 77 sessions of play and a handful of posts about additional knowledge the PCs have picked up.

Part of it is campaign style. It's not like I'm saying, read this background and learn it, there will be a quiz. It's more like I'm passing out lots of information, the players have a pool of knowledge and information they've already gotten, and the players really need to keep track of it. I simply couldn't say, "Here is what you remember" or "Here is what you'd know." I'll correct blatantly wrong and misunderstood stuff, but generally, the name of the game is that players learn things, and players can have their PCs act on this. I don't even sort "player knowledge" from "PC knowledge." You learned XYZ while running a guy who died and never met your current guy? Well, you know it, guess he must have told someone who told you with remarkable accuracy. So I'm already forgiving a lack on in-game continuity to encourage players to gain and use information.

Part of it is practicality. From a practical standpoint, that would mean I needed to memorize all of the player maps, player notes, rumors, history, sessions, etc. and keep it parsed out in my head separately from the actual map, the actual history, the truth behind the rumors, and so on.

It's just too much.

Plus, it subtracts of the value of passing out a lot of information for the players to fit together. Instead of information being a valuable commodity and the ability of the players to make something of it being relevant, you'd get the opposite. Information would be an impediment to play, since only the GM needs to know it and in fact must know it, so the more there is the more the GM has to keep track of. Instead of the ability of the players to assemble knowledge being valuable, it would be the ability of the players to prompt the GM to tell that would be valuable.

That's not to say giving background information to the PCs is a problem. Or that giving it on the fly is an issue. It's just that as the game develops in-play history and in-play information, in my campaign style, it's not what I want nor is it practical to do.


It's not a small group. I have six regular players right now. Call it two drop-ins. I have a few former players who may or may not return. We have open seats for some close, long-time friends who can't commit to game but, hey, if they can make a session we'll fit them in.

Running a combat-heavy and spell-heavy and potentially lethal game for six PCs, plus a few NPCs, plus all of the bad guys (often, large numbers of them) - that's tough. It takes a lot of work.

I cannot do all of that work myself.

It's just too much. I can't figure out your rolls, make sure you hit or missed, figure your damage, check your results, consult on rules, review your options, track your HP and FP, etc. etc. and still run the bad guys. I've taken to handing off the NPCs that the GM should run (allies, hirelings) and have the players run them to off-load some work.

GURPS is a great game, but part of the joy of it for us is the rules depth we can use. It's not coin-flip simple. But even when I run a simpler game, I need help. I can't be the source of all rules knowledge, especially not if you intend to take actions based on them. It's not practical.

I offload a lot onto the players, because I myself can't do it all.

So that's why, despite disliking the "reading list" I still have one. It's necessary for the players to get involved and manage the in-game information and rules knowledge in order to keep the game running well. Too much of that get dumped on me, and the game will be less of a good game.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Required Reading for Game?

I was thinking about required reading for games. You know, lists of fiction, books, background, etc.


I'm not a big fan of required background reading. This is probably because I don't like to do it. I prefer to learn background in play. Start with an elevator pitch, then have it all pick up as you go.

This is why my game started with a simple background, the PCs all knowing each other, a mission ("find and clear the evil shrine"), and handed out rumors to fill it in.

My game does have some fictional inspirations. There are novels and short stories which, if you read them, will reveal some of the origin of parts of the game. They'll show you some of the themes in the game. But they aren't really required. It doesn't matter if you've read them.

All of that said, we've played for 77 sessions. Some background has come up, and it's important to play to know it.

Generally I recommend players read:

- at least the past few sessions of play. All would be better, but it's not necessary. Reading none will hamper you as you try to keep up.

- read the accumulated rumors list.

- read the history posts (this one, and the one linked in it).

- it's helpful to read the whole "spreading rumors in town" post and attitude post and the PC Tips.

And that's about it for background. It was less when we started, but hey, 77 sessions.


I do like it when my players actually familiarize themselves with the rules. I don't really require people to learn the rules beyond the basics. It's helpful when they do.

- the abbreviated combat rules in Basic Set: Characters.

- the rules for Deceptive Attack and Rapid Strikes in Basic Set: Campaigns.

- your template.

- the first half of DF2. It's actually very player-centric, and you need to know what the game assumes you can and will do.

- the text of the advantages and skills you have, again, in Basic Set. If you took it, read it.

- Building a Better PC

- if you're running a spellcaster, you need to read the rules for spellcasting.

- If you're going to run a "support" character, you need to read this post.

- It's helpful if you know the Power-Ups available to your specific template (and which ones aren't, like the ones off your template, even if you've got a lens).

It's actually not that much. For most of my players, it's a couple of sections of Basic Set, a few posts, your specific traits, and half of DF2. You can get away with reading almost none of these, but you'll be hampered. You won't take advantage of everything you're capable of with your skills and advantages.

It's more than I hoped it would be, but that's cut down to the bare bones of what you need to read to be current and ready.

Monday, August 15, 2016

What non-combat skills do they bring to the DF table? (Swashbuckler, Martial Artist)

Here are some thoughts about the non-combat abilities some DF templates bring to the table. These are my experiences, and may vary from yours.

Martial Artist

The martial artist is potentially a really broadly useful character outside of combat, depending on your choices.

First off, you have DX 16, making for excellent defaults and requiring only minimal points to get a superior level of ability with DX-based skills. Your Stealth and movement and Climbing are enough to make you a potentially useful scout, but your Per 10 hamstrings you there.

Besides physically getting around, your main non-combat strength comes from your Chi powers. Power Blow and Breaking Blow are excellent against doors and obstacles, especially ones that other PCs can't reasonably crack thanks to high DR. Light Walk will help you bypass some traps and dangerous floors; so can Flying Leap in some cases. Flying Leap will also help you reach places inaccessible without flying characters and/or magic, and will work even in a NMZ.

On top of that, don't forget you have to take Meditation, so you may as well use it for Seeking Guidance (Dungeon Fantasy 2, p. 15)


The standard swashbuckler has a lot of what the knight has going on - a singular focus on combat. In this case, acrobatic sword combat. The template has a lot going for you if you do that one thing, but not a lot of breadth outside of that.

The most useful broad aspect of the Swashbuckler is the base DX 15, which gives you lot of good defaults and reasonable levels of skill with only a point or two in a skill. So you can keep up with Stealth, quickly learn other physical skills, and reasonably expect to handle balance and agility challenges. You aren't terribly strong and your Per and Will and IQ are average.

You also have either Streetwise or Savoir-Faire, so you'll be useful in town to a degree. Plus Carousing, which at least in my games is a critical aspect to rumor-gathering and getting along well in town.

But pretty much all you do is combat. Your best bet is to expand on your background skills, and leverage that nice DX to pick up some off-template skills that can aid a party, such as Boating or Riding. If you choose more reaction-based advantages - appearance, Charisma, etc. you can be an okay face character. You'll want Diplomacy, though, to really get things done, and that is off-template and depends on your IQ 10.

You do make a good substitute scout, though, in terms of Dungeon Parkour (Dungeon Fantasy 2, p. 7), so take advantage of your Acrobatics and get around to difficult places in the dungeon to help scour out treasure.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Megadungeons & Conservation of Ideas

Over on the blog Monsters & Manuals there there is this post about The Mystery of Ideas. Basically, how you can't force them to come to you.

I get this - you have to cook while the pan is hot. You can't really force things to come, although you can learn to set the stage to take advantage when they do. It can be frustrating when you need something and can't think of a good idea for it.

This is actually one of the reasons I really like having a megadungeon.

Since the place is big enough for almost anything, anything I do think of I can stick in there . . . somewhere. No idea is really wasted.

Not only that, those areas mapped out and stocked up from those ideas stay there, waiting for discovery.

Still further, the work is cumulative and ongoing. I don't need to be done. I can do the pieces I have ideas for when I have those ideas. When I don't, I can move on to the ones I do have ideas for.

You can put down placeholders as well, something that'll do until you think of something better. Sometimes you do, and you can improve it, or suddenly realize why the placeholder is so appropriate for the spot it's in. Sometimes you never do, and the PCs roll into and over the placeholder. Even then it's done its job. Your players might come up with an explanation for it that's better than anything you would have.

It's just one of the little things about a big, game-central dungeon that I like. No idea is really wasted, and even lack of ideas isn't really a big deal. It all adds up, cumulatively, to a good experience. Felltower has gone on for 50 delves into its depths, still draws the players to the game, and still has mysteries to yield up. And it still provides a place for all of my ideas. That's something I didn't know I was missing, growing up in a module-and-distinct-adventure era of gaming.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

How we use Armoury in DF

I was asked in a post's comments about Armoury in my DF game.

By the Book

Here are the ways you can use it, per the DF books.

Making your own gear (Dungeon Fantasy 2, p. 3). As written, this says starting gear. But there really isn't any reason a PC with access to the right tools and willing to front the cost of materials can't do this once play starts. You'd need a high level of Wealth to turn it into an effective job, though, which is nothing but a positive for a DF game.

Identifying superior gear (Dungeon Fantasy 2, p. 14) You can figure out what prefixes gear has with a successful skill roll. Clearly (and pretty much believably) being able to determine how good a given weapon is by handling and examining it is a trained skill.

Modifying gear to match a new user (Dungeon Fantasy 2, p. 14) You can fit armor to a new user.

Disarming weapon-based traps (Dungeon Fantasy 2, p. 19) If a trap is based on an accessible weapon, you can disarm it.

Making an improvised weapon and/or improving it (Dungeon Fantasy 16, p. 45)

Actual Play

In actual play, not all of the above come up. But equally, we've widened out what it applies to in a few cases.

Spotting better gear is the basic use for us - that comes up all the time. I go with a Per-based Armoury roll for spotting special gear, IQ-based for actually figuring out what it is. "It's better than usual" is what Per gets you, "It's Balanced and Fine" is what IQ gets you. I equally use it to spot not-obviously bad gear - cheap weapons aren't always clearly cheap, and sometimes something is fundamentally bad but looks good (call it the Muramasa problem.) Knowing something is particularly rare and valuable, though, or famous, or what it'll sell for, is Connoisseur. Bonuses will apply where it's obvious - a very famous weapon with clear identifying marks, Ornate +3 is easier to spot than +1, etc. These come up almost every single session. Merchant can tell you what the value of a given item is, but not identify them. So Armoury tells you it's Elven Thieves' Mail or a Balanced Fine Broadsword and Merchant tells you what it's worth on the local market and helps you sell it.

I've had Armoury rolls to temporarily modify, rig up, or otherwise change weapons. Getting a lanyard on or off quickly is a DX-based roll (no roll to just do it without time pressure). Re-rigging a broken bow string is also a DX-based roll. Fixing a damaged weapon or temporarily rigging up weapon furniture (sheath, grip, etc. or making a lanyard) is an IQ-based roll. This comes up every few sessions.

Rarely making an improvised weapon comes up - cutting down a good stick for a staff or short staff, or making a wooden spear - but it's happened.

IQ-based rolls in town help you find gear for sale with specific prefixes, or to find a weapon especially suited for a given task (a wooden sword for fighting rust monsters, a bronze weapon, fire arrows, etc.)

And any number of arrows have been modified by IQ-based rolls, since I don't believe you can just cut the head off an arrow and make it a combat-effective blunt. With a skill roll, though, you can blunt one and keep it an effective arrow.

General maintenance doesn't take a roll - failure isn't interesting, so why bother?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Thoughts on that D&D Syndicated Radio Show pilot

If you check out my blog roll, or follow the same blogs I do, you certainly didn't miss this:

The D&D Syndicated Radio Show Pilot

I gave the linked video a listen.

The start of it is pretty lame, with that "wizard" chattering away in a kid's show narrator voice. You know, the kind of voice you found annoying even when you were the right age for that kind of kid's show. It's almost lame enough to make me feel like the people who bullied us gamers back in the early 80s had the moral high ground.

The "play" part is pretty interesting. The players stay in character, mostly, but do engage in the kind of table chatter you'd encounter in a game.

I say "play" because it's scripted, not a recording of actual play.

The GM sure leads the players along - "You can do x, or y." It would have been a better example if it was more like, "What do you do?" than "Do you go out in the rain now, or wait until morning?" RPGs are all about player-driven choices. This is kind of railroady when it doesn't need to be. The PCs already have a lure of adventure, an in-game need to deal with it, and hell, it's scripted. Like my favorite Ashanti proverb says, "When a man is coming toward you, you need not say: 'Come here.'" The GM does a lot of saying, "Come here" after setting the stage to draw the players towards him, to put it in terms of the proverb.

Especially if you want to show it's player-driven not GM-led, this was not a good choice. So much better, in my opinion, to script it so the players jump on the offer, on the comments, etc. and move things along.

In a way, I'm glad this wasn't around. We played a very different game than this and yet had a lot of fun. I'd have missed it anyway - when was I tuning into to the radio on a weekly basis as a kid? But even so, it's nothing something I felt the lack of. It's interesting, but feels flawed, and I'm not shocked people didn't jump on this thing.

Monday, August 8, 2016

What non-combat skills do they bring to the DF table? (Knight, Wizard, Barbarian)

Springing off a comment on my last post, here are some thoughts about the non-combat abilities some DF templates bring to the table. These are my experiences, and may vary from yours.


The knight brings a single-minded dedication to combat to the table in DF. So much so that unless you deliberately diversify into some kind of non-combat ability, you don't have any significant ones.

You do still have some utility, even so. Most knights seem to opt for fairly hefty armor, and come with solid ST and DX right out of the gate even without enhancements from your optional trait pool. Don't overlook these - you'll be good at carrying gear, loot, fallen comrades, etc. You can handle DX-based tasks reasonably well. While your focus is almost purely combat, a few points in skills like Stealth, Climbing, Swimming, Carousing, etc. can round you out well.

Adding in Forced Entry makes you a good door forcer - less so than a barbarian (unless you up your ST and the Forced Entry skill) but you'll be properly placed for any fight that occurs. I highly recommend taking Forced Entry. The bonus to destroy non-animate things is handy, too.

Basically, though, you're a mobile engine of destruction, and your non-combat abilities spring from the basic scores that feed your core aspect.


Barbarians are excellent combatants, although they're not top-tier like the almost exclusively combat-focused knight and swashbuckler. They have way more non-combat abilities than either of those, though.

To some extent, the non-combat abilities you bring to the depend depend on what kind of barbarian you are. A savage warrior, a survivor, and a rage barbarian all bring different things to the table than a standard barbarian. But they vary more in degree than kind, overall.

Outdoors skills are the main area where barbarians shine outside of combat. You've traded a lot of combat utility for outdoor skills, Survival, Tracking, etc.

Your ST is the highest starting of any of the characters, but it's trivial for knights to keep up for a while (although you max higher, given the same race.) You've got a lot of HP, too, so you make a good door-opener, trapped-chest basher, and overall damage absorber. You are good at surviving, and if it's seems likely HP must be spent to accomplish a task, you're the one to do it. Like the Knight, your ST and DX make you viable in any physical task, and potentially much more so for ST than anyone else.

Consider the barbarian - especially the standard one - as the best outdoor type who trades back some non-combat utility in the dungeon or in urban situations. You will be hard to live without outdoors, and mostly useful for ST and combat indoors. But don't forget Tracking, Stealth, and your respectable Per for keeping an eye out for things. If you're lightly armored, you'll be fast, too, opening up a chance for scouting or trailing back in the rear while still being able to close in if needed.


Wizards are a special case. You can't add as much to combat as the dedicated fighters, not without basically crippling their great strength - diverse spell-based abilities. You're more of a niche combatant, in that you have area spells, costly attack spells, and buff spells at your fingertips. You can pull your weight in combat with the right spells, but dedicated fighters can vastly exceed your capacity for damage in the short and long term.

However, you have almost niche-destroying breadth of ability. You can bypass obstacles with Movement spells, substitute for hirelings with Illusion and Creation spells, boost the combat abilities of everyone, make undead help, find traps, negate the abilities of non-magical foes, detect treasure or foes or any other needed substances, divine answers, set fires, dig tunnels, etc. etc. etc. If you take Wild Talent with Retention, you'll be rolling in spells in no time. It's actually harder to be a combat specialist than a broad support wizard who can help everyone do everything and/or partly replace other templates.

You also have a lot of non-magic non-combat abilities. Alchemy, identifying magical goodies, scooping hazardous material for loot, and so on. Plus your high IQ and solid Will means you can easily diversify into a broad array of mental skills if you need them. Diplomacy, Cartography, and other mental skills are on your template and you can make a good substitute speaker and scholar.

The only things I find that stop wizards from rampant niche-stomping are the FP costs of doing everything with magic and points. You never have enough points for all of the spells you think you need, and not half of enough for all the spells you'd like to have handy. Try to remember you're better off doing the non-combat things other don't do instead of trying to match or beat other delvers you adventure with.

It doesn't hurt if the GM is liberal using No Mana Zones, Low Mana Zones, Magic Resistance on foes, magical opponents (critical!), meteoric weapon armed foes to mess with your Blocking spells, and pushes the pace so you can't turn every fight and every obstacle into a blow-all-FP-and-rest routine. You're still the best overall tool a party has for dealing with the world as a while in a non-combat fashion, especially in dungeons.

Next time, I'll tackle a few more professions and what I see are their non-combat utilities. I'll strictly be sticking to ones I've seen in play, so please don't ask about Bards, Sages, and so on - I just don't have an opinion that comes from experience.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Penalty for Cumulative Feints on the Same Target

I was thinking about repetitive uses of Feint the other day. This was occasioned by me totally catching someone flat-footed with a good feint, but then seeing him clue into my feints.*

A cumulative feint penalty makes sense, much as the same way as the cumulative bonus to defend against repetitive moves does.

This admittedly assumes that your feints more-or-less resemble each other.

It's not enough that your opponent knows you like to Feint - overly-examining incoming strikes as if they were feints is effectively the same as falling for them, in my experience. Also, just knowing it might get used doesn't mean you recognize them when they do.

Still, it can get boring in a "climactic" duel where both the NPC and PC generally just use Feint until someone rolls really well. Cumulative penalties mean you really have to consider when to launch it, not just fire one off every turn in the hope of a good roll by you and a bad one by your opponent.

Fool Me Once. Repetitive uses of Feint against the same target are less and less effective. Each Feint past the first in a given engagement is at a cumulative +1 in the Quick Contest for the defender.

Alternatively, Ruses suffer a penalty of +2 for the defender for each one - it's much harder to keep saying, "Hey, look over there!" with any real effect. Beats would be unpenalized - they're not subtle tricks, they are physically forcing you out of position. Knowing they are coming doesn't help very much!

I toyed with the idea of +2 (and +4 for Ruses) but I didn't go for it because it seems a little on the high side.

I haven't tried this, but it's an interesting idea. It might make sense to bust it out only when it's a very particular combat, say a duel or a fight with a boss villain.

* Basically, SHOOTO as taught where I trained uses a step-feint that is identical to the step-jab except for the part where the jab doesn't launch. I did that and immediately launched a cross and caught my sparring partner wide open as he reacted to a jab that wasn't coming, before he could cover the straight. Had I actually just did the usual 1-2, the straight would have been a bit delayed and he'd probably have been able to cover it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Megadungeons, DF, and 250-point plus PCs

The recent discussions here about lower-point DF delvers, why they're 250 points, etc. have made me think about my experience with PCs starting at 250 points.

All of the PCs in my game start at 250 points.

Our highest point PCs are two of the oldest active PCs - Dryst (399 points + 18 saved) and Vryce (478 points + 8 saved). Honus Honusson is older, but the player isn't very active thanks to his career and distance from game.

Our lowest point ones are floating right around 250 points.

Here are some things I learned. I've left out the obvious ones, like "combat is always risky in GURPS" and "magic is really useful!" and "don't fight when you can't win." Those seem more self-explanatory than the things I've learned and written about below.

Power Level Mix

The power level mix isn't such a big deal, at least as long as you are 250 points. The 125 point allies and NPCs have a hard time of it. They're either good at what they do or okay at a lot of things. They are never both - you can't have a 125 point healer NPC who is a good healer and a good backup fighter. Not against the threats of anything that would threaten a 125 point combatant, anyway. The 250s are okay - you're always sufficiently good at your job that you can step in and do it, even if someone else does it better. Witness, say, Vryce side-by-side with Hjalmarr. Vryce is vastly better as a combatant, but that just means he kills more of the enemy, not that Hjalmarr is really vulnerable per se.

62 point NPCs are fodder. Even if you like that fodder a lot, and spent a lot of money on gear, they're fodder just like a 35 point character would be in a 150 point centered game. Some of that is how I scale things - a fodder orc in my game is 62 + the orc template, so a 62 point human is slightly behind the power curve. It also keeps the PCs front and center because threats are aimed at where they start, not normal humans.

Potentially someone could run a 125 point PC in my games, but I'd certainly give the player two characters to replace the one as I advised in DF15.

Resource Drain

One thing you might not expect with 250+ pointers is the resource drain. There really is never enough of anything - not enough healing potions, magic power, paut, consumable attack and utility items, hirelings, PCs on the fighting line, etc. Even savagely one-sided victories have a draining effect and force you to rest a bit to recover your FP. In a megadungeon, this is a very big issue.

One good thing about this is that it seems to match the old style megadungeon play I've read about. It's better to avoid threats, husband resources, have goals and missions in mind for a session, etc. But the dangerous nature of GURPS combat and the resource costs of magic - and the time to undo the losses of combat - means 250 point guys (even nearly 500 point guys!) suffer from the attrition effects of dungeon delving.

Also - and I think this is a very good thing - special purpose consumables aren't as good as dedicated weaponry and dedicated attacks. Alchemist's fire and ice grenades and poison gas bombs and poison in general are useful additions, but don't overshadow actual attacks. Magic items are useful but a wizard is better, and a warrior can deal more damage than most wizard's spells. So you need a lot of them to get the job done - a PC focused on the task generally does things better than a tool or a spell. Unless the task is really only solvable with the tool or spell.

In any case, anything you do costs resources, and even the larger pools of them available to 250 point PCs don't feel that large in a megadungeon. They drain more steadily than I recall HP, spells, and so on draining in my AD&D games, and they are even more subject to sudden and complete loss. At a lower point level, you'd need to reduce the threats (and in my experience from my previous game, the number of threats encountered) to keep attrition from wearing down the group before to a potentially frustrating extent.

Threat Type Matters

Depending on the mix of PCs, what kind of threat affects how threatening it is. For example, fodder foes without shields or high Dodge scores are easily mown down by Scouts, but less so by single-large-attack fighters like Barbarians. Strongly magic resistant foes make it tricky to deal with them via area spells from Wizards and Clerics, but no one else cares. Undead are a horrifying threat unless you've got a Holy Warrior or Cleric with True Faith around, then they're heavily penalized or just eliminated as a threat. Missile-carrying fodder are a serious threat to a large party that doesn't have shields or their own effective ranged attacks.

And so on, and so on.

The threat type matters even more than the threat level. If you've got a bunch of mirrored shields and Blind Fighting, medusas aren't that scary. If you've got Resistant to Disease, you're not worried by the otyugh's nasty swipe or the komodo dragon's filthy mouth. If you lack these things, then those threats are quite serious.

All of this is given a basic minimum level of threat, of course. A 1d-2 arrow isn't a big deal to a knight in plate, even if it's got a piercing tip or aimed at chinks in armor. You've got to at least potentially be able to harm the PCs through their gear. Once that's done, I find that a 6d sword attack is substantially less scary than a poison you can't defend against or a 2d attack that crushes your active defense levels by -5 or more thanks to its terrific speed.

Overkill is often wasted, but sometimes needed

It's very useful to have extreme amounts of skill or power, for dealing with foes you can't deal with otherwise. Those DR 17 guys are still DR 9 when you hit their armor's weak points, and that means you need to bring at least 10 potential damage to the table to matter.

But once you're tough enough to reduce a foe to fodder despite situational modifiers, and/or kill them in a single blow no matter how badly you roll damage, it's wasted. Once you're Parrying at 16 even after a couple of successive defense rolls, extra doesn't matter.

What this means is it's possible to benefit from, say, Axe/Mace-28 or getting from 3d+13 to 4d+15 thanks to a ST jump, but much of time it won't matter. Dead is dead. Same with layering defense over defense over defense, where you've over-patched until you're paying points for little to no actual effect.

This matters mostly because of the resource drain, above. It also matters for threat type - if you're the best straight-up swordsman ever but suck against missiles and magic, you're going to be worried more by those threats. If you try to get good at everything, you might never be tough enough to deal with the really big threats. It's a balancing act, and there are never enough points to do everything. Or even most of what you'd like to do.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Chiyonofuji and GURPS Martial Arts

GURPS Martial Arts features a writeup of one of my favorite sports and favorite martial arts - Sumo.

The stereotypical sumo wrestler is fat. The caricature of sumo wrestlers is that are just big fat guys in "diapers" (actually, a combination belt/legless shorts article of clothing inherent to the sport) that slam into each other - fatter guy wins.

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