Monday, October 31, 2016

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #67: Sailors on the Starless Sea

I've heard a lot about this adventure, so I kept an eye out for sales. Back in September there was one on Warehouse 23. I've linked to there but you can also find this one on RPGNow.

Dungeon Crawl Classics #67: Sailors on the Starless Sea
by Harley Stroh
Published by Goodman Games
$6.99 in PDF on Warehouse23

This module is a 0-level adventure for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. The whole "0-level guys taking on danger they can barely handle" bit of DCC is showcased here. The setup is a ruined keep of Chaos on a hill, kidnapping of villagers, and a bunch of stalwart locals gearing up and going in after the missing.

The adventure is flat-out excellent. It's got a lot going for it - it's creepy, it's got a good squick factor without being gross or horrible just for the sake of being horrible, and it feels tense. There is a reason to push the pace as a rescuer, but hell to pay if you push too hard and too fast. The enemies are interesting and appropriately dangerous. There is a payoff set-piece that is very cool, explains a lot (without needing a lot of explanation), and potentially rewards a variety of approaches. Like a lot of low-level adventures, it might make a good solo mission for a mid-level character (which is how I used a lot of them back in my 1st edition AD&D days.) And like DCC seemed to imply in the rulebook, keeping the special magic items is probably not the safest and wisest choice.

Some of the puzzles seem a little rough - the titular "starless sea" is a good example. There is a way to cross it safely, but it's not more than vaguely hinted at. You could make a guess, but I'd bet experienced players used to adventuring puzzles would be better off than people just going off of the hints in the adventure itself. Since that could end the adventure right there with poor choices, or what even seem like the "good" or "right" thing to do, it's one I'd be inclined to add more hints to.

I have the expanded version, which comes with a third area. It's an interesting addition, but it feels superfluous. Much like an expanded "Director's Cut" of a film can lose some narrative tautness and pace, this just feels like extra that doesn't help out. It's good stuff, but I'd be inclined to run it as originally released and leave this aside for a return trip to root out a last bit of evil left after the initial delver.

How is it for GURPS? I think it would work very well with GURPS. It's especially suited for a straight-up fantasy game or in a DF game using a Law/Chaos world split and bargain henchmen templates from Dungeon Fantasy 15 (which is written partly with these kind of adventures in mind.) I may run it that way next time I need a low-point GURPS module that will come with plenty of lethality.

Overall: This is a tightly-written, well-mapped, interesting adventure module. It reads well and it appears like it would play well. I plan to run it in some form in the future. Just reading it made it worth its $6.99 cover price.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Felltower: Things not done yet

Felltower continues to be many things.

A source of enjoyment. We are still playing Felltower half a decade after the initial delves into its lightless depths. That's semi-High Gygaxian for "five years after the first session featuring the dungeon." The fun hasn't worn off yet.

It's a source of material for GURPS books and articles. Rock trolls, octopus blossoms, some magic items I hope you'll get to see someday, rules tweaks - a lot comes out of continuous play, which a long tradition going back to the origin of tabletop role-playing games.

It's a fun outlet for our creativity. I say "our" because much of what comes out of it is a mix of things I think are fun and comments and requests from my players. Then it mixes together with game-session decisions, which sparks even more creativity.

It's a source of posts. Felltower pretty much drives this blog. That wasn't the intention of either the blog or Felltower. But it's a strong core of what keeps people reading this stuff.

So it's done a lot for me, and we've done a lot with it.

But there are things I meant to do I still haven't done.

Henchman Brigade. I still haven't run my "all 62 and 125 point delvers" session. The idea is everyone gets 3-4 PCs each. We'd run them through, enjoy them getting chopped up by monsters the 250-500 point PCs cut through like nothing, and keep the survivors as NPCs.

Nowadays this is called a "funnel" thanks to the DCC RPG, but it's an older concept. 0-level guys building into full PCs showed up in N4 Treasure Hunt by Aaron Allston, and Yaquinto's Pirates & Plunder had three tiers of pirates (extras, secondary, and main characters) and we played it with the expectation you'd keep the survivors and bury the rest where they fell.

In any case, I haven't done this yet. Right now I don't think I can - the orcs are too organized, and motly weak delvers would just get chopped up. If the orcs let them pass, word would get back the PCs that the toll had dropped, and acrimony would ensure. I may still do this with the Keep on the Borderlands, though.

Dungeon Fantasy Gamma. Now that our Gamma Terra sandbox is set, well, perhaps I could stake out a small area of Gamma World and gate in some wizards and dwarves and so on to it. They'd go through Felltower, nominally, or come from the same world, but it wouldn't be connected to the main game. Just an excuse to use the same backgrounds, rules, races, etc. without changes.

This one I might still do as a one- or two-shot game.

Run Felltower Online. I eventually got permission from my players to use Felltower with other groups. I had plans to try running it online.

I eventually gave this one up. It's just too much work. I don't really have a regular timeslot available to play. GURPS has a front-loaded time investment in chargen, which is fine for a longer game but not for a busy GM running a short game. I'd need to master Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds, and then take my made-for-tabletop maps and make versions I could show online. That's besides finding players, teaching the rules, making available things we use in play that aren't - but I hope will be - official GURPS products, the occasional playtest elements we include thanks to my freelancer work, etc. It comes with a cost beyond the expected reward.

It's also a big logistical nightmare, as fun as it might be. I don't like prep work. Plus I'm not a huge fan of GMing for people I don't know well - that's bit me multiple times. So this one isn't going to happen.

Beyond that, the game is quite good. It's worked out better than I planned, and has stayed within the hack-and-slash bounds far beyond what people tell me is possible. It's just there are things to do with it I haven't done yet.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Slimer WIP

Here is a base-coated and lightly dry-brushed slimer.

I'm going to work on his mouth, eyes, and teeth. He's got a bit of flash on the left eye I can't remove so far, so he'll probably be a scar-eyed Slimer after all.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Use and Misuse of Weapons, Spells, and Magic Items

"Your average infantryman does not give a rat's ass about the design function of a weapon. He is concerned about staying alive and about getting his job done with the least risk taken." - Murgen
- Glen Cook, She Is The Darkness

That's one of my favorite quotes. It's directly about magic items (the "bamboo doohickeys" as Murgen describes them a sentence or so later), but it's about any tool you put in the hands of combatants. That quote sprang to mind - or at least the gist of it - while I was thinking about gaming.

Over the years, I've had players turn all sorts of things into a very different tool than may be intended. Sometimes it's from min-maxing. Sometimes it is from the everything is a nail because I have this hammer syndrome. Sometimes it is just flat-out misunderstanding what the intended purpose of the tool is - or flat-out not caring.

One example is GURPS 3rd edition healing potions. They healed 1d HP or 2d FP - and FP only if you weren't down HP. These were verboten for non-wizards to drink. If a wizard popped it back, he'd get back 2d FP. Major Healing is 1 energy per 2 HP healed. So Having the wizard throw a maximum healing spell on you (4 energy, for 8 HP healed, probably real cost 2-3 because of high skill), you'd get a 4-to-1 ratio of healing back. Drinking it was a total waste.

Another example is the portable hole. I'm sure the original intention was a mobile trap. The Gary Gygax story about deploying the first one made it sound like a trap. But did anyone make its primary purpose anything but storage? We had one or two in my games, and people just filled it with stuff.

Still further is Entombment. That spell was used for utility storage more than offense in my games.

That's leaving aside stuff I never let work (lanterns as grenades, for example). Even so, when it comes to "intended use" and "use" I find players like to drive a really big wedge in between them. I'm not any different.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Gamma Terra: What the PCs want vs. what the Players want

So we've hit a big moment in our Gamma Terra game. We're off the rails. Not that we were really on rails, exactly. More like we did a two-shot mini-campaign with a pre-set adventure, then had a stated goal which led to only a handful of places. But now it's wide-open. We need to set goals and execute them.

We've ended up with in-game and meta-game needs. It's a good example of when the PCs want someone but the players want something not entirely overlapping.

The PCs aka In-Game:

In game, our PCs want a stable base, more technology, and a life. As much as exploring the wastes is fun, they have real concerns and needs that must be addressed. We basically have decided to re-establish a viable civilization in the area we're in. We're going to:

- lay the groundwork for feeding a large number of people;

- establish military forces, including eventually unfreezing the rest of our brigade of the 20th Homeland Division;

- set up friendly relations with adjacent powers;

- set up hostile relations with our biggest threat (the racist Knights of Purity);

- otherwise make America again.

This is a large series of logistical tasks punctuated by some cool adventures. The cool adventures, though, are just the risky things we're willing to do while the logistical tasks are the most critical aspects in-game. Farming, finding water supplies, learning and teaching skills and languages, organizing, etc. - critical. But boring. Boring but critical.

The Players aka Meta-Game:

My favorite post-apoc bit is wandering around, doing things for people re-establishing civilization. Not the actual re-establishing civilization.

One of the meta-elements of the game that's critical to me, and I'm pretty sure everyone else, is not Playing House. While our PCs want to establish a base of operations, ensure stable food and water supplies, etc. etc. that stuff isn't very fun to play out. It's the five hours you spend in your video game shuffling gear around between characters, fetching wall materials for the village, clicking on NPCs to get their trigger words so they'll cooperate, etc. You buy the video game to have fun shooting stuff up, start building the world up because that's giving a framework for your shooting stuff up, and then spent most of the time saying, "Man, I wish I could be shooting more stuff but I need to finish this wall and click on these NPCs and shuffle gear around first."

For us, we want that done off-screen or in a one-minute A-Team montage.

We want all of that stuff to be background. "Okay, roll vs. Armoury." "Made it by 4!" "Your reloading operations go well, everyone gets 100 rounds of their chosen ammo type." Done. Roll vs. Administration and, poof, between sessions we got food distribution set up. If suddenly an army of Hoops mounted on Podogs with trained Parn hunting-beetles show up to disrupt the food caravan, boom, we go take care of that and have actual fun.

We'll train soldiers, but off-screen. We'll actually lead troops into battle if everyone is on board for mass combat, or just roll for the results with a bonus based on our successful session of shooting up the enemy's command structure.

Ideally, it's just going to so-happen that whatever McGuffin we need to re-frombotz the deteronic phased-fusion array to get power for our new communications net is in a robot-guarded rad-zone edged by mutant plants and hostile Grens. Or that we make some Politics rolls and the Mayor of Radville says, "Okay, tell you what, we'll join your confederation . . . but you have to Pass the Test of the Holy Bomb first - you know, one of you wrestles an Orlens to the death!" Or join a Deathball league for a session or two until we win the championship and the hearts and minds of the local mutants. And so on - have a framework that the PCs would see as the main bit, but only play out the bits that are fun to actually play out.

Another meta-element is that we, the players, want to be in charge of the sandbox. We want to decide what to do. So even if an NPC is nominally in charge we want the players to be deciding. We want to settle "Fight the Fit vs. fight the Purists" or "Raid the nearby city or befriend them" or "Go for the Robot Farm or the mysterious thing Softie detected" at the table between us. We don't want to have to make rolls to convince the local leader to let us do that. We don't want missions assigned to us by an unfrozen Brigadier General NPC and make the GM tell us what to do. Or have to make rolls to convince him or her, or whatever. (We, meaning I, do have a plan for this, if the GM will let it fly.)

In other worlds, we're happy to have "Make a viable civilization" as our in-game goal provide a structure to our adventures. We're fine with nominally having NPCs in charge of things. But we only really want to spend time playing the actual adventures. We want to make the actual decisions and get right to executing them. The GM is on board with this, which is critical. We all want to play out Gamma World, not post-apocalyptic community organization meetings. And as much as I'd like to fly Warbot around the world going to see the shattered globe, I get that the GM is much better off with a limited sandbox than a series of "Then you fly to the nuked-out remnants of Tokyo" adventures.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


So I haven't really done a lot about orcs this Orctober.

Let me rectify that a bit with a picture of some of the "emergency orcs" carry with me for all sessions:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Warlord Dredd vs. Foundry Dredd?

So I recently stumbled across these guys:

I love the Sentenoid.

So my big question is, will these match my Wargames Foundry 2000 AD line Dredd, Mean Machine Angel, etc.? They're both 28mm, but that doesn't mean anything. My 28mm Casting Room Minis adventures are midgets next to 28mm Reaper dwarves, for Grudd's sake.

I'm tempted to find $40 from somewhere and get some Sov judges just because I love Dredd.

If anyone has experience of these side-by-side, let me know.

Monday, October 24, 2016

GURPS Gamma Terra - Sandbox and the Environs

Here are the original JPGs of the scarred Earth of our GURPS Gamma World game, Gamma Terra aka 20th Homeland.

Thanks to andi jones for making and sharing these. They're really impressive. We were impressed with his hand-drawn maps and pictures, but these are really something else. Click to see a larger version.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

GURPS Gamma World, 20th Homeland - Session 9 - the Fountain

We played session 9 of our Gamma Terra game today.

"Fatbox" (John M) - demo/EOD
"Hillbilly" (me) - medical specialist
"Love Handles" (Vic L) - demo/EOD
"Princess" (Andy D) - cryptographer/sniper
"Short Bus" (Mike D) - computer programmer

Present but NPC'ed:
"Momma's Boy" (Tom P) - computer programmer

In reserve:
"Caveman" (Jon L) - demo/EOD
"Barbie" (Mike H) - demo/EOD (MIA)

The player of "Momma's Boy" couldn't make it today, so he stayedwith the Triumvirate's folks to help Boomtown deal with the sudden change in leadership. Love Handles was suffering from the Holk's deadly plant blast. Hillbilly treated him with some of the anti-rad pens and healing injectors we had, but it didn't help. He had a fever and was tired much of the time. We decided he's mutating, we can't stop it, and that we should start calling him The Love Holk.

Pretty much from there we headed right out to the Fountain, the nuclear reactor. Love Handles had learned some programming from Short Bus, and handled the operation manual for it. Princess carried the tablet computer with the Fountain's guard robot's access application. It was pretty routine. We approached the Fountain. The walker robot guard approached us. We used the tablet to tell it we belonged there, and it let us by.

The reactor wasn't accessible without an eye scan from a pure-strain human. Luckily, we still have three of them. Princess got scanned and we went in. We chatted with a welcome-droid, passed a rusted-out security bot, "signed in" to make the welcome droid happy, and checked the place out. We found some snack machines. Fatbox went to smash it but Hillbilly stopped him and used a silver card with two gold bands/stripes from Amy the Triumvir. We selected A4 (Love Handles shouted he wanted that one) and got him some old snack food.

Basically, from there, we explored the nuclear plant. It was in standby mode. It was really hot, with lots of dust and particles in the air. So we put on gas masks and stewed. We had cards that fit some of the doors, and the labels helped us identify the colors and types of our cards. We used them to access others, find more cards, etc. We found some oddities - like a double-barreled shotgun with dragon's breath rounds set as a trap in a looted hospital, a dead security guard, and some guard bots in various states of disrepair.

Here is the flow chart of the Fountain:
 photo Gamma World Map 004s_zps1qled9m6.jpg

We found quite a lot. We searched security first, finding the dead guard. Hillbilly swiped his badge (grey with two blue bands), and Love Handles found a hidden second one (red with three green bands). We also took his flechette pistol, some pills he had (they'd turn out to be anti-rad pills with serious side effects), and his clipboard. On it was a note complaining that he was tired of resetting passwords and from now on, people had hints. We had two:

#1 was for a Doctor Abandonatto, saying her safe was set to the year "Your Galen's empire fell." Er, maybe Rome? 476 or 1453.

#2 was for the Power Center crew, called them "Trek War nerds and word geek losers" and it simply said:


and a note about it not being the chemical sign for Trilithium Crystals.

(I'll let readers figure it out for themselves)

We scanned the plant with the security cams (Hillbilly didn't bother to look, he was busy nosing around at the notes.)

The we split up. Love Handles took a nap in the Security Office while Short Bus handled the computers. He turned on the intercom. He also disabled security bots as we went, overrode doors to open them up if we lacked a card, and so on. Princess, Hillbilly, and Fatbox explored.

We tried the hospital but couldn't get in, and disabled the door by swiping the wrong cards too often. Oh well. So we headed to the environmental control area and turned on the A/C and filters. We looted some gas masks and a fire extinguisher (Hillbilly ripped the doors off the lockers that held them.)

From there we combed the place. We found the vehicle bay and its contents (seven spider-crawler-carriers, two power-dozers, a self-driving UPS-style truck, and some golf carts that we joked couldn't turn in the hallways), a droid bay with two active and 70-odd semi-intact droids (Fatbox ordered the two Mark V general purpose to follow us), and some active security bots with flechette mini guns and lasers and a claw-hand that can reshape into other forms. Neat. Short Bus turned them off as we approached.

In the robotics bay we found some more security bots and some all-purpose mini bots. Short Bus tried to work on the bots but accidentally sent a fizzing, spinning, smoking bot battery into himself and Fatbox. Fatbox dove for cover but Short Bus took some radiation and burns before it fizzed out. Hillbilly worked on him (last grey stick, 1/3 of a red stick). We couldn't get any of the sec-bots except one to follow us - well, two, but one had disabled legs so we eventually set him up to guard the front door.

Once we puzzled out the puzzle, we opened up the main areas for the plant. It took 12 hours, but we powered up the plant enough to charge the battery packs we needed. Also, we got schematics of the feeds out from the plant for the power generated. We also slept in shifts over the next day while we got things together. Short Bus, at Hillbilly's suggestion, set up a super-user or admin account (I can't remember what he was able to access) with a password for us, just in case, and not to share it.

We eventually found the safe in the hospital - Princess's Per 18 or whatever helped. We found some pills and another swipe card. We now have six of varying levels.

We eventually left, using a Power-dozer to load up the truck and hooked-together spider-bots to carry three powered batteries for warbot. We headed back to Boomtown, followed by some robots, a train of vehicles, etc. We awed them completely.

Basically from there we just did housekeeping. We rested, talked to Amy, Love Handles had his truck painted by some talented locals, etc.

We spent a five-day round trip taking Amy to the Ziggurat and getting her eyes fixed, then brought her to The Fountain to get her introduced to the security bots as a welcome party, etc. We set up the sheriffs in town as security, told them to organize a militia, and took over the barge from Velveteen. We used the barge to bring three batteries and a power-dozer out to the lake to Warbot, load her up, and then set it adrift and left.

As soon as we got Warbot powered back up, Hillbilly, "Hey, Softie, how high can you fly?"
"Hold onto your seats," said Softie, and we slammed down into them with lots of Gs.
She pulled us up to a sub-orbital height and showed up the ground below. THIS was the prop that held up game:

 photo Gamma World Map 001s_zpsiobiblot.jpg
Fatbox points out Boomtown on the map.

Here is our area map, showing the outline of Softie's allowable area:
 photo Gamma World Map 002s_zpspqvgmsbc.jpg
And yes, she can fly up a narrow channel to Ottawa. Interesting. We have theories.

And here is a close-up of our area, labeled with places you might recognize from past summaries.

 photo Gamma World Map 003s_zpsjqn99win.jpg

After was just disordered housekeeping. We stopped by Crow and gave him some laundry detergent we'd found (he was delighted, and poured it into glassed to look through). We stopped by 12.7 Mike Mike and gave him our two Mark V bots and empty shell casings. We went back to Bal'Cree and checked in on things.

Someone (I think our GM) suggested we solve our language issues. Learn the local tongue? Hillbilly instantly said, "No, we teach them English." Everyone laughed. But Hillbilly has a point - what happens when we all learn the local lingo and then release 4-5K 20th Homeland troops who only speak 21st century English as a common language? Teach all of them Kazooistani or Bal'Creenese? Yes, but they'll do better if they come out to people used to English and then learn the local lingo on top of that. We put the 20th Homelanders who stayed in Bal'Kree in charge of teaching the locals English, with the help of Mark VIII and Severin.

We also started our plans for the future. I'll share them in a future post. But we've got a fully powered Warbot. Her black ray gun batteries were removed for legal reasons, she's out of torc grenades for her launchers and mini-missiles for her mini pods, but she's got batteries of lasers and blasters and decades of power (and we've got a spare half-tank of gas, heh.) She'll be a very useful asset. It's just a question of setting up the campaign's parameters so we adventure, not play civ-building logistics.


This session was not an action-oriented session. It was really just solving some puzzles, organizing resources, making some rolls, and dealing with Boomtown's final status. It was still fun, and there were plenty of times we broke down in hilarity over comments, in-game silliness, and combinations of both.

For example, possible names for our area:
The Knights of Impurity
The Knights of Kazooistan (the middle ground)

That map is pretty awesome. andi, who is a certifiable Gamma World nut, made that by hand.

The flow chart was great, too. Much better than a map, and we learned a pile of useful things from the codes on it.

What is the Gamma Terra prop?

A few weeks ago we were scheduled to play GURPS Gamma Terra, but called it in favor of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. Why?

Our GM, andi, had ordered something he needed for game. Some kind of prop, it sounds like. But it didn't come on time.

Today, though, we're playing GT. It's arrived.

I'm really curious to see what mysterious game-enhancing object he ordered and was worth delaying game over . . .

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Drilling out Slimer

So I have this "Slimy Ghost" one of my players purchased for me:

I'm actually working on him, and he should be a very easy paintjob - especially since my Will-o-Wisp glow-in-the-dark coating paint works so well.

The problem is, he has no space for a base - no slot, hole, or gap.

I'm not sure how the heck he's supposed to do anything except get painted and then sit there on the table rolled on his side because he can't balance anything like you'd hope.

I've been working on drilling a hole but it's tough. I have a pin drill, but I'm thinking I might need to get out the electric drill and put a real hole in him. I have a clear "flying" base to match . . .

Anyone try using a standard (in other words, low-voltage) electric drill to base-mount minis? I'd love to know this will work before I, I don't know, burn out my drill or trash a mini.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Tabletop Props for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy

The other day, Benjamin asked me about my tabletop props. And over on The Collaborative Gamer the is a great post about tabletop props that goes way beyond the materials I use.

But do use some props with regularity.

General Materials

GM Screen

I can't show a picture of it, but I use pieces of various D&D screens with GURPS charts tacked or taped or clipped to it. Yes, I roll behind the screen. No, I'm not fudging. Yes, I'm rolling sometimes just to fool you into thinking I'm randomly determining something. No, I don't care if you think that's fair or not. I'm the GM, not the dice, or the players, or anyone else. And a GM screen helps me leave stuff where I can easily see it without stealing the mystery of "what did he get out of the minis box?" or "How many more Doomchildren are there?" or "Why is he just drawing pictures on his notepad when I hit the monster for 25 damage? Is that a bad sign?"


Not a tabletop prop. But it's critical. The actual game is run off of a laptop I bought, basically, for the express purpose of running GCA and Word and keeping a huge tab run of PDFs open at the same time. I record all of the player's XP and skills and stats in GCA, and it's kept me sane. Even as it drives me crazy when it does weird stuff thanks to legacy issues and code that couldn't keep 100% up with 4e, nevermind my house rules. Still, a useful tool.


d6s by the score.
Polyhedral dice - d12s, d20s, and my d30 - for rolling on the rumor table.
d10s to record 10-second spell durations - Great Haste being the key one.

The Battle Map

Chessex Maps

As reviewed here. One stays on the table the whole time.

Cardboard Heroes: Dungeon Floors

I've got a few copies of these I've backed with cardboard and use for pre-made rooms.

Not-LEGO blocks

If you've seen any of my gaming pictures, there are always these grey LEGO look-alikes. Some company that a friend of a friend worked for made them. They discontinued the blocks, and he rescued some from the path to the rubbish bin. Someone used them for an art project and I kept the remainder.

They're . . . not as good as Lego blocks. They don't stick smoothly or come apart easily. They're a little finicky. But they are free and I have lots of them. I can pre-make walls and stick them together and put them down on the Chessex mat to create the battlefield.

If they have downsides, they are these:

- walls expand. Put down two walls to make a corridor, and over the course of a battle, it's pretty certain players moving the walls just a little bit to accommodate their mini's base will leave it where it was nudged. Then, it'll get nudged again. Eventually, someone will want to move into that so-called "half-hex" and move the wall to fit their mini. By a few turns into a battle in a tight 3 yard wide corridor it usually gets to be about 4 yards wide.

- they fall over. You need to base them with a wider base, but still, they're prone to getting knocked over.

- they're too tempting. 100% of my game sessions have involved me threatening violence to people who take the pre-made wall sections I've made apart and then building things out of them. Then, I suddenly need a wall, and I have to stop for a minute or two and take apart the tower, boat, weird modern art sculpture, dice holder, pencil cup, whatever that was made out of my walls. Since they're a little sticky and come apart only with effort, this actually defeats the purpose of pre-made walls and slows things down. This alone has led to the expanded use of Cardboard Heroes walls.


My players pitched in a got me a set of Dwarven Forge doors. Also, I traded for some Mantic and other doors as well. I think I have doors covered.


I have hundreds of painted minis. Enough said.

Furniture, Etc.

I also have some plastic furniture. This doesn't see too much use, but I do use them.

I also use or have used:

- plastic palm trees from some pirate battle game set by Pressman.

- snowy walls from a Christmas snow-scene setup.

- craft store models of all kinds, especially if they are durable and cheap. Or at least cheap.

- Cardboard bird houses for huts.

- actual rocks and stones as rocks and stones.

- sticks as tree limbs and logs.

- champagne corks as giant mushrooms.

- counters from various games (Cry Havoc, Battlesystem, GW's cardboard sheets, etc.) to represent terrain.

I probably left a lot off, but I believe in a prop-heavy game. I could play without them, but I sure as can be have more fun with them. I'd take pictures, but you can just scroll through my sessions and see all of this in action . . .

Thursday, October 20, 2016

GURPS Freebies

So GURPS Lite is free. I've got a link to it on the side of my blog. What else is out there that is free for GURPS?

Official products, I mean, not just fan-created material.

Here is the complete list:

GURPS free stuff at Warehouse23

I'd like to highlight some especially good or broadly useful ones.

Caravan to Ein Arris - and excellent GURPS starter adventure. It's wonderful for introducing new players to GURPS, and I've used it to introduce new players to RPGs in general. Yet it's not without some interesting depth for a group that pushes roleplaying and fights and physical challenges for groups that prefer those. It works very well one-GM one-player, too.

GURPS 4th Edition Combat Cards - also a great item for new players - printable cards with the various Maneuvers you can select from.

GURPS Martial Arts Techniques Cheat Sheet - GURPS Martial Arts has a lot of techniques. This is an at-a-glance listing of them.

GURPS Range Ruler - something we actually keep handy at my table as a tiny short-range-only Size and Speed/Range Table substitute.

Floor Plans 2: The Great Salt Flats - varying sizes of hexes and squares. Including, naturally, the 1" hexes GURPS uses. Technically not a GURPS item, but very useful for it.

That isn't a complete list - I mean you can get GURPS Lite in Korean so you can finally play with GURPS Martial Arts in Korean* But these are ones I've used in the past, use now, or just find nice to have in general.

* Results not actually likely.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Jason Sholtis's Kickstarter

Jason "The Dungeon Dozen" Sholtis has a Kickstarter for his campaign world:

I've linked to Jason's blog many times, and I've raved about his hardcover collection of the blog's contents.

I'm going to back this Kickstarter. I have a great deal of belief in Jason's ability to deliver on this. It's just a question of PDF versus hardcover, and how much I have in the gaming budget* to play with when the times comes.

Check this one out, even if only to marvel at the artwork and remind yourself why all those 1d12 tables are so fun to read.

* Which is pretty much the money I earn from gaming. I like to silo my income and expenditures that way.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

FP and my DF game

As one of my players noted on a prior post, I do tend to forget to assess FP costs to the PCs. As a result, the only real costs are:

- FP from fatigue-based attacks

- FP costs from repeated Muscling Through attempts

- supernatural power costs (spells, Chi powers)

- costs imposed by supernatural powers (Great Haste cast on you by another).

Many of those come back quickly - 2 minutes or 5 minutes is pretty typical (the former for Recover Strength-20 and the latter for Fit.)

I rarely remember to enforce:

- FP costs after combat (per p. B426)

- Running (every 15 seconds)

- Hiking (hourly)

I could blame this on my players, but honestly, no one is motivated to remember bad stuff that applies temporarily, especially if they expect to get it back right away. And I'm supposed to be the one telling people the effects of their actions.

I decided the simple way to do this is three-fold:

1) Announce FP Costs Immediately. Like it says - when fights begin, I'll remind people that at the end of the battle they'll need to mark off FP equal to 1 + Encumbrance Level unless they manage to avoid making any attack or defense rolls.

I'm more likely to remember at the start, when I can pause the action, then after, when people are running to the bathroom, getting a drink, making plans, announcing who searches what and counting off healing spells and so on. If I announce it at the start of each fight, we're all more likely to remember.

2) Have a FP Assistant. I'm going to ask one player each session, one of the non-spellcasters, to remind everyone to knock off FP at the end of the fight. If that person wants to track everyone's FP, like they track treasure, etc., that's fine, but all I'm asking is to make sure everyone knows to knock off some FP.

3) Start Fights Down FP. Unless you've been doing nothing prior to the fight or only traveled a short distance and short time after a rest, I'm going to assume you are down the usual FP for hiking - FP equal to 1 + Encumbrance level.* That's how it should be, assuming the costs for hiking.

For most people, this won't be a big deal. For some, it might be an annoyance (i.e. casters who always assume they're at full FP and won't expend any after fights), but in general, it should be a workable approach.

We'll see how it goes in play. FP shouldn't be a freebie because the GM has too much going on to track it for everyone himself.

* Yes, even guys who Levitate to get around. You don't fall into pits, suffer from bad footing costs, auto-detect No Mana Zones (heh), have 3D movement, ignore tripwires, etc. but you aren't traveling effortlessly.

Monday, October 17, 2016

D&D in Prison, and GURPS

One of my gamers forwarded this to me - an article by a journalist/whistleblower, playing D&D from memory in prison.

I Am Fully Capable of Entertaining Myself in Prison for Decades If Need Be

See, I ran game for delinquents, but I didn't really go all the way with that concept.

Amusingly he played GURPS when he was not in prison, and ran into a fairly typical issue I hear about in web discussions of the game - knowing where to stop.

"My problem, as usual, was knowing where to stop. GURPS included rules for RPG staples like magic and psionic powers." and naturally, the logical end point: "And too many comparably awesome ideas were presenting themselves to me each day, such that I never was really able to decide whether to start designing my increasingly elaborate Nixon game or instead do something simpler where Teddy Roosevelt is hunting you for sport."

Yeah, lots of people apparently get paralysis from too much possibility with GURPS.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

DF Felltower - Stericksburg News 10/16

Stericksburg hasn't stood still. Some things have changed a bit.

Comments are Tavern Talk, Part II - the comments on last session's summary are a perfect example of why I say the comments on the blog are tavern talk.

This is also why I treat everything that happened in the dungeon as common knowledge. You can try to shape it ("I keep telling Larry that Hasdrubul was possessed when he electrocuted him."), you might not provide full details (maps, mostly), but you can't censor it. Partly this is for my own sanity - my last game had a lot of "we don't tell anyone anything, ever, unless we specifically agree to tell someone something," which meant the PCs never had outside rumors or help . . . but also never had consequences of sharing too much. That would be basically impossible in a pick-up game where you change out PCs, people around the world (literally) are reading and commenting on the game summaries, and new players join (like the ones running Kenner, Naida, Hjalmarr) and others drop out (Borriz, Chuck Morris, Bern) or can't play for a while (Galen). Sorting which PCs know what, and which NPCs know what, and how the PCs get ideas that some commentator thought up would be a nightmare. Better they come back to town and brag away and reap the benefits and consequences of that.

And the really secret private plans the PCs don't want to share? They do that by email. The publicly-stated stuff and delve results are exactly that.

Supercharged Power Items - supercharged power items are available. It came up on the rumor table*, so now it's out there. The usual rules & prices from DF18, p. 10 apply here. As it says in the book, this is effectively twice as much as buying Paut, but having a double-charged power item has all sorts of benefits that 4 FP per dose potions do not.

Volunteers & Hirelings Have Dried Up - the recent failures to get rich have dried up the enthusiasm for people joining up for tips. Those willing to work for shares (Orcish Bob, Melchior the Malevolent, others) are unwilling to risk death for no reward. And hirelings are less likely to sign up when Hadrubul "I'll kill you if it's convenient, or useful, or you're in my area of effect" Barca is the one hiring. So that's high risk (-), low reward (-), dangerous companions (-), and uncertainty of rescue if danger occurs (-). Those outweigh the previous net benefits of profitable runs (+), Vryce the Dragonslayer hiring (+), the Sense of Duty clearly shown by the group (+), and bonuses and extra rewards (+).

Once the PCs reverse those trends a bit, the NPCs will start to appear more. The PCs can still try to directly hire NPCs, but there is a penalty on the recruiting roll, so spending extra money on the search is advised. Otherwise you're most likely to get nothing, and more likely that the ones you find are rolling with a penalty on the Random Hireling Traits Table (DF15, p. 31), or they may or may not be as good as they claim, or it's one of Jason Sholtis's Useless or Half-Price Hirelings. At best. I have to stress - at best.

Cut-Rate Resurrection is Available - Dr. Nicholas - aka "Nick the Miracle Maker" - is in business. He's happy to bring you back from the dead. Cash only, sign this waiver form, don't forget results are not guaranteed. Motto, "Will you come back from the dead? You might, it's a free country." Only 5000 silver pieces. Tips welcome!

And that's what's going on in town.

* Which is rumors and random events, really.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Dungeon Vocabulary, Part II

Here is more Dungeon Vocabulary. Hopefully these will help my players understand what I'm talking about when I try to describe rooms and hallways and so on. Also, I might learn from commenters better ways to describe these . . . or help new GMs figure out how to describe tunnels.

This is how I describe relative locations. This room, for example:

 photo Dungeon Vocab - Room Perspective 001s_zpsvcbrjlv1.jpg

I'd say, "A square room roughly 10 yards across with a door on the left wall in the far left hand corner, a door in the right hand corner of the opposite wall, and a small alcove in the middle of the right wall."

Or something quite like that.

These kinds of areas are tough:

 photo Dungeon Vocab - Hallway 001s_zps8tkr3ve9.jpg

I'd say, "The hallway Ts out in front of you. On the opposite wall to the left of the entrance to the T is a door, and the hallway continues to the left. To your upper right, a hallway continues straight. On the right, the hallway continues."

Or, "The hallway ends in a hallway running left-right. On the opposite wall to the left of the hallway you're in is a door. On the opposite wall to the right of the hallway you're in is a hallway going straight."

These days, I try to draw less of those.

If you've got a better, clearer way to describe these, let me know.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Dungeon Vocabulary, Part I

I've been GMing for a while now, but I still struggle with describing rooms, hallways, etc. in a way that the players can clearly understand. Sometimes my word choice confuses instead of enlightens. Some terms seem to be very clear.

Here is one that works:

Baffles. Here is one we ended up sort-of self-defining. A "baffle" is a corridor jag to the side. So straight, left, immediate right, straight = a baffle. Here is one illustrated - a baffle left, specifically.

 photo Dungeon Vocab - Baffle Left_zpsmlwommuw.jpg

Here is one that doesn't:

Humanoid. In D&D language, a "humanoid" is a goblin, hobgoblin, orc, gnoll, bugbear, kobold, and maybe some others.

In my language, it's a human-shaped figure.

This leads to all sorts of confusion.

Me: "You see footprints, clearly humanoid."
My Players: "Maybe orcs came here. It can't be halflings or dwarves or elves, they're demi-humans. Maybe it's goblins. Do goblins count as humanoids?"
Me: "Yes. So do humans for goodness sake."

But "humanoids" as a specific class of human-shaped non-human monster races is deeply ingrained. I keep plugging away at this one, using it the way I meant it. I use more specific terms if necessary - goblin-kin or goblinoid, beastman, etc. - in the hopes it'll sink in. If it doesn't, I'm really stuck for a term that conveys "figure shaped like a human" as well as "humanoid" does. And no, "figure shaped like a human" doesn't work. When I say "human-like" I'm clearly implying they are human-like, but clearly not actually human. So, I'll hammer away at humanoid and try to get the non-TSR definition to work standard at my table.


I think I'm going to draw some pictures of what I'm trying to describe, and assign specific terms to them. That way my players will be more easily able to identify what I mean when I say things like:

"A square room roughly 7-8 yards across with a door in the far left hand corner on the left wall, a door in the right hand corner of the far wall, and an alcove in the middle of the right wall."


"There is a passage exiting the room on the left, in the bottom left hand corner of the room."


"You can go straight, immediate right, right, or upper left."

You probably understand me, but if you put that "door in the far left hand corner on the left wall" in the wrong spot my words aren't really helping you. So I think I need to sit and define some terms.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Low FP: Too Tired to Resist & Weak Blows

Here is a pair of optional rules for GURPS. It's totally untested, and it will have a strong effect on a campaign. I'm just not sure how much because they have not been tested.

Fatigue Reduced Resistance

Fatigued characters are not only tired, but are less likely to resist disease, hostile spells, and their own internal disadvantages. In addition to the effects listed on p. B426, add the following:

Less than 1/3 your FP left As written, but also self-control rolls are one level worse - (15) becomes (12), (12) becomes (9) . . . and (6) allows success only a 3 or 4! Resistance rolls are at -3.

Fatigue Reduced Damage

Normally low FP reduce ST but do not affect calculated stats such as HP and damage. Optionally, when ST is halve because of low FP, it does affect damage.

Less than 1/3 of your FP left - a written, except ST-based damage is also halved. Roll damage normally, then halve it, rounding down. You can spend 1 FP in order to swing a full-strength blow, but this is a slippery slope down!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Revised GURPS Magic: Dispel Magic and Fast-Fire

Here are some spell revisions from my DF game.

I'd talked before about Dispel Magic. It's rarely used because it is:

- expensive
- slow
- opposed

So it's basically set aside and people try to deal with magical problems by circumvention or by using a different spell entirely to somehow undo the effects of the spell. That might sound attractive, but it's as time consuming and enjoyable as hammering nails in with a screwdriver in actual play.

So I've modified Dispel Magic as follows:

Dispel Magic

As written, except:

Time to Cast: 5 seconds.

A small change, but it does mean time to cast is fixed - 5 seconds, 3 for most skill 20 casters in a DF game. The cost is open-ended, but it's an area spell and hits many spells.

Next up is Fast Fire. This spell is a problem on many levels.

First, it's a regular spell. So how do you deal with the size of a fire? You have to assign it a SM. That's . . . ugly.

Next, it has very undefined effects and open-ended effects.

It really needs to just be an area spell, and work more like its prerequisite, Slow Fire.

Here it is, revised:

Fast Fire
Area (but see below)

As written, except change the last sentence to: "This spell acts as a Great Haste spell (see Magic, p. 146) on fire elementals and beings with the Body of Fire meta-trait; treat this as a Regular spell, resisted by HT, when cast on a being instead of an area."

Maximum effect is 3x as fast.

Slow Fire has the exact same last sentence, except it acts as a Slow spell (see Magic, p. 145) instead.

Maximum effect is 1/3 as fast.

I treat the multiplying effect as working on damage, dividing duration, and so on. So Fast Fire cast at 3 base cost multiplies a fire's rate by 3, but divides duration by 3.

I need to work on Spark Storm and Windstorm from more. Those are very problematic spells for me, and I'm never happy with how they work out in play either from ease of use, effects, expectations of the players and the GM, etc. They're a time grind that come with game effects. We'll see what I can do with them when I have some time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Felltower 54 in Pictures

One of my players sent me these yesterday. I edited for size, and put them in chronological order and labeled them a bit.

Here is Felltower 54 in pictures.

Monday, October 10, 2016

DF Game, Session 81, Felltower 54 - the Lord of Spite, Part I?

Date: October 9th, 2016

Weather: Rainy into warm and sunny.

Dryst, halfling wizard (422 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 (301 points)
Vryce, human knight (489 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)

We started in town. The group purchased some potions and torches and gear, and gathered rumors, some of which mentioned big mangy rats and highly intelligent rats in the dungeon, and a few other tidbits, like not trying to kill living pits with arrows and spears and bolts.

They headed out, bringing the "Stone Book of Teleporting" with them. They reached the summit talked to the orcs. Hasdrubul went up this time. The orcs complained that "last time" the group had caused them a lot of trouble with the Lord of Spite. Hasdrubul said, "That wasn't me. I was at Wizard Court, I had jury duty, it happens." It took a while to get the orc negotiator, Lern, to come and talk to them. Dryst was annoyed by the delay, since he had to lurk invisibly nearby ready to re-cast Gift of Tongues.

(Hasdrubul's excuse sparked a lot of comments interspersed all game about Wizard Court, Hasdrubul's trial for electrocuting Larry - "I plead not guilty because of reasons, and also because I'm a wizard." "You're a wizard you say? Case dismissed! Also, we find Larry double guilty." - what wizard court actually does, and other amusing nonsense that is now pretty much canonical.)

They got down to brass tacks, with Hasdrubul arguing that the delvers would be able to kill the Lord of Spite. The orc said, "5000!" Hadrubel said "You pay us 5000." They eventually settled at the PCs paying 2000 sp for entry, and 1/4 of the loot, and they'd kill the Lord of Spite. But the orcs had to help them lure him out of his door. They agreed and paid and headed in.

So that's what they did - they headed to the Lord of Spite's area, escorted (the long, long way) by the orcs. The orcs brought a wizard, a half-dozen or so guards (including Lern), and a number of "musicians" with trumpets, gongs, and drums. The PCs set up, and then realized they had a few people who hadn't touched the mysterious stone altar. So they went and did that, which didn't make the orcs very happy - they had to stand around for a good part of an hour as the PCs went off with escorts, did the touching, then came back.

Hasdrubul, Hjalmarr, and Brother Ike all touched the altar. Hasdrubul got +1 to all of his attributes for one day (useful, since most of his spells are at 19 . . . ), 33 of Hjalmarr's silver coins turned to gold, and Brother Ike got +2 HT and Attractive for one day.

They went back and finished setting up. This involved a Mystic Mist over themselves and the orcs, putting Oil of Puissance on their weapons, putting in earplugs, and so on. Mo put his man trap in front of the door to get one of the boars. The orcs began to make noise - lots of noise. Banging on the door, drumming, horns, gonging, etc. It was noisy - nearly deafening.

Finally, the orcs pulled back at a sign from their wizard. They got ready.

A few minutes later, the PCs felt the rumble of the Lord of Spite, and the door opened. Out stepped Durak. He stomped right down on the man trap, and it bent and snapped shut on his clawed foot. He ignored it, and walked with a clang for a while. His boars clopped out after him - big red-eyed monstrous ones. Durak took one look at the Mystic Mist and stood there motionless for a few seconds. Then he dispelled a big chunk of the Mystic Mist.

Once he'd done that, he and the boars advanced. One boar went left, one went right - with Durak, right at the PCs. Durak advanced slowly, with his club and stone axe in his hands. Then as he saw the array in front of him, he chuckled and said something in a language no one understood, and then spoke a vile utterance of some kind.

Everyone on the battlefield - it was a tight T-shaped hallway - had to roll Will against his power. Most of the orcs failed, and ranged from being merely deafended to stunned to being comatose . . . and at least one fell over clutching his chest. Mo and Hjalmarr dropped in comas. Vryce was deafened. Ike was deafened. Raggi and Hasdrubul as well. Dryst was fine - only he managed to resist, thanks to a Blocking spell Boost Intelligence, which upped his Will by 6.

Durak moved into melee. Dryst started to Great Haste people, starting with himself.

Meanwhile, one boar charged the PCs and another the orcs. The orcs, let's just sum it up by saying it wasn't pretty. None of them were able to fight back, and the ones most ready got rammed down by a demonic war boar and gored and slashed and trampled. In a few seconds, it rampaged through the orcs, killed the wizard (who had remained up, and starting casting), and then tore up the "musicians" (who had weapons out, but mostly had been incapacitated by the vile utterance.

On the PCs end, Raggi got charged by a boar. Vyrce feinted the Lord of Spite, won by a large margin (he was rolling amazing on feints - 18-19 point margins on his roll, leveraging his Two-Handed Sword-27), and went for two of the three skulls Durak wears on his neck. He hit with both, and shattered two of the skulls. Dryst's player quipped, "And we were afraid of this guy?" A second later, he smashed the third one. Hahah!

Nothing spectacular happened. They may be the secret to defeating him, as they learned from a sage, but they are clearly not the way to directly kill him. Likely, they're mitigating some problems he has or acting as an Achilles' Heel on some of his resistances and defenses and so on.

Durak fought back, but even his strong attacks didn't bother Vryce (who has a base Parry 20 and a heavy sword), but each club hit he parried caused a HT check from some reverberating force. Raggi, Great Hasted, took on a boar. He wounded it but got gored and went berserk. He took four swings at its skull, hitting all four times - but it Dodged all four. Vryce took a second to try and cut it up - he also being Great Hasted, and he sliced it a bit. Dryst hit it with a Stone Missile and injured it further. Hasdrubul shocked it with Lightning hoping to stun it (nope).

Durak took a step back and put down a Blackout spell over much of the area. Vryce ran back, knowing he needed to get out of the pitch darkness. Raggi kept fighting, swinging wildly in the dark while a boar attacked him. Dryst put Dark Vision on himself, then Vryce. Durak stepped up to attack Raggi, and clubbed him in the leg and chopped him in the arm. The club strike was a 3 - max damage critical - and he pulverized the left leg and kept going into the right leg and crippled it. The axe took Raggi's left arm off in a single swipe. Raggi fell, screaming in rage. The boar trampled him and moved in.

Vryce charged up. The casters kept casting or preparing spells. Brother Ike had been frantically casting Awaken every turn, but despite some good rolls Mo and Hjalmarr wouldn't wake up (lots of poor rolls by them).

Vryce and the Lord of Spite fought mano-y-mano (マンツーマン, if you don't speak Spanish) and inflicted a series of nasty cuts on him, thanks mostly to a nearly-ridiculous series of extremely good Feint rolls. He eventually managed to cut the boar down, too, just as the other one charged in after finishing the orcs.

Meanwhile, Mo and Hjalmarr woke up after another pair of Awaken spells - first Mo, then Hjalmarr. Both were deaf, and in the dark, but scrabbled for weapons to try to get up and fight. The board charged in and attacked them. Even Dryst got mixed up in the fight after getting too close, and the boar tried to slam him. He managed to block - despite its size and power, Dryst rolled a 3 and turned him aside and let him by. Mo knifed it from the ground as it gored him and ran him over, and Hjalmarr armed up with his axe once Dryst put Dark Vision on him. Somewhere around this time, Durak put Curse on Vryce, which went off went it turned a critical hit of his into a miss.

The boar eventually got taken down through sheer damage. It dropped and Durak was alone. He kept backing up, using his clear rear area to Retreat and his long arms to fight at the same distance as Vryce. Vryce rushed him and got hit with the club, knocking him backwards and over the corpse of one of the boars. He got up immmediately with his Great Haste. Mo and Hjalmarr joined Vryce, cautiously after seeing what happened, and moved in, backing off the Lord of Spite.

He kept backing off until he was in the doorway. Each time, he would set up with a Wait and force the PCs to advance to him, then Retreat to open up space after inflicting some mayhem (he got parried, but never missed a shot). Once in the doorway, Mo moved in on him with his demon hunter machete readied. Durak's weapons snapped out and his axe cut off Mo's arm (even average damage by Durak was enough to cause automatic dismemberment.) Hjalmarr moved up and Vryce as well.

At this time Hasdrubul - who had Dark Vision on - took Brother Ike's hand and led him through the darkness towards the fray, hoping to get him healing the injured, like now-unconscious Raggi.

In the stairwell, they were out of the darkness. The Lord of Spite was clearly horribly wounded - many slashes, lots of dripping ichor, very ragged looking. Still, he wasn't done. He fought Vryce for a few more seconds. Hjalmarr got pancaked into the wall inside the stairwell and went down, but not out. Mo moved him.

And the Lord of Spite stepped backwards off the landing into space, and fell to the bottom (visible with Dark Vision). He smashed into the ground, but got up seemingly not worse for wear, and walked off.

The PCs quickly got together and - despite everyone except Dryst being totally deaf (see below), managed to decide to pursue him. Dryst cast Walk on Air on everyone after they dragged Raggi into the stairwell along with his axe, healing him a few times, drank a few potions, and then closed the door. They moved down the air to the bottom, avoiding the difficult spiral stair climb down.

They meant to finish him.

At the bottom, they found only tiny obsidian chips from their previous fight. Mo motioned for them to follow him - he found the trail. It led right, then into a room. That room had a black glass hemisphere in the ceiling and some rat droppings, and the shattered bits of the man trap. They ignored it and moved on, finding a long room some distance later.

In it were a pack of ravenous maned rats, who charged en masse and attacked. There was a brawl, where the rats tried to overrun the PCs. Hasdrubul put up a small Spark Storm and Dryst threw Explosive Lightning to stun several of them. The fighters meleed them, taking a fair amount of damage from bites and spines, often getting surrounded on all sides. Mo smashed himself in the leg with his morningstar once, then dropped that and tried knifing them since it's easier to use a Reach C weapon at Reach C. In the end they carved them up, and Hjalmarr slammed his way out of the rats and into a corner where he and the lightning from the mages finished most of them off. One rat ran off, but Mo couldn't catch it and Vryce wasn't going to bother.

My only picture from the session:

In the room was a pair of double doors, maybe 18' across and that tall as well. They were decorated with rows and rows of pictographs of animals, birds, fish, weird symbols, etc. Someone had painted a big triangle on them with white paint.

They continued past the doors and out a corridor on the other side that Mo discovered by flinging a lightstone ahead.

They found another room, blocked off by a Force Dome. Hasdrubul cut an ingress and then, once they moved to the other side, an egress with Dispel Magic.

Down more corridor they reached a door. Dryst created a servant to deal with it, but it couldn't open it. It took a few tries but they forced it. Inside was a rectangular room with four doors, and the ichor seemed to go the left one. Mo forced that one, and a purple light limmed him - but did nothing. He felt briefly paralyzed, but that was all. Ike spotted the source - a purple disk on the ceiling. So Mo smashed it, and they went back to the open door.

Beyond it was a short corridor connecting to a cave. So in they went. Dryst put See Secrets on himself to investigate an "alcove" but found nothing (Which just goes to show you, words matter. I was trying to describe small dead-end bit of cave, but I said "alcove-like" and they decided they must investigate the alcove. Descriptions can be tough.)

They moved into the cave, which opened above them and to the sides. They decided to hug the right wall, then saw some glittering. A few coins?

A tossed light stone revealed a lot of scattered coins, but also a big pile of thousands upon thousands of coins. Silver, some gold, some gemstones, all topped with a stone head.

After some discussion ("Is this the demon-ape room? Is this the same demon-ape type in a new room? Is it an illusion?") they decided. They sent a servant to go and get treasure, and to check if the head was the top-end of a monster playing possum. Nope. It walked over, grabbed a cupped double handful out of the pile, and walked back, coins dribbling. It had a mix of silver with some gold and semi-precious stones in it. Meanwhile, Mo watched their back.

Hasdrubul heard a wet sloppy noise, but couldn't place it. A few moments later, they heard it - a gigantic hunting slime, all of 20-24 feet in diameter and a yard high - rushed them at 5-6 yards a second. Hjalmarr turned but had no where to go - it was simply too big to dodge. He took the slam on his shield, which hurt him a bit and stuck the monster to his shield. Vryce moved over and slashed it, and his sword had considerable trouble getting into the goop . . . and was stuck for 19 CP, exactly what he'd inflicted. The wizards hit it with Lightning and Fireball spells, for no effect.

Hjalmarr had a second to start ditching his shield, but didn't want to, and tried to break free. He got it partly loose, but then the slime oozed over him and Vryce. Within a few seconds, even as they struggled to break free, it started to envelope them. Mo, who'd seen the lightning flash, turned and rushed it, drawing and hurling alchemist's fire near it. Hasdrubul threw one into it - and it just stuck there, whole, unshattered, because slimes aren't hard surfaces. The slime started to suffocate Vryce and Hjalmarr and crush them, and move away. They successfully blew up the alchemist's fire with an Explosive Lightning spell, used Lend Energy to keep the FP of the suffocating guys up, and Dryst used Fast Fire to triple the burning speed (and thus damage) of the alchemist's fire. Mo accidently spiked himself in the foot with one flask and set himself on fire, but Extinguish Fire took care of that.

Eventually, the slime expired - but not before a really scary moment when it seemed like they'd die or, at least, need Flesh to Stone or Body of Air to preserve them or allow them to escape. Even as they finished this, Mo moved over with his axe choked up and started to carefully slice Vryce's face free so he could breath. It took some doing - it was very sticky, and slow work, and they were in deep. He got him free.

Dryst created another servant, intending to send him over to the pile with the first one for treasure. The first one he'd already dispatched to get the stone head this time. It had it, but was struggling with the weight and awkwardness (they're ST 9, DX 9). But then they heard a chuckle, and heard drag-stomp, drag-stomp, drag-stomp. The Lord of Spite was slowly walking up from deeper in the cave, from the far side of the treasure. He still looked very ragged, but not as bad as before, and he was armed and ready. He was walking just fast enough to overtake the servant.

Hasdrubul frantically started to get out the big Stone Book of Teleporting.

The original plan was, send a servant over, get Durak to look in it, and then grab the treasure and get out while the orcs deal with him. Realizing they couldn't fight him in this condition - and that Vryce and Hjalmarr would still be stuck when he closed in - Hasdrubul had a plan. He ran over, and started showing the book. First, the new servant. Gone. Then Vryce - gone. Then Hjalmarr, just after Mo freed his face. Gone.

Dryst next, as his servant with the head was casually double-amputated by the advancing Lord of Spite. Hasdrubul heard crawling clawing noises - Durak wasn't alone. He looked in the book, and it fell to his feet. Only Mo was left.

Mo tried to escape with the book. He grabbed it and ran. He made it as far as the Force Dome room, but one sprang up as he moved quickly through, boxing him in. Defeated, he sat down with the book on his lap and opened it up and looked in, hoping it would come with him. It didn't. He appeared in the room with the others.

Using a glow vial, they got themselves out, and then hiked the long way to the original fight scene. The orcs had brought reinforcements, and were dealing with the dead and mortally wounded and merely comatose orcs. They weren't happy. Mo touched the door with his right hand - nothing. His left? Worked. The door opened. Dryst belated tried to screen the orcs from seeing how it was done, but it was done before he said they should do so.

They found Raggi within, conscious, and he said, "What the hell happened?" They explained, a little, and helped carry him out along with his limbs and axe. They told the orcs, "We'll get him next time" and handed over a few hundred in coins. The orc leader on the scene said, "NO NEXT TIME!"

The PCs left, escorted out, and took that as a declaration of war. They limped back to town with a little bit of treasure, knowledge of where there is more, and a need for a lot of supplies.

After the other players left, Dryst's player busted out a universal charged scroll of Restoration and used it on Mo since it needs to be done within an hour of limb loss to work to reattach. It took three rolls (thanks to Luck) but he managed the 10 or less to reattach a lost limb. So Mo's arm is back on, but out of commission for one month.

Raggi lost one leg and one arm permanently, and had one arm crippled. He's got the resources to get healed back up, however, he doesn't have Instant Regeneration level cash around. So he's out for one month. That might not be an issue because of the delay before out next session, which might be a month.


So, maned rats, finally. Actually, this is the first time they've met them, having avoided the others through pure chance (and some pure "we're not going there"). So the first encounter with giant maned rats was with ravenous giant maned rats. I love that prefix. I wish I could remember if that was Sean's idea or mine. Doesn't matter, really.

Final tally - a few hundred silver, which was divided to the lower-point characters to ensure they hit their loot threshold. Yes, that's valid. Game-y, but valid, and not a viable long-run strategy.

I was actually surprised their plan sort-of worked. I set up, let them stack up, made the noise, and I made the rolls for the Lord of Spite, fairly sure we'd just move things along and they'd go down the stairs. The roll chance wasn't that great (witness the times it succeeded - once before - and failed - at least twice before) but the dice rolled quite low and that said, he's coming. So he came. Had the dice said no, they'd have had to go down. That might have been worse for them, maybe not, but it would have been way better for the orcs.

I think next time we have deafness, you'll have to write notes to talk to deaf players. Seriously. We had everyone deaf at one point, and this didn't interrupt total awareness of the battlefield. We had multiple people deaf at one point, including the tracker, and again, no issues. Out of game, they had full input on tactics, goals, yes-or-no decisions about actions, etc. in the usual play-by-committee approach my gaming group likes. So basically, it was a totally non-disadvantageous condition, and it should have been a problem. Much of that was meta-game discussion, but it was about in-game decisions - fight or flee, doors or tunnel, what to do this time based on what to do next time, etc. Either I need to swap in actually in-game dangerous conditions (Blindness, dizziness, illness, etc.) or enforce some actual rules on interacting with people who can't hear a sound over the roar in their heads.

So there doesn't seem to be a magical counter to the Coma condition. I ruled it was a -8 roll for Awaken, despite it being a mortal condition. -10 might have been fair, too. Stop Bleeding didn't make sense. I didn't have time to think through lingering effects - it might be fair to give someone who has had a coma ended early with magic a temporary penalty - say, Unfit for a period of time, or require a secondary HT roll to see if they suffer from lingering effects. Right now, it's not important, but I'll think on that. The GURPS Magic healing spells don't neatly blanket the conditions in GURPS Basic Set.

Speaking of spells, my players again argued that Gift of Tongues should be cheaper if it's increasing your ability. My view? Again, no. It's not increasing you from "None" to "Fluent," it's giving you Fluent. Some spells increase abilities, some apply new abilities. This is one of the latter, and the argument for changing it to the former is basically, we don't want to pay 6 energy. No, sorry, no.

We also had to fix Fast Fire, which has many issues, and I debuted (and modified) a change to Dispel Magic that worked just fine. Expect posts on those later this week. I'll have to play around with Spark Storm, which is one of those spells which makes other spells less attractive and useful. Sigh. Those windstorm spells . . .

Editing later:

XP: Dryst and Vryce got 1 xp each (a "clean run" - no deaths) and 0 xp for loot, the others, 1 and 4. Not enough exploration for 1 for that. MVP was Mo for trying to save the book.

I put up a post of pictures.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

DF session pre-summary

Good DF game today.

- big brawl with the Lord of Spite.

- Can you say "Consult the Limb Loss Sub-Table"? How about "Extreme Dismemberment"?

- a frenzied pursuit into the depths of the dungeon

- a glittering pile of treasure

- a really big slime

- the teleporting book is deployed

Summary tomorrow, probably late.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Where is this Dexterity in Melee & Arms Law Critical Hits from?

Five years back, I returned a copy of the AD&D Players Handbook to the uncle of mine who helped get me into gaming.

Today we're celebrating his 70th birthday.

Thinking about that, I pulled down his gaming binder off of my shelf - this one, covered with Monster Manual rub-on stickers:

Plus Snoopy, of course.

In it are the Basic Set, the Expert Set, a few choice pages and tables from the Holmes Basic Set, and chart after chart from Arm Law by Iron Crown Enterprises.

I don't recall using them that often, but I know he did use them.

I also found this neatly printed sheet:

It has some very interesting rules. First, the Dexterity in Melee rules. Instead of applying your Dex bonus to AC, you can apply some or all of it to offense. Second, you can apply some of your levels to apply a penalty to hit you, but then you attack at a lower level.

Second, you have a D&D-compatible way to use Arms Law.

I have no idea where these are from. My copy of Arms Law/Claw Law doesn't have it, and I'm not sure where he got his - they're copies, not originals. Maybe it was in the first edition.

Does anyone know? I copied them clearly enough to use them, but I have no idea where they're from. I'd really like to know. They're very clever rules, especially the Dexterity in Melee rules . . .

Friday, October 7, 2016

Power Score's Planescape Faction rundown

Sean over at Power Score did an excellent rundown on the Factions of Planescape, organizing all of the information about each from a large variety of canonical sources:

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Factions of Planescape

It's up to his usual standards of organizing information from different sources, and it's probably useful if you run Planescape. Me, I really like Planescape.

Planescape has such a "let's get those people who like Vampire: The Masquerade!" feel to it, though. The art, the very affected in-character-ish way the books are written, the typeface, the pastel colors and spiky bits everywhere. Even the factions have that Vampire feel - each has a name, cool powers, a nickname, an attitude that comes with it, etc.

But the concept of Planescape is very strong - belief affects everything. Belief defines everything, and the beliefs of enough people can shift planes and affect the world strong around them. That and the bit melting pot mix of Sigil - devils and demons rubbing shoulders with good-aligned adventurers and an explanation for every oddball mix - is a great adventuring base. Planescape: Torment does a good job of setting the scene and feel of the setting. So I'm always interested in reading more about it. That post highlights some the very play-driving detail that is out there for Planescape.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What gets the Amorphous Stone Meta-Trait?

Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3: Born of Myth & Magic, contains a new meta-trait that I wrote up.*

So, where to apply it?

In my games, it's applied much more broadly than just to Rock Trolls. In general, I give it to rock and stone types who I feel should be more worried about crushing damage that pulverizes them than cutting damage that slices them.

Here is the general breakdown I use for Homogenous beings:

Flesh: Homogenous

Wood: Homogenous

Stone: Amorphous Stone

Metal: Homogenous

Water, Slime, etc.: Homogenous

In other words, just stony, rocky beings. Not all of them, either. If I feel like their main weak point should be shattering, cracking, being broken to powder, etc. I give it to them.

For example:

Rock trolls have the Amorphous Stone meta-trait. So do stone golems. Obsidian golems have it as well. So do Obsidian jaguars.

But strange creatures like the living pit do not - they're not more likely to shatter, and for all of their rock-like features they aren't really rocks to be broken up. Earth elementals generally don't have this - they are earth, stone, clay, etc. all mixed together; they're more resistant to breakage than vulnerable to it.

If a stone creature write up has Fragile (Brittle) or a Vulnerability to Crushing damage, I'll use the trait for that creature. I'll generally replace the multiplier for Amorphous Stone with a stronger modifier if the creature has one - I won't add or multiple them.

Designer's Notes:

So this is how I always liked to run Homogenous in GURPS 4th edition. In 3rd, I used to put "No Cutting Multiplier" on monsters and give them Vulnerability to crushing damage. In 4th, I basically just ran the trait like it was Amorphous Stone on stone creatures. No longer was a sword the best way to kill people, cut down trees, and shiver stone golems. Crushing damage had a place.

That doesn't mean cutting damage is useless. In actual play, you'll see my games end up with clearly-stone creatures getting waxed by swordsmen but only damaged by crushing attacks. A good part of that is sheer damage. When the heavy fighter with the greatsword does 2x as much damage as the crushing weapon fighters, he's still going to kill many of them.

And I'm a lot harsher on "using the flat of your sword" for crushing damage. When that damage is in the 3d and 4d range, it seems likely to me the sword would suffer from the abuse more than it would make a better hammer than a hammer. So I roll for swords bending on heavy hits. By all means, cuff the hirelings with the flat of your sword . . . but smash stone golems with it at your own risk.

And this is slightly off-topic, but it's worth mentioning to my players - elemental shaping and destroying spells work on animate beings only if those beings possess a special vulnerability to them. Purify Air, Shape Earth, Earth to Air, Destroy Water, etc. - they do nothing except to beings that have a Weakness disadvantage that points them out. The spells may have a use against them but they aren't automatically converted into damaging spells. The caster won't know anything except that it failed to do anything - this is worth research and Recognition can help. After all, some beings are straight-up weak against those spells. But just because something is or could be Amorphous Stone doesn't meant Earth to Air is a damaging attack spell. It probably will just fail; save it for the inanimate rocks you face.

* With critically important support from Sean Punch.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Oops, not painted after all

The other day I was stocking my megadungeon and reviewing the areas I think are reasonably accessible to the PCs. Then, I went around and started the process of gathering my minis for the sessions.

After all, we play at a friend's house, so I can't keep the entire collection on hand. I need to cut it down to the ones I expect to use plus the emergency extras.*

I needed some fodder-types. I knew I'd gotten a few in my Bones set from Reaper. So I went to look for them.

I couldn't find them anywhere - not in any box, bag, case, or storage rack.

Until I found them in the worst of all possible places - the unpainted minis boxes.

So I hadn't painted them. I'd planned to, set them aside, and then never got back to them.

I started line-painting them this week.

"Line painting" is the term I learned for painting identical or nearly-identical mini, part by part, in series. So, all the flesh on all of the figures. Next, all of the armor. Next, all of the accessories. Etc.

I don't need the minis for the encounter. I don't even need them painted. I might not even have enough. But what's the point of having gotten these and kept them if I'm only going to have them unpainted and sitting in a box when I do deploy the NPCs they're meant to represent?

So, this week, on top of all the other things I have to do (it's a busy week for a lot of reasons), I have to get 8-10 minis painted and ready to play with on Sunday.

Good thing they're reasonable moderate detailed - not too fiddly, not so under-detailed that they look flat and trashy once paint brings out the lack.

I'm trying to keep this from distracting me from finishing up the stocking details. I have more than enough to play, but less than enough to make it really shine in play.

* Like the "Orc box." You never know when the delver-orc war will erupt. When it does, I have 60-70 orc minis handy, plus counters and Cardboard Heroes, and I can get the others for next time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Stock Block

Stock Block (noun, verb): the phenomenon where you're stocking a dungeon, and can't think of what should go in a particular keyed area.

"Room 10 is really stock blocking me."

Why yes, I am filling out some sections of my megadungeon. Why do you ask?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Why I write mostly positive reviews

Erik Tenkar has a nice post up today about the dearth of negative reviews of gaming products, and why.

That got me thinking about why I post generally positive reviews.

Partly, it's because I like to keep my blog positive. I don't want to engage in trash talking, arguing, dissing the things I dislike, etc. I want to engage in discussing play, examining rules, expressing my generally positive thoughts about my hobby, and shining a light on the things I enjoy. My reviews are like that - I want to tell you about things I like, in the hopes that they might be good and enjoyable for you, too.

The other reason is that it sucks to write a bad review. First, like Erik says, you have to slog through something bad. Then, to make it worse, you have to sit down and spend time writing about it. Even when I've given something the thumbs down, I try to explain why it wasn't for me and why it didn't fit what I wanted out of it. If possible, I want to highlight the good parts. But generally, it's easier to just say, nah, didn't like it so much, I'll put it aside and not go around saying how it wasn't so good. I want to save that bandwidth for things I do like.

Bryce Lynch's reviews over at are another reason I generally don't review the things I don't like. He reviewed a few Dungeon magazine adventures and panned them rather badly. Yet, in my experience, those were great adventures. One was so memorable that as long as I played with that group (Jack, Fred, Joe, Anthony) they never really stopped talking about it. The other was such a clever challenge that they really reveled in figuring out how to crack it. Yet, they got panned on a read-through review. So I keep that in mind - maybe I don't like it because it doesn't fit my taste, or I can't see the value in it. That doesn't make it bad. It's just bad for me. I might be missing how it actually plays out and the value it really brings to the table in the right circumstances. Does knowing it's bad for me help other people?

I also distinctly remember reviews that were dead wrong. There was one in Dragon magazine that looked at GURPS and said, basically, nice enough, but SJG can't support it with supplements. Yeah, and what is GURPS most famous for? A supplement for everything.

So with all of those things in mind, I write generally positive reviews. I want to highlight the good things I find in gaming and showcase them. So those are the kinds of reviews I write.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Random Felltower Notes

Just some random notes on Felltower today.

Return Missile and Invisibility

So I've been generous with Invisibility. I let you cast Missile spells and Melee spells and hold them and stay invisible (which is really bizarre given that some of these give off light, like a fireball). I'm not a jerk about how you somehow stay in formation and people don't run through your hex while you're invisible.

But I draw the line at places where you're effectively attacking in all but name. Casting Return Missile is an attack - the missile returns to hit the attacker thanks directly to your action. Casting any kind of hostile spell on someone, or even a non-hostile spell on an enemy, ends the spell. Lobbing grenades is an attack, even if it's not at any actual target. Otherwise, it's starting to be "avoid directly attacking someone or using damaging spells, and you can stay Invisible" - and that's making the spell even more valuable than it should be. Even in a dungeon full of folks that target by aura, smell, hearing, who can see invisible, sense vibrations, etc. I've already been a little too generous with the Missile and Melee spells, I don't want to extend that by saying any action that isn't based on one of the five Attack maneuvers or a spell that directly causes damage is somehow therefore not an attack. That way lies the non-DF version of the spell, which is too powerful for a combat-centered game.

And speaking of Return Missile, I'll stand by my ruling that you can't return lobbed grenades with it. You have to cast it on the target, not the missile, and you can't cast it on part of the target.


The players clearly found either a new level, or a new portion of the level with the trolls and Mungo. It's not really known to them which one.

This is because I never tell anyone which level they've arrived at. I don't use level numbers when I describe things, nor do I tell them when levels changed. This is deliberately because I:

- have some "half levels" that are just areas sunk below (or raised above) the level of the surrounding map level.

- have some sub-levels that don't connect to anything else, sometimes on the same depth more-or-less as other sub-levels they are remote from.

- want to leave the PCs unsure what's above or below them in terms of other levels (if I say you're on 2 and now it's 3, you're reasonably sure there isn't a 2.5, and stuff halfway is a sub-level)

- like to let the PCs decide how things fit together.

The place they got to was clearly deep (100-120' below the level they entered it from, which itself is down below the surface and then down some big stairs). That's all they know so far. Revealing it was really new wasn't a giveaway, they all knew it.

In a megadungeon, I think this has some serious merit - the more I define what things are, the more I'm telling the players not to look for the definitions themselves.

Have a Thought for the New Guys

For many, many sessions now, the PCs have been trying to find a way down to the deeper levels of the dungeon. Once they got the door open to the "Lord of Spite's room" (as they called it), they found stairs down.

Now, the veterans knew the stairs were there. They'd spotted them when the Lord of Spite came out of that door way back in Session 23, Felltower 15.

But they never really talked about them. I wasn't really sure if they'd remembered, so I never brought them up (hey, I run the game, I don't want to play the delvers with you.) The players who started after that had no idea. They knew it was a room with the Lord of Spite in it. They knew nothing of stairs behind it, as far as I know. So whenever discussions came up about stairs, this wasn't discussed.

Actually, that goes for other areas too - the vets "knew" where certain stairs or doors on the map went, and waved off investigation. Turns out they had discarded those prematurely.

This is for a good reason - you don't want to re-hash and re-explore everything when new people join. But it has a cost - you often end up blind to things you've chosen to write off that a new perspective can help on. I think it's worth keeping that in mind for any game - you have fresh eyes and a fresh perspective, use it, don't tell them what to ignore because you're ignoring it regardless of your reasons for ignoring it.


So I've been waiting for the PCs to find the big staircase down since, I don't know, a few years ago. Once they found it in Session 23, I thought they'd make the connections about how to open the door. They did not. I piled on some rumors, made sure there were people who knew the answer (they never sought them out or talked to the ones in the dungeons that did), ensured I wasn't being too opaque (I thought, anyway). What it finally took was a delver determined to push all buttons and touch all weird things to get the door open.

So, yeah, finally. All those discussions, all those "Can't we hire sages to find a new entrance to the dungeon?" All those "Why don't we just make servants and pickaxes and have them dig us a tunnel into Felltower from closer to town?" plans . . . yeah, I was just being patient and waiting for someone to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And be willing to take a risk.
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