Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Prepped minis - Iron Hills Dwarf and Conan

Okay, not actually Conan - but I bought a three-pack of barbarians just for this one guy because I think he looks like Conan.

They're prepped and mounted as is typical for me:

- inverted slotted base with the slot carved out with an x-acto knife just enough to wedge in the mini.

- super-glued down, then the base is filled with white glue and let dry.

- slot is filled with Golden Coarse Pumice Gel.

- Once glue dries the base is covered with Golden Coarse Pumice Gel to a uniform depth.

The dwarf on the left is from Iron Hills Dwarves II, and the barbarian on the right is from Elite Barbarian Raiders II

The axe on the barbarian is pretty thick - more than I like - but it's sturdy. I was considering up-arming the dwarf, but the sculpt is pretty tight so it's hard to find a good place to hand a crossbow, box of bolts, and a backup weapon, but he seems like that sort - "Yes, I have a two-handed weapon and a shield. And a sword. And a knife. And a crossbow. And if that doesn't work, check out these stompin' boots!" Oh well. As is he's battlefield ready. His shield is a Reaper Weapon Pack shield that I thought just looked nicer than the one he came with.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Cumulative Identify Penalty (& why I'm not going to use one)

Over on my post about Identifying Magic Items in GURPS, Archon Shiva had a good suggestion - a cumulative penalty for Analyze Magic.

If you follow the Seek spells, you're looking at a -1 per spell you have to ignore, which would suggest a -1 cumulative penalty. Item has three enchantments on it and you cast Analyze Magic at -0, -1, and -2.

If you go for a steeper penalty, like the Healing spells, it would be -3 per spell. So, 0, -3, and -6.

I'd probably make any failure end the process - you can't try any more on that item. Other casters can try with the same penalty since it's not cumulative per se, but ignoring known enchantments. You can tell them which ones to ignore but they'll still catch the difficulty of ignoring known spells. Again, much like the Seek spells.

For games where you want magic item identification to be difficult, this is probably the way to go. It's time consuming (1 hour base casting time), expensive (8 energy), has enough prerequisites that aren't on the path to much besides Analyze Magic . . . and would be penalized and failure would end the process for you.

Why I won't use this in my DF game is because I don't actually want magic item identification to be that difficult. Time consuming (30 minutes with Analyze Magic-20, which high point value wizards can easily reach), tiring (and thus means time sitting around waiting for Wandering Monsters), and occasionally fails adding to the same - that's all fine. But I want them ultimately to succeed and figure out what items do. The fear of cursed items and missing out on powers that take spells to identify before you can use them (Does X or Y on command, say) means it's still important. It's worth doing in the dungeon. But otherwise it's a mechanical process bound to succeed. It's something you can pay for in town.

When making decisions about game rules, you have to consider what you actually want. If you make something hard because "it should be hard," that's fine - but if you want it to be in-game hard but require it to happen, it's just a character point tax. People will pay it to make it happen. If you want it just not to be done at all, don't make it difficult, make it impossible - DF and PC enchantment of items, for example. No, you can't do that. Period. Done. Move on. If you want it to happen all the time but in a specific way, just set it up so that happens. Since my goal, ultimately, is to have people know what their items do but worry there are curses so you shouldn't just swing the random sword you found confident it'll be fine . . . I make identifying magic items pretty easy but not trivial. And once they're back in town and spend some money, I'll just pass off the info to them so I'm not tracking all of their item's secret powers. Your rules have to serve the game you want to have.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

DF Felltower: What Black Jans Isn't, and Is

Fairly early in Felltower's development as a campaign I added a powerful sorcerer NPC to town. This is obviously inspired by fiction, previous gaming, pretty much every video game, and all of my own prior game. "The big, powerful, and mysterious wizard" is a gaming staple. Far be it from me to rock the boat on that one, especially since I like that staple a lot. It's so useful as a GM.

But sometime it's annoying as can be to the GM, too. Once you've got a powerful wizard around, the players have a strong temptation to either depend on, or defer to, that powerful wizard. Whether you put in the wizard as a Player Smackdown NPC, some kind of GMPC, as a deux ex machina, or even just as an in-town shop ("Go to (A) the Armourer, (B) Black Jan's Magicke Shoppe, or (X) Exit Town") it's tempting to expand the role.

After all, if this guy is so tough, he could beat that dragon up. Or clear that tough room. Or loan us some magic items to do the job.

And if we can't think of anything to do, maybe that guy will hire us.

And if we gussy up this junk, maybe the wizard will buy it. He bought that one thing that one time, and that guy in that other game bought newt eyes, so this guy will buy these collector's item orc necklaces for sure!

My own Black Jans, Wizard of the Dark Marches, Seer of the Deep Sorrows, Archwizard of Kant, etc. etc. has occasionally been seen as more than he/she/it's intended to be.

So what isn't Black Jans for, and what is Black Jans for?

Black Jans Isn't

He/she/it isn't a provider of:

- quests

- spells

- information

- hints

- rumors

- higher prices

The common thread here is, Black Jans isn't driving the game. You can't just drop in and see if Black Jans needs stuff done. Or find out what special items he/she/it is looking for. Or ask to learn a spell. Or to try to dicker up the prices you got in town ("Hey, the cursed idol is only worth 1000 silver. How much would Black Jans pay for it?")

While Black Jans will buy weird magic items, cursed items still usable to curse someone ("Here, read this" or "Here is a present for no reason, look right at it as you open it close to your face!"), and so on, Jans is not really a magic shop. It's more like Black Jans is a justification for putting a monetary value on these items and explaining where they go.

After all, why would someone want a cursed scroll or potions of delusion? And once it's bought, how come we don't hear about someone in town getting warped into a slugbeast or jumping off a roof because they were sure they could fly? Black Jans is the answer - Cashamashian wizards are clearly jerks to each other, Cashamash is far away, and stuff that is purchased just goes off the map and out of play. So the reason that cursed idol is worth 1000 silver pieces is because that's what you can get for it - and it's either Black Jans or an agent of Black Jans making the offer. If I wanted the actual interaction, the buying price would be, "Go see Black Jans."

It's also important that Black Jans doesn't become a quest machine, because then I'm not offering up rewards for player-driven actions but instead driving play. Why should you ever set your own agenda if someone will set it for you and stack a reward on top for following it? Unless there is a cost, it's foolish not to do this.

Black Jans and any other powerful wizard could offer up incentives for the players to do things, but if the players can't ask, they can't take a "wait and see what Peter's NPC says we should do" approach on their direction. They need to just go and do things and let the rumor table tell them if there is a bonus for certain actions. And a possible cost.

A GM tip is embedded here - make sure quests come with rewards and costs if you want to drive players away from them. "Oh sure, Black Jans will give us something to do - but then we'll have to split the reasonable reward eight ways while Jans gets the artifact of ludicrous power and/or sale price!"

The other GM tip is to have a cost for annoying the wizard. Reaction Rolls are good here. I roll for Black Jans. You might get a +1 to +5 for bringing some cool item to his tower for sale, or get a -5 or worse for bringing junk or just trying to foist off something you could have sold in town but didn't like the price of. Roll badly, and you might get ejected without restraint, and suffer consequences from then forward. Flat out "I stopped by to see if you needed anything" is a roll for consequences ranging from a polite "no" to an impolite "get out." This shouldn't be so random it's a risk to try to sell something, but rather random enough that the reward for the correct approach is between good and great, and the reward for pushing it is from bad to worse.

Black Jans Is

- a justification for certain items having a sale price

- a way to get rid of certain items once they've served their purpose (which means, see if someone falls for the curse)

- a chance to get magic items now, if you can't be bothered with special orders

- a way to introduce weirdness or uniqueness from outside the play area

Like I said, this is why cursed items have a sale price. This is why you could, potentially, sell a Bell of D'Abo in town even though it's powerless anywhere but in the Lost City and of specific, limited use there. It's why this stuff goes away once you take the money.

It's also why I can say, yes, you can get that sword made Puissance +1 right now, for double cost, if I make the appearance roll for Black Jans's tower. I won't need to explain how that happens, because it's some powerful wizard who isn't always around, not a standard feature of the enchantment system.

And it's a way to potentially stick weird stuff into the game if I want to. This is just an establish background fact - weird wizards, towers that just show up and go away along with the terrain around them in totally reality-warping ways, odd cities you won't go to but which drive some action - to let me throw things in if I need them. It's a stub-end, an insertion point, and an explanation for the erratic and unpredictable nature of introductions. If I add something - new spells, new enchantments, weird races, whatever - Black Jans can be a source or just a prior example of the same. The world isn't just a static town with static stores - it's abstract but not unchanging.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Gamma Terra map update

andi jones put up an updated map for our GURPS Gamma World game on his blog:

Tomorrow Men, Update 1

and here is the updated close-in map below the cut:

Friday, January 27, 2017

That's a lot of S3

I re-organized my module collection this week, mostly because it had gotten out of hand in how out of order it was.

I think this is the item I have the most copies of:

I have three copies each of S1, S2, and S4, but that's two discrete copies and one in the collection. I'm pretty sure I have three copies of B2, only one especially intact (that one is mint, and a reprint). I have three of A3. I have duplicates of all of the As and the original and combined Ds and Gs, a couple copies of Q1, two copies of T1-4, maybe some more. Unlike my hardback AD&D books, I didn't ditch all but one copy.

But S3, yeah, that's the most. And I gave away a copy, as well - it was four discrete copies and the S1-4 compilation version. It could have been five but I passed up a copy because, well, I had so many already.

I'm not sure why this happened - I probably inherited some in collections on top of the one I had since 5th grade sometime.

Fun adventure, though, even if read it more than played it . . . if only because every DM in I grew up around insisted you couldn't have any of the weapons from it so the adventure "didn't count," which pushed down the enthusiasm. Ah, the good old days.

It would work easily with DF and GURPS, though - just assign weapons from Ultra-Tech to the various implements, laugh as people do 3d to robots and have the strikes bounce off, and enjoy. Hmm . . . I've mentioned that before . . . seriously, AD&D can do tech-and-magic, but GURPS natively does tech-and-magic. And rolls to see if you figure it out, even when the players say, "I just point and pull the trigger, it should be totally obvious to my TL3 guy how alien weapons work!" Roll, roll, roll, oops, you fail by 10+. Heh.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Magery detecting Magery

In my previous campaign, I changed up what Magery did.

Magic items were not detected on sight - although, by touching them, you could roll versus IQ to sense they were magical.

You could, however, Concentrate and make an IQ+Magery+Alertness+Acute Vision roll to see if someone had Magery. You couldn't tell if that someone had spells or not, but yes, you could detect aptitude for magic.

This was done to change the flavor of the game - make it more like "detect the gift of Magery" and less "scan those guys and see if they're toting magic items." Especially because "those guys" meant "I walk around the city looking for magic items."

Overall it went pretty well - magic items were detected with Mage Sight primarily. Magery was uncommon but the PCs could check and see if they faced wizards or not, especially in social settings. It was a bit of a power-up for Magery since a spell replaced the other power but it fit the specific campaign well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Identifying Magic Items in GURPS

So, yesterday I posted about identifying magic items in AD&D. I didn't even mention that you need Detect Magic to tell things are magical (unless the sword is flaming or lights up a 10' radius . . . probably.)

GURPS is a lot more generous. It has some of the same feel - you need time, effort, and specialized magic to tell what things do. But it is both vastly simplified in comparison and less harsh. And you just get straight up Per+Magery rolls to spot magic items; also there is a spell or two that'll do it for certain, if you want to avoid using your low Per or hit a whole bunch of magic items once. Also the Alchemy skill, plus some time and cost, will let you identify if an item is magic, but not what it does.


These are a little harder to identify. You can't just sip it. Well, you can, and take 10 seconds to analyze it, but any negative effects happen full bore on you right away. If it's a beneficial potion, you need to roll vs. Alchemy skill to identify it. The safe way is 4 hours and a kit.


You just read them and see what's on them, unless it's in code or a language you don't understand.

Other Magic Items

Use might reveal some effects, but the go-to is Analyze Magic. It's 8 to cast and takes 1 hour, and reveals the least powerful enchantment on it and if there is another after that. It's quite useful and reliable in a way that the AD&D spell Identify is neither.

I long ago house-ruled the reverse - it reveals the most powerful first. This made logical sense and meant temporary or minor enchantments didn't obscure powerful magic - the Puissance +1 on an object didn't conceal that it was a Loyal Weapon from an initial scan.

And that's pretty much it - look at or touch the item, read the scroll, use Alchemy on the potion, and cast Analyze Magic on items. Like I said, pretty straightforward. Still, I wanted to go back and check while I was thinking about the harshness of AD&D's admonitions.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Identifying magic items in AD&D 1st edition

My gamers and I were talking about 1st edition AD&D this weekend.

It made me think about magic item identification.

I know how we played it, basically:

- potions could be sipped and you'd find out what they do. If it was bad, that happened to you. If it was good, it was just identified.

- scrolls could be checked out by the appropriate class, and if it was a non-spell scroll the classes that could use it could figure it out. I don't think Read Magic was useful unless a module specifically said you needed it somewhere. No one memorized it, anyway, because it wasn't Magic Missile or Sleep.

- everything else had to be tried out. Once you tried it under some actual conditions (point the wand and try it on a target, use the sword, etc.) it would reveal its full stats. Everyone knew what they were anyway, it was just knowing what this one was, not how they worked in the game. Full detail - the wand has 17 charges, the ring has two wishes, the sword is +4 vs. reptiles even though you only hit an orc with it, etc.

- nobody cast Identify, ever.

- I probably allowed people to find out in town what things did if they didn't want to try them.

But how much of that was correct?

Turns out, I wasn't far off.


"As a general rule they should bear no identifying marks, so that the players must sample from each container in order to determine the nature of the liquid. However, even a small taste should suffice to identify a potion in some way - even if just a slight urge." - DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE, p. 125

I can't find anything about full effects from bad stuff. GURPS does that, I could be remembering backwards. AD&D was my first language but I've spoken GURPS longer.


Turns out, yeah, you do need Read Magic. It's totally clear that's the case, but like I said, we didn't play that way.

"Each scroll is written in its own magical cypher, so to understand what sort of scroll has been found the ability to read magic must be available. Once a scroll is read to determine its contents, a read magic will not be needed at a subsequent time to invoke the magic. Note that even a map will appear magical until the proper spell is used. Reading a scroll to find its contents does not invoke its magic unless it is a specially triggered curse. The latter scroll appears to be a scroll of any sort. It radiates no evil or special aura beyond the magical." - DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE, p. 127

Even maps? Come on, man. That's just being harsh over being logical.


"The ring must be put on and various things tried in order to find what it does. This requires patience on your part, but the game demands it." - DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE, p. 129

Ah, the fun of putting on a ring and asking, am I invisible? Let me jump up and see if it's a ring of flying, let me wish for something and see if I get it, let me try to command your horse and see if it's mammal control. No wonder we skipped ahead to finding out what it does, even though "the game demands it."

Rods, et al

The user isn't necessarily aware of the number of charges. Ah, the fun of using up the last fireball, and the fun of the DM needing to track everything.

That can be fun, I'll admit, but it's also GM workload, which I like to lighten.

Miscellaneous Magic Items

"Use care in revealing information regarding any item found by players. Describe an item only in the most general of terms, viz. wood, metal, cloth, leather, etc. Allow player questions to simulate visual and tactile examination. A cloak appears as a cloth object - only examination will reveal its form and probable nature. Likewise, do not simply blurt out the properties and powers of an item. It must be held, or worn, or whatever; and experiment and experience are the best determinators of magical qualities if some other means is not available (a bard, sage, commune spell, etc.)." - DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE, p. 136

Pretty much, use it and try stuff. But even more harsh! You're not even supposed to say, "You find a cloak." It's, "you find a cloth object." If they examine it you can reveal its form and probably nature. "It's a cloth item with a gather at one end and a hood-like attachment. It's possibly a cloak of some kind." Heh. Cut to my players knifing me when I start saying, "It's a metal object" when they find a sword.

Bard instruments are easily identifiable, maybe, as "Each and every instrument looks exactly alike due to powerful dweomers placed upon them." I wonder if that means they look like each other even though they aren't all the same instrument, or every Mac-Fuirmidh Cittern looks like another.

It never really says how you identify weapons or armor - presumably just as we did, which means put it on and start using it. There is a line about unknown properties, so presumably you conceal anything they can't see until it's revealed.

Of course, there are other ways to identify things, such as the Identify spell. Too bad it's unreliable and it messes you up for hours. I won't even quote the whole thing here. Suffice it to say that you lose 8 CON for using it, recoverable by rest, it only has a % chance of success, curses are even more concealed, you can't identify exact numbers of charges, and you have to make a saving throw-based roll for details on the item. Geez. But hey, if you powder a Luckstone you can get a +25%/+4 on it. Who ever did that? No wonder no one cast it. It's a wall of text that basically says, don't try this at home.

Sages can identify things, maybe (given sufficient time, money, and expertise), and Commune spells have a shot, too.

So I wasn't terribly far off, I was just not messing around with the actual "use it and find out" requiring "play out the using it." Just put on the Ring of Regeneration and start healing when you're hurt, swat the orc with the Axe +1 and find out it's +1, etc. Take your chances that it's a Cursed Berserker sword or a Ring of Delusion. And none of this "cloth object" stuff. Come on, it's a cloak! Tell them it's a cloak! Even if you make them put it on and jump around to see if it's a Cloak of the Manta Ray tell them it's a cloak.

Heh. No wonder I've had to unlearn so much in terms of attitude. I read the DMG young . . .

Dungeon Grappling available in Print

Quick news:

Dungeon Grappling is available in print:

Monday, January 23, 2017

Gamma Terra planning

Yesterday we played GURPS Gamma Terra for a 10th session yesterday.

Some plans emerged:

New Base!

I'm not sure if andi intended for us to react this way, but we decided to make this our new base. It was a logical jump. I asked, "Are we going to leave this intact?" (Meaning, or strip it for useable stuff?) and someone said, "We should at least take a few medical androids with us." It took about a microsecond for us to go from there to the logical end of "Why don't we bring our stuff here?"

It has:

- medical facilities (albeit without doctors)
- cooks
- ketchup
- R&R facilities
- shelter
- unlimited fresh water
- potentially food sources underground
- a parking bay
- its own power supply
- ability to generate ID badges for new arrivals
- and more

So we're going to move in.

Badder Diplomacy

They probably left when we whupped on them and their leader, but if not, we're going to swing by and try to find any Badders that live in the area and try to make peace with them. If that works, we'll have secured our interior a little better without any real cost, and hopefully set a precedent as a pan-sapient friendly area. That'll be a good contrast to:

- the mutant animal Napoleonists
- the humanoids-only Iron Men
- the pacifistic Triumvirate (they are friends, but we're not pacifists)
- the human and android Alt-Purists.

Food and Arms

Our two big concerns are food and arms. We have nice guns now, but we tend to put like 100 rounds downrange even in a short fight, and we'll run low. The Bunker has more when we let our friends out, but it's not unlimited, and it is unlikely to have full reloading facilities. We need to work on replacement ammo or finding better guns.

And as always, establishing a food supply will be needed before we can raise an army.

The Order

Our plan right now is to:

- take care of housekeeping with Mike Mike. Mike, hey, want to move? If not, just an update that we did.

- Check on the Badders.

- Move to the Robot Farm and see if we can hook up with them in a positive way.

After that, we need to start worrying about our neighbors. So trips to our local towns (Jackson, Lansing) and a nearby free city (Angel Hill). We think Staff Sgt "Newb" Neidermeyer is there, probably, if only because it's on the way to the nuked-out shell of Detroit. We'll need to step in and absorb those other 20th Homelanders into our group and negotiate with the locals.

 photo Gamma World Map 003s_zpsjqn99win.jpg

Also, we'll need to meet the Napoleonists (they might have another name, I'm trying to not confuse it with my out-of-game memorization of Gamma World books) and the Purists, who almost certainly have representatives there. We need to establish a relationship with them - maybe a non-aggression pact for a year or two? We also need to gauge who is stronger, so we can work against them. We have very little actual strength right now. We may need to make nice-nice with bribes, offers to get some work done for them (iffy), distract them with good diplomacy and outside problems, etc. With Warbot and our firepower we can trash a moderate-sized expeditionary force, so perhaps we need an offer backed with a show of force if they don't take the offer.

Lots to do, it should be fun.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

GURPS Gamma World, 20th Homeland - Session 10 - Unknown Area 3

We played session 10 of our Gamma Terra game today.

"Fatbox" (John M) - demo/EOD
"Hillbilly" (me) - medical specialist
"Momma's Boy" (Tom P) - computer programmer
"Princess" (Andy D) - cryptographer/sniper
"Short Bus" (Mike D) - computer programmer

Present but NPC'ed:
"Love Handles" (Vic L) - demo/EOD

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

We did some housekeeping to start this session. We'd set up in the old elevated highway second level we'd first encountered back in Session 1. From there, we spread out on some tasks:

- Princess worked on his Tracking and hunting-type skills, and is aiming to be our stalker/naturalist type. He learned about the local nature on his own and from the Bal'Kree.
- Short Bus worked on his mechanical and engineering skills, which I believe he leaned from Mike Mike.
- Momma's Boy went native, learning Bal'Kreenese, learning their history, and adjusting to their culture. He kicked in for Diplomacy.
- Fatbox moved in with Mike Mike and apprenticed with him, learning more Armoury skills and Machinist.
- Hillbilly got to fishing in the area, based on his half-remembered skills from a youth growing up fishing. He also studied under Mark VIII and some of the androids to learn to operate modern medical electronics, honed his Leadership skills, picked up some Bal'Kreenese.
All of us added Survival (Mutated Woodlands) as far as I know.

We also took care of some material development, too - brass catchers for our weapons, finally, despite our lack of lead and propellant. We forgot to do anything with our newly found armor from last session - the GM literally asked us, but I was in the middle of something and said, "Give us a moment" and when we finished we all forgot until much too late.

Once we got rolling, we loaded up Softie, our Warbot, with a couple weeks of food and some water and zipped down to Unknown Area 3 in her designated operational area. What we knew was simply that there was a buried high-energy power source.

When we got there we found that, buried under earth, was a rough T-shape of objects - a trio of end-to-end cylinders butting up against another structure.

We brute-forced our way in. Softie used her disintegration guns to clean most of the earth. We used our folding shovels to clear the rest of the dirt away from the the end of the cylinders. That turned out to be a long "bullet train" like series of wheeled vehicles, like Damnation Alley meets the shinkansen. Once we cleared out the back, we found a logo (a blue Earth, a WWII looking star, and a white circle with a red star, interlocked left to right) and the designation NADF MI-S17. North American Defense Forces, sure, but what? Military Intelligence, Secret 17? Something less awesome? (It would later turn out to be "Sector 17")

We tried to pry it open but failed. A few slices with the glass knife Hoopslayer free the jammed locks and we went in. Two cars of medical beds and gear, long ruined by age, and an engine car with no windows (robot-driven?) with two seats and no power.

So we dug into the structure. That was much more interesting. We found a buried structure.

As we uncovered what turned out to be a parking garage, some . . . things . . . attacked us. They looked like lobsters crossed with dragonflies, with curled proboscises. They flew out and attacked. We were really unprepared, with four of us digging and only Short Bus standing guard his his shield and M11 pistol. He started to fire, picked off two right away. Hillbilly had two get him just as he drew his SCAR-H, one grabbing his leg and one his face. Note to self: Wear gas mask more often. Princess was also grabbed, as was Momma's Boy.

Hillbilly tried to grab the one on his face, but despite his excellent Wrestling skill, he panicked and missed (SM-5, totally forgot to use Telegraphic Attack). A second later, the thing shoved its proboscis into Hillbilly's mouth.


So Hillbilly bit the proboscis off and grabbed the thing. A second later, he ripped it from his face and spit the snout out. Then he beat the other one to death with the one he was holding.

Momma's Boy pretty much did the same thing, minus the bite, then spiked his and drew his pistol and shot it.

Princess shot one off his own face, oddly choosing a 3-round burst. (His player didn't think, realistically, there should be any chance of hitting himself on a miss. Me, I think no one in their right mind would do that without pressing the gun against the thing and taking a single shot. It worked, though, which was pretty funny.)

The rest scattered after Fatbox cut one in half with his axe and Short Bus shot at least one more.

We finished clearing the doors. Its doors, once we disintegrated/dug to them, opened right away for us and we went in. We found a parking garage with two bubble-like golf cars and an inline tricycle with a motionless android near it. The android had a leaking fuel canister, and in the puddle at its feet grew glowing blue mushrooms. No radiation, at least not more than normal. Short Bus tried to jump start the android to no avail, and the vehicles wouldn't start.

We moved into the structure itself. We found a waiting area, some waiting rooms, and some beds. Also, an elevator room. We took the elevator, and stepped out into a reception area. We met androids in a well-lit area - probably Mark VI or VII - not quite up to the Mark VIII standard. No jokes, though, which was a welcome break. Mark VIII is nice, but geez, no. No more jokes.

We talked to the androids, and they recognized us right away as 20th Homeland. Ah, the joys of being PSHs. They told us we needed a full medical scan, followed by prescriptions for recovery - relaxation, medicine, surgery, whatever.

We went along, because the Ancients are our peeps. They brought us to a locker room and told us to take a medical badge (white, one red stripe) and put on these jump suits and canvas sneakers. ("Onesies" I called these things.)

We stripped down, and everyone tried to conceal weapons. Eventually Hillbilly decided he was going to ask for really thorough scanning so he pulled Hoopslayer out of his sock and put it in his locker. For the best, really - we eventually went do to medical scanning, and got the, "No, really, please disarm, we'll store your weapons in your locker" speech. Okay, okay, we did that. Not Short Bus, though, who told them our Colonel ordered him to be armed at all times. They couldn't prove that wasn't true - there is no outside communication - so that worked.

Once in medical scanning we all got checked out. Everyone passed easily, but we all showed signs of significant trauma healed well but leaving odd scarring and markings (i.e. the red tube healing), some nutrient deficiencies, stress, fatigue, etc. Hillbilly, of course, brought on special concerns.

A full scan of his eyes revealed no malignant issues, just an incredible rod density, reflective surfaces on the back of his eyes to catch light, and so on. Hillbilly asked about fixing this anyway. The androids said the human medical staff would have to make that call, they could not.

We got to explore the R&R areas. First, we hit the cafeteria. There they had plenty of very limited foodstuffs - the rest long ago spoiled, something like 300-400 years ago by their count. They did have some flour, some oils and condiments, crustacean-based protein powder (vanilla, banana, or maple bacon flavored), and water. We ate - Fatbox had protein powder and "Ketchup Soup" (100% ketchup), Momma's Boy got biscuits and dipped them in the maple bacon protein sludge, Hillbilly made them check there was no chocolate protein powder and then settled on maple bacon (horrible) and then banana (better), and I can't recall what the others ate.

We then checked out the other levels. We had a limited run, but found a media room (no media, the network was down), an "outdoor" area (actual trees, etc. groomed by Groundskeeper Willibots), a gym (which Hillbilly criticized for being too chrome-and-health club.*) Fatbox tried to summon security, because he needed to talk to them. They never came.

We explored the facility more, especially after Short Bus got access to a computer and then hacked his badge to be White/Red 3 from White/Red 1. With a more full (but not complete) run of the place we found a number of place:

- a cryogenics area, with folks frozen mostly for replacement parts or in an attempt to keep them alive post-burial of the facility. We swiped the administrator's actual White/Red 3 badge. The lab also had a big hole in the floor to a cave below.

- we couldn't get the computer room open - we need two keys.

- we found the incinerator, and the folded uniforms and white/red badges of the folks who'd died there. Something like eight hundred (800!) were trapped and died there.

- we found security was destroyed, and administration was buried and crushed.

Hillbilly had an idea. Still stinging from getting ignored as a non-human by some junky wall computer, he decided on a doctor's note. Basically, a scannable card or id marking that would say he had an eye injury but was otherwise in good health. That way future Ancient tech - at least much of it - would register him as a PSH. Eventually, though, getting the eyes fixed is the plan. We eventually got this done, thanks to Short Bus's administrator badge.

Once we'd had a fair run of the place, we headed down into the exposed caves.

That involved a lot of climbing, and eventually found us a winding cave system and some fast-flowing and fresh water. We also found:

- a placid watery cave with some beaver-otter critters the size of small dogs on the far side. We left them alone.

- an "ant lion hole" looking cave mouth down. Hillbilly climbed down, hooked off on rope. Once down, he found a gigantic underground lake. A thrown glowstick attracted fish ("Damn, I didn't bring a pole!"), some gull-sized bird-thing was gliding around, and a shouted "Hello down here!" just drove off some short-dwelling critter. Eventually, Hillbilly climbed up.

- We finally found another way up into the facility, into a storeroom we'd found blocked off by a collapse. In it, we saw three holes - two man-sized, one bigger.

We moved in, sure something waited in those holes for us. We were right.

Two things popped out of the smaller holes - half-spider, half-human torsoed things with half-human half-spider heads, one shield-and-spear armed, the other shield-and-android arm club armed. We called them Centorsos.

They attacked, and they were fast. Hillbilly shot at one with a 3-round burst ("Are you okay?" said the GM. Yeah, yeah, full auto when it's closer) and it dodged easily. It dodged a spray of shots by Momma's Boy's Mark 48. Short Bus put a round into it, wounding it.

They moved into melee. One stabbed Hillbilly and couldn't penetrate his armor. Hillbilly stepped back and shot 9 rounds at it, but it dodged the lot.

In the meantime, Short Bus shot the other one, as Momma's Boy, IIRC, and Fatbox's shotgun blasts were dodged. The wounded one tried to flee, and Princess tried to blow his head off and narrowly missed.

Out of the big hole popped a big Centorso, with two wooden clubs and two moose antler shields, nicely decorated. Hillbilly tried to shoot it and it blocked the shots. He went back to buttstocking the Centorso attacking him.

Momma's Boy shot at its legs, injuring it. It stared at Princess and gave him a migraine. Then it stared at Fatbox and he collapsed, throwing up violently. Hillbilly yelled, "plasma grenade it!"

Princess aimed. Momma's Boy wilted under a psychic assault but kept firing, getting a round into the big one. Hillbilly's buttstocking injured the Centorso he was fighting.

Princess fired, and blew the big Centorso's head open. It collapsed in a pile.

The buttstocked one tried to flee, even as the other one collapsed from wounds. Princess shot it in the back, killing it.

We ensured they were dead, then Hillbilly investigated the holes. Nothing but dead androids in one, nothing in the small ones.

We headed back into the facility and did actual R&R. I'm not sure what the others did, but Hillbilly showered, hit the sauna, got a shave and a haircut, hit the showers again, hit the sauna, and then showered and got lunch. And took a nap.

All of this done, we started to plan for next time. I'll detail those tomorrow.

* One of the other players said, "Don't be you, stay in character." "Hillbilly bought 2 points of ST and Very Fit and squatted back at base, he is just like me this way."


Overall, a low-action but very decision-intensive session. I like those a lot.

We had lots of weird jokes about sharks and bears.

This was Hillbilly's 10th session, I "level up" next time.

Possible more notes tomorrow, it's late . . .

Magic, Mass Combat, DF, and achieving Magical Superiority

Mark Langsdorf is running a fantasy Mass Combat based game. It's good and interesting reading. I'm reading it with great interest because I'd like to use Mass Combat in my gaming without forcing my players to play hex-and-counter or minis-and-rulers wargaming if they don't want to.

On his latest post, though, I put up a comment and realized I'd like to expand on it here.

"But if you don't have wizards and your opponent does, you'll lose even if you're the better general with more troops."

I find that to be true in tactical fights in GURPS, using GURPS Magic - there are too many "I can do this to you, and you can't stop me and can't recover from it" effects to magic. It doesn't take a lot of magic on one side to make it a decisive advantage, especially if the other side has none. That might not fit your game, but it does sound about right - one side has magic, one side does not, so the latter side loses the vast majority of the time. It's why, in my Felltower game, I made sure to spread magic around freely. Orcs and gnolls and so on don't have 1-2 spellcasters per 30-300 tribe members, they have dozens of minor workers so the PCs wizards need to counter them.

The in quotations marks line is his, the rest is mine. He's using a different magic system, so the rest of this commentary is not meant to imply anything about or apply to Mark's game in any way, shape, or form. I'm springboarding, here, not criticizing. I'm saying this so emphatically because I don't want to argue magic systems or criticize a clearly excellent campaign, I want to share my experiences with magic vs. no-magic in my game and discuss that.

I've mentioned this before - the whole "wizards, not shamans" bit.

I find that if you've got a proper mix of spells for a situation - which often means one well-chosen spell - you can nearly assure yourself of a victory.

Foe depends on missile weapons? Missile Shield.

Foe is undead? Turn Zombie, True Faith (with Turning).

Foe has low damage? Armor spell.

Foe has low skill? Blur.

Foe can't see in the dark? Blackout plus Dark Vision.

Foe has no reach and is vulnerable to missiles? Levitation or Flight.

Foe has a low Will? Any Mind Control spells, especially Madness.

Foe depends on close-in coordination? Spark Storm, Windstorm, Rain of Stones, Explosive Lightning or Explosive Fireball, etc.

It goes on and on from there. It changes if the foe has some magic support. Even a little bit of magic goes a long way. The difference between magical supremacy (magic vs. no magic) and magical superiority (magic vs. weak magic) is noticeable. The enemy might not be able to stop your magic with his magic - even with easier counterspelling - but he can apply his well-chosen spells to counter your advanages. Now your low-Will allies are vulnerable to Madness. Your melee fighters can't reach him without their own Levitation or Flight. Your lower-damage skilled guys can't penetrate his Armor spell. Your side-by-side "block for each other" fighter types are caught in Explosive Lightning blast radii when they throw them.

What often happens is the wizards start to angle to take out the other wizards - not only keeping them from influencing the fight against you, but effectively keeping you from influencing the fight against them until you pull off your plan. The foe having wizards tempts the "bust our fast guy through and have him solo charge the mages!" strategy, which can be fatal (or at least take your best guy out while he tries.)

So yes, in my experience, magical supremacy is huge. It can be decisive even with inferior numbers. It's like being the only side in a fight with air support or artillery or firearms, only more so because so many effects can be literally unstoppable or without effective mundane counters.

GM Takeaway - Put lots of magic-using foes in, even minor ones, to effectively challenge DF parties in particular but any spellcasting fantasy PCs in general.

Player Takeaway - Don't depend on magical supremacy to win fights. Enjoy it when you get it, but don't panic when it's not there no expect it to be the basis of all of your combats. Bring as much magic as you can, learn to use it well, and know that it's a two-way street.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The next batch of minis

These guys came today. No time to prep and prime them, sadly, but maybe if this mild winter keeps up I will get time to do a few.

Mostly Hundred Years War era infantry. Mostly.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Revised GURPS Magic: Quick March (rough draft)

Back when we played around in the Lost City, the Quick March spell was considered to speed up travel through the jungles. It was eventually rejected.

It seems like a nice spell, but no one uses it, because "double daily movement rate" combined with "must sleep 8 hours" is a real drag. To be effective you need at least 1 ally who has twice the movement rate of the slowest PC and who can skip out on 8 hours of sleep. Not only that, it lacks built-in effects for a lot of traits that should affect this - Very Fit, Less Sleep, etc.

Another big problem is Haste. A wizard with Haste-15 can reliably boost an entire small party's Move up +1 and maintain it forever. No additional FP loss, either. So you end up with people calculating the estimated overall travel time and then trying to split off time with Haste instead of Quick March. In DF level terms, that's a better choice and less costly in lost time.

Here is a rough draft pass at how to revise it.

Quick March

Doubles a subject's long-distance travel speed. At the end of the day's march, the subject loses 8 FP in addition to the normal FP loss for encumbered travel. This additional FP loss can only be recovered by sleeping, at a rate of 1 FP per hour. Subjects with Doesn't Sleep are awake, but must rest quietly to recover. Subjects that neither have nor expend FP don't lose any FP, not do they need to sleep, but cost to cast is doubled.

Duration: 1 day's march (maximum of 12 hours marching, or 24 hours from casting time, whichever comes first.)
Cost: 4. Double cost on subjects that neither have nor expend FP.


It's possible to consider this FP loss as a physical effect, in which case Very Fit should halve the cost. I'd phrase that as "This is physical effort; Very Fit halves this normally. FP can only be recovered by sleep, at a rate of 1 per hour."

At least at first glance, this seems about right - costs you +8 FP, need 8 hours sleep to recover it all, even if you normally don't need 8 hours of sleep. You can stay away with Doesn't Sleep but you can't ignore the effects of the spell. You can push on with sufficient FP (like our Druid who was like 18) but eventually it'll catch up to you.

A caveat restricting this from being used on vehicles, etc. - maybe it only works on willing, sapient subjects - would prevent the "Quick March Zombie army" or "Speed Your Wagon" effect without the need for doubling costs for those subjects.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review: UK3 The Gauntlet

This is a review of the second half of a paired set of modules - UK2 The Sentinel and UK3 The Gauntlet.

For more, see my reviews page.

By Graeme Morris
Published 1984 by TSR
32 pages plus tri-fold folder cover (with monster roster and maps)
$6.00 in PDF

UK3 The Gauntlet is a sequel to UK3 The Sentinel. In this adventure, the PCs who recovered the Sentinel in the previous adventure (or in a mini-version of it, if you want to skip right to UK3) have to seize a castle in the mountains held by forces carrying the Gauntlet, an evil mirror of the sentient good artifact.

The PCs have to assault the castle, but thanks to their artifact can bypass some of the defenses. Also, the chaotic evil forces that hold the castle are pretty lackadaisical - and many of them are drunk, in what is the only use of the AD&D intoxication rules I remember coming across.

Once in the castle, the PCs have an issue - their foe holes up in a hidey-hole and an army, led by a giant, comes to the castle to retrieve his kidnapped daughter (all part of the evil bad guy's plan). The PCs need to repel and assault and then figure a way out of the mess they've fought their way into. There is a pretty clear way out but many options are open if the PCs care to try alternatives.

Like the previous adventure, the keep feels lived in. Drunk guards, long-abandoned areas, interesting monsters (again, lots of Fiend Folio here), nice touches on the foes to make them memorable beyond just some HP without making them into true characters (mostly) . . . the adventure areas just feel natural and unforced.

Great, useful touches are a set of maps that depict the keep from outside and above with the giant's army unit paths, an army organization table with cross-out boxed for casualties with monster stats on the same page directly above it, and useful and actually effective battle tactics by the giant.

Like the previous adventure, the art is good, plentiful, and useful.

Nice touches in this adventure - in both, really, but more noticeable here - is that backstory more or less emerges from play. Where the PCs in the first adventure can succeed without really getting the who, where, and why of the previous adventure, in this one it is both more important and easier to discover.

War Stories

As I mentioned in my review of UK2 The Sentinel, this module figured into a few campaigns. In my last GURPS game, we had some very memorable moments in both adventures. This one in particular, though, had some great moments, high and low. Lows include a PC getting killed when he made a foolish tactical choice in a fight with some gnolls; the next session his player brought a new PC who I had them discover as a prisoner. That one promptly died in the very next room fighting an ogre. Sigh. The big mass combat brawl was exciting, with PCs using magic from the murder holes, fending off the flying attackers (I swapped in giant ravens and orcs riding hippogriffs) from the roof and from within the keep, and one half-ogre PC holding the door against incoming orcs (swapped in for the hobgoblins) all by himself. It was really exciting and memorable.

The PCs handled negotiations with the giant - named only Bloodfire in the module, named Bloodfire Vorsthammer in my game (and his daughter, Moldred Vorsthammer*) - quite well. They talked (everyone does eventually), they freed his daughter, and they sent him on his way. The final resolution with The Gauntlet was also quite cool, and the PCs held on to the remnants of the Gauntlet stuck with the PCs for a long, long time until they traded them to a powerful wizard for timely help.

Really, this adventure had a great impact on the game I launched with it. I love the mixed aspect - assault the fortress, hold the fortress, deal with a deadline and a puzzle combined with deadly combat. It's a lot more tightly focused than The Sentinel in that it's almost entirely within a single structure, but it plays well and feels like the logical conclusion of the combined adventure.

How is this for GURPS?

Like UK2, this one rolls fine with GURPS. It takes conversion but again, for a moderate-point fantasy party (mine was 150 points in 3e terms) it's challenging without being murder to complete.

Overall: This and its predecessor are a couple of my favorite adventures of all time. I highly recommend checking them out - they read well and play even better than they read. Highly recommended.

* Moldred coming from Frank Zappa, who suggested that as a name to Howard Stern when the radio host was having a daughter. The name stuck with me forever, so, I had this giant name his daughter Moldred.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review: UK2 The Sentinel

Periodically I like to review game materials I really enjoyed. This is the first of a paired set - UK2 The Sentinel and UK3 The Gauntlet. Part II should go up tomorrow, time permitting.

For more, please see my reviews page.

By Graeme Morris
Published 1983 by TSR
32 pages plus tri-fold folder cover (with monster roster and maps)
$6.00 in PDF

UK2 The Sentinel is one of the UK-originated AD&D adventures. The entire UK line plus the U line and some of the I series were from UK-based writers, many are marked with the UK flag, and they all have an interesting flavor.

This adventure concerns a village harassed by skulks - sneaky murderers from the Fiend Folio. By attempting to track it down the PCs get to trek around a small hex-mapped area around the villages in the area, and find it's a little more complicated than find-and-whack-the-monster.

The adventure has a lot of features associated with the UK series - a wilderness with both wilderness and dungeon encounters, lots of short encounters that connect directly or tangentially to the main task, and a lived-in feeling to the areas. By lived-in I mean you often encounters places in transition. A monster lair with the original monsters evicted. Another dungeon area with a mix of monsters interacting. Some abandoned areas with touches that make them feel like people have been around. Ultimately the adventure is about getting an artifact called The Sentinel and heading off to part II of the adventure, UK3 The Gauntlet. There is a way to hand off the artifact to an NPC if they aren't interested (or just avoid the task to enjoy using The Sentinel.

While the module does appear to be a railroad, it doesn't play like one. The PCs get a mission, and if they follow up on the clear path ahead, each step will take them to the next. It doesn't feel forced, it feels logical, progressive, and driven by player decisions.

It's full of monsters from the Fiend Folio - skulks, xvarts, symbiotic jellies, sheet phantoms, and more, plus two related unique ones (which I haven't seen anywhere) the Presence and Whisps. They're portable and interesting but not easily so - they're monsters you can't easily just drop in because you rolled up a random encounter. There are more typical monsters, but back in the day it was refreshing to get some FF monsters in adventures.

One especially interesting aspect to this adventure is that you pretty much pick up and get to use a sentient magical item with its own quest. It has unique and interesting powers, and you do get some of them temporarily and some of the permanently if you follow through on the adventure path.
It's really interesting and well set up, and combines a plot with lots of player-directed action that is pulled along by the plot instead of driven in front of it.

There is a lot of good, useful art - it's appropriate and depicts the contents and personalities of the encounter areas. I'm not sure who did it - but it's a UL artist and the potential foe Lavinia and her sons really have a 2000 AD look. The skulk and Detrak, especially, resemble Fink Angel. When I've run the module I've inevitably used the pictures to show what the PCs see.

War Stories

This is one of my favorite adventures. I played through them multiple times, at least once end-to-end with 1st edition AD&D (twice, if I recall correctly), played parts of it for a solo PC (also with AD&D), twice with GURPS (1st edition and then 3rd edition). Three of those times it was the beginning of a long campaign or featured very prominently in the campaign.

None of the players complained of being forced anywhere - mostly, they'd be so eager to follow the next clue it was hard to get in the intermediary encounters (a trade caravan, a monk who needs help) without the PCs trying to just rush by and get to the "real mission."

A couple of PCs in my games carried The Sentinel, and in my last game items picked up in this adventure and the sequel influenced play for years.

I'd use this again and again except close to 100% of my current group has been through this at least once.

How is it for GURPS?

This is flat-out one of the best adventures for GURPS. Fights are appropriately sized for a small group. They aren't just masses of fodder with masses of HP but generally are interesting encounters. It would be rough with DF unless you upgunned it a lot, but for lower-point fantasy PCs, it would suit them as-is.

Overall: One of my favorites, and I'll expand on more when I review UK3. An excellent adventure that reads a bit like it'll be either too loose or too tightly scripted but actually plays as a smooth player-driven quest. Well balanced for AD&D, and a lot of fun.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Moldleaf (S&W Light)

This is my Swords & Wizardry Light PC. I'll update this as we go.


Magic User
Level 2

INT 16
WIS 10
CHA 10

AC 11 (None, plus Ring of Protection)
Save 15 (+2 vs. Magic)
HP 7

Number of Delves: 2

Spells Known: Charm Person, Detect Magic, Sleep

Silvered Dagger (1d6-1)
Backpack, bedroll, flint and steel, 5 torches (burn 1 hr and shed light 30’), 50’ Rope, crowbar, 7 days rations, and a water skin
Ring of Protection +1
Scroll of Magic Missile
Scroll of Invisibility, Strength
2 unknown potions
3 daggers
Dagger of Liberace

50 sp
88 gp
2 glass "gems"

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Traits for Town," for Stericksburg

I'm thinking of making some of the "Traits for Town" from Sean Punch's excellent article (reprinted in the Pyramid issue Dungeon Fantasy Collected, discussed here) in my game.

Some of them seem very useful and relevant for PCs with points to spend and annoyances to avoid. Although "town" is just a series of rolls in my game, punctuated with color to make it a weird mishmash of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories told second-hand plus "Another Day, Another Dungeon," video game towns, and one-upsmanship jokes about Raggi and/or Dryst's Create Servant abuse, these traits can help. Mostly because they really do spin the focus from what you'd expect - focus on town - to the DF standard - focus on the dungeon itself.

Here are ones I think are especially useful in Stericksburg, although I'm open to arguments for specific others from my players if they like them.

Claim to Hospitality already exists; it's possible to get it for Stericksburg. You do have to name the inn you stay at or the association or family you're working for, though, under pain of me naming it for you. Heh.

Legal Enforcement Powers is also fine. Both levels - Town Watchman and King's Man - make sense in this game. The second is probably overkill, but if you really want to spend 15 points to make ration expenses a thing of the past, you're welcome to do so. Naturally, you can't requisition Elven or Dwarven rations. The first level is a good deal, though - 5 points, as long as you don't do "work"-like actions you get paid enough to cover basic upkeep, and the ability to do a shakedown for cash with weapon skills augmented by a complementary skill roll.

Thinking of using weapon skills for shakedowns, I'd probably force you to float that to the worse of DX or IQ, on the assumption that you need smarts to know who to do it to and agility to pull it off. That's slightly more complicated but it seems appropriate. Still for most of the PCs this is a 15-20!

Legal Immunity is only really worth it in my game if you're seriously going to attempt criminal acts every time in town and expect to roll badly occasionally. Skippable.

Rank is priced appropriately and I'd allow it as written. I'm not sure how useful it would be. One issue I'd see with this is that players will want to leverage rank to sell things in town even when it's inappropriate - "Can I fence this jewelry to the Thieves' Guild for extra cash based on Rank? How about this Wand of Destruction and that owlbear pelt? No? Then the wizard will sell those to the Guild and use his bonus!" Broadening it would make it more useful, but then it'll trample over Wealth. Mostly useful for a bonus to rolls with your own in-group and the professional discounts. Allowed but make sure you're really benefiting here without arguing that your barbarian tribe or church or whatever wants to buy used orc swords at a higher than market rate. Where this overlaps with DF17, we'll use DF17.

Reputation works as written and already exists; it provides a bonus to all rolls in town in Stericksburg. Yes, all of them, unless it's not an effect roll (+1 on the rumor table = why, exactly?) or really bizarre (like spell rolls). This one you need to earn, though, not just buy - kill the dragon, then buy Dragonslayer - which keeps the heroic PCs more heroic.

Status doesn't give you anything that ignoring town except as color does not already. We enforce no consequences for either wandering around town in armor or armed, or wandering around without any. The other effects are cheaper on their own. Skippable.

Tenure is a good deal, but implies a lot more acceptance in society than I think is funny. So I don't plan on using this.

So if you like town more than Survival rolls to live outdoors in the Birdbear Woods, but want more bonuses and less consequences to actions, take a look at these. I'm open to the ones I rejected if one of my players can make a case that it is useful and appropriate to their PC without turning the focus to town. Town is just a way to explain all the stuff we do outside of adventuring. We may do an urban fantasy game someday, do a "serious" game that involves town with real consequences again - and may even do that using Stericksburg. But for now, this should suffice to make town more interesting or less annoying with just a few points.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

B-Team S&W Light, Session 1 - Idi and the Cowbell

Last night we got the band back together. Doug, Tim, and I played Swords & Wizardry Light under the GMing of Erik Tenkar.

Tim's summary: We Achieved More Cowbell!
Erik's comments: Last Night the "B" Team Playtested Swords & Wizardry Extra Light & an Adventure I am Finishing Up

Doug's comments on SWEL: B-Team Makes Friends

Moldleaf, Elf Magic-User 1 (me)
Bertrum, Halfling Fighter 1 (Tim Shorts)
Doug's Ranger, Elf Ranger 1 (Douglas Cole)

We started in a town whose name I forget. We'd done some caravan guard work together and ended up in a small town that thrives on trade. However, they were seeking adventurers to deal with a problem - some goblins were raiding caravans and they wanted it to stop. A local hunter could lead us to a cave with some double doors in it that the goblins would spew out of, but no one would join us.

We talked to the mayor and he gave us the job. We asked for cash and they offered 25 gp each plus 50 if we completed the job, or a healing potion each, two vials of holy water, a silvered dagger, and an unidentified potion left behind in the local bar by some adventurers who'd presumably skipped out on their tab. We took those, with the ranger swiping the holy water, me the dagger, Bertrum the potion.

We got to the cave and found a pair of double doors with writing in dwarvish, which Bertrum could read. It read "Prince Calishan Lays In Rest Here." They were slightly open, enough for a goblin to squeeze through. Bertrum peered through and saw a sleeping goblin next to a cowbell. He moved in and shot him with an arrow, briefly stirring him before the goblin went silent. We grabbed his stuff and his cowbell, which I dual-wielded with my silvered dagger.

We found a door and heard noises beyond it. Bertrum opened it, because he's clearly impatient. Inside were goblins rolling dice and drinking ("I want to run an elf!" said our Ranger, who is clearly very meta.) As we gawked at each other, an ogre burst out of a nearby room.

So I threw Charm Person on him. He rolled a 1 on his saving throw. I'm not even sure Charm Person should work on him but, hey, natural 1.

We got to talking. I tried to convince him that his goblins were holding out on him, with our Ranger throwing some coins to the floor when the ogre picked up and shook a goblin empty. He spotted the drop, though, and assumed we were offering him money as tribute, just like the goblins. Bertrum palmed one of the coins and gave it to him again, and we were friends.

The ogre - we found out him name was Idi Ipaowagh (thanks to a random name generated) and started calling him Idi Ogremin. He basically said they live by raiding caravans, hunting, and oh by avoiding the "walking bones" that come out and walk around sometimes. I told him one of them had obviously killed their guard-goblin, and he bought that.

We got him to come with us to clean out the "walking bones" in return for treasure. We found some of both. Behind a pair of heavy dwarven doors that Idi yanked open for us (instead of out "goblin," Bertrum) we found a crypt. We moved past six doors to the obvious main crypt door and opened it. Inside was a coffin with a ghoul. It popped out after Bertrum forced it open and attacked. Idi was terrified of the ghoul, despite my best efforts to get him to move in. Bertrum slashed the ghoul, and then our ranger doused it with holy water, melting it into goo.

We looted it of some silver, a well-made axe claimed by our ranger, some gems (they'd turn out to be glass), and a little gold.

Of course, that's when five of the doors opened and out came skeleton dwarves with bits of armor and flesh on them, wielding halberds. We held the doorway, with our halfling in front and Idi cowering in the back. I rang the cowbell, hoping the goblins would come help. Nope.

We fought the skeletons, with Moldleaf spending half of the time trying to convince Idi to help and the other half swinging uselessly (I was rolling badly). Bertrum got taken down to 0 HP but was able to drink a potion to stay alive, even as our ranger finished off the skeletons.

We investigated the cells the dwarves came from, and the one that none came from. There we found a statue of a dwarf. We investigated and found a secret door and opened it, thanks to careful checking.

Beyond was another, better crypt. I bamboozled Idi into opening the crypt by saying it was too heavy for our "goblin" (who'd impressed him by destroying the walking bones) and it was full of treasure. He popped it open and out popped a wight.

It didn't last. We won initiative (I started rolling very well) and Idi punched it and did 5 damage. I went next and threw my silver dagger, and rolled a natural 20 and a natural 6 (-1 for a small weapon) and did 5 more. It had 10 HP, and dropped.

Idi was deeply impressed that he killed the wight. "You did! I saw it!" I said. We congratulated him and scooped out some treasure. This included a ring (I put it on), a shield (the ranger took that), a sword that detect elves (halfing took that, it worked, he found two of us), and some money. Oh, and a gold chalice with dried blood in it and crazy writing all over it. We gave that to Idi. "You drink from this?" he said. "Yeah, yeah, drink the blood of a sacrificial victim and become a cursed wight" said our ranger.

From there we found another chapel with 15-20 "walking bones" in it. Seemed like a big useless fight. So we closed the doors and spiked them shut.

So, then what?

Idi was pretty happy with his money, proud of himself for killing walking bones (which terrified him still), and wanted no part of fighting those bones that still were around. He started talking about having money that he could use to buy stuff, maybe set up a brewery. We equally had no interest in fighting him because he could kick our butts. So we made a deal. He and his goblins don't kill anyone and the caravans will give him some tribute. He keeps the road nearby safe for the caravans so they're happy to pay him.

Bertrum: "So we're turning the ogre good?"
Tenkar: "Maybe not good, but profitable."

Not Good But Profitable is the new B-Team motto. It should be the Tavern motto.

We headed back to town and met the mayor. At first, he was less impressed that we "solved the ogre's problems." "Solved the ogre problem?" "No, the OGRE'S problems."

It took some talking, but he went from, "Hey, you didn't solve our problem" to "hey, we have an ogre and some goblins who guard our road for us." I suggested that if the mayor and the ogre came to terms, they could set a nice toll, split the take, and keep the road safe. And how many mayors have an ogre working for them? The kicker was that Idi is illiterate (probably) so he couldn't read any contract he signed, leaving the town lots of wiggle room.

We got some gold for a reward and moved on, having solved the problem of the ogre in a manner I wasn't originally expecting.

And yes, we ended up with a cowbell. Enough for BOC or a One Way Ticket to Hell (And Back).


Why yes, Moldleaf is a Goldleaf reference.

Overall, it was a good session. We took a little time to get started because of the usual issues of starting new PCs in a new situation, and not having all gamed together since 2015.

I made my guy on the spot, with a series of terrible rolls and one good one. Lucky for me, this wasn't actually an issue since stats give a bonus or nothing.

Once we got going it was really good. SWL is easy enough - close enough to S&W to require close to no rules lookups or adjustment (beyond d6 HP magic-users, say), it's short enough to find everything, and if you rely on the DM to make binding decisions on situations as they occur it's enough. I can see the use of the system - pocket sized, little to remember, almost nothing to read, great for "let's play an RPG right now."

I actually had a few issues knowing what to do with Charm Person once it worked. It succeeded beyond my reasonable hopes and I wasn't really prepared for that. It went from "turn the enemies against each other" to "get their big leader killed against some powerful foes" to "Hey, this ogre is an okay guy, let's work out our differences." I can be ruthless and kill-happy but mostly I just want to solve the problem.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Revised GURPS Magic: Mass Zombie

Here is another spell I revised/tweaked/changed for my personal DF game.

So we have a wizard in my game who uses zombies and the Zombie spell. He'd like to get Mass Zombie but it requires Charisma 2+.

I get why - it's at least partly a legacy issue. Way, way, way back when that spell rolled out, it required Charisma 2+ or Strong Will 2+. But Strong Will 2 has no meaning in 4th edition GURPS, since Will is a secondary characteristic and not just your IQ plus or minus the effects of advantages. Therefore that got axed.

What we're left with is a spell most useful for misanthropic people-hating skeleton-loving death wizards but only likeable ones can learn it. Amusing to no end, but I'd like an alternative that doesn't involve Shortcut to Power. Or involve using a specific template (or Deathliness, DF9, p. 15) in order to have wizards with Mass Zombie.

Lucky for us, there is a way out - Talents. The Thanatologist (PU3, p. 16) talent has the right combination of cost (5/level, same as Charisma), effect (bonuses to mostly death-related skills), and flavor.*


Mass Zombie

As written, except:

Prerequisites: Zombie and either Charisma 2+ or Thanatologist 2+ (See Power-Ups 3, p. 16)

And that's that. Wizards and Evil Clerics and Unholy Warriors can add Thanatologist to their list of Power-Ups. Limit 4 levels.

* Just as an aside, it's worth considering if the alternate benefit of that talent - the bonus to certain Fright Checks - is worth trading back out for the reaction bonuses. Which fits better - the death-focused wizard is less frightened by scary undead? Or the scary undead like the wizard better? Tough call, and one I'm not prepared to make without talking to my players face-to-face. After all, they're both logical effects - "Ghosts love Gerry! He should talk to them." and "Everyone make a Fright Check from seeing the zombie spewing maggots all over Hjalmarr! Gerry gets a +2, it's nothing he hadn't seen before from the Lunch Lady Zombie from the Black College." Both would be too much, I think, unless you halved them (+1 to each per 2 levels.)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Our Rarely-Used GURPS DF Rules and Rulings

DF has a number of little rules and rulings in the various books. We use many of them regularly - whether as-written or heavily modified for simplicity.

There are some things, though, that don't come up in play. In the same mind as the easily forgotten GURPS rules, here are the ones I can find, with page references in Dungeon Fantasy 2.

Dungeon Parkour (DF2, p. 7) comes up in part - jumping, climbing - but most of the rest is the rarely/never category: balancing, diving, leg up, squeezing, skidding, etc. Much of this is me - I don't put a lot of such obstacles in my games. More of it probably my players - they'll use Levitate, or they'll avoid the obstacle entirely because some of the PCs/NPCs can't reliably transit it. I do need to put more elements in my dungeons that require such methods to get around. Speed is Armor! (DF2, p. 12) falls into this same category, but mostly because folks go heavy-armor more than light armor with Acrobatics. Even our one Swashbuckler and one of our Martial Artists wore the heaviest armor possible, so there wasn't much in the way of points placed in Acrobatics.

Trickery (DF2, p. 10) is rarely used. Mostly people either negotiate or fight, but no one really specializes in trickery. Some of the players are quite clever and can spin a believable tale, but built PCs who can't back that up ("I'm sure with Bad Temper and Easy to Read and Truthfulness I can default Fast-Talk and convince them we're their gods! Cast Gift of Tongues on me!") I suspected this is why "Good (Three-Headed) Doggie!" doesn't get used, either. We don't have that kind of druid.

"Onward to Victory!" (DF2, p. 11) has come up maybe once? But yeah, giving advice with Tactics is rare. Giving folks a bonus vs. Fright Checks or Mind Control with Leadership has never come up.

Last Ditch (DF2, p. 15) has never come up. None of it - Seeking Guidance, Praying, or conversion of altars. Even the former Rogue and NetHack players haven't tried this.

I'm pointing these out as a combination of just reflecting on my game, reminding my players what exists and is expected to be tried by PCs in the game, and for my own benefit.

Clearly, I need to have more places to balance or climb and scissoring blades to dive through, though. That's for sure.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tales from Froissart (the Past is a Foreign Country)

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."
- L.P. Hartley

Thanks to Black Gate, I discovered these:

Tales from Froissart

They're translated from French - the common language of the nobility at the time, as far as I understand it. They're not complete, but the snippets are interesting.

Reading Medieval history can be entertaining for its own sake. But it's also useful for gaming. It's a good reminder that it's not just a lower-technology present. It's socially different on a scale that can be difficult to grasp. They'll use the same words we do ("ally" or "King" or "God's Will") and have a very different meaning. Ally - does it mean friend or enemy of your enemy? How powerful is a King (absolute rulers were a thing of the further past and closer present, not of the time)? Is "God's Will" they were saying with real meaning and not just as a handwavy explanation of why they won or lost?

How they act is equally interesting.

Do you run to help your ostensible ally in a battle against your foe, but in order to do so risk getting less credit than he for the victory? Sometimes the answer is no.

Do you win the battle but then surrender to your foes? Sometimes yes, because your foe's allies might be more worrisome than the guys you just whupped.

A King helping his fellow King out of the rightness of the cause - does he also expect to get paid for the help? Sometimes yes - seems like always yes.

I consciously game in a modern-informed faux-medieval world. More Renaissance than Medieval, honestly, because I find more connection to the dawning modern world. Players, too.

If you're beaten in a fight and your foe claims your weapons, armor, horse, and asks for a ransom, do you cheerfully pay it and think, "Next time by the Grace of God it'll be my victory!"? Or do you write his name down on your character sheet and think, "I'll get my stuff back and double-murder his corpse!"? If the latter, you're probably assuming a more modern mindset for the game.

If you assume war is groups marching around seeking to force battle or cities as prizes, with social disorder rising up as the war grinds on, armies raised and falling as money and season permits, you're probably in line with these tales. If you assume a war has two sides, front lines, and orderly safe rear areas behind organized and orderly professional armies, you're probably assuming a more modern world.

That's just a couple of examples - read enough of the Tales from Froissart and you'll find plenty of places where you'd probably act differently as a PC than they are said to have acted in reality. It's a different world now. But if you're going to have some medieval in your faux-medieval, this is a readable and quickly readable source for some of what they valued enough to write down.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tabletop lessons from Borderlands 2

I've played a lot of Borderlands 2. In fact, my XBOX 360's main purpose in life is as a Borderlands 2 device. Well, and it's a better DVD player than my 17-year old DVD player, but still.

I realized the other day I learned a lot about playing tabletop RPGs from Borderlands 2. Also, that lessons I learned from tabletop RPG GMing applied well to playing this video game.

Count Shots that Hit, Not Shots Taken

I mean, in the sense of, your main concern should be hitting, not making every shot count. A shot that misses isn't a shot that's wasted. It's just a shot. Don't worry about it. Fire it and think about getting some more ammo later.


- getting a shot downrange.

- making it count.

In that order. The time to make individual shots count is when you're down to last round, not every single one. Taking single aimed shots is great, but only if you're hitting with a lot of them.

In tabletop games this is pretty much advice to make sure you're concentrating on the job at hand (killing monsters, defeating the foe, etc.) first and economizing the cost of doing so later. If you start worrying about the economy, you risk not getting the first done. Throwing 3d Fireball spells built up one point at a time for free in GURPS is great. But not if it leaves a target alive to do more damage (or get away, or expend its consumables you could've looted, etc.) than if you'd plunked down a 9d and paid for it. Do cost-benefit if you must, but don't worry only about cost and call it the main benefit.

Don't die with consumables.

I've seen this in tabletop games. Famously, we had an effective TPK (everyone dead or captured by slavers) where the PCs inventoried their stuff after. Here is this strength potion I didn't drink, this healing potion I didn't use, these magic doodads I didn't expend.

We had one campaign nearly end with one-shot divination items I'd handed out left unused. I think they got used up the next-to-last session just to use them up.

When my health bar is running low in Borderlands 2, I pretty much start mashing the grenade button. Got 6? Throwing 6. Got 12? Throwing 12, if I can. I'm not going down without grenades on the way out. I don't stop shooting - no one ever died with a pile of ammo and said, great, at least I had all of this ammo when I died. It would have sucked to have died anyway but used up some ammo in the process.

You can see this in Gamma Terra - I throw grenades, fire full-ROF when I need the bonus to hit for laying down a carpet of lead, and otherwise use, use, use combat consumables. I fire them like mad because I'm not going down because I didn't put down enough death to keep from getting killed.

If things are looking bleak, I've learned, use up everything.

Oh, and don't save your weakest attack for your backup. If you're keeping a card up your sleeve, it better be an ace. All too often I've seen people hold back someone weak-but-consumable and then use it when the game is on the line. "We're losing to this army of vampire lich-trolls? Damn, time to throw down my Onyx Dog and crack this statue that summons an orc!" If you're not sure if the one-shot Item of Destruction is a nuke or a firecracker, assume it's a firecracker. Players in my games will recall the Black Javelin, which was unidentifiable but everyone that checked it out said, "This is really potent. No idea what it does. But I'd say throw it far when you throw it." That one was for all intents and purposes a nuke.

This has fed back and forth between the tabletop and the game for me.

Game Design Should Encourage the Game You Want

In Borderlands 2, you pretty much fight things and loot them. It's not even remotely possible to get through the game peacefully. Most missions involve killing ("murder" is how it's appropriately labeled), destruction, and combat. The ones that don't explain backstory that will want to make you destroy and kill. Not only that, but the game rewards moving towards the action.

So what happens when you run out of HP?

You go into "Fight for Your Life" mode. You start to die, you slow down, the screen goes dim . . . but you're not dead yet.

You have a timer before you actually die and re-spawn (which costs in in-game money to pay for the respawn service.) If, before that timer goes off, you kill something - you snap back to halfway healed and full shields. This means when you are nearly dead you are strongly incentivized to run to combat instead of from combat.

As a game-design element, Second Wind is brilliant. The game encourages you, when things get rough, to get rougher. I've actually tactically let myself die so I can get full shields back when I kill the next guy. I've left a weak foe alive so I could have it in reserve to Second Wind off of. You don't even take damage in this mode, so yeah, I keep the heaviest, nastiest rocket launcher I can on tap and use that at point blank range to Second Wind.

I'm not saying, steal that outright for tabletop games, but you could. The main thing I learned is that game design gives you the flavor of the game. If getting killed was final, I'd be a lot cagier and careful. I'd take less risks. When hurt, I'd move away from combat instead of towards it. You want your game rules slanted towards encouraging people to do the things that make the game interesting. It doesn't have to be risk-free (GURPS makes combat risky, for sure) but it does have to give the players a positive reason to do it (GURPS combat is interesting and rewarding to play out). Putting treasure in the dungeons with the monsters the original example of this. Why go into dungeons and fight monsters? Well, it's fun, and the in-game rewards you need are in there! It's a twofer.

There, I just justified all of that time I spent Gunzerking.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Review: Dungeon Grappling

Periodically I review gaming materials, generally ones I liked. This is one of them. I'm not an unbiased reviewer - I'm a contributor, playtester, and I backed this on the Kickstarter. I was in on the original idea (something like, "we need GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling for S&W using just the existing stats" which lead to the original article that Doug took, expanded, rewrote, revised, and otherwise re-did into this expanded book. It's spun off, partly, from the author's Dragon Heresy project, and it's a good sign of things to come.

If you like reviews, please see my reviews page.

by Douglas Cole
Released in 2017 by Gaming Ballistic
48 pages
$15 in POD Softcover, $7.25 in PDF

Grappling is pretty awesome.

"Bonegnasher had the monster in a deadly hug, right arm crushing its windpipe, left its ribs. It was supposed to have the strength of a dozen natural leopards. In Bonegnasher's arms it was helpless. The Taken laughed, took a bite from its left shoulder."
- Glen Cook, The Black Company, p. 269

Grappling in D&D-based games, though, generally has not been awesome. From the odd mini-game like subsystems of AD&D to the "use at your PCs own risk" system of Swords & Wizardry, grappling hasn't really been that great.

Enter Dungeon Grappling. This is a supplement for retro-clone sets (centered on Swords & Wizardry), Pathfinder, and D&D5.

Pretty much what this book does is change grappling from either a yes/no option (you're grappled, you're not) or a complex subsystem (roll on the grappling table!) and integrate it the basic attack/effect rolls of the underlying systems. It works like so:

- Roll to hit, if you do:
- Roll effect.
- Compare the total amount of grappling effect you inflicted (much as you'd roll damage for a strike) to the target's Control Maximum,
- Determine the effect on the target.

For example, Swords & Wizardry's system uses the HP of the target to determine how much control you need. 10 HP? 10 Control Maximum (although there is another system that is based on size and HD, if you prefer - both work seamlessly with the system). Inflicted, say, between 1/4 HP and 1/2 HP on the target? The table says you have "Grappled" the target. This causes certain penalties on the target, all logical ones (movement and agility is limited, for example) and all appropriate to the system.

If even that seems too complex for you, there is a way to bypass the math of comparing your effect roll to the target's CM and just inflict conditions directly. This, too, works smoothly and easily.

There are also a series of rules you can use to turn that grapple into something more than just a hold for penalties - the Grappling Techniques chapter. These include throws, locks, chokes, using the grapple to get extra damage (pull the guy onto your sword!), wrench something out of your foe's grasp, etc. It covers dragging someone around and getting dragged around. Spells that inflict grapple-like conditions are also integrated into the system.

Using this will take some work. While there are examples and tables to speed it along, any monster that grapples and any PC that does that same (or is grappled) need to have their grappling effect (damage roll, basically) determined, a CM generated (if not just using HP), and tactics thought out. It is more complex than the systems in place for most games. However, it also makes those grappling situations more interesting, in my play experience, and doesn't cause a slowdown of play out of proportion to the extra interest it brings along. It's 52 pages, but it covers multiple systems so it's not adding as much weight of rules as you might think given the length.

Visually, the book is very attractive. The art is full-color and plentiful. It just looks nice. Not only that, but it's layered in the PDF - you can turn off the art and text to make an easily readable and ink/toner-saving printout.

Overall, this is a great product and it is very attractively done. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Towers of Stericksburg

I was perusing The Black Gate the other day and saw a post about the towers of Bologna.

Visiting the Two Towers in Bologna

Stericksburg actually has this same architectural feature, but I haven't discussed it much here. The wealthy prefer towers with second-floor entrances accessed by ladders, external stairs, and/or magic. This is originally for defensive reasons, but it also has an aesthetic element.

As such, the tower of Black Jans that comes and goes isn't that strange in that it's a tower in a faux-medieval city full of houses. It's that it comes and goes, is accessed by streets that aren't there when it's not there, and that first floor entrance that it has. That's a statement of power, right there - yes, I have a front door. Sure, you can come in. No, I'm not concerned you might cause trouble.

This clearly says that Black Jans is powerful. Of course, it might also say that the wizards of Cashamash aren't worried about peasant rebellions or hostile townsmen rioting so much as being able to get into any perhaps out of their towers quickly. Cashamash is a weird place.

The Felltower - city-with-towers connection wasn't really deliberate. I had that idea in my head since I'd encounterd it in history books and Glen Cook's Instrumentalities of the Night series. And then I went and blatantly stole all of Douglas Cole's names and ideas incorporated some influences from various sources for my megadungeon and it seemed to become a theme. Towers. It's a game of towers.

Observers might notice there were no towers in the Cold Fens, which is true. It didn't seem to come up there although the PCs didn't really explore the flooded swamp or the distant ruins within it very much. There were towers in the Lost City of D'Abo, though, which connected quite directly with themes and elements of Felltower . . . no need for Hidden Lore (Towers) or anything, but it's worth keeping an eye on such structures as they may not be purely coincidental choices of design. So while this is largely just an element of color for the game world, it's consistent with the non-color encounter areas that the PCs have interacted with.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

You had me at "White Plume Mountain"

Okay, I need another copy of White Plume Mountain like I need another hole in my head.*

But Wizards is coming out with a hardback that combines a number of adventures I don't own (Dead in Thay, Sunless Citadel, Forge of Fury) plus White Plume Mountain, converted to D&D5.

Okay, I'm in.

I've read mostly "meh" reactions and strongly negative ones . . . but hey, there is stuff I loved for 1st edition in there. I'm curious how it will read for 5th edition. I'd like to see the re-done maps and art. So yeah, sign me up for the Yawning Portal:

The price is a bit steep, but hey, White Plume Mountain.

I'm still not sure what I'll do with WPM. I'd like to run it for my group straight-up with S&W, or AD&D 1st edition, or something of that sort, just because I'd like to share the experience. It's a funhouse, with the emphasis on fun. But if a 5th edition version comes out and it's good, maybe I can run it with that. That would be new for all of us, and 5th runs pretty smoothly. I could convert it to GURPS, but part of the enjoyment for me is the nostalgia of the original unfiltered by my conversions.

We'll see.

* "That would have worked if you hadn't stopped me."
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