Saturday, March 31, 2018

Dungeon Alphabet / Monster Alphabet - arrived!

These arrived today:

I've had the PDFs for a while, but I wanted to read these cover to cover hardback. Now I can start!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Random Notes & Post Links 3/30

Random Notes

- One of the players in my game wants to get the "gorgon" skull - the stone bull skull - converted to a horned helmet. Lucky for me, I already did the thinking I needed to do on this and put it in DFD Barbarians. Whew.

- We did some game material playtesting recently, and we're going to pick it up again. Maybe. It seems like the PCs are going to just end up in an extended, running battle for survival until they fail. So I'm not sure it's worth picking back up. But if my players are interested, we'll add that to the game roster until we've finished it.

- I've had zero time to paint. Well, a little time, but zero energy when it's come time to paint. I'm hoping to clear out some dedicated painting time, however, because I have some things that need paint before they hit the table. The PCs are getting close to a few . . .

Blog Post Links

I'd like to highlight two monster posts:

James Holloway is doing a design-a-monster contest.

Charles Saeger set % in lair, number appearing, and treasure suggestions for the monsters in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. Nice. I might have done it differently, but he actually did it, which is the most important thing. Plus, 2dx10 is a reasonable way to deploy dinomen.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Spellcasters, Spells "On" and Energy - small addition

The latest post of Ostarys' Tactics is very useful for running spellcasters in the DFRPG:

Spellcasters: Managing Energy Points

It's great advice and very useful for people running spellcasters who aren't really conversant with the tricks and methods of the trade.

It does leave out the issue of "spells on," however.

"A spell that costs 2 looks twice as expensive than a spell that costs 1, but if your skill is 15-19, you can cast the second one all day long, but the first one only about a dozen times. Abuse free spells, they are your best trait."

Very, very true - and important.

But one little addendum:

Remember "Spells On."

Every spell that counts as a "Spell On" may be free to cast, but the only person you're spamming with them is yourself. Flaming Weapon on 10 guys is 0 to maintain at skill 15, but it's -9 to cast on the last guy and -10 to all of your other spells.

Offensive spells are generally superior for casting over and over. Frostbite. Low-point Missile spells. Mental Stun and Stun. Spells you can cast, see what happens, and move on.

Don't get so caught up in "free" that you forget about cumulative penalties. Your overall ability to function is limited by multiple spells on, but not by free spells you deal out over and over to disrupt foes.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Living dungeon features|

During last session, the players heard a rumor about Living Pits (DFM3) being just one of many living "things."

Living walls.

Living doors.

"Living stairs!" said Hamilcar's player.

What else makes good living, threatening dungeon features?

Living ceilings are just lurker aboves, and floors are trappers.

Living rooms?

Living elevator rooms?

Living 5 degree slopes? Perhaps the slope just moves around, slanting the dungeon.

Living wells?

Living dungeon decor is all-too-common - statues, hostile furniture, gargoyles - but living features, I don't know. Did I miss any?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

DF Session 100 pictures

Here are some pics my players put up on Instagram from last session:

We killed two of these and took one of the heads. #Felltower

A post shared by Hjalmarr Holgerson (@hjalmarrholgerson) on

Worth noting, you can follow #Felltower and follow Hjalmarr's Instagram. #Felltower gets spammed with people posting from some name-stealing English castle that doesn't seem to have any orcs at all! That's just messed up.

Monday, March 26, 2018

DF Felltower, Session 100, Felltower 72 - Stone Bulls & Teleporters

March 25th, 2018

Weather: Moderately cold, clear and sunny.

Aldwyn, human knight (254 points)
Hamilcar Barca, human wizard (255 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (351 points)
     Brother Ike, human initiate (160 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (379 points)
Red Raggi Ragnarsson, human berserker (?? points)

The group gathered in Stericksburg, gathering rumors and stocking up on potions, scrolls, gems of healing, and other assorted gear. They decided to head into the dungeon and down to the "apartment complex," also known as the bottom level of the giant staircase. For some reason, this took a long time to get done - we were in slow-motion when it came to game prep today.

They proceeded to the dungeon, Mo smacking the statue of Sterick in the face, Hamilcar spitting on it, possibly others doing so as well. It'll crack soon.

They climbed the walls of the castle and went down through the trapdoor in the fallen tower. They went straight to the second level, directly to the stairs down, and opened up the door and headed in and down. They made it to the bottom. Once again, they tried to figure out what's setting off the "click" they keep hearing. Mo probed ahead with a 10' pole with a lightstone suspended from it. Same thing - click, clunk of a door closing, nothing else. They're still unable to determine what's doing this.

From there they made a right and started moving towards the "colored door" area where they fought the golden swordsmen. On the way, though, they heard a scrape-scrape, scrape-scrape from ahead. They backed up and got ready. It turned out to be a big black pudding. It rushed them and attacked. Hamilcar tried to Fireball it but it was unharmed and flashed silvery when it was hit. Raggi, Mo, and Hjalmarr got around it and began to hack it up as it smashed into them. It took Mo down and shuffled on top of him. They eventually managed to hack it to death after inflicting many hundreds of points of basic damage to it. Puddings are tough.

They moved on and found the area they wished to explore. They started check the doors. They tried to open a blue one that wasn't locked but was stuck. They skipped that one and moved on. They searched a couple of other rooms, and re-found the room they'd looted when they defeated the golden swordsmen. They also found one with a yellow door. Mo tried to force it but it he felt a sharp pain and had to pull away. Hamilcar stepped up and casted Dispel Magic on the door - which then disappeared!

In its place were three one-yard pools of yellowish slime! The slime began to ooze towards the PCs - at Move 0.05. They backed off and Hamilcar put down a hex of Create Fire and backed it with Fast Fire. Mo threw down alchemist's fire. The slime just steadily moved through, impervious to fire - as usual. The PCs basically backed off, with Mo trying to lure the slime to chase him. The slimes just followed the closest group and then the largest group. Mo ran into the now-open room and Hjalmarr leaped over the slime and came to help. With the others backed off at a yard every 20 seconds to avoid the slime, they searched the room. All it held was a chain leading into a hole in the ceiling. Mo grabbed it by the end, backed off toward the door, and pulled. Whiiiiiffffftttt! Darts flew out into him and Hjalmarr - aimed at the doorway, not the chain-puller. The darts were armor-piercing and flaked with now-dry poison but were deflected or dodged.

The others explored another room full of cots. Nothing other than those were found.

The PCs lured the slime off a bit, and then quickly ran to a new area. The found a big door ("barn door sized") that wasn't locked and could be swung either direction. Mo briefly considered using Tracking but decided not the waste time, what with the slimes in slow but steady pursuit. They forced the door and moved in.

Inside was a farm-y smell, and two iron statues of gigantic bulls! They weren't statues, however, but huge metal-covered bulls. They rushed the PCs, who waited in the short hall that lead into the large room. Each of them moved up close and breathed a strange gas - which turned Raggi to stone and nearly petrified Mo! Hjalmarr was turned to stone a moment later, after slashing and wounding one of the bulls. Mo side-shuffled and smashed one of the bulls on the skull with a massive morningstar shot - and it bounced off harmlessly. A moment later it breathed again and he was stone. The bull tipped over his statue (revenge!) and moved on. Ike was furiously casting Stone to Flesh but it takes 5 seconds.

Aldwyn moved up and stuck one of the stone bulls - as they're called - and cut it badly, driving it Berserk! But moments later he was stone, too, as the other bull breathed on him.

The berserk bull charged toward Ike and Hamilcar, who tossed a Fireball only to have it explode harmlessly on the heavily-armored bull. He managed to cast another, larger Fireball - a 6d - but was gored by a stone bull and mortally wounded. He dropped the fireball harmlessly and fell unconscious, impaled on one of the horns and stuck on it.

The other stone bull rushed Ike, and knocked him over and trampled him just as he finished casting Stone to Flesh on Hjalmarr. He made with Will roll and his spell roll, and Hjalmarr was un-petrified. He was stunned, and it took a few seconds to become unstunned.

Meanwhile, the berserk stone bull attacked the nearest target - the other stone bull! They began to gore each other, with Hamilcar still stuck between them. This eventually drove the second bull berserk. Poor Ike was stuck in a corner, under the rear hooves of one of the bulls, getting trampled almost every second. Somehow, the damage rolls were low and we was able to stay alive on conscious. Hjalmarr turned, dropped Shieldslayer, drew another axe and hurled it, wounding one of the bulls. He snapped up Shieldslayer and began to advance. Then he stepped close and with two swift chops decapitated one of the bulls. The other tried to gore him but failed (actually I rolled - on a 1-2 breath, 3-6 gore. I rolled a 3. The players were surprised, as they believed that Berserk meant they couldn't use their breath weapon. Well, why not?)

Hjalmarr hacked the remaining bull to death.

They painfully turned everyone back to flesh, using the bulls as shields against the slimes - who moved in and started feasting (slowly) on the bulls. Hjalmarr cut one open looking for loot but didn't find any. Ike was able to heal everyone and restore the petrified but it took a lot of HP and thus healing potions and gems to restore him.

They crossed the slime-covered bulls by way of the stone feeding trough as a bridge. They moved further into unknown areas and found a couple of rooms, and then some caves. Eventually they realized they'd linked up the map.

Low on gear and time, they decided to check the blue door again then go home.

They used their Transparency potion on the door and saw some bedding and bones. So they forced the door open, finally, and went in. They found some furs linked together with metal staples, filled with cloth, and bones with split ends and tear marks ("Like a cat" said Aldwyn, who clearly owns some cats). They searched the bedding but didn't find anything.

They decided to check the blue rune they'd found a while back beyond the black door.

Hamilcar went in and checked . . . and disappeared, the rope they'd tied to him to haul him back empty on the floor.

Now what?

Aldwyn and Hjalmarr debated following him. Mo made an impassioned argument not to (Actually, the player made it, but I counted it as in-game - it's better that way.) He pointed out the many traps, and how some of them were death traps. Eventually he won the day and they headed home. On the way, though, they took crossbow fire when they were close to the stairs. Hjalmarr took a bolt to the chest, was wounded and poisoned (as always.) They fled upstairs.

They decided to check the room the stone book teleported people to. They worked their way there, hearing voices and footsteps but avoiding any contact. The room was empty.

They headed home to drink to Hamilcar's memory.


Meanwhile, Hamilcar appeared in a cave smelling of ozone and sulfur. He was in some caves. He began to systematically wander around, and realized he was in the caverns were Sterick had been imprisoned (as described by his cousin, Ahenobarbus.) Hamilcar wandered for a couple of hours, repeated getting lost and turned around on himself and going in circles. He encountered rats, bats, and other ignorables, but also the gargoyles! They flew down to attack. He fled, yelling, "I'm a wizard, I'll explode you!" They hesitated just long enough for him to get away. He avoided them by hearing the rest of the time.

Several dead ends later, he found a pair of big double doors! He turned back. Then he found another, but a swarm of giant slice beetles rushed him. He put down Smoke to confuse them and fled.

He evaded them, and then realized he could go through the big doors. So he did. They opened easily, and the interior silver door was open. He found the floating casket for Sterick, and a bunch of sticks and cloth and whatnot in the bottom of the sphere, like something was making a nest.

He jumped down, climbed up the far side, and began to move into new territory.

He stumbled into the screaming fungus, and fled the other way - and a slime reached out for him! He needed a 10 to dodge - and a failure would flat-out kill him. He rolled a 10 on the nose.

He ran and then began to explore. From here, he made every decision correctly and unerringly found his way out. He turned and tossed a Fireball back into the caves in celebration.

He headed to town, and found the guys sitting around with Mo telling tales of Hamilcar's heroic demise. Many laughs were eventually had, presumably.


The players wanted to know why the monsters were called "Stone Bulls" if they're made out of metal. Why not "Metal Bulls" or "Iron Bulls"? Because they turn you to stone. Fire Slorn aren't made of fire, rust monsters aren't made of rust, and so on. Yeah, stone golems are made of stone, and flaming skulls are in fact flaming skulls. But I chose the "what it does" naming convention instead of "what it's made of" naming convention.

So this session could have ended 90 minutes earlier had the other PCs just decided to teleport, too. They would have had the maps, the firepower to deal with any wandering encounters, etc. As a GM, that was kind of annoying, since I was short on sleep for the weekend and hoping to catch up (I didn't.) I can understand why it happened the way it did, though.

The teleporter would have been both funnier and more unfortunate had it been encountered earlier. It's one of the teleporters the PCs heard about from the church. They're designed to stock the caverns around Sterick's tomb with monsters. Anything teleported in was bound to stay within the confines of the caverns and thus guard Sterick's tomb. With Sterick slain, the curse was lifted so Hamilcar wasn't stuck.

MVP was Hamilcar for his miraculous escape. He lost 1 HT permanently from being mortally wounded, so maybe that'll help a little.

XP was 1 each for new exploration (but less than 10+ new areas). It would have been -1 xp each for the guys with Sense of Duty, but they did make a concerted effort to check the place they thought he'd end up.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Felltower pre-summary teaser

Fun session, as always. More than usual, actually, which says a lot.

We had:

- the return of Raggi

- a dangerously deep delve

- what looked like a potential TPK from monsters I wrote

- a near-death experience

- a wizard solo adventure

- and some map linkage.

It was a lot of fun.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Short crew Felltower tomorrow

We have a session of Felltower tomorrow, with a short crew - only four players.

I know which four players, but I don't know which PCs besides Aldwyn, since his player is home from college. I suspect it will be Hamilcar, Mo, and Hjalmarr (and thus Brother Ike), however.

Where to go is also up for debate. I got hints last night, but only hints - and at the time we though they'd have Hayden, too.

The good thing for me about a megadungeon is my prep is done. Even as I've increased my working hours by over 70% per week and my study time by 100%, I can still run game. Prep is grabbing the DFRPG books, the minis box, and going to game.

I can't wait.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Unearthing sunken tanks from marshes

This falls under my interest in WWII tanks, and my tendency to make my gamers put their PCs into nasty, miserable marshes:

The Salvagers Who Raise World War Two Tanks From the Dead

How are the places they look?


"“It is easy to hunt when you are shown a definite point,” says Mikalutski. “But to get to the point you may have to go five kilometres through marshes or snow. You reach the place and then you have to crawl back...”

For the sake of their own safety, the tank hunters never go into the marshes alone.

Winter, it's been -33 C.

Summer? "“What a buzz it is at night. It seems mosquitoes will overturn the van.”

Insect repellents do not help in marshes. The conditions are extremely difficult in hot weather: they have to work in thick jackets and hats even when it is 30C because of clouds of insects.

And that's in a normal, Earth marsh. No monsters, no mutants, not even an enemy army. Add those and you get ADVENTURE!

For loot, note how well-preserved some of these things are - still-edible chocolate, untouched textbooks, etc. It's not unreasonable for PCs to have to unearth something from a nasty marsh in either the peak of summer or the depths of winter, dealing with natural hazards on top of whatever threats surround the long-buried and lost loot . . . it need not even be a tank. If you insist.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Article for DFRPG in the new Pyramid

I have an article - Simple Spell Components - in the new issue of Pyramid:

Basically it's a way to turn money into consumables that give bonuses to spells.

My work has slowed down my writing, but I plan to keep working on smaller pieces like that article to keep my writing skills fresh and sharp.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: D3 Vault of the Drow

Ben's prize for making me laugh the most in the caption contest was to pick a module for me to review. He chose D3.

I also reviewed D1 and D2.

This review does contain a lot of SPOILERS.

I won't review GDQ1-7 as I brought it to High School one day, left it in a classroom, and it disappeared before the next period started, never to be seen again. I have the map book, though, FWIW, but can't look at the original to compare to this version. I also don't own the purple cover of D3, so again, no comparison there.

D3 Vault of the Drow
by Gary Gygax
TSR 1978
28 pages

D3 Vault of the Drow is a the third and final installment in the D-series of modules, and the next to last in the G1-3, D1-3, Q1 arc of modules. It's meant for character levels 10-14, making it one of the higher-level adventures that were available back when I first started playing AD&D.

Like the other adventures in the series, this combines miles of tunnels full of random encounters spotted with a few special encounter areas.

D3 picks up where D2 leaves off - right after passing the temple of the Kuo-Toa. The PCs have three basic choices of tunnels - a high-traffic area (guarded by a drow fortress), and two lower-traffic areas with more interesting encounters, one involving spiders and one depicted in the awesome back cover picture by Jeff Dee.

Once past those, the PCs can reach the vault - a big spherical cavern containing the drow civilization. Fortresses for males and females, noble houses, merchant houses, and even an entire city. The city is evocatively described - drow, slaves, half-drow, mind flayers, daemons and demons, bugbears, troglodytes, ghouls, ghasts . . . this is probably the first "evil city of monsters" I ever encountered.

It's a bit of a sandbox, in that the PCs can do whatever they like and have many places they could go. This could easily be a single long session if the PCs stay on target, quickly determine a course of action, and go for it. I say "a bit" because it's both a limited sandbox and the PCs have a mission - bring vengeance upon the drow.

Or it could be a many-session series of adventures as the PCs navigate the vault, the city, find the enemies they seek, choose who to go after, and then do the actual going after.

D3 is very light on maps of the various areas the PCs can interact with - forts, noble houses, the city of Erelhei-Cinlu, etc. Pretty much the only specifically mapped area is the Great Fane of Lolth. Some of the potential foes are equally light on details - you'll get the AC and HP and levels of noble family members, but then get "staff of withering, wand of paralyzation, efreet bottle, and useful items to be determined at random: 3 potions, 3 scrolls, 2 rings, 3 miscellaneous magic items" to help equip them. Useful, but only if you work ahead of time or stall and roll.

Overall, the adventure is potentially very challenging even given the levels of PCs involved.

Criticisms of the plot

One frequent criticism of D3 is the connection to Q1. Basically, the Eilservs clan started the giants attacking the civilized lands, the PCs solve that (with violence) and then continue on to smite the drow behind it all. But the adventure heavily points you towards Q1 and Lolth's priesthood. They're the other side in the struggle within drow society (if you simplify it to two sides.) Are the PCs the dupes of the Eilservs? Are they making a terrible mistake by killing Lotlh?

I'd say no.

Look at it from the Good point of view: does maintaining a balance of power between a weakened Eilservs clan and Lloth really matter? If you can smash one and leave the other, how is that "bad" for Good? Oh, sure, the Chaotic Evil elves might organize and rise up to threaten the surface world again, this time stronger. Maybe. Since the Eilservs were only using the giants to build up a surface power base so they could dominate the underworld, would their victory mean a threat to the surface world? Maybe, but maybe not. Probably not. It's not even clear the Eilservs plan was any good at all (and if the PCs are here, it clearly didn't work out well.) That's not a useful reason to spare Lloth. Neutral might be "ensure the balance of power" but Good doesn't seem like it should or would access "evil balanced against evil is good" instead of "victory of evil, even if partial, is good." It's hard to be running a paladin or Lawful Good cleric and justify "evil put into a reasonable balance of power" as "evil defeated to the extent you are capable."

If you can smash both, even better! It's quite possible to go after both, it's just the module doesn't give you maps of the Eilservs house. Crushing both would be a dramatic victory for Good - a demon lord/goddess slain permanently, the power structure that supported her defeated, and their biggest rivals also defeated.

Assuming you just smash Lolth, the Eilservs have plenty of other rivals. Those rivals will be weakened, but so are the Eilservs. Good is probably best served by crushing them all or provoking a civil war, not by finishing off one side.

All of that said, moving on to Q1 and fighting a demon-goddess is what D&D can be all about at its best, so why not do that? You don't seal the gate and disadvantage evil, you chase it into the Abyss and destroy it. That is epic.

War Stories: Basically, none. I do remember having this adventure back in Elementary School, but I don't recall ever running it. I do have some recollection of statting out some of the random encounters, such as a high-level magic-user party and the HP for mezzodaemons and nycadaemons. We basically skipped this to get to Q1.

Overall: The adventure area is interesting and rewards stealth and careful adventuring more than direct violence. This is a very challenging environment for a part to survive in - especially ones that "solve" problems by attacking things. Given a skilled group, this should be a really evocative and interesting place to adventure. The choices of who to attack and why - and the chance to continue on into the Abyss itself to kill a demon-goddess - make for a real strategic challenge.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Variable Multiple Attacks rule idea for Attack Bonus systems

After reading a post by Talysman over at Nine and Thirty Kingdoms, I started to think about ways to do multiple attacks.

I go to mentally toying with a way to do variable multiple attacks in an "Attack Bonus" based system, like Swords & Wizardry.

Cleave rules let some characters - usually fighter-based classes - continue to hit foes if they slay the previous target.

These rules attempt to just give multiple attacks even if you don't have multiple, weak foes you can slay with single blows.

Variable Multiple Attacks

If your net, modified roll to hit is equal to or exceeds 20, you can attack again - either the same target, or an adjacent target. If your second (and subsequent) attack rolls are also equal to or exceed 20, you can continue to attack. This ends immediately if your net roll is 19 or less, even if it hits, or if you are incapacitated or disarmed (for example, if your first hit is against a gas spore, which explodes and kills you, or you hit a rust monster with your sword, you do not get a chance at subsequent attacks.)

Optional limits:

- limited to fighters and fighter sub classes (barbarians, paladins, rangers, etc.)

- limited to one extra hit per level, minimum 1 extra (so 2 at levels 1-2, 3 at level 3, etc.)

- limited to melee

- limited to one total hit per level (so 1 at level 1, 2 at level 2, etc.)

What I like about this kind of approach is what I like about Cleave - it's something you can just drop in without changing stat lines, changing damage rolls, checking a table to see if you get an extra attack or not. You've always got them coming, potentially, if your bonuses are high and you roll well. You can even get a cascade of attacks against the same foe.

I have no idea how this would work, but it would make 20s more fun.

Monday, March 19, 2018

More recent acquisitions

I got my hands on some more gaming stuff recently.

I received the PDFs of the new versions of the Monster Alphabet and Dungeon Alphabet (I reviewed the original here.) I'm waiting on the physical

I mentioned Volo's Guide a few times already.

A generous reader gave me a gift card to Warehouse23 so I could buy GURPS Social Engineering: Pulling Rank.

And I'm still reading through Operation Unfathomable.

I actually intended to pick up the PDF of Tunnels & Trolls 5th edition on the DM's Day week say, but I forgot to pull the trigger before the sale ended. Oh well, next time.

I do need to get a review up for most of these, but only after I finally have the time to finish my review of D3 Vault of the Drow.

Lots of gaming reading, here, and not a lot of gaming reading time. But I'll get through these and pull out useful gems for my own games.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Volos Guide & Felltower

I've been really enjoying Volo's Guide.

Some of what I've read will certainly influence Felltower.

For example:

- I really like what they did with Kenku. I may have to use them in some way. Not as a PC race, before A~ and G~ comment here and ask. But they'll fit pretty well in one of the gate locations.

- I also got a lot out of the writeups of hags. I've always liked hags, but rarely had them come up. I should have put one near the play location in the Cold Fens, like I did in the black swamps in my last campaign. If the players travel a bit further east, perhaps they'll be able to meet one. Like in my own previous games, they'll be potentially nasty foes or useful speaking encounters, depending on how you handle it.

- the writeup of Yuan-Ti was good. I'm not sure how much I'll use, but I'll use a bit to expand snakmen.

- one of the monsters matches some minis I have to a "T" - the shoosuva. Probably because it's a new version of something introduced in D&D or the Chainmail minis game, and the mini is from that line. It gave me some new ideas on how to use it.

Some probably won't, but I still like, such as the darklings - the updated dark creepers from the best monster book ever. Overall, it's going give me some positive, useful material to slot in ahead of the PCs in DF Felltower.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Casting Room Minis Sale

To More Minis, or to not More Minis, that is the question:

"We're having a 20% off sale on all the products listed on our Casting Room Miniatures site!

Only until the end of March 2018.

Enter the code "20%CRM" in the Discount code box when you check out.

Shipping will be charged as usual: Our postage rates (in GBP) are £4 to the UK and £6 to most of Europe, North America and Australasia, or free with orders over £80. A £10 flat rate charge applies to all other countries so that we can send your order by Royal Mail tracked.

Regrettably this cannot be combined with any other offers or discounts, except for free shipping on orders over £80.

It's really tempting.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Volo's Guide to Monsters - arrived

Some of the Christmas gift cards people gave me went to gaming materials. The last of them arrived today:

At a glance, it's interesting. It should be a fun read and give me ideas for my own games. I don't generally use much of the fluff from game books, and with a 5e D&D book I don't need the stats exactly. But a well-written combination of stats and fluff can inspire me quite well. Plus I do like to see classic AD&D monsters turned into modern rules stats so I can see how current designers view what those powers should do in the current system.

It will be a good bedside reader to slowly get through. Or quickly, if it's as good as I've heard.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Hold your breath!

The Stench spell, as (very well) re-written in DFRPG Spells, is a pretty lethal spell.


It causes suffocation, and eventually flat-out damage. However, you can hold your breath for up to HT seconds.

Naturally this has caused a need for some rulings:

- when can you choose to hold your breath? Is it a free action on your turn? Is it a defensive small-m maneuver like an Active Defense?

- Is it realistic that you can continue to fight without penalty while holding your breath? Maybe. I've held my breath 10+ seconds while doing deadlifts for higher reps (say, 10-12). But it's not optimal. GURPS doesn't penalize it, either way.

- how long does it take to form the cloud?

Generally what I've ruled is:

- you can choose on your turn. Before then, you're breathing.

- I don't penalize holding your breath when you fight, but I do limit actions. How are you doing Intimidation with a closed mouth? Don't use Tactics to help your buddy. You can't yell out about the flank attack.

- Spells doesn't seem to mention an onset time, but one solution to "Can I hold my breath as a Defense?" or "Am I holding my breath?" is to give it one. Make it take one full second to form up. The caster's next turn determines when it starts, giving everyone a chance to close their mouth and hold on. I actually don't use this, I ruled it forms instantly, but you can decide on the start of your turn if you reacted by holding your breath or not. Everyone says they did. Because of that, I've ruled:

- no in-game discussion and I frown on out-of-game tactical discussion. If you're all in a Stench spell area effect and holding your breath, then how are you getting to, "Are we holding this position or should we back off towards the other room?" Inevitably someone busts out "Oh, uh, I roll Gesture to communicate that." Gesture is helmet taps, holding up a hand for stop, and how I communicate with my fellow drivers in NJ.

That's pretty much how I've handled Stench in play.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

An addendum to yesterday's dungeon post

Rob Conley put up a good post about the value of terse dungeon descriptions, referencing my own post from yesterday.

My comments yesterday about the non-publishable nature of Felltower as written might be easy to interpret, though. Here is what I commented on Rob's post:

"To be clear, I'm not saying you can't write a terse but effective and publishable dungeon. I'm saying you can't just grab up notes meant for a GM who is making stuff up on the fly and noting down only what he doesn't want to forget and publish that. Like Castle Greyhawk, if I handed someone else Felltower it would be a mess to try to run. I could publish a terse version, but it would need to be re-written since it's not in any kind of state conducive to other people running it."

Basically, I was talking about my dungeon. Also, I'd note that if I did make Felltower into a publishable dungeon, it would either be a) verbose, or b) run very differently in the hands of someone else. Not that b) is a bad thing, just that it's not the same thing as "really running Felltower" would be.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Gary Gygax on dungeons

Delta's D&D Hotspot posted about Gary Gygax and dungeon design.

Gygax on Dungeon Design

That kind of thing is why I've talked about the differences between writing for yourself vs. other people and the problems of other people's megagundeons.

I do much of the same - map it, put down a minimal bit of information that tells me the important stuff, make up a lot as I go (and note it down, so it stays in the dungeon), and just cross out the stuff that players have changed through their actions.

It's a really good way to go . . . but no way to write an adventure for someone else to run.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Playtest as shakedown cruise

Yesterday we play a playtesting one-shot.

We originally discussed having the players use characters from DF Felltower. In the end, though, we went with seven brand-new PCs.

I refer to this as a "shakedown cruise." Normally I'll let players modify their PCs after the initial session if they realize they didn't quite make the guy that they liked. But then again, it's still a real, live game. If your neat-o new PC gets killed, your neat-o new PC is dead.

In a playtest, though, it doesn't matter. Get killed? Fine. Make the guy again and play him for real. Designed him wrong? No problems. Wanted to just try something out you never would otherwise spend a valuable real-game session on? Go for it.

So I have a real fondness for opportunities to playtest DF materials like this every once in a while. The players jumped in with some against-type PCs, guys they'd wanted to try out but weren't sure they like, and tried sub-systems they usually don't. All in all, it was a lot of fun. I highly recommend breaking out an adventure and giving it a go with PCs whose survival doesn't matter, because you're just trying everything out.

We may need to do this again with the DFRPG adventures at some point . . .

Fun stuff, yesterday's game.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Fun playtest session today

We had a really fun, mostly silly but sometimes tense and exciting session of DF today.

Unfortunately I can't give a full game session summary, because the one-shot we played is for some material we volunteered to playtest with. It's not mine to give out. We did have some really amusing things, though, that I can share:

Hither came Conan

We had a nice bit of backstory for the adventure. We made one of our players read it in the voice of Mako, who was Akira in the Conan movies. Well, half of the time it was Mako. He did part of it in a great impression of Dr. Girlfriend from The Venture Brothers.

Bring on the Barbarians!

We had seven players. We had a human thief (who claimed to be a knight, just a cautious one), a human wizard focused on Mind Control, a human cleric, and a human knight - along with three barbarians - two human, one dwarven. Two of them used sw/imp weapons - a pick for the dwarf, a warhammer for one of the humans. Two of the three barbarians were Shirtless Savages.


If it could go wrong, it did. Not in terms of bad rolls, but in terms of decisions. They stealthily moved up to a door and had a very pickable lock, and bashed the door open - waking up the sleeping guards within. They yelled and screamed during the fight.

They then ignored party SOP and didn't check if a door was disused or not, and found themselves fighting a bunch of banshee-screaming critters.

Then they spiked a door shut when guards came to investigate, revealing their presence.

Etc., etc., etc. They just weren't tight on their game. They had a blast (as did I), and fought well, but man, they had some issues with not creating trouble out of opportunity.

You worship what?

One of the human barbarians worships the Forest Kraken, who takes you up into the trees with his tentacles and keeps you safe in his jaws. Don't mock the forest kraken!

You are named what?

Sir Robin the Knight, Dokson the barbarian, and Thorgrim the barbarian were among the names. Thorgrim was beside himself with grief at a lot of things tonight - getting hit with axes, getting set on fire, getting poisoned, getting stunned.

To Be Continued

This isn't Felltower, so we let the PCs end in the dungeon. Next time we play, we'll see what the mix is and play one of GT, DF Felltower, or this playtest. If we get enough of the players for this session, we'll play this again.

What's interesting is we're undecided if this is canonical Felltower game world or not. If we decide it is, what happened gets fit in to the game. If so, what happened, happened. If not, we'll decide if the PCs who played get reset back to their starting points or keep any XP. Also if no, people can take their guy and re-do him after seeing how they played. That's how Vryce got started, along with Inquisitor Marco - they were playtest characters for DF, and got tweaked for a regular game.

Fun stuff, and a fun session.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Rappan Athuk in "miniature"

Erik Tenkar got to run a game in this:

I'd love to play on that. GM it, maybe not. My players would go right up that set of stairs "just to look." I'd need like five tables and a special map barn to just do the areas of Felltower they've explored so far, never mind the new ones.

But still, it's what miniatures players dream of.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Writing rules for other people

Writing rules for other people is much harder than writing rules for yourself.

Writing anything like instructions for other people is harder than just understanding what needs to be done yourself. I've heard it said, if you want to see if you understand something, try to teach it to someone else.

Gary Gygax realized this, too, with a game he published in the 1960s, Arbela.

"A few months ago it seemed that Arbela had very complete, clear rules...Part of the difficulty arises being too close to the game. I know the rules and therefor do not have to consult them, so it is hard to find any parts overlooked or unclear."

- Gary Gygax, quoted on Playing at the World

This is part of why I say that game writing is technical writing. And even knowing this, it's still possible to write rules that don't quite convey the intent of the writer to the reader of the rules. I've experienced this and I'm sure every game writer has experienced this. And clearly, Gary Gygax experienced it.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

More thoughts on Diffuse foes

Archon Shiva has some good advice on dealing with Diffuse foes in DF:

Roadblocks: Diffuse Targets

I forwarded it to my players, who often struggle with Diffuse foes.

I have some additional comments, most of which apply to my game. Yours may vary.

Alchemist's Fire

This is a great choice for Diffuse foes. But in order to stick to Diffuse foes - and to shatter on them - they need some substance. Throwing a vial at a Toxifier or Skull Spirit might cause 1-2 damage like any other weapon, but it won't shatter and catch the critter with fire.

You can, of course, time your throw with your Scout buddy at a ridiculous penalty and have him shoot it mid-air. It still won't stick to the target if the target is Diffuse because it's semi-corporeal, smokey, or otherwise barely substantial. You can't get napalm to stick to clouds, so don't try.

Get a Wizard

The best choice for Diffuse foes is Explosive spells. A close second are Area damage spells. The issue with Area damage spells is that diffuse creatures can leave the area. Yes, as the article states you can use Knockback to put it back in. Maybe. Not every Diffuse creature is low ST, and it can be tough to do the right amount of damage to knock a target to a specific hex. During abstracted combat, this is basically impossible.

What you really need are high-damage effects that do their damage immediately. Explosive Fireball, Explosive Lightning, Concussion, and the new variations I use - Explosive Acid Ball, for example - are ideal. Expect to need to catch flying Diffuse creatures in the blast, not to impact them directly, for the same reason these spells don't explode on the fringes of Smoke spells - they need something substantial to hit.

I personally allow direct injury spells to do exactly that - directly cause injury. If you're brave enough to Deathtouch a Toxifier or cast Frostbite on an Ooze, it might just work. What spells work on what subjects varies, however.

Non-wizards really need to just hit repeatedly and hope. It can become a slog - Diffuse foes are wizard-vulnerable and there aren't any simple non-magical solutions to them.

Don't get cute

Most of the time Diffuse creatures cause problems, PCs attempt cute solutions. Purify Air spells and Shape Air spells thrown at smokey Diffuse creatures, Whirlwind to "kill" flyers, even Destroy Air and Destroy Water to try and directly kill them. These can have some effect - Whirlwind can keep Flaming Skulls away - but they aren't damage spells. They don't tear apart smokey beings. Much time and FP are wasted trying to discover a new, cheap, irresistable way to deal with Diffuse creatures. Explosions, area spells, cones (which PCs generally don't have), and then just slogging away with weaponry.

If your game is like mine, that clarification might affect your game as well.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

GM's Day 2018

DriveThruRPG's annual GM's sale is going on right now.

I'm debating picking up some sale items that are on my wish list, like getting an electronic scan of the various OD&D books:

Or ones I don't have:

Or filling in my module collection with a couple I'm missing, like:


And just splurge-tastic things like


It's a really good deal, especially if there are AD&D modules you don't own but want to (or want to also have in PDF, like this one for me), 1st and original edition D&D books, or Judges Guild books. Sadly the GURPS books aren't on sale. Maybe next year.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Next up - one shot DF adventure

This coming Sunday would be our 100th session of our DF campaign. Instead, we're doing a one-shot adventure.

Not for any particular reason except that I have one, it'll take less prep than even Felltower, and it's fun to try out characters you wouldn't necessarily try otherwise.

We've got a few interesting potential guys on tap - an unusually built knight, a dwarf barbarian, another fire-happy wizard, and some others. It should be interesting to see how it all plays out.

But it does mean DF Campaign Session #100 is going to fall in April, most likely, not March. Still, game is game . . .

Monday, March 5, 2018

Keeping camping interesting using DF16

Marcus Orealias shot me an email essentially asking me to talk about my experience using the DF16 camping rules.

Let's talk my experience, and then ways to make all three choices worth considering each and every time you make the roll.


I love the camping rules in DF16. The roll + choice combination made for some interesting debates.

In my experience, my players always took Comfort plus one additional. They may have taken Concealment and LoS when concerned about a patrolling dragon, but I don't recall.

Comfort wins out for them because the loss of FP for lack of a comfortable campsite is steep. Losing 1 FP for the day - not recoverable except in town or by spending a night in a comfortable camp - really hurts the spellcasters. Throw in extra losses if they lack gear, if the weather slams down, or the GM is just being mean about the conditions, and spellcasters can be seriously weakened. It doesn't help Chi skill dependent Martial Artists any, either.

The tossup was always between concealment and lines of sight. This was an interesting choice.

Lines of Sight gives a bonus to spotting foes approaching the camp, and it was critical to allow the PCs to spot incoming creepy-crawlies, identify sneaky goblinkin, and otherwise ensure they made their Per rolls and weren't surprised. That often allowed the party to break out ranged weapons and spells and keep things off of them. Against very high Stealth creatures, the bonus to Per can make or break you.

Concealment, on the other hand, gives your opponents a hard time to find you (assuming your Camouflage is up to standards.) On top of that, it potentially gives you a second roll to spot incoming foes - again, if Camouflage is high enough. Hide well and you get two chances.

Ideally you have all three, which is what Serendipity and critical successes are for.

Making the choices tough

Drive home the importance of Lines of Sight with foes who sneak well. Make it so that the +1 to Per and the -1 to Stealth is potentially the margin between spotting a foe and being awake and ready or have an obsidian tiger or ooze or troll jumping you from behind while the rest of the party sleeps. Also, make it clear that choose Lines of Sight can mean good Lines of Fire, too, and that you may spot foes far enough away to engage them with ranged weapons and spells. Scouts generally prefer this to "you'll wake up just in time for melee!" since their skills make range valuable to them and a hindrance to foes.

Challenge Lines of Sight with foes that sneak very, very well. Also, challenge it with foes for whom spotting isn't an issue - invisible foes, teleporting foes, or extremely fast foes. For those, Lines of Sight really don't matter very much.

Make Concealment useful by using foes who hunt by sight. Especially lethal foes - dragons, eyes of death, scouts for large armies of fodder or worthy foes, etc. - these make hiding well a critical issue. Although the rules don't specify this, it's quite possible that foes failing to spot you might just pass campers by.

Challenge Concealment with foes who hunt by senses other than sight. Detect Life (Precise), Discriminatory Smell, exceptional hearing, etc. work well for making Concealment a sub-optimal (or even useless) choice.

Make Comfort important by including encounters that push PCs to the FP limits, and strictly enforce the rules for recovering the FP lost, here. If you handwave it and say, "I let them rest 10 minutes and get it back" it's just not going to be worth taking. If it's as written, it's critical to seek comfort - and bring the appropriate shelters (DF16, p. 24)!

Challenge Comfort by making Lines of Sight and Concealment more important. It's foolish not to take comfort as a default, if only because of your spellcasters. But given foes that hunt by sight and are potentially seeking you out, it might be worth being down 1-2 FP the next day and getting +1 to Per and +1 to Camouflage and giving -1 to Stealth and -1 to Vision.

Final Notes

Given the right mix of potential foes - especially if you've been aggressively signalling what's out there (dragon sightings, rumors of trolls, signs of an orc army, slime trails from oozes, etc.) - the players have some real choices to make. By following the spirit of the rules - sometimes you'll hide well enough and they'll miss you, sometimes nothing comes and only comfort was worth having, sometimes LoS means you spot them far enough off to break camp and leave - you'll make it a fun choice, too.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

March Forth!

Gary Gygax passed away 10 years ago today. I noted it at the time but I was busy - I was a couple weeks out from a fight, I wasn't blogging at the time, and I wasn't really gaming much a the time. My campaign was still running, but it was in "run 2-3 sessions when I visit the US" mode so I didn't do a lot of daily thinking about games and gaming.

10 years on, though, I post about games daily. I put some active thought into gaming daily as well. And I play games roughly 15-20 times a year with my buddies.

I also run a gigantic megadungeon, something that for me draws a straight line back to stories about Castle Greyhawk. I gather Dave Arneson did something first, but I don't have much of his that I really draw on for Felltower. It's Gary Gygax's work, and those of people who played and worked with and for him that really inspire my current game.

So it's sad to think about the loss, and articles like this one that make me sad that I'll never get to game with the guy. (FWIW, skip down to "THE SCENARIO, OR, WAYNE AND I MEET THE WIZARD" and skip the whole history of D&D for non-gamers article content.)

But I do get to game with my friends, which is the entire point of gaming for me.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Dungeon Fantasy: Magic Items on sale now

My book in the Dungeon Fantasy Role-Playing Game series is up for individual purchase now:

I did that one flat-rate, not royalties, so I don't get anything for purchases. But you get useful rules on magic items for your DFRPG game, and SJG gets to see some more support for the DF and DFRPG lines.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Minis WIP

It's been hard to paint recently, what with starting a new job, starting a new side project, and continuing on in another bit of work. But I have put brush to mini occasionally.

I made some progress on these wolves and put the final touches on this bear, too.

All of them are pretty much one-shot kills, but luckily they're also pretty much three-color paint jobs.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

What counts as "Spells On"?

"What counts as a 'Spell On'?" has come up as a question a few times in my game.

One player's quickie definition was, "one you can maintain, but also Great Haste."

That's not a bad quickie definition for most purposes (especially the "don't stop and look up the rules now and try to learn them, we're playing here!" purpose.)

According to GURPS Magic, "temporary" spells count as spells on.

According to Spells, spells that specify a finite duration count as spells on. There are exceptions, and it lists them on pages 11-12.

Pretty much, if the spell has a non-permanent effect, non-instantaneous effect, and doesn't specifically say it doesn't count as a spell on . . . it counts as a spell on.

Great Haste? Sure, 10 second duration. Spell On. Flame Jet? 1 second duration, spell on. Fireball? No - you can't cast while holding it, and it launches and flies to where the dice say you threw it and does damage and it's over - so not a spell on.

A few spells we use do specifically need some call-outs:

Create Servant - Spell On. Finite duration - just because the wizard with this spell can maintain it for free doesn't mean it's not a spell distracting him when he's casting more.

Continual Light - Not a Spell On. It has a duration, but specifically gets called out as not counting.

Great Haste - Spell On. As mentioned before, it lasts 10 seconds and cannot be maintained but only the first part - a finite duration - matters.

Summon Elemental - Not a Spell On. The effect is over when the elemental arrives. Control Elemental is a spell on.

I'm sure I'm missing some common casts, but generally the players who use those spells know the rules. It seemed worth bringing this up here so I can list the spells that might get exceptions (or specifically need noting that they do not.)
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