Wednesday, January 23, 2019

My game is DF on Hard mode

The standard description of my game around my table is, "DF on Hard mode."

That's a pretty fair description. I'm not certain who came up with it first - possibly me, probably my friend Tom, who has played with me for a long time. And keeps coming back for some reason.

I say it's a fair description because:

- the rules as written are the most lenient form events generally take. My own rules tend to be harsher. This can work in your favor, as the harshness mashes down foes, too, but mostly it's mashing you down.

- many things are "one try." Spells, opportunities, fights.

- hints are sparse. They're clear after, not always before. They are hints, not answers.

- you can absolutely drop or sell the quest item and never get it back.

- I err on the side of parsimoniousness, not generosity, when it comes to power handouts.

- the frogurt is also cursed. And the Krusty doll is stuck on "evil."

- I'm ruthless with tactics, and on tactical mistakes. Your own poor choices as a player can damn or kill your paper man.

- you can die perma-death from totally stupid, random things. You have to be able to laugh off the death of a 500+ point guy thanks to some poor choices and move on, or the game really isn't for you.

Most of my games are like this. They aren't stacked against you, per se, but the odds aren't in your favor and I'm inclined to just let the dice have their say and see what happens. I'm not opposed to fudging, because I am the ultimate arbiter of the game, but generally I fudge for real-world reasons (it's late, so I pick an easier-to-run random encounter) not in-game reasons (it's an unfair fight, say.)

I think this shows a lot about my players, too. They persevere. They win over odds that aren't in their character's favor. They earn what they get, good and bad.

It's not a game for everyone. I don't apologize for that because I'm not sorry. I want my players to win, but I can't help but make it really hard to do so. They are a good group for finding a lot of fun in the struggle and not just in the victories.

It's how it is. Hard mode.

All of that said, this came up last session with Dryst's player making a session after a long period of working basically seven days a week for months on end.

Dryst's player would be "DF on Hell mode." A sample comment from last time? If you fail a Survival roll, you're down a limb, roll randomly. And a critical failure? Well, a critical failure means you failed to survive. Better know someone with funds for Resurrection!


I like that in so many ways. Not the least of which is I get to benefit from Stockholm Syndrome. "Peter is so nice, he doesn't have us lose 1d limbs for a failed roll, he only has beholders kill our guys!"


  1. Off topic... but next time your guys have to face the "closed air" sections of Felltower, here's a video that might help them understand what it's doing to them:

  2. I think my biggest problem with this approach in GURPS would be the sheer amount of paper work involved. If I'm going to play a rogue-like, I'd really prefer it to have faster character creation. Though, then again, if you use GURPS Character Sheet and you're familiar with the templates and the loadouts, it might not be too bad.

    1. When I run particularly lethal games, I ask players to make and bring extra characters. It both sets the expectation and get's them back in the action faster.

    2. Having a pool of PCs was an early recommendation in this game.

  3. In the old days my problem with "Hard Mode" in RPGs is that most end game content requires a seasoned character, and hard mode tends to kill characters off before they get there since advancement was deliberately arduous.

    These days, my GURPS games tend to start at the lower end of the "sweet spot" point level for fun gaming in the venue in question, so that is not relevant. DF is a great example of this - it's not "Zero to Hero" at all - new PCs are scary and seasoned PCs tend to be outright ridiculous.

    DnD5 has basically made first level a single session thing, and second level one or two more, so it's very similar.

    For YOUR DF game it seems more traditional - things that are traditionally mooks are tough, organized, and canny, and there are many encounters that clearly require solid tactics, decent planning, good equipment, and advanced characters to take on - in fact a list of the "Known Boss Fights of Felltower" would probably be a fun post.

    1. I should do that, although my definition of "boss" won't match my players.

      And I do play my mooks as if they're actually fighting for their lives. Some of them are canny, too, which doesn't help when the opposition is overwhelmingly powerful. But it does help the grimness of the game - even some random orc is going to try to kill you the best way he can, not just run up and see if he does any damage before he goes down.

    2. "I should do that, although my definition of "boss" won't match my players."

      An interesting comparison would be to poll your Playerbase on which ones they felt were "Boss Battle" worthy foes, and then compare with the battles they've had that you had /planned/ on being Boss Battles and which ones you think became Boss battles due to 'circumstances'.

    3. I don't really think "boss battle" as much as I do "big set-piece battle." I try not to plan battles to be hard or easy, just to maximize what the foes do based on what they have (so flying monsters with ranged attacks aren't in tight, low corridors, melee guys don't engage from 100 yards away with no cover, etc.) and let it go.

      I do absolutely put in set-pieces, but I just want them to be memorable, they don't really need to be bosses.


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