Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Have a Happy New Year

If it's not the new year where you are, wishing you a good one in advance. If it is, may this one be excellent to you.

I'll get up a retrospective of the year's gaming if I have some time tomorrow.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Draugr Details

Yesterday in our Felltower campaign the PCs took their biggest step towards defeating the draugr since their first one back in 2013.

Session 21, Felltower 12 - Dust of the Dead

The PCs have tried to cheap a victory a few times here, but inevitably this failed because it's not a setup conducive to cheaping. The draugr aren't mindless, they're not programmed, and they're not restricted to their tomb area even if they clearly are reluctant to leave it.

Also, they're very tough - they aren't stock-standard draugr from DFM1. They're the picked elite bodyguard of Baron Sterick the Red, who clearly spent all of his time, effort, and money on his gear and those of his bodyguards and little on anything else. They're well equipped and chosen men from the veterans of Sterick's experienced forces.

On top of that, the PCs have been reluctant to use the area-effect attacks most conducive to dealing with desiccated undead - fire - because it's likely to reduce the value of the loot.

The Loot

The draugr have a fair amount of loot by themselves - suits of mail (old-school Basic Set mail, sadly, not incredible valuable DFRPG mail), oversized axes, swords, and spears, plus golden necklaces. 33 gold necklaces alone will be a useful bit of loot.

One of the draugr, however, is more valuable. Long ago a Lord Venick offered a reward that's probably above-market for the grave goods of his ancestor.

That's caused the PCs to start thinking it's possible to sell these goods at above market. The PCs - led by Wyatt - plan to shop around the grave goods of the draugr, looking for other nobles who may be descended from the bodyguards. They figure they'd give a better price for their arms, armor, and treasures than the open market. I'm going to allow that, but it will mean:

- only the loot sold immediately counts for XP for loot thresholds;

- finding the nobles will take time, Research, general investigation, and reaction rolls - some of this will cost money;

- someone will need to be in charge of the stuff and of spending between-session time doing the finding and selling (which means less chances for study, new spells, new skills, etc.);

- dribs and drabs of loot over time.

So we'll see if they do that after all. It's an interesting and clever way to maximize the value of their loot, but it will come with a loss of convenience.

There was some joking about selling the thrown spears as antiques, but that would take a good Merchant or Fast-Talk roll, and it would just be color for why they got a higher price. People don't really collect antiques in this game.

Say My Name

The draugr cardboard figures that Emily Smirle made for me are great. I printed out 33 of them and gave them names and numbers, printed right on the counter. The names help. The players didn't "shoot at that guy" or "attack number 17" they "shot at Sven" or "attacked Ragner." It added a lot to the combat, even though it's not clear how anyone would actually know the names. But named foes are interesting.

You can see them in the shots below.

The Taunts

The PCs have amusingly tried taunting the draugr, on the assumption that they may be berserkers and will lose cohesion and attack if taunted.

It hasn't really worked.

First off, almost no one has the appropriate skills, and the ones that do lack significant skill levels in them.

Second, their taunts haven't really hit the mark. "Sterick is dead." Okay, prove that. Stuff that boils down to "fight like a man!" isn't really impressing guys who regard how they are specifically fighting as fighting like men. Especially, as is the case 100% of the time with PCs, the draugr are facing a mixed bag of opponents lavished soup-to-nuts with magic. It takes no brains to figure out the glowing shimmer in front of someone that deflects blows is Shield, the guys moving double-time have Great Haste, guys in heavy armor floating like butterflies and hacking through mail like it's yarnmail might have Might on them, etc. And the PCs won't hesitate to demand a "fair" fight and then define "fair" as whatever helps them this particular moment. You know, one-on-one until that's not working, to your death but not ours, if we win you give up everything but if we lose it's fair to change the deal. Not a lot of instances of Code of Honor in the group. So it's unclear why that seems like it would be a good taunt. It's been established by actual play in my game that adventurers are untrustworthy greedy murders and it takes a bit to convince people otherwise.

Also, these guys are northern seafaring barbarian types like Hjalmarr was - and come from a culture where taunting is an art. So it'll be hard to impress them with some truly basic taunts like, "You suck!" or "Your boss is dead!"

Finally, the taunts and goads about how they failed their job and their lord is dead because of it might hit home . . . if anyone had any proof of it. Sterick's armor, his head, his weapons, his grave goods . . . none of it. Hayden was there, but he's the only bona fide Slayer of Sterick in the group at the moment. The words of PCs who just showed up and heard this happened, even if the player was there when it did, inevitably ring hollow.


The draugr exhibited coordinated tactics. The players knew that would happen, but how would they coordinate?

They heard a few shouted commands, but they didn't know from whom (outside of the light radius) and they didn't always hear commands before the draugr took action.

"Maybe they're a hive mind," suggested Astrid's player.

"Maybe they're all just talking around their own table amongst themselves and you guys can't hear their discussions, just like you guys," suggested me.

The draugr did give commands, but honestly, sometimes it's an eye-roll moment when the players take 5 minutes to resolve a one-second action after everyone coordinates their plans and actions . . . but then they think something is fishy when the enemy manages coordination without giving away how they do it.


The draugr carefully formed ranks, threw spears, broke ranks to allow rear ranks through, and otherwise supported themselves. They used a tight line but spaced the lines to make Area and Explosive Missile spells much less effective.

Their ability to do this springs from their nature - the elite bodyguard of Baron Sterick the Red - which gives them solid Tactics scores.

But it's also something that I personally worked on. I play and have played a lot of wargames. I'm no tactical expert but I don't suck. A good chunk of that is spending time thinking about tactics and what would work or not work.

Even tactical axioms are situational. Yes, you want to keep a solid line most of the time . . . but sometimes a solid line won't help and might hinder you. It's helpful to force your foes into a bottleneck . . . but not so tight of one you can't leverage your own abilities due to lack of fighting space or in such a way as you can't force battle when you need to. The tactical defense is generally better but sometimes you can't find a way to fight on the tactical defense or make someone walk into your trap. Knowing what to do takes actual real-world study and thought. Not everyone has the time or interest, but it's worth it if you also want to play a game where those decisions will matter.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

GURPS DF Session 124, Felltower 96 - Draugr I

Date: Sunday, December 29th, 2019

Weather: Moderately cold, rainy.

Aldwyn Hale, human knight (278 points)
Astrid Cook, human barbarian (250 points)
Crogar the Lucky, human barbarian (268 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human necromancer (370 points)
     5 Skeletons (~35 points)
Hayden the Ebon Page, human knight (307 points)
Hernando Velazquez, human knight (250 points)
Ulf Sigurdson, human cleric (285 points)
Wyatt Sorrell, human swashbuckler (286 points)

The group gathered in Stericksburg, and pooled their rumors and stocked up on magical goods (or took delivery of orders.) Aldwyn brought along Astrid, a scythe-and-harpoon armed and short barbarian warrior who was friends with Mild Bruce and thus was introduced to the group.

They spent a considerable amount of time and money getting ready and then headed out.

Once they reached the castle, they went in the front entrance. Aldwyn tried the trap door but it proved to be locked shut, so he was zapped (for 3 FP and 1 HP) by the "black energy." They had to take the main entrance instead.

But then they realized no one had made lightstones. So they sat down for an hour to make them.

About 30 minutes in, Crogar (who was on guard) spotted a dinner-plate sized spider moving up behind Wyatt. He yelled a warning and ran up and All-Out Attacked it, cutting it in half with his new everything-on-it axe. Otherwise, it went without incident. Hayden sharpened his swords with the special whetstone, and the others just rested.

That done, they sent Gerry down, with Invisibility, Levitation, and Dark Vision for a look. He saw it was unguarded and summoned the group down. Wyatt leaped across and nailed in spikes to string ropes for a walkway. They crossed that without incident.

They forced one of the doors open and then had to bash open two doors into (and out of) the noisy room, creating a lot of noise. Nothing came of that, though. They later found a trail of blood off one of the side passages. They ignored it and moved on, and went down the stairs in the "ogre room," and into the "apetrium." They decided they needed to plan their attack on the draugr. Instead of staying in the apetrium, they headed into an attached room that once was the sleeping area of the ape shaman. They set up and began to plan.

As they did, four reeks dropped from the ceiling - one each onto two of the skeletons, Ulf, and Astrid. Gerry ordered his skeletons to attack the reeks with their axes. Astrid tried to pull hers off of her shoulder, and did, but it stuck to her hand instead. Ulf scraped at his with his small knife, inflicting harmful but mild cuts on the reek. Astrid threw hers down, glove and all, and Aldwyn proceeded to beat it to death with a wooden longsword he carries.

Ulf's helmet was rapidly disintegrating, but he got it off and onto the floor. Hayden stepped up and cut at it . . . and rolled an 18. He slammed his broadsword into the floor and snapped it off near the hilt, breaking it beyond use. The skeletons finished off their reeks and then killed that one.

All the excitement over, the PCs gathered up their gear - and Ulf and a skeleton swapped helmets as Ulf's was badly trashed.

Then then planned their attack. Basically, it was use a scroll of Mystic Mist to cover as much of the room as possible, excluding the sarcophagi, and then get the draugr to come and defeat them while the PCs had the advantage. If that didn't work, they had alternative plans with other ways to get the foe at a disadvantage, including taunting them with Sterick's death to get them to go berserk.

The PCs moved rapidly to the draugr, bypassing everything else along the way except for a brief check into the "chimera room" to ensure nothing was lurking back there.

Once they reached the illusionary wall (detected by Hayden's hands), they had Gerry poke through and cast Purify Air on the smoke beyond. As it reformed, Ulf wanted to look for ways to stop up any holes that pumped in the smoke, but he was disuaded by no one else wanting to join in. The PCs began to down potions, wanting to maximize the time they had their effects, and then readied various spellstones they'd stocked up on.

They reached the draugr tomb at the end of the purple-and-black colored corridor. They saw some of the white-painted sarcophagi, all closed up. So Gerry began to cast Mystic Mist. After less than a minute, though, the tomb lids opened and out climbed the draugr. They formed up quickly into three ranks of 10 backed by 3 "loose" in the back, several yards between the ranks. This was at the order of someone who called out to "form up and attack."

The PCs stood in a four-man wall, with Crogar, Astrid, Aldwyn, and Hernando from left to right. Beyond stood the others. Gerry kept casting, just in case they'd leave them alone for another 9 1/2 minutes to finish the spell. They did not. The threw spears - five each at the two shieldless fighters.

Astrid took four or five spears right away, and staggered back making multiple death checks. Aldwyn, too, was severely wounded by several spears. Ulf sprang into action with Faith Healing and Hayden moved up to the front as more spears came in and hit the two wounded fighters again.

The group formed up a better front rank, and Aldwyn dropped one of his swords and readied his shield. Ulf threw a 3d Sunbolt but it was casually blocked by one of the draugr. Hernando taunted the draugr with Sterick's death, but they clearly didn't believe him, and mocked him in turn. Ulf tried to appeal that "We only want the ancestor of Verrick!" but probably didn't think through how that sounded. He couldn't spot which one was the guy they needed the grave good off of.

The draugr broke ranks and moved back as the second rank stepped through and threw spears, again in two waves. These hit a couple of the PCs but mostly they were blocked or missed as Gerry got Missile Shield off on a few of the defenders. The wounded frantically drank potions. Wyatt calmly stood in the back, breaking spellstone after spellstone to buff with - Bladeturning, Walk on Air, Blur 5, Haste 2, and Shield.

After the second rank threw spears, the draugr rushed up to the PCs with swords and axes. They brawled it out with the PCs. The fight took a couple of real-world hours, but it's easily summed up like this:

Crogar got into it with one draugr and they slogged it out with each other, both fending off each other's attacks. Ulf used his Wand of Paralyzation five or six times, and managed to paralyze one draugr (who then was beaten to death over four-five seconds by Hernando), but mostly couldn't roll well enough to paralyze them. Hayden fought with his golden bone falchion and crippled one draugr and eventually killed him. Astrid threw first her harpoon and then her knife from the back. Wyatt walked around on the air and stabbed at eyes, blinding several of the draugr. Crogar and Aldwyn fought as well, with Aldwyn managing to hurt more of the draugr than Crogar could. The draugr hit the PCs a few times, and critical hits in both directions made for some bad wounds. Ulf healed the PCs with Faith Healing and Gerry started to systematically Great Haste the group. Even blinded, the draugr were very resilient (HT 15+),

The first clash ended with several draugr blinded and moved into the back, most of the draugr having thrown their spears, and eight draugr down - several decapitated, one with a smashed skull, and several just down with crippled limbs and numerous injuries who are either "unconscious" or dead.

The PCs are in much better shape, but have used healing several times and a lot of paut, and Great Haste rapidly winding down. The FP loss from Great Haste is going to tell soon, and it will be difficult to keep it gone.

We had to end it mid-fight because of real-world time concerns. We'll pick up next time with Draugr II.


The PCs finally went after the draugr in a big way. They expected Hamilcar and Galen today, but neither could make it due to other concerns. Hamilcar probably had Wizard Court jury duty, and Galen had a sick dryad-in-law in his family to visit. Those two would have made a big difference.

Crogar bought Lucky, so now he's Crogar the Lucky.

Astrid is a guest player. She plays in Aldwyn's own DF game where he lives. His game draws a lot of inspiration from mine but mine ratchets up the difficulty a lot and the margin of error down. So what do you do with a guest who might only have a brief time with the group? Stick her in the back rank for the entire fight. She did her best, though, and very actively sought out things to do and did them.

The PCs made a few tactical errors, by their own description. Putting non-shield carrying fighters in the front rank - especially ones not exceptionally good at parrying - was a bad idea. They knew the draugr had spears, but no one ever gave it enough mind. That didn't kill anyone - although it came very close for both Aldwyn and Astrid - and it cost the PCs a lot of resources to heal them up.

The PCs also made a rookie error of going into a "cleared" room without checking if it stayed cleared. Sadly, it had four reeks in it that I placed there who even knows when, and which I'd marked as waiting dormant there. It could have been a trivial slaughter of the reeks except a) no one looked at the ceiling and b) everyone wants to just scrape oozes off like they're green slime. Almost everyone - Gerry ordered his skeletons to do full-bore attacks regardless of the consequences. Rookie error, for sure. Check the ceiling and check corners and scout before you move in should just a thing by now, but it was forgotten.

Mystic Mist is an interesting spell, but rarely helps in my games. It's so nasty few foes will enter it unless absolutely compelled to, or if they're immune. And it takes so long it's hard to use even in those cases. The PCs have a second scroll of it, which they'll use if the draugr back off, but again, it's 10 minutes to cast that way.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Who decides what to do? And how?

How does your gaming group make decisions about what to do in a sandbox setting?

How does your group set goals and decide on a course of action?

My Felltower group generally makes its decisions in an ad hoc way, with people interested in voicing an opinion doing so and eventually coming to a consensus. A significant number of the group don't have any particular opinion and will go anyway. In other words, people offer up ideas and if enough other people are enthusiastic or ambivalent about it, it happens. If people are mostly ambivalent or negative about it, it doesn't.

In Gamma Terra a small group of us - and I am one of them - have some definite ideas about what to do. So the group has been going about the decisions made by this small and decisive subset. It's similar but it's more like "this is what we'll do barring persuasive objections" and less like the above "how about we do this, unless someone else has another idea?"

We've toyed - in both games - with the idea of assigning a leader who gets to just decide what the next session's delve/adventure will be. But it generally has not stuck.

The whole Caller/Leader thing was something that D&D seemed to embrace back when I first started to play it. We didn't do that, but we read Examples of Play that had Callers or Leaders. In the beer-and-pretzels games we play now, having one person make a quick and irrevocable decision sometimes seems very attractice. We can just get on with it, instead of debating what to do.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Six Mile Hexes links

For a variety of reasons, I've been thinking about 6 Mile Hexes. Not that I run a hexcrawl, but still, it's useful metric to keep in mind when thinking about PCs and NPC carving out kingdoms.

I decided to put together some links that I've found useful concerning them.

In Praise of the 6 Mile Hex

How Much Adventure in One 6 Mile Hex?

So Hex Size in Square Miles (about 32 miles)

The AD&D DMG discusses setting up a stronghold by clearing an area, and discussed 20-40 mile hexes (p. 47) and even 200 yard hexes for small-scale mapping (p. 93).

What other links should I add for discussions of the basic structure of a six-mile hex for domains or exploration?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Boxing Day - A look back at Boxing

While the actual meaning of Boxing day has less to do with Boxing than I think it should, that's no reason not to blog about Boxing.

Re-reading the Boxing style - and the box "The Sweet Science" from GURPS Martial Arts, p. 152-153, what would I change?

Writeup: I think the writeup is solid. Nothing really leaps out at me as something that needs changing. It's still accurate and engagingly written. The tough part is the Art, Sport, combat skill split - Boxing really does need both Boxing Sport and Boxing, but it's not like you learn one without the other. I've yet to meet a proper boxing trainer who will teach you to fight without requiring hard contact in both directions. Stay on your toes and move quickly or the focus mitt will find its way past your guard and onto your face.

It would have been nice to write it in light of the fighter between Mayweather and McGregor (highlighting expert specialist vs. expert generalist in a specialist contest) and the growth of bare-knuckle fighting again.

Additions: If I had to add anything, I'd add Targeted Attack (Boxing Punch/Vitals) for those liver-hunting left hookers that I know. I'd probably add a box somewhere - for fighters in general - with some disadvantages to reflect TBI (traumatic brain injury) and the cumulative effect of head blows on personality. It's not just lost IQ and lowered Appearance.

Removals: Although I very much like the Uppercut technique (also useful for shovel hooks!) if I had to cut something I'd cut that entirely and cut it from Boxing. It's not something that necessarily needs its own rules. It doesn't need cutting, but it could be cut and leave the style usefully intact.

Overall, I think we did a good job on all three versions of Boxing - modern, Ancient Greek, and Bare-Knuckle.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Oddball Sherman: Arrived

I received my Bolt Action "Oddball Sherman" in the mail.

It's awesome. Resin tank with metal minis for the crew.

It's quite nice looking, and should be a fun model to assemble and paint.

The book, though, is awesome. I laughed out loud a few times just flipping through it.

It has:

- stats for the tank and crew, Hollywood version and regular veteran troops.

- stats for Oddball and crew, Crapgame, Kelly, Big Joe, Babra, Hollywood Tiger tanks ("Principle Service: 1951-2001")

- Nexus of Positive Waves - a random table for the effects of PFC Moriarity's negative thoughts ("Crap!") on the game as whole.

- special rules, such as my favorite:

"Ve have gasolene all over ze place."

If you adopted a cliched, war movie German accent, you get to modify an activation roll for your unit. Best part of the rule? "Actual native German players, this means you too." It comes with another, cost, too, which is a rule that means you might just sit stock-still shooting up random terrain instead of acting.

It has rules for artillery that depends on the unreliable Mulligan, too.

The booklet, the rules, the tank - all were clearly written by big fans of the movie. Ones who did their research, read the novelization, and watched the movie oh so many times. It's about time for me to watch it again, too, don't you think?

Oh, and it turns out there is a special figures set with Kelly, the Bavarian tank commander, etc. - so I went and ordered those, too, from the same seller on eBay. It came a week earlier than expected and it's exactly as I thought it would be, so here is more of my business.

So, Merry Christmas to me!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Confirming Death in AD&D

One thing skirmish games have, generally, are rules for checking if lost skirmishers are really dead. Oh sure, your archer/ork/barbarian hireling/apprentice wizard/familiar got killed in the battle, but are they really dead?

You go and roll on a table, or make another check, etc. to see if they're dead.

I think that in D&D/AD&D games, this might be a useful way to go. You "die" at -0 HP. Unless you get taken straight to complete death (-10 HP in AD&D, different scores in different variations and house rules), you're merely out of the fight (and the adventure.)

But you might not be dead.

An arbitrary random table might work. He's one that's cribbed from games like Frostgrave and others.

Roll 1d20:

1-3 Dead
4-6 Lose 1 from any chosen attribute or from permanent HP total.
7-9 Badly Wounded: Temporarily reduce Movement to 75% of normal and HP to 75% of total.
10-12 Unconcious: Character was only unconscious. Reduce movement and max HP to 75% of total for the current adventure only.
13-18 Fine, fully recovers between adventures.
19 Unconscious - recovers to 1 HP immediately and is ready to continue adventuring.
20 Stunned - recovers to HP total prior to the final hit, and is ready to continue adventuring.

Alternatively, you can make it a targeted roll. Say, target is roll under your level + CON bonus:

Make with a 1: Recover after the immediate combat with 1 HP.
Make it: Recover after the adventure, fully.
Miss by 1-3: Movement and max HP are 75% normal for next adventure.
Miss by 4-6: Recover after the adventure, but wounded badly - lost 1 from any chosen attribute or from permanent HP total.
Miss by 7+: Dead!

Or just roll System Shock right then and there. Fail it? Dead. Succeed? Alive and needs to recover between sessions.

I haven't playtested these or fully explored the ideas, but I figured I'd get it out on my blog and see who can do more with it.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Last Felltower of 2019 Game Prep

I did a lot of game prep today.

- I wrote rumors to fill in the rumors table.

- I reviewed the Felltower .doc file for any needed updates. I didn't restock, exactly, so much as follow up on any notes I'd left to myself in the file. Months have passed since anyone entered Felltower (September 2nd, to be exact) so there are a few months of changes that needed to be made.

- I did some reading on my own available templates, as we'll have at least one new PC next time. Possibly more than one, as one player is making noises about using another character if the rest of the group chooses something too lethal for his main character.

The other new character? well, one of my players is going to bring one of his players for a trial session, as she'll be in town and wants "to see what nightmare mode is like." Yeah, I'm down with that.

Nightmare mode? Yes. I'm DF on Hard Mode. Dryst's player, if he ran game, would run it as Hardcore Hell mode. I'm unreasonably tough; he'd just be amusingly unfair.

So she can get a one-time taste of what it's like. Maybe it'll live up to it's billing. Maybe not. Maybe she'll have great memories. Maybe she'll just have a dead PC. We'll find out.

- I prodded the players to spend their plethora of points (and their cash, now that I think of it) by email and not at the beginning of next session.

All I have left to do is re-assembled the DF crate to ensure I have only what I need for DF and not for AD&D, double-check a new PC or two, and do some other little bits of prep. Hopefully the PCs will use this Christmas week to plan their delve!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

GURPS Who's Who 2

Since I took a look at my work for Who's Who 1, why not for Who's Who 2?

For this book I wrote or co-wrote:

Oda Nobunaga
John Wesley Hardin
Erwin Rommel
Sid Vicious

and three "Might Have Been" NPCs.

It was a good excuse to read a lot of books about Sid, the Sex Pistols, and punk in general - and re-read the ones I had already (I highly recommend England's Dreaming.) Similarly research about Rommel, Nobunaga (who I'd first discovered thanks to stumbling across Koei's Nobunaga's Ambition PC game), Napoleon, and John Wesley Hardin was really enjoyable.

Who's Who 2 has one of my favorite pictures in any GURPS book - Sid Vicious. I was very proud to get him into a GURPS book, as I've long been a big Sex Pistols fan (although I honestly prefer their live stuff with Glen Matlock on bass.*) I only realized after he started playing with us that the art for his entry was done by andi jones. It was nice to thank the artist personally** for the work I'd long enjoyed.

I really love these two books.

* Although I enjoyed this show with Sid particularly, and this one is legendary.
** By words, and then by killing off many of his characters.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Oddball Sherman: Purchased

So I purchased one of the Oddball Sherman kits. I couldn't resist.

I don't even play Bolt Action. But it'll just be a nice piece to have in my collection. I can't wait for it to arrive so I can assemble it and paint it. I guess I need to invest in some olive drab paint!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

GURPS Who's Who 1

This past game one of my players gave away a bunch of older GURPS books he no longer needed. I passed on all but one, since I was playtester on all of them and had my own copies.

But one I kept - Who's Who 1.

One of the earliest books I contributed to was GURPS Who's Who 1. They offered two comp copies for every NPC you wrote up, and one for every "Who Might Have Been?" imaginary (or fictionalized) NPC.

In Who's Who 1 I wrote up:

Julius Caesar
Barthalomew Roberts
Peter I of Russia
Benjamin Franklin
Shaka Zulu

I also contributed Peter Karbolev, a made up NPC who keeps Russia in WWI and forstalls the Communist Revolution.

These books were a total blast to work on. I read several books on Benjamin Franklin and his autobiography, as well. I'd already read extensively on the others. I remember certain arguments in the playtest well, too. Ken Hite stepped up to defend my writeup of J.C. as a master Strategist when he was questioned as such by playtesters. His logic was, Pompey was demonstrably a good general, and Caesar beat him and his veteran legions hollow at Pharsalus. So, Julius got to keep his excellent Strategy score.

The guidelines for making NPCs were great - it was fun trying to figure out people's stats and skill levels based on the opinions of contemporaries, demonstrated actions, and historians. I really enjoyed the entire process, and I still keep those guidelines in my head as I consider what stats really mean.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Avoiding HP loss in AD&D

The PCs in my AD&D games have most often suffered death the old fashioned way - they ran out of HP after through attrition that wasn't able to be offset by the stingy healing in AD&D in general.

So how to avoid those HP losses?

Well, by avoiding fights when you can. This is admittedly isn't often in a tournament module, especially purely linear ones like the A-series. The PCs tried to avoid traps, avoid chokepoints, and avoid encounters. They failed, because the module doesn't let you do that.

But also you need to leverage your knowledge, paranoia, and real-world sense avoid places where HP can get bled off (like that explosive gas room.) You also need to constantly adjust your approach to combats round by round - if something is working, but it's costly, you need to see if there is a way to change that cost.

In our last session of AD&D, I noted especially a "grind it out" mentality would set in. After 2-3 rounds of combat, often sooner if things were going very well or very poorly, people would stop changing their options. They'd simply grind it out. "Same as last round" was the declared option most of the time. The support characters would stand around if they didn't use spells. The front ranks would fight whatever was in front of them and just keep fighting till it died or the PC dropped. Even a PC in major trouble - flanked, but able to simply back up to get out of being flanked - just stood and died. The player was exhausted at the time, and startlingly low on sleep, which certainly factored in.

But in a different game, you can potentially grind away - trade X damage to inflict X+1 and just win the exchange. In AD&D that always turns out to mean you can't win the next fight. It's a Pyrrhic victory. Win the battle but lose the war.

So what I observed - and discussed a bit privately - were ways to keep trying to shift the odds. You need to keep pushing in fights to find a way to tilt the battle in your favor. Spells might have the most value early but your casters might not be protected enough to cast until later. Do you skip them save your spells for "when we really need them" but lose so many HP you can't win those fights anyway? Or do you bust them out partway into a fight to decisively affect it? Is it worth risking a cast early when your caster is exposed to the enemy?

Potions, scrolls, spells, flasks of oil, shooting into melee - these are all ways to potentially shift a fight. So are simple tactics like having missile weapons at the ready to launch before melee, if only to shorten a fight by a few strokes later on when the enemy is within reach.

My players are learning - and I'm get a refresher course in - how to thrive in AD&D. And it's not grinding out battles, for sure, even if they are ones you need to fight. I'll have to dig around in my Dragon collection and find what I can in the way of tactics articles to help them out.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Lookouts, Vision in Low Light, and More at Campaign Mastery

I stumbled across this really extensive look at camping, vision and attention levels, and standing watch.

A Sharp Lookout: How Much Can You Adventure?
By Mike Bourke

For a GURPS DF game, this isn't strictly necessary; GURPS handles much of this natively (light levels and night vision, time spent moving vs. camping, camp requirements, etc.) especially given Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures. That said, it's still a fascinating read and has some value for GURPS. I found it interesting that night vision starts to "kick in" at 10 minutes, and may take hours to really peak. Also the incidences of hallucinations and "seeing things" that occur in low-light watch situations and long-time gazing at a single place. There is a also a useful discussion of alarm trips with bells, although in GURPS a simple Watchdog spell can solve much of the problem that actual guards are meant to address.

From a pure real-life education standard there is a lot there. It's worth it alone for the discussion of 90-minute sleep cycles, something that gets talked up in the sports performance field a lot these days. Or at least the corners of it I hang out in.

It's a long read but a good one.

Monday, December 16, 2019

All for the love of sunshine: Oddball's Tank in miniature

As a huge fan of Kelly's Heroes, you know I love this:

That's Oddball and his tank crew - Turk, Moriarty, his driver, and the man himself. The mini includes:

- all of their extra gear strapped to the tank;

- their barrel lengthener to give the enemy the impression they've got a 90mm instead of a 75mm;

- and the loudspeaker for playing soothing music, such as this:

Love this.

Now I need to dig up my copy of GURPS WWII and stat up a modified Sherman for Oddball's crew to drive. They've got the fastest engines in the European Theater of Operations, forwards or backwards. That's got to be worth a full variant write-up . . .

Sunday, December 15, 2019

AD&D Session 6: A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity - Part II: Ladies First

Today was part II of II of our AD&D session playing out A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity.

SPOILER ALERT! This will absolutely spoil most of the adventure for you.

For ease of following this later, I've noted the initials of the players who ran the characters. We had five players running nine guys so everyone but one had two.

Elwita, Dwarf F6 (J.M.)
"Ogre", Human F5 (J.M.)
Freda, Human R4 (O.L.)
Karraway, Human C6 (A.J.)
Blodgett, Halfing T5 (M.D.)
Dread Delgath, Human MU5 (V.L.)
Phanstern, Human I5 (V.L.)
Eljayess, Half-Ef C3/F3 (M.D.)
Kayen Telva, Elf F4/MU4 (O.L.)

We started with the PCs opening the trap door in the temple of the first part of A1. The gods of the temple healed everyone completely and restored them to vim and vigor, removing the enforced downtime for survivors of 0 to negative HP.

The group climbed down and oriented themselves, quickly using their Ranger to determine the most traveled path was West. They came to a chamber covered end-to-end with rotting garbage. Suspecting the floor wasn't safe, they had Kayen Telva give Elwita his magic spear so she could prod the floor. She quickly determined the floor dropped away sharply to the left and less so in front, and not at all to the right in a narrow path. So they moved into the room around the ledge.

They were attacked from the deeper part of the garbage pit (as it turned out to be) by five white grubs between 18" and 3' long. They didn't know it but they were aspis grubs. "Ogre" and Elwita were nauseated by the stink of rotting garbage (failed save vs. poison) and semi-helpless for 4 rounds. Freda and Kayen Telva were close enough to fight and did so. They managed to eventually cut down all five grubs, especially once the lead fighters both recovered. But the grubs cost them a lot of HP - over 20 each from "Ogre" and Elwita, and some from both of the other two fighters. Due to the room layout, no one else managed to fight.

From there, they advanced into the sewers. They found a trapped sliding ledge thanks to tapping and prodding ahead with a spear. They banged in an iron spike - noisily - and sent Blodgett across to bang in another. He did so and they crossed safely. The noise had carried, though.

They found a Y-split ahead and checked both directions, opting for right. They found an upturned tun under a splatter of water, and knocked it over. (I'd forgotten entirely to mention the sound of the "drumming" from this upturned tun, which serves as an alarm of sorts. So I just made it a red herring. Oops, but the spiking was alarm enough so it didn't matter.)

They spent some time searching for secret doors and finding none. So they headed back and then the other part of the Y-split.

They found three tunnels full of sewage running toward them. So they picked the middle one and marched single file into it.The two female PCs were one and two, and moved into side by side when possible. "Ladies first!" They'd stay in the lead the rest of the way.

They eventually reached the end - and found six orcs ranked up on stairs just outside of the flow of sewage from pipes above, backed by two ogres with rocks!

A fight ensued. The orcs and ogres all launched missiles at Freda in the lead but missed her. They moved into melee. The front ranked fighters - Elwita and Freda - melee'd orcs. The back rankers shot arrows, and Phanstern tried Paralyzation on the ogres. Naturally, they blew the initiative roll and he was clipped with a light crossbow bolt and his spell was spoiled.

The ogres and crossbow orcs shot at missile using PCs in the back ranks, who shot at the ogres. The front two fighters just hacked away. "Ogre" stood ready to step in, but they later swapped in for his bow. The wizards fell back and crouched low.

The PCs ground away at the foes, steadily killed orcs and killing both ogres - and one who stepped up to replace a fallen ogre - with missile fire. Blodgett and Eljayess, though, took significant hits in the exchange. Blodgett alone lost 20 of 25 HP. They used up almost all of their ammunition doing so, save for a few arrows of "Ogre"s. The PCs never stepped up the stairs, though, content to fight with a -1 for being ankle-deep to knee-deep in sewage flow. They eventually killed off 18 orcs.

They moved into the room and looted the ogres and orcs. Eljayess grabbed a light crossbow and bolts - despite lack of proficiency - because of a lack of arrows.

Next the PCs found their way blocked by fallen rubble, but there was a halfling-sized gap to move through under a big block of masonry stuck over a fallen beam. The beam was into a crevice in the floor smashed through by the fallen beam. The beam was stuck against a small ledge by the masonry, the masonry kept from falling by the beam. The PCs were kept from advancing by the beam. Loose, they found five flat 6" thick stones and two 5' beams.

So what to do?

They sent Blodgett past to scout, silent with his Boots of Elvenkind. He found two orcs behind a 3' barricade, and three ledges on the opposite side of a channel of sewage with 2' barricades. He snuck up and heard orcs on guard saying they'd attack when they saw "them" approaching. So he sneaked back when they lost immediate attention to their front and warned the party.

Meanwhile they party tried to puzzle out the barricade. After lots of engineering questions and repeatedly drawing and re-drawing the obstacle to visualize how to get past it, they did on what seemed to be the obvious solution - prop the big chunk of masonry up with beams (they cut them down to two 3' beams since there wasn't 5' of space under the rock), then slide the beam out (it fell into the crevice below nosily), then crawl under the masonry.

That worked, but naturally the orcs were on alert. They dealt with that with Wall of Fog to make it impossible for anyone to see. They felt their way along the wall in the fog, ignoring wildly inaccurate crossbow fire from panicked orcs, and reached the barricade. Freda had a blinded melee, killing one orc, before the spell ended. The PCs got shot at with crossbows from orcs on the far side, behind the low barricades, and attacked the orcs on their side.

Phanstern threw his silver dagger ineffectively at the orcs on the far side, as Blodgett fired a sling bullet and missed as well. Dread pulled out his Wand of Fire and burned 2 of the remaining 3 charges with a Wall of Fire across the orc crossbowmen. They all charred and died, as did their witch doctor just after he got off a Prayer spell. They killed the other orcs without any trouble. They looted them and found 15' planks, so they put one across and checked the burned orcs. They found three pots. Blodgett opened one and smelled nasty sewer smell. They brought them over and Elwita checked the other two, wearing Blodgett's Ring of Protection +1. She was nauseated despite that. They brought them along as weapons.

Next, they forced a door open and found an empty room littered with dirt, bits of armor and weapons, and other debris. The room didn't smell, but the air that came out of it was eye-burning.

Karraway, who had warned Phanstern not to throw away his silver dagger, joked this was the smell of lycanthropy. This quickly became "lycantropic musk" and then led to this communally written haiku:

Lycanthropic musk.
My character is a wolf.
Failed my saving throw.

They checked the ceiling, but nothing. So they went in to check the far door, as a group.

One round later, their lanterns set off the explosive gas in the room. BOOOOOOM. "Ogre" saved and took 8 damage but had 7 HP left, and dropped. Blodgett failed and died, taking 16 damage. Most of the others were severely wounded, with only Karraway about single-digit HP. They grimly continued.

They tended to "Ogre" and left him and Blodgett back where they'd killed the orcs. They forced the other door and moved ahead.

They found a 50 x 50' room with a "floor" consisting of 10' deep slave pits, two pillars, and a corridor on the far side. Careful examination showed the pits could be closed with currently-open lids, and a vision slit on the far side.

Worried about being peppered with missile fire on the walk across, they considered putting Levitation on Freda. Realizing that her walking on her hands across the ceiling wasn't faster or better, they sent her across, covering her with missile weapons ready.

As she came to the middle, two ant-like bug men stepped out from behind the pillars. Each had two shields and two swords. Aspis drones, they learned. The aspis drones attacked Freda from both directions. For some reason, she didn't back up, she just stood at an intersection and fought them both. One fought her shield side, the other from behind. She managed to wound one right away, and it cut her right back and bled out most of her HP but she kept her footing.

The other PCs fired away, confident her -2 AC would spare her missile fire that fate sent her way (we'd kept the A3 rules intact). (Actually, it should have been much higher AC - back shots don't use DX nor shields, so it should have been AC 5, +3 for magic armor, for AC 2.) Murphy's Law meant that most of the missiles went for her, but they largely missed. The rest almost all went the way of a single aspis.

Freda was hit and knocked down into the pit, unconscious from the fall. The aspis retreated behind the pillars.

"We'll just shoot them, they don't have missile weapons," said Karraway. That was a round before an Aspis pulled out three darts from their holders on the back of a shield, threw three at Long Range, and clipped Kayen Telva for 3 HP of damage. She had 2 left, and collapsed, dying.


The PCs rushed the aspis. They fought a nasty, close-in melee. A Command to "die!" worked on one, causing it to fall and be injured. Dread tried Burning Hands with the last charge of his wand, but it did a mere 6 damage, halved to 3 by the aspis drone's resistance to fire attacks. It shrugged it off and continued to attack. But in short order they took down Elwita, Karraway, and the others, each being trapped (but uselessly - most were at below 0 HP) in the pits. They charged the wizards who charged back and quickly killed them both.

TPK, with the PCs all dead (Blodgett) or dying (the rest save Karraway) or captured (Karraway.) The Slave Lords were victorious.


AD&D is still a learning process for the group. One of my regular players once said that in AD&D, HP are a resource you need to expend sometimes to get things done. I think that's true of later modules and AD&D 2nd edition much more than for AD&D. In AD&D, HP are very hard to get back and healing is at a premium at best and all too often unavailable. You really have to avoid losing HP. How? I have a whole post about that coming.

But suffice it to say that too often this sessions the players just tried to grind out fights, trusting to superior AC and HP to win the day. It did, until they'd lost so many HP that they just didn't have enough in the well when they went to it. A lot of it I still chalk up to inexperience with AD&D. In GURPS, you can grind out fights, because you have DR and defenses and healing magic is much more plentiful. In AD&D, you just reduce your chances of surviving the dungeon for every hit you take. You can't grind, you really need to find a way to improve the odds of your fight as quickly as you can.

Oddly, the PCs used up all of their arrows but Freda never once fired any of her Arrows +2. Nor did she pass them on once they decided she was solely a melee fighter. Actually against the orcs and ogres I suspect she'd have been better shooting, since she could leverage her +4 damage for her level twice per round with arrows.

Once it was over we discussed the final fight. The PCs had some spells in reserve for that - two Hold Person spells, for one - and Light and Chant, but that was about it. The horrible losses in HP put paid to running that, though.

In retrospect restoring them fully to pre-game conditions would have helped significantly. But I don't regret my decision - had they been a little more paranoid about that clearly-trapped room with the gas, and poked about a bit more to test it, they'd have hit the aspis fight with a lot more HP. Oh well. That's what that room is for, much like that initial garbage room - it sorts out the groups less experienced in navigating hazards with AD&D-specific abilities and limitations.

Very fun session, though. Sometime next year we'll try A2.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Clearing every room - CRPG or TTRPG?

"I've been largely operating via a classic RPG mentality of "clearing" every room even if the monsters are initially friendly." - Chester on the Camelot RPG.

Is that an RPG thing, a CRPG thing, or a TTRPG thing?

I'd say, "Classic CRPG mentality." You learn quickly in actual RPG to not kill everything just to kill it. Or you learn to accept the character casualty costs and opportunity costs of "clearing."

I'd say that from my perspective my players have exterminated a number of potential (and actual) friendlies, and closed off access to some really interesting information and actual treasures by "clearing" CRPG style instead of delving TTRPG style. I believe it's from coming from later gaming, where you have a feedback loop between later CRPG games and TTRPG games making "kill everything and search everywhere" the only way to play.

In a CRPG, you generally need to go to every square, explore every place, and kill every living (and unliving but animate) thing you encounter. You're not really "done" until you've done it all and especially killed it all.

In a TTRPG, especially an old-school megadungeon game, you really can't try to clear it all. It's a mistake to try. At some point you'll hit diminishing returns on the large but less valuable upper levels. That's in game terms. In real life terms, you can spend literal years in the same dungeon but never get very deep because you're trying to "complete" or "finish" or "clear" things. And you can all too easily get into the habit of trying to kill that which would rather negotiate or deal with you.

Sufficiently old CRPGs were generally like that. If you try the "clear it all" strategy in, say, Wizardry, you're making it hard on yourself. We won that game by eventually just taking a run at W*E*R*D*N*A by going down the elevators to level 9, skipping the intermediate levels, and casting TILTOWAIT while the fighters all attacked the evil wizard. "Clearing" the dungeon was impossible, so you learned not to do anything that cost more than it gave. You have to know what your goal is. And as I learned from Dan John, who I believe got this from Dan Gable (of "Gable grip" fame), you always have to keep the goal the goal.

In a really old-style TTRPG, that goal isn't clearing things. It's looting.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Random Links for 12/13

Here are a few things I wanted to get out there:

- There is a sale on some GURPS (and other) books on Warehouse23. Not the ones I lack and need, just the ones I have already. But maybe you own different books than I!

- You can sign up to be alerted to the launch of DFRPG Companion 2.

- I really like this post on "story game" elements on OD&D. The quote in questionm, though, I can't seem to locate in my copy of M&T. Still, it's a good look at early cooperative storytelling in gaming.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The long tail, sales, and monster books

I've written a number of books.

There is a trickle of sales after the initial post-publication burst. That trickle can go on seemingly forever. I'm still receiving royalties - and sales - for the PDF version of a book I co-wrote about 15 years ago. Nothing beats the advance-busting first month for GURPS Martial Arts, but it still sells, in PDF and POD (and it's even on sale, in PDF.) I understand this to be the "long tail."

Out of all of my books, the most steady trickle of sales seems to be monster books. Every month I get my SJG royalty statement. My two monster books - DFM1 and DFM3 - sell steadily. They don't often sell a lot - usually low-mid single digits - but I can't find a statement in my archives that has a 0 for either of them. Some months, no one wants to read about Ninja or Gladiators. But someone always wants monsters.

I get this, as a GM. Looking at my book shelf, I have:

AD&D Monster Manual
AD&D Fiend Folio
AD&D Monster Manual II
D&D Monster Manual (3.0, I think)
D&D Monster Manual (5e)
Pathfinder Bestiary I
Pathfinder Bestiary II
Pathfinder Bestiary III
Rolemaster Creatures & Treasures
Rolemaster Creatures & Monsters
D&D Monster Cyclopedia
Munchkin Monster Manual
The Basic Fantasy Field Guide of Creatures Malevolent and Benign
Swords & Wizardry Monsters Book

. . . and those are just the monsters-only or monsters-mainly books that aren't GURPS. I've got at least six GURPS books that are mostly monsters, too, not counting PDFs.

I don't even play most of those systems.

I'd buy more if I had room or saw a cool enough monster book.

So I get this avarice for more monsters. You can always use inspiration even if you can't use direct stats.

I'm therefore always keeping an eye out for an opportunity to write more monsters, especially if I can get a royalty-producing book out of it. They seem to make for the most steady sales over time.

I'm curious if that's true for others - if you write for games, do your monster books provide the most continued profit over time aside from any "core" system books? And everyone else, do you find yourself "needing" more monster books even for systems you don't generally play?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wasteland 2 giveaway on GOG.com

Like the title says, for the next two days Wasteland 2 is free on GOG.com.

You will have to sign up for GOG to get it, and this may lead you to buying old games and spending lots of hours playing them. But hey, free post-apocalyptic video game. It's pretty good, having played it twice through.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Zombies & Poisons in T&T

I've blogged about overselling the description . . . but I think this undersells it:

"Some monsters are immune to poison, either from very slow metabolisms (zombies) or because they live
with it on a daily basis (dragons)."
- Tunnels & Trolls, 5th edition, 1.52.5

"very slow metabolisms"? Sure, that's one way to describe the metabolism of a dead person. It's not how I'd go about it, but yeah, sure, "very slow." Like how "zero" is a "low number."

Monday, December 9, 2019

GTA3: Vice City - Learning to Drive Again

Recently I upgraded my computer, so I can finally play some of the newish games I'd like to play.

So have I played them? A little. But what I've mostly done instead is fire up my old original XBOX and play Grand Theft Auto 3: Vice City. (Click here for the excellent intro - press play on tape? Been there, done that.)

The first time I did I walked into walls for about 5 minutes, then crashed every car I had into everything near me for another 10 minutes. Within 15 more minutes I was sailing along, but still leaning the patterns of other drivers so I can zip around without killing pedestrians or wrecking my car. I'll get there. The best way to get there?

Taxi missions. I arrived in Vice City and prompt ignored the main mission so I could tool around in a (stolen) taxi - preferably one from Kaufman cab company - listening to the radio, picking up passengers, and getting better at driving around. I knocked off the pizza delivery missions to get my health bonus. I'll go back to cabs again after that. Once I've hit 100+ passengers and unlocked the special cab feature, I'll see about doing the paramedic runs.

Then I'll be well-equipped and familiar with the controls and I can go about Tommy Vercetti's mission to dominate the drug trade and get Marco his money back. It's not how I wont the game the first time, but I'm having fun doing it this way, this time.

I'd once unlocked almost everything in the game, but then I loaned someone my XBOX while I was in Japan . . . and when I came back I'd found he'd only played Vice City a little bit, but managed to save over every single one of my save games. Sigh. So this time I'll unlock it all systematically. Because it's like 16+ years old but the game still isn't boring to me.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

As-yet unused races and templates in Felltower

I took a look at this list of races and templates from my DF game. Here are the ones we haven't seen . . . yet.


We have yet to see any of these:

Half Elf
High Elf

Professional Templates

We haven't had any of these, either:

Assassin (DF 12)
Evil Cleric (DF3)
Unholy Warrior (DF3)

We haven't seen every Barbarian and Swashbuckler variant, either - we've had only basic barbarians and savage warriors, and vanilla swashbucklers. I don't want to count every single variation, though - there are lots of them, and it's not such a big deal to me if the swashbucklers we've seen or barbarians we've seen have used all of the templates available.

I think I'll likely see a High Elf or Half Elf before too long, but Half-Orcs have a lot of baggage. All of the three "evil" templates - assassins, evil clerics, and unholy warriors - also have a lot of baggage. Especially evil clerics, who can't be adventuring with the regular ones and who, despite all sorts of hoping to the contrary by my players, aren't just good clerics who get extra evil abilities. You give up a lot when you turn evil. Bards, well, someday someone might run a bard. I like the DFRPG one better but either would be interesting to see.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Dungeon Fantasy Companion speculation

A cover and an announcement for Dungeon Fantasy Companion, by Sean Punch, was put up on Kickstarter.

Here is what I'm speculating will go in it:

- leftover magic items that didn't fit into Magic Items 2 thanks to not making the extra page count.
- new templates for player character professions
- new templates for player character races
- possibly more "power up" style additions to existing templates.

It would be a good place for new rules, but DFRPG isn't rules-heavy. Monsters, too - it could possibly include monsters left out of Monsters 2 (but for various reasons I suspect they'd get saved for Monsters 3.)

That's what I mostly think will be included.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Circular Stonehell

I think this circular map of Stonehell level 1 is neat as can be:

Pretty cool.

What's in the middle? Is it a shaft straight to Hell?

Yes, of course it would be in my game. Why wouldn't it be?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Limiting Dodges exemption

I am blatantly stealing an idea from Christopher Rice and then slightly modifying it - an exemption from Limiting Dodges.

Limiting Dodges (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 122) recommends exempting fighters with Trained by a Master or Weapon Master from multiple Dodge penalties or restricted Dodge against firearms. Add Enhanced Time Sense to that list. Even in a game where TBAM and WM don't provide this exemption, ETS should.

Great idea, Chris!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Car Wars 6th edition Kickstarter

The Car Wars 6th edition Kickstarter is up:

It's been running for a few days now and it's fully funded.

It's not for me, though. I came into it in the pocket-box and paper counter days. It was a great game. This redo of the game is probably great, too, but I'm just not in the market for another minis-and-board dice-and-tokens game. If you are, and you like Car Wars, take a look.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

More on Laws & Customs of Surrender

Thinking more about laws & customs of surrender.

Life has value

Literal value. You can buy yours (and your stuff) with payment. Many of your foes are actually more valuable to you living than dead. They can provide ransom, be enlisted to service, and may even be socially obligated to provide information willingly (depending on the culture.) Killing them means all you get is their stuff. Sparing them may mean you get more value than their stuff is worth on the market.

"No Quarter" Means Something

If most battles are to defeat, not extermination, then the ones that do mean something. Foes that kill their defeated foes are a little scarier and deserve death in return became a special threat. If every fight is always to the death, then there is nothing special about ruthless foes.

Murder-Hobo Disadvantages Hurt

If you are generally compelled by your disadvantages to kill your foes (Bloodlust, Intolerance), or tend to limit your options in not using excessive violence (Intolerance, Bad Temper, Compulsive Behaviors of the right sorts, etc.), you will suffer an inability to take advantage of such customs.

This makes disadvantages like Bloodlust really more of a disadvantage. Right now, it's generally a quirk-level of effect. It's annoying to players who'd prefer that they question a prisoner without access to supernatural means to question the dead, but otherwise, that's about it.* But if foes reasonably expect battles to not be to the death, and gaining something of value from a defeated but living foe is on tap - even more value than if the foe is slain - then it's well worth -10 points.

Civilized Disadvantages Hurt & Help

Code of Honor, Honesty, and other do-gooder disadvantages are a disadvantage in that they compel you to follow the rules of war and surrender. But equally, they help you when the enemy has them, and will essentially force you to take the more valuable "spare them" option. If life is indeed valuable, in a monetary sense, you're going to come out ahead of the murder-hobo types.

Anything else I missed?

* Well, that and the inevitable attempt to explain that your guy puts in an extra shot to be sure of a downed foe at the end of a fight, not in the middle of battle, so it's not even tactically inconvenient.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Laws & Customs of Surrender

This excellent post over on The Dragon's Flagon prompted this post in turn.


If you read the Tales of Froissart, Medieval history in general, or watch lots of YouTube histories of battles (like this one here), you'll constantly run into the concept of ransom of nobles. Capture an important enemy knight, you sell him back to his family (and treat him well in the meantime.)

I find most gamers come at battle with a 20th/21st century concept of ruthless total war. A defeated enemy is a prisoner. Prisoners are held indefinitely or killed outright. All belongings of the defeated belong to the victor. A prisoner has no value to the victory except for what he or she carries or the information he or she can give about allies or treasure. And that's more easily extracted, in fantasy games at least, after murder using Speak with Dead (D&D) or Summon Spirit (GURPS Magic.) The concept of prisoners for ransom, prisoner exchanges - a perfectly common 20th century phenomenon, and release on exchange (you go home and don't fight until officially exchanged for another prisoner) - they may as well not exist.

With that in mind, would you surrender? At best, you're looted of everything of value and set free, but that's unlikely. You expect to be stripped of gear and either sold into slavery or murdered.

But I think there is a way to do this.

Laws of War

Implement some rules of value.

Make it clear right from the start of the campaign that there are certain concepts of war and battle that are accepted. When a civilized foe is defeated, it's accepted in general that he or she should pay a ransom in return for being spared. You may claim their goods, or a ransom, but not both - and it's generally preferred that you claim a ransom. It's considered bad form to seize goods outright with the acceptance of such by the defeated. Ransom will generally be in cash, but can also be in kind, deeds, or promises (in a game that needs them - I'll respect your borders for a year, we'll conclude a pact, I'll protect your allies in my territory, etc.) If you can't pay in cash, you can hand over your gear.

Service also counts. Using the rates as a hireling (DF15, p. 32) to calculate how long of service works, or you can default to a year's service in lieu of handing over goods of value. This is a great way to get hirelings, by the way - defeat the enemy, recruit them instead of looting them, and you've got hirelings who've agreed to work for you for a year without pay (you would still need to make sure their upkeep is cared for, through loot or pay.)

Another option is to pay a month's upkeep. A Status 0 foe might owe $200, while a high-ranking noble may owe many thousands. They could easily be worth more than their carried goods.

For example, you defeat a foe and he or she surrenders. You can claim his or her gear and let them go, or you can claim a ransom. The ransom should be similar to the sale value of the gear seized - say, 50%. The defeated and the victor can negotiate turning over a particular piece of gear as part of the negotiations. If you defeat an enemy swordsman and he doesn't want to give you his Weapon Bond sword he doesn't have to, but may have to pay quite a lot to keep it (assuming the foe values it correctly.)

Also state outright that NPCs follow these by default. That is, it's likely that foes will follow these rules more than they'll break them. Most enemies will follow these rules; ones with "oath breaker" disadvantages will have appropriate reputations. But otherwise, assume civilization matters and the rules are followed.

The concepts of absolute good and evil work against such social mores, however. Can you free a member of a Chaotic Evil race? Would a Lawful Good character free an evil foe, and vice-versa? Would Lawful Good people really be fighting each other to the death? Those are maybes, but it's another layer of complication and another step in the going-on 50 year arguments about what alignment means. In a game without strict alignment but clear definitions of evil - GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, for example - it's unlikely true evil will just ransom off a Holy Warrior of the Good God or spare some "useless" prisoners. But the more civilized types might - anything that lacks "Truly evil" could follow these norms, rules, and mores. And even then Truly Evil ones may spare those that surrender in an attempt to use Good to defeat Good. And Good can try to use the weaknesses of evil to escape and win the day, as well.

All in all, though, I feel like stating outright that surrender is viable and likely only costs you service or some of your cash can help. Combined with "fleeing always works" and knowing what the foes want can make fights doubly less all-or-nothing decisions. Players fear death of their PCs and often fear loss of their cool stuff more than death. "I may as well be dead if I'm going to lose my magic sword and armor" can end a PC and make for long slog fights where the players desperately try to drag it out while they come up with a miracle to win. But knowing, hey, I surrender and pay some cash and escape - maybe that's the way to go. Maybe next time after the extracted truce ends, you can get some payback. But surrender doesn't equate with death, and it's stated outright.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Snow Saves Slave Lords

Snow and ice wiped out a session against the Slave Lords today, so unfortunately we weren't able to get in any gaming at all today.

I instead did some game prep. Mostly this consisted of cleaning up and organizing my game materials a bit. But I also decided on how I'll proceed for the Slave Lords series going forward.

For the second part of A1, I'll go with "mystic healing powers of the temple" to restore the wounded to full HP. I was going to go with partial - 75% of the lost - but the PCs lack any healing reserves. I feel the appropriate effects of the first session are the cost in spells are reserve items. They've used most of their potions, wasted their Potion of Clairaudience to clairaudit into a Silence, 15' Radius spell, cast a number of spells (especially Phanstern when he was flailing to "not waste" spells as he was mauled in melee), and otherwise expended resources.

Everyone at full HP and the PCs restored - including Phanstern, who'll catch up - and down spells and consumables seems fair.

Thinking about the previous game, it was obvious retroactively how used to "GURPS on hard mode" my players are. They put a troll down and then used two flasks of oil and lit them with a precious charge from a Wand of Fire even though any one of those things would have done the job. But they're used to needing to inflict 120 HP of burning damage-based injury to ensure a dead troll. They'd have used the rest of their flasks if I hadn't stopped them.

They're also a little unfamiliar with their own magic, which cost them. Witness the Sleep spell cast off to the side of combat to avoid putting a PC to sleep - something that simply wouldn't happen based on the level of the PC (and the distribution of sleep effect levels.) This cost them some resources and time that wouldn't have been an issue for a more veteran AD&D group. They'll learn, which will be critical to surviving the later modules and when we go on to the Giants series. You can't usefully run 9th-14th level PCs if you struggle to effectively run 3rd-6th level PCs.

Sadly the ice and snow cost me a day of gaming I won't ever get back. But in a couple weeks we'll have another day, and the Slave Lords will take some hits then. Or the PCs will be exterminated in the attempt. And boy will that throw a wrench into my plans to run the whole series, eh?
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