Monday, February 10, 2020

GURPS DF Session 127, Felltower 98 - Cone-Hatted Consortium

Date: Sunday, February 9th, 2020

Weather: Moderately cold, cloudy.

Aldwyn Hale, human knight (278 points)
Astrid Cook, human barbarian (250 points)
Bruce "the Mild" McTavish, Jr., human barbarian (267 points)
Crogar the Lucky, human barbarian (268 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human necromancer (370 points)
     5 Skeletons (~35 points)
Ulf Sigurdson, human cleric (285 points)
Wyatt Sorrell, human swashbuckler (286 points)

The group gathered in town, mostly - Astrid roughed it outside of town. They gathered rumors - including one about druagr "definitely" being killed by decapitation, and one about how some undead groups can't be killed until every member is killed. Gerry declared them both plausible. They also heard that cone-hatted cultists were in town recently, come from Arras in the west. The PCs purchased more potions, more spellstones, and more consumables of all sorts.

After some discussion, they decided to head into Felltower to retrieve the crystals Gerry'd spotted last time with his Wizard Eye. They bought pickaxes and made sure the skeletons had theirs.

The PCs made their way up the mountain and through the trapdoor into Felltower. They carefully advanced, scouting ahead of their long group (they're 9 yards from lead to trail) with a Wizard Eye. They saw nothing and heard nothing out of the ordinary (I usually skip the rat squeaks, water drips, cobwebs in the corners, etc.)

They worked their way down to the Giant Fantastic Staircase, opened it up, and went in. Mild Bruce examined the stars painted above, trying to see if they matched the stars outside. It wasn't clear to him.

They reached the bottom of the stairs, and proceeded carefully toward the second GFS via the same route as before. The close air bothered Aldwyn, but the others were okay. They reached the room with the black hemisphere where they'd fought the gargoyles, but found no trace of them, nor was the hemisphere repaired. They examined it briefly - Wyatt checked to see if it was as damaged as they remembered. He hadn't checked before, so he couldn't remember. Crogar looked a little more closely to remember for next time, but only had a second or two before the group marched on.

They reached the door to the hexagonal room, and Alwdyn touched it to open it - and took 1 HP of injury from a short zap of some kind of magical energy. Beyond it, they found the illusionary wall and its Will barrier. Wyatt and Crogar forced their way through, but Astrid could not thanks to an untimely 18. She immediately suffered 1 FP of fatigue and a -8 on further attempts to pass. So they decided to just choke her out and pull her through while she was out. Aldwyn put her in a standing rear-naked choke and put her to sleep and they hauled through, then woke her up as the others passed. Aldwyn took a couple of tries but made it, and then Ulf came rearguard. The skeletons were unaffected.

They headed down the stairs to the next level below, and opened up the door. The crammed into the hallway and saw an intact hemisphere of black. Sure they'd destroyed it last time, they set to work on it this time. Ulf cast Silence on the hemisphere itself, and Mild Bruce chucked his harpoon at it - their only suitable ranged weapon. It hit silently but hit the floor with a bang. And then another, and another, and another as he threw, hauled it back in, and threw again. It finally cracked pretty badly.

They decided the best way across the floor towards the crystals was to cast Levitate on Astrid and have her carry others over. Even with ST 18 she can't managed most of the big fighters at Heavy encumbrance, so she grabbed Wyatt, instead. (Keep in mind our changed Levitation spell here.)

They started in on that plan. As Astrid was partway across the floor toward the right corridor, concealed figures in the left corridor loosed attacks before they got spotted. They tossed a pair of Demon's Brew grenades into the pack of PCs, wounding most of the front line types. Then out rushed those figures - short cone-hatted guys with armor exactly like Gerry's suit, armed with greataxes crackling with Lightning Weapon. They were backed by two Levitating taller cone-hatted guys with slim swords, maces, and mesh gloves on their left hands. Those two fired bolts of lightning and fire, respectively.

The first bolt of lightning hit Aldwyn but he Dodged and it eventually hit a skeleton in the final rank, who blocked it.

(An annoying case of player knowledge here - the back-ranked skeleton used Block so a second later the front rankers switched to Block, too, without any in-game way to know what happened.)

More Demon's Brew grenades exploded amongst the group, spiked at the feet of the lead fighter. No one could advance without risking 3d injury from the floor, which the enemy clearly wasn't affected by. So did more bolts. Ulf took a fire bolt but tossed his burning shield to the floor after it took the shot.

Gerry put Great Haste on himself and then brought Astrid (& Wyatt) back and deposited her in the back ranks. She let go of Wyatt, who had crushed a Walk on Air spellstone and headed out to attack the enemy after Gerry put Great Haste on him, too. He crushed a Resist Lightning spellstone, too, and Gerry gave him Missile Shield. Next, he quaffed a potion of Agility and got +5 DX.

Meanwhile Mild Bruce threw his harpoon into an axeman, wounding him slightly. The axeman knocked the harpoon out with his weapon. Mild Bruce dragged it back to re-ready for a later throw. Neither side was willing to engage in straight-up melee.

A fire bolt seared Astrid and lit her on fire at this point even as she dove prone, and Ulf put Resist Fire on her as she'd been engulfed in flames (10+ damage from fire.)

Wyatt moved up and attacked the axemen. He managed to blind one in both eyes and knock him back and down. He fended off their axe swings with cross parry to avoid risking breakage to his longswords (not sure why, they're 5# swords) but couldn't easily deal with the sword-armed taller figures, who parried his attacks very effectively even after Feint. His Feints didn't do so well, either, against them.

The he pushed them back, however. Amusingly, Aldwyn tried Intimidation and rolled a 17, making for a very poor attempt that emboldened the enemy. Crogar groaned at the enemy were cowards and fleeing, and they'd come all this way for nothing. Gerry pushed Aldwyn forward with Levitation, keeping him a foot off the ground. Alwdwyn used Wait and then activated it when the enemy was in reach as Gerry moved him. It worked to a degree.

The enemy, though, kept falling back - and one used Levitation on the fallen fighter to bring him back with them. Wyatt pursued. He took out one of the taller cone-hatted types and kept coming. As he closed in, though, he that behind the fighters was a mass of norkers, waiting to charge. They did, rushing past the axemen. Also, six golden swordsmen and three more tall cone-hatted figures came out of the passage facing the party, unnoticed in the confusion (I rolled Per for the only person who could see with Dark Vision, and he failed, badly, thanks to range and distraction.) They piled into the group. Lightning from one of the tall cone-hatted types hit Aldwyn and stunned him, leaving him at HT-6 rolls to recover. He would . . . many seconds later.

As this happened, an Iron Spectre joined the enemy and hit Wyatt with a death ray, and then Crogar with a numbing ray that lowered his ST and DX.

The PCs decided to retreat. Gerry cast Stench over the group. The norkers pulled back as they could, dragging bodies with them. The golden swordsmen kept on fighting, as did the cone-hatted cultists. Ulf used his staff to heal several wounded PCs as more Demon's Brew grenades went off over them, and then used his Wand of Holding to paralyze one of the golden swordsmen. The idea was to create a "wall" of paralyzed guys to delay pursuit.

Gerry covered the group with Darkness (complete with its very bizarre effects). The enemy had taken a lot of casualties, including two golden swordsmen - one blinded and dropped by Wyatt, one paralyzed by Ulf, and then another taken down with a leg lopped off by Crogar. That one would continue to fight, even after Crogar crippled his other leg - only then did Crogar manage to take him down with a third blow.

The enemy kept pushing in - the Norkers pulled back bodies, and the golden swordsmen pressed. One pushed past the front ranks to attack from the flank, but didn't manage much before Ulf paralyzed him. The iron spectre kept hovering around, using its rays every once in a while to directly damage the PCs.

Around this time the PCs decided the odds were turning, and they could win. That didn't last. One of the tall cone-hatted guys cast Dispel Magic and knocked out a chunk of the Stench spell, most of the Darkness spell, many spellstones (Holy and magical), and many of their buff spells. Wyatt's Great Haste had just ended, and Gerry put another on him. One of the paralyzed golden swordsman was unparalyzed. Ulf quickly hit him again and paralyzed him again. Wyatt quickly stabbed him repeatedly in the eyes and left him standing there. The other was dispatched the same way.

Norkers crashed into the ranks, too, but one slammed into Mild Bruce ineffectively and then was knocked down; another was killed by Wyatt. Ulf tried to paralyze the "main wizard" of the enemy several times, but failed. The "main wizard" cast Dispel Magic again and took out another bunch of buffs and lightstones. The PCs decided to flee once that happened and a quartet of obsidian golems walked out of the same corridor that the iron spectre came from. The PCs started to fall back, again, under Darkness. The golems marched forward, and when they ran into something in the darkness, attacked it. Mild Bruce fell back, crouched down, and grabbed around for the fallen golden swordsman that had broken their ranks. He got him, and started to drag him. The others fled - skeletons carrying Astrid, Wyatt streaking ahead under yet another Walk on Air spellstone, and Gerry fleeing right behind him. The PCs kept falling back. The golems did some damage with hits in the darkness, but couldn't trap any of the PCs. Mild Bruce eventually dropped his swordsman, realizing barely in time that he'd be cut off and killed if he didn't let go.

Gerry ordered three of his skeletons to All-Out Defend and block the golems. They did so, but only lasted 3 seconds. That helped the PCs get organize and flee up the stairs. But they are slow - 2/yard cost for stairs, and Move 3 for their slowest, meant they couldn't outpace the Move 6 golems. Mild Bruce took the rear guard. Gerry put up Darkness over him and the rank behind him, and Shape Darkness to move it along. Even so, the iron spectre followed the golems out. The PCs couldn't really escape.

Luckily for them, Mild Bruce chose to rear guard it. As Gerry cast Haste on the slower types, and the skeletons set down Astrid so Crogar could carry her a bit faster (he's stronger than 2 skeletons), Mild Bruce slugged it out with the golems. He shattered its right arm. Ulf tried to Sunbolt on the spectre but both times it dodged. One of the golems hit Gerry with a paralyzation ray, but Ulf was able to Relieve Paralysis and get him moving again. The iron spectre turned his gaze on Gerry with his death ray and wounded him. But then Mild Bruce managed to cripple the golem chasing him. Its left leg crumbled. The other golems couldn't fit around it, and thus were slowed down. The iron spectre didn't pursue ahead of them.

The PCs made it up the staircase, dragging under fatigue, with the pursuit foiled by the fallen golem and lack of sufficient verve by the iron spectre . . . or perhaps other limitations.

They got through the Will wall with little problem - lucky rolls and choking out the badly wounded Astrid helped. They made it home, eventually, without any loot but without any casualties amongst the living.


Tough delve today. The PCs inflicted a lot of casualties on their foes, but at best only managed to barely get away. They had no loot, expended a lot of resources (Gerry noted he'd spent 72 energy and 8 HP on on casting spells - that's a lot of paut), and didn't even get a glimpse of a new area. They're trying, hard, to delve above their expected abilities but they seemed clear after the escape that they needed to rethink this course. Maybe a lot of the tag-end areas on the upper levels, including the gates, need to be looked into. The gates don't all go to "easier" areas, but clearly they're not ready for what's below. Continually expending a lot of resources to gain zero loot is a problem - Felltower doesn't have infinite wealth within reach. If you spend 2-3-4X to gain 1X (or even zero), eventually there comes a time that characters simply cannot sustain the pace of required expenditure to survive.

Spellstones, and allowing their purchase, is a major game-changing decision for DF. If you're considering running a DF game, think carefully about this. I've had to make a ruling on every single spell castable at 4 energy or below (since the breakpoint of 5 is so pricey). The PCs have stocked up on endless amounts of these, so everyone can and will buff themselves. The major of money at this point seems to be spent on spellstones and potions, and it's routine for the PCs to expend at least the value of the resources they extract on the extraction in the form of expended spellstones. I'm willing to live with the consequences of this, but it's worth knowing ahead of time if you're thinking about how to run your own game in the future.

All of that said, Super-Wyatt was effective, to a point. It's a variation on a tactic I've seen in GURPS with my group for over 30 years, now - buff the living hell out of a high skill fighter, send him/her/it airborne into the fray, and form a defensive line around the buffers. It can work, and work well. But there is only so much a single fighter can do. Even with pretty much ideal foes - foes with eyes and lacking No Brain - Wyatt couldn't defeat them all. All it takes against one of them is a critical hit not stopped by Luck and it can go source for the fighter. And even if it doesn't, the others can get mauled by the remaining forces and damaged by area-effect attacks as they try to survive until Super Fighter wins. They just didn't have the firepower to defeat the enemy without inordinate damage to themselves - more than they could survive.

I forgot that Aldwyn should have had a -3 to DX skills for Levitation without being the caster. I can't rely on people to apply modifiers to themselves. GURPS has a lot of them, this is conditional, etc. but if airborne fighting is going to be standard it needs to be remembered.

I'm strict with Walk on Air. You can't use Acrobatic Dodge with it, you can't crawl, you can't dive prone. You can't kneel. You can walk, or run, or crouch, but that's it. Anything else breaks it. It's still a very, very effective spell with a very low casting cost for what you get. It doesn't need to be unlimited air move to be good, and it's too cheap at the price to be that. For that, get Flight.

The skeletons tried valiantly to rear-guard, but lasted only 3 seconds before they were all destroyed. And that was with the benefit of fighting within darkness. The golems couldn't see them - clearly they don't have Dark Vision - but simply walked until they made contact and then attacked what they ran into. The skeletons just couldn't deal with 2d+6 crushing punches and didn't have what it took to fight back effectively. Against lesser foes, they might have bought more time. But they were so overmatched that only the Darkness allowed them to even buy those three seconds. ~35 point skeletons vs. golems might to challenge 250+ point guys at less than 1:1 odds in their favor? Just a speedbump.

Oddly, today we had a lot of "does my character remember . . . " questions. Does my character remember how broken this was before? Does my character remember if these look like the same guys as last time? Does my character remember if such-and-such does so-and-so? I only let one of them fly, because it was a pure character-based question. Mostly, though, I just said no. My policy is, do you remember? We play differently in Gamma Terra, but this game is not like that. I don't remember what the players think they know. I don't want to be on the hook for providing details with conclusions, either. It's really a player-knowledge heavy game.

The Will Wall had some funny moments, and I had to put on my Out of Game GM hat at one point. Because it's tied to an illusion, we had people wanting to cover their eyes, get shown it's a fake wall with a rope through it, etc. It's a Will barrier, and you either have the Will to get through or you don't. Clearly being unconscious helps, and lucky rolls means they didn't need to try out "strong guy goes through and tug-of-wars you into coming through" with a rope. I will say there is a way around this that doesn't require brute force and Will, but the PCs haven't figured it out.

MVP was Mild Bruce for his heroic rear guard action. Everyone else earned 0 xp for no exploration and no loot.


  1. Nice example of boldly trying to go deeper than the party is ready for without being a TPK. Help me out. What's an "iron spectre"? Iron is often used in games for the most solid creatures but spectres are intangible. They feel like exact opposites so I'm unable to envision this opponent. I did gather it has a magical death gaze that harms those that don't resist. Is it undead or construct? Walk or fly? What else do the players know that would help envision this encounter?

    1. We’ve beaten one before. It’s a construct that looks like a spectre. We definitely delved too deep, but unlike the dwarves exploring Moria, we managed to escape.

    2. It flies and has two or more rays—one that does straight injury, the other weakening, no dodge, no resistance (as far as we can tell). I think we fought one when we fought the eight obsidian golems.

    3. From this summary:

      Also, you can check out HjalmarHolgerson on Instagram for pics. The Iron Spectre in this battle was represented by a ghost mini...check the Instagram posts from April, that probably has a better shot of the actual Iron Spectre.

    4. Sadly I still can't lay a hand on that mini. Hopefully it will turn up!

  2. The Super-Wyatt strategy reminds me of the D&D 3E group I once played with. They had a similar strategy of buff the dwarven fighter and cast Fly on him, then send him against the biggest foes to occupy them while the rest of the party tried to take advantage of the enemy being focused on the unkillable dwarven bullet shot at them.

    1. This is similar, but often it comes down to "one guy kills everyone while the others keep the enemy busy." It's not ineffective, but it has limits . . . and it's kind of boring for the fighters relegated to "stand around and guard the squishy types" while someone else gets buffed and kills everyone.

      Sometimes it gets exciting again when a critical lops off limbs from the "super fighter" or otherwise leaving him/her in peril out of the reach of the others.

  3. Would hiring extra warm bodies help or would they just die like the skeletons?

    1. Peter has discussed this in the past. Henchmen come around when there is a surplus of treasure. They aren't keen on hiring into a company that has recently come back with little or no treasure, multiple times.

      Compared to a 35 point skeleton they are superior (67 or 125 points) but against foes that are a serious threat to 250-point adventurers they won't have good survivability. Plus they went in with 7 PCs, which is a healthy size group. A couple henchmen won't add much to that and probably detract since the PCs need to spend their time making sure the littles survive. Nobody really cares if a skeleton survives, just throw it at stuff.

    2. Like Alex said, they won't add much. 125s will, unless the PCs spend most of their time trying to protect them. In that case they're a net minus.

      Plus, the group is big. We have six people on a normal session and upwards of 9-10 went we get a full house. The maps are generally cluttered as is, especially with the tendency of the PCs to fight in hallways.


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