Friday, July 31, 2020

Random Links for 7/31/2020

Miscellaneous links for Friday!

- I bought this issue of Torchlight and I enjoyed it. I was amused that it uses some of the same free art SJG uses.

- My planned auctions have been delayed - the USPS says they shipped my boxes, but haven't provided a shipping number or a delivery date. I couldn't go to the office to just pick up boxes, because they're not doing that these days apparently thanks to the pandemic.

- I got sucked into re-reading the "Sten" series of books, which I picked up thanks to Steve Jackson writing about them in Roleplayer magazine. I got a newish Kindle book, and it back-references the first book, so I re-read it. Fun stuff. Way cinematic, but fun. Also fun fact - my first order from was two Sten books I couldn't find otherwise (Vortex and Fleet of the Damned) and She is the Darkness by Glen Cook. Also, somewhere, I have a signed postcard from Allan Cole. I'd reached out to him, somehow, because I couldn't find book 2. He couldn't help but sent me a nice postcard.

- CRPG Addict continues to work his own particular way through Ultima VII. It still seems like a hot mess to me. I eagerly loaded it up post Ultima VI (which I loved enough to play through three times), and hated the hell out of it. Mostly for the stuff that trips him up - companions griping when you eat food you should clearly own, messy combat (he had someone die and not notice until later . . . hey, where's Durpre? He died hours ago.), and just weird NPC interactions. I couldn't cope. He did. I really enjoyed the whole series (well, III, IV, and VI) but I wouldn't play Ultima VII unless you paid me a reasonable hourly wage to do so.

- I have to post some reviews, but I'll say now: Action 7: Mercenaries is great and will influence my gaming. So will DF Adventure 3.

- Yes, you say, but I come to Dungeon Fantastic to find out about your War in the East gameplay! Hey, so do I.

I'm on turn 33, now, after a restart just prior to the blizzards and using the reduced blizzard mode. Turn 33 is 1942-02-05. Overall, it's going well.

The good: I took all of Moscow. I just kept hammering away at weak units put up against my strong units. Periodically the Soviets would launch an assault to re-take the corner of Moscow I took. But when they weakened, presumably to even out the strength of the line, I assaulted Moscow and took it. I'm now 20-30 miles past the city, pushing a spike into the center of the Soviet line. I'm also pushing the Soviets back in the north, and I solidified my line in the south. Reinforcements are coming.

The bad: The Soviets are pushing into my Finnish troops back. They've driven me from Kalinin, pushed holes in the center north of Lipestk and south of Voronezh, and drove me from the Don river.

The ugly: Finnish units and German units fighting under Finnish auspices - such as the 163rd division (which Sweden infamously allowed to transit its territory) - are scheduled to disband or withdraw. I had two divisions disband while being the only units I had to stop a Soviet advance in the north. I'm lacking enough Corps HQs to really reinforce the center - HQs do the best with about 3 units, maybe 4 . . . and the sectors that are being penetrated by the Soviets don't have enough. I have 14 divisions under 3 corps, and I need maybe 4-5 divisions to stabilize the center and no HQs to send there. Command and control - and overburdened command - is a real thing in this game. I'm getting smashed back north of Moscow and may need to halt my advance just to shore up the shoulder of my advance. The Soviets, meanwhile, are showing more and more units as "Guard" - meaning they're being promoted for success.

It's a mess. A fun mess - and with reduced blizzard effects, a more fun game. The total destruction I was suffering under the "standard" blizzard is lessening, but I am still getting slammed. I think I'll do okay, but I'm now at 1,000,000+ Axis casualties and 5,000,000+ Soviets. Since it was more like 10:1 before, this is a long slide down. But hey, maybe in the Spring I can conquer the Soviet Union? Yeah, maybe.

- I had to put comment moderation on everything, because I've gotten a huge wave of spam recently. The waves are coming closer and closer, so moderation may become a permanent thing at some point. Generally I'll check a few times a day if there are comments, approve anything that looks legit, and come back later to read them and respond. But sadly, that seems to be the way of things.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

My new book is out - Dungeon Fantasy 21: Megadungeons

Here it is:

What's in it?

- basic guidelines for megadungeon campaigns, and for mapping megadungeons

- the dungeon stocking rules I came up with for, and use for, Felltower

- the loot stocking rules I use for the same

- spells to watch for in a Megadungeon Campaign

- alternate rules for magic in megadungeons

- loot-based XP

It's only 10 pages. It was actually more like 13-14, but Chris and Matt helped me make it clearer, and then Doug stepped in and made it 10 pages without losing any content. Boo-yeah for editing! They say, "You have to kill your babies." No, you don't. Your editor can just make them smaller and make them fit.

I hope this lives up to expectations.

GURPS 2020 PDF Challenge - Complete

I received and completed my Backerkit survey for the SJG GURPS PDF Challenge. A little before I went to sleep last night I received all 12 PDFs.

I haven't had time to review them, yet, but they are out there. So if you haven't gotten your Backerkit survey, it should be coming soon. If you have, fill it out quickly and you can have those 12 PDFs in your hands (virtually) very quickly.

Okay, to be fair, I did give DF21 a quick scan through and read some bits to make sure they're how I hoped they'd come out. I hope you guys enjoy the books!

So hurrah!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Plan It By the Numbers - Frank Mentzer & setting encounters in D&D

In Gary Gygax's article "FIRST ADVENTURES IN DUNGEONEERING (by Gary Gygax, USA)," discussed here yesterday, I made this comment in the comments section:

"It's true, but the core idea for me is that you have a chance - to win by fighting, to win by outwitting, to evade by running. Since your options on all three are really level dependent, ultimately, it's really saying that balanced decisions about appropriate encounters are part of the basic job of the GM. It's not a numeric system like you'd find later for BECMI D&D, but it's still help up as a basic element of dungeon design. It's still on the continuum of balancing risk and reward and capabilities of the PCs that ends in scaled encountered."

Wait, what? BECMI had a system for balancing encounters?


Dragon #101 had an article by Frank Mentzer, author of the Basic, Expert, Companion, Master and Immortals D&D rules - the BECMI system.

Plan it by the numbers
A system for tailoring challenges to characters
by Frank Mentzer

It includes this:

"Author’s note: The following was in-
cluded in the original manuscript for the
D&D® Master Set. It was, however,
thought by the editors to be too heavily
mathematic for easy use, and was replaced
by an alternate system. But I still like this
one, and use it in my own campaign —
though modified for AD&D® game use.)"

What followed is a mathematical system for balancing encounters for PCs.

The system took the Average Party Level and Total Party level into account, along with a % of that - from up to 20% of TPL (for an easy wandering encounter) to over 200% of TPL (extreme danger, run or die). You could/should also compare to the Average Party Level, with the same relative strength (from nuisance encounter - amusingly, the same term I use for such in my own games - to "extremely dangerous opponent."

You'd use the HD, HP, us a multiple based on the "Power Index" (number of *s next to their HD) to determine a numerical value, compare, and go from there.

Take these examples (column width not adjusted - this is just cut-and-paste):

"A. Low Level Party; size = 5, TPL 26,
APL 5.2
Situation #1: Wandering encounter
1. Impact desired: Average opponent,
average encounter.
2. HD of one monster: 90-1 10% APL, or
90% of 5.2 to 110% of 5.2, or 4.7 to
5.7. Average = 5.2; monster chosen:
cockatrice (HD 5**).
3. Power Factor: 2 (asterisks).
4. Total monster HD: 30-50% TPL, or
30% of 26 to 50% of 26, or 7.8 to 13.
5. Number appearing: 7.8/5 to 13/5, or
1.56 to 2.6, each divided by 2 (PF) =
0.78 to 1.3. One cockatrice wanders
6. Convert decimals: Average hp = 22.5,
multiplied by 0.78 and 1.3. The cocka-
trice has 18-29 hp.

Or maybe your guys are higher level?

"C. High-level party; size = 4, TPL 132,
APL 34
Situation #1: Wandering encounter
1. Impact desired: Easy opponent, Minor
2. HD of one monster: 30-50% APL, or
10.2 to 17, average = 13.6. Monster
chosen: cloud giant (HD 13*).
3. Power Factor: 1 (may be ignored).
4. Total monster HD: 20-30% TPL, or
26.4 to 39.6.
5. Number appearing: 26.4/13 to 39.6/
13, or 2.03 to 3.04; 2-3 giants wander
6. Convert decimals: Average hp = 58.5;
the 2-3 cloud giants have a total of
119-178 hp (each with 13-104 hp).

So you want a minor hazard for your 4 PCs who average 34th level and total 132 levels (actually 132/4 = 33rd average level) - turns out 2-3 cloud giants will do, mathematically. #2 is "minor placed encounter" with a potentially 160 HP red dragon. You know you've hit the big time when math says dragons are minor fights.

It also has advice on using this on the fly to make an encounter match the PCs better on the fly - instead of changing die rolls, change the monsters. "I make up results regularly, to keep the game fun - and isn't that why we're all playing?"

I always think of that when I hear gripes about "balanced encounters." Making all of this a mathematical thing happened in print as early as September 1985. That's even before I stopped playing AD&D and moved fully on to Rolemaster and GURPS (and then just GURPS.) It's a workable system, too, if more mathematically heavy than other systems I've seen for balance. If you play a D&D-based system, by which I mean BECMI or B/X, this system works very smoothly. It might be worth a look if you can find Dragon #101.*

* I bought that Dragon Archive back in the day so I'm lucky, there.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Here is an example of play from D&D I've never seen before.

Thanks to Zenopus Archives for linking to this earlier this week, and Allen "Grodog" Grohe for posting the transcript on another site

Reading it prompted a few comments of my own.

Here it is, assembled from Allan Grohe's two posts, so you don't have to hop around.


You have been thoroughly hooked on Dungeons & Dragon (D&D), and during the last few days every spare moment has been spent happily preparing several dungeon levels. Great care and thought have been employed to do things just so - and of course you have spent a bit of time laughing fiendishly at the thought of what the hapless dungeoneers will encounter in choice areas! Actually, you certainly don't want your players to get killed, for then they'd miss seeing just how cleverly you've set them up! They don't want to buy the farm either (unless the dice were unkind indeed). Think about that.

A good referee does not wish to deliberately set his players up for certain death in the game - although there are sometimes one or two players who... Anyway, by the same token you should not set out to aid them either. The whole purpose of the game is for the players THEMSELVES to face the challenge presented by the dungeonmaster's maze, to defeat it, or be defeated by it without help or hindrance. If they are clever they should survive and gain great rewards, and if they are stupid they should finish themselves off rapidly. This implies that you have located and numbered monsters carefully, so that the players can usually fight them on even terms, outwit them, or run like hell, i.e., one doesn't put invisible stalkers on the first level. If there are errors they will quickly be spotted on the first adventure, and they should be corrected before the next! In fact that is why I urge that a separate key listing monsters and treasure be kept for each level, rather than writing the information right on the map. With all this in mind, let's move on to the actual game.

Several players are gathered in some secluded place, and you have a good spot set up where they cannot see your dice rolls or map. It is a good plan to give them at least a half an hour to get everything together. Magic-Users will have to decide what spell they are going to take. Everyone will be selecting basic equipment, figuring costs and encumbrance. Although spell selection always takes a bit of time, we have pretty much settled upon the following as 'standard equipment':

dagger, 50' rope, 10' pole, 12 iron spike, small sack, leather back pack, water/win skin, lantern, 3 flasks oil, holy water/vial, quart wine, iron rations.

Your players can simply compute the price of what they set out as standard and save much time and effort. Additional items and encumbrances can then be noted aside as additions to the standard.

Your players will also have to appoint their leader and mapper. At this point everything is all ready for the first descent into the deepest dungeons! So let us move on to a typical account of a first trip, assuming that the players have moved outdoors to a ruined city which is reputed to have dungeons beneath it. The ‘dungeonmaster’ will be indicated as ‘D’, the party of the players as ‘P’.

D: “You have found the ruins of the deserted city of Detresed. You can see that there are streets going northeast, northwest, and north. Most of the ruins are nondescript, but due north you note that there are several larger structures, one or two of which are in less disrepair than the others.”

After going northwards a few hundred feet, and getting complete descriptions of the ruined edifices visible to them, the party selects a ruined structure which appears to have been a temple, and they enter cautiously. After thorough exploration they decide to ignore a set of steps they have located, for a vast stone idol hid a narrow shaft penetrating very deep beneath the temple. The latter would not normally have been located, but careful checking and perseverance found a secret door in the idol’s back. The party descends some 40’ into a large, circular arched chamber. It is 30’ in diameter and has eight doors.

P: “There is no sense debating, let’s take the door to the west, for it seemed that there were more ruins above in that direction than in any other direction. One member of the party will carefully try the door to see if it will open normally. All others will have their weapons drawn and ready in case there is someone or something behind it!”

D: “Door opens normally (without ANY sound, in fact), and beyond you see a 10’ wide corridor going north.”

P: “The door didn’t make ANY noise when we opened it?! Hmmmm. Examine the hinges.”

D: “They were oiled – greased lock.”

P: “Oh, oh! Watch out! These doors are USED. Helmets off, everyone. Listen at all of the other doors.”

After some time spent so listening, noise is detected behind the door to the east and that to the southeast. And meanwhile the dungeonmaster has checked, but the party is lucky and no wandering monster has happened along during the interim. The brave adventurers ready themselves, creep close to the eastern door, and ready an attack. Two of the six will watch the southeast, one will open the east door, and the three with bows will have their weapons ready as the door is flung wide.

P: “We are set. Open the door!”

D: “You see, ahh ((die roll)) 4 hobgoblins attending some sort of cleric. They are dressed in black and blood red garments. Now, did you surprise them? ((die roll of 3)) NO! Initiative check – you are at plus 1 because you prepared. ((The check shows that the party is able to attack before the cleric and his servitors will be able to react at all.)) The enemy is approximately 15’ away, by the by.”

P: “Loose arrows, drop bows, draw swords, and charge. If I can manage to cast a Sleep Spell during all this I’ll do so, but I will be careful not to cast it so as to include our men in its effect. The two watching the other door will maintain position.”

The dungeonmaster now checks to see which arrows score hits, whom the hits are scored upon, and how much damage is done. Simultaneously, he determines if the magic-user who opened the door will be able to get a spell prepared and cast – about equal odd for and against due to preparation and positioning. It is successful, and 4 of the hobgoblins fall to the floor snoring. The cleric was not named as a specific target, and as he is a 4th level (Evil Priest) the general area spell doesn’t affect him. He shouts loudly, points, and an attack is struck by a Light Wound Spell. Undaunted they press on, eager to close with the cleric and slay him. The next melee turn is spent by the party closing, with the cleric backing and raising his finger to deliver another Light Wound. Just as the party is about to hack and slew this evil opponent they hear shouts from the chamber without: “Beware! HOBGOBLINS! There are more who serve this priest…”

P: “Two of the fighters will finish the cleric off as quickly as possible. I will go to the door we just entered, with the other fighter, to help the rest of the party, but while he goes directly to aid them, I’ll stop and kill the sleeping hobgoblins here.”

A general melee now ensues in the chamber and in the room where the cleric fights on. Seeing that the party’s two fighters and cleric are seemingly holding their own against 6 hobgoblins, the magic-user creeps up behind the badly wounded Evil Priest and delivers the ‘Coup de grâce’. This frees them all for immediate attack upon the remaining hobgoblins. Good thing, too! One fighter and the cleric are down, and there are three hobgoblins attacking the remaining man. After a long round of attacks and counters the party finally wins, although only three remain alive – the magic-user leading it, an elven fighter, and a fighting man.

P: “Well, let’s quickly check the bodies and the rooms for any treasure. The priest’s quarters will be searched especially well by the elf.”

D: “You find some silver pieces in the pockets of the hobgoblins ((a dice roll determines how many for each)), and in the robes of the cleric you find a pouch with 100 gold pieces. Nothing else is found.”

P: “Let’s all go check out that room some more… I am not satisfied that we’ve located everything. But to be on the safe side, let’s spike the door shut good and tight, and the fighter will keep an eye on it also just in case.”

Several turns are spent in this manner, and finally a small trap door in the floor is discovered. It is lifted to reveal a hidden trove – an alabaster idol worth not less than 500 gold pieces. As the party is in bad shape, they elect to return immediately to the surface. Their comrades are buried, their own wound treated, and before passing on the idol to some merchant, they minutely examine it. It too reveals a small magical compartment, and after several days the magic-user manages to open it. Therein lies a map to a temple on the 4th level – a place veritably stuffed with treasure, but strongly guarded by many hobgoblins and powerful men and monsters. Better still, there are some very valuable gems hidden in the compartment too! When the survivors share the wealth and experience, they are all well-pleased and rewarded, all going up a level. Time now for them to seek some powerful allies and many men-at-arms for a special expedition to that temple…

The above may not be exactly typical, for many first adventures are spent trying to figure out where the party is, for mapping CAN be a difficult task until you get the hang of it. Also, many first-timers take on monsters too powerful for them, or don’t use ‘hit-and-run’ tactics as they should. Again, I have had first time parties who had adventures just about like the one above.

This should enable you to ready your dungeons. How about a questions and comments section from all of you next time? And I’ll try to answer in the next…

Now, my comments:

- "This implies that you have located and numbered monsters carefully, so that the players can usually fight them on even terms, outwit them, or run like hell," - sounds a lot like using GM judgment to set reasonably balanced encounters. But that's not really news to GMs - you're always putting up obstacles but rooting for the PCs to overcome them somehow. Still, sometimes it feels like people think encounters being set up so PCs can fight them on even terms was a new school, gamers-gone-soft invention.

- The magic-user is in charge. That happens very, very often in my experience.

- "Helmets off!" - Yes, you generally need to take off headgear to listen at doors in my games, too. Although, everyone? Geez, guys, have some care. Keep a couple people ready to fight and everyone else listen.

- Rolling for the number of hogoblins encountered at the time of the encounter? It's an interesting choice. It could be that he's just determining how many are there out of a larger, fixed pool, but nothing indicates it's not just determining how many exist only at the point of contact. Clearly, that's the case for the silver pieces later on.

- The +1 initiative for "preparation" is interesting, and not something I've ever seen elsewhere. It's potentially problematic in play, though, because people will want to know what counts as "preparation" and then do that 100% of the time. You'd also want to determine what monsters are "prepared" and thus negate it. A +1 on the roll wouldn't mesh well with AD&D segment-base initiative as I understand it to be played (or how I personally run it.)

- "“Loose arrows, drop bows, draw swords, and charge. If I can manage to cast a Sleep Spell during all this I’ll do so, but I will be careful not to cast it so as to include our men in its effect. The two watching the other door will maintain position.”"

So it's "If I can manage" - Would this count as conditional action, or as taking the chance the spell goes off or is "lost" because of interruption? It sounds like the former.

- The GM rolls for to hit and damage for missile fire and spell effects. Maybe melee as well . . . it's not stated either way.

- That magic-user gets a lot done - casts Sleep (careful to avoid including his friends, not an issue in all versions of the spell), killing the priest from behind, and slitting the throats of four hobgoblins. He cuts those throats faster than a proverbial Klingon.

- Combat is as lethal as always in example fights in early edition D&D books.

- "The priest’s quarters will be searched especially well by the elf." - I read that as "searched especially carefully and thoroughly" but it sounds like what one of my players love to say, "I (fill in the blank) with ease." "I slay it with ease." "I open it with ease." "I disarm it with ease." Etc.

- Who the heck is shouting "BEWARE!" in this example? Am I misreading something? It sounds like a third party - not the PCs, not the priest's buddies (why would they yell that?)

It's pretty interesting for all of that. I do really want to play some very old D&D at some point, not just AD&D. I may have to see if any of my players are like-minded and free at the same times I am to get a few games of something in.

Monday, July 27, 2020

eBay Auctions Coming - Ogre minis, mostly

I've finished taking the pictures, and writing up descriptions. I'm waiting on some boxes to come in so I can calculate the shipping.

The hardest part of eBay auctions for me is the shipping - everyone wants shipping calculated before they bid (fair enough), so I need to pack and weigh everything - or find a flat-rate box and fit them all in - before I can even list them. It's actually the point that stops me listing most of the time.

All of that said, here is what I expect to list this coming week. If any of this grabs your eye, contact me (p_dellorto at yahoo) and we'll see if we can figure something out before I even have to list them.

Here we go.

Everything is boxed, like new, but not shrinkwrapped, unless it says otherwise.

Combine 1 - Ogre Mark V

Combine 12 - Ogre Mk. III-B

#3: Combine Lot
Combine 4 - GEV Company
Combine 5 - Missile Tank Squadron & Mobile Battery
Combine 7 - Howitzer Battery & Reinforced Infantry Battalion
Combine 10 - Fast Convoy

#4: Laser Towers
Combine 9 - Laser Towers and Turrets

#5 Ogrethulhu
Ogrethulhu 1
Ogrethulhu 2

#6 Paneuropean Lot
Paneuropean Set 2 – Panzer Company
Paneuropean Set 3 – Superheavy Troop and Missile Tank Lance
Paneuropean Set 4 – Luftpanzer Company
Paneuropean Set 5 – Mechanized Infantry Companies
Paneuropean Set 6 – Howitzer Battery and Mobile Artillery Troop

#7 Ogre Mark II (bagged)

#8 Ogre Mark V (with spare primary battery, 2 spare secondary battery sprues, extra tower) - bagged

#9 Ogre Miniatures Lot
Deluxe Ogre (complete)
Extra map from Deluxe Ogre
Deluxe GEV maps
Deluxe GEV rulebook
Paneuropean Superheavy x2 1 primed, 1 unassembled
Paneuropean Light Tank x4
Paneuropean GEV-PC x1
Paneuropean Heavy Tanks x10 4 Primed, 6 unassembled
Paneuropean Missile Tanks x4
Paneuropean GEV x6 Basecoated
Paneuropean Light GEV x6 Basecoated
Paneuropean Light Tanks x4 Primed (one piece missing)
Paneuropean MHWZ
Paneuropean HWZ
Combine HWZ x 2 primed
Combine MHWZ x2 Primed
Combine Superheavy x 2
Combine GEV-PC x1
Combine Heavy Tanks x10 Partly Painted
Combine GEV x6 Basecoated (plus all fins loose)
Combine LGEV x6 3 basecoated
Combine Missile Tanks x4 4 Primed
CP (tall) x 1 Primed
Artillery Drones in storage x2 primed
Artillery Drones deployed x2 primed

In non-gaming stuff, I'm going to list 3 Sam & Max cartoon VHS tapes, and a VHS of The Talons of Weng-Chiang, too. And a collection of 15 MST3K tapes (all official stuff, no copies off TV - 13 experiments, the movie, and The MST3K Scrapbook)

Let me know this week - as soon as I can nail down shipping costs, I'm listing these all.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Felltower, PCs, and in-town storage

During the course of Felltower, three things have been true:

- Town is a "safe space," where nothing bad happens to PCs unless they blow in-town rolls, and nothing bad happens to their stuff except for the same cause.

- PCs come and go.

- Some objects have special utility in the dungeon, and players love to pass items off between everyone.

So how do we deal with those items, #3, in the safe space that is town, #1, when #2 means the entire party can be completely different from Felltower 1 as it is in Felltower 101?

What do we do when someone finds an odd key and then much later other characters want to use it?

This campaign is relatively pro-transfer between characters.*

Here are the guidelines we used.

It's safe in town.

First and foremost, it's safe. If it's in town, no one is going to mess with it. I don't need some complicated explanation of how you've guarded it. For all we know Gerry's rented room has a pile of skulls in it, skeleton parts all over, and his pile of spare silver and gold near the door. No one messes with it.

Someone has to own it.

It's okay for keys, Bells of D'Abo (no longer an issue, but still), weird items the PCs salvage, etc. to be "in town."

What is not okay is for them to be vaguely "in town" in some kind of nebulous space that all PCs, new or otherwise, have access to.

And since someone owns it, you have to ask that player if you can use it. If it's your other character, yeah, no big deal. They'll say yes. Everyone says yes . . . but if Dryst has it, you can't just "borrow it from Dryst." You have to ask. And if said PC is AWOL, it's tougher - if Borriz or Honus Honusson is off being the Honus of his tribe, or Chuck Morris has it . . . good luck. Those guys aren't hanging around Stericksburg handing out their odd loot because you think you figured out what it's for.

But if you do get it . . . then your guy has it until it goes back to the owner. If that's what you've agreed to do with it.

If no one seems to own it . . . that's where the next bit comes in.

You have to know who has it.

Not only does someone need to own it, but they need to have it written down somewhere. "We found this is session 68, someone must own it, although no one mentioned it since . . ." = it's gone unless someone finds it listed on their sheet.

A few magic items have gone out of the game this way . . . and I could care less. If you lose the only key to the magic door to the fabled Whatsit of Whichplace, then it's gone forever and I don't care.

It has to make sense.

A PC handing over a key to some magic door is one thing . . . a couple of PCs who pass around a powerful magical ring or belt or helmet or whatever between delves is another. This isn't a free-for-all where all of your sword-using guys use the same magic sword or your wizards pass each other the $45,000 necklace that you found to use as a power item. "Quest item" like items only, please, or group items (like the long-lost bridge, say, or some particularly odd piece of gear the group purchased.)

Disadvantages matter, too. Explain to me how your cleric with Intolerance (other religions) is sharing with your pagan barbarian, again?


All in all, this works pretty well. And it saves me from having to track what the players found, in case someone reads an old session report and gets an idea. Check with the other players - the tool you need may not even be around anymore.

* I've long said I'm a big fan of Borderlands 2. I got it back in 2013 and I still play it, long after Borderlands 3 came out. Heck I played it yesterday. There is a way to store items in town, and transfer - in their words, "twink" - items between characters. Hurrah for that! But I'd love full-on one-player-all-characters storage. When I wanted to transfer items from character A to C, but also needed to swap something on B and D, I spent a good chunk of time loading up characters, running them to the storage spot, swapping in items, bringing in someone to take them out, then back to the first guy because I have 6 items to transfer, etc. etc. By the end I'd lost track of one item and had to do it again to get one of them over. Gee, that was a fun way to spend most of an hour on a shoot-and-loot game . . . shuffling gear around. So I understand completely the idea of "community items." But I prefer it as "community access," instead. Because unlike Borderlands 2, these aren't all one player's items. I might seem like I'm wanting one thing for myself and another for my players . . . but this method does seem to work well in Actual Play.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Remember TSR's AD&D Rub-Down Stickers?

I remember these, do you?

Those are the only ones I've seen with my own eyes. The proper term is probably "transfers" and not "stickers." That's the front cover of my uncle's D&D binder, which contains an old photocopy of Moldvay Basic Set, a punched and split copy of Moldvay Expert Set, and a lot of Arms Law / Claw Law tables, all photocopied. I have no idea if he own the originals or not; if so, I never saw them. This is the same uncle I got my Holmes Basic Set from.

The snoopy sticker? I don't know, it's too neat for me. I'm terrible at lining stickers up. I'd guess his daughter, my cousin, did that.

I will post up some of the Arms Law / Claw Law criticals when I get a chance, and compare them to the Rolemaster boxed set.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Friday Random Stuff 7/24/2020

Some random links for today.

- I guess people have minotaurs on the mind. In older D&D systems and D&D 4e. It's so hard for me to follow 4e descriptions, though.

- I like this post about Luck.

- I'm housecleaning and I'm handing off a bunch of big terrain pieces - a Warhammer Fantasy Battles Fortress and other stuff - to some of my players. I need to eBay the last of my ogre minis, too, since I have some other stuff to sell (a film SLR, a whole collection of official MST3K tapes, etc.) But it's house organizing time and I have to admit that stuff I haven't used in 15-20 years isn't likely to get used in the next 15-20.

- Stocking monsters up for my campaign, I've noticed that I always grab my Rolemaster monster books ahead of my D&D and GURPS ones. I don't know exactly why, but I always feel more inspired by those books. Speaking of which, back to working on my dungeon!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Better (hah) Bow Critical Failures for GURPS - based on Thieves Guild 8

I saw this post this morning, and I was inspired. Better bow critical failures for GURPS can be done! It can be worse than "weapon breaks" or "you drop your weapon."

Let's see how those could work in GURPS terms:

2-3 would just be "broken weapon." Optionally, the grip hand injury would be a HT roll - failure means a crippling injury. Roll vs. HT daily to recover.

4 would just inflict 1/2 bow damage on the hand, DR protects normally.

5 means the arrow is stuck, like a pick (Picks, p. B405). The bow is useless until the arrow is freed.

6 Hahahahahah. Sorry. Temporarily has One Eye for 1d seconds; after that roll HT every second to recover.

7-8 string broken.

9 string broken, but the arrow goes off somewhere; it's a critical miss, so you absolutely do not hit your intended target, but roll for friendlies along the path! Unfair because it has no chance to hit people you don't mind hitting? Well, next time don't roll an 18. We've already determined something bad happened, this is a roll to determine what it was. If it suddenly becomes "nevermind, you still kill some bad guy" it's not a critical failure, really.

10-11 rip open your arm armor; it only protects on a 1-3 on 1d, or subtract 3 from the odds of protection if that applies.

12 is as 10-11, but also take 2 HP of injury from a snapping bow string and roll vs. Will (High Pain Threshold and Low Pain Threshold apply) to avoid dropping the bow!

Fun stuff. I may need to see how to fit these into a proper table for GURPS . . .

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Writing for others - some notes on writing for publication

I've written before about game writing.

Beyond the very basics (have a contract, read the contract, submit what was contracted on time, have an editor that isn't you edit the work), I have some other tips.

Here are some random things I've learned writing for potential use by others.

- If you're presenting a location, a map is critical . . . if the location operates in any way like a tactical, explorable area. If it's just a "menu town" don't worry about it. In that case, you don't even want a map - a picture would do it better.

- It's hard to include full context, but you never feel like you've given the reader enough. The school of thought of "just some single-line notes" conflicts with a need to provide more. The best example I've seen of short, pithy descriptions is the excellent Stonehell dungeon. But it also has larger chunks of information. Getting that balance can be tough - when can you get away with one line and know the GM has enough to work with, and when do you need to explain more? They're paying for your explanation and for usability. For a wordy guy like me that's a tough line to hew to.

- Exceptional versions of monsters are harder to use in play if they're just a set of modification notes ("Snarky snakemen have +1 to IQ, +1 all weapon skills, and Rapier Wit, while Sneaky Snakemen have +1 DX, Stealth-16, and +2 to all weapon skills and a net +1 to Parry.") However, if you write them up as full templates, they double, triple, or quadruple the space needed in the product you're writing for. That goes for any size of template, in my experience.

- Just because you do it that way, doesn't mean the rules do. You need to cross every t and dot every i. My advice is to look every rule up that you reference. All of them. Read each one fresh before you use it. After a while, you won't need to look them all up and read them . . . but look them up, anyway. This is especially true if the GM might need to look it up - provide a page reference. If you depend on a specific set of rules or rule assumptions for something to work, make sure you include them. And make it clear. GMs who don't use said rules need to know this material won't work as written for them.

- run your material past playtesters who aren't you and your group. They will do things differently, and find they need things that you didn't think needed inclusion because they aren't critical to your playstyle.

I hope that helps others.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

War in the East - Update & Restart

I played a few more turns of Gary Grigsby's War in the East, and then I had to bag it. I was basically getting destroyed along most fronts.

I was holding Moscow, but getting pushed back on both flanks despite fortifications and solid units in reasonable supply.

I was getting destroyed basically from Tula to Rostov, rolled back and units were getting trashed.

I'd lost so many trucks trying to supply the troops that I couldn't sustain another 2-3 turns before my entire supply system was going to break down. I hadn't even hit peak Ice levels in some theaters.

Meanwhile, my Finnish ski troops got a massive jump in firepower and started destroying dug-in Soviets with impunity.

Now I get why people say that "Reduced Blizzard Mode" is better for the campaign game and "Historical" blizzard for the individual scenarios.

I've seen AARs that say otherwise . . . but I keep seeing those folks making massive gains I couldn't manage, taking huge hunks of the USSR beyond what I was able to . . . and not listing their difficulty level. I suspect that on "Easy" difficulty the issues I've had with fuel and casualties wouldn't be so much. I'm on Normal, which is already pretty hard.

So I had to wuss out and drop the weather down.

It's not easier, per se, but it does drop the automatic bonuses to winter troops a bit, and it changes some of the punishing effects to a flat effect instead of a random one. So maybe I won't get attacked by the Soviets and repel them with heavy casualties and then crumple under a smaller, second attack.

I went back to the first turn before the blizzard hit, so I couldn't take advantage of the mud turns to move more panzers by train down south. I'd live with my post-mud early-winter decisions.

I don't have screenshots but I will say . . . it's still hard. I'm still getting pushed back in the South (expected) and south-center (expected as well.) I'm still losing trucks. I'm still able to make some headway with the winter-ready Finns. But it's less of a total hellscape of units getting smashed back under a torrent of Soviet troops seemingly unhindered by the Winter while my units crumble to pieces. I'm not longer running way ahead of historical German casualties in later November and early December. Heck, in the real world the Germans were trying to complete Typhoon and take Moscow in December. In my previous game I was getting torn apart across the front by US Thanksgiving.

All of that is to say I wussed out and set it on a different setting. We'll see how I do.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Felltower admin day

I don't really have a lot to post today. What time I did have to write today went, mostly, to admin in and around Felltower. Megadungeons are low prep before a session, but not low prep between sessions.

Today I:

- went through some monster stats, making sure I have what I need for multiple possibilities.

- did some additional work on possible sage reports on the Osirian culture, so I have something to draw off of for sage rolls.

- worked on some rumor generation (still a long and tiresome process - it adds a lot to the game but takes a lot of prep.)

- did some link cleanup and added some links to the DF Campaign page.

It doesn't sound like a lot, but it's messy enough and spread out enough to take up some time. So much so that I didn't really get around to much else.

I do have another GURPS writing project in the works - a different one than I mentioned before - but it is going a bit slowly because of the need to get game prep done, too. Now that I've made headway on the rumors and did the other prep work, or laid the basis for it - I can get back to a potential paid writing piece.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

More DF Felltower Languages

About six years back, I put together a post on the languages of Felltower.

After seeing one of my players put "Reptilian" down as a language on a new character, or alternately taken fluent spoken-only Elder Tongue, I realized I needed to say a bit more.

Language & Culture

In general, races have one language and one culture, making them more like, say, Japanese or Basque than English or Middle Ages French. That is, the people who speak the language are generally culturally connected to that language and possessed of one culture. It's why there might be dialects of orcish but all orcs speak orcish. It's a gross simplification for game purposes, and it's not really realistic or sensible. But as I've said before, the game is about the dungeon and the adventures within. It's not about the nuances of linguistic development, even if that's what I did in grad school.

That said, it's kind of silly to expand it to where "reptile" races all speak one language, since I sure don't make orcs, goblins, halflings, gnomes, dwarves, and elves all speak one language ("Demi-Human?")

Additional Languages & Details

Here are some other languages the PCs have heard about. Generally, these aren't available for purchase for starting characters.

Lizardfolk - A hissing, sibilant-heavy language with connections to smell inherent in its "spoken" form, punctuated by snaps and growls. A non-lizardman cannot learn the language at above Accented (Spoken); even then, it's rarely learned beyond Broken (Spoken.) Lizardfolk has a written form based on pictographs, but it varies significantly by specific group of lizardmen and is only used by their "shaman" - spirit-sensitive spellcasters.

Snakefolk - The actual name of the language is obscure; in Common it's referred to as Snakefolk. Like lizardman, it is hissing and sibilant-heavy. It's believed that different types of snakefolk speak very different languages. The only commonly known form, however, is of the desert-dwelling snakemen of Morthand. There is a written form that closely resembles Arabic script, but with way more snake-like figures.

Dragons - Lots of stories mention dragons speaking . . . but no one specifies what they speak. Presumably, a language like Common, Elven, or Goblinese, otherwise the storyteller would not have understood. Those stories may be apocryphal, too. It's unclear, and even divinations fail to give back a clear answer.

Vegepygmy - "Spoken," this language consists of chest and body slams and thumps, tassel movements, expressions, and timing. There is no written form. To "speak" this language requires Speak with Plants in order to properly convey and understand the intended meaning.

Here is an additional note on Elder Tongue.

Elder Tongue - Can you take spoken Elder Tongue? Technically, yes, but I require an in-game explanation why. Especially if you've learned spoken-only, but can't read it. In most cultures, it's a dead language used primarily in its written form. People don't really speak Elder Tongue. Some ancient, evil beings do, so if you have it at anything above Broken, you must have learned it from one of them. Otherwise you need to use Gift of Tongues. I don't allow people to cast Gift of Tongues and then learn from it; you can't taking Teaching and Gift of Tongues and teach any language you choose. The doubled cost doesn't help, either.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

War in the East wishlist

War in the East 2 is already in playtesting, so I doubt that I'm anywhere near on time to push things along.

But as I play War in the East, I'd really like a few things, so here they are:

Visual Supply.

Right now, units will show you how far they are from HQ and railhead. So will HQs. I can pull up supply details for each unit and see how they got their supply last turn - and how much, and when (there are 3 supply phases.) But it's really hard for me to understand that on the big picture. All too often I see people playing out games like, say, this one, where he took Smolensk in July and Moscow by August. Me, I can't replicate that because I've eternally either running my panzers out of supply or I'm deliberately keeping them back to keep them in supply. It's very frustrating to have a unit run out of gas or have minimal fuel, but be, say, 10-20 miles (1-2 hexes) from a unit that got topped off with a lot of fuel. Okay, fine, too far is too far. But I didn't know that when I moved, because it's hard for me to keep track. I'd have moved the out-of-fuel unit back, or maybe not run it so far forward, if I was able to determine ahead of time what the supply situation was. And I can, it's just exceedingly difficult for me to do on a per-turn basis.

I'd love to be able to put a colored overlay on the map - green for hexes within railhead supply, yellow for hexes within truck supply, red for hexes out of supply. Maybe even a four-color model where I could see how many trucks we're talking. That way I can make my decisions based on information I can see and process on a sufficiently broad scale that I can use it. Visual beings charts of numbers.

Combat Detail Displays.

Right now, you can set combat from a brief overview all the way down to individual units firing and their target and range. I'd love to be able to see that after a fight - run through all of the combats quickly, then go back and drill down and see what happened. Just because I don't want to spend a minute or two on each battle doesn't mean I don't care. I'd like to see that when I lost 22 AFVs and took out 75 what AFVs I lost (and how) and what ones I took out (and how.) Don't seal off that information; the game has it, I'd like to see it displayed just on my own terms.

Support Unit Displays.

It's hard for me to keep track of where my various support units are. It would be nice to be able to pull them up on a display and go to them. Being able to group-grab and reassign would be awesome, too.

Actually being able to see what units are in range of what support units would help, too. I assign some to higher HQs because an army group or an army needs them, not jsut a specific corps . . . but I can't always be sure they're where they need to be to get used. It's a bit annoying. Not a killer, but when you've got a small pool of Luftwaffe anti-air units with 88mm FLAK guns and want to protect an area, I don't always want to give them out down to a division. But I equally hate realizing no one was supported by them because they weren't handed down because of my poor choice of HQ positioning. Again, visual would help.

Better Hotlinking.

I should be able to click on a unit in any given report and go to it, or any given unit and go back to a report.

And within my commander's report for the turn, I do want to be able to click on, say, a unit upgraded from Infantry Division 39 to Infantry Division 42 and see what that means, exactly. And which ones on the map not just on a list that I can't use to find those units.

Better controls of construction units.

Construction units under HQs will get assigned out to rebuild rails. Okay, great, love it.

I don't love when 3-5 units are all working on the same stub rail line that doesn't help me. Or they're busy trying to cross-link all of the rails in Belarus while I'm short on units just a few hexes away to cross-link where it actually matters. And so on. I don't mind some inefficiency if I allow the computer to take over, but I do mind it when I'm not allowed to take over.

Like I said, probably too late for all of that, and I'm not even sure where I'd post it to make sure Matrix Games sees it, but there we go. I'd plunk down $80 for the new game if it did all of that. It's all just stuff that makes it easier for me to play by taking the interface issues out of the way.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Random Friday Roundup Post 7/17/2020

More random stuff for Friday.

- Bruce Heard has an interesting take on memorizing spells in D&D-based games. Essentially, you reserve some of your daily spell slots for later, and then memorize the spells you need then:

Delayed Spell Memorization

- My post on the difficulty of hiring NPCs in town, specifically sages, has really expanded in the comments thread. You can find a wholly developed Bard character, several ideas on social disadvantages, the benefits of a limited pool of disadvantage points, and more.

Hiring Sages when Everyone has negatives

- I very rarely bring up fiction here - quite on purpose, this is my gaming blog, not a reading blog. But I just ripped through a re-read of The Dragon Never Sleeps, which has some really fantastic elements for a very non-Star Wars-like space opera. Unless you assume the "ku" are "jedi" because they're trained warrior types, I suppose. Like Glen Cook books in general, it's heavy on the characters and light on the technical specs, so don't expect much detail on equipment. You do have fast and slow space travel, competing Houses, lots of planets, aliens and "artifacts" (made-to-order living beings), and replication technology with memory backups - great for PCs. Highly recommended. FWIW I have both the Nightshade version and a much older paperback; I recall hearing the Nightshade edition was revised in some way but I honestly didn't notice anything different. So I might be recalling that incorrectly. I'd say "On to the Starfishers books next!" except I read all four all right before this. Maybe Darkwar, I finally read the short story that caused them to be written.

- These summaries of the Tomb of Annihilation make me want to buy it and run it. I won't run it, I have nothing like the time to run it, but it would be a fun read based on how it's playing for this group:

Setbacks in the Tomb of Annihilation

The arm sacrifice would be largely meaningless in a GURPS Magic-based system ("Okay, just do it and you're down an arm until we get back to town") but the sacrifice of a PC to avoid a TPK was very cool and would be a sacrifice anywhere.

- Warren "Mook" Wilson is working on GURPS for a VTT:

Setting Up Foundry VTT For GURPS

I'm reluctant to spend money ever, I mean, on a VTT I haven't experienced in actual use, but I do know Roll20 isn't cutting it despite all the work my players have put into it. More native GURPS support would be great, especially if I can turn elements on and off.

So I'm paying attention but not deeply so at this point. Maybe when there is something I can touch and feel and play with, for free, I'll take a look. My gaming is all VTT right now and even post-pandemic it will become so at some point in the future, so finding a good one for GURPS would be useful.

- I need to put up an update on War in the East. It's going slow. Long story short is, I clearly overextended a little in the middle and trusted a pile of dug-in Romanians to keep the Crimea sealed off a bit too much. I'm actually getting pushed back hard and fast in those areas, with the Romanians just cracking under the slightest pressure and the Soviets applying very strong hammerblows. My supply situation is terrible and I'm short on trucks and I can't see a good place to loot trucks from my divisions to deal with it. I'm using all of my rail capacity to shuttle division from Army Group North to Odessa to try and keep the Soviets from retaking much of the south. They're in terrible shape supply-wise, despite sitting in Leningrad getting supplied by ship and rail alike. I still hold a chunk of Moscow and despite pressure to the north I can't see me losing it just yet. I guess I should have halted my drive earlier and dug in? Looking back I didn't really have a better spot to stop. The only bright spot is that although much of the Finnish forces withdrew, those that I have got a massive increase in their offensive firepower during the icy months, so I'm actually advancing around there. Hard, hard game. It's only mid-December and I think I have like 3-4 months of winter-like conditions to cope with over 5-day turns. Maybe I should have checked off "reduced blizzard effects." It's not too late, but that seemed cheap. But it's utterly brutal how bad it can be. A good example is I had a panzer division with ~275 AFVs attack a Soviet brigade that moved up next to it, at around 18:1 odds or so . . . I lost 25 AFVs and had over 75 damaged and out of service to push the Soviet brigade back. Months earlier that would have been 2-3 AFVs damaged or lost and a shattered (destroyed) brigade. I may have effectively lost the whole campaign a half-dozen or so turns back when I took Leningrad and failed to maximally shift forces to the south to buttress that area and by my failure to extend rail lines in the center fast enough. We'll see, I guess - but it does means turns take time as I try to, desperately, maximize my ability to survive the next turn.

- Re-running modules? If I listed only the AD&D modules I ran multiple times, I'd probably only cut this list in half. Maybe less than half.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

What should Arm ST really add to?

Canonically in GURPS, Arm ST allows you to purchase up the maximum strength of just your arms.

It adds to any attempt to strike, lift, or throw with the affected arm(s). That increases your ST for swing and thrust damage, but not, say, Basic Lift.

The issue is, realistically, I don't think strong arms helps you inflict striking damage. In my experience strikes do not really benefit from disproportionately strong arms. Weak arms can limit you, but once you take away that brake on your power it is body rotation that really benefits you.* You're limited by your weakest link, so having a stronger link doesn't help.

And that body rotation doesn't come from the arms. You don't swing in this order - arm-shoulder-hip. Not if you want to generate power. You swing with a drive off the ground - foot-ankle-knee-hip-shoulder-arm. And the arm doesn't really add that much - you really just throw the arm at the end of a punch, and even with sticks you need to stay pretty slack and let the rotation you've developed hit as you stiffen up again, then relax again. It's stiffening to initiate, relaxing until the moment of impact, then stiffening again. This is aside from throwing sports - the best pitchers, for example, have great shoulder laxity and lower body rotation speed, not great strength in their arms. It's not about arm strength.**

Some of the most powerful strikers I've trained with weren't particularly strong. Two of them were, one with massive arms, but he was also strong everywhere and fast.

So I just don't really buy the idea that strong arms helps you strike or throw well.

I do think that strong arms help you in combat, though, in two areas: grip strength, and crushing strength. True story, I used to think I'd never tap to a head crusher - that's when someone gets your head in between their forearm and biceps and just squeezes. It's not an efficient use of force, on a very difficult target. I tapped to it once from someone who had arms the size of my thighs at the time - 21". He was immense, and squeezed so hard I felt my teeth grinding in my mouthguard. I tapped. He had disproportionately strong arms. Other guys with noticeably strong arms also tended to well in grabbing you and holding on - the jackhammer operator I used to train with was like that . . . he gripped you until he was done gripping you.

So Arm ST should probably add when Lifting ST matters, if the action is largely arms. It would add to grip strength and the ability of your arms to lift, crushing, and squeeze. And that's about it.

In that case, price would really need to drop. 3 points is full-body Lifting ST. Lifting ST for arms only is probably -50%, like Arm ST is in general. That's 1.5 per level, so 2 for +1 and 3 for +2.

One thing I don't allow Barbarians in my DF campaign to buy is Arm ST. That may change if I use these rules and costs, but it's probably easier to just skip it. It's just another "does X count for this roll?" question to be asked by the player that has it, and "helpful" players who don't want their buddy to miss out on a bonus. Still, this makes a lot more sense to me for Arm ST as defined.

* That also why I have so much trouble visualizing two full-power strikes during a true, simultaneous Dual-Weapon Attack. If they're both coming in at the same time so as to confuse your defenses (-1 to defend) or allow a Dual-Weapon Defense (see GURPS Martial Arts, p. 83), then neither of them is really benefiting from any rotation.

** If you want to learn more about pitching, look up Eric Cressey. If you want to learn more about stiffness and relaxation, look up Dr. Stuart McGill - this is a good start.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

DF Whiterock - What Went Right

So DF Whiterock ended a short time ago. You can see the announcement here:

The Premature End of DF Whiterock

I'm a big fan of postmortem reports on game - what went wrong, and what went right. It helps me, as a GM and a player.

Here is the post of what went right:

What went right in DF Whiterock

It's a mix of what went well for the PCs (tactics and cooperation that worked, for example) and what went right for the GM.

I've written a lot of posts about how I'd do things differently. Here are three:

Megadungeon Reflection: What I'd do differently in my megadungeon (1/2014)

Felltower Reflections: 5 years later (10/2019)

More Stuff I'd Do Differently in GURPS DF Felltower (4/2020)

Those two posts are good stuff.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Hiring Sages when Everyone has negatives . . .

The PCs have decided, wisely, to take advantage of a DF Felltower institution: sages.

Like in old-school AD&D gaming, you can find out things by experiencing them or asking NPCs.

The PCs want to hire a sage.

There are a few issues, though.

One is the group makeup, again, has become very much crusading religious fanatics and would-be fanatics (Ulf, Heyden, Aldwyn, Sir Bunny, etc.) buttressed by a small squad of misanthropes (Galen, Bruce, Gerry, etc.)

So who can go and find and hire a sage? Not the misanthropes. Some of them live in the wilderness, and others are just completely awful at finding someone and getting them to react well to them. The fanatics, well, no so much either. Ulf is likeable, but has Paranoia. Wyatt isn't around to do it (I don't allow PCs who missed sessions to jump in between sessions to execute prep. It keeps you from having a stable of utility guys who help out even if you don't run them often.) The others generally aren't that smart and they need Research or IQ rolls to find a sage with Hidden Lore (Lost Civilizations) to answer their questions.

So it's a bit of tricky situation. The ones with good base rolls have penalties to bring it down. Those with poor base rolls have poor rolls and many of them also have penalties to bring it down.

How do you bring it up?

You spend extra money, of course, per "Where Did You Find This Guy? on DF15, p. 29. I'm not even at any of my PCs as I type this, but I know the page offhand, which is a measure of how often I have to tell people to go read it.

Once that's done, of course, it's just a matter of money and questions. I did caution them that they can get specific, and get specific answers, but the sage won't through in general-but-important information.

Hopefully they'll figure it out . . . but the tendency to go for debilitating social disadvantages to bulk out your disad pool, and that of several players to get more of such by cheaping out on Resurrection costs, means it's getting harder to find reasonable beings to help them out.

Monday, July 13, 2020

GURPS DF Session 136, Felltower 105

This session was originally planned as a delve through the "Arctic Gate." However, one player who really wanted to go there couldn't make it, so the group changed to a more general delve.

Date: July 12th, 2020

Weather: Hot, sunny.


Aldwyn Hale, human knight (303 points)
     Varmus the Hanged, human apprentice wizard (150 points)
"Mild Bruce" McTavish, Jr., human barbarian (306 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (461 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human necromancer (374 points)
     2 Skeletons (~35 points)
Hayden the Ebon Page, human knight (307 points)
Ulf Sigurdson, human cleric (306 points)
Sir Bunny Wigglesworth, human holy warrior (259 points)

We started off in town, with the PCs gathering rumors and buying equipment. The bought two picks and a shovel to dig at orc barriers, and three five-gallon barrels of wine. Once that was done, they headed out of town and up the mountain.

They went down through the trapdoor entrance and wound around towards the stairs down near the orcs. On the way, they stopped to investigate rumors of a ghostly woman in a room. Galen got his bow ready, and Sir Bunny readied his sword and vowed to "put her to rest!" Ulf wasn't sure that was what he was looking for. Either way, the room was empty and Ulf's calls did nothing to summon her.

On the way from there, they stopped and spent 20 minutes examining the pictures and mosaics along one of the hallways depicting cone-hatted cultists involved in ceremonies directed at six-fingered figures that resembles the rotating statues. They specifically looked for depictions of the lenses, but could not find any. Failed Religious Ritual rolls by Ulf and Sir Bunny meant that they couldn't decipher anything beside them having "religious significance."

They continued on and Galen found a trap - a tripwire leading to a crude "crossbow" smeared with a lot of monster drool venom, up on the ceiling behind him. He disarmed it with ease (he rolled a 4 on DX-based Traps). They continued on.

Heyden managed to dislocate his shoulder on a door forcing attempt (he rolled an 18.) Bruce couldn't budge it, then pulled it off with a crowbar they'd recently purchased.

They spent some time, using See Secrets, trying to find a secret door to a safe room, to ensure no orcs were waiting there. They frittered away 20 minutes or so trying to find it, but could not, and gave up and went down.

Now on level 2, they headed to the pit and down to the flooded prison.

There, they retrieved their boat, then called over to Big John and used Levitation to send Galen and Ulf over. Big John agreed to get three things for their three barrels of wine, and told them to go away for 30 minutes while he fished for them. They did, and heard some splashing and clanking. After 30 minutes or so, they found on the docks a high holy symbol, the orichalcum shield they specifically were seeking (aka Rusty's Food Bowl), and an ornate steel corselet. The first and last were Inquisitor Marco's gear.

Big John told them nothing big was left. They thanked him and left.

From there, they made their way up to level one, across it, and down to level two and then down the giant staircase. Inside the staircase they found a cut in the stone and some brown staining - likely bloodstains after something was cut was while down. They headed down. At the bottom, Ulf, Aldwyn, and Galen suffered from the "close air."

From there, they went to the Orichalcum doors. Armed with some knowledge from using Gift of Letters on the key, Ulf used Gift of Letters to read Osiran hieroglyphics on the door. He found they had many phrases, but didn't constitute a story or explanation. They noted what they found, tried touching the key to the crude triangle points and what was inside of them, and then eventually gave up. Oh, they tried some oral commands, using Gift of Tongues, but that didn't help, either.

One of the phrases was "Heaven's Valley." - "I've never been there," quipped Sir Bunny.

Nothing they tried helped, however, including See Secrets and Mage Sight. They revealed nothing.

Heyden opined it was either a clever puzzle door, or a gateway to the afterlife that requires judgement of their souls.

After a while, they decided to check the "dead gates." They checked the first, and found it flickered now and then. With Mage Sight Galen could see it was a glowing, full gate. But Scry Gate showed nothing to Gerry. They decided to move on. The close air got to them again, though, and Ulf and Varmus were affected.

They took a roundabout route to the other "dead gate." On the way, they found one of the black hemispheres had been restored.

So Ulf put up Silence and Galen shot it to pieces.

From there they headed to the room where the gnome used to live. They found it almost totally empty.

They tried the gate nearby, which was in a room with two statues. The gate flickered, again, but never coalesced. They decided they needed to face the statues toward each other. Aldwyn tried, but was zapped for 10 Hp injury and 3 FP from black fire. They gave up then and there, and decided to head off somewhere else.

One the way, Galen - and oddly Heyden and Aldwyn, despite their full-face helmets - heard the distinct scrape-drag of a pudding. So they decided to turn left into the "prison" area of the dungeon.

They checked a room, and Aldwyn was zapped with a bolt of flame and roasted. They found the room empty - they'd expected a blue bottle.

They wound their way around to the far exit from the prison . . . and found no prison exit.

They went back to the opposite side, and found no prison exit.

So they ended up checking the various rooms, seeing all of the bottles in the places they expected except the blue one. So they retreated to a Sanctuary for an hour, hoping that waiting out the time would free them - which is how they perceived their escape via the Pasha - which Galen and Heyden were there for. While in it, Ulf used Diagnosis to try and figure out the "bad air" issue. He figures it's something like hypoxia or too much carbon dioxide. They gradually felt better as they rested in the magically-created space. After an hour they exited but were still trapped in the prison corridors - it hadn't reset.

Heyden suggested putting the blue bottle where their map claimed it should go. So they did so, and found they could leave the circular prison area. So they reached another nearby room, and dealt with some dizziness-causing air in a room. They also found a rune, and decided to study it. Instead, they found themselves teleported to another octagonal room.

A short amount of exploring later they confirmed they were back on level 1. They swung by the temple so Ulf could try Dismissive Wave again - he took 7 injury, and failed, both for the second time - and decided to head home.


- No Skull Spirit, in deference to the holy warrior. The cleric only recently realized that they are Truly Evil. Yeah, they're ghostly assassins made from the skulls of sapient beings. You know, neutral. Hah.

- No combat at all today. Unless you count shooting an unarmed, defenses black hemisphere.

- "It could have been worse" - Bruce, with the Felltower adventurer's motto.

- The group will hire a sage to research the culture of Osiris, based on Ulf's notes.

- the loot was just enough, really. They kept Marco's High Holy Symbol - I think Sir Bunny took it, I'm not sure. He or Ulf has it. They sold his ornate plate corselet, which of course isn't quite as valuable since it was the old, Basic Set cost and weight. Legacy armor is legacy armor - a nice find, but not always so good. It was ornate which helped make it more valuable. So did Lighten 25% and Fortify +1. They sold Rusty's Food Bowl, too - a DB 1 shield, not matter how good, isn't something anyone wanted as much as cash (and thus, XP.)

- XP was 4 each, due to unequal distribution of wealth towards the experienced guys. MVP was Heyden for his idea on how to undo the "circular prison" trap. The question with that is, how did that bottle move, and what happened to the person who moved it?

- Amusingly, one of my co-workers texted me during my session. I said I was gaming, I couldn't talk now. My coworker said, "Sure!! Win!!!" I said it wasn't that kind of game, but also I showed my players the text. They groaned. I say, "My coworker said to win, so . . . " Gamemaster humor.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Felltower pre-summary

We played Felltower today.

- the PCs headed down to Big John

- the traded wine for old, rusty loot

- they headed to the lower level.

- they investigate the orichalcum gates

- they headed to the "dead gate."

- they checked the other "dead gate."

- they avoided a pudding and blundered into the "circular prison."

- they managed to get out and then . . .

- they blundered into another teleporter . . .

- they made it to a known area.

- Ulf tried to exorcise the temple again.

- they headed home.

A low-action delve but a useful one.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

One last reminder - SJG GURPS PDF Challenge 2020 is closing out

The project closes out in 48 hours from the time of this post.

I'm very pleased because my next GURPS book will be owned by 2,418 backers and counting. Hopefully some of them will choose to buy other books I wrote, other GURPS and DF books that other people wrote, and otherwise support the line. It's gratifying that something I wrote a while back for an undisclosed project turned out to be a PDF for this very successful project. Hurrah for that!

Friday, July 10, 2020

Random Links for Friday 7/10/2020

It's Friday, here are some posts I saw this week that I wanted to share.

- My book was unlocked, finally, in the PDF Challenge. So $3 gets you Dungeon Fantasy 21: Megadungeons and 11 more PDFs.

Throw an additional $96 into the pile and get $125 to spend in Backerkit for more GURPS stuff, such as:

GURPS Martial Arts
GURPS Martial Arts: Gladiators
GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninja
GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen
GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1
GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3: Born of Myth & Magic
GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Treasures 3: Artifacts of Felltower
GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Denizens: Barbarians
GURPS Low-Tech Companion 2: Weapons & Warriors

- This caption made my whole day better:

"I so hoped that one of the portraits would show his ancestor, Frank."

If you need me to explain Frank Drebin . . . you might have the wrong blog.

- A commenter named Vinemaple made a terrible, terrible pun of a "harmless" monster for his gaming. And I love it. Look out, it's a red lert! And a brown lert is a very different thing if you work in a building with a kiddie pool. Just saying.

- I still like treasure tables. Blog of Holding opines on which ones are good.

- I've been meaning to share this - I was toying around with this hoard generator and came up with an Apparatus of Kwalish. I've never used one in my game:

At least the scroll will help you keep fire elementals from burning it to pieces.

- Speaking of fire, the crew is not going through the "Icy Gate" on Sunday. One of the players most keen on going there is not going to be able to make it and joining in play might be very difficult. So they've pushed that off until next delve and are sorting between two options for Sunday - raiding the orcs overland, or investigating the Orichalcum doors with the key in tow (I ruled they could get it from Dryst, as a special case.)

- Editing later - if you want your bard to play some different musical instrument, try some of these - this is a film by The Hu, a Mongolian throat-singing metal band. The four main guys look like someone's PC portrait minus the swords.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Survival skill specialties as perks

One option I've considered doing is making the various sub-skills in Survival perks, not separate skills.

Because of default rules, you can usually just get one Survival skill and just raise it up to improve the defaults of them all. Once you hit 4/level, it's more efficient to up the main skill and let the others default and improve in lockstep.

For a game where the PCs hop regions and you want them to be good at lots of specialties, but pay for the ability, this might work:

Specialties as Perks

When you purchase Survival, pick one specialty as your base area.

Each additional specialty is a 1-point perk, and gives you the skill at the same level as your main, base skill.


And that's it. You've actually learned the skill, you know the equipment used in your TL for that area, etc. - but it's all of 1 point to match skills.

I haven't tried this in play, but I also play with players who generally sink 1 point into Survival and don't improve it, so for them 1 point in one of those skills is equal to their base skill level - they're all at the 1 point level anyway. This rule might cause a problem in some games but it's likely to work out fine in, say, a gate-hopping Dungeon Fantasy game.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Rolemaster Fiction?

I'm not sure if this is fiction, or fanfiction. It doesn't mention Rolemaster anywhere in the book description, but as I was searching for a Rolemaster-related item I came up with his:

Yeah. Steardan, Cloudlords, Duranaki, people who speak Yinka . . . weird.

That picture is of the coast of the world of the Loremasters centered on Tanara.

It's like suddenly finding out there is a novelization of The Palace of the Silver Princess.

The Duranaki are from The Cloudlords of Tanara, a Rolemaster supplement.

I'm not forking over a dollar, even, but I just felt like as a Rolemaster fan since my high school days I had to say something about this in writing and not just move on.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

My Paranoia collection

I'm pretty sure I own a good solid chunk of 1st edition Paranoia.

How I got all of this is a story in and of itself. Basically, someone who was given all of this, gave it to my sister, to give to me. The only thing I ever purchased is that 2nd edition Gamemaster's pack. So that's why so much is shrinkwrapped. Orcbusters was, too, but I eventually opened that. Part of me wants to keep these in a salable condition. Another part of me wants to open Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues because, well, John M. Ford. I remember interacting with him on the Pyramid message boards . . . such a great guy.

But here is what I have:

Paranoia boxed set
Paranoia GM Screen
Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues
Hill Sector Blues
Send in the Clones
Vapors Don't Shoot Back
Clones in Space

I'm absolutely going to run the game. I'm just not sure what adventure I'll use. Not Orcbusters - I want something without any fantasy to it, even spoof fantasy. The basic adventure is fine but might not work for 9-10 troubleshooters that I expect to have.

I will probably run this with the 1st edition Paranoia rules. GURPS would work, for sure . . . and be easier to run. But it would also be easier for the players to understand their relative skill levels and try to maximize them. That's no fun. It's better if they have no real clue how good or not they are. They'll find out. After all, a bunch of Red-clearance or Orange-clearance shlubs sure have no idea. Fear and ignorance! Ignorance and fear!

Monday, July 6, 2020

DF21 up next in the SJG PDF Challenge

I guessed right - I said $44K or $45K. It's $45K to unlock my latest book:

It's at $38K and change as I write this, and 1,687 backers.

So another $7K - it'll take as few as ~70 people at $99, or as many as ~2300 at $3.

I'd actually enjoy it more if it was 2300 additional backers getting my PDF, but that seems a bit unlikely. Something in between would do.

It is a relief to finally see my PDF on the list of potential unlocks. So please spread the word. There are almost certainly some people you know that would love to back this for $3 or more who just haven't heard about it.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

DF Felltower & Hidden Lore Skills

I'm mulling over a house rule for DF Felltower.

I've long suffered ambivalence over PC knowledge skills.

I really want the players to learn about the game and the monsters, and apply that. I like skills to tell me how well you do something, not to tell me what you know or tell you what to do.

Knowledge skills, though, say that your paper man may know things you don't. Not how to do things you don't, or how to do things you know how to do but differently well, either.

This is especially true for Hidden Lore.

PCs always ask the same questions, in variations - how do we kill it, where are its vitals (more properly this is Physiology), does it take extra damage from attack type X or Y, etc. They're looking for a shortcut to killing it. Fair enough, they paid for that . . . but it's a problem in actual play.

I answer, but I'm looking at a full set of stats. If a person makes a roll by 0-2, what do I tell them? What do I choose? If they make it by 10+ with a critical, do I read off chunks of the stat block as someone else frantically writes it all down into the received, common knowledge of all PCs from now on?

Plus it means the skills take the place of player knowledge - people want to benefit from what they know, and what the PC knows, too. Or they get worried by meta-knowledge and don't want to use anything unless "my guy would know that." Those types of players tend to err on the far side of self-control, and say things like "I don't know that my guy would know trolls are vulnerable to fire." Yeah, by now everyone knows that.

On top of this, people want to use Hidden Lore every time - each time, they get more and more information. Do I feed more in, especially if the PCs learn nothing new from the previous encounter? Do I repeat the same stuff, and should I track that by PC? They don't really want old information, yet it feels like just because the players know that whatever new PC rolls shouldn't automatically add to the knowledge. If a Holy Warrior rolls and makes a good roll says you need to cripple all the arms on a Peshkali, does this mean the next time you run into Peshkali that Holy Warrior or someone else can roll, until eventually you've acquired most of the stats?

Plus, again, my approach is that you can use your meta-knowledge in this game. This is a best of both worlds - use what you know, and your PC might know more. If you memorized chunks of the monster book, okay, fine, but also your PC gets to prod me for reminders and information on monsters you've never heard of.

As you can see, I'm not in love with how it works.

Here is an alternative route.

What are we dealing with?

A Hidden Lore roll can be made as a free action to identify the creature. The GM rolls in secret. Success gives the common name and the type; critical success may provide additional information (identifying a sub-type, for example, and always giving any Vulnerability or Weakness or Achilles's Heel it has.) You suffer any Vision-based penalties, if appropriate. It's hard to I.D. what you can't see. A critical failure means you misidentify it.

To gain an immediate combat edge, take an Evaluate maneuver. You must first successfully identify the creature, as above. Failure to identify the creature means this automatically fails; a critical failure on the identification roll means you you can only or critically fail on this roll. You may do this at any range; roll against Per-based Hidden Lore, with penalties equal to range and any vision penalties. You may take extra time (p. B346) to improve your roll. On a successful roll, you gain a +1 to hit and to offset the penalties from Feints or Deceptive Attack for the rest of this particular combat. On a critical success, you gain a +2 to hit, instead. A failure means no penalty - you just don't sense a pattern or spot a weakness. Critical failure means a -2 to hit and a -2 versus feints and to defend for the same period of time - you're thrown off by mis-identifying the way the creature fights! This will not be obvious until the first time the penalty affects you. You must take the results of your roll.

You can pass along any information you gain with a free action to talk. You cannot pass along your bonus.

Such bonuses and penalties are specific to a specific type of creature - a peshkali or a wight, not against all demons or against all undead.


I haven't tried this yet, but I'd like to. It gives people a real reason to buy Hidden Lore for monster types, but eliminates a lot of my ambivalence. You still need to learn what works or doesn't work, but your character has information that can lead to direct combat bonuses.

+1 to hit and +1 to offset feints and Deceptive Attack, but it's not a bad bonus at all. Higher Purpose is still better, and surer, but using both can make for a killer combo. You can end up with +3 to all rolls, and a +4 or +5 to hit roll against a particular creature type.

It might be less effective for wizard-types. It's too much to give a bonus to spells (or inflict a penalty to resist), and might feel less useful for them to identify critters and then make it easier to hit them. I expect the wizards will squawk anyway - my experience is most people playing wizards feel they are very limited and very weak. That's not how anyone playing with, or GMing for, wizards feels.

I thought about making this bonus last the entire delve, but then I decided my players would try to game the heck out of that - "Let's go find a draugr, then leave it alone until we want to go after the whole bunch of them, let the Holy Warrior take a max-time Hidden Lore roll to get a bonus, and then we go fight them!" Ugh.

(Editing 7/6/2020 - Check the comments for Sean Punch's explanation of why the Hidden Lore skills work they way they do in DF, and my explanation of why I'm proposing a change based on a specific style of play used in DF Felltower.)

Saturday, July 4, 2020

RIP Jim Holloway

We lost Jim Holloway this week.

He was one of my favorite illustrators of gaming products. I could highlight so, so many, like his covers of Dragon Magazine and so many amusing fantasy illustrations.

But his work on Paranoia is just amazing.

First, the three nested covers:

It's a perfect summation of the surveillance state we all live in . . . I mean of Alpha Complex run by the Computer that the game takes place in! Trust Google the Computer! Facebook The Computer is your friend!

He also did this very, very accurate depiction of the game on the back cover of the player's book:

I just love how his pictures feel in media res - in the middle of the action, with something about to happen. The Paranoia ones especially feel like something face-palming or peek-through-your-fingers-bad is about to happen. You just want to look away from the poor Troubleshooter, but you can't.

I also just love how Science Ninja Team Gatchaman aka Battle of the Planets the security troops look.

Thanks for all of the art, Jim. I'm sorry I never got to say that to you in person.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Friday Roundup 7/3/2020

It's a Friday, so I like to link to posts or post random little tidbits. Today is no exception.

- Over at the Nine and Thirty Kingdoms, Talysman has an idea - can you expand the idea, nebulous in OD&D, that margin of success matters on a strike? And then, can you assign special, critical effects on that strike, over and above (but possibly affecting) the damage?

It's a good idea. It's not a new idea, though. That'e the core of Arms Law from Rolemaster. In Rolemaster, you roll a "to hit" roll that is modified by your attack skill and modifiers and the defensive skill and modifiers of the target. The margin is looked up on a table, which tells you the concussion hits (HP loss, basically) and what level of critical to roll. That critical can and does modifier the effects and damage on the target.

I'm not dissing Talysman here. I'm just pointing out that he's on the same logic trip - and roll approach - of another system I really liked. Margin of success modifications to results, or determination of results, has a lot to say for it as a mechanic.

- The GURPS PDF Kickstarter is still going:

DF21 is still locked, and not even displayed, as a stretch goal. I figure it's probably going to unlock at $44K or $45K based on the other jumps between unlocks.

- I'm stalled in War in the East, at least mentally at the moment. I got through the mud but now the Soviets have a solid front in front of me. I need to decide where to put my efforts to break it; I can't just chase everywhere like the heady days of July and August 1941.

I did finally take the rest of Leningrad, stabilized my front and even advanced it by crushing a few Russian salients, and otherwise made good use of the time. Now the snow is here and I'm moving East again. I might be able to take Moscow but I might not be able to keep it. I could move my armor there en masse but it'll take time and the terrain in front of Moscow is a tangle of woods and rivers - places where armor suffers lots of penalties and takes lots of casualties. It's already looking tempting to dig in so I can hold on for dear life in the winter and then transfer my mobile elements from Army Group North to Army Group South and make a big push on Stalingrad and the oil I need in the Caucasus mountains. Yeah, I know, I know. Suddenly the OKH doesn't look like a bunch of idiots doing something obviously wrong. I'll post pictures after a few more turns.

And I should say, all of this is with Panzer IIc, Panzer IIIg, Panzer IVe, and Pz-38t tanks as my primary workhorses . . . by the time you get to Tigers and Panthers and Panzer IVg tanks in any numbers, you better have won the war or you're bound to lose it.

- Dreams in the Lichhouse is revising its blogroll. The comments are full of blog suggestions. If you want to suggest one, or suggest your own, or (like me) browse for more blogs you might like, take a look.

- A rabbit hole of link-following led me back to this post:

Same Description, Same Rules

I feel that's a good rule of thumb. A related idea drives my color scheme.

Speaking of old posts of mine, here is one idea I liked but haven't really implemented. I really should use something like it - not necessarily "first time always works" as I have players that will abuse that, but perhaps "it works this time because of amazing luck and timing and coincidence" to help players get past being stuck. Don't forget to read the followup if you're considering doing the same.

- This blog has some very good advice on painting - she paints well and explains well. That's very, very valuable.
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