Old School informed GURPS Dungeon Fantasy gaming. Basically killing owlbears and taking their stuff, but with 3d6.
Thursday, December 31, 2020
New(ish) release - Dungeon Fantasy Treasures 4: Mixed Blessings
In case you missed it, like I did, this came out on 12/23:
Basically, 13 magic items that are good enough to keep and use, but which have drawbacks. You know, like everything I hand out in my games. Heh. I'll get a review up soon-ish.
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
GURPS Combat Skill/Defense Caps - Part III - Addendum
Even with a skill cap and a DB cap, it's possible to push defenses so high only a critical matters.
The maximum defense you can get with Skill 25 is Parry 15, +1 for CR, +3 for Enhanced Defenses, and +6 for DB (before Retreat and conditional modifiers.) That's a 25 to hit, and a 25 to defend. Skill 30 allows for a 28.
If the maximun penalty you can inflict without special techniques is -8 (Feint, VDA), that reduces the 25 to a 17, and a 30 to a 22.
Therefore it might be useful to have, instead of a DB maximum, a defense maximum. Set to, say, 20, no points in excess of 20 count, no matter the source. Cap at 20 before penalties. So Skill 25 guy above actually has a 25, maxes at 20, which is a 18 vs. a DA, 16 vs. a VDA, 14 and 12 if Feint is added in. Retreat still matters against very skilled foes, and you are discouraged from wasting points on advantages and skill points that simply cannot usefully add to your defenses.
This kind of rule puts a bounded limit on overall defense keeps everyone potentially vulnerable, and means multiple defenses always have some cost. It also nicely allows for PCs who aren't very skilled to pile up DB to keep themselves alive by alternate means. It also gets rid of the issue of people exceeding the maximum skill through Grace spells or potions or Heroic Feats to raise defenses - it simply doesn't matter.
I'd put this limit in before Feverish Defense, if you're using Extra Effort in Combat.
GURPS Combat Skill/Defense Caps - Part III - Putting it Together & Miscellaneous Issues
Let's look at a combined offense and defense, and related issues.
Putting it Together
Defenses are based on skills, so setting the offensive limit
Let's run some numbers and see if I like what I see.
Aaron A. Aardvark has Broadsword-16, Combat Reflexes, Shield-14, and a Medium Shield (DB 2), and Speed 6 (and Unluckiness, but that's neither here nor there.) He has Parry 12 + 2 DB = 14, Block 11 +2 DB = 13, and Dodge 9 + 2 DB = 11 with No Encumbrance.
He faces his opposite number, Betty Basher, with Axe/Mace-18, Combat Reflexes, Shield-14, and a Medium Shield (DB 2), but only Speed 5.5. She uses a knobbed club to avoid Parry U. She has Parry 13 + 2 DB = 15, Block 11 + 2 DB = 13, and Dodge 8 + 2 DB = 10 with No Encumbrance.
Aaron can crit-fish against Betty for a 3-6 critical on 16 or less. Betty defends with Parry 15, 16 with Retreat.
He can use Deceptive Attack for a 12 or less, but Betty defends with a Parry 15, 16 with Retreat, or 13 and 14 after the -2.
He can Rapid Strike with two 10s, and if both hit Betty defends at a 15 and a 13 (16 and 14 with Retreat.)
Aaron can also Feint Betty, but 16 vs. 18 gives him less than 50% odds of gaining an edge. It's not a smart play but it could work. If it does, he can both crit-fish at a 16 and force Betty to defend at an 11, 12 with Retreat. If that somehow works, that 12 or less Deceptive Attack is mighty tempting but risky.
Betty can crit-fish against Aaron with a 3-6 critical on an 18 or less - 17 and 18 still miss, of course. He can't hairsplit Deceptive Attack. Aaron defends with Parry 14, 15 with Retreat.
She can use Deceptive Attack for a 14 or less, forcing Aaron to defend at a 12, 13 with Retreat.
She can Rapid Strike for a pair of 12s, and if both hit, Aaron defends at 14, 15 with Retreat, and then 13, 14 with Retreat.
She can Feint Aaron, and with an 18 vs. a 16 she's got reasonable odds of success, althought not great. A success, though, can really turn the fight - Aaron defends at 10, 11 with Retreat . . . and it's easy enough to attack with Deceptive Attack to put this to 8, 9 with Retreat.
What if Aaron has Broadsword-24, instead? That's Parry 16 + 2 DB.
Aaron can Deceptive Attack at the Very Deceptive Attack level (needs a new name) on a 16 or less; this criticals on a 3-6, and Betty has to defend at an 11, 12 with Retreat.
Aaron can Rapid Strike for two 18s, or make the Deceptive as well for two 14s. If they both land, Betty has a 15 and a 13, or a 13 and an 11, if both are also Deceptive.
Aaron can Feint Better, and 24 vs. 18 means it's very likely to succeed. Betty has an 11 and a 9, or that followed by a Very Deceptive Attack forces to Betty to defend at 7 and 5.
All of that seems okay to me - the fixed Feint and fixed Deceptive Attack levels seem reasonable and workable. High skill still matters, a lot, but you don't really get to finagle it as well, so the defender still has a shot to defend.
I think I like the fixed numbers. I also think the skill cap of around 25-30 is probably a workable max, too, depending on the game.
Race to the Cap!
It's quite possible that people will race to the maxima. I feel the best way to deal with this is to make it a soft maximum on skill. Flat cost until the cap, and then a rising cost - double or even triple cost per level afterward. It's easily done with an Unusual Background if you don't like directly messing with skill costs, or want it to keep scaling up for each additional level.
Do you still need a DB cap?
I'd say yes. Although it's hard to get past DB 3 in Basic Set without supernatural aid or superscience, it's easy to get high single digits with GURPS Magic in play. The theoretical maximum of DB 19 calculated here is still possible, after all, and that's really in any game using the basic magic system and extended spellcasting for Magery above 3.
If active defense is limited, then it's logical to try to maximize your defense bonus any way possible.
Having a cap - I suggesed 8 DB - is reasonable. I also like the idea of Option 3 - best source - and DB means contact effects - Option 2. And I like DB from magical effects not working close combat.
In any case, preventing DB from rising above 6-8 has the nice effect of saying that defenses should probably reach around 16, and very high ones - thanks to DB, advantages, and skill - can't get much higher than 30 . . . 31-33 with Retreat . . . if everything is maxed out and skill caps at 30. Capping at 25 skill would make it more like a 6 DB cap and a 25 maximum Parry or Block before Retreat or weapon-based defensive bonuses. Look at the examples above - give either of them DB 5-6 instead of DB 2 and most of the value of the options are reduced. Give them DB 8-10+ and it's basically over. Equally, though, toss in Blur and it suddenly matters, even to Aaron with skill 26, as it changes options since crit-fishing is just one viable strategy. Equally, it's not critical to give out Shield to everyone because it's harder to really surpress defenses past a certain point.
Overall: I think the defenses that spill out of the likely skill levels are okay, here, and that a Defense Bonus cap is worth it. I don't like a fixed cap, really, athough it's simple compared to the other options. The option of "best source" makes a fair bit of sense, though it suffers from some logical holes, like Shield spells suddenly being mostly useless on shield-using fighters and two swords being the all-around best option for defenses if you have a Shield-casting buddy or can cast it yourself.
I think the numbers here show that you can still keep Feint and Deceptive Attack relevant with the more limited, fixed versions, and with a skill cap, so long as you also mind a maximum of DB in some fashion.
It's the Points, Stupid!
Not that anyone has been that blunt, but it's come up in the comments. And it's a broader game design question - if you're having issues of high skill and high defenses, it's because you set the point values of the campaign too high. It's the "sweet spot" idea - that certain games do well between levels X and Y, or points YYY and ZZZ, or some other limit. Outside of that, the idea goes, things break down . . . so set the game up on the bottom end of that range (or even below it) and work up . . . and stop playing or limit growth past the far end of it.
That'll work, for sure. But if GURPS is fine at 150 points and even 250 points but breaks down at 300, or 350, or 400, or some other number, then starting at 150 instead of 250 just puts the problem off. It's still coming - and in a point buy system, if it's a specific skill level, or defense level, or combination of factors that make it an issue, it can come as soon as someone puts their points to getting to that level.
If the problem is where you end up, I'd rather address where you end up than pull back the point where you start.
I think addressing the issues that cause a race up in skill, and having an idea of what skill levels are appropriate and building systems around that is the way to go. I think GURPS does perfectly fine at higher power levels . . . it's just that unlimited skill, therefore unlimited defenses, and the ability to freely leverage skill to smash defenses means you can get caught up in raising the numbers by not knowing when enough is enough. Defining "enough" and having rules that make it so may make it easier for the players and the GM to be on the same page in terms of what "enough" is.
Overall: I think I like what I see so far. Tomorrow I'll get into maximums and caps for DF in general.
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
GURPS Combat Skill/Defense Caps - Part II - Defense
Part III and Part III Adendum
How high of a defense?
Defenses are based on either a skill - Block and Parry - or on Speed minus Encumbrance level - Dodge. Dodge is going to be what Dodge is going to be - it's the best defense (until you critically fail it) but the hardest to directly improve.
A normal man of Speed 5 will have Dodge 8, 11 with Retreat. A melee-focused PC may have more like a Speed 6 or 7, but rarely a Dodge of higher than a 10 before DB, 13 with Retreat. It will not vary that much, and is very vulnerable to Feint if not coupled with a high combat skill.
How how of a skill?
Base skill determines just how much of a Parry or Block the defender will get. We'll shorten up to "Parry" and I'll note the peculiarities of Block below.
Skill 12 means a base 9 Parry
Skill 16 means a base 11 Parry
Skill 20 means a base 13 Parry
Skill 24 means a base 15 Parry
Skill 30 means a base 18 Parry
Like almost any other success roll in GURPS, you're going to ideally have a 16 (3-6 critical, 17 fails, 18 critically fails) or higher. Dropping to 15 (3-5 critical, 16 fails, 17-18 critically fails) comes with a significantly higher chance of critical failure.
But trying to arrange defenses to a 16 in the face of a Feint (-4) and Very Deceptive Attack (-4) is tough. That's a 24 Parry or Block, which means Skill 30 plus Enhanced Defenses 3 (+3), Combat Reflexes (+1), and DB 2. Or a more reasonable skill 24 plus Combat Reflexes 1 and DB 8. It's a question who is inflicting -4 on you from Feint to get there, too, if you're rolling against a 24-30 skill. It's probably more reasonable to assume a -2 to -4 from the attacker.
I think actually makes sense to see defenses at 16 without penalties as a more reasonable aim. That's Skill 18, Combat Reflexes (+1), and 3 DB. That's reasonably doable for a front line fighter even in a non-cinematic game. And it means that choosing Telepgrahic Attack has a real cost (it means skill 14 is sufficient, skill 12 with Retreat) and Deceptive Attack has a real benefit (reduces defenses to a 14 or a 12, depending on the penalty you can absorb and still hit.)
How about bonuses?
+2 Acrobatic Dodge
+1 to +3 Defending Weapon
+1* Balanced Weapon (* gives +1 to skill, which may give +1 to Parry or Block)
+2 All-Out Defense (Increased Defense)
+1 or +3 Retreat
How about penalties?
The biggest fixed a foe can inflict on you is -8. That's a Feint, followed by a Very Deceptive Attack. (Certain things change this, such as custom defense-reducing attacks or the Botte Segrette (Dungeon Fantasy 11, p. 34), can inflict higher penalties, but probably should amount to real threat to defenses.)
Unfixed penalties can result from a "Spinning" attack; equally, so can bonuses. As noted in Part I, you can also change these to a fixed level of -2 and +2 (or -4 and +4).
Situational penalties can make it worse - but like the discussion of situational penalties in Offense, I think it's a mistake to try to allow for fully absorbing such penalties. You should always have a way to be worse off - it gets silly if you defend as well standing up, alert, and facing your target as you do kneeling, stunned, and flanked because your defenses are high enough to ignore those -8 in penalties. This thought process is the same as the one in Part I - Offense, that "maximum" needs to be without situational penalties that you generally do not choose to take upon yourself.
-4 Parry / -2 Block against a flail (-2/-1 versus short-chain flail weapons)
-1 Bad Footing
-4 Can't see attacker
-1 on fire
-encumbrance (for certain Parries, all Dodges)
-2 flank/runaround attack
-1/-2 for height (DFRPG simplified relative height)
-1 two-weapon attack
Multiple Defenses add a wrinkle - Multiple parries are at -4 for each after the first. It's -2 for Fencing weapons (or certain two-handed weapons with Martial Arts.) It's -2 and -1 with Weapon Master. Many cinematic fencers will fight with a "case" of identical weapons, because that gives a -1 cumulative parry penalty off of two identical parry scores. Add in +3 for Retreat, and if they can parry the attacking weapon, they can generally parry it multiple times before their defenses are really reduced or compromised.
Shields warrant a special note. First, Block is identical to Parry for the same level of Shield. It will always come with a Defense Bonus, as you can't use it without equipment. So +1 to all of those numbers, at least.
Second, their multiple-defense cascade either doesn't exist (one Block per turn, per Basic Set), or is -5 (-3, or -2.5 rounded up with Weapon Master) per use with Martial Arts. So it's always worse for multiple defenses than Parry. However, it's a better defense overall.
That said, the rules should apply here just as elsewhere. Block is balanced against Parry well enough in GURPS, and has been since the early days (but not in Man-to-Man, where it bit fairly hard.)
Overall: It's interesting that with sufficient defense additions and situational modifiers, you can raise your Block or Parry to equal or exceed your skill. The fixed Feint and Deceptive Attack rules limit the amount of supression of defenses you can suffer, but to be fair it's never been something high-skill defenses actually suffer very often. It's more limiting the damage to the low-skill defender. At a glance, then, it seems workable and might actually increase the survival chances of the weakest of combatants, but also limit the need to push defenses up to very high levels for fear of Deceptive Attack levels that simply aren't included in the system (except from very special situations and attacks.)
Monday, December 28, 2020
GURPS Combat Skill/Defense Caps - Part I - Offense
I've previously done some work on offensive limitations in GURPS. What if you combine them? What kind of skill is necessary if you do so?
This post assumes using two suggested rules:
Two Tiered Fixed Deceptive Attack
Fixed Effect Feints
Short version? Deceptive Attack is either -2 (-4 to hit) (straight out of Basic Set, p. 370) or -4 (-8 to hit.) Successful feints inflict a -4 to defend, or -8 in a cinematic game (not discussed below, however.)
How High of a Skill?
What skill depends on what you can do with it.
What should someone be able to absorb in terms of penalties?
First, we need to know what we think a good skill maximum is. If we define "maximum" as "16 or less" to maximize critical hits (3-6), minimize misses (17) and critical misses (18), how much can you really need to have that skill while taking your best shot?
Since you can at most take -8 to yourself to inflict defensive penalties, we're looking at skill 24. Skill 20 if you use the Basic Set version of fixed Deceptive Attack.
If you assume Rapid Strike, that's another -6 or -3, depending on if you assume Weapon Master or Trained By A Master. I would, personally, because if you're expecting to pull off a maximally deceptive attack multiple times due to high skill, you're already effectively playing a game that assumes cinematic levels of ability. So call this -3, which means 23 or 27, depending on the fixed levels of Deceptive Attack.
How about bonuses?
There are some, but I don't think it's worth basing anying around them.
+4 Telegraphic Attack
+4 All-Out Attack (Determined)
+3 Accuracy enchantment
+1 Balanced weapon prefix
+3 Higher Purpose
+1 or +2 (DFRPG simplified relative height) . . . and not a lot of others.
Most of those are very situational, equipment based, or come with costs. It's worth putting them aside and making them truly bonus - not something that's factored in to "need."
What about other penalties?
If you want a true skill maximum, you'll need to go fairly nuts.
-10 for chinks in armor (eyes)
-2 for bad footing
-3 on fire
-3 lying down
-2 large shield
-2 striking into close combat
-6 rapid strike (without TBAM/WM)
-9 partial darkness
So, -41. You'd need Skill 57 to have a 16 or less to stab someone through the eyeslits while prone, grappled, on fire, in nearly total darkness, into close combat, while holding a large shield, and having bad footing despite not being on your feet. It's only skill 51 if you skip Rapid Strike. It's skill 61 if you're off-handed.
And that assumes you'd not using Size Modifier as a negative to melee attacks.
That's why I say it's ridiculous to set a maxim off of the worst case. It's possible to make the case above even worse if you're using Technical Grappling (like I do) or Martial Arts and fight in even less favorable circumstances.
Who wants to play in a game where penalties are basically a non-starter? That's a fun way to take dumb combats out of the equation in video games. It's less fun in a game where combat can and should be a part of the fun, and the fun is predicated on uncertainty and risk.
Lower skill maximum?
All of this assumes mastery - a 16 or less when inflicting maximum penalties on your foe, with maximum attacks, is "standard."
What if it's not? What if you standard is lower? Let's go the lowest possible - net 10 skill. Still high enough for Rapid Strike or Deceptive Attack, and you hit half the time. It's easy enough to bracket 12-15 in here.
For a 10, we're looking at skill 17 to 21. Too low, obviously - and people won't generally go for broke and shoot for a 10 skill, and it doesn't feel "highly skilled" if that's the case even without any other penalties.
Pulling it Together
The maximum penalty you can inflict on an opponent is -8, which takes two actions - a feint, and an attack. This may take two full turns, or less, depending on the Maneuver you choose, use of the rules on Martial Arts, p. 127, and any Extra Attack. Doing so also reduces your skill by -8.
A "good" skill maximum is probably around 23-27 skill, possibly more like 25-29 (call it 30 for ease of use.) That's not far off from maximum human DX of 20 and a 3e-like skill cap of DX+10. Or from a Man-to-Man era skill 25 being "Master" level skill (per MTM, p. 10)
That skill 25 nicely works with the discretionary and inflicted penalties above is nice - a skill 25 guy can hit the eyeslits on a 15 or less, or hit the skull twice on a 15 or less (12 w/o WM/TBAM), or launch a pair of very deceptive attacks on a 14. A skill 30 guy can do all of that, plus absorb lots of conditional penalties at the same time.
Nicely, though, with the limits on Deceptive Attack and Feint, that skill can't be changed into a truly massive defense-smashing attack. You can't turn that 30 into a Rapid Strike at 27/27 as a Feint-27 and 17 or less Deceptive Attack -5 that couples with the Feint. That might be a negative - I don't think so, but we'll see tomorrow with Defense. You're maxed out at a -6 or -8, depending on the Deceptive Attack level you use. This also means very skill opponents aren't beating each other with dice rolls - you don't get two skill 24 guys fighting it out and have one roll an 8 on his Feint and the other an 18 and end up with a -10 to defend, but then a turn later closer die rolls mean a -0 to -2. It also nicely limits how dangerous a foe needs to be to be dangerous to you - they don't need to be almost your skill or basically doomed from stacked penalties.
So maybe we're looking at skill 25-30 as a maximum of basically useful skill, or a stat-based DX+10. Skill caps (Part III) may be useful here, or it may just be clear that you don't need to keep skills going higher and higher and higher as the benefits start to drop off quickly. In an advantage-based game like DF, Power-Ups can eliminate penalties instead of using skill to do so; in a Martial Arts game, techniques do the job nicely.
Closing thoughts: So far, it seems like my educated guesses on levels of skill are right in the ballpark. Defense will really tell me if the limitations on inflictable penalties are "correct." If not, we'll adjust in Part III.
Sunday, December 27, 2020
DF Felltower and skill levels
Where is everyone now?
Basically, at DX+6. Almost every single fighter-type has DX+6 in their primary weapon.
The PCs generally don't up their main skill by upping their main skill, but by upping DX via potions and other boosts.
They have mostly been expanding out their combat abilities with advantages and raising DX (rarely) and ST (very often for knights and barbarians.) Reducing penalties so skill can be applied without penalty in broader circumstances is a popular approach, too - Slayer Training, for example, or Extra Attack, or Two-Weapon Fighting.
But they'll get there.
The earlier delvers did, after all - Vryce had DX+13 in Two-Handed Sword (skill 27) when he died. Galen has DX+12 (skill 27) in Bow. Borriz Borrizman has Axe/Mace-28 with DX+14 (Pickaxe Penchant 4 helps there) and the player was aiming for 30 before real life ended Borriz's involvement in Felltower. Hjalmarr had DX+9 for a 23, and certainly was aiming higher.
If you've every wondered why I never created a "Master of Feints" power-up, that's why. Did Vryce need to roll against a 31 for Feint? Borriz against a 32? Or Wyatt a 25? Probably not. Will it make our game better if they do? Unlikely. Would they pay points for it? Certainly. People are already asking about feints stacking onto other feints for a cumulative penalty.
Skill levels like that are also why I categorically rejected using multiple Rapid Strikes from Martial Arts, p. 127. They're not canonically part of DF or DFRPG - nothing in Martial Arts is, unless called out by a Power-Up - but Wyatt's player explicitly asked after them. No way. With a history of skill-27/28 people, is it really wise to allow someone 5 attacks for -12 when that puts the person to a 16 for all of them? And also has Extra Attack 1 so he can Feint, then launch 5 attacks at -12 for a net 16 to the eyes thanks to Peerless Slayer Training every single combat turn?
Surely, though, with the enemies they face, they need that skill?
Perhaps. It's sure helpful. Some enemies have very good defenses. Some have high skills. Some have both. Few are at the level of the PCs. Other than a few like Valmarr the Sword-Spirit and Baron Sterick himself, most of the very high skill enemies have been only around skill 20-22. The vast majority are in the 16-18 range or below. Most of the 16-18 range are at 16. And still more are skill 12-15. The critters and folks who mostly prey on the utterly unskilled or only by surprise sometimes clock in at 10 skill.
The PCs? The lowest skill in melee weapons of any starting template is around a 16, and it's uncommon to be at that level. 18+ is more common. So even the starting PCs are up near the apex in Felltower. Those whose templates give them 20-22 skill, like most of the DFRPG combatant templates, put them at the apex, ranked only a tiny handful of foes easily outnumbered by even a small group of PCs.
That's not to say monsters are only as dangerous as their skill. But when it comes to using Feint and Deceptive Attack, or building up defenses, you don't need much of an edge in skill to regularly win by a much larger margin. Make that edge more like 3-4+ points, and "regularly win" changes to "always win, unless your morale breaks first." Especially when you consider skill 20 in a melee weapon gives you a 13 parry, 14 with Combat Reflexes, before retreat (+1 or +3), Shield spells, and DB. You already start out very hard to (effectively) hit.
The Arms Race occurs when the PCs want to, basically, completely overwhelm the skill levels of the opposition. If no one is satisfied until their PC is better than every single enemy they ever face, how is the GM to make "boss" foes who fight on like terms threatening? If the PCs will generally outdo even a skilled foe by 2-3 points of skill before buffing, and generally buff to +1 to +6 (and demonstrably use multiple potions until they get a 5 or 6) on top of that, then it's routine for foes to give up 3-9 points of defense. If the GM gives the foes enough skill or defense to offset that, the PCs feel like they need more as their high skill isn't high enough. It becomes an arms race that neither side can "win." The PCs can't outdo the GM. And the more the GM scales up to keep the challenge up, the more the game just becomes a battle of numbers well about the standard die rolls. Even as challenges are put up before the PCs, they simply don't matter yet drive up the investment of the PCs in their skills.
Am I opposed to high skill?
No. I like the way the PCs can absorb penalties and fight big battles with a solid chance of success.
What concerns me are three things:
- lacking effective maxima means you don't ever real feel like you are good enough . . . yet maxima tend to quickly get established as targets;
- it's tempting to use points to buy skills high enough to make the maximum difficulty situations routine;
- game mechanically, it's always more rewarding to specialize. The more specialized, the more reward.
All of those lead to the arms race, above, as I as the GM struggle to make a fight anything but a slog - because "glass cannon" foes can't hit, and thus are no threat, so foes need to be ones you need to grind down so they'll survive to have a chance to roll a critical or three and be a threat . . . or totally bypass attacks and defenses, which when done too often feels like I'm devaluing the main thing your characters are good at.
The lack of an effectively useful maximum is also concerning as players tend to look at maxima as something to reach with a PC. Barbarians can have ST 25 and potentially 50 HP, so they should all aspire to ST 25 and HP 50. Knights, ST 20 and Striking ST 2. Swashbucklers, Extra Attack 2 and Enhanced Parry 3 (and it would be 3 and 4 if that was allowed.) It's possible to get there, therefore it must be really important to get there, and if it's important do it ASAP. Add that to the tendency to overpatch to try and make characters invulnerable to anything (we've got multiple guys with a net 16+ to resist death or knockout who, nonetheless, want to raise HT and Hard to Subdue.) If skills are open on top of this, and it's unrewarding to generalize and seen as important to maximize, guess what happens?
DF penalties are often staggeringly high - characters who are in partial darkness (-3), while using Rapid Strike (-3/-3 for a Weapon Master), and aiming at the Neck (-5), standing on bad footing (-2) . . . and that -13 still leaves a 10 or less for the skill 21 guy taking the swing with a Balanced, Accuracy +1 sword. It's a lot of fun. So people try to get enough skill to absorb all of that and still end up with a net 16 skill, as if penalties were to be bought off instead of adding challenge to combat. So that's where it stands, now, and why I'm thinking of a framework of limitations to basically bound the levels of useful skill even while keeping them high.
And as always, with flat cost point buy, it's cheaper and more effective to specialize, and then try to make everything you do about the thing you specialized in. Buy a hammer, and treat the world like it's full of nails.
Ideally, then, the PCs should be able to specialize, but not punished for not doing so (even better, rewarded for doing so.) They should be able to feel the value of their skills, but not feel that sky-high skills are a necessity of entry (and thus effectively punish those without for lacking them.) They should be able to eye the cost and benefits of skill and see where they need to end up to be the way they want, without having an arms race waiting for them if they overshoot. And finally they should benefit from boosts, buffs, and situational and supernatural aid without it effectively being seen as required, again, because of the arms race. It should retain the awesomeness of high-skill play without making it just a question of stacking bonuses forever.
That's what I am after, ultimately. I think it's doable, and can be fun for the GM and for the players.
So that's where we are now.
Saturday, December 26, 2020
Random Links & Thoughts for Boxing Day 2020
- Ravens & Pennies - Being a Worthy Player
This isn't unique advice but it's never bad hearing this again. A lot less applies in a game like mine, where we pretty much recruit friends to play with, not gamers. A lot of the behavior we do automatically . . . and I can't think of anyone at the table who doesn't prioritize the group's fun over their own fun, honestly. Except maybe me, as demonstrated by the prevalance of exploding monsters in my DF game. Bwahahahahahaha. Maybe I need more of this?
- Thanks to the Sundaland RPG Setting blog for this post:
Shout Out: War Elephants
Which linked these three posts:
War Elephants, Part I: Battle Pachyderms
War Elephants, Part II: Elephants against Wolves
War Elephants, Part III: Elephant Memories
I learned a lot about war elephants. I already knew a fair amount, but not nearly as much about the logistics and handling of them as I do now. And that I'm not the only one who didn't like 300.
- This thing is pretty creepy. It put me in mind of the creepy-as-hell "Jolly Weeper" from Shadow Prowler. Speaking of which, I only have two of those books anymore. I wonder which of my players has the missing volume?
- I've been noodling about limitations for skills, defenses, feint, etc. for GURPS in general, but I have some ideas for Felltower in particular but overall more for DF as a line. I've got to figure out a good way to assemble my thoughts before I put it all down, but the posts I've made (and the comments on them) have really got me thinking.
Friday, December 25, 2020
May you all reach your loot threshold today!
Thursday, December 24, 2020
My article, "The Demonic Temple of Felltower," is a stretch goal.
It's connected to the excellent article "Toxic Grimoire" by Aleksei Isachenko. I had some poison-based spells used by the lizardmen in my game, and he had a lot more, so I sent him mine so he could use them and made sure my article pointed to his. So I hope this gets funded so you can see just who in Felltower likes to chuck around poison-based magical attacks!
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
GURPS Caps & Limits Roundup Post (and skill caps)
I decided to make a post to link them all just so I can have everything in one place.
Two-Tiered Fixed Deceptive Attack
Possible Solutions to the "extreme DB" problem
None yet - but capping skills at DX+10 is an old idea from the 3e days . . . it's ridiculously easy to hit DX+10 in DF, and we have characters with skills above that in DF Felltower. But it's possible that if you instituted the above - DB limits, caps on Deceptive Attack (-4/-2 and -8/-4), limited Feints to a net -4 or -8 - you wouldn't actually benefit from very high skill.
It's also possible to provide some other limits and caps on effects, such as:
The swinginess of random rolls means you can get people ending up with anywhere from +1 to +6 DX from a dexterity elixir. A fixed effect of +3 would be worth the cost of use, but also limit the effects of a sudden very high jump in DX. Going from 14 to 17 is excellent; going from 14 to 20 is often fight-changing.
Effective Skill Cap
Attacks are limited to a specific skill - 20, perhaps, or 25 - and anything past that is discarded before applying modifiers. Skill beyond that level is useful for Contests of Skill, or when floated to another attribute, or for dealing with reduced DX from supernatural attacks . . . but is otherwise ignored.
Like a hard cap of DX+10, but instead, after a certain level, you must pay extra for skills. Levels past the cap cost 4 points, as usual, but also require 4 points per level in a special Advantage, "Extreme Skill Training." DX+11 would cost an additional 4 + 4, DX+12 8 + 8, etc. This is a fixed price increase, but it need not be. "Extreme Skill Training" could be 4, then 8, then 12, then 16, etc. per level, ascending with each one.
If your goal is well-rounded fighters, instead require that you have certain points in other combat skills to improve past a cap. For every level past the cap, you need to have at least X points in other combat skills. So to take yourself from DX+10 to DX+11, you need 4 points, plus at least 4 points in another weapon skill. Optionally couple that with a lower soft cap (say, DX+5 ot DX+6.)
Once you reach the soft cap, you cannot improve that skill until you have an equal number of points in other combat skills. So if you have 40 points in Broadsword @ DX+10, you must also have at least 40 points in other combat skills; to get to DX+11 (44 points) you need 4 points in other skills. These can be Combat/Weapon Skills, Shield, Tactics, or potentially other "combat" related skills like Physiology (monster type) or Armoury, depending on the specific game.
(This has weird effects at the very lowest levels and non-combatants who are first learning a combat skill - optionally couple it with a cap, so it only applies if you have at least one skill at DX+5 or higher.)
Most of these are untested, but they could potentially form a matrix from which you can create a framework that mitigates against very high skill being a requirement for fights.
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
Healing, Special Orders, and Multi-Session Delves
Here are what I'll use as my canonical Felltower rulings from now on:
Healing occurs on the game day when it is applied. For spells known, that can be as little time as it actually takes to gather the energy and cast it. If the healing requires an external source (elixir, hireling NPC, scroll) or the church, the healing occurs on the game day when it is available and used. Date any extended recovery time from that point. This only applies for multi-session delves; if healing is needed after a "normal" delve but not applied until a later date, use the actual real-world date or in-game date, whichever is later, for the start of the healing process.
Special orders, attempts to hire hirelings, sage research arrangements, etc. occur on the real world date or the game date when the order is made - whichevr is later. They cannot be back-dated to the game day or an earlier period of time.
Putting it together
For example - the delvers go into the dungeon on November 22nd, but it takes 3 sessions to finish the delve. The real-world date is December 21st when they finish the delve . . . but in game, they've returned to town very late on November 22nd. Healing takes place on November 22nd (if they have the spell handy), on the 23rd otherwise (if the spell needs to be prayed for, or a scroll purchased, potion purchased, or the church contacted and healing donated for.)
Monday, December 21, 2020
GURPS DF Session 144, Felltower 110 - The Lord of Spite (Part III)
Date: December 20th, 2020
Game Date: November 22nd, 2020
Weather: Cool, cloudy, dark.
Ahenobarbus Barca, human swashbuckler (286 points)
Aldwyn Hale, human knight (313 points)
Varmus the Hanged, human apprentice wizard (145 points)
Crogar, human barbarian (326 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (430 points)
Gerrald Tarrant, human wizard (408 points)
3 skeletons (~35 points)
Heyden, human knight (307 points)
"Mild" Bruce, human barbarian (315 points)
Sir Bunny Wigglesworth, human holy warrior (286 points)
Ulf Sigurdson, human cleric (306 points)
Wyatt Sorrel, human swashbuckler (321 points)
We picked up where we left off last time - with the Lord of Spite about to take his next turn, moving up towards Ulf, who was far out in the lead of the PCs. The others were mostly exploring another area of cave. The PCs were a mess:
- Sir Bunny basically limbless, with three crippled or amputated limbs and an amputated foot.
- Wyatt fighting thanks to Levitate, but with a missing leg and a crippled arm. - Heyden too exhausted to continue fighting, thanks to Great Haste piled onto his encumbrance.
- Bruce missing a hand and fighting one-handed with his default Broadsword skill.
- Ahenobarbus was 1 FP away from half move and dodge.
- the casters were down pretty far on FP and Gerry also on HP, since he regularly casts off of HP.
Durak kept a steady move up toward Ulf, who'd seen and heard him and came running back, yelling for help. Everyone basically turned and ran back - the deaf were within sight of those who could hear, so no one lost much time heading into the fray. Galen moved quickly and began to shoot at the Lord of Spite, crit-fishing to bypass Missile Shield. Bruce ran up to engage.
Ulf managed to get past Bruce just as the Lord of Spite made it up to near Bruce. They began to fight as more PCs arrived - Ahenobarbus, then Crogar, the Wyatt, and Gerry and his skeletons moved up as well.
The fight was basically a steady brawl. Ahenobarbus danced around trying to get shots in on skulls. Wyatt moved along the edge and tried the same. Crogar stalked the Lord of Spite looking for an opportunity to strike. Durak took a run at Bruce, who dodged aside - allowing Durak to take a swing at Ulf, but he missed. The PCs and one skeleton swarmed in. There was a close-in brawl that moved along as the Lord of Spite attacked and the PCs retreated, basically allowing him a lot of freedom of movement. The PCs kept taking shots at him. Feints didn't work very well against him - he's high skilled and was rolling well - but the did allow a few hits to get through. When he exposed his back Crogar managed a big hit followed by two leg chops, and Wyatt sliced his foot twice. He couldn't retailiate effectively except with a critical hit - the buffed defenses of everyone meant they generally had 16+ on all of their defenses, even with Deceptive Attack, and skills too high to usefully Feint against (not that Durak has done that.) He managed one critical defense (against Wyatt) and two important critical hits (one wounding Bruce IIRC, and a second against Wyatt.)
That was enough to paste Wyatt, though, who took a critical hit to the skull and went down, barely alive, moments after destroying the last of Durak's new necklace of skulls. The Lord of Spite was quite angered by this, and put two additional shots into Wyatt's prone form, crippling Wyatt's other leg. He turned to fight the others. Ulf "helped" by casting Awaken on Wyatt, waking him up!
Wyatt sat himself up and then stood using Levitate, but didn't have his swords ready. Durak turned on him and hit him again, crushing him back down. He made his death check, but was out of the fight with no working limbs.
The Lord of Spite took more hits, then, from Bruce and Crogar. Galen launched arrows into the fray, crit-fishing, but instead a shot hit Ahenobarbus . . .for maximum damage in the arm. Ahenobarbus used Luck to re-roll the damage and his bracers got in the way and deflectedit aside. Durak finally took a huge shot from Bruce followed by another from Crogar - who was routinely doing 30 cutting damage on most of his hits - and he began to fragment and break up! He let out a loud roar, and everyone nearby had to resist against a noxious evil power.
Crogar and Ahenobarbus failed (Crogar despite Luck - and Ahenobarbus's Luck had averted Galen's accidental hit.) Both suffered from an immediate Curse spell at -3!
In moments, the Lord of Spite was a bubbling puddle of noxious black . . . something . . . on the ground. All heared a gravely voice - in their ears and heads - promising to remember them and be back for revenge.
Bruce spat on the bubbling pile - and was getting ready to urinate on it when it boiled away, leaving a black mark on the ground. Durak's wooden club was gone with him, but the stactite club he'd brought was still there.
The PCs quickly put up Galen as a guard, and dragged over the bodies of their dead and wounded friends, and some of them rested. The warrior types like Crogar and Bruce began to pick up coins one by one.
Once they got people sufficiently healed and rested to not be dying - including using Stop Bleeding to stabilize Aldwyn - they gathered up as a group and investigated. There were coins and stones - some semi-precious, some just attractive-looking junk - spread around everywhere. They found a number of piles of skulls - just the top half, no jawbones, and any tusks removed or broken off. They were of animals, from mouse sized to bear sized, and humanoids of all races. There was a big one in the area where they'd seen him charging out of for his rush on Ulf. There were others, elsewhere.
They came across a nest of centipedes in one corner - and Galen spotted a large leg. He recognized it as a gargantuan centipede - roughly 15-20' long, extremely venomous. And like all centipedes, fast. But he spotted it far off enough that it wasn't disturbed yet, and he and Ulf - the only two in the lead - backed off (both with very successful Stealth rolls.) They explored more and found where the mawbörg stay, where the Lord of Spite does his pacing, and a large broken pentagram scratched into the rock. In one area, though, lined with either with a little copper ore or "fool's copper," a careful search by Galen revealed an iron strongbox. He dragged it out of the rocks it was wedged into. It had a lock and was crusted over with a thin layer of stone. They took it with them, able to hear something moving about within it, and it was heavy as well.
A final trot around with See Secrets on Galen revealed nothing extra. They moved out, as best they could, with skeletons carrying the wounded and limbs.
On the way out, Bruce touched the red six-fingered handprint with his right hand, taking 1 HP of injury and losing 5 FP, so he can use that hand to open the doors, too.
Back in town, they counted up a few hundred gold pieces, about 200 semi-precious stones worth 10 sp each, and 10,001 sp. They managed to pry open the strongbox and found it had a quarter-pound lump of gold, a copper bracelet (which turned out to be Laccodel's Rune, a powerful magic item), a bunch of gems, and an electrum bracelet. They sold the lot, except for the Rune, and divvied up the loot. They got everyone healed and Varmus resurrected, and Aldwyn gave him a second "I died in Felltower" shirt.
Well, Durak is down for 666 days, and the PCs got some nice loot off of him. Not that much divided 11 ways including folks chipping in to get Varmus brought back from the dead. They're pretty sure they got most of the coins, but there might be some here and there - it's a rough cave floor, and there wasn't sufficient light or time to meticuloisly search. Turns out that only two party members have Search - the cleric and the scout. No one else shows any sign of learning it, either, but I do use it to determine how fast and how effectively you search areas and gather things within them.
- The Curse of Durak is pretty nasty. It was a Will-5 roll, and mostly people passed the roll. Crogar wanted to use Luck to force Durak to re-roll, but it wasn't a contest. His own re-rolls went 8, 9, 10 - he wasn't any better off. In any case, I'm always leery of allowing one person with Luck to force a re-roll on a group-affecting event. Sometimes Luck might not feel that Lucky, but you can't always choose where to apply your game-mechanical breaks. The curse itself is very harsh, and the breaking condition is also so - deliberately. I didn't want this to be a "plunk down $100 and undo the curse" event. The retributive curses of Demon Lords should be more than a casual healing away.
- Speaking of healing, one thing GURPS doesn't really make clear is length of recovery from some debilitating conditions, such as horrendous amounts of injury. So we routinely have people taken to negative HP - often a high multiple - and then, still conscious, act as if they're fine. Barbarian is at -92 HP? Load him up to Extra Heavy Encumbrance with treasure and fallen PCs and he's able to fight one-handed. Recovered from a heart attack thanks to Stop Bleeding stabilizing your mortal condition? Heck, just use Lend Energy and healing potions, get to full, and you're right as rain, no time to recover. But a broken arm takes a month if you use Restoration. It just breaks versimilitude for me. It doesn't have the seeming of truth. I'd do a formal ruling on it. I don't mind the fast recovery, but sometimes it feels like there are just three combat results: Totally fine, totally fine except for a missing limb, dead. There is nothing in between.
- In the end, it was a costly fight, but the Lord of Spite didn't have much except brute force once he'd used a few spells and his Unspeakable Utterance, and brute force was of limited use. He landed not a single blow that wasn't either a critical hit, or made against a semi-helpless foe (Bruce, in the earlier parts of the fight.) $22,000 worth of buffs and healing went into defeating him, on top of 11 characters plus three skeletons, with characters ranging from 268 points to 470. He mostly was attacking at a 16-17 skill to crit-fish, because the PCs were routinely defending at 16+ even with his usual Deceptive Attack. I'm not saying this is unfair, just saying it's what it is - it's impossible except by the luck of the dice to defeat a magically-buffed skilled party.
Now, had the Lord of Spite had a different attitude about combat - had he gone for lethal blows and fought to efficiently kill instead of randomly whacking whoever seemed like a useful target at the time - he could have easily killed a few PCs - Sir Bunny, Bruce, and Wyatt all for sure. He had them set up for a coup-de-grace and didn't deliver it. I'm sure my players will have objections to that statement, but they're wrong - all three had at least one second where Durak had a chance to full-power hit them twice while they couldn't defend . . . and he's too good to miss the Skull or Neck with both shots. If he had done so, he may have been able to turn to tide or cause the player's morale to break. But except for a bit at the end, he never adjusted his approach. I know why, but I'll leave it for others to think over. Will he take the same approach in 666 days? We'll find out in October of 2022.
- Laccodel's Rune is in DFT3 as the "Antimagical Bracelet." In my particular game, its magic resistance does not stack. If it did, Gerry might have wanted it more. I think Bruce got it, in the end. It's sized for SM 0 but it's a copper bracelet with an open loop, so it can be sized for him, and he's most likely to touch stuff to dispel things. Okay, to touch stuff for any reason possible.
- MVP was Gerry after a long debate over it, for lots of effective spellcasting I think. I actually don't care who gets MVP, or why, but the discussion did start to descend into a formal discussion along the lines of "the following criteria shouldn't be used for MVP." I reminded them we once gave Aldwyn's player MVP for making an apple pie, and it's better if really is a totally open set of criteria. XP was 4 each for loot, 1 each for exploration, and 1 bonus for finally "killing" the Lord of Spite.
- Ulf learned Regeneration and did all of the regenerating of lost limbs. That saved a fortune for the group. I do need to check prior rulings about the date - do I date it from the following day (Ulf learned the spell overnight, not instantly) or from the actual real-world day? Equipment is definitely the latter but I'll have to dig and see if healing is the former. For some reason, people are mostly keeping their lopped off hands and whatnot, if only because people now want to get hands cut off to use as keys for the six-fingered doors.
Sunday, December 20, 2020
- we finished the Lord of Spite fight.
- more limbs were lost, and death checks were checked.
- the fight was bloodily resolved . . .
- and I'll tell you how tomorrow.
End of the line for the Lord of Spite?
I have no idea how it'll turn out at this point - the Lord of Spite's allies have been destroyed, as has his axe, and his necklace of skulls. But he's replaced the necklace of skulls, and the PCs have several members severely wounded and out of the fight, including Sir Bunny, missing limbs or extremities, such as Bruce, or exhausted from too much encubrance and too much Great Haste, such as Heyden. It's round 2 of the battle, and both sides have taken losses. Who can come out on top?
Saturday, December 19, 2020
The Laws of Felltower - Part III, Knowledge Spreads, Memory Persists
In DF Felltower, the players have access to their own meta-knowledge of the game, usually from memories of play, but also from my mostly-reliable but not exactly detailed session summaries. Anything that happens in Felltower that makes the summaries, plus some details that do not, are generally known. Every person on the street might not know them, but they could - nothing is hidden. PCs aren't allowed to "hide" knowledge or conceal discoveries or hold back information to bargain with. It's all out there . . . someone blabs, always. You don't need to justify knowing, as much as you need to justify not knowing.
This doesn't mean it's actionable knowledge . . . knowing you found a gate doesn't mean everyone knows how to get there and just goes. But it might - if any group of PCs, including one assembled entirely from new PCs with no connection to existing members can use the map, then such knowledge could also be out there and known by others. In any case, this is how rumors get generated, and why details about things discovered tend to come up. It's assumed as a basic fact of the campaign that people talk, and then NPCs in town talk back based on what they heard.
Characters may come and go, but the blog remains, and even players who started long after play began can go back and read them and use what they know to inform their decisions. The effects of their decisions persist. This includes memories.
Players can use their memories to inform their decisions. PCs may see something for the first time - they don't remember the thing, or the room, or the event - but they can know about it.
This is a two-way street. The players can use all of the summaries, and all of their own memories, even those of PCs long dead, to make larger decisions about the game. In a way, the characters have a group identity. But therefore NPCs tend to regard the PCs as a group, too. They learn about how murderhobos (wether evil sorts like the Barca family, or religious zealots like the current group) act and behave, and react accordingly. You may not have electrocuted Larry the Crossbowman, but he's learned to stay away from most types who'd go into Felltower delving after loot.
Basically, the players can remember stuff and try to apply that to their PCs. The PCs don't have supernatural memories of other lives, but can have knowledge of previous events. And NPCs tend to learn lessons about PCs as a whole, even if some new PC does get a chance to change how things work. How your PC treats an NPC is how that NPC will expect all PCs to treat him, it, or her in the future. They may be swayable by a new PC with better social skills, or betrayabe because the last group was trustworthy and this one is not, but you don't get a clean reset like you've walked far enough away from an NPC in Skyrim and come back and they've forgotten the arrows you shot at them.
This is probably the weirdest law of Felltower. But it's strange to do this one way, but not the other. In other words, if the players act as a stable group with rotating members but a single, unified map and summaries and access to the blog, but the NPCs and monsters only react to individual PCs based on that individual PC's actions and don't know or learn based on that . . . it feels lopsided. And very, very game-y (and video game-y) in the worst possible way. A one-way approach like that just doesn't fly. It makes it very easy on the PCs - anything they know, they know - and very hard on the GM - anything the NPCs know, they don't know unless it's about a specific PC that they directly interacted with.
That doesn't fit with my sense of fairness or my sense of laziness.
So this law applies.
Descriptive, not Prescriptive
It's worth nothing that these "laws" are descriptive, not prescriptive. Any player reading these should take them as basic descriptions of play. They should not take them as rules you can leverage for your benefit. They don't insist that things are thus or so. They merely describe, in roughly accurate terms, how things have been and generally are. Pushing them for a benefit isn't a good idea - it's not that kind of game, and these posts are merely trying to describe some of the assumptions those who've played the whole time have learned unconsciously or consciously along the way. Much like grammar, it'll tell you when something is wildly wrong, but it's tough to say some new development in the common language of Felltower isn't proper just because it doesn't quite line up with these. Keep that in mind.
Friday, December 18, 2020
Links & Thoughts for Friday 12/18/2020
- Noble Knight finally has a copy of Fire in the Lake 2nd printing, but price + shipping is ~$75, and the rules are in "Fair" condition. Ugh. New it's $85 . . . I'll keep looking, I think.
- I'll continue the Laws of Felltower posts next week. They're fun and a good way to codify the play style and how the world/game is shaped by it and shapes it in turn.
- Doug's group turned up a big treasure haul by beating up some fodder monsters I created for DFM1 (rock mites and slugbeasts*). It's a big haul even without them having the Bow of Su.
Linked in it is a post of Kromm's talking about treasure. It's a good description of how I generally do it - I place treasure by what belongs where. I do randomly generate a lot of the total treasure value, but what it is must fit the encounter. Or fit some plausible story of how it got there.
That said, sometimes I do get some odd results using my tables from DF21. Like, say, the giant worms down in Felltower who had treasure, but clearly couldn't have carried any. I decided the area they were in had treasure. They had none, but there were gems to be pulled out of the stone in the area they'd been encountered in. It made sense in-game, and it made sense according to what I rolled. Sometimes I get powerful, intelligent creatures with no treasure . . . but some tough-ish monster elsewhere with way too much. Maybe the powerful, intelligent type stores its treasure and guards it with the tough-ish monsters elsehwere. It's plausible and it fits and helps create a story.
I'm also 100% behind Kromm on the "what fits, not placed to fit" approach. I almost never put things in just because someone might be able to use them. Not never, because I do have an eye towards its useability. But I don't custom-place items for one character or another, or because so-and-so needs a new weapon, or whatever. It's why we've got a swashbuckler wearing armor perfect for an SM+1 type, a knight with bracers most valuable for a mage or a martial artist, and a guy who never gets hurt with a multi-use healing potion dispenser. I put the stuff in and they chose where it went. And because so much is randomly rolled or selected by what fits, you're really painting yourself into a corner if you are a dual-weilding katar master, or exclusively use a specific kind of axe, or whatnot.
I use tables to determine presence and amount, unless I have a specific idea on either. The dice don't rule my table. Neither do the needs of my player's characters.
- Mailanka has a good post about a persistent problem for GURPS (and heck, it was a problem in Champions, too, back in the day) - the clash between equipment costs and innate advantage costs. Are Battlesuits Fair? Maybe not. Short Bus has one in Gamma Terra, so he's now better than all of us at everything physical. We don't care, but if we had to pay points for these things, how would you price it?
- This Mook post makes Foundry VTT look good. I have nowhere near the time to set things up on it, but it's $50 and sounds like it more natively supports GURPS than Roll20 does. It might be worth the investment, if I can basically offload a lot of the setup to my players (okay, to V~ and J~). $50 is less than $5 each if we split it up, and except for our youngest player I think all of us have $5. Heh. It's worth discussing as a group, I think.
* Natural allies. Sorry, in-joke.
Thursday, December 17, 2020
The Laws of Felltower - Part II, the Deeper, the More Dangerous
Borrowing heavily from the earliest roleplaying games, dungeons are more dangerous the deeper down you go.
In pure old-school games, this was largely depth, and assumed a campaign centered on the dungeon. With more modular play, you'd end up with surface-adjacent complexes full of monsters far, far more dangerous than "level 1" would suggest by the rules. Still, the idea was codified around depth = danger.
In Felltower, it's a little more nuanced - the futher you are from surface-access points you are, the more dangerous it gets. So if you go down 5 levels, and then up 1-2 through a sub-level, it's likely more dangerous despite the more relative shallowness. Trying to game this out may work - PCs choosing to delve can assume the deeper into Felltower the riskier it gets, even if that means going up instead of down.
In game, followers of the Good God explain the the phenomenon by saying that the depth shade the denizens from the gaze of the Good God.
To really find dangerous foes, you must delve deeper. But the rewards are scaled to the depths, too, and tougher monsters are likely to have more treasure - the tables for monster and treasure placement in DF21 are exactly those used in Felltower. While there are occasional placed hoards on the upper levels, there are not many. Onc they're gone, Rule I suggests they won't be back soon . . .
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
The Laws of Felltower - Part I, Treasure & Monsters
They're not in-world rules but they do describe how the world works.
Monsters Replenish Faster than Loot
Loot is the name of the game in Felltower. The dungeons are rich with treasure, but are also monster infested and trap encrusted. As treasure is taken out, it is sometimes replenished by new visitors bringing in loot as they come in. Others find it a convenient place to stash what they've found.
But it's at a fraction of the pace of the replenishment of monsters. Nature, and Felltower, and GMs, abhor a vaccum. As the PCs clear out areas of fierce creatures, lesser creatures will be able to roam further. Vermin that served as prey - or just sport - for the fiercer types will spread. As monsters that serve as a buffer between territories of other monsters get killed off, conflicts will arise that cause monsters to move or reinforce areas themselves. Monsters will breed - and ones that have been kept out, pared back, or otherwise held at bay by intelligent types will multiply once the intelligent types have been wiped out.
In other words, monsters multiply.
Treasure, though, does not.
The game requires that you outpace the replenishment of monsters if you want get more loot. You can explore and re-explore level 1, and always find things to fight . . . but they're mostly time and resource killers. The dungeon always beckons you deeper if you want more loot. It's less and less profitable to explore the "cleared" areas. Yet is never really, truly safe to explore the "cleared" areas.
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
Dork Tower on PC Rationalizations
I was going to post something else . . . but tomorrow. I'll post that tomorrow. This was too accurate. I don't mute them, but I do wish I could stop my brain from hearing the explanations and hair-splitting rationalizations sometmes.
Monday, December 14, 2020
The Rule of 16 for Feints
Another way would be to apply the Rule of 16.
Feints would be rolled against your skill, but their effect would be capped based on the Rule of 16.
For example, A feints B. A has Broadsword-24, and B has Broadsword-12. A roll a 10, as does B. A's margin is 16-10 = 6. B's margin is 12-10 = 2. B's defenses suffer a net -4.
A feints C. A has Broadsword-25, and C has Broadsword-17. A rolls a 12, and A's net margin is 17 (16 or the defender's skill, whichever is higher) - 12 = 5. C rolls a 9, and has a margin of 17-9 = 8. C suffers no net penalty to defend.
A feints D. A has Broadsword-24, and B has Broadsword-25. But A roll a 7, and D rolls a terrible 15. A's skill 24 is actually less than D's 25, so A uses full skill and thus A's margin is 24 - 7 = 17. D's marin is 25 - 15 = 10. A wins the contest by 7 and D's defenses are at a net -7.
Pros: Uses an existing rule.
Cons: Adds another step to calculation.
Pro and Con: Reduces high-skill contests to a 50/50 shot. This reduces the push for high skill to win Feints. That's only a part of the arms race of high skill - defenses and "to hit" also matter - but this can either be a net plus or a net minus depending on your goals.
For a different but related approach, take a look at the Rule of -10.
Sunday, December 13, 2020
What's so funny about Felltower: Humor & my DF game
More than anything else, the ones created around someone else's humor are the tough ones.
That's a big stumbling block for me.
I'm a big fan of humor in my games. Silly weirdness and not taking the whole thing too seriously? DF Felltower is about that. We've had a whole sub-section of the campaign centered on the, ahem, "bells of D'Abo" thanks to the confessed infatuation one of our players had with Olivia D'Abo. The PCs have fought meat-like pink slime, I mean lean finely textured monstrous slime, and leaping leeches, and slugbeasts (created off of the name thought up by Sir Bunny's player), and trolls with pet rust monsters. They fought the dreaded Rangol Grot, whose ridiculous name was coined by a kid name Eiji who I taught English to. The main religion's exclamation "Good God y'all!" (and the name of the diety) is pulled from an Edwin Starr song. Sir Bunny Wigglesworth and Mo (his momma call him Kle) are both movie references, and a few other characters have been references to "Beyond the Black Walnut" by Mark E. Rogers from his Samurai Cat books. Drum circles of druids, no one knows what they were doin', and the high druid is Warlock from "The Young Ones." Even more items, monsters, and names have come from silliness or in-jokes. This list isn't vaguely exhaustive. And they haven't even dared the Jester Gate, which leads to out-and-out silliness.
It's not a serious game.
But it's hard to fit someone else's jokes in. Someone else's puns. Someone else's sense of humor. As much as Sean Punch and I share a brain sometimes when it comes to monster design, I'm not going to stick the magical leggings from DF6 into my game. Some things I will, though. I won't promise that there isn't a ninja wearing the Sho Kosu Gi in it somewhere. Heh.
It's tough enough for someone else to have written something that feels like it belongs in my game. It's even tougher to be the right kind of funny for my game, too. So even if I do think some author's pun is amusing, it's not mine, and it's not likely it'll resonate with my players as much, either. So generally bits that depend on humor have a tough time making into my game.
Saturday, December 12, 2020
Conan: The Cimmerian - Completed
The ending was a little frustrating. The game kept crashing in some fights or as I crossed into certain rooms.
So I would finish a fight, leave the final location, save, and then come back in. Eventually, I was able to get through everything.
The end was just a big rush - run into Toth Amon, run away because I can't kill him, run back, try to get past him . . . and eventually I did so, after this crash:
This one didn't crash:
In his chamber was a still-beating heart in a jar. A few strikes and it was done.
Toth Amon turned into a skeleton and then into a pile of graphics error, and then the screen went to the ending screen:
And then it just went to the C:\>. And that was that.
It was fun enough. I can mark that one off as complete, on my list of old games I played but didn't finish. I'll get back to Ultima IV soon, I think - I want to finish it before I go onto Ultima V. IV will just require a day off with nothing else to do, since I can't save in the final dungeon and it's pretty long. Like, hours of play long from what I can tell.
All in all, Conan was fun. It's worth a go through. Knowing what I know now, I could have really gotten through it in half the time, using a few teleport scrolls to pick up what I needed and just move on quickly to the next quest. I'm glad I went back to playing it.
Friday, December 11, 2020
Conan the Cimmerian - Tell, Don't Show
I'm mostly done, but I need a specific magic item to get past an obstacle, and I can't afford it. So I'm trying to go back and see if I can pick up enough treasure missed earlier to pay for it. But once I have that, I should be able to finish off the evil Toth Amon.
But to get to him, I have to get past his army. No worries, the quests I'd done earlier had allowed me to recruit one. How does that work out in play?
In other words, they just tell you about the army, the mighty battles, the terrible ambush, etc. You see nothing. Not even a cut scene like at the beginning of the game. Hah.
Remember folks, tell, don't show. The players want to listen to it, they don't want to actively engage with it in any way.
Thursday, December 10, 2020
GURPS DF Monster: Norkers
Let's stick with this Fiend Folio thing I'm on this week.
This is a GURPS version of a monster - one I can never sell or re-use as it is just a conversion, straight-up, of an AD&D monster from the Fiend Folio.
I love norkers. They're easy to place, easy to equip, fun to talk about - "norker" is a fun name - and are just odd enough to not-quite feel like a usual humanoid. Plus they didn't magically turn into beetles like umber hulks did. They're just armored humanoids. And they've got a Russ Nicholson depiction!
To maintain some mystery, I'm just posting the "basic" norker. The PCs in Felltower have often run into more lethal versions - Norker Brutes, for example, with higher ST, and a Norker Champion with overall better stats.
A hobgoblin with a hard, armor-like skin.
ST: 13 (1/2-1) HP: 13 Speed: 5.5
DX: 11 Will: 10 Move: 5
IQ: 10 Per: 10
HT: 11 FP: 11 SM: +0
Dodge: 7 Parry: 9 DR 5 (DR 7 skull, DR 3 eyes)
Bite (13): 1d piercing, Reach C.
Punch (13): 1d cr, Reach C.
Thrown Axe (13): 2d+1 cut, Acc 0, 13/20.
Weapon (13): Axe (2d+1 cut, Reach 1) or Club (2d crush, Reach 1).
Traits: Appearance (Ugly); Bully (12); Callous; DR 5 (cannot wear armor); Extra Attack (Bite); Infravision; Magic Resistance (Thaumaturgy only) 5; Nictitating Membrane 3; Rapid Healing; Resistant to Metabolic Hazards +3; Social Stigma (Savage).
Skills: Axe/Mace-13, Thrown Weapon (Axe)-13; Brawling-13; Stealth-11.
Notes: Extra Attack allows an additional bite attack only - subject to damage on a parry. Notable equipment includes:
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Player administrative roles and player note keeping
It's worked out, kind of. Sort of. Well sometimes, not so well other times.
We've been debating a "caller" like position for someone to organize the group. We've been playing with 7-10 people, and a 10-player session plus 4-5 NPCs isn't easy for the GM even with people on their toes.
One of my players (J~) has taken on the role of record-keeper of loot and purchased items, and what items were found and lost in the dungeon (useful, because my players don't often update me on what their fallen, lost compatriots carried when they fell.)
We've debated a rotating leader position, with that person getting final say and getting to set the scope of the session's delve.
This guy has taken all of that to a very, very detailed level of analysis.
Barker's Rolodex: Record Keeping for a Long Campaign
I'm impressed, and it very neatly explains how and why to do those things we've been doing or debating doing. Since it agrees with my ideas, by the Law of Confirmation Bias, I hereby declare his post to be helpful, accurate, true, and well worth reading. Check it out . . . I think we might be able to use some of the suggestions to fill out our ideas.
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Crowdsourced Monsters & the Fiend Folio
Lich Van Winkle has a post up discussing the origins of the Fiend Folio.
The long and short of it is, Don Turnbull crowd sourced this book.
I never thought of it as "crowd sourced" but it certainly is. Lots of authors, submitting monsters all over the place, brought together in a curated collection of monsters. One of the OSR books I bought was that, really, although I found its execution a bit spottier - The Swords & Wizardry Monster Book 0e Reloaded. I still found things to use in it.
One issue I think you get with many-authored monster books is a feeling of consistent execution and theme. It's tough to have multiple authors on the same page. It happens - I know that even my players have groaned at "my" monsters from DF when they're Sean Punch's idea and execution, and at how evil Sean is when, actually, I made that one. We have similar ideas of what a monster should do, and then editing by Sean usually burnishes off the differences. But the more authors, and the less heavily the hand of the editor falls, the more visible the differences in origins and ideas. For every campaign that would love to have Kilmous in it there is one where they're useless at best. Some types of games would use a Tween, or have you fight a Adherer, and others would write both off as silly or weird.
Given a collection of such weirdness by one person, you get a feeling of consistent strangeness. From many authors, it can feel a little random. I personally think Don Turnbull did a good job and I turn to the FF again and again when I want to make my games better. But I think it's easy to feel the difference between it and the Monster Manuals I and II because it has so many authors.
Monday, December 7, 2020
GURPS DF Session 143, Felltower 110 - The Lord of Spite (Part II)
Date: December 6th, 2020
Game Date: November 22nd, 2020
Weather: Cool, cloudy, dark.
Ahenobarbus Barca, human swashbuckler (286 points)
Aldwyn Hale, human knight (313 points)
Varmus the Hanged, human apprentice wizard (145 points)
Crogar, human barbarian (326 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (430 points)
Gerrald Tarrant, human wizard (408 points)
3 skeletons (~35 points)
Heyden, human knight (307 points)
"Mild" Bruce, human barbarian (315 points)
Sir Bunny Wigglesworth, human holy warrior (286 points)
Ulf Sigurdson, human cleric (306 points)
Wyatt Sorrel, human swashbuckler (321 points)
We picked up where we left off last time - with the Lord of Spite about to take his next turn.
Durak attacked Sir Bunny, who blocked his club as the axe swing missed. He was knocked back a couple of yards into one of the boars by the hit. The devil maw on Bruce kept gnawing on him and holding him up. (Ahenobarbus's player said he was ergonomic, and that quickly turned into an Ikea name for them - Mawbörg.) The other one attacked Ulf - and managed to grapple him again. Another attacked Wyatt but wasn't able to land a blow.
The doomchildren attacked Galen and Sir Bunny but they managed to fend off the attacks.
Wyatt managed to kill one of the three devil maws - the one badly bashed up by Ahenobarus - and then with his second turn of Great Haste he killed another.
The doomchildren continued to be a problem - one had cornered Galen, who tried to Evade past it and failed badly. It kept slashing at him. Ulf rushed over and put Resist Fire on him to keep him safe from its explosion, then eventually healed him with Faith Healing. Galen in the meantime lopped off the arms of the doomchild in front of him, so it was stuck trying to bite him.
Gerry eventually moved over to Crogar, put Invisibility on him, and then used an Awaken spellstone to wake him up despite his coma (-8 to the roll.) He woke up, and got him axe ready and readied his shield and stepped into the fray.
Bruce got tossed down to the floor by the remaining devil maw, which moved to engage the PCs attacking the Lord of Spite. It didn't last - Wyatt turned on it and chopped it down after a big Feint.
Meanwhile, Heyden steadily bashed at the skull of one of the boars, eventually killing it. He re-readied his shield and marched towards the battle as he did so.
The second boar was slain next, by Gerry's skeleton hacking at it from behind. Ahenobarbus chopped it repeatedly but it was the skeleton that put it over the edge to -5xHP and automatic death.
Crogar, Wyatt, and Ahenobarbus all moved to attack the Lord of Spite. He parried both attacks easily, despite his Invisibility spell. Galen dropped his swordsword, readied his bow, and shot at the Lord of Spite. That was harmless - he had Missile Shield up.
Sir Bunny kept fighting the doomchild over him, and lopped off its arms. It bit him in the face. Then Sir Bunny lopped off a leg and, unfortunately, it died - it was very badly wounded. It exploded, scorching Sir Bunny. Its shrapnel flew in all directions - and bad luck, it caught Varmus in the blast, and inflicted just enough injury for a death check. He missed the roll badly and died. Galen shot the one in front of him and killed it, and the sharpnel didn't hurt anyone.
Durak cast Dispel Magic about now, taking out some of Wyatt and Bruce's spells but Gerry's largely resisted.
Meanwhile Wyatt managed to attack one of the skulls around Durak's neck and destroy it. Despite a very successful feint, it took a critical hit to manage that - Durak was too skilled to really fall for the feint. Durak responded with a critical of his own and lopped of one of Wyatt's legs. Only his net DR 13 kept him from losing both legs to the cut. He fell back and down. Durak backed into the darkness.
Sir Bunny crawled up to the edge of the darkness on all fours. Durak forsook an easy chance to just kill him outright, and instead swung randomly - and crippled both of Sir Bunny's arms - smashing one to a pulp with the club and cutting the other off with his axe. Sir Bunny taunted him as a coward, and stepped on Sir Bunny's back and ground him into the stone floor, crushing a few of his potions and holy water vials. Sir Bunny was elated - the water would touch Durak! Sadly, no - it was all of 8 oz of water under a full-grown man. It never came close.
Ahenobarbus and Heyden closed with Durak. Ahenobarbus managed to destroy the two remaining skulls while avoiding the Lord of Spite's attacks. They started to attack him, but neither Heyden's sword (taken from a draugr guard of Sterick's) nor Magebane could do much besides crease his skin a bit. Heyden attacked Durak's axe at this point, roughly, and managed to hit it - and snap it in half! Durak stepped off of Sir Bunny, who rolled over and hooked his one working leg around Durak's leg! The Lord of Spite pretty casually smashed it to a pulp with his club and stunned Sir Bunny.
They pressed him, though, so he stepped back into the impenetrable darkness that appeared just before he did. Ulf tried Sunlight to counter it but failed. Gerry tried Shape Darkness but failed.
They'd try that repeatedly, and eventually - much later - Ulf would finally take out the darkness with his spell.
Crogar waited as Wyatt moved up, now under the effects of a Levitate spellstone. Durak swiped at him, and Crogar interrupted and cut his arm for a serious-looking gash.
Crogar moved into the darkness and attacked Durak's hex - and rolled a 3! Too bad, Durak had stepped back last turn. A 3 against an empty hex is still a miss.
Sir Bunny kept taunting Durak loudly, to no seeming effect. Bruce managed to heal himself up - Ulf used Major Healing and then Bruce drank potion after potion to get back to positive HP and then eventually to full - from -116 to 33 took a while even with x3 for his 33 HP.
They tried to engage, slowly, and moved up, at each step trying to dispel the darkness - with spells, with a held-out glow vial, with Magebane - but nothing worked. Sir Bunny listened, but couldn't hear anything. Ulf eventually rolled a 3 (or 4?) on a Sunlight spell and dispelled it all. Those with Dark Vision saw just a cave ahead, with some scattered coins and other tiny objects. They didn't see the big heaps of coins they'd heard about.
They started to stalk into the cave. Most of them worked their way to the right, seeing a larger cave opening to that side. Ulf went ahead by himself. They eventually heard some drag-stomp noises, echoing around such they couldn't localize the sound. Ulf moving up by himself saw what he think is a pentagram on the floor off to one side of the cave . . . and looked the other direction and saw Durak.
Walking with with two clubs - his regular one, and a stalactite - and a new necklace of skulls.
Ulf started to run away, and the others turned to run up as he shouted for help.
We left it there - Heyden, exhausted, gatherig body parts. Sir Bunny crippled. Varmus dead. Aldwyn in a coma. And a split group rushing the Lord of Spite.
Great Haste on all of the fighters drained a lot of FP - I'll personally calculate it next time, because I think a few more people than just Heyden are down a lot of FP. The group should be down 1+Enc for the march up to the fight, 1+Enc for the fight, and down 5 more for Great Haste. Even the guys at Light should be down 9 FP, with STs in the 11-13 range for a number of them. Strength potions don't give FP, and Paut can't be used to help.
Lots of ease avoiding the Lord of Spite's attacks, mostly by Dodging. I think most of the fighters have used spellstones of Haste. For simplicity, we allow Haste to add to final Move and Dodge. I don't know if that's the intent - it raises "Move and Dodge scores," so that's what it does.
It's amusing as people try to taunt enemies. It's pretty much one thematic whole - "Come out here and fight on my terms, you coward!" Heh. Does it anger Durak? He's not the most even tempered of types, but he's called "the Uncaring" for a reason. It doesn't seem to be making a difference in his actions. Not a lot does - if he wanted to, he could have easily killed a number of PCs this session. Clearly, he doesn't care to. But back to taunting - my players use it a lot but lack any skills to back it up, so it's just that much noise. I'll give a bonus for a good taunt, but it's rare the taunt is more than just the above - you're a coward, come and fight me, don't use your advantages against me but come fight me in this ambush I clearly laid, etc.
NO HELPING! - I actually had to say this a lot. Not because deaf characters were getting tactical coordination advice from other players or something like that. It was more of players "helping" with questions and suggestions that are inaccurate and cost time explaining why they can't be done. Typically these revolve around spells that don't work that way, buffs they don't have on, doesn't Higher Purpose give +2 DR versus demons, and Extra Attack really meaning "extra action." Sigh. It's right up there with people who "helpfully" call out total damage inflicted by a 2-3 hit combo on a foe while I'm busy subtracting DR from each blow and then applying injury modifiers. It doesn't help. We get confused enough - Galen later drew his magical shortsword, despite having dropped it seconds earlier on the far side of the battlefield.
I'm link to my post on meteoric, because Ahenobarbus tried to dispel the darkness by touching it with Magebane, and someone suggested last time that "meteoric" might count as "magic" for injuring certain creatures. No, quite the opposite, it never counts as "magic" for anything. The sole property of meteoric weapons - the sole property - that they can't be directly affected by magic. That's it.
Also, we've had people try to "speed up" play by resolving part of their actions after they go, if those actions will affect no one else. Instead what happens is everyone gets confused, people want to know what they did, did someone get skipped, hey we forgot you last time around, etc., etc.
I allowed Crogar to interrupt the Lord of Spite with his Wait and attack his arm as he attacked Wyatt. In retrospect, Crogar should have be required to make a Per roll to spot it in time to react. I don't think you should be able to effectively cover an entire arc in front of you against attacks coming from total, impenetrable darkness. We'll have to assume he made the roll, but in the future I'm not going to allow a Wait to automatically interrupt an attacker that can't be seen in this fashion. You should get rewarded for, or punished by, your Per in situations that require spotting something before you act.
Related but not solely related to today's session - I may need to put a cap on weapon skills - it's not that I'm opposed to high skills, it's just that it's getting a bit silly. People do up them in response to problems, too, so if they encounter -15 to -20 in stacked situational penalties, the response generally is to start eying skill 30+ so that's still a 10-15 to hit. I don't think that's healthy for the game. Really tough circumstances should come up without the response being higher weapon skills + Dexterity potions so it's not actually hard after all. Something I need to consider. The counters by the GM are either much higher skills on opponents - perpetuating the arms race - or monsters that take ridiculous grinding to kill. Or both.
So Luck renews, again. Should the Lord of Spite's once-per-session powers renew? It's not an unfair ruling.
MVP was Sir Bunny for his Black Knight-like attempts to fight on.