Tuesday, May 18, 2021

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Session 152, Cold Fens 11

Somewhat short summary today, as not a lot happened worth recording until the very end bit. Also, I have other writing to do tonight. So this might be brief and sketchy.

Dates: May 16th, 2021 - May 18th, 2021
Weather: Sunny, warm to start.

Aldwyn Hale, human knight (340 points)
     Varmus the Hanged, human apprentice wizard (170 points)
Crogar, human barbarian (336 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (490 points)
Gerrald Tarrant, human wizard (418 points)
     2 skeletons (~35 points)
     Rahtnar the Skeleton (~125 points)
Ulf Sigurdson, human cleric (343 points)
Wyatt Sorrel, human swashbuckler (354 points)

We started off with the party in Swampsedge or in Ulfhollow ("Ulfhalla"), where they spent the week. Bruce was called to chop things at his job, so he couldn't make it. Heyden was out sick. Otherwise it was the same group as last time.

The PCs headed out along the northern edge of the Cold Fens. Once they reached near their exploration area, they headed in.

They poled around for most of the first day, passing through some explored areas, getting eaten by bugs (some doing FP loss, mostly, once doing damage) basically nonstop, and otherwise poking around. The weather was fine, however, and remained so most of the trip.

At one point, they saw two root-and-muck human-like figures - shamblethorns (aka "shambling mounds.") They rapidly poled away, just making enough speed to keep away from them. Not for terribly long, though. Within a couple of hours they had to camp . . . and the shamblethorns attacked in the morning. The PCs were lucky - Varmus, Ulf, and Gerry were able to spot them coming (some great rolls, there.) They quickly woke up the crew and chopped the shamblethorns into pieces in a few seconds. They hacked off a few limbs, but they extruded new ones as fast as they could take them off. But still, damage told, and they quickly finished them off. Varmus tried to set one on fire with Create Fire but found that fire isn't a good answer to wet muck-and-vine monsters in a damp, rainy fen. Galen, meanwhile had been off scouting, and returned hours later to report back no signs of trolls or rocky ground to explore for a troll temple.

The next night they had a similar issue - a giant frog attacked them. It was during Ulf and Crogar's shift. It leaped out of the darkness after everything went a little too quiet around them. Crogar was caught a little off-guard and it knocked him down with a heavy slam. Crogar tried to cut it with his axe, but was impeded by position, his shield, and the frog itself, and missed. It clamped down on his head, completely engulfing it. Sadly, it couldn't seal off his air, nor could it usefully harm him. So it just kept holding on. Crogar tried to punch his way free, but between being supine, the grapple, being unable to see, etc. he couldn't land an effective blow and in fact only managed to punch something hard (a root, he thought) and narrowly miss hurting his hand. Ulf meanwhile blasted it with a Sunbolt, hurting it badly, and Galen shot it a few times and killed it. They pried the frog - dubbbed the "Frelmet" by Aldwyn - off of Crogar.

They also had biting insects that night, keeping people up and short on sleep. This is aside from bugs, noises, a brown spider of some kind crawling on Varmus, and other heebie-jeebie inducing swamp mucking. Galen wasn't impressed with the party's outdoorsy toughness.

The PCs basically poled around the mucky swamp, exploring spots of "dry" land where they could. They skirted the fog, and eventually decided they needed to check out the foggy island - "Sakatha's Island." So they headed there, and worked their way along the foggy coast until they needed to camp.

They decided to set up a Sanctuary to rest. So Ulf did. And rolled an 18. The door appeared. Everything seemed fine, so they all went in as usual. (I had Ulf's player roll 1d. On a 1 or 6, something would happen. 2-5, just something less nasty. He rolled a 2.)

Once he closed the door, the Sanctuary collapsed, dropped them all injured to the groud, stunned and puking in some cases. Ulf's attempts to create a new one failed.

So they sent Galen in to scout. He found an excellent camp site, but also a trail, and clear evidence that trolls had been there in the past (but not at all recently). Ogres, too, seemed like they'd been here, also not that recently. He also smelled woodsmoke - faint, but it was there. He scouted down the path and found, eventually, a hill with a dozen menhirs in front of it, most toppled. He also smelled the smoke nearby, clearly coming from a cave in the side of the hill.

He also found signs of wolves - dire wolves - coming and going into the caves. But only two or three.

And on one of the toppled menhirs was a clawed hand mark - six feet from claw to base. Galen recognized that as a sign of the Troll Father. Also, one of the menhirs had been plastered with thrown rocks, some big ones, and another had two old depressions in front, as it it had been pushed over by something two-legged and big.

Galen returned to the boats, as rain began to fall steadily.

They decided they needed to head in and deal with the trolls - if they were trolls (Wyatt expressed doubt that trolls would use fire, as it can kill them.) They moved stealthily to the cave.

Galen check the entrance - it was closed off by a rusty chain and leather curtain - suits of mail, cut into strips or sheets and bound together with leather, all rusty.

They moved up, used Silence on the mail curtain, and then pulled it aside. They went inside.

They found a largish cave with an altar with a crude statue of a troll on it, about 3' tall. (For once, no one shot oor attacked a statue they found.) The walls were decorated with skins, skulls, and bones of all sorts of animals. Two alcoves were full of humanoid bonues, but big ones. There were two curtains out - one leather, good quality but old, and another a tapestry, long-since faded.

They rushed through the tapestry, after Galen heard some voices beyond it. They found the remains of a fire in an alcove, bit slab tables with flat boulder chairs, and seven cowering goblins. The goblins surrended as fast as they could. Galen made out, "Don't kill!" and "Please!" and similar things. Ulf cast Gift of Tongues on himself and spoke to them. "Do any of you know Galoob?" "I'm Galoob!" said one. Not Galoob Jah, clearly, but still. They blathered all at once, in a panic, that "the Brothers" left, they were prisoners, they were kitchen help only, they didn't want to die, the brothers left, they went thataway, they want thisaway, they ran, they're hunting, they're hiding, etc. Ulf said, "Do you worship the Good God?" - "OH YES! He's so good, we worship him, yes, yes, oh he's so good!"

They decided to tie them up, after Ulf briefly considered that this was a 2 1/3 second problem for Galen to solve. So they tied them up, instead - Wyatt did that, and the goblins did their best to help tie themselves and each other up.

As they finished this, and checked another curtain only to find a tunnel that Y'ed out in from of them, they heard howling. Close, and loud, and IN THE CAVE.

They armed up and spell'ed up, crushed spellstones, and otherwise got ready to fight. They waited a little, and then realized no one was coming. The wolves went silent, but the goblins wailed and cried. Wyatt had wanted to gag them, with the usual handy 'cloak' and 'cloth' and other things delvers don't have on their record sheets, so the goblins were free to yell. They did, calling for help, saying "Don't kill!" and just crying out in fear and alarm.

The PCs decided to stack up, nice and tight, and move in formation through the curtain and into the cave beyond. They did so. As they did, a large figure - a giant - tossed a 150-pound boulder at one column of them. He hit, and one by one they all Dodged (sigh).

Crogar stepped up and waited, as Aldwyn charged. Wyatt followed after he crushed a spellstone or two (Haste, Shield) and was Great Hasted. They rushed the giant - a nearly 20' tall one with a dragon skull helmet and scale armor, and a two-handed sword. Galen shot him in the eyes. All three shots missed . . . Missile Shield. The giant looked down, effectively giving him a good view of melee foes but presenting his skull helmet to Galen's shots, so he can't crit-fish his eyes.

The PCs rushed into melee, and engaged the giant. He swung his two-handed sword twice, but Aldwyn critically blocked, and the giant lost his balance. Aldwyn cut him, as did Wyatt, but even with wyatt's Coup de Jarnac they could only slightly injure the giant. They couldn't reach his neck or eyes; he's too tall. They forced the giant to circle back and away. Ulf and the wizards moved in closer to cast spells. Aldwyn critically blocked another attack, and the giant againt was off-balance. Wyatt feinted the giant but it wasn't impressed by his 14-point margin of success.

Crogar swung at the giant, and rolled a critical hit! That was enough for his Curse, which ended, turning his success to ashes - he strained his shoulder. (I had him roll until he got a sufficiently nasty penalty . . . "dropped weapon" is meaningless with a lanyard.)

The suddenly, Wyatt and Aldwyn were cut from behind - an a second giant appeared, as the attack ended his Invisibility. He attacked again - he was Great Hasted. He cut Wyatt down on the first hit, knocking him into the other giant and Wyatt fell. Aldwyn stumbled forward but managed to critically Dodge as he was aware of the second back shot. The giant lost his second attack as his weapon needed to be re-readied.

They eventually got a look at both giants - two 20' tall guys with milk-white skin, silvery white hair, and black eyes, clad in dragonscale armor (greenish-black, and greyish-black, respectively) and wearing dragonskull helmets.

(That's Roger Raupp, if I'm not mistaken, from Dungeon Magazine.)

Crogar, meanwhile, was attacked by the dire wolves, who pushed under the curtain and rushed in. They pounced on him but he managed to dodge back and block one.

Wyatt, down but not out, pulled out a potion and drank it, healing most of his HP (it was a Greater Healing). Aldwyn did the same, I think.

Galen went to shoot the dire wolves but critically failed - a 17 - after using Predictive Shot to take himself down to a 15. Oops. He rolled a 3 on the critical miss table, and his string broke - his bow, shatterproofed dragonhorn couldn't break. Varmus and Gerry quickly started casting Counterspell, to get rid of Missile Shield and Great Haste respectively.

We left it there, as it was late in the real world.


- So the PCs reached the island last session fairly early, and then turned around and left. A good case of "we seek adventure" becoming, "we seek a very specific kind of adventure, stay on target, don't deviate from the mission." I was ready for this fight last session, and it seemed like it would happen early. But no.

- We had a big rules discussion about Crogar's position with the frog. One player argued that it doesn't pass a reality check that Crogar was, at one point, at higher odds of making thing worse by struggling than he was just sitting there - all the penalties mean that even an AOA (Determined) plus Telegraphic Attack weren't enough to get him more than a 1 or 2. So he'd crit on a 3-4, crit fail on an 11+. That seems steep, but he was in a position fatal for almost anyone, and still had a tiny chance of success by punching his way out. My own real-world experience is that, yes, something you're in a bad spot and it's worse if you try to get out. Sometimes, the other guy wants you to struggle so you open yourself up to exploitation. Sometimes the best thing is to just wait it out.

Also, most of the time people try to find a "rules" solution, not a "real world" solution, and then argue the rules don't give them sufficient chance. Crogar had options, but looking at his skills, decided that Axe/Mace and then Brawling were his best options. Not, say, taking his time to somehow get the shield off, drop the axe, and then try a close-combat weapon, or try to get his hands in to open the jaws (grapple back, and yes, you can get messed up trying and failing), or anything like that. He was in the worse possible situation - pinned and and bitten around the head - and still had some bad options but better ones than he chose. That's not on the rules.

Finally on this, I think people really don't like when negative penalties stack too high. I always get push back when people try something risky with high penalties, like hitting a thing that's on them with a large weapon at full strength, or dealing with the above grapple, or doing crazy things in darkness with insufficient ST or hands on a weapon, and so on. It often feels like people want PCs with very high skills who deal with a fairly low maximal cap on penalties they can suffer. High penalties are fine as long as they still end up with 16+ skill. So I feel, anyway.

- Speaking of rules, the next person who says "I run up and Wild Swing" is just going to do that. I'll rule it a Wild Swing. It's been 10+ years, guys. It's Move and Attack. A Wild Swing is something else. It's really annoying.

- That 18 on Sanctuary almost dumped them . . . elsewhere. Had the second die been a 1 or 6, not just 2-5, then, well, they wouldn't have been in the Cold Fens. There would be a way back to either there or Felltower, probably the latter, because all weird places tie eventually to Felltower.

- The giants, and their place, have been waiting in the Cold Fens since the day we opened it up. One player noted that it might have been lethal to find. Yeah, true, but my game isn't fair. The giants are from an old issue of Dungeon magazine. If you recognize them, mention it sometime later. My players won't look them up but why tempt anyone? I love that picture, too . . . and I ruled they have limb and hand armor, too, otherwise their armor just means hand shots all day.

- Wyatt's player was happy, as he'd spent 15 points on Coup de Jarnac months ago and finally fought armored guys worth using cutting attacks against. Why not eyes? Because the eyes are 6 hexes off of the ground.

- The giants hit 3 or 4 times. None of the damage was average or higher - 7d+11 is 35.5 average damage, and Roll20 gave me 31-34 damage. Not horrible, but I've grown to expect that monsters will underperform their actual potential. 18-53 damage = 31-34 always.

- Meanwhile, we had multiple criticals in a short span - 3 defenses by Aldwyn, 1 hit by Crogar, 1 hit by a giant . . . and I managed to roll identical critical miss results on the giants every time until the third time. I'm not blaming Roll20 for this but it's odd how often rolls clump.

- I really need to think about a way to deal with "throwing at a tight group." Right now, if everyone can see the attack, as far as I understand the rules they can all defend. So four guys in a row standing 3' apart (4 hexes in a row) dodged a 150 pound stone thrown at the lead guy. Each one just dodged and that was that. Well, one had Missile Shield, but it's silly to visualize. Plus the "hits the wrong target" chances are lower than their Dodges, so it's even less likely they'll get hit. For some missiles, especially, it's odd to be able to Dodge and stay in the same hex, even if they aren't so big you can't Dodge at all.

- The PCs are trying use Counterspell to undo the spellcasting of whichever giant is the wizard. We'll see how that goes. We had the usual groans of "it takes too long, it costs too much!" Yeah, those might be true. In another campaign I might make counterspelling even easier than I do, and faster. But yeah, it's hard to usefully Counterspell a Great Haste on an opponent. It's why no one tries that on the PCs, honestly.

- Healing is extremely, extremely rapid in GURPS DF. Wyatt and Aldwyn took people-killing hits. Both are basically fine. It's hard to knock someone out - even just stun them - with blows that can kill. GURPS DF guys are not fragile at all. The giant should have gone for limbs, but I guess I was being a bit soft. He should have multiple attacked the neck or legs. I won't be soft next time.

- MVP was Aldwyn for the multiple criticals. Even Crogar's player voted for him in the face of people voting for Crogar.


  1. "Galen, meanwhile had been off"

    Did this line get cut off?

  2. It's nice to see GMs who have genuine lethality in their games. I've played in campaigns, especially in DnD, where it felt like I was playing a consequence-free power fantasy. What's the point of combat then if the GM is always pulling their punches?

    I look forward to reading these session reports. :)

    1. Thanks. I (usually) run the NPCs as genuinely trying to kill the PCs - after all, the PCs are always trying the same.


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