Monday, September 5, 2022

Nothing but tough left in Felltower

We'll play with a short crew of lower-point delvers on 9/11.

Most of the "easy" areas of Felltower have been gone over maybe 2-3 times.

I can point the finger at cautious play. But I did some things to encourage that.


Not that this is a change from how I run games in general, but Felltower was especially lethal right from the start. We didn't have cut-rate Resurrection yet. We didn't have a lot of money for the full version. And people in general didn't want to risk their paper men. I get it, even though risking your paper man is the only thing that generates good stories. It's the root of fun. No one sits back 10 years later and says, wow, we sure didn't lose any PCs, wasn't that awesome? They do tell stories of PCs that survived despite the odds, and of exploits good and bad. Mo is dead but the Naked Crowbar Fight lives on. Vryce is probably ashes or dust but who can forget him killing a dragon? And so on.

But because people don't want their paper man dead, they tend to choose the least risky way to play even in a game that only rewards risk. Or does it?

Loot Thresholds

Part of the problem, I think, was the loot requirement.

I set them low to start with, with a very gradual slope. Only very high point characters needed serious loot to get points. Allowing unequal divisions - meant to allow bootstrapping new delvers - was not a big help either.

Setting them too low for too long allowed relatively high-point characters - especially amongst that first wave - to keep getting 4 xp and then 2 xp for loot smacking around foes too weak to present an actual lethal threat, and taking loot that would be more reasonable for newer delvers. I hesitated to change them because of resistance from my players . . . the push to keep them low, because they wouldn't be able to get enough loot and the newer areas were too dangerous, was strong.

And I'm sure many people reading this are nodding their heads, saying, sure, makes sense, you should always go for maximum loot at the minimum risk. But I'll note that it has been very rare for my players to talk about maximum loot, and much more often talk about getting the minimum loot to meet threshold. The goal wasn't the big score, it was the smallest score necessary. I had to put in rules about partial hoard looting, for goodness sake, to prevent people from finding loot and then taking only enough to maximize their point gains each delve. And about re-found loot, if a delver carried money in and died and then his friends came and recovered it. That wouldn't have been necessary if the delvers had been focused on getting the most they can each delve instead of the least they need to keep advancing.

Changing them for the higher has been very helpful.

Ol' Spitey

Another problem was the Lord of Spite. I still think he's awesome, but the PCs had one encounter with him and basically decided he was to be avoided like Evil Otto in Berserk. So much so that as far as I knew, they didn't know his "room" was a staircase down. The new players didn't. So they spent a lot of time trying to find a way down in a dungeon designed (as time-saving method) to pen the PCs in to the first couple of levels for a while. It worked too well. No one really wanted to open the door and find the Lord of Spite to fight so they poured over the upper few levels again and again looking for loot and a way down, in that order.

The House Limit is Three Do-Overs

I wouldn't change all of this, if I had a chance do it all again. The need to have a functioning megadungeon that I didn't have to write a good 5-6 levels worth in one go required a I have bottlenecks . . . and putting the Lord of Spite in as a wandering monster added something I don't think you get in other megadungeons (at least not that I know of offhand.*)

I would use the current XP rules and loot thresholds. I think they make the most sense, and would have driven players to push their delvers deeper, quicker, in most cases. Maybe not. They're a cautious bunch. But they'd have progressed much, much slower in that case. The other things - yeah, easier access to cheaper rezzes would have been helpful. The Lord of Spite, he'd stay, but I'd been served better to have a different style of bottleneck to the lower levels. They opend up below but open up too slowly. I'd have put in many more connections - 3-4 times as many - given a chance.

This is why, ultimately, I'm not keen on putting in more new areas, more "starter" areas, and more side delves. It really just encourages bottom-feeding as much as you can . . . not just with 250-point guys but with 300, 350, 400+ point guys. Why take the risk? Just wait for a new side area to develop so people can "build up" to areas. I think Felltower is a vibrant place to delve. The choices aren't as wide-open as they were in the initial days, but they aren't closed off. There are risks to take and rewards to reap . . . just not as many easy ones as the loot threshold made it seem there were in the past. Now a serious level of risk to gain loot is assumed, not a side effect of choosing poorly. Our player Greg used to quote a friend as saying, "Now is the time for heroes." Felltower isn't for the heroic, but now is the time for the brave. Risk or gain no reward.

* If there is some other megadungeon that has a wandering demon lord on a shallow level meant for very early play, let me know. The Lord of Spite isn't the most powerful demon lord in the game, but he's no slouch.


  1. Something to consider about loot thresholds is that there's no (mechanical) incentive to finding massive amounts of loot, in fact quite the opposite. The most you can get is 4xp, so why look for the big score when you can hit your thresholds by scraping under the couch cushions? The rules about re-found loot actually reinforce this: finding a pile of a million gold pieces is literally worse than finding ten piles of 100,000 gold pieces over ten different delves. I say if they find twice as much loot as they need, give them twice the points. I bet if players knew they could add whole lens in one go, they'd feel a lot better about going after that big score.

    1. This is true, but consider this: in DF, added money to your pocket is added power to your character. It's better DR, better damage, better chances to hit, bigger power items, etc. etc. It's a power increase. So giving increased XP for bigger scores is giving you the benefit of a bigger score in terms of material power, and increased inherent power.

      That was a concern. It also leads to balancing issues. If I put in 500,000 somewhere, I have to think it might be 4 xp or 40 xp, depending on who benefits. Or have to put in rules to prevent people from giving all of it to one character, who could then spend it on gear for his buddies after he buys a massive upgrade. That was something I wanted to avoid being an issue.

    2. Actually, to follow up on this further, aiming for the minimum loot threshold as your main goal is actually short-sighted.

      Many delving costs are fixed. Some of them are in-game (upkeep, hireling costs, rations), some out-of-game (Sundays of your life that you don't get back), and some are a mix (you're always risking your paper man on a delve, profitable or not). You're better off getting 10x as much loot and 4 XP than getting 1x ten times and 40 XP . . . because those costs are fixed, and trying to spread the loot out across fixed risks just increases those risks, effectively.

      Plus there is always more loot deeper down. Always. If you plunder enough of Felltower to require me to put in deeper levels with more loot . . . you get more stuff to do and larger rewards for doing them. And a lot of loot in one whack means it is easier to get better equipment and buy better supporting gear, so the next 4xp isn't harder to get. It's only harder if you always bite off the smallest bit, little by little by little, taking that risk of misadventure every time, and then having to start over again here and there with new characters.

      It's not necessarily true that all of these things will happen, but those things are fixed costs - real-world time, upkeep, and risk - and they will always come each session. Higher amounts of loot help mitigate those costs, while the minimum to get by does so to a lesser extent.

      And as a thought experiment, what if I totally decoupled XP from loot? You just get 5 XP every session, even if you meander around? Would that mean you're better off scrounging in the couch cushions? After all, that gains you no less than slaying a dragon and taking home a king's ransom. Finding new stuff doesn't do anything. Best bet is to show up each week, chat with your friends, mill around on level 1, and get your 5 XP . . . or maybe not. Maybe it would mean going to maximal loot because that's the only thing that can multiply the benefits of a given session. I'm not going to try that, but others surely have. I just don't think a minimum loot threshold in and of itself encourages bottom feeding. I think a too-low loot threshold did that. And I don't think extra XP would encourage risk-taking, either. I just haven't seen the behavior in my games that makes me think it is so.

  2. The closest analog to the Lord of Spite I can think of in other megadungeons is the poop monster in Rappan Athuk. Not quite a demon lord, but just as unkillable at early levels (and even at higher levels).

    1. I'm a little afraid to type "poop monster" into a search engine. Can you talk about him a bit so I can avoid all the downsides that'll bring?

    2. Dungie the Dung Monster is a modified mimic who wanders the first level of the dungeon and ambushes delvers. He's theoretically unkillable (though you can incapacitate him briefly). Notably, he's intelligent enough to bargain with.

      I once had a party firehouse him with a decanter of endless water as a way to bypass him. He got his revenge later by hiding as a door and killing one of them on their way out of the dungeon.

  3. Commenting on the other post reminded me about this one! It was my buddy James who always used to say "Now is the time for heroes!" but I think he got it from Mutants & Masterminds. I think even playing Galoob I'd still operate on that principle but would probably also get me kicked out of the group for getting folks killed :D


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