Sunday, March 31, 2024

Felltower Status Update

Not much to update on Felltower.

- Next game is tentatively 4/14. We have a couple of people who can play but we don't have a quorum of players willing to commit to the day yet.

- I've done a little bit of writing to Felltower, but not too much. Not until we're playing again am I willing to put in a lot of time into development ahead of where they are now.

- I did update some of my notes and maps, however. I still have the struggle of the maps being too damn big for the VTT . . . not sure how I'll ever deal with this problem.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Mapping Lessons from Ancient Ruins

I toured around Pompeii on my trip to Italy. Naturally, noted a lot of things from a mapping perspective.

- rooms are pretty small. A lot of the rooms in buildings - and solo residences - were not much bigger than 10 x 10 or 15 x 20-ish. Not a lot of the giant rooms I like to stick in dungeons.

- lots of doorways in corners.

- lots of small, narrow doorways. Couple that with the door in the corner, it's enough that "face the doorway and choke the enemy off in the doorway" will be difficult. There wasn't much room for 2 people, nevermind 3, to face the doorway. On top of that, the portals were pretty tight, and it would be hard to engage someone in the doorway with a swinging weapon - the sides and top of the doorway would severely restrict that.

- ceilings were quite high, where there were ceilings. So 10 x 10 rooms were a thing, but not 10 x 10 x 10 rooms. Ceilings were way above my head and I'm over 6'.

- raised sidewalks would give a real height advantage in a street fight. Enough to justify a 45 degree angle bonus in DFRPG rules.

Given all of that, I'm a bit more likely in the future to do smaller rooms, corner portals, and high ceilings in an ancient style setting. I might also, in a realistic game, put in rules prohibiting - or limiting - cutting attacks launched into doorway hexes in a small doorway. You'd need a clever angle to get one in, and that would also limit your path of attack and logically make it easier to predict. Stabbing away would be a solid tactic in those cases.

And maybe I shouldn't make so many rooms 50 x 50 or 60 x 80 and things like that. I could be going a bit overboard.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Random Links for 3/29/2024

And I'm back.

- I got what might be an AI comment on my blog. Or maybe not. It's actually well written comment that reflects the contents of the post well, and expresses an opinion on it that makes sense in a way spam comments don't . . . except the profile of the commenter is a sales redirect. Weird. If it was just anonymous I'd have let it through.

- I took a short trip to Italy. I don't normally discuss my non-gaming life here, but it's relevant to gaming.

First, I have a post coming about mapping and room layouts after cruising around Pompeii for a few hours.

Second, I met up with one of the playtesters for GURPS Martial Arts, who I've known online for decades but finally met in person. If anyone remembers Peppe, aka Luther, that's who I met up with.

And third, this door in Roma very close to the Spanish Steps is more Trampier than anything except actual Trampier.

- We're potentially looking at 2 sessions of Felltower in April. Crazy, I know.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Away for a bit

I won't be able to post for a week or so . . . see you guys next week!

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

James Ward - thanks for the games

I just heard from Tenkar that Jim Ward passed away.

My second post here, back in August 2011, was a repost from my non-gaming blog, talking about Jim Ward and his games. I never got to play with him, but things he wrote and games he helped develop gave me a lot of joy.

I've posted about him enough that he had his own label - in case you want to traipse through the posts I put up with his name on them.

Monday, March 18, 2024

The frustrations of spells vs. effects in Pathfinder: Kingmaker

One real frustration I have with Pathfinder: Kingmaker is when descriptions and effects don't really match.

Many, many debuffs have very specific counters. You can get stats drained, paralyzed, petrified, frightened, stunned, level drained, blinded, sickened, exhausted . . . all good. But then how do you fix it? It depends. You have spells like Lesser Restoration, Restoration, Greater Restoration, Remove Curse, Inspiring Recovery, Heal . . . which one fixes what? It's not always clear.

It's not always clear what effects are countered by what countermeasure. I've had plenty of my companions made to flee by a fae's Frightful Moan . . . despite being accompanied by a Paladin who cast a spell to render them immune to fear effects. Cast Delay Poison, Communal to be immune to spider's venom . . . but not the stat-drain poison of other monsters or the save-or-die poison effect from a Prismatic Spray.

Countermeasures seem very idiosyncratic, specific, and arbitrary. From a person versed in the game Pathfinder only from the video game, it's tough. I often struggle to figure out what exactly would help me counter foes who spam Slay Living or Prismatic Spray. I have to dig, dig, and dig in the rules to figure out what does what.

It's really annoying. Mostly I deal with my issues with Mass Heal, rest, and lots of healing spells. But even several playthroughs through the game, and late in the game, I just have a vague idea of how to deal with certain issues. It's not really ideal.

When it comes to magic, I really like when effect-based counters just work based on the effect. If you are immune to fire, fire damage should just fail. Poison immunity? Then "save vs. poison or die" should just be something that garners a chuckle from you. And so on. It's useful food for thought as I continually revise my version of GURPS Magic for Felltower . . . I want it to seem clear why something works or does not work; strange exceptions should be rare and should allow for an "ah-hah!" moment as you figure out why. I'm not getting it from this game, but it is making me think about how not to do things the way Pathfinder seems to do them.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

No Felltower today

Nothing for Felltower today - we're pretty much unable to schedule a game at least until April. Admittedly that's only 3 weeks away . . . but we don't anything like a firm commitment from anyone, just a few firm "no"s from players.

I'm more than a bit disappointed . . . I like to run the game, I write more and better when I play more, and I also rent the server so it's painful to rent it for nothing.

But here we are - no game until April at least. Let's hope we get a game in then!

Friday, March 15, 2024

Friday 3/15/24 Roundup

Friday means links and thoughts!

- Still no sign of game. Some of the core players are busy and I haven't heard from the rest. I may just have to put the whole thing on hold so I can open up my Sundays for something else until I see some light at the end of the tunnel.

- Very old Blackmoor memories - thanks Havard's Blackmoor Blog.

- Erol Otus book cover for Playing at the World 2.

- Still messing around with my Paladin playthrough of Pathfinder: Kingmaker. As always, it's the puzzle-like endgame that is slowing me down.

- I don't know that I ever explicitly connected Traveller: 2300 with Twilight: 2000. It fits, but I didn't really think of them as a sequel and a prequel. But there it is.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Another shot at Saethor's Bane for DFRPG

Doug is beginning the "smoke test" of surveys for DFRPG . . . and is accepting late pledges. If you want to play some solo DFRPG this is for you.

Saethor's Bane Update

Monday, March 11, 2024

Felltower: Fun Should Drive the Game

I mentioned yesterday that Felltower is just a dumb game designed to give the players a chance to have fun.

But the XP system doesn't reward meta-fun, but in-game loot. Treasure, followed by exploration (which largely is intended to lead to treasure) drive XP. XP drives PC improvement. But PC improvement is not intended to drive the game.

PC improvement is just there to provide an in-game reward for in-game actions. It's meant to drive what decisions people generally make in game. The players know they need loot to gain XP, so they tend to aim for loot. But if we have a session where people laughed, and chatted about stupid non-game things during break, and made silly jokes and had fun comments . . . I'm sure I don't care if their was a lot of looting and experience.

The actual doing of the thing is the fun part. The rules just drive what thing we generally do. I don't care if success or failure in the game occurs so long as we enjoy ourselves. Generally it's more fun to succeed, but not always. And we've had sessions where PCs got lots of loot but it wasn't an especially fun session. Still good, but not, "THIS is why I game!" fun.

It's all subjective, which is fine with me. I only want objective measures for in-game objective rewards. But they're not why I game.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

What it takes to live & thrive in Felltower, Part II: Players

This is part II of my series on what it takes - from the ref's point of view - to succeed in Felltower.

Here is Part I.

What does it take to be a successful player in Felltower?

This is what I think, looking from the GM's side of the screen. I think two things are critical for success, and one, for enjoying the game.

Creative Thinking

Felltower rewards flexibility and creative thinking. It's a simple framework - monsters in rooms with treasure. But it's not a simple game. You need to be able to look past the easy answers. If you solve your problems by looking at your character sheet to see what you character can roll against, you're likely limiting your own options. You really need to look at the situation in the totality of what a being could do in that situation, and then narrow it down from there by what you can accomplish given your tools and skills. Too often people get hypnotised by the stats and skills on their streets. And this isn't a GURPS thing. Any time you have things to use or roll against, you look to use them or roll against them. If you have a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. In Felltower, this can sometimes be, "If I didn't bring the tool or the spell or the skill, it can't be done until next time when we do." It's a self-imposed creativity constraint.*

You need the ability to simplify. A lot of the problems of Felltower - puzzles, monster issues, factional conflicts, character limitations, whatever - seem complex. Some of them actual are. Most are not. Felltower rewards players who can identify a way to get simply to the heart of the matter. What is your goal, and how can you get to that goal?

This isn't to say you have to play a simple game. You can't just, say, exterminate everything you face and expect it to go well. But overthinking can lead to issues - wether it is causing yourself a long, drawn out journey to avoid facing a problem head on, to talking yourself into truly bizarre solution attempts - like throwing a key at a door to try to open it.

You do have to think . . . and be clever . . . but avoid overthinking. You have to avoid the dangerous either extreme of oversimplifying and overthinking. Keep in mind here that when I write for Felltower, I really don't put a lot of thought into how a problem will be solved. I put them out there and see what happens. There might be a key for that door, or not. There might be a clever way around a situation, or not. I often don't know . . . some trying to discern the solution isn't helpful; trying to create a solution is. Sometimes that solution is very simple - break down the door, kill the monster, disarm the trap, grab the treasure. Other times, it is not.

An aside on engineering: All of that said, it's a dungeon exploration game, not a construction game - I've seen a lot of "creative solutions" that were just using magic and brute force to dig through obstacles. The game is designed to make that difficult and to generally punish the attempt; if Felltower is like a video game, it's Diablo, not Dig Dug.


Caution is certainly important. But there are huge opportunity costs to not taking risks in Felltower. All success in Felltower comes from taking risks, not from playing it safe. Let me put it another way - in the long run, anyone who delves in Felltower eventually dies, unless the player just quits or retires the character.

Given this, it's understandable that players might play with great caution - this is a very risky environment. But it's a false choice, really. If your paper man is going to die eventually, no matter how cautiously you play, you aren't gaining your desired end - longevity of your paper man - by being maximally cautious. You might even be shortening it, by playing a succession of sessions that each pull in very little XP, very little treasure, and don't pave the way for future gains. Starved of XP, the PC doesn't improve. Starved of funds, equipment can't be easily replaced or upgraded. And starved of success in the dungeon, it's less and less likely you'll want to play.

You have to be willing to bet the "life" of your paper man. I've long argued that from my side of the screen, I see a lot of strategic caution and a lot of tactical risk. Felltower is built to reward strategic boldness and tactical caution. That's not just fighting in hallways and bottlenecking foes into doorways. My players over the years have turned to tactical caution, but strategic caution + tactical caution doesn't work any better. It's what leads to resting in the dungeon in a dead end so no one can sneak up on you, when neither resting nor cornering yourself lead anywhere good.

Being unwilling to fully commit is a related issue. You have to be willing to push your chips in when it matters. You can't wait for the perfect time because it's never the perfect time. There are bad times to do things, but no perfect times to do things. A delve or two from now, you'll wish you did the thing this time.

Felltower is designed as a pick-up game, lethal, on "hard mode," and generally a erring on the less-serious side of the serious-silly spectrum. It's not above being meta, having the world designed to support the play style, and otherwise being a construct for a style of play. It's not a long term, serious fantasy campaign with long-lasting characters. You can try to play it that way, but ultimately, it's going to fail. There is way too much baked in to the premise to undo with roleplaying and heroic characters intended for long-term play. The adventure in Felltower - the intended source of fun - is the experience of the good and bad happening to PCs. It's a meta kind of fun. You, the player, should enjoy the discoveries, the riches, the wins, and the losses. The PC is a tool to do that job. You don't have to play it that way . . . but the game will revert to form.

Finally, you need a Sense of Humor. It's a dumb game, deliberately. You have to be willing to have you, or the dice, or your friend, do something mind-bogglingly frustratingly stupid to your guy . . . and laugh. Straight-up enjoy it. If you can't, this isn't the game for you. It's just a way for those of us who are already friends to do some activity together that's entertaining for a few hours. It's satisfying when you win. It's annoying when you lose. But it better be fun the whole time. Taking it all too seriously is a bad idea.

* I'm a big believer in the ability of constraints to help teach physical skills, though - but that's not the same thing as you get in a TTRPG.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Random links for 3/8/2024

- I played a bit of Pathfinder: Kingmaker with my paladin. Probably because I've done it before, my kingdom management was more efficient this time . . . I basically completed everything of worth to me with time to spare, and now I'm waiting on endgame stuff. That's trickier because so much of it is multi-phased locations you have to, essentially, clear multiple times in a proper sequence. Cool, but I rarely feel motivated to do puzzles.

I get how my players feel about them, which is why I make mine simple (and no, the orichalcum door isn't a puzzle) and infrequent.

- One of the Felltower regulars guest hosted Sandwiches of History today:

Vic LaPira on Sandwiches of History

- ~30 hours left in Saethor's Bane.

- And not much else this week. Busy work week = slow gaming week.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Last Day for Saethor's Bane DFRPG Solo Adventure

The campaign link is here.
It's about $500 from being full color . . . I am posting this in the hopes that more people see the project and decide to jump in. $10 will get you the PDF for an already-funded book . . . nothing really to wait on or guess about.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

What I Got on Sale

Here is what I picked up on sale - well, two thing at 10% off and one at full price.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Encounters 2: The Room

Dungeon Fantasy: The Devil's Workshop" target="_blank">GURPS Locations: Hellsgate

I think those should give me some value I can turn into Felltower goodness, don't you?

Monday, March 4, 2024

SJG GM's Day Sale

SJG is having an GM's Day sale from 3/4 to 3/7.

It's 15% off on select items, and as far as I can tell 10% off on pretty much all the rest of the GURPS and DF books I've written, such as GURPS Martial Arts, DF Monsters 3, and so on.

A full list of my books and Pyramid issues on sale is here:

Peter Dell'Orto's books

I'm taking advantage to pick up a few items I just never got around to getting. Hey, 10% off is 10% off, to paragraph Geddy Lee. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 3, 2024

What it takes to live & thrive in Felltower, Part I: Characters

Felltower is a tough, tough place. It has a graveyard list that dwarfs the pool of available, current PCs. The only real-world Felltower swag I know of is a I Died in Felltower sweatshirt someone had made. Eventually, everyone seems to end up on the graveyard list at least once . . . and the lucky few don't end their careers as an entry on it. Most do.

The environment is proudly DF on hard mode. It's old school in some of the worst ways. A neutral referee, a hostile environment, and cruel rulings. It plays fair in the sense that the rules aren't broken for the environment, but it's set to harsh.

But what would help you gain success in Felltower, besides quitting while you're ahead or just not entering the place at all?

For characters, here is the referee's view of the situation.


Really, any level of stats are fine . . . as long as they are at least a 10+. That said:

ST is really helpful. High ST delivers damage. Importantly, it also helps open doors (see Forced Entry in skills, below) and carry your dead friends and your loot.

HT is a double-edged sword. It's mostly good, but the longer you stay standing in a fight going bad for you, the more you get shredded down towards instant death. Still, you're better off with it, and it's worth the 10/level it costs you. Templates don't come with HT under 12, and you shouldn't, either.

Secondary Characteristics

Perception is key. Noticing danger is critical, and finding hidden loot isn't always as simple as just casting See Secrets. You want 10+, preferably 12+, and 14+ is necessary for a group. Combat Reflexes will negate some of the issues with getting attacked by surprise, but won't help you spot an attack coming out of the darkness or from a blind spot. And there are some amusing treasures people have literally walked past since 2012 without noticing because they're dependent on insufficiently high Perception and magical support that doesn't always work.

Will is vital. There aren't a huge amount of Will-affecting abilities and spells deployed against your paper man in Felltower, but they're all save-or-suck. You can coast on your Knight's 10 for a while, but in the end it will limit where you can go and how much your friends have to plan to do to you when the bad guys make you change sides. You won't get out of mental domination by evil with Sense of Duty as a get out of jail free card. It's not that kind of game.

Hit Points aren't as critical as you think. From a breakpoint perspective, you want 20+ for any fighter type for the doubling of healing effects . . . although this does double your damage from falls (see The Bigger They Are . . ., Exploits, p. 67)

That said, while being fragile doesn't help any, you'll find a lot of high-HP guys in the graveyard alongside low-HP guys. It provides a buffer but errors that cost HP will get you even with 40+ HP. IIRC Bruce was closing in on 50 HP and he's dead . . . he would have died if he'd had 100 HP in that situation. High HP, like high DR or HT, can fool you into thinking you're invulnerable. Bring all the HP you can but they're not enough on their own.

Move is critical. Oh, I mean Speed, right? Or Basic Move? No, Move. Your actual Move will determine your ability to exploit tactical advantages, or escape fights you don't want, or don't want anymore. It's a combination of encumbrance (see, ST) and Speed. Being slow will always be a liability. The PCs with the most mobility tend to last the longest and have the most impact.


PCs will get further with everyone having all - or at least most - of these skills. Magic can sometimes substitute, but you really need:

Climbing comes up so often that it has halted play as people try to magic their way around poor or lacking Climbing skill. This leads to less actual time spent killing and looting, has forced extra rest times in the dungeon because of FP expended to make up for the poor or lacking skill, and fights with treasure-free wandering monsters that occured because of extra time in the dungeon. We've made Levitation much easier to do but it's not always the answer.

Swimming - PCs have died without it, and arguments that it's not worth it are really funny when your paper man dies because you wouldn't spend 1 point out of the 305 you start with.

Forced Entry is important for a party. At least one person will need a solid skill, here. It's effectively ST-based, and until you put enough points to be ST+1 it's the same as just rolling ST . . . but it's cheaper than extra ST for a few bonus points on those rolls and a lot of extra damage when breaking things. I've had players disagree with me, here, and agree but not spend the points . . . but I've seen plenty of doors hacked or plans changed because they couldn't force the door. That works, too, but again, Wandering Monsters bring damage but not treasure.

Search is more useful than most people suspect; you can't depend on pure Perception to find hidden things. And "real quick we check the bodies" is a gaming and video gaming thing; it takes a while to find pea-sized gems or hidden coins or other small bits and doodads on a person.

Fast-Draw (Potion) will literally save your life. You need this if you expect to get hit while carrying healing potions. Do that and have this skill.

Diplomacy isn't critical unless you want to negotiate; since most players seem to default this it's not helpful if your PC does, too. Don't make these mistakes, especially without any skill to back it up. Intimidation won't always get you what you want.

Those aren't the only skills you need, but they're standout ones that don't get enough attention in my experience, and which aren't always required on the templates.

Hopefully this will help my players, any readers who in the future become players (okay, that basically only happened with Doug and Vic), or spark your own ideas and comments for your own games.

Part II will be next week, on the next Felltower Sunday.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Weekly Roundup for 3/1/24

It's Friday, so my work week is almost over!

- Real-world issues derailed a lot of posting . . . and what little time I had to game I spent on my latest playthrough of Pathfinder: Kingmaker. My LG Paladin is pretty good, but the heavy lifting of everything except Persuasion rolls are carried by the rest of the team.

- A look at DragonQuest, one of those games I only ever saw in ads, never with my own eyes that I can recall.

- Thanks to 3 Toadstools for reposting this - it's an interesting take on what D&D isn't anymore:
This isn't D&D Anymore

- Possibly accurate facts about medieval stairs from Gothridge Manor.
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