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.


  1. Adding your recommendations to my document with those from Kromm's forum post.

    1. I thought of linking to his post, but since the templates cover so much ground, and Felltower is such a specific environment, I figured it might engender a bit of confusion. But his post is sheer gold if you're not also using templates he wrote. :)


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