Thursday, January 31, 2013

Three more things I've learned running my DF game

Just a few things I've learned running my DF game. Some I guess I knew before, but this game has really highlighted them for me.

Spectacular deaths seem like gloating. I've long since lost the link, but another blogger suggested giving dead PCs a spectacular - or at least gorily interesting - death. I did that for the first few . . . and found it was pretty uncomfortable. It didn't put a light spin on losing your guy, it just seemed to be like rubbing it in. So I've gone back to my very matter-of-fact "Okay, you failed your death check. Your body drops to the ground. Sorry man. Okay, who's next?"

There is an idea out there that you should really enjoy your PC's death as much as his or her triumphs. But at least in my group, with me as the GM, it comes off badly. So I stopped.

Tracking minor consumables. I trust my players to do this, but I really hate to do it myself. I will spot-check, and if it's not on your sheet you don't have it, but that's about it. Minor resources tracking is fine in certain circumstances, but in general, it doesn't add enough to my games to spend a lot of time on it.

I hate playing out the meeting scenes. Seriously. It's my least favorite part of play - "you all meet in the bar" is pretty thin but at least it moves you forward. I dislike either playing, or running, that first session when you spend half of it having your guys meet his guy. I do my best to gloss it over in my games. Instead I try to find some connection between the PCs. If they do meet in a bar, I just make them sudden drinking buddies. But playing it out? It's asking for a "who's katana is longer" contest and it never ends well in my personal experience.

Just skip it. The new guy used to serve with/go to school with/drink with/live near one of the old PCs. Whatever it takes, just get the guy into the group and get on with playing.

I think the theme on all three of these is, just get on with it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Punching vs. guys wielding swords

GURPS takes the (realistic) approach that reaching your arm out into the reach of a swordsman is a bad idea. Basically, if someone executes a weapon parry against your sword, you just don't hit. If they execute it against your arm, well, bad things can happen to your arm.

However, in a Dungeon Fantasy game, this pretty much hoses monsters and martial artists. Realism be damned, I want my owlbears to exchange blows with swordsman and not get chopped up during their own attacks. So here are some options:

Unarmed Etiqutte from GURPS Martial Arts. Basically, armed defenses cannot be used against unarmed attacks. Like in kung fu movies and the big set-piece fight in Kill Bill vol. 1, such as right here.

Notes: This does make the fighting less gritty, though, so this isn't suited for pseudo-realistic games. It also annoys armed characters because they can only dodge monster attacks.

Half Damage Parries. The damage caused by an armed parry against an unarmed attack isn't a hard strike, it's a redirection or neutralization of the attack. So any successful parry that causes damage (per B376) rolls damage and halves it, round up.

Notes: I've used this for so many years I don't think my players realize it's not in the books. Works fine, it's believable, and makes damage on a parry a nice bonus instead of a free, extra attack.

My Hands Are Lethal Weapons. Characters with Trained By A Master cannot be harmed by a successful armed parry when attacking, and do not suffer damage when striking a high DR surface. However, you do still come in contact with the parrying weapon or the surface you strike, so you still suffer any incidental damage or problems - contact venom, spikes, burning from flaming swords, damaging auras, etc.

In a Dungeon Fantasy game or other monster-heavy game, this may apply by default to any and all monsters!

Notes: This approach makes armed characters happier, because they can still use their main defenses against unarmed/monster attacks. It also makes martial artists happy, too, because they can freely chop orc skulls and hip toss owlbears without worrying they'll be torn up every time they try. Or armor up their limbs and extremities.

Aggressive Parry (Armed). By the GURPS rules, armed parries are aggressive by default. Instead, say they aren't. If you parry normally, you can't hurt the unarmed attacker. If you parry aggressively, at -1 (unless you buy it up), you can attempt an armed aggressive parry using the normal rules in GURPS Martial Arts, p. 65, with the modifiers listed for swing or thrust equally.

Notes: Gives a tradeoff - possible free damage to the attacker, but at a cost of possibly whiffing your defense. Unarmed fighters still have to worry about getting hurt, though.

Too Fast For Your Sword. There are a few options here. One is to allow the Rapid Retraction perk to give its bonus as a penalty to the roll to injure on a parry. Another is an Average Technique or Leveled Perk, up to 3 or 4 levels, which gives a 1 point per level penalty to the skill roll to injure the attacker. Can be combined with Aggressive Parry (Armed) to make for a really tough job of cutting up monster limbs and martial artist's fists and feet.

Notes: This one is okay, but it charges a point premium to unarmed attackers, still requires a roll (now with a variable penalty), and if you apply it broadly enough it becomes more of a genre rule than a character option.

Anything else? Sure. One option you hear sometimes is extra DR for martial artists on their arms and hands, but I find with guys doing 3d-4d damage, you can't afford enough DR to really help and make it safe. Plus, once you start armoring up your hands, your arms, your legs, and your feet, well, why not torso and head armor? I find that leads to "I may as well wear full armor." Natural point-bought DR is possible, but again, you need a lot to really matter, again, so it's charging a surcharge to guys who use a difficult attack style instead of a more powerful, longer-reaching weapon. So I find I prefer to rule it safe, and make it fit the genre.

What do I do?

I personally use the second and third of those rules - half damage parries and My Hands Are Lethal Weapons. This works pretty well. The unarmed brawler types and normally armed fighters suffer badly (but not terribly) if they fight armed opponents. But martial artists and monsters are still scary threats, and you can ward them off with your swords and axes but not get a free pass to avoid their defenses.

It's been a lot of fun. So I hope some of those suggestions work for others.

Monday, January 28, 2013

GURPS DF Statline

When I right GURPS stats for monsters or NPCs, I try to compress them down. The standard GURPS PC writeup or short monster writeup is pretty compact, but still takes up more room than is absolutely necessary. I like to write the monster stats in with my room descriptions so I don't have to refer to more than one screen or sheet of paper at a time.

Here is how I compress down the necessary stats for a DF monster into a one or two line set of notes.

For example, here is a (somewhat modified) DFM1 troll, who's gone a little addled from his time in the dungeon:

Crazed Troll (ST 20 DX 14 IQ 9 HT 12 HP 20 Will 10 Per 10 FP 12 Speed 7 Move 7 SM+1 Dodge 11 Parry 11(x2) DR 0 Bite-15 2d cutting C grapple on SM+0 Claws(x2)-15 2d+1 cutting C-2 IT(NB,NV) Regen Dark Vision Berserk(BF)-6 Stealth-18 DFM1 p.31)

In case you can't follow, "Bite 15 2d cutting C grapple on SM+0" is "Bite, skill 15, 2d cutting damage, Reach C, counts as a grapple on SM 0 or smaller opponents." The x2 on claws means it has two, same with the x2 on Parry. Yes, I nested parenthesis. No, that doesn't bother me. I abbreviated some of its advantages into lines I'll recognize immediately.

For me, that's all I need to go on.

It has other advantages, sure, but I've noted the ones I need to remember. If I think it'll matter, I'd add more. It has a bunch of advantages, but I know most of them by heart anyway. I could look up ones that matter if someone throws an obscure spell or something odd happens. I also know my players and the encounter, so if I know sense of smell won't matter or it won't be sneaking up on them or what have you, I'll omit its stealth score.

I could forgo all of those stat names, too, if necessary - 20/13/10/12 20/10/10/12 is pretty clear to me. But I don't want to waste a second parsing them out if I can write them out and save that split second of confusion between "which is Will and which is Perception?"

In any case, that's how I compact down the encounter-critical information I need for a monster so I can insert it into my dungeon's room descriptions. I rarely need to page flip for the actual monster.

Hopefully this "compressed stat line" approach might be useful to other space-conscious GMs.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dividing monetary treasure by level?

Just a quick followup question to my last post:

Has anyone ever used the "one share per level" method in the PHB?

As in, 5th level fighter gets 5 shares, the two 2nd level guys get 2 each, the 2/3 Fighter/Thief gets 2 + (3/2) = 3.5 shares?

It's one of those weird level-isms (er, game-isms?) that we never used, but I'm curious if anyone ever did in their games.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Divvying the Treasure - Who gets what, why?

The topic of dividing the treasure got a lot of play back in early editions of D&D. AD&D had (of course) a whole series of different ways of dividing it. Gary Gygax divided a whole section of his intro materials in B2 to the subject.

Even modern games have taken a shot at it - GURPS Dungeon Fantasy devotes a couple of paragraphs to it in DF2.

Back in the day, we went round the table in some kind of order - usually diced - and people took what they wanted. One especially memorable trio of players in my junior high days would do this for all non-coin treasure, nevermind magic items. They were the kind of guys who'd take a wolf pelt cape over a suit of magic armor because their guy would look cooler in the cape.

Recently, my players have taken a more collective approach. Money is divided evenly. Magic and special non-magic items are given the person who is best suited to use it. If it can be used by multiple people, they tend to come to some kind of agreement on who deserves it or needs it most.

There is occasional moaning about giving good stuff to people who didn't come on the adventure, but it has been known to happen that way too. After all, that magic sword might save your character if you give it to the character of the guy who missed that session and let him use it. Other times they just sell it and say, oh well, you missed it. More the latter than the former in my current dungeon crawling game.

I'm curious how other folks do treasure division. One of the types in the old AD&D books or one of the broad methods in DF2? Some other way of doing it?

And if you've got a preferred method, any special reason why?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Teleporting in GURPS DF

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, out of the box, severely limits the Teleport spell. It forbids it outright, unless you spend a boatload of points for the privilege of a limited version, and you can't do that until later.

Why? Largely to limit mages ferrying people around, bypassing all physical obstacles, and going back to town at will to replenish supplies. GURPS doesn't limit you to once a day only if you get to 11th level, you can start with this spell and use it over and over. I've run a game with teleport, and "teleport across the entire campaign map to go pick up some rations and potions" happened pretty often. It could be fun, but it made dungeon obstacles a joke.

So DF bans it because it takes a good part of the challenge out of dungeoneering.

Over on the GURPS forums, Kromm suggested a way to write up the spell if you do want to include it.

Here is the whole thread: Limited Teleport for DF

Here is his writeup: Teleport writeup for DF

Short version? Can't see it, can't go there. And BAMF!

Note to my players: I may consider using this, but I'd replace the listed prereqs to "Magery 3, IQ 13+ and spells from 10 different colleges." Why? Really limits it to dedicated wizards, not to guys who pick up some wizardry just to teleport.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

GURPS & resistance to non-magic weapons

One thing I use in my current DF game is creatures who cannot be easily hurt by non-magical weapons.

Lucky for me, GURPS lets me customize this in a few ways right out of the box. I do two, primarily.

Resistance to non-magic weapons. Some monsters I use can't be hurt willy-nilly with non-magical attacks. How I generally do this is some form of Injury Tolerance (Damage Reduction), with an Achilles' heel of weapons with the Puissance enchantment. The Damage Reduction level depends on the creature - /10 isn't uncommon, and for effectively immune ones I'll give them /100 or better, with Cosmic (drop all fractions) (GURPS Supers) to ensure it zeroes out.

This allows for truly massive blows to hurt them - but it's not easy. You can squish a wight by dropping the ceiling on it, maybe, or a golem might be able to tear it limb from limb, but it's not easy to kill it by beating it with a club. Better get a magic club.

This extends to physical manifestation of magic, in some cases, but not in others. Some creatures might also shrug off fireballs and lightning and stone missiles, while others might not. It depends on their overall trait list.

This can get confusing, though - my players have asked "Is my sword with Accuracy +1 a magic weapon for purposes of hurting (wights/gargoyles/whatever)?" "Is my broadsword with Flaming Weapon magic? It worked on those wights!"

My simple answer is no. It's Puissance that matters. That's what makes a weapon "magic" in my games for purposes of bypassing resistance to non-magical weapons. It's the enchantment that increases basic damage and I figure it's damage we are talking about. If the weapon lacks Puissance, it's not magical for these purposes, sorry.

False clues exist, though - wights clearly suffer from fire, so that's why the flaming broadsword worked on them pretty well. Not because it was a magic item, but because it was fire.

Can only be slain by magic weapons. This one is even easier to do - it's either Unkillable 1, 2 or 3 plus an Achilles' heel, or Supernatural Durability with an Achilles' heel. Either way, if you deal the death blow with a magic weapon, it's dead. Otherwise, lacking the Damage Reduction from above, it's just as easy to hurt as anything else with the same traits.

I'm generally stingy about the death blow. You can't beat everything to death then go around whacking the twitching remnants with a Puissance +1 sword and call it a death blow. It's got to be the actual blow that takes the creature to -5xHP or forces a death check that it fails. This gets to the heart of what I figure this represents - some kind of supernatural key that unlocks the mortality of the creature. You can't just willy-nilly throw it in at the end (or the beginning - cut it with a magic sword and then finish it with non-magic ones). You have to do the right thing at the right time or it doesn't matter if you did it at all. It's either very mystical, or it's like getting into the BIOS screen during bootup - oops, sorry, missed it. Wait until it's fully up and then try again.

The first of these works well for things you just can't easily hurt - or hurt at all - without magical weaponry. The second works for things you can hurt just fine (usually anyway) but won't stay dead until you break the supernatural attachment to existence that they have.

Hey, neither of these are immunity! Well, no. GURPS makes damage immunity pretty hard to come by. Immunity is effectively infinite DR vs. a given damage type, and infinite power is hard to define in finite points. You can do it, but I prefer not to, not for damage anyway. It avoids weird circumstances like dropping a wight down a 1000' pit and it takes no damage because the floor isn't magical (or silver, or on fire, or whatever). I find it makes for a "do it the hard way, or do it the easy way" split with monsters. You can still brute force your way through these guys with a non-magical weapon, but in the first case it'll be brutally hard and in the second case you can't solve the problem permanently.

I hope these are useful to folks who like a little bit of AD&D-ish immunity in their games.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fictional Reasons for Magic Items in Dungeons

So why exactly are dungeons stuffed full of magical loot?

Or at least, why are people always sticking magic items underground, or at least in some cave somewhere?

Here are a few reasons I've come across in fiction.

Hidden by long-dead races.

"Ansorge," the Mindak said. "City of Everlasting Night. City of the Night People. The ones remembered as elves and trolls in your legends. They're dead now . . . Only their guardians remain. Their last project was to gather the wrack of war."
- from The Swordbearer, by Glen Cook

This idea is a pretty interesting one. Why are there hideously powerful magic items, but they aren't just tossed willy-nilly across the world in constant use in warfare and scheming and slaying?

Well, perhaps the last time that happened, some long-dead race gathered them up and buried them there. It makes for an interesting dungeon, and it would explain ordered tombs, treasuries with fiendish guards and horrible wards, and undying curses on those who pick the stuff up.

After all, these poor guys didn't spend their final days gathering up powerful magical items only to let you come by and get them without challenge. They aren't always a stockpile, though - the serpent men hid their magic crown on an island in Conan the Buccaneer, but didn't turn it into a city-sized stockpile like the folks of Ansorge.

It was put there for use by a future hero.

You usually get this for a very specific piece of gear; it doesn't explain a huge and odd assortment of goods. But it does explain some things being there.

". . . let us instead say, all those centuries ago, Egel looked into the future and saw this invasion, so he left his armor here, guarded by magic that only you - the earl - could break."
- Legend, by David Gemmell

But don't knock it as a bit of modern fiction unsuited to swords and sorcery. Where did Arnie get his sword in Conan the Barbarian? Crom either left it for him, or guided him to it.

Buried along with an ancient civilization.

It happens, especially if they used the magic item(s) in question in a somewhat self-destructive manner.

"The great metropolis of the empire vanished beneath the dust is now known only as the City Out of Mind.. The masters of the lost empire ruled from that city, and they used the Theorpart in their final battle. It lies there now, buried beneath a blanket of dust so deep that scarcely a trace of the city can be seen from the surface."
- Sea of Death, by Gary Gygax

The gods stuck them there.

Another one that usually explains single items or small clutches of items.

"Enter the Shade Gate . . . then you must seek the Tunnel Under the Marsh which leads to the Pulsing Cavern. In that chamber the runeswords are kept. They have been kept their since your ancestors relinquished them . . . "
- Elric of Melnibone, by Michael Moorcock

It could explain a huge stockpile, though, if the gods were especially thorough.

Crazy mage put it there.

As reasons go, this one pairs well with "An old man comes up to you in a tavern" for a full old-school course of dungeon delving. But it's used for good reason, because a crazy guy with powers explains a lot.

"It is well known that the labyrinthine dungeon, catacombs, and maze of subterranean passages beneath the ancient castle once held a conglomerate of monsters and a plethora of treasure - all there at the whim of the lord archmage who ruled within."
- Night Arrant, by Gary Gygax
(more of that quoted passage is here)

This fictional piece is an offshoot of gaming, of course, where it's the grandaddy of all explanations of why there is a bucketload of magic swords in a hole in the ground.

Any other fictional reasons for magic items stuck in tunnels underground that I'm missing? I'm not just wondering about why magic items might be underground. I'm wondering about fictional writeups of the same.

[Editing later - commentators posted a bunch of good reasons for magic items in dungeons . . . but my point was to explore some of the reasons in published fiction for magic items in dungeons. So guys, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask for some citations. ;]

Saturday, January 19, 2013

GCA Coding my enchantment house rule

By the GURPS RAW, you multiply the energy cost of an enchantment by a percentage based on the coverage of the armor. A full suit (or a shield) is 100% cost, while the torso and groin is 60%, gloves are 5%, and so on.

Since prices are on a sliding scale (from $1/point up to $20-25/point), this really makes breaking up armor as small as you can a big deal. Enchanting individual pieces is generally better than enchanting a full suit. What's more, while getting a larger piece with a strong enchantment can be really expensive, it's not difficult to enchant smaller pieces such as gloves and helmets with a very powerful Deflect or Fortify or Lighten enchantment. A +3 Fortify on a corselet can break the bank in DF (it's 800 energy x 60% = 480 energy, x $20 = $9600) it's cheap on a helm (800 x 10% = 80 x $1 = $80).

Personally, I dislike this in a Guild-centric world. Why pass on your savings? Price-fix it so that you multiply the final cost of the enchantment by the percentage of the body covered by the armor.

At the same time I like the massive price break on very low-powered enchantments. So I house ruled it "final cost" - and now that Fortify costs $9600 on the corselet and $1600 on the helm.

I like the idea that it doesn't reward extra work on your PC - it's a price lookup, not a "how do I just miss the breakpoint?" game.

The tough bit was getting GCA to do this. I could easily do it by hand, but we keep a lot of PCs in GCA partly to do stuff like run the math on encumbrance totals and equipment replacement costs.

Thanks largely to Eric B. Smith, I was able to get this done. The code is embedded here:

Armor Enchantment Cost House Rule Code

Just put that in a text file, save it as "Peters House Rule.gdf" or something and it should work. If it doesn't, or gives odd results, let me know so I can fix my copy!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why are the worst monsters down the deepest?

The usual approach to dungeons is, toughest monsters at the bottom. The deeper you go, the worse the trouble.

Generally, because it's more fun that way. It's not going to be a good game if the dungeon's dragons and demon princes guard the door and the goblins hide in the back, even if that would make sense from another perspective. The baddest-ass monsters are down the furthest.

Here is a roundup of reasons (read: rationalizations) I've cooked up, found elsewhere, had suggested by my players or friends, or otherwise glommed on to. I'm not linking to sources because none of these really come from one specific place, they're more of general themes.

Why are they down so deep?

The dungeon keeps going until it reaches hell itself. Pretty self-explanatory. Stands to reason the really bad dudes are in hell. Maybe killing the ones up top just re-allocates them down to the hell levels as fodder there.

The dungeon is hell itself. The upper levels are just the upper reaches of hell. Serves you right for opening that door and going in.

The underground is where you hide from the eyes of God. Or "the gods." Or whatever. The deeper you go, the safer you are from the eyes of God. This works really well with pantheons of gods who live up on mountains, or in the sky. So the tough, evil monsters - the ones most to fear from a just and angry god - go down the deepest where they can do the most evil unmolested by god.

It got buried by time. Cthonian weirdness buried for millions of years is down there; it's all stuff that started on the surface but slowly got buried. It just hasn't (or doesn't want to) worked its way back up.

They fear the men and their light. Simply put, the more monsters fear light (or even fear contact with humans and humankind), the deeper they'll want to go.

They need the heat. Deep down in the earth the temperature goes up - perhaps the worst monsters are also those who most need the warmth of the dark depths.

I'm sure I missed some good reasons to put the tough monsters down deep instead of up by the huntable humans and their wealth. Please let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Treasure by Monster, or Treasure by Dungeon Level?

D&D and Rolemaster, the systems I'm most familiar with, place treasure by monster type. The various retroclones I have seen either copy the system exactly, or rename it and move its bits around ("Hoard Class" in Labyrinth Lord, for example).

The basic idea is, certain monsters have certain types of treasure, regardless of where you find them. But generally, the really powerful monsters are found deeper down in the dungeon. So you go deeper, fight tougher monsters, and get rich if you survive. But what the monster is, and how wealthy it is, is more important than where it is. A dragon on level one is still going to have "H" type treasure.

Video games, even pretty early ones, tend to tie rewards to location more closely. You find more money and more powerful magic items in the final dungeon than the first one, or deeper in the big dungeon, or closer to the end of the story.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy
doesn't have a treasure system per se. It has a whole random treasure generation system, but not one that decided how much is where, or what monsters have what treasure. It is left up to the GM, although it does provide some guidelines on what giving a PC a certain amount of treasure can mean, in terms of real in-game power.

So as the GM, with my own ideas of how my game should go, I pretty much had to decide how to hand out treasure myself.

Instead of deciding what monster gets what treasure, I simply decided the deeper you go, the more treasure there is.

The deeper you go the tougher monsters get, too, but it's the level of the dungeon (either in a literal, physical sense or just as a definition of danger and reward) that determines what you get. Deep in the dungeon, there is more money. Near the surface and easy access points, less.

I've given bonuses and penalties based on the strength of monsters - a boss-level monster will likely be wealthier than fodder. I've also set the dungeon level both literally (level 3) and figuratively (this one should be tough, I'll up it by +2)

Once I figure out how much money they have, I can set the type of wealth based on the creature - gargoyles with gems, dwarves with gold, etc.

My system isn't ready for prime time yet - it's still in alpha testing with my own game.

It's worked out with both good and bad points.

The Good Points

- it's compatible with DF8, because all you need for that is a total to build up to.

- the deeper you go, the richer you get. Not only do monsters get tougher the deeper down you go, but the treasure gets more valuable. Not automatically - a bad roll can mean a poor find even pretty deep - but generally. Plus big hordes go from outliers on the bell curve to pretty common occurrences.

- you must go deep, and risk a long journey home, to get rich.

- it's easy to adjudicate. It doesn't matter what the monster is, just where it is and how tough it is.

Bad Things

- it's hard to be a rich guy living on level one. If you're close to the surface, you are unlikely to be wealthy. This means you can assume a tough target on level one somehow is a weaker version, hasn't had a chance to accumulate a horde, or has been mugged on the way down or something.

- It's easy to be a poor dragon. The lack of a direct tie to monster type means a dragon on an upper level of a dungeon is more likely to be poor than one on a lower level.

I deal with the reverse by scaling up monsters by level, so while a goblin down on level 10 would indeed be rich, it's impossible to roll up a goblin on level 10 anyway, so it's a non-issue. But it's not impossible to get easy foes with extreme wealth or nightmarishly tough foes with little or no wealth.

But as a basic approach to placement, it hasn't worked out badly at all. Go deep, fight tough monsters, and get rich.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Random Dungeon Tables (for GURPS and everything else)

I picked this up from the Google+ GURPS Dungeon Fantasy group.

These guys put together a series of random dungeon and random treasure generators, both for assorted dice and for d6-only.

Dungeon of the Three Fools

I've put together my own treasure tables, but I may try these for some sections of the dungeon and see how they work.

Cool stuff.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

DF Game Session 20 - Felltower 11

January 13th, 2013

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Dryst, halfling wizard (250 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (262 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (292 points)
Vryce, human knight (about 325 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)

Still in town:
Borriz, dwarven knight (290 points)

We started in town, with four players in attendance. We spent points and got organized. Raggi showed up (he's around on a 15-, on a 16+ I assume he's either off hunting or sleeping off an epic drunk) with a new axe he'd purchased with his money from last time.

Honus showed up with Dryst, who he'd apparently been out drinking with but he couldn't recall meeting - he'd realized after a few days Dryst had been there at least a few days, and that was good enough for him. "He can sure put away the ale. Well, we had two barrels of ale and when I woke up it was all empty, so it must have been that halfling." So they brought him along.

They pooled their rumors - the usual stuff about killing trolls, how the dungeons lead all the way down to hell (Honus said that's why he's here - looking for his friends and his father whom he sent there), one about how an underground river empties from Felltower into the Silver River (because fisherman sometimes catch blind white fish near the docks at the end of town), and one about some maroon-clad strangers who've been asking about people who've been to Felltower.

The PCs took a trip to see the Mage of the Tower, aka Black Jans, aka the Enchanter of the Dark Marches. They (Honus, Galen, Dryst) marched up and knocked on the door with the big knocker. They were let in to the sparten interior by the Kio, servant of the wizard. The servant was a gnome, with curly-toed shoes, orange pantaloons, and a black velvet jacket. And horns growing out its head.

The visit was brief - they asked if the mage needed anything special, which he did not, and said they'd come back with any cursed or weird items they found. They were sent on their way by the Kio, admonished to make the next visit more . . . productive.

Next they headed off to find these maroon-robed guys Raggi told them about. They found the inn they'd stayed at. There were six of them, five men (one older, four of indeterminate age) and one woman. The men all kept their faces covered, and wore maroon and black and wore pointed hats with face masks. They had odd customs, brought their own drinks, were particular about their foods, and allowed no one in their rooms. They asked general questions and then specific ones about the group once they heard they'd been raiding into Felltower. Then they left town about a week ago.

The players immediately dubbed them "the mind flayers" and we ended up with jokes about how they all covered their beards with bags and needed brains to examine. Oh, and how they might be tentacle-less mind flayers without mental powers. Heh.

Finally they stocked up on healing potions and headed up to the ruins.

For the first time, I forgot my mantra of "cross the stone bridge, reach Sterick's Landing, pass the statue of Sterick with his axe and sword upraised" - I think because every time I started someone said "And we go and do (whatever)" until I just forgot. Damn, I had a streak going.

Once at the ruins they checked out the trap door in the tower, which they'd dug out previously. Honus carefully searched the area and found that someone had been here recently - booted feet tramped the grass around the towers, as if on patrol, and folks had been near the trapdoor. (Dryst - "Big boots, or small boots?" Me - "Human sized" Dryst - "So, medium.") Nothing was nearby now so they headed down.

They'd left the trap door unlocked, and it was unlocked now. They opened it up and headed down. They lacked See Secrets but knew the secret doors extremely well and went straight for them. They went slowly, mapping as they went - their maps had been destroyed the last session. There were copies of the (semi-accurate) first level map available in town, but unluckily for us Kullockh's player took them home last time and they weren't handy. "Lucky" for them, Nakar's player's new PC, Dryst, was also quite the cartographer. As usual, he made another player map.

They headed right down to level 2 and started to re-map in earnest. On their way down the trap door to level 2, they heard a clanging noise distant in the tunnels. They ignored it and headed down.

They took the other of the two trap doors off the odd rough-hewn 'tween levels tunnel they'd used before. They opened it and immediately a loud gonging noise sounded surrounding them. They dropped down, pulled down their rope, and closed the stone plug - and it stopped.

From there, they basically just explored "new" territory that turned out to be a small area between already-explored areas. The first thing they found was a (metal?) door of great smoothness, black in color, with no visible handles - only a six-fingered hand etched in the center with a depression in the palm. Honus tossed a knife at it but nothing happened. They kicked at the door to no avail, and couldn't find a way to crowbar it. The wall it was mounted in curved away slightly, as if the door was mounted in some kind of bulge. They decided to leave it for now.

They basically explored around, finding some odd stuff in different areas:

- another corridor of small (20 x 20) mostly empty rooms, several trapped. One was trapped with a hollowed out door full of beetles ("Northern Reticulated Biting Beetles" - thanks Honus & Galen) which Vryce smashed free with a crowbar and Honus torched with alchemist's fire. Another was trapped with a wax-plugged trigger of some kind, and another with a pressure plate releasing acid into Honus's upturned face as he examined the ceiling - he washed it off with wine quickly and suffered minimal scarring.) They took the acid-holding bladder as loot, and noted it was initialed "GG."

- a room with an illusion of foodstuffs which disappeared upon touching, and then slowly re-appeared.

- the corridor in which they'd originally encounted that gnome and his norkers, they used Create Object to make a "turkey baster" (a reverse bellows, basically) to suction up what they thought was mercury. Hazardous Materials skill plus Create Object is an interesting combo.

- they basically filled in their map to connect the hobgoblin areas to the stairs to the "ogre room" on level 1.

- in the middle of this, they returned to the illusionary luxury rooms, and used Earth Vision to examine the privies and see what was in the old nightsoil. In the first one, Dryst saw a key. He used Create Servant plus Create Object (for a shovel) and had an 8" brass skeleton key dug out. It wasn't magical but it was clearly special.

Once they had this key, they headed down to the next illusionary luxury room, and found nothing further of interest. But as they headed down the corridor, they passed a "blank" wall that suddenly glowed, revealing the ghostly outline of a third set of double doors.

They produced the key and put it closer - the doors solidified, and the key got warmer. So Dryst touched it to the doors . . . and they opened.

Inside was a duplicate of the illusionary luxury rooms. They headed in. As soon as they entered, the doors disappeared, as did the illusion.

Instead there was a gleaning pile of treasure - the old-fashioned kind, with potions and gems and coins all mixed up and an axe-handle sticking out of the lot. Materializing in front of it was a wealthy-dressed man who was slightly translucent. It was a spectre, and it immediately flew at them at high speed and attacked.

The leaped to the attack, with a pretty good plan in mind. Raggi forward, Vryce too (armed with his undead-slaying sword), and Honus to follow once Dryst cast Affect Spirits on him.

It went badly immediately. Raggi's axed sailed through the creature, and in return he was struck catatonic by a Madness spell. Vryce slashed at the spectre but it dodged and struck him catatonic as well. Dryst's Affect Spirits, a one-shot try thanks to Wild Talent, failed to overcome Honus's high magic resistance. And Galen's arrows went right through. Uh-oh.

The spectre kept attacking, and its deadly touch ignored armor. Honus's Flail of the Gales couldn't harm it, so he dropped it and wrested Vryce's sword from his hands. Meanwhile, Dryst tried to run interference, protected by Shield and dodging. This worked for a little while the spectre tried to kill Dryst and Honus, who flailed at it with his default Two-Handed Sword skill. Once in a while he got lucky, though, and the sword did serious harm to the otherwise-insubstantial spectre. Galen shot Vryce a couple times with arrows to injure him and hopefully snap him out of his catatonia - but it didn't work.

Meanwhile Galen quick-searched the treasure pile, and came out with a wand (which he stuck in his teeth) and a greataxe. He attacked the spectre from behind but the axe didn't harm it, and he couldn't make the wand work. He dropped them and tried slapping Dryst and Vryce to get them aware, but it wouldn't work.

Honus kept fending off the spectre, popping potions out from his delver's webbing and quaffing them down to stay standing. One bad roll and he (and the fight, and the game) would have been over. But he stayed up, and he kept rolling well enough to stay in the fight.

The spectre did attack at Dryst a few times, but then it simply struck him with madness and later struck him twice with his deadly touch. Dryst (barely) lived, unconscious but nearly dead.

Honus kept at it, and finally, after shrugging off a few Madness spells and lots of damage, struck the spectre again and did enough damage to dissipate it. It felt to ashes and dust at his feet. Unaware of what he was doing, he scattered the ashes with his boot (Dryst would later point out it was 200 sp an ounce for the stuff.)

The spectre dead, it was just a matter of time before everyone recovered. The treasure was recovered (and it was a lot - a few thousand worth of coins, 115 gems worth 25K total, 6 potions, a wand, a magic axe, and a couple pieces of jewelry) and wounds patched.

The group got themselves together and searched around. They eventually found the walled-off room they'd passed up before (and which Krug said held a bird that looks at you and you die), and another room they'd bypassed. They heard crunching noises in that room. Long story short, they busted in (taking a few bodkin crossbow bolts) and killed two dire apes and four hobgoblins . . . and "rescued" some goblins the hobgoblins had been using as food. They interrogated them briefly and then moved on.

Some more mapping later, they headed up to the surface and home. They had to stay overnight on the fringes of the slums because they left the ruins so late, and the town closed (and locked) the gates. But the next morning they made it to town.


MVP this session was Honus, for obvious reasons. His quick thinking and good rolling kept them alive. He saw the spectre dodge Vryce's attack and ignore the others, snapped up his sword, and fought with it to kill the spectre. Nice.

The rich treasure they found was an Easter egg. How so? Well, I rolled up Special for that room on my stocking table. So I decided, what the heck, a specially tough monster. I casually put down "killer spectre" and marked the double doors as concealed and how. Then later I needed to put in the details. I'd found the hand-written 8-level dungeon I'd used for my 1st edition GURPS game on the Forgotten Realms. I'd used the Dungeon of Death as the location for that dungeon, and in it was a room with a killed spectre in it with a rich loot. It was a horribly hard encounter for those PCs (they had to take that 1st ed. spectre down to -200 HP, 1 HP at a time). So I literally copied the loot word for word and just changed the money values to match. The axe? In that 1st ed. game it ended up on the wall of a PC's tavern in Waterdeep, and Vryce's player's half-ogre fighter in my 3rd edition game years later borrowed it for a time from the retired PC who'd taken it from the wight during his active days.

So yeah, Easter egg. A multi-referenced axe, much like Michael Park's sheriff in Tarantino movies.

There was some discussion about how they couldn't just give a Fine Dwarven Greataxe (Accuracy +2, Pussiance +2) worth 41,400 sp to Raggi. But they decided it was silly to sell it (for 16K or so) instead of having a much tougher NPC. So they gave it to him. I'm glad, because if he was a PC they'd have done the same - and that logic probably made them feel like they should anyway. Oh, and the potions turned out to be mostly powerful healing potions and another antidote and gaseous form aka body of air potion.

Raggi did groan he'd spent a good portion of the last haul getting himself a better axe, and now he's got this one. He'll put the other one aside for now. After all, this one does sw+7/cut.

Another big haul this time - everyone took home more than last trip, which was the best to date before today. That's even without selling the wand, axe, or a gold ring with uncut diamonds mounted on it, which Dryst will use as a (17-point) power item.

They did get obscenely luckly on wandering monsters. Oh, and on restocking rolls that kept most of the area they entered empty.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Reflections on the "Dungeon Only" Game

My current GURPS campaign is GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. I set it in a fairly vague campaign world, with little defined outside of the dungeon. All the major action takes place in a very small area that's defined by a base, a big dungeon, and some rough outlines of the area around it.

Someone recently wondered about the experience of running that kind of campaign.

Here is what I've learned.

It's very freeing for the GM. Having one main dungeon that the PCs can go to automatically makes for a much smaller, and thus less detail-requiring, sandbox. You can concentrate on making that one location come alive and make it matter and make it fun, instead of having to do that for everywhere. For a GM without unlimited time, this is really excellent. You can just keep plugging away at the dungeon, knowing a good portion of the play time will be repeat visits to the same location.

Further, the vaguely defined city means you can decide on the fly if something is there or not. It's also repeatedly visited, so anything you define or decide to add is automatically useful and will be used and re-used. And if the players miss that feature, they won't move on.

It's very freeing for the players. People want the freedom of a sandbox, and the option to go anywhere. But game session to game session, it's nice to just be able to show up and know you're raiding the dungeon. Knowing you could say, no, let's do something else, or exercise your option to explore the outside world - that's important. But it's very freeing for the players to be able to just know that on Sunday you're going into Felltower and the big questions are - what entrance? How deep will we go? Should we fight that monster or disarm that trap, or bypass it?

Being unable to go anywhere at any time - freedom from choice, or really, freedom from being forced to choose, isn't limiting. You can decide to buy a ship and go a-piratin' or whatever, but the base city with its base dungeon is right there if you don't. You always have a default game for the night.

It works well with episodic play. If you end the session in the city and basically force people to run back to base at the end of the game, you can play with a varying pool of players and/or characters. You can let people stay in the dungeon between sessions, but you don't have to, especially if the dungeon is an easy trip from town (mine takes half a day if you march fast, a full day if you take your time and you're being cautious).

A big nearby dungeon means never having to buy rations. Well, not in large quantities, unless you're thinking of a very deep plunge indeed. But in a greater sense, this means supplies aren't a make-or-break decision with time spent calculating man-days of rations and how many tents you need and if the mules have enough fodder for the return trip. Even if it is a certain trip away, it's the same trip, so you can use a pre-set answer for "how long till we get there?" and "how much does it cost to get there and back?"

Think lazy. Seriously, only work on the dungeon.

Weather? My dungeon is at about the same latitude and longitude of my players and I, so I can set the weather by looking outside. Been cold? It's been cold in the game world. That big hurricane? Nasty storm hit the game world. What's it like out? Someone look outside.

My town? I have a rough map. I don't need a detailed map. Detail would fence me in.

New PCs? A quick walk back to town and pick up the new guys, who coincidentally are waiting at the tavern/inn/marketplace/town square/adventure's guild hall and also just happen to know someone in the group.

Need to introduce a strange new race or class or whatever later, but not now? Just add it later, when they show up with a caravan.

Only the details of the dungeon need to be mapped out. That's the only place you need to really worry about. Keep that tight and nailed down, keep it fun and mysterious and worth going to, and your players will happily keep going. It saves you all work, and makes for a nice way to play. Put your work there, and it'll all sort itself out.

Monday, January 7, 2013

In which I play GURPS Dungeon Fantasy

Yesterday I played my first online game of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. It was GM'ed by Colin Ritter and included four players.

GURPS Midgaard

It was a lot of fun. We had a dwarven warrior saint, my morninstar-weilding knight Tarjan Telnar, a human thief (who'd also apparently a wizard, sweet), and a scout.

Short version, we bargain for a reward from a jarl and then headed off to recover a lost axe that would help him appear more jarl'ly. We killed lots of goblins, mostly by making their heads a splode. Well, I made their heads a splode. 3d+8 crushing will do that.

We used Google+ hangouts (that was fine) and Roll20 (that was kind of annoying to configure). I need to play with Roll20 more to figure out how to set up better macros.

Some amusing bits:

- We must have spent 10 minutes buying rations. I remembered why I put the dungeon next to the city in my game - buying food for PCs is like figuring out the lunch tab split. "Okay, I've got 26 meals worth of rations and 48 silver pieces, how about you?"

- None of our guys can evaluate the value of art objects, or even jewelry, worth a damn.

- None of us know Heraldry, either. I totally forgot to buy that one, that should have been me. Sorry guys.

- I built my guy with, effectively, auto-kill ability built in. It worked like a charm. I agree with Vryce's player, though - once you get into the 3d+8 range of damage, your problem is no longer offense, but defense and handling bad circumstances. You just need more skill for a better Parry and more Perks and Advantages that help you act more broadly.

- I managed to roll a 3 or a 4 at least twice, maybe three times, on damage rolls. Lucky for me minimum damage for me is still a ridiculous amount.

- I finally got to use some of the things I helped build into the system - All-Out Attack (Long), Targeted Attack techniques (as "Slayer Training"), and multiple blocks - on my own character. I've used them with NPCs, but it felt good to do them with my own PC.

- The couple of times the GM would get stuck on a rule, which didn't happen often, either I or the other freelance GURPS author on the list could quote the appropriate rule. Default roll, modifiers for dual-shooting arrows with Heroic Archer, penalties for multiple parries, whatever. On my part, I had my books opened to especially hard-to-remember rules and tables. It violates my "no books on the table" rule but online, it's something that seems to speed play instead of slowing it down.

Sure, he could ruled anything he wanted and we'd have gone along with it, but it was available instantly. "16 on the critical head blow table is . . ." "double damage." It's the difference between "stop and look it up" and "one of the players knows the rule by heart and just tells you the numbers."

- Using Roll20 was kind of cool, because the guys the GM wasn't dealing with at the moment (the rest of us, say, while the scout was ahead) we could still type up what we were doing. The warrior saint and my knight had a whole conversation about how to attack the goblins, we typed up our prep so the GM could just glance at it and know what we were up to, and we could noodle on about non-gaming stuff without disrupting the flow of play or the GM's talking. Nice.

- Not sure why, but I forgot to get my shield enchanted to Deflect +1. Meant to, but didn't. Okay, things to do with my loot.

Lots of fun.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Old School - style or rules?

Beedo brought up the idea that "old school" is a play style. Well, that the OSR is a play style, to overly simplify his statement.

I occasionally wonder about this as well, since I play a game that many would consider "new school," as if rules heavy = new school.* Hah, I say. Hah. Hah. But I play with a deliberate tip of the hat to old school games, and the stuff I enjoyed playing since I was a kid.

I think there are two ways to be "old school." One is style, one is literally playing the old stuff.

Old School Style is simply that - you play a game much like it was played back in the old days. For whatever reason - nostalgia, enjoying a different style of play, change of pace, belief in its inherent superiority. Rule sets help - it's easier to play old school if you use an old school game. But it's about style and sensibility. It's that early, fairness means I don't re-roll, cheerfully lethal, no save or undo, go do what you want and I'll rule how it works in play kind of deal. Easier with some game systems but not impossible with most.

Literally Playing Old Games is another part of it. If I dig out my AD&D books and run Dragonlance, am I not playing an old-school game? I'd say yes, even if I'm railroading my players and given them PCs with pages of background and pre-determined actions at certain points in play. That may not be fun (or it might), but it's playing like it's the early 1980s all over again. Those modules came out before at least one of my players was born, and closer to the birth date of D&D than to now. So that's still old school, even if it represents a newer style of play within that old school. AD&D is pretty clearly old-school gaming, but it's not like you couldn't use it for something entirely non-old school in style. And you can use old school rules in a totally non-impartial fashion. Killer DM, anyone? That's pretty damn old school, although rarely fun in my experience.

So I it helps to think of it that way - do I want old school style, yes or no? Do I want actual old school rules, yes or no? You can answer either way, and end up in different places:

yes, yes: OD&D, AD&D, etc.
yes, no: GURPS, Pathfinder, later editions of D&D, etc.
no, yes: Dragonlance, some of the Planescape adventures, etc.
no, no: (Various games)

For me, I think my games are old school in style, even if I cheerfully mix rules ideas from any generation of gaming. I use disadvantages and character background yet I randomly roll treasure in a megadungeon setting and roll damage dice in front of everyone so they can watch their PCs die horribly in the process. I went with yes, no as my options. Whee!

* I've always wonder where folks stick GURPS - is it old school (its central mechanics date to the mid-80s), because of its age, or new school because, uhm, it's still in print? To me, it's still old school at its heart, but the optional and core rules have gotten more and more refined to make it play faster and better. The point values of characters from 4th edition GURPS are different than those in Man-to-Man or 1st edition GURPS, but the numbers mean the same things, and you could use them with only a tiny bit of conversion.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Blog Recommendations: Gaming Ballistic & Tetsujin no Llama

I'd like to recommend a couple of blogs. Both are by freelancers who have written for GURPS.

Gaming Ballistic

This is Douglas Cole's blog. Doug is probably most (in)famous for his article, "The Deadly Spring" in Pyramid magazine. It's reviewed here.

At least at the moment, it's got only a few articles, but they are good ones:

- One on toting 10' polearms (and poles) in a dungeon.

- Two on a variation how GURPS figures damage from weapons (amongst other things.)

- Some retrospective on why he writes what he wrote.

tetsujin no llama

The other blog is by Matt Riggsby, who has written so many things I can't keep track of them all. The first DF adventure being one of them.

His blog is a bit sparse on GURPS rules right now but it's got a lot of details on his own world. There are a lot of little bits you can steal from his musings to fit into your own game world. Plus, it's just a good read.

Both really interesting blogs so far.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Stuff I Learned About Treasure in DF

One theme in my DF game is that I don't, or at least didn't, give out enough treasure. This is probably true overall, because I can be stingy for fear of giving away too much.

How much do they need?

First, they need to make a profit, because that's how I determine XP awards.

Upkeep costs in Dungeon Fantasy are $150/week, per PC. I have increased upkeep costs for people with appropriate disadvantages, like Compulsive Generosity or Compulsive Carousing or others that would have a steady additional cost.

Recharging Power Items isn't expensive, but neither is it cheap.

Potions that get used don't count against the trip's profits, but if you have to sink money into potions to ensure survival and success, you're going to spend a lot of money. Same with arrows, flasks of oil, rations, etc. - some of which do count for determining XP, but many of which don't.

Gear is really expensive in GURPS. You start with $1000, but a greatsword sets you back $900, a suit of plate several times that, and even light armor and weapons add up quickly. So a broken sword or rust-armor-rusted armor can cause a disastrous loss of money to an expedition that's barely making it by.

So they need a lot. $500+ per person per trip isn't a bad idea for a rough base. Higher is probably better, especially the more death they risk. If you're converting D&D module treasures to GURPS, you have to at least go with 1 gp = $1 and go up from there; 1 gp = 1 standard DF sp ($4) is better and you might want to go still higher as the money doesn't go as far. 1000 gp in AD&D split four ways is a solid profit for a trip for beginning adventurers. For DFers, $1000 split four ways barely covers the bar tab for a week, nevermind any incurred costs in expendables.

Whatever you think is enough, probably isn't.

I started low. A few thousand would be okay, right? Wrong. PCs were broke in no time, often coming back to town knowing they'd be broke before we convened game again. I dealt with that a few ones; the important one here is by increasing the amount of treasure.

Why more treasure?

They didn't find it all. A good portion of the treasure I put there was overlooked, missed, skipped over by mistake, not recognized as treasure, or left behind in the confusion. "Sorry guys, no one mentioned the chest of silver again after you opened it, so it's still back in the orc lair." That kind of stuff.

They kept stuff even when they needed the cash from selling it. Evil looking shield with a demon face on it? Plate armor of the evil cleric? That magic sword no one knows how to use? Those potions no one is willing to use? They held on to all of them. You can't expect them to cash in everything they can't use immediately, just because they need cash. My PCs held on to stuff they might need and borrowed money to eat.

(Although conversely, they'll often sell stuff you expected them to keep. Don't place stuff they need to continue the quest or they need to defeat a specific monster. Murphy's Law predicts instant sale.)

40 cents on the dollar. DF gives you 40% for sold gear. 100% for cash, gems, and jewelry, but 40% otherwise. So even if they do sell gear, they might not get much for it, and then they need to divide it up. My players found that armor and weapons made a good sale, but it wasn't a gold mine of profits.

It's a tough job. Multiple deaths to get this treasure, and regular severe risk of harm. For what? For a while it wasn't for enough. So I needed to up the treasure to justify this. Why would you go into a dark hole full of monsters for profit if there isn't much chance of a profit? That smacked too much of desperation and not enough of real fun.

Plus, the more money that comes out of the hole, the more intrigue that goes into getting it. Rival adventurers, say, or the fun of expanding the city's trade through sheer spending and demand. More money means bigger expeditions, more hirelings, more risk taking, and more crazy expenditures. The more they see come in, the more likely they are to spray it back out again.

Last session, the PCs took home about $5K each. That's much better than a dry hole for getting the players to risk their characters again and again.

So yeah, I learned I had to add treasure. My advice is, don't stint on it from the start like I did. Put in some cash and gems and jewelry, and give them a lot to blow it on. You won't regret it.

Cool AD&D treasure trove generator

Seriously, this is awesome, and I'm sorry I didn't have it back when I played AD&D.

1s Edition AD&D Treasure Trove Generator

It's kind of fun to play with just on its own, much like the Meatshield generator.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Best Video Game Fight of 2012

For me, at least, it was getting to revisit this monster of a brawl from Bard's Tale I. Really, best fight of the mid-80s.

Baron Harkyn's army. Four groups, each of 99 berserkers. The first two groups (and your first 3 guys plus any summoned critters, like my dragon) can melee . . . and your melee guys can kill at most one each per turn. It takes about 10 real minutes of fighting to get through this brawl.

Oh sure, you can disguise yourselves as members of his fanatical army using robes you found earlier . . . but then you miss the brawl. Do you want to win the game with minimal effort, or be awesome?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...