Thursday, May 30, 2013

My Modified DF Mook Rule

I mentioned a modified mook rule in my post on speedy GURPS combats. I didn't describe it, so I'll fix that here and write it up.

For those paying close attention, I mentioned this a while back on the SJG forums, where you can see other takes on the the "And Stay Down!" rule from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 2, p. 27.

Briefly summarized, "And Stay Down!" has fodder drop from any hit that does damage, and worthy and boss critters stay up longer and/or get some HT rolls to stay conscious. That's a little too undifferentiated to me, and I feel like it de-values the high damage attacks of front-line fighter types by making a lucky tap from a weak fighter and a high-damage skull shot from a heavy weapon into effectively same thing. Knowing a monster is probably a mook, it means you're best bet is to use the lightest tap you can (a Defensive Attack with a thrust of a double-dagger weapon, say) to take something down.

I prefer people really open up on fodder and show their stuff, yet I want them unimportant NPCs to drop without dragging out a fight uselessly.

Here is my variation:

Unimportant NPCs automatically fail HT rolls to stay conscious, avoid stunning or knockdown, or to stay alive. This means that a wound that takes them to 0 HP or below will put them right down and out of the fight; a wound that cripples a limb or inflicts a major wound will stun them and knock them down.
(Clarification: Unimportant NPCs still get a HT roll to recover from stun, they just don't get one to avoid it in the first place.)

Special Cases: Some monsters come with special rules for staying awake - berserkers, for example, ignore knockdown and stunning, and do get to make HT rolls, no matter how "fodder"-like they are. Creatures with Hard to Subdue have it for a reason, and get rolls to stay awake. Hard to Kill means I make a death check to see if a creature is dead, even if it drops unconscious automatically.

Doesn't this mean a 2-point advantage like Hard to Subdue turns fodder into a potentially tough fight? Yes, it does. Hand out advantages that make weak monsters stand up longer with care - putting them on an NPC says you intend this guy to stand up and fight longer. It makes guys with those advantages and makes berserkers a really different fight.

Important NPCs use the full rules - they roll anything a PC would roll. These include named NPCs, boss monsters, singular monsters (if I put one chimera in a room, it's automatically a special chimera), etc. They don't have any automatic drop levels other than dying at -5xHP (unless they've got advantages that say otherwise.)

Also, NPCs might be special because of the situation. The goblin messenger who's running the alarm to the other goblins might get rolls because he's situationally important. The dinoman champion is special, even if his dinomen buddies are not. The one orc who happens to be wielding the magic sword from the treasure pile is special, no matter how weak he is.

I'll also rule on the fly that what was supposed to be a mook is an important NPC. If a fodder monster scores a critical hit, or somehow pulls off some amazing rolls (say, a great set of defensive rolls, or knocks a PC down), or otherwise shows his awesomeness, I declare then and there (silently, not out loud) that he's no longer a mook and gets to make his rolls.* This way any given mook can turn out to be important just because of what he does.

These rules apply to NPC hirelings, too, but not full-out Allies (you paid for them, they roll) or special NPCs.

This approach speeds up combat, especially with large numbers of fodder types. They don't last long if they fail to defend, but they're still touch enough that you need to hit them hard enough to take them to 0 HP or less. This lets you use them in larger numbers (fun!) without ending up with a lot of bookkeeping and rolling and status tracking (not fun!)

Coupled with the Untrained Fighters rules from GURPS Martial Arts p. 113, this makes a clear line between skill and lack of skill, toughness and lack of toughness, importance and lack of importance. It also rewards high-damage strikes and makes you use the skills you've got to dispose of the weak opposition instead of encouraging you to take out just enough to win.

TL:DR version: Don't roll HT to stay conscious for mooks; they just fail. If you give them a name or Fit or Hard to Subdue or something, you're saying they aren't mooks. Roll for them.

* This is the "Sgt. a Wood" rule. Sgt. a Wood is the name of a sergeant counter from Cry Havoc. We used it on a battlemap to represent a no-name NPC in a big fight in my old GURPS 3e game. Oddly, he fended off a much more powerful PC, hurt another one badly, and then started to escape when the fight went bad. A PC pursued him ("I'll show that guy!") and in the process got cut up, knocked out, lost a fine knife, and ended up losing out a lot in the subsequent game from trying to finish him. From then on, whenever I'd use that counter for an NPC they'd open up on him with maximum firepower and get him down ASAP.

Amusingly, one of my players made a military PC who was a sergeant, and named him Andy Wood. "Call me A. Wood."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What's 100 points between friends?

Someone (Unachimba) asked about how I have wildly different point total PCs adventuring at the same time.

How does that work out?

Some of it is my game, some it is GURPS.

It depends what you buy.

In my current game, at this moment, we've got a 346 point knight on something like his 23rd or 24th delve next to a martial artist worth 251 on his 3rd or 4th. That's a 95 point difference. All Chuck Morris has purchased so far is Reach Mastery (Light Horse Cutter) for his polearm. Vryce has purchased Hard to Subdue, Hard to Kill, Luck, weapon skill, Armor Mastery, Armoury skill, Swimming, Sacrificial Parry, more HP, and who knows what else at this point.

Yet they stood shoulder to shoulder in combat all last session and Chuck Morris put down at least as many opponents as Vryce. Nothing one did overshadowed the other.


Vryce has mostly purchased things that will keep him alive, or helps his friends survive. He hasn't made himself, or really concentrated on making himself, so offensively powerful that the only way to challenge him is with dangers that would annihilate all the other PCs.

Had it been another PC, would it matter? Probably not. With a wizard and a second wizard, it only takes a couple spells the vet doesn't have to make you useful in ways the vet isn't. We've got two scouts and someone coming in soon with a third. I never hear one complaining the other is stealing his thunder, or is too powerful to adventure with. The fact that one is better than the other doesn't seem to make the weaker one less useful, just less powerful. Neither is outclassed clean out of utility on the adventure.

It depends on what you sell. By which I mean, as a GM, what do you make available for the points?

My game is pretty far from a freak show game, and I err on the side of caution allowing purchases of potentially game-altering powers and spells.

If it was "anything goes!" I'd have more of a problem. 100 points of "whatever you want" can get odd, fast, and put PCs who don't yet have the access to these powers or the points to buy them in a bit of a hole.

To put it another way, my game gets more cinematic by ramping up the level and breadth of fairly mundane powers. The skilled get more skilled, the strong stronger, the magically powerful more magically powerful. They don't get access to game-changing abilities.

To a lesser extent, what do you make available for sale? In my game, magic items are not all automatically available for purchase. You have to roll to see what's there, or more accurately, if the thing you want is there. So the experienced sorts don't have shatteringly powerful items that set a "must be this high to ride this ride" barrier to entry for new characters.

It's how fast you get your points. If I gave out 100 points in 20 groups of 5 over 20 sessions vs. 4 batches of 25 over 4 sessions, do you think it would affect what people buy? I think so. The urge to spend now on things that'll keep you alive until next session is powerful. So the guy 95 points more valuable doesn't have, say, Extraordinary Luck and Extra Attack 2 and 3 more levels of sword skill. He's got a breadth of abilities improved a bit and filled in gaps exposed by repeated exposures to a variety of dangers. So new guys can still pull their weight on adventures that challenge him because he's not as far ahead as raw point total might make it seem.

"A kid with a pointed stick can kill you in GURPS." That's as direct a quote as I can remember of what a friend of mine says pretty often. I'm still not sure if my friend was being derisive or not. Not, I think, since he's played GURPS for a long time and GMed it for years now as well. But he's not wrong. Given a sufficiently lucky/unlucky set of rolls, barring built-in immunity or built-in ability to recover from a given attack form, a kid with a pointed stick can kill you. A few 3s here, a few 17s or 18s on your part, and bam! it's new PC time.

This helps smooth out some of the differences between power levels. A critical head blow to your brand new DF PC is probably about as bad as a critical head blow to an experienced DF delver.

Some people might call this "swingy" as if that's a bad thing. It's not - it's exciting. A lot like MMA, where someone can dominate a fight but then make a single mistake and get knocked out, caught in a triangle choke, or power-bombed into defeat. It adds an element of risk and a thrill of uncertainty to any fight.

GURPS builds that in. A critical hit bypassing any defense roll, and may do other exciting things, too. A critical miss is always possible no matter how high your skill is. Using a skill in a combat situation always opens you up to failure, and using your head in order to minimize the number of times you need to take that risk puts a high value on clever play.

And that's why I think the nearly 100 point difference between the top point value and bottom polint value PCs in my game doesn't matter that much.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How I run combat fast

My last session had a fair number of fights. Four PCs, one NPC, and one hireling fought:

- a multi-part skirmish with a bugbear*
- reeks (a kind of killer ooze), twice
- a clay golem**
- two giant black widows
- an unknown number of smaller black widows
- three bronze spiders*
- a bunch of orcs with a shaman and some killer apes and a summoned war boar.

That's seven times we needed to break out the dice (and sometimes the map and minis) and start rolling to hit, defense rolls, damage rolls, consciousness checks, and all the other rolls that make GURPS combat take a little while (but conversely, also make it verisimilitudinous and fun)

Yes, we played for about 9 hours that day, but the combats took up only a tiny fraction of that time. I think they spent more time overall working on the question of "what gear do we loot, and how do we get it back to town?" than on all of the combats together.

That clashes with the automatic assumption that GURPS combats take forever. Douglas Cole asked, how do I do that?

Faster Combats

First, I run combat for my vets the same way I run combat for new guys: basic, streamlined, and quickly.

1) 3-2-1 go. If people start thinking about what to do on their turn, I start counting. I don't count while they're moving around or describing their actions, just when they start lollygagging.

2) Simple Combat We mostly use the simplified combat rules from GURPS Basic Set: Characters, modified as I detail here. Briefly, 3 is max damage, no rolls on the critical hit tables, critical misses are a dropped weapon or a roll (depends on the circumstances, really), parries by 1 or more hit an unarmed attacker and do 1/2 average damage, etc.

Mostly, because some PCs really depend heavily on certain rules in order to be effective. So we use those rules. All of the expanded rules for two-handed swords from GURPS Martial Arts are in play, because otherwise the knight isn't nearly as effective (and not using them nerfs his character concept, of a bidenhander master). So are rules for reach (even when we're not using the map), long weapons in close combat (all of the front-line fighters on Sunday were long-weapon users), and a few others.

3) We don't use Extra Effort in Combat. I offered it early on to my players, but they passed on it, so PCs and monsters alike live and die based on their basic combat abilities. This dramatically speeds up combat. I've only played briefly with EEinC, but there were times I could see how FP expenditure bailed you out of a bad mistake to let you live to fight longer.

4) No Rules Lookups. We only nit-pick modifiers when it's critical to do so. You're crawling on your knees in the semi-dark armed with a knife and trying to fend off a bugbear? I pause and check the rules for crawling, quickly look over the modifier lists, etc. and figure out the real offense and defense penalties. But shooting your bow sideways in a cramped condition from a crouch? Uh, crouch penalties and let's just say you suffer Bulk penalties on the bow shot and he's about a -2 to hit away from you. Done. I'm right or close to right almost all the time. I don't get shy about reasonable rulings, either. Raggi is in close combat with a boar that's goring him the in the abdomen but he berserkly wants to chop down with his axe and hit the boar? Yeah, that can happen, call it -3 (half his close combat penalties for a 2-hex weapon) and roll. Look it up later if we think it'll happen a lot.

5) We use round-the-table initiative. If I win the roll, the NPCs all go and then we going around the PCs clockwise. If I lose the roll, the PCs go around clockwise and then the NPCs go. No worries about setting up an interlaced move order.

6) We use a modified mook rule, so unimportant NPCs drop and stay down. This means a lot of fodder types go down in one blow (the front-line guys can knock down most fodder monsters below 0 HP in a single blow with minimum damage).

7) Default actions. We use Wait with a default trigger (attack the next badguy to come into range) so you can just "Wait" and announce a trigger if you need a special one. I let anyone buy a Trademark Move. For monsters I don't get cute with their actions, and pre-write their attack routines and special moves. There is almost nothing to figure out when a turn comes up, because my players are helpful players.

8) We use the map. Placing down some walls and minis doesn't slow down fights, it takes away all discussion about who is where. This dramatically speeds up play, because the players can just look instead of asking.

Add those to the high skill of the PCs, so they can try some crazy stuff with a reasonable chance of success, high damage on their attacks, and their tendency (nowadays) to concentrate their attacks and stay close to each other for protection, and you get a lot of short fights (and this run-on sentence). Their badass levels of skill helps even more, because they're less concerned about a point here or a point there. Close enough is good enough.

All of the above took significantly longer to write, and probably as long to read, as the longest fight we had on Sunday.

That's pretty much how we run through lots of combat quickly.

* Both of these guys are from DFM1. The bugbears were mine, the bronze spiders were Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch's.

** In a move that would drive Jeff nuts, one of my players rattled off the AD&D 2e and 3e abilities of a Clay Golem, and announced how doomed they could be if I was copying those stats. I wasn't. Not for this guy, anyway. It was a heap of clay in seconds. It's funny to me when they recognize the monsters. It's funnier to me when they misidentify them, or identify their powers incorrectly.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

DF Campaign, Session 25

May 26th, 2013

Characters: (approximate net point total)
Dryst, halfling wizard (259 points)
Chuck Morris, human martial artist (251 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (296 points)
Red Raggi, human berserker (?? points, NPC)
Vryce, human knight (346 points)

Still in town:
Borriz, dwarven knight (310 points)
Christoph, human scout (258 points)
Honus Honusson, human barbarian (292 points)

As always, we started out in Stericksburg. My edict before the session was "if you don't have a solid plan for dealing with old business - the fire-men, the druagr, etc. - in 30 minutes, just go find something new." The players who made it today took that to heart, and decided they'd find the way in to the poison-ivy covered mess in the ruins west of the wrecked castle.

First up was upkeep and rumors. Dryst paid a pile of money over to keep himself in Dwarven rations for the month (450 plus rooming), but it paid off in Resistant to Poison +3 for the expedition. Vryce caught a wave of rumors with a good Carousing roll. They heard a few - undead burn when splashed with holy water, the old patriach used to say the road to hell literally ran through the gates of Felltower, a mob of killer apes burst out of the dungeon back in the day (and it's considered odd they'd come from inside tunnels, being known to live in jungles to the south), a rumor about the wizards of far Cashamash, elves and dwarves in the dungeons keeping real evils down deeper, talk of a garrison to be put on top of the mountain to fight orcs, and more. The real kicker was from Raggi, who heard that there are still some die-hard Sterick the Red loyalists in town, but it was unwise to talk about it out loud.

Vryce: "We could ask that noble we met about that."
Dryst: "Yeah, but it would be unwise to ask out loud."

After gathering rumors, Red Raggi, and a shieldbearer (John McShieldy, not his real family name) for Dryst, they decided to whip up some quick-acting anti-poison ivy defoliant. Some excellent rolls against Naturalist and Alchemy by Galen and Dryst, respectively, determined that they did have an idea for something that just might work. It cost 100 sp in materials and some time, but they had two gallons ready to go by expedition time.

They headed up the mountain, across the Silver River via Stone Bridge, past Sterick's Landing and the statue of Sterick the Red, and past the expanding slums and up to the mountain top. Chuck Morris wasn't present, yet, because his player wasn't. But they left him a note saying where they'd go so he could catch up.

Scouting at the top found no orc patrols but evidence they'd been around recently.

Then they found the ruined foundation with the poison ivy on it, splashed down their mix (well, a Create(d) Servant did it). This revealed a narrow (4 1/2' tall, 4' wide) tunnel behind a cracked foundation wall. They headed in, Vryce first, crawling on all fours. The tunnel was tight, but not so tight Raggi couldn't cram his gigantic body in, crawling on his elbows. Vryce couldn't use his sword, really, just passed it along with himself and figured on stabbing with the very end up close if he had to. They crawl a long way, in an exhausting and winding and narrow passage. Finally it T-ed out. The left seemed a little wider, so they took that. It lead to a narrow crack to the right and a Y to the left. The Y smelled to Galen of rot, especially the right fork, so they went all the way right instead. That took some doing - Galen crammed through a very narrow gap and then into a low (4 1/2' tall) but wide (20') room covered with broken bones, bugs, twigs, leaves, dung, gnawed and split bones, and other trash. While Galen was in it and the others climbed through the gap, the last magically created servant (as always, they trail themselves with one) made a "blurt" noise and then disappeared. Gone. They set up in the "lair" but nothing showed up. They looted it.

They found some assorted coins (small change, really), two potions (they'd later ID as an oozing doom grenade and invisibility), a bat-winged ornate greathelm that looked exactly like the kind Erol Otus would draw (and it was magic, too), and more gnawed bits. They headed out the other way, down a narrow passage. It Y-ed out and then went right. There they found a secret door near a bend (a plug of thin stone), and careful examination showed it was gooped up with a poison. Dryst crawled forward and cleared it off with a magically created rag and then tossed it safely aside. As he did, Raggi was attacked at the far end of the narrow tunnel. It was a hairly little man with three toes and three claws and a face full of sharp teeth. Also, a rope-and-handle garrote and a knobbed club. He dueled it with his long knife and managed to fend off its blows and then stab it. It ran. Using its blood, Dryst hit it with Seeker, found it, and then used Trace to get a lock on. This was despite spells up and a Low Mana Zone.

They opened the secret door in front, and Dryst monitored it trying to come around in front of them. So when it arrived, Galen was waiting, crouched with his bow held "gansta" style. He shot it - it jumped back like lightning but not fast enough, and his arrow thudded home. It dropped around the corner. He crawled forward and stabbed it twice more where its heart should be. He realized it was a bugbear, and that bugbear spleen is potentially valuable and magical. He doesn't have Surgery, or whatever else, but he had a knife and a cold heart so he did his own form of surgery on it. It wasn't effective (he ruptured the spleen), but he tried.

They went back to the surface to rest and clean up. Chuck Morris was there, so they gathered him up and went back in.

After this and more crawling, they found the bugbears larder - some gutted goblins, a hobgoblin skull, a dead human (who ended up having a gold tooth and a 2 carat agate), and some rats. They also found a (trapped) way out of the tunnels. They disarmed the primitive trap, opened it up, and found they were in the dungeon proper.

The explored a few rooms, but all they found was trash and trouble - six reeks in the first one spelled doom to Galen's cloack, backpack (and what was in it), and caused them a lot of hassle burning them off. The next room had two more, so they closed it up, and the third had a rigged Oozing Doom grenade which fell on Vryce. They burned it off, too, but not before it caused him some harm.

They worked their way through a bunch of tunnels at this point, finding a few double dead-end Ts, a few empty rooms, and then a set of stairs down a short distance. They took those. They found it was a long corridor that (ultimately) was lined with four nearly-identical suites of rooms and some other rooms on the other side. Long story short, the first one was empty except for old trashed furniture and old trash in general, but they found a secret door in the closet that led to a narrow (5' wide) but tall (8' arched) secret passage. They ultimately found the way into all four suites from this narrow passage, a door out to a hallway they'd been through earlier, and an "empty" room at the end.

The empty bit turned out to be illusion, and under it was a substantial armoury of weaponry. Nothing magical or high quality, and in fact most suffered from decades of neglect. But it was a potentially good haul, so they grabbed some easy to carry stuff and went back to exploring. Amongst the suites they found:

- a few trapped doors (including one using a vial of pink slime, which they recovered and later sold).

- some gnoll footprints in dust.

- a magical fire trap (no non-magical servants were harmed)

- spiders (two giant black widows, that nearly got the jump on Vryce, and at least a dozen big spiders in a web they burned out of hand).

- a clay golem, locked in a room Waiting continuously. It slugged Vryce but he parried and then turned it back into chunks of clay.

- a privy in each suite that Dryst insisted on checking out with Earth Vision.

- no real loot.

They also explored the nearby corridor. They found an iron door, strangely un-rusted and very difficult to crack. It was too solid to break (Chuck Morris's punch didn't dent it at all), too hard to crowbar open (heavy hinges defeated Vryce's strength), and its lock too difficult for Dryst's magic (it wasn't immune, it seemed, but he couldn't catch a break on his roll). They retreated to the room of the burned spiders and rested.

A bell went off nearby after some banging and booted stomping. They stayed quietly in ambush positions, but the bell stopped ringing and the booted steps receded. They waited a good 30+ minutes before heading back out.

They bashed down a heavy wooden door on a nearby room, and inside, on the ceiling, were three bronze spiders. Not content to leave well enough alone, they attacked. The spiders did too, the instant the first arrows left Galen's bow. The spiders jump-slammed the party members, but it all went okay. The shieldbearer was hit in the shield and went down (but wasn't hurt), Raggi shrugged off his, and Chuck Morris bounced his. In a short but furious melee, Raggi was hurt badly but bashed his apart (with some help from Galen's bodkins), Dryst electrocuted one after Vryce damaged it badly, and Chuck Morris jumped over his opponent, landed behind it, and then acrobatically dodged its next attack before smashing it with his light horse cutter. A few more blows and then were in pieces.

They dragged the spiders into the room and searched them (nothing, just scrap) and - as always - used Earth Vision on a privy off the side. This time it paid off, as he spotted some coins and a jar. A servant was dispatched in to get it out as Dryst dug it out. They also had Dryst chuck Complex Illusion on the shattered door, but he rolled an 18. Instead of a nice closed door, his illusion creating a brightly glowing, pulsing, neon-limmed open door. They knew they needed to move fast.

They head down a side passage they'd found, into a chamber that set off - you guessed it - a bell noise. They charged straight through and then up a gentling sloping corridor. At the very top, Galen burst out into a widening hallway with a bend in it and a side passage. That's when a orc ambush was sprung. Even so, the orcs badly blew an initiative roll and neither side was surprised. The orcs - it was 8 orcs (half with bows), an orc shaman, a war boar (probably the same ones as in this session), and a couple of apes with clubs and studded collars. They all charged. Too bad for them. All they managed to do was kill a created servant, have their boar gore Raggi into a berserker rage, and get mown down rapidly by arrows and axe and sword and horse cutter. The orcs weren't slouches, but the PCs really just took them apart in seconds, doing at least HP in damage past armor on every hit. The apes went down in one second, the orcs in a handful of seconds, and the boar in only a few more as it was pounded into burger. It faded a few seconds after - a summoned creature of some kind, surely.

They looted the orcs, then recovered a few choice pieces of armor, and dragged it all back to the surface.

Overall, it turned into a good haul - the neglected and damaged gear they pulled out was fixed with a series of Repair spell rolls (learned thanks to Wild Talent on Dryst), the bat-winged helmet was pretty valuable, and the jar they'd found in the privy was 3 doses worth of strength potion.

A solid trip - shorter in the telling than the doing, but there was a lot of careful movement, careful checking, and careful mapping in there. And some bold and decisive applications of force.



I finally got to use my giant spider minis. I bought them years ago, but since "you are attacked by spiders!" has been a stock answer of mine to all "What happens?" questions, in actual play my players have always run from them if they could. Finally, they couldn't! Yay! The spiders died in less time than it took to paint them.

Can you create a halfling-sized servant with Create Servant? I said yes, at normal cost. So Dryst did, most of the time.

The spell Lockmaster doesn't get penalized for multiple tries. It really should, and we're thinking of having it get them going forward. -1 for each consecutive attempt would do it.

Chuck Morris really does a lot of damage. I keep being surprised by it, but I shouldn't be. After all, he's got a polearm, ST 12, Striking ST 2, and he's a Weapon Master. His DR isn't that high but otherwise he's basically a lightly armored version of the other knights. I guess I'm so used to him just punching things for fun instead of chopping them that his 2d+6 average damage surprises me when it lands every damn turn. What's scary is that he isn't even getting his full damage bonus from skill because he's only got DX+1 in polearm. 4 more points will get him 2d+8, same as Borriz. He doesn't seem to think it's that important, and he's saving for something (Extra Attack, probably, knowing his player.)

I made two wealth-farming rules tonight:

- in the future, characters of more than X points will need to earn more money to earn full XP. Probably at 300 they'll need double, 350 triple, 400 quadruple, etc. Maybe more, I haven't decided (it's around 200-250, depending on expeditures, right now). This will encourage stronger PCs to take more risks and go deeper than futz around trying to find just enough loot to make a profit.

- if you discover treasure and get it out the same session, it's good for a profitable trip and full XP. If you discover it, leave some behind, and go get it the next session, it doesn't "count." This is to discourage people finding a horde (say, that armoury), and then returning each trip for just enough to make a profit and thus get maximum XP.

Both rules were unanimously approved of. We'll see how they work.

Fun session today. They usually are, but I was happy they had a few fights (four? five? depends on how you count a few), found a lot of new stuff, exploded some new areas, and didn't dilly-dally. It was a nonstop roll today.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Starting a Small Campaign, the Gothridge Manor way

I'm a little busy today with work, then training, and then more work. After both are done, I have to finish doing prep for my game session tomorrow.

Are you running a game?

If not, this great post by Tim Shorts explains how little you really need to do in order to be running a game. It doesn't have to be complete, or perfect. It just has to be sufficient to cover a few sessions. His post outlines what that really boils down to, at least in a fantasy world.

6 Steps to Starting a Small Campaign

Sure, it says "small campaign" but it's a seed for a bigger one, once the players get some buy in to the setting through their adventures there. A throwaway game I did to satisfy my old buddy's urge to get back into gaming turned in a 10-year campaign this way, with even less prep than Tim is suggesting. You could do the prep for a game like than in an afternoon, and have it run indefinitely.

While I'm off writing up monster stats and stocking rooms, please take the time to check that article out.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kickstarter: Jeff Dee's AD&D Module Cover Paintings

I'm backing this kickstarter:

I love that image from the cover of S2 White Plume Mountain. It was one of my first modules, bought back when I was all of 10 years old. It's my favorite "funhouse" dungeon and I adore that awesome action scene. So naturally I have to get a copy of it, nevermind I have either 2 or 3 copies of S2 around (counting the compilation S1-4 they put out years ago). It's too cool not to have a print.

This walkthrough poster isn't related to the Kickstarter or done by Jeff Dee, but it's still funny if you've played S2. It seems vaguely on-topic.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dealing with Berserkers

The Berserk disadvantage in GURPS is an interesting one. It's both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in that once you go berserk, you're extremely hard to stop and you can shrug off things most combatants can't. On the other hand, your tactical choices get cut down from "how do I want to balance offense and defense?" to "which suicidally crazy offense-only tactic do I want to use?"

The short version of Berserk is:

- you always All-Out Attack.
- no stunning or shock penalties (and no stun means no knockdown, although you can still suffer knockback)
- you're at +4 to stay conscious or alive.

If you're sufficiently wounded and survive it, you can go berserk. Or if you have Battle Fury, you start every fight berserk.

How to fight as a berserker is a whole other post. Today, let's fight against one. Or more than one - a lot of this advice may seem silly in a party vs. one berserker fight. But what if it's 396 of them? Suddenly you really need to focus on "Can I kill him in one second, or do I need to disable him now and finish him later?"

So what do you do if you're fighting a berserker?

He can't defend, so he's wide open. Your first problem is hitting.

First and foremost, you are going to Telegraphic Attack. The is no reason not to do this. Against someone who is pathologically unable to defend, it's essentially a free +4 to hit. Take it, and use it. It won't increase your chances of a critical hit (and thus possibly some bonus damage effects) but you don't need to main benefit of a critical, anyway - he's already not defending.

All of the below assumes you are using GURPS Martial Arts and Telegraphic Attack. If not, you're much less likely to hit.

Don't worry so much about criticals, just make sure you hit. A miss versus someone who is using All-Out Attack is as close to pure waste as anything can be in a GURPS combat.

Next, you have to put him down. You can't stun a berserker, or knock him down with a high-damage attack. With a +4 to consciousness checks, even a HT 10 berserker is likely to stay awake (and has a 50/50 shot of doing so even at -4xHP!) And it's not exactly common, in my games at least, for berserkers to run around with only HT 10. So your best bet is to a) utterly destroy his ability to attack you or b) put him down to -5xHP.

Here are some options for putting a Berserk opponent down as soon as possible. If you think you've either got a good shot at one-shotting him, or you really only have one chance to do it before you're in a world of hurt yourself, go with a first-tier attack.

First-tier Attacks

These are what I consider the best options, if you can avail yourself of them, to put a berserker down for the count. These can kill.

Eye Shot - if you can pull this off, the eye shot is your best shot. It's -9, -10 if he's wearing appropriate armor, but if it lands you're bypassing 2 DR from the skull, getting an easy freebie cripple on the way. A crippled eye gives the berserker One Eye, which is a -1 in melee combat on subsequent turns.

In any case, hits to the Skull have a x4 injury multiplier for most attack types. So even a mere 2-3 points of damage to the eye is going to inflict 8-12 points of injury and a Major Wound to the berserker. For most folks, this is a -10 roll vs. stunning and knockdown, but a berserker ignores that totally. All you're doing here is reducing the chances of successful retaliation (he's blind in an eye, probably) and accumulating damage needed for force consciousness and death rolls. The sooner you get him down to -5xHP, the better, if you don't want to deal with this guy again.

If you're crazy-good, do two Telegraphic eye shots at a net -5/-5 or -6/-6, plus your Rapid Strike penalties (-3 or -6, depending on Weapon Master, Trained By A Master, and availability of Extra Effort in Combat). If you get both, he's probably getting Blindness, just in case he's somehow still standing.

Skull Shot - A -7 to hit (nets to -3 with Telegraphic Attack). Much easier than the eye, and the same x4 injury multiplier, but any berserker who planned ahead will heave a heavy helmet - a pot helm or great helm over a mail coif is a common choice in my games, because layered head armor isn't that heavy nor does it give you a DX penalty. Plus, the skull comes with DR 2 of its own. Still, if you have a high-damage attack and/or an opponent with insufficient head armor, it's a good target. The x4 injury multiplier means potentially a lot of injury, and you need to put a lot of hurt on.

(Designer's Note - this is one reason the Gladiator Ape in DFM1 has a helmet - it helps head butts and gives it some DR versus the old "I just chop its head in half!" move. Every little bit helps when you're berserk.)

Vitals is the target of choice for impaling attacks if Eyes are too hard. It's only -3, or a net +1 with Telegraphic Attack (and a miss by 1 hits the body, anyway!) The x3 injury multiplier and no cap on damage means a good stab to the vitals can finish a lightly-armored beserker. It's a great choice for piercing attacks, too.

Torso may seem odd as a prime location, but it's less odd than it seems. For a high-damage attack or a lightly-armored defender, or a low-skilled attacker, it's a great choice of locations. -0 to hit plus a Telegraphic Attack is a net +4 to hit, which can go a long way toward negating a lot of penalties for lighting, shock, or bad footing. Plus, no damage is wasted. If you meet the right criteria (can't hit something better and can inflict a lot of damage), it's a very solid choice.

Neck is a pretty good choice for a cutting attack. It's -5 to hit, net -1 with Telegraphic Attack, and cutting gets a x2 injury multiplier. However, it's often well-protected, so it's not quite as good as Skull or Eye, but nearly as hard to hit as skull. Still, you might be able to get in a solid hit at -1 but not at -3 for skull, or he might have armored the hell out of his skull but not his neck.

Veins and Arteries are a good choice as well - only -5 (net -1) and -8 (net -4) for limbs or neck, and they ignore HP limits! This is excellent as you don't want to waste any damage to a berserker. Remember, a good berserker, for you, is one at -5xHP and not getting any more rolls to stay up.

Second-tier Attacks

If those don't work for you for some reason, here is where I'd look next. They've good but they can't (generally) kill the berserker outright. They are also useful if you're dead certain you can't finish him in one blow and at least need a shot at reducing his combat viability. These generally won't finish the job but they'll make it harder for him to kill you after you're done hitting him.

Spine is -8 to hit (net -4), but it's got an extra DR 3 under that for the torso, which generally isn't so bad. And while a berserker who takes more than HP in damage to it can ignore the automatic stunning, he can't ignore Bad Back and Paraplegic. If you've got a very high damage attack and want to cripple both legs in one go and you're behind him, take a look at this one. This one can kill outright, but it's tough to do enough damage in one blow to do so.

Legs - Cripple him! One suggestion is to go for the legs. It's only -2 to hit, and if you inflict over HP/2 he goes down in a heap.

I think this is a good but second-rate choice because the berserker isn't out of the fight, but merely fighting prone. This will severely limit him (see Python, M., "I'll bite your legs off!"), but your work isn't done yet. For some berserkers (Gladiator Apes, I'm looking at you again) merely putting them to the floor doesn't do much besides change their movement mode from "run" to "crawl" and they're still dangerous. They still deny an area of the battlefield where you're worried about something grabbing your legs, chopping at your from below, and otherwise keeping up some offense from what otherwise seems like a weak position.

Arms Crippling the arms is a good idea, if this will also disarm the berserker (or partly disarm him, either way). Again, you're reducing his ability to deal damage out but he's still a factor in the fight. This is more useful against a berserker with a two-handed weapon than a one-handed weapon or two weapons (or more than two, in the right sort of game). Taking out one limb makes the weapon that much less useful and might force a default roll to try using it one-handed, probably with additional penalties for being below the weapon's ST score.

Extremities If you can hit him with straight-up skill, this is a pretty good option for either knocking the berserker down or disarming his attacks. It's -4 to hit but a net -0 with Telegraphic Attack. It's got the same downsides as the limbs, and in fact the lower crippling threshold means more damage gets wasted. A berserk humanoid with a pair of crippled hands can still elbow strike, head butt, and kick, and isn't going to be close to death from accumulated HP. He won't even be making consciousness rolls.

Special Location

Chinks in Armor lets you target weapon points at -8 or -10, depending on where. Use this if your berserker type is extremely heavily armored, but otherwise, it's usually more important not to miss (and get in some damage) than to hit something a little less armored with this. But if it's the difference between causing damage or not, or if you're so skilled you have skill to waste, you might want to get some "free" DR reduction this way.

Other options: If you can't take him in one blow, or you have more than one blow (Rapid Strike, Dual-Weapon Attack, and Extra Attack), you've got a few options. I mentioned one in Eye Shots, above. Another good option - again, in combination with Telegraphic Attack - is to aim for one second-tier target and then one first tier. Limb/Skull or Extremity/Vitals are both good choices. Chop off a foot and then stab his heart, or break an arm so his greataxe is useless and then split his skull.

This holds true if you've got a friend nearby. If there are a few of you and you have local superiority of numbers (bearing in mind how fast a berserker can move using AOA), you can split up the targets - you go leg, say, and your friend hits his skull while he's down. Or you each take a leg and he also gets the skull or vitals.

Now, these aren't your only ways to go. This isn't exhaustive and it leaves off a lot of special "yeah but" kind of cases.

But in general, I find the best way to deal with a berserker is, again, to put him to -5xHP as fast as possible. Barring that, you want to limit the damage he causes. Some players prefer to cripple first and finish off later, but in my experience it's possible to get too cute and end up dealing a death by 1000 cuts and having to cede important sections of the battlefield while you do it. A straight shot to automatic death is better, if you can do it.

And that's how I like to deal with berserkers.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

No-contest "Muscling Through" rolls in DF

I hate rolling when it's not necessary.

Good example of this? Rolling for the door when people are Muscling Through (DF2, p. 8).

I don't roll for doors anymore.

Instead of rolling for the door, I just assume I rolled a 10. This allows me to pre-calculate the margin of success the PCs need to force the door. I apply that as penalty, usually in secret, if they don't/can't examine the hinges. They roll, tell me how much they made it by, and I announce success or failure.

Lock/Hinge Penalty Smoothed Penalties
Light +1 0
Average -8 -10
Heavy -17 -15
X-Heavy -25 -25
Vault -60 -60

Optionally, you can smooth these to 0, 10, 15, 25, 60, as shown in the third column. This just makes them a little easier to remember.

Obviously, you won't force a vault door easily. Maybe ever. Those are better dealt with magically or by bashing (IOW attacking the door.) This is true with the original rules - it's not likely for the door to roll an 18, and you'd still need to beat your own roll by more than 52 to pull it off.

Bending bars is the same (not lifting portcullises, though, that's a straight-up comparison of BL to weight to see if you can lift it or not.) For bars:

Bar Penalty Smoothed Penalties
Light -8 -10
Average -17 -15
Heavy -25 -25
X-Heavy -43 -45
Vault -60 -60

Optionally, you can smooth these to 10, 15, 25, 45, 60, as shown in the third column.

What about barred/wedged doors? Bars make it tricky, because they replace one or both of the numbers for DR or HP of the hinge or lock. A complex solution is to figure out the net score for the barred door using the better of the DR and better of HP of each of them. A simpler one is to use the bar's number if it's higher.

Simple approach: Use the door's force number or the bar's, whichever is higher. If the door is the same or higher, give it a minimum +2 for the bar. For example, an average door (8) with a light bar (5) would get a +2 for a net 10; with an average bar (17) it would use the bar's number instead. With smoothed penalties, the average door (10) with a light bar (15) would be a (15). You can also use this for improvised bars and wedges even if you use the next method - this avoids calculation in play.

Complex approach: Figure a combined number for both, using the higher of the two DRs plus the higher of the two HPs. The average door with the light bar would get a 10, with an average bar it would get a (20). This is best done ahead of time.

Actual Play Feedback: This speeds up play a surprising amount, since only one margin of success matters. I don't need to roll or do any secret calculation. It's just a matter of looking at the door's number and what the MOS of the PC is. It's been pretty good.

It also feels better. No longer do you try a door once, roll a 9 and have it fail (because I rolled well) and then try again, roll a 9 (or even higher), and this time it works (because I rolled poorly). It takes an active chance out of what feels like it should always be a passive trait of the barrier.

So yes, in actual play, it works as intended!

There, one less die roll per door.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Traps & Trap Lethality in DF

Traps are an important part of dungeon fantasy gaming.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 2: Dungeons, p. 19-20 outlines clearly how DF handles traps. It's the usual stuff you need to know (or just end up needing to know):

- Detect - how hard to detect?
- Disarm - how hard to disarm?
- Circumvent - how hard to get around?
- Evade - how hard to evade it after it goes off?
- Effects - what happens?
- Shots, Rearm, Steal - How many shots, can it be rearmed, can you steal some or all of it?

Here is roughly how I handle the first five.

Task Difficulty

Douglas Cole has often said, "If the answer isn't the Speed/Range Table, you're not asking the right question." For me, though, I often think the Task Difficulty rules are the way to go. They're on p. 345-346 of GURPS Basic Set, and then range from +10 to -10, centered on a normal use at 0.

+10 is for a task so trivial you probably shouldn't require a roll unless there are other circumstances involved.

0 if for average adventuring tasks - the example is a Driving roll in a car chase (and a high speed car chase is only -1).

-10 is impossible, or nearly so.

You can run a whole game with nothing but this kind of range in hand - in fact, one of my favorites, Yaquinto's Pirates & Plunder, did just that.

I'm also a big fan of the ". . . With Spikes" ruling in DF that says that every horrible qualifier attached to a situation is a further -1 (or potentially, a +1). Extending that means walking on a slick, narrow ledge is -2, but walking on a wide, coarse ledge is +2. I extend that right into traps in at least one place.

So with that ruling and the Task Difficulty rules in mind, here is what I do.


Ask, how hard is it to detect?

Will the normal Per-based Traps roll to spot it find it easily (as much as +10 to see it for being in plain sight) all the way down to nearly impossible to spot (-10 for fiendishly well hidden). In the middle is are ones you expect a fairly average skill to have a reasonable shot of detecting.

Is it invisible and requires special detection? If the trigger is magical and you can't detect magic (no Magery or Mage Sight or Mage Sense), or invisible and you lack See Invisible, you might not even get a roll. Magical traps especially can call for Per-based Thaumatology or Per+Magery, because there is no non-magical component to see. These are trivial for wizards to detect and are just Wandering Damage for those lacking Magery. Moral of the story: have a Scout with Magery or throw the right spells on him.

Think about both the trigger, and the trap. They might end up with separate numbers in a complex trap. It might be very easy to see the trap, but fiendishly hard to see what triggers it.

You want to keep in mind that by default GURPS DF parties are looking for traps, and get a Vision-based Per-based Traps roll to see a trap. The base Thief and base Scout both have a 15 or less to spot a trap. So they spot easy traps on a 25 or less (i.e. automatically) all the way down to a 5 or less to spot a really well-concealed trap (the example crossbow trap in DF2 is -9 to spot). The others, no so much. A Knight with Per 10 and default traps has a 5, so he'll spot a pit on a 15 or less, while his Wizard and Barbarian buddies have a default of 7 and spot one on a 17 or less.

In any case, they don't even need to ask for these rolls, because the default movement mode is slow enough to allow this roll and assumes you're on the lookout for danger. Remember, though is is -5 when rushed, so only trivially detectable traps are going to be automatically spotted by them, and what's "average" difficulty to spot is going to be missed half the time! Moral is, don't run through the trapped dungeon.


How hard is it to disarm? I use the same range of penalties as above, from "trivial" and +10 up to nearly impossible and -10.

I consider two parts of the trap for disarming:


How had is it to disarm the trap itself? Does it require some trivial expenditure of resources (break a poisoned needle, stuff up the dart launcher holes, erase the magic runes? Does it require some complex skill to disarm?

If the process is complex, give it a high penalty, up to a -10. If it's easy, up to +10.

In any case, you need to know if a failed disarm sets it off.

Some of the issue with disarming might be purely mechanical. It might be impossible to disarm a big rolling boulder or a deadfall - you can't just spike them in place or bend them back with a dagger. Disarm on the trap itself might be "N/A." The best way to deal with such traps is to avoid them entirely, set them off safely (think of a bomb squad here), or disarm the trigger.


If stopping the trap from going off is all that's important, disarm the trigger.

One thing to consider is, how does the trigger work? If the trigger is your basic deadman switch, it's hard to render it harmless without potentially setting off the trap. If it's a tripwire or pressure plate that depends on mechanical pressure to set it off, cutting it/lodging it in place might be enough to stop it from working. This is largely going to be a straight-up DX-based Traps roll, or, if the fix is merely go all Alexander-and-the-Gordion-Knot on it, just smacking it and seeing if it goes off.

In any case, you need to know if a failed disarm here too sets it off.

For a whole series on trap and triggers, take a look at The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms, especially down a few posts.

Circumvent / Evade

Or as I put it, Avoid. How hard is this to avoid? Both Circumvent and Evade have related questions - how do I get past it without setting it off, and how do I avoid getting hurt if I do set it off?

The first is best deal with using the Task Difficulty modifiers or the ". . . With Spikes" ruling, by treating it as an obstacle. You need to know how hard it is to pick your way around the trap triggers (think Raiders of the Lost Ark, avoiding the blowgun dart triggers). In many cases traps will be combined with channeled movement to make it harder to avoid even if you know it's there.

The second is where Resistance Rolls, Dodge, etc. comes in. It's an attack and it's incoming, how do you avoid it? Penalties should be applied like any other attack. Magic effects should get a resistance roll (if appropriate), weapon-like effects a Dodge or Block or even Parry, poisons a resistance or avoidance roll, etc. I don't use the Task Difficulty numbers here because a -10 to resist or -5 to Dodge means a whole different thing that -10 to detect or -5 to disarm.


How much damage does this do?

Here I skip the Task Difficulty rules because they don't apply.

What I do instead is consider the range of damage as a minimum, average or mean, and maximum. That helps determine its lethality. I put them in three ranges, which roughly correspond to "Fodder, Worthy, or Boss."

Mostly Harmless: If the maximum damage of a trap is going to put 0 damage past most of the DR of the group as a max, it's mostly harmless. For example, a shuriken launcher that sprays a dozen shuriken doing 1d-2 cutting is mostly harmless against a group sporting mostly DR 4+. It's possible a high damage roll or two against a low DR hit location might happen, but the odds are it'll do 0 damage. If it can inflict actual damage, like say a 6' pit (2 yards, 1d+1), but not enough to threaten a major wound, it's still Mostly Harmless. Unless you fall on your hand or foot and roll maximum damage, it's not going to slow you down.

Non-damaging effects with a high resistance bonus, low skill, or minimally disruptive effects (you're sprayed with paint, you're at a -1 at most on some or all stats, etc.) are Mostly Harmless.

Dangerous: If the average/mean damage of a trap is going to put some significant damage past the average DR of the group, the trap is dangerous. Now it matters. A 15' pit (5 yards, 2d) with spikes does 2-12 impaling damage, average 7. Against that same DR 4 average, that's 6 damage to whoever falls in. Not a lot, but it's the same as getting hit with a good whack in combat and it'll require a potion or spell to get rid of. On a normal person (HP 10), it's a major wound. A crossbow trap doing 1d+5 impaling (6-11, average 10.5) is similarly dangerous. Basically, if there is a threat of a major wound or crippled limb or extremity, it's dangerous.

Non-damaging effects that can potentially kill, or inflict a non-lethal but annoying effect, and/or which have a normal resistance (spell roll of 15, straight-up HT rolls, etc.) are Dangerous.

Lethal: If the minimum damage of a trap is going to inflict a crippled limb or major wound, the trap potentially lethal. If the maximum damage can kill outright (or at least force 1+ death checks), it's potentially lethal.

Something that's causing 10+ net damage is very serious; 20+ is potentially lethal. 50-60+ is a serious threat of lethality. The upper end of lethality in DF2 is a 100 yard pit doing 9d+1 (10-73, average 32.5) or lava at 8d+2 burning damage per second. You might not die immediately, but dying is coming at you quickly.

Non-damage effects that can easily kill belong in this category. Drowning, suffocation, the incapacitating afflictions, etc. are all potentially lethal.

These are pretty broad categories, but that's because so many factors impinge on them. DR of the party members, HP of the person hit, resistance rolls, effects, special circumstances, etc. Even a Mostly Harmless trap can turn out to be lethal if it's combined with a monster encounter that takes advantage of the trap (you're dealing with avoiding falling in dozens of little pits that slow you down while the monster kills from afar, say). A trap that is Mostly Harmless to the 20 HP DR 10 knight might be Lethal to the 10 HP 2 DR Wizard. "Only 12 impaling? Okay, 2 gets through and I take 4 injury, I'm down to 16 but bandaging will get me back to 18." vs. "12 impaling? I'm at -20 and I need to make a death check." The net effect of the circumstances matter.

Putting it together

You need to look at the sum of the parts. The teleport over water full of razor fish in my game was easy to detect (but not blatantly trap), hard to disarm, and potentially lethal = very dangerous. The water itself was easy to detect, easy to avoid, and potentially lethal. So all in all it was dangerous but unlikely to TPK the group - yet it almost did because they pushed their luck too far. All in all, that was a potentially lethal trap.

Some other traps have been trivially dealt with, because for all of their damage they were easy to detect, easy to disarm, or easy to set off with no harm to the PCs. Most of the ones set off recently in my game with Create Servant were like that - a more recent linked "bear trap on a deadman switch for a deadfall" one was potentially dangerous (category 2, above) but easy to deal with.

Consider the parts and then the sum of the parts, and see how dangerous that looks to be. How likely are they to blunder into it, get out of it, and/or survive it? Remember DF delvers aren't fragile, but aren't supermen either. You don't need traps to be hard to detect, hard to disarm, impossible to circumvent, difficult to resist, and highly damaging all at once.

Trap Notation

Finally, I like stat lines, so I'll boil it down in my adventure descriptions to things like this:

10 x 10 x 10' Spiked Pit (Detect +10, Disarm N/A, Avoid -2 (precarious narrow ledges), 1d+2 imp)

Poisoned Needle (Detect -3, Disarm -1, Avoid HT-2, 4d/2d toxic no delay no cycles)

Lightning Runes (Detect Per+Magery or Per-based Thaumotology, Disarm N/A, Avoid DX-5 to walk around and Resist vs. 15, 3d burning w/surge, metal is DR 1)

Further trap resources:

Steve Winter's 36 Trap Triggers

Steve Winter's 36 Trap Effects

C's Traps and Tricks Index

Saturday, May 18, 2013

How I run skills in a skill-based game

How I play skills in my GURPS game.

Skill rolls tell you how well your character executes your actions, not what actions your character takes.

The player tells me what the character is doing, the skills and skill rolls tell me how well you do it.

The player announces an action, the character executes it

An action must be a discrete thing you're doing, stated in a way that describes what you do. It can't be a goal or aspiration. It can't be a simple statement of rolls made.

So "I roll Perception!" isn't allowed, any more than "I roll Broadsword!" or "I roll 'to hit'!" - none of those tell me anything about what you are doing. It's not an action, it's a description of the mechanics.

So how to state an action?

"I disarm the trap" or "I look for secret doors" or "I use Physician" are about as valid of an action as "I slay the monster" or "I kill the bad guy" is. That tells me nothing, really, about what you're doing. That's a statement of intent or a goal; a mission statement not a description of how you're getting there. This is especially true in GURPS, in my games, where "I slay the monster" doesn't tell me what weapon, what hit location, what attack mode (thrusting? swinging? Swinging the head or the peen? Doing something else?), and any other positioning, movement, or options you're taking.

"I step up and swing at the guy in front of me, at his neck" is better. Same with "I'm trying to bend back or otherwise break the poison needle in the lock" or "I tap along the walls to hear if they sound thinner in one spot" or "I'll bandages up his arm wound with my Physician skill and try to clean it out." Even something basics like "I look at the ceiling" is okay. All of those can end with "and I have a XX in skill Y." The mechanics come in once I know what you're doing. They'll end with rolling Broadsword, or Traps, or Search, or First Aid, or Perception, but they start with a statement of action.

You describe the action in real-world terms as well as game terms, to let me know what you're doing and how. Then we let the dice (or GM judgement, sometimes) decide how that all works out.

Why this way?

- it preserves the importance of "being there" and playing the character. Your decisions matter, and your ideas help or hinder you.

- it preserves the value of skills. They let you play someone better or worse than you at the action. The character's ability to execute means that there is a real benefit to being an agile, light-fingered thief or a frighteningly skilled brute of a warrior. And a cost to being bad at things. Just because you say "I bend back the poison needle" doesn't mean you succeed. Just because you say "I swing my sword at his neck" doesn't mean you hit.

- it preserves the differentiation of "player" from "character." Just because you, the player, know what you want to do doesn't mean this particular character/playing piece/paper man can do it. It makes the character on the paper both more and less than what you're capable of.

What about what my guy knows?

It's harder to do this.

Knowledge skills are a little trickier, because it's often a valid question, "What does my character know about this?" Maybe having Hidden Lord (Elementals) means you know something about fighting elementals. Maybe have Physician tells you stuff about doctoring that you don't know but your character might - "Is it normal for that to happen, does my guy know that?" Even knowledge-based used of a non-knowledge skill (say, Boating or Swimming) might be valid - you want to know what kind of make the boat is, or how swimmable the water looks.

In those cases, you still need to specify what you're after, not just say "I roll Swimming to see if the water is okay." It's too vague and hands over the real fun of roleplaying - being someone else in a shitty situation you wouldn't want to be in - to a simple roll.

Generally, though, if your question boils down to "Hey GM, tell me what to do!" or "Hey GM, tell me the answer!" it's not going to work.

If it boils down to "Hey GM, does my guy know the answer to my question?" or "Hey GM, do I know this is really stupid and shouldn't do it?", it's okay.

And of course, so is any question of "I try [some action], how well do I do it?" like "I go to the library and read up on elementals, can I roll Research?"

And that's basically how I run skills.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sneaky the Thief (DF Thief, Modified)

A number* of GURPS bloggers have been talking about the Dungeon Fantasy Thief template recently. In a couple cases, trying to make it a little bit more useful and less replaceable. The issue really is that, in GURPS, anyone can try the thief's skills, many of them are easily replaced with other means, and some professions do much of the same things almost as well as the thief and many things better. Making them a bit better would make them a bit more fun, which is the real thing I'm after.

After reading Patrick Halter's latest proposal, I decided I'd try to make one up using a mix of my suggestions and his. Here is my result.

The Changes

I went with Patrick Halter's suggestion to simply cut the skills I wasn't using anyway - Filch, Shadowing, and Smuggling - instead of merging the points spent.

I also went with dropping Urban Survival down a point, from 2 to 1. I think that's fine, but I'd rather not make it optional.

I left Sleight of Hand alone for now.

Together those net back 7 points, of which I'm putting 5 into discretionary advantages and 2 into Background skills. I didn't put more into Lockpicking, since putting them into Background still allows for that but doesn't lock me in to improving something that's already good.

I'm also allowing free purchase of any Power-Ups right from the start.

Just for grins, even though I personally think Perfect Balance is really useful, I've made a thief without it.

I didn't buy any gear for this guy, or write up his quirks. I'd play him though, he seems like a fun guy. I went with "make him good but fun" so if he seems like he's less than utterly munchkinned or min-maxed, well, I find that usually reduces the fun of the guy.

Sneaky the Thief II

Race: Human

Attributes [180]
ST 11 [10]
DX 15 [100]
IQ 13 [60]
HT 11 [10]

HP 11
Will 13
Per 14 [5]
FP 11

Basic Lift 24
Damage 1d-1/1d+1

Basic Speed 6 [-10]
Basic Move 7 [5]

Ground Move 7
Water Move 1

Social Background
TL: 3 [0]
Cultural Familiarities:
Languages: Common (Native) [0].

Advantages [59]

Flexibility [5]
High Manual Dexterity (2) [10]
Luck [15]
Night Vision (9) [9]
Sensitive Touch [10]
Silence (2) [10]

Perks [1]
Honest Face [1]

Disadvantages [-40]
Code of Honor (Pirate's) [-5]
Compulsive Gambling (12 or less) [-5]
Cowardice (12 or less) [-10]
Greed (12 or less) [-15]
Sense of Duty (Adventuring companions) [-5]

Quirks [-5]
_Unused Quirk 1 [-1]
_Unused Quirk 2 [-1]
_Unused Quirk 3 [-1]
_Unused Quirk 4 [-1]
_Unused Quirk 5 [-1]

Packages [0]

Thief (Dungeon Fantasy) [0]

Skills [55]
Acrobatics DX/H - DX-2 13 [1]
Brawling DX/E - DX+0 15 [1]
Carousing HT/E - HT+0 11 [1]
Cartography/TL3 IQ/A - IQ-1 12 [1]
Climbing DX/A - DX+2 17 [1]
     includes: +3 from 'Flexibility'
Connoisseur (Wine) IQ/A - IQ-1 12 [1]
Crossbow DX/E - DX+0 15 [1]
Escape DX/H - DX+1 16 [1]
     includes: +3 from 'Flexibility'
Fast-Draw (Knife) DX/E - DX+0 15 [1]
Fast-Draw (Sword) DX/E - DX+0 15 [1]
Forced Entry DX/E - DX+0 15 [1]
Gambling IQ/A - IQ-1 12 [1]
Gesture IQ/E - IQ+0 13 [1]
Holdout IQ/A - IQ+0 13 [2]
Knife DX/E - DX+0 15 [1]
Lockpicking/TL3 IQ/A - IQ+1 14 [4]
     DX-based roll is 18 (including +2 from High Manual Dexterity)
Merchant IQ/A - IQ-1 12 [1]
Observation Per/A - Per-1 13 [1]
Pickpocket DX/H - DX-1 14 [2]
Poisons/TL3 IQ/H - IQ+0 13 [4]
Saber DX/A - DX-1 14 [1]
Search Per/A - Per+0 14 [2]
     18 by touch including +4 from Sensitive Touch
Sleight of Hand DX/H - DX-2 13 [1]
Stealth DX/A - DX+3 18 [12]
      20 vs. hearing, 22 vs. hearing when motionless
Streetwise IQ/A - IQ+0 13 [2]
Swimming HT/A - HT-1 11 [1]
Traps/TL3 IQ/A - IQ+2 15 [8]
     DX-based roll is 19 (including +2 from High Manual Dexterity)
     Per-based roll is 16 (20 by touch with +4 from Sensitive Touch)
Urban Survival Per/A - Per-1 13 [1]

Stats [180] Ads [59] Disads [-40] Quirks [-5] Skills [55] = Total [250]

As you can see:

- Why II? Because Sneaky the Thief was the NPC thief I had accompany the party in our playtest of DFA1. He was meant as a PC, but no one picked him. In any case, I already had a file for "Sneaky the Thief."

- I upped Traps a little with my discretionary points. He's one level away from qualifying for Trap Sense.

- Made him capable of mapping.

- I put 4 points in Poisons, because that'll let him quadruple up on cheap poisons for backstabs, and I make people roll Poisons sometimes in conjunction with trap disarmament.

- Those 9 points in Night Vision? Yeah, I'm still not sure that is a good idea, since it's not enough to see in the dark. I might have gone for 3 points in Night Vision (enough to eliminate the penalties out to the limits of torchlight) and used the other 6 points for another level of Perception with change left over, or perhaps a third level of High Manual Dexterity.

- Luck is something all my guys have. Face it. I don't like to play without a do-over and I'm willing to pay for the privilege.

- Honest Face? I love that one. I had to take it.

- I made him able to swim, because I don't like falling for my own pranks.

- He's only a short 8 point hop away from Nondectection, if magic detection is common, and 1 point away from Sure Grasp, if it turns out climbing is important.

All in all, he looks pretty fun. He's still no fighter, but he's not pretending to be. I do think he's a pretty good sneak-ahead-and-look guy this way. He won't sneak-and-kill, just sneak-and-report or sneak-and-steal. Given actual need in play for non-magical, quiet lockpicking and trap removal (not just "Dispel Magic or the barbarian just sets it off"), he's going to be handy at those, too. I'd give him a spin in play to see how he does.

In any case, this is one way a thief from such a modified template might look.

* Which would be three. Mark Langsdorf, Patrick Halter, and myself.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

PC Tips for my GURPS DF Game (inspired by the OSR Primer)

I really enjoyed reading Matthew J. Finch's “A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming." So much so, I thought the player tips in it would make an excellent model for a tip sheet for my own Dungeon Fantasy game.

So I went ahead and made my own version of those tips.

I have this printed out and posted on the front of my GM's screen when I run my Dungeon Fantasy campaign:

Tips for Players

1) Have a plan. Establish an object, have rendezvous points if you have to run. Establish safe points when possible. Avoid spending time and energy on things that don’t complete your goal - usually getting treasure. Remember that in most cases traps, tricks, and monsters are just a resource drain, so avoid ones you don’t need to deal with.

2) Scout ahead. When you do, use Stealth, use magic and night vision to avoid using tell-tale light sources, and be quiet.

3) Don’t assume you can beat any monster you can encounter. Game balance is for rewards, not challenges.

4) Don’t ask “What do the rules allow me to do?” Instead ask “What can I do in this situation?” and let the GM rule on the results. You might be surprised at what you accomplish.

5) Ask lots of questions about what you see. Look up. Ask about unusual stonework. Test floors before stepping. Use all of your senses.

6) Protect the mages and clerics and other squishies.

7) Hire some help. Long polearms can attack over friendies with no penalty, so hire some guys with polearms and put them behind the strong fighters! Hire light fighters for the flanks, torch bearers to carry light, and flunkies to carry the treasure.

8) Consult NPCs. Ask sages, veteran adventurers, and local notables about the dungeon, monsters, and history. Expect to pay for it, but they’ll have knowledge you don’t that can result in more treasure, more easily won.

9) Don’t be stingy. No one ever died because they tossed too many torches into corners, brought too much holy water, iron spikes, or alchemist’s fire, or spent too much money on hirelings and sages.

Based on an excerpt from “A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming” by Matthew J. Finch and Mythmere Games, 2008)

That has been up on the front of my GM screen at least since just before session 8 of my game. You can see it there when they were really alert to things above, and to checking the floor. If the GM says right before the session, you should check the ceiling, what are you going to do, ignore that?

The tips are more specific to my style of gaming, which I've said before is the worst of old school and new school (you're punished for your mistakes as a player, like old school, and limited by your character's abilities and flaws, like new school.) Plus, as you can see, I had to change some things are clearly D&D-related and not related to all other old-style fantasy gaming rules - mages aren't much of a nuke in GURPS, and in my games you're powerful enough that hired cannon fodder isn't going to be a threat later. Telling my players to view the entire game area as the battlefield is a waste of breath - they do that naturally and normally. They map a lot, and put a lot of effort into it. But some things do need to be said - look to the situation, not the rules, to determine what to do. My players can be bad about this, but so can I - when you've got a hammer in your hand, you tend to use it, not start thinking of what else you can do besides start hammering. The reminder has helped, where they've done odd things that fit the situation without knowing if "the rules" supported it or not (generally, they do, but that's not the point.)

So in a way, this tells the players not only what's useful to do, but what I as the GM am expecting from them. I'm telling them I expect scouting. I'm going to use unbalanced encounters. I'll have sages and hirelings out there. I'm giving them a short set of "how I run my game" and "how you'll benefit from acting."

I've been meaning to post these for a while. I hope they're useful to people running similar games to mine, or inspire your own set of player tips that summarize what's important in the games you are running.

Related posts:

Old School - style or rules?

Building a Better PC

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Are we playing what I think we're playing?

Jeffro has once again written an excellent post that spawned a blog post of my own in return.

Nothing Sacred: Separation of Concerns in Role Playing Games

This isn't so much a response or argument with Jeffro's post. It's something that has been percolating in my brain for a while. When I tried to comment on his rule #1, it finally emerged in text form.

Jeffro's post postulates an interesting "Rule #1" for playing at his table:

"1) Play the game I’m running, not the game you think I’m playing. If something goes wrong or else something doesn’t work out quite like you expected, you will feel a strong temptation to blame it on the rules. Don’t do that. You’re probably focusing on what other systems emphasize anyway."

I think this is a place where people - including myself - have some real difficulty in a new game with a different GM. It's really because the game the person is trying to play is the game they think you are playing. If you say, I'm running B/X D&D and I know the rules and suddenly they aren't the rules, okay, sure, the thing to do is to just roll with it.

But I'm sure as hell going to be surprised that the game isn't the one I thought I was playing. I think a way to avoid this is to make it clear at the outset that you're using a rules X as a basis of the game, but you're going to play fast and loose with them sometimes so expect differences to crop up and just roll with them. Then I'm buying into the idea.

Even then, if there are big changes, the earlier they are made clear the better.

This is why I am always hesitant to join a group for a game. I have an image in my head from reading the books of what the game is like, and what the fun part of the game is. That's what I am agreeing to play when I say "I'm in." But the GM doesn't have that same vision, and the GM's vision may in fact clash considerably with it.

I'd love to play in a B/X D&D game, but I really want to play in the game I remember from when I just got started back in '81, and the game I've read about in the books. I want someone to run the game in my head.

That's not likely to happen, but the closer the GM players it to what's written down, the better the odds that it's the game I wanted to try to play.

Imagine if I said to someone, "I always wanted to get to play AD&D, it always sounded so cool when I read it." And they said "I'll run a game and you can play." Then we start and I find out that experience doesn't come from treasure, there are no clerics or thieves or paladins, spells aren't memorized but use a spell point system, there is no resurrection magic, etc. I might be a wee bit disappointed. If I'd said, "I always wanted to get to play in an old-school fantasy game" then I'm not tying it to a set of rules assumptions and neither is the GM. It's the difference between "I want to play a card game" and "I want to play Hearts." I'm going to be sorely upset when I say Hearts and you pull out playing cards and proceed to start playing Poker.

Some people will read that and say, it's the GM's game. Yes and no. If it's the GM's game, why do I get a character to play and get to make decisions? Because it's my game too. It's the game of everyone at the table. And if we're agreeing on the ruleset at the outset, even in a cooperative game/non-competitive game, finding out we mean different things by the words we're using is a great chance for awkwardness and surprise to come in where entertainment and fun should be. The sooner it's cleared up, the better. "I'll run GURPS" tells you a lot less than "I use GURPS, but with some house rules and a lot of the optional rules turned off. Are there any rules you're banking on being in play with the guy you have in mind? If so, let's talk about them first."

This isn't a question of the rules protecting the player from the GM, or vice-versa. Or even of settling arguments. The rules are there to give a consistent basis to the rulings you make in play. It's that consistent basis, and a set of assumptions about how the game is expected to run for things that haven't happened in play yet,

When I play a game, I tend to be pretty easy - whatever the GM says goes, even if it violates the rules (although I may stop and ask if it was intentional). Even so, there is a solid basic agreement with the expectations of the game.

Still, I am a big fan of making a ruling and checking the rules later, and sticking with the effects and results of in-play decisions for the duration of the game.

At my own table, I think the first rule reads more like this:

1) If the game you observe clashes with the game you read, then play the game you observe. What happens in play - by accident or design, due to rulings or rules or chance, is the game we're playing. What happens then and what happens going forward is based on that more so than anything written down in the books. The books are there to help us make that happen, not change anything that did happen. If something seems flat-out wrong, we'll check it after the game and go with what seems best going forward.

Rule Zero, of course, is "The GM has the last word." To quote the GURPS Line Editor, "GURPS is a strong Rule Zero game" (you can read Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch say so here, if you use Find.)

But it all works better if we're all thinking we're playing the same game in the first place.

Monday, May 13, 2013

DFM1 Giant Apes hurling Rocks

I love giant apes. So naturally, when it came time to write GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 I was all over writing up my game's giant apes for the book.

One criticism I've heard of the giant apes in that book is that, well, they're just big physical unarmed attackers. If you aren't making rules to ease the problems with unarmed strikes, they can get hurt when attacking. Their defenses aren't terribly high, either. So they are a physical threat but can be diced up by a prepared party (or even a prepared warrior). This isn't really a crushing flaw, though - they aren't really meant to be a "boss" monster unmodified, not against a supernaturally-assisted party of adventurers. For that you need Prefixes and Suffixes, like "Ghostly" or "Juggernaut" or ". . . from Hell" and the like. Still, it does mean they look tougher than they really are much of the time.

One thing they could really use is a way to reach out an touch someone unwilling to come into their (pretty substantial) reach, or who is flat-out dangerous to touch. They've got IQ 6, they're not so dull they can't figure out not to touch the guy in spiked armor or keep trying to punch Mr. Stabby the Swashbuckler. Giving them a tree branch to whack people with can help with the melee part, but what if they want to deal with pesky Scouts and flying Wizards?

I say throw some rocks.

So let's see how heavy of a rock they can hurl at their foes.

Throw Rocks

Giant Apes have ST 43 and Arm ST +2, for a new ST 45 for throwing and BL 405. What can they hurl at you, usefully?

The sweet spot of throwing is just above BL/2, so you do thrust +1/die and get good range. So this is a rock (or tree trunk) of about 205 lbs (more than 202.5, to be exact).

With a smaller rock, say 102 lbs (over 101.25, or BL/4) damage is lower but range is better.

They don't have the skill now, but that's easily solved - give them Throwing-14 if you're doing to have them use it in combat.

Giant Ape hurling Rocks
Little rock or tree branch (51 lbs.): 5d-5 crushing, Range 90 yards
Small rock or tree branch (102 lbs.): 5d crushing, Range 51 yards
Large rock or tree branch (205 lbs.): 5d+5 crushing, Range 34 yards

To just be mean, allow a thrown tree branch to be treated as a throwing stick and do swing damage. An SM+4-sized throwing stick does sw+2 crushing, weighs 25 lbs, Acc 1, ST 30, and range x4/x8.

Throwing stick: 7d+3 crushing, Acc 1, Range 180/360

How about the big guys?

A King of the Apes has ST 65 and Arm ST +2, for a net 67 ST for throwing and BL 898. In that case:
Little rock or tree branch (113 lbs.): 7d-6 crushing, Range 134 yards
Small rock or tree branch (225 lbs.): 7d+1 crushing, Range 80 yards
Large rock or tree branch (450 lbs.): 7d+8 crushing, Range 53 yards

And the SM+5 throwing stick?

Throwing Stick: 9d+5 crushing, Acc 1, Range 268/536

Sure, with Throwing-14 (and Thrown Weapon (Stick) if you go that route) they won't have a great chance to hit, but it's good enough for harassing fire, and if they hit, you really do need to get out of the way.

Adding the rocks above just makes "I back up faster than he advances shooting him" or "I hover out of range and shoot him" to be a bit riskier. It also makes possible what my extensive video game research tells me is an common ape tactic: standing on top of scaffolding hurling barrels at you as you approach.

* And by the way, if you choose to treat unarmed strikes as a BL/20 weapon instead of ST/10, ape punches and grapples are 20.25 pound weapons, making most SM+0 sized weapons risky to parry with. Stomps should be be treated as a whole-body attack like slam, and thus 43 lbs. For a King of the Apes, it's 44.9 lbs and 65 lbs. Good lucky parrying those with almost any weapon.

Friday, May 10, 2013

RIP Ray Harryhausen & the Ebony Death Goddess

Thanks Ray. Without you, I wouldn't write crazy stuff like this.

Ebony Death Goddess

A golem-like construct in the form of 6’ midnight-black statue of a six-armed nude woman. It is made of some unknown stone-like material. Usually found guarding dark temples, or springing from magical statuettes made by some unknown creator. They project a magical field around their swords that allows them to shear through armor with ease. The swords, however, are usually mundane.

ST: 20 (2-1/3+2)    HP: 20      Speed: 7.50
DX: 15                 Will: 12    Move: 8
IQ: 8                    Per: 12
HT: 15                 FP: N/A    SM: +0

Dodge: 11+DB 2   Parry (x4)/Block (x2): 14+DB 2    DR: 5

Scimitar (20) (x4):
3d+3 (2) cutting or 2d (2) impaling; Reach 1. Usually launched as Deceptive Attacks -2 (4 in 6, effective skill 16) or Deceptive Attack -4 (2 in 6, effective skill 12).

Traits: Automaton; Cannot Learn; Combat Reflexes; Dark Vision; Doesn’t Breathe; Doesn’t Eat or Drink; Doesn’t Sleep; Extra Attack 3; Fragile (Unnatural); High Pain Threshold; Immunity to Metabolic Hazards; Indomitable; Injury Tolerance (Homogenous, No Blood); Pressure Support 3; Reprogrammable; Unfazeable; Unhealing (Total); Temperature Tolerance 10; Vacuum Support.
Skills: Broadsword-20 and Shield-20.
Class: Construct.
Notes: Cannot negotiate. Carries four scimitars and two indestructible medium shields (DB 2). Dull-witted but they fight intelligently. While it will engage multiple foes, it will generally try to attack one target as much as possible. Can and will use Cross Parry (see GURPS Martial Arts, p. 131) to deal with heavy attacks or if it needs a +2; Disintegrates into dust when destroyed, leaving only four normal quality scimitars (each $600, 3 lbs.); its shields are made of the same mysterious material as the statue and will disintegrate with it.

Designer's Notes: This is probably my most Harryhausen-inspired monster. GURPS has the Peshakli, a form of six-armed demon, but I wanted a humanoid figure like the walking statue of Kali in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

I converted a Reaper mini into one, so the rest of the stats matches what I had - a six-armed figure with four swords and two shields. (I chopped off the original mini's weaponry and armed her further, then painted her gloss black with silvery swords. The form can easily be changed - a hulking statue is the same but SM+1 and probably should get more ST. A snake body can be added - add No Legs (Slithers), Put it on a spider body for way too many limbs (add Horizontal and Six Legs).

I've used these both as guardian statues (in a place my players never went to) and as a magical item - a one-shot statuette, which, when thrown down and commanded to live, grows instantly into the monster above and fights on behalf of the owner, following verbal commands.

Enjoy this and the rest of the Ray Harryhausen gaming blogfest.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

GURPS Melee Academy - Stop Hit

"When a man is coming toward you, you need not say: "Come here." "
  - Ashanti Proverb

Wait can be a tricky option in GURPS. Deferring an action, or even just part of one, in a rolling turn sequence system can get complicated quickly.
Knowing when to defer an action to an external trigger* can be tricky. Digesting all of the options that you have when you Wait only adds to it. This Melee Academy post focuses on Wait, and its options and uses.

* For example, "I Wait and Attack the first guy who comes in range" or "I pull this rope tight after the first guy comes through the door."

Stop Hit

"Dorian attacked - and died.
[. . .]
Dorian had not been a great swordman, but he was certainly skilled. Yet the old man had batted aside the slashing sword and in one flowing motion returned the attack , all without moving his feet."

- David Gemmell, "Against the Horde" (aka "Legend")

Druss does a lot of Stop Hits.

I like to think that's best represented in GURPS by a Stop Hit. Yes, it could also be a Parry and Counterattack, but the "one flowing motion" makes it sound like Druss swept right through the attack. He does that a lot.

But Stop Hits are a risky move.

How so?

You're betting that:

- your opponent will attack you with an attack you can Parry.

- that you will win (what effectively is) a Quick Contest of Skills and get your strike in first, forcing him into a -1 to defend (-3 to defend with the same weapon).

- that you will be able to defend after all is said and done - and if you lose or tie, you're doing so at a penalty. If not, you get a normal defense.

Why Not Just Wait?

A normal Wait action will let you interrupt and attack first - which forces him to defend and might forestall an attack in the first place. If you hit and he fails to defend, you might take him out, stun him, cripple a limb, inflict enough Shock penalty that he'll miss, force him to Parry with his Parry U weapon, make him decide to Retreat and take himself out of his own reach in exchange for that plus to defend. Really, going first has all sorts of advantages.

But there are cases where that Stop Hit risk is really your best choice.

Double-Dagger - a double-daggered weapon needs to be re-readied after an attack. You can't Parry with it while it's unready, you can't attack. But Stop Hit lets you ignore that and get the Parry anyway, since you're combining your motions into one and hoping it both parries the incoming attack and hits your opponent. This way you get both, and you can re-Ready on your next turn.

Parry U, and Bad Defenses - If parry is your best option, and you can't really rely on your Dodge (below 1/3 HP, maybe?) or Block (or don't have a shield) or your off-hand Parry (or don't have one), and your weapon can't both attack and defend on the same turn, think about Stop Hit. You can still Parry, and still attack, without going for a weaker Defensive Attack.

You're just that much better - if you're sure you're going to be attacked, and sure you can beat your own skill by a better margin than your opponent can, this is a good option. You'll win the contest and defend normally, and inflict extra defense penalties on your opponent.

Your opponent is heavily penalized - the more penalties on your opponent, the better, but this way you make it more likely you'll hit first, or hit and not be hit in return.

Stop Hit Oddities: This option somewhat amusingly makes aimed attacks and Deceptive Attacks against you riskier, because of the lower effective skill. And if makes it risky for you to do them in return. Oddly Telegraphic Attacks might get in first (+4 is a big plus to your skill) but make the Stop Hitter more likely to parry, reducing the risk of trying it.*

* If that sort of thing bothers you, you can resolve Stop Hit with an additional Quick Contest of Skill vs. Skill that doesn't take into account bonuses or penalties on the "to hit" roll. It's an extra roll, but not a terribly onerous one as it doesn't come up that often. It further aids the skilled guys, who benefit from both raw skill and the ability to aim shots and make them Deceptive Attacks during a Stop Hit.

Again, none of this is safe. Stop Hits are a gamble, and they can be a big gamble. I'm already anticipating comments that boil down to "no one does these because there are safer options." Yes, there are. Yes, most people will choose the safer options. But if you have some restrictions on Parry, or your so much better you're confident you can win the contest, or you really need to inflict a penalty to defend, it's an option. If you are skilled, aggressive, and under attack, this can be "free" penalties to defend for your opponent. Take your chances and go for it, and you might sweep aside his attack, too, and return it in a Druss-like life-ending swing. Only the dice will tell . . .

More Melee Academy Links

Other contributions can be found:

Orbs and Balrogs - Christian Blouin writes about creating and holding combat initiative
RPG Snob - Jason Packer throws down about combat pacing
Gaming Ballistic - Douglas Cole writes about using Wait to grapple.
No School Grognard - Mark Langsdorf writes about tactical positioning.
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