Wednesday, May 25, 2016

More on longer delves in Felltower

So the other day I was noodling on about longer delves in Felltower. I got some interesting suggestions, most of which I waved off.

It's probably annoying to give me advice, because my answer is frequently, "No, not that."

Part of this is just me. But most of it in this case is because I'll know the solution I want to try when I see it.

Also it's because my goal in this case is:

- a player-facing solution, with minimum in-game effects;

and

- a single solution that fits many circumstances;

but also

- primarily addresses the meta-game issues from multi-session trips in the dungeon while keeping the go-and-return delve setup.

Obviously, safe rooms, one-time same zones, helpful-wizard-in-a-room, dungeon towns, etc. are an in-game solution to longer delves.

But all of those add a place for the PCs, mid-session, to rest, recuperate, and potentially resupply. I don't have an issue with that in some cases. Sometimes, that's what I want - and I've put safe zones like that in my game. The PCs know of one in the Cold Fens, at least one in Felltower, and one that they could potentially use as one also in Felltower.

While they'd explain why a PC can drop out and be safe, so would a sufficient amount of handwavium and willing suspension of disbelief. They also fail to easily explain how new PCs would get there, especially if access to the multi-session areas of the dungeon is restricted in some way. You know, "We read the cursed scroll, how did you get here?" "There was a spare cursed scroll." Or, "We jumped through the closing gate, and it turns out we could have waited until you showed up?"

Like I said, though, I don't need them to accomplish some of what I'd like to do. Neither would they solve the rest. And they'd add complications - a "dungeon town" you can rest in means it's possible the game is now based out of Dungeon Town. I might like that, but it doesn't solved the cursed scroll issue. It doesn't help when we're quitting mid-gigantic-combat because people have to leave because of real-world concerns.

And pausing mid-combat if we have to isn't a big deal. We've done that multiple times and I expect to do it again.

When we stop a session, we pause game-world time for those characters. So if you play on 1/10/2016 and do three sessions in the dungeon that last half of one game-day and the last one is on 4/23/16, and then the next time we play is on 5/24/16, how does time pass? Simple. You were in the dungeon on 1/10/2016 until 1/10/2016, left, and were having downtime until 5/24/16.* We do fixed downtime actions, costs, etc. so it's no more or less than you'd get anyway, just more time passed.

It's also an issue that I expect some of these longer delve areas to be planned delves, but others to be surprises. Sometimes you know there is a one-way door, a one-shot access point, a gate that you can only open once, etc. and you go right there and start the delve. Other times, it'll be one last door, I just pull this lever, let's just read the scroll now in case it's healing, this is probably a secret door to a treasure vault not a treasure-filled-temporary sub-level, etc. It's not really about multi-session trips through the deep dark caverns and sleeping in dungeons or how do I do downtime in a dungeon. It's when Players A, B, C, and D do something that takes a couple of sessions and then next session I have Players B, C, D, E, and F.

Ultimately, what I'm trying to figure out is how to still have a pick-up game where people come and go. A game where we start and end in town whenever possible, just for the sheer logistical ease this has for the players and the GM. A game where delves are rewarded, not sessions, encouraging go-and-return delving and keeping a move on, because dragging things out ultimately lowers the rewards earned. But also to have larger areas that will necessarily take multiple sessions. All solved with a minimum of in-game modifications or additions that could have unforseen consequences.

That's a tough combination, I know that.

Some things I can handwave, sometimes. Others, not so much. And experience when it actually happens will shape it all. But still I need to have some basic rules down so I can see how they work when it comes up. I like the bits I have so far, but the core issue - players coming and going - I still don't have solved. But I expect I'll know what I want to try when I see it.




* Just to simplify further, you ordered a magic item when you left that three-session delve, it would be put down as being purchased on the day you told me you wanted it . . . turns out you forgot to order it until the day you told me. No back-checking, back-ordering, etc. unless circumstances explain that - like when Vryce's player said, "I'll fully re-equip, can I do that when I'm about to run Vryce?" so we back-dated his purchases to then. Because it wasn't back dating since he asked back then . . .

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Minis: Horde Pygmies

I actually can't recall what line these minis are from. I bought a bunch of boxes of minis all at the same time at a pretty low price during a visit to The Compleat Strategist in NYC. These guys must have come in now-lost blister packs.

I had an island full of nasty blowgunning pymgies in my last campaign, inspired by one in Sean Punch's fantasy game. These guys fit the bill. They're not the only blowgunning pygmies I have or used, but I do like them a lot.

Monday, May 23, 2016

New reading material: Isle of the Unknown

I just got an excellent if belated present yesterday (scheduling has been tough):

Isle of the Unknown



At first look, it's nice. It's very pretty, the layout is nice, and it's easy to read and attractively illustrated. It's a sandbox, and a pretty big one. And pictures help a lot - plenty of "you run into this!" illustrations.

On the other hand, it seems like it would take a lot of work to run - it's pretty bare-bones, because of the size - and there are some crazy-odd monsters. Like a ankylosaurus-looking raspberry. An axe-handed rat (life is worse than for the hooked horror, probably.) A killer koala. At least two say "continuously drenched in its own blood." They're unique, I'll give them that.

I think idea was that I'd sure find a way to mine it for ideas. Which I will. I'll dig around through it and try to get a review up when my schedule has a hole in it for writing about what I'm reading.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Longer delves in Felltower?

I'm starting to think about longer delves in Felltower.

One of the central, fundamental decisions about my game is that you start and end in town.

We've had to violate that a few times, where it simply wasn't possible in game to leave the dungeon given the time we had in the real world to play. But that's only happen a bit less than one session in ten. Not bad given the vagaries of time to complete combats, the occasional "shortcut" that dumps the party deeper in the dungeon, and so on.

It also allows me to present "extend the session" as an option, but with a cost. I only hand out XP for delves, and a delve is defined as ending in town. Want XP for a session? End it in town. Spent two sessions in the dungeon, you get one delve's worth of XP for it. The PCs have pushed this to a three-session delve once, and ended up with nothing more than they took during day one. Not a great way to advance your character.

I don't intend to end that "start and end in town" rule. It's a good one because it allows for attendance as you wish. Players can make game-time decisions about which PC to run, which NPCs to truck along, what to do, etc. It's a good basic rule for the game.

But . . .

But my players are beginning to edge towards exploring areas that will have to take multiple sessions. Areas which may not be easy to go-and-return, go-and-return from iteratively. Some areas are absolutely take-it-or-leave-it, one-time offers. I don't want to give away too many details, but it'll be clearer when the players find them. It's fair to spend more time in them. It would be silly to make such areas and then force rapid exploration and immediate return.

On the other hand, I don't want to encourage people to willingly stay multiple sessions in the dungeon willy-nilly, figuring that they'll amortize the fixed costs of getting in the dungeon across a few sessions of delving. That might make sense in a mix of game and real-world logic. However it also means that players that missed session one of a multi-session delve have nothing to do except run an NPC (maybe.) It also means that if you're there for session one, you might have to let others run your guy and potentially get him killed off. That's not fun.

How to deal with that? I have a few rough ideas.*

GM-Forced Multisession XP

One idea is if the GM is forcing a multisession delve, then XP is per session, not per delve. However, XP award needs are based on multiple of the usual needs and awards.

For example, if you need X loot to get 4 xp, then you need 3x to get 12 xp in a forced three-session delve. Failure to meet that means you'd get 6xp. You'd need a very large swatch of territory explored to get bonus XP for exploring. Many lost NPCs and PCs would be -3, not -1, and a clean run would be 3 xp, not 1 xp.

(I could do this by session, period - award at the end, don't allow spending until town, and make a 3-part delve into a series of three individual delves . . . that seems annoying at best, and leads to complications about lost treasures, when PCs die, etc. So, no.)

So yeah, you could potentially go into an area that will require multiple sessions and come out with between 15 and 21 XP (sufficient loot, lots and lots and lots of new exploration, clean run). Of course, you could have done three individual delves and gotten those same points, too.

Who decides?

Almost certainly me, the GM, with some input from the players. "We want to spend just a little more time exploring this sublevel behind the one-way door" isn't going to cut it. "Sorry, guys, this room will implode one hour after you leave it, gone forever" certainly will. It wouldn't normally be for just exploring Felltower. I put in some easy ways to get around (once you get past the crust of defenses, and figure out where they are and how to use them) so this wouldn't have to happen. If you just want to extend your dungeon time because you don't want to pay the orcs another 1000 sp, that's fine, XP is still for one delve.

I say "almost certainly" because the other option is just my decision, with no input. I wouldn't hand this over to a consensus decisions because it undermines the fundamental rule. It would become, more generally, delves are as many sessions as you want them to be. I'm looking to handle special cases, so I ned to have most or all of the input on what's a special case.

How many sessions?

I'll probably have to think of a par for each area that I consider like this. If I think something is a two-session-delve area, and you take three sessions, I'll award XP based on two delves.

Complications

And there are some direct complications, not just decisions to make, too.

Time

One complication is that I have one day of real time = one day of game time (although the reverse isn't exactly true.) I'll have to decide on a case-by-case basis what that means. If a room is on Elf Hill time, that's fine, whatever time passed out of game passed in game. Otherwise, there may be forced adjustment back in town. "You left on Sunday 5/22/16, the delve was one-game-day, and you took the next seven weeks off to recover. It's now Sunday 7/10/2016."

Players

I'm not at all sure how I'll handle players joining in. Leaving is okay - someone else runs your guy. We've done that even though it's not ideal. What happens if the players are in a multi-session delve and someone shows up?

One idea I have is to put in a new group. If Vryce, Dryst, Mo, Hasdrubel, and Gale are in a multi-session delve and then the next week Mo's player can't make it and Gale's and Hjalmarr's show up and want to play, well, we build a group around them. Vryce's player could run Gerry. Dryst's player could run Angus McSwashy. Hsdrubel's player can make up a new guy. Etc. So long as that group does a normal go-and-return session and won't overlap oddly with the other group, we're fine. We could have:

Group A goes in.
Group B goes in and comes back.
Group A continues.
Group A finishes and returns.

I could do a really weird gamey solution like, "he was following you all along" (we've done it, it works) but in some cases that won't work. "You followed us through the cursed teleporting scroll we read?" That might be a bit much sometimes. So would handing out PC summoning items (Break the stick, and a PC of your choice shows up - why wouldn't you abuse the hell out of that? It creates more problems than it solves.) GURPS Dungeon Fantasy lacks the Teleport spell for a reason, too - not just to prevent bypassing in-dungeon obstacles but also to avoid making "go back to town and get it" or "I'll just ferry us back to town with Teleport" a simple solution to most problems.

For what I'm thinking, it's unlikely there would be interaction beyond, "I'd highly recommend you don't go into that room." Unless, of course, group B is a delve meant to link up everyone for some giant combined session. Not that I want one-player, two-character situations in this campaign. Been there, done that, it was a blast, but it wasn't 250-400+ point characters.


So yeah, this is what I'm mulling over if the players do head into areas that really aren't conducive to go-and-return delving.



* None of these are final. None of this is decided. Absolutely none of this applies to our current split-session ended-in-the-dungeon session whatsoever.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Some thoughts on standard arrowhead variations

We had a short discussion of arrows and arrowheads in my last game session. This occasioned some thoughts and comments I figured I'd share.

Blunts: These obviously are "war blunts," since they don't have a penalty to damage or a armor multiplier. A tipless blunt is just a wooden arrow, and those have a bunch of problems. They're half cost, but that's probably because you don't need to put a point or an edge on them.

If you do want no-tip arrows, or you convert an arrrow into a blunt by removing the tip, I'd treat these as cheap wooden weapons, with -1 Acc, -5 to both ranges, and a (0.5) armor divisor.

Cutting arrows: These things do serious cut damage. How serious? A ST 13 composite bow does 1d+3 cutting damage with them. Min/Av/Max is 4/6.5/9. A minimum damage hit on an unarmored HP 10 man will cripple his arm or leg. A roughly average damage hit - let's say 7, because you can't roll 6.5 - would almost do enough to automatically dismember the arm or leg, and 8 or 9 will dismember. Youch. And ST 13 composite bows aren't exactly lofty weapons of legend, either - a ST 11 man with Strongbow 2 can draw one. Bows in my DF game are more usually in the ST 15-19 range, and crossbows even heavier.

So these are clearly not dinky little moon-shaped arrowheads for cutting banners off of poles, but a thrown blade powered by a bow.

One suggestion my players came up with was an armor divisor of (0.5). That would make them still arm-lopping on unarmed foes but quickly drop off the effectiveness scale against more armored foes. Makes sense - who pulls out the crescent arrow or Y- or U- shaped arrowhead to punch through plate or mail or an o-yoroi? Of course, that might seem pretty unfair when you look at any other cutting attack versus armor.

Can they target vitals? Seems like you could aim for the heart with them, but is it going to be as easy to penetrate as with a broadhead? One option here is to say yes, but it changes the injury multiplier from x1.5 to x2, much like cutting the neck does. Only unlike the neck, it's rare for the vitals to be less armored. I wouldn't allow an eye strike except on a very large subject simply because the orbital bone of a skull is well-designed to stop broad-area attacks from entering the brain. Of course, you could just say "no, vitals is x3 injury" but then there is no good reason to use impaling arrows - they're marginally better against the torso but worse against limbs, no better against the neck, etc.

Still, the problem remains - this is pretty much a niche arrowhead, but in game terms, it's making up for a lot of the weakness of the better missile weapons (bows, crossbows), especially versus supernatural foes or solid objects.

One further way to deal with this is reduced damage. They can simply not hit as hard, thanks to the arrowhead's shape, less ability to focus force, etc. The way to do this is give them -1 or -2 damage. Even with -2 that ST 13 composite bow will do 1d+1 (2/4.5/7) and still have some solid effects, but they're toned down. 2/3 of the time an unarmored man will have a crippled limb, but can't get dismembered by the arrows until a ST 15 or 17 bow shows up and rolls well.

I'm not sure if I'll do this - it really depends on how my players feel about it. But I am at least considering the damage reduction overall, but allowing an improved injury multiplier for the vitals.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Top signs adventurers have been here already

Here are some clear signs you've had adventurers come through an area.

All statues are destroyed. Or at least broken up and knocked over. After all, they could have been golems so they needed to be attacked. Then, if they weren't golems, clearly they were housing treasure or covering up some treasure.

Doors are destroyed, or spiked and locked and barred. Adventurers never forgive a stuck door, and slay them utterly. On the other hand, a door that will open clearly can be used to get the adventurers from behind. Those will be locked, barred, jammed, and spiked to the best of the adventurer's abilities. If those doors lead nowhere, so much the better. Clearly there is a secret door they just can't find past it which conceals grave danger.

Traps are re-set. Pretty much, if a trap can be re-set after what it guards is gone, delvers will have done that. A group of thorough and expert adventurers will leave behind a heavily trapped corridor to a locked (and spiked!) vault door to an empty vault. They may add their own traps, just to get future adventurers who might try to loot their already looted places. Great is the fear of, and jealousy of, other adventuring groups.

Furniture is hacked up. Or, honestly, just gone without a trace to be sold to "collectors" the delvers have convinced themselves are out there. You know, the kind that buy moldy old dungeon furniture at a markup. The rest will have been hacked into tiny pieces to ensure there wasn't any treasure hidden inside, legs broken off to see if they're actually staves, wands, or rods, and chair cushions carefully sliced open to check for gems. Mirrors will be broken, in case they spring magical evil twins.

Bodies are dismembered. The intact ones have already walked off as undead servants under the control of the party's spellcasters. The others have been thoroughly rendered lootless. Teeth, possibly valuable organs, skins, clothing, weapons, fingers that could conceal loot, etc. have been cut off.*

Weapons are broken. No adventurer is foolish enough to leave weapons lying around. If they can't be taken immediately to be cashed in in town, they'll be cached secretly for later. If that's not practical (or simply not trivially easy), they'll be destroyed. Hacked up, smashed, burned to cinders, and otherwise ruined. If that's not possible, they'll be trapped and/or hidden.

Dead ends are heavily marked up. A dead end always has a secret door, therefore all dead ends will be scorched, hacked, marked with pick marks, and tapped. They may also be trapped, to nail any rival adventurers attempting to find the as-yet-undiscovered secret door the original delvers couldn't find in their previous half-dozen attempts to find the door that must be there.


More to come in the future I'm sure . . .






* By the way, in any game system, this only takes "one round." That's 1 second, 6 seconds, one minute, etc. - plenty of time for a complete and thorough search that finds all loot. Usually this can be done simultaneously with other actions, such as fighting, running away full speed, casting spells, or looting other bodies.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

DF Underwater Combat Light

Last session in my DF game, we had an underwater fight.

I knew there were underwater combat rules somewhere, but I couldn't remember where. So I just winged it.

What I ruled was:

- Swimming move is per Basic Set p. B354.

- To hit is -4 for attacking into or out of water, 1/10th range (which didn't come up), lightning wouldn't penetrate water.

- No swinging attacks, but I was ready to rule if people sawed.

- Half damage for broad-area thrusting attacks (slams, shield bashes).

- Thrusting attacks unaffected if you're Aquatic, Amphibious, or have Swim on (which ultimately the only fighting PCs did).

- No Retreat.

After the session, as I drove home, I remembered where the rules are - in a digest form in the excellent GURPS Martial Arts: Yrth Fighting Styles.

I went home and looked them up.

They felt both too complicated and too generous for my DF game. Lots of penalties, even for thrusting attacks (a standard spear or trident would be -8 to hit, for example), and pretty weak penalties for swinging attacks. Oh sure, -1 per die per yard of reach isn't nice, but it's basically no penalty in DF. Vryce would go from Skill-27 and 4d+12 cutting to Skill-19 and 4d+4 cutting. Average damage 18 underwater? Eh . . . I could double the penalty so it's basically -1d per 1d, but that's nerfing the weak and leaving the strong pretty well off. Even without a Swim spell he'd be able to fight in the water not much worse than in the air . . . No word on shield bashes underwater, either.

Also, you can Retreat, too, if you have the right skills or right traits (including the Swim spell.) That I still can't get my head around. Maybe you can veer off course while swimming at speed, but go from stationary to one yard back for a +1 or +3 to defenses? I just can't see it, even for pretty nimble fish. Water has more resistance than air, and even if you can potentially move in three dimensions up-and-back it's not going to be as fast. Dodge and move forward for a slip? That I could maybe see. I could see reduced Retreat bonuses, maybe, but even so . . . it's a pretty generous concession.

Obviously, I'm looking at a summary subset of the rules from Pyramid and Roger Burton Wests's Fathom Five article.

But even so, I feel like the guesstimates I made on the day were a little more DF-like for my tastes. Underwater creatures are pretty well off. Surface dwellers need magic to get around well. Fighting underwater is limited to thrusts but given the right spells and traits you can triumph.

Short version? Fighting in water should be limited, favor the fish, and be a real change of pace from "I swing and cut it in half."

Here is what I'm thinking . . .

DF Felltower Underwater Combat (Simple)

- Swimming move is per Basic Set p. B354.

- Weapon skills are capped by Swimming skill, unless you have the Swim spell on or are Aquatic or Amphibious.

- No Reach 1+ weapon swinging attacks underwater. Sawing, close combat weapon swings, etc. use thrust-based damage. Based on maximum reach.

- Thrusting and unarmed attacks are unpenalized.

- Attacks into and out of the water are at -4, 1/10 range, -1 per die of damage, some attacks can't penetrate.

- Shield bashes do half damage and are -2 x DB to hit.

- No Parry except unarmed or purely close combat weapons, no Block (but you get DB), Dodge is normal for your move, no Retreat (except with Ethereal Body or Walk Through Water).

Plus the usual rulings as needed. I've already made a fair amount of concessions to "if it looks like a Bond-vs-Frogmen fight, it's not penalized" so I'm not inclined to make more. I'd deal out of a lot of "No, even though you're a Weapon Master with the Swim spell on." You wouldn't need to make a lot of Swimming rolls, or anything else besides "fight more or less normally."

Those rules would explain fishmen with spears and shields (great on land, great offense in the water, no real loss when you can't Block) and saw-edged swords and knives, and encourage special underwater crossbows (spearguns!) and grappling and knife fighting. At the same time, it makes powerful spells powerful, and encourages PCs to do water-specific moves (stab instead of cut, grapple, pick touch spells over Lightning, etc.)


I'm leaning very heavily to the latter. It's both pretty fair, it is simple, and it didn't cause any complaints or weirdness last session, either. A simple set of rules that worked smoothly is probably the way to go. No need for specialized skills, either. Save Aquabatics for the Aquabats!

And yes, Swim is very powerful. It should be, it's cost 6/3 and has a lot of prereqs. Its wording did engender some "doesn't suffer penalties means I fight in water like it's air" arguments until I said, no, "impossible to do" isn't a penalty. And it's not a D&D-like Free Action item that says, basically, throw out the rules and pretend you're fighting on land. Those are lame, really, because they take an interesting environment and say "nevermind, it's normal."
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