Saturday, March 28, 2015

Looking forward to Sunday's game

I'm looking forward to game tomorrow, more than usual. Why?

- We have a player coming back after an absence (running Galoob Jah, last seen groping a trap.)

- We have a fairly large group coming (6 players). We have seven on the definitely active list, but one can't make it because of a scheduling conflict. We have another who is trying to fit game back into his schedule, too. After months of "4 regulars" we're getting a little larger set of regular players.

- We will finally get to see that necromancer* Vryce's player made. He's been bringing him session after session, only to have to put him back because they needed Vryce's firepower for that session. I have notes about his spell selection from November 2012. So for people who feel bad that Vryce's player had to put his best guy aside for a while, remember he's been waiting almost 2 1/2 years to run his backup guy. And I'll get to see if the decisions we made about a new spell are both balanced and fun. It's probably balanced, but we'll see if it's sufficiently fun.

- Spoiler: Despite losing their skiffs and getting the altar dropped onto their secret door exit, the bandits raided some merchants in the area in the past week. They aren't a bunch of swollen corpses or paralyzed into inaction thanks to the altar-pushing expedient from last time.

- The players - and their characters - have a much better idea of what to expect. They're certain to load up on rations, several of them learned Boating and Survival (Swampland), and they know what's on tap. They know they have a mix of supernatural foes and mundane foes with supernatural support.

- I'm curious to see how the mix we expect tomorrow will handle the dungeon. In theory, knowing what they face could mean more aggression, as people are dealing with known opponents. Without their best straight-up fighter (the shirtless, and often pantsless, Bjorn), any fight against the bandits will be much tougher. There aren't any NPCs free to fill out their front ranks, which might be an issue for this party (two wizards, one cleric, one holy warrior with an emphasis on holy not warrior, one thief, one martial artist, and two 70~ point NPC halberdiers.) But hey, this is a shakedown adventure with a lot of 250-point guys. As long as people don't take the approach that any risk is a bad risk, or that their 250-point paper men are too valuable to risk in a fight, it should be fine for the survivors.

- One concern there is the "spend 5-6 hours trying to avoid the difficult stuff we found last time" move. I've as much as stated outright that finding a sneaking way into the dungeon unguarded by and not known by the current occupants isn't a terribly realistic plan. It's one that depends on a dungeon with a second entrance and one that egresses into the dungeon in a place such that the inhabitants don't recognize it's a way in. Iffy, at best. They can try to find another way in - I won't say if there is, or is not, another way in. But I asked them not to spend the whole afternoon trying to search a 2.5 mile per side triangular tree/shrub/vine/tangle covered island (that's about 2.7 sq. miles) for a new way in. There might be one, but there might not, and adventure definitely awaits beyond the entrance they know. Like gaining new access to Felltower, blind search isn't the best way to spend an entire session.

All in all, though, it should be a good session, so I'm looking forward to it.

* That's a wizard specializing in necromancy spells, not the Necromancer template from DF9. I may offer him the power-ups from that template, though, in lieu of the "usual" wizard ones.

How I deal with encumbrance in non-GURPS games.

The other day I mentioned that I run encumbrance strictly in GURPS, and that I think the importance it rates in the game and the ease of handling it (clear and discrete levels, real world measurement) encouraged me to do that.

In Swords & Wizardry, I said I just eyeball my gear and estimate. There is a pretty good reason for this. As far as I can tell, in S&W Complete:

- Weapons are extremely heavy (10 pound bastard swords, 10 pound spears, 2 pound daggers, etc.)
- Armor isn't exactly light, either (70 pound plate armor)
- Non-weapon equipment doesn't have any listed weights at all.
- A "normal" level of gear, not counting armor and weapons, is 10 pounds.
- We're playing a 100 coins/pound treasure system.

So I eyeball it. Non-weapon gear is a basically set amount of vague total weight for a nebulous amount of gear. Maybe to make up for that, armor and weapons are very heavy. My armor and weapons load alone puts me close to my 105 limit for move 12. Add in the 10 pounds and treasure and I go right to move 9. Move 6 is like 70 pounds away from my starting point, which is 7000 coins. Most of the time that's not what we're carrying around. Since my move can't ever go up to 12, and rarely (let's say never in actual play) goes to 6. So I don't track encumbrance. The game makes it not-important. It doesn't care so I sure don't either. (On the other hand, I have a five-digit XP total exact down to the ones column, and a treasure total tracked the same way. Those matter a whole lot in S&W! I bet most other OSR types have their XP total as exact as I do, too)

In D&D5, encumbrance is a little more detailed. But I found that my armor choice determined my move and encumbrance level rather more than anything else. So again, eyeballing it based on my very large gear choices. I don't carry a lot of assorted crud in dungeons (probably a smaller assortment of gear than the stuff I carry in my actual toted-to-work-and-play backpack, which is chock full of everything). So I could make an almost certainly accurate assessment of my load based mainly on my big combat gear.

In our AD&D days, tracking encumbrance was such a pain I think I started handing out Heward's Handy Haversacks and Bags of Holding ASAP so I'd have an excuse to not keep track. I still don't really get the whole coins-to-relative-bulk-and-weight thing. I mean, I understand the intent but I had to look up everything, and I don't think anyone really knew what to do with it all. We played totally mapless and didn't track torch burning times or anything, either, so movement rate didn't matter unless you were faster than human. We'd read about poor Dimwall and Drudge but we wouldn't calculate encumbrance. We might go as far as counting our load the first time we made a character, but it was quickly ignored in actual play.

This isn't to say I don't look at old-school dungeons that have a 10' pit with a dead thief in it with a sack filled with 3000 sp and leather armor and don't think "He was carrying 300 pounds of coins?" It's just that I couldn't tell you what leather armor did to your encumbrance level without looking it up each time.

I wish I could recall how we did it in Rolemaster. Maybe the wrong way, I can't recall. Maybe not at all, since it was basically my AD&D group, minus a few others, that made the jump. Same with most of the non-fantasy games - it's been too long, but since I can't tell you off the top of my head how encumbrance worked in Top Secret, Gangbusters, Star Frontiers, Twilight 2000, Traveller, etc. means we probably didn't pay attention to them. None of them are very gear-carrying-centric games, though, since you always had a vehicle around or got dumped on Volturnus with nothing.

But that's why I think the game system matters. The approach you choose matters, the effect of encumbrance matters, and if the game system doesn't think it's important, or makes it clunky to track, I don't track it. If it makes it easy enough, and important enough, I'll do it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

My latest GURPS DF book is on to production

According to Sean Punch's latest "Another week in the life of GURPS "

"The latest GURPS Dungeon Fantasy masterpiece from Peter Dell'Orto is out of editing and on its way to production."

First out, I'm glad he liked it.

Second, that's a big step forward on the process, so soon enough I'll be able to announce what it was here on my blog. Naturally, you've seen some of it in play already, and more as my sessions roll along. My games are a generating machine for good GURPS content, and for that I'm grateful to my gamers, who find a way to turn a lot of my writing ideas into real, actual tabletop fun. And thanks to Pee Kitty, who put in the final editing work and helped make the last little wonky bits into solid gaming material.

I'm looking forward to being able to discuss it once it comes out. Sadly I don't have another one in process just yet; my free time for writing has dwindled to near-zero thanks to a contract job I accepted. That's a really excellent job, and it pays well and it's actually challenging and interesting . . . but it means the hours of the day I'd spend tapping away letting my ideas flow out onto a screen are spent on some non-gaming challenges. But I have some ideas of what I'd like to write next, for when I have more time to do so . . . and yes, it'll be DF related, and draw on my game. I'm looking forward to what I'll do with my writing time.

Future/Pledge Wash recipe?

Like the title say, does anyone have a good recipe for a Future-based black or brown wash?

I've been looking, but the best one I found so far is The Painting Clinic's video, but even so that's an ad hoc method done on the spot.

I'm looking for a recipe for a pre-mix wash that'll keep in a screw-top jar for a long time. Basically, proportions of X paint, Y Future, and Z water to make a dip/wash mix I can use on command. That way I can have the stuff around and brush it on each mini as it gets done, and not wait around for a big load of them and mix some up "just for now" and use it before it dries out.

As much as love the Army Painter Quickshade, apparently, I didn't seal up some of the cans well enough last time (maybe I failed to chip off enough dried gunk along the edges) and it dried up. I'm not putting another $25-30 down on a can because I only need it infrequently and it's a pain ensuring it doesn't dry out.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Turn-Based Oddness

Gaming Ballistic and Don't Forget Your Boots wrote about some of the oddness that comes from turn-based games and the intersection of some situations and options.

Naturally, after playing for so long, my group and I have had a few of these weird moments, courtesy of odd circumstances and a turn-based resolution system.

A couple come to mind.

Vryce and the Orc Spellcaster

In a big orc fight, the orcs tried to plug the doorway. Vryce burst through and ran through a small gap in the ranks to attack a back-ranks spellcaster. On the spellcaster's turn, he ran away. Then orcs poured in to prevent Vryce from following. Vryce's player was frustrated - how could someone run 5 yards away from him in the blink of an eye, after being within sword's reach a split second before?

But Vryce even getting that strike was possibly an artifact of turn-based play. In a real-time simultaneous-move world, Vryce was only marginally faster than the orcs. The spellcaster was already intending to fall back until he had more orcs between him and the well-known lethal threat that is Vryce. More orcs were charging in to seal off the gap. He might not have been able to bust through the momentary gap in the ranks, because that moment would appear and pass in a split second. The spellcaster may have moved out of reach right away. Instead, you get this moment of "I'm just fast enough to bust through and get a wild swing at that guy as he runs, before his buddies cut me off and he moves out of reach." That's how I interpret that, and that's pretty reasonable. It makes the tactical imperative of physically filling space, not just threatening to fill it with a swing or a step, much more clear.

On the day, I remember saying that if Vryce basically had a Zone of Control (aka ZOC) or a zone of opportunity attacks, he would have been able to prevent the spellcaster from moving freely or to get a free cut at that spellcaster. But then again, so would all of those orcs he deftly ran by because of a few open hexes in exactly the right place for him to move. He didn't need Evade, but "hexes adjacent to an enemy cost extra to enter or leave" or "opportunity attacks" would have kicked in. I suppose we could make rules like that, but they'd substantially change the rules set, and probably replace the current oddness (run up and hit, then the guy runs out of reach) with more oddness (how do you enforce a ZOC in your front arc with a one-action, one-second timescale? How exactly are you doing this without physically restraining the target? If you have time and movement to execute more attacks, why aren't you using them in the first place?)


We've had the classic "runaround" attack issue discussed elsewhere very often. Sometimes, it only looks like a runaround. One classic was with a sword-and-shield using soldier-wizard-engineer in my previous GURPS game. The group was fighting gnolls in a mountainside keep (in UK3 The Gauntlet, actually). One PC knowingly and willingly turned his back on the gnolls to get a shot at a foe close and behind the line of PCs. So a greataxe-armed gnoll used All-Out Attack and smacked him. The player was miffed he didn't get to defend. "I knew he was there!" and "I should defend at -2!" kind of stuff (not a quote, it's been 16 years since that session.) I said, yes, you knew he was there. You knew there were dangerous people in front of you and turned your back on them, on your turn, to do something. This wasn't a case of a turn-based system artifact causing a faster foe to get a back shot. This was a terrible tactical decision to turn his back on a foe he thought was safely out of reach, forgetting that he was just within reach of a Move 6 guy's attack if he had a 2-reach axe ready at full extension . . . and he did. Bam, roll up a new PC.

Could he have looked over his shoulder? I suppose, but is the standard of combat "I'm checking my 6 over each shoulder every turn with no cost for taking my eyes off of what's in front of me" and complete awareness? Not to me. I figure the "runaround" rule, and the way we usually rule it (only if a foe starts in your back hex, and generally only if it's reasonable that you couldn't or wouldn't or just plain didn't track him visually) is fine. It's clear most of the time. This is one of those clear cases - he turned his back, assuming he could do so without consequence, and was wrong.

We've had related cases thanks to people making odd choices of where to step, wearing blinders (I mean, a greathelm), or having one eye. Most of the time, people accept that, yes, I've made my own decisions (stepping poorly, facing away from a foe, wearing a vision-restricting helmet because I want more DR) and I'll take the consequences. Occasionally, though, we get the "I'm checking over both shoulders while keeping an eye on this guy in front of me and Feinting the dude next to him" approach, and grumpiness can ensue when I rule in favor of a free back shot.

How do I rule on them?

Basically, we play the rules as written. But I'm not hesitant to make one-time rulings for situations where they seem to warrant it.

I also tend to apply my own vision of the situation and the reasonableness of results, along with the fairness (witness the "If bad guys can't interrupt Great Haste with Wait, you can't either" ruling.)

If you make moves depending on what a literal reading of the rules say you can and can't do, and what must result from that, you are taking a risk. If you make moves based on what a reasonable person would think would happen in those circumstances, and assume that generally I'm a reasonable GM, you will be okay. It's the latter standard that I use, not the former, to determine what's okay in a situation. You're arguing before a judge who considers precedent but who isn't bound by it. Sometimes, the rules say you get a defense at -2, but circumstances say you don't. Sometimes, the rules say you don't, but circumstances say you do.

And I'm okay with that. That's part of the reason for a GM, so we can have rules and games that work that way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Reaper Bonus: Flying Buffalo Poker Deck

I discovered a missing piece in one of my Reaper Bones sets, and emailed them for a replacement. The request got processed but lost in the Bones II hubub, so when it finally went out they threw a nice bonus in for me:

The Origins 2014 Flying Buffalo Pocker Deck

You can see all of the card details (but not the cards themselves) at the link.

I'm trying to decide what to do with it. Part of me says, "Keep it!" but the rest of me says "You don't use playing cards for anything anyway, and have a couple decks despite that." Which is true - the rare times I need playing cards it's for games with ESL/ELL kids, and a standard set is better than a fancy set for ELL students.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Making Monsters courtesy of Ravens & Pennies

Over on Ravens & Pennies, Christopher Rice has an excellent post for people making monsters for their GURPS games.

Gamemaster's Guidepost: The Art of Creating Critters

It's a great guide. If I could usefully add to it:

How skilled is it? Know what its absolute skill level can do. But also know what its skill level gives it relative to its intended foes. Skill 16 is murder vs. Skill 12, but it's toast vs. Skill 20. All the instant death ST-based damage in the world is harmless against foes you can't hit.

Does it have special attacks? Especially for genres like DF, you need to know what special attacks it has that make it especially able to deal with its expected opposition. If its attack forms are limited in a damage type (it only uses fire, say) know how common totally effective counters will be.

Know the synergies. In other words, if your critter has 20 HP and Regeneration, know this doubles the HP regen rate. Know how Unkillable 3 and Recovery will work together. Familiarize yourself with what all of the abilities you are putting down on the sheet meet and how they interact with each other.

I think those, coupled with Christopher's advice, will help when you are making up GURPS monsters.
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