Saturday, November 22, 2014

Southern Reaches: Session 9 - Castle of the Mad Archmage 6 - Arena Blues

Friday was the S&W Southern Reaches B-Team. Here is my summary, to fill in the gaps left in my teaser. There are some other related posts:

Tim's Summary - We Laughed Like Manly Men Who Wore Flannel

Doug's Summary - Return to the Mad Archmage

Tenkar's Take - Castle of the Mad Archmage - Session Report "Whatever" - More Fun Than a Barrel Full of Drunken Monkeys!

Minister "Quantum" "the Pink", Half-elf 4/3 Cleric/Magic-User (Tim Shorts)
Mirado Gargoyle-Friend, Human 6 Fighter (me)
Rul "Rainbow Warrior" Scararm, Human 6 Fighter (Douglas Cole)
Rosco P. Coltrane, Halfling 2/3 F/T (Joe the Lawyer)
Bronan, Human 3 Fighter (Reece Carter)

We picked up two new characters this session - Joe the Lawyer running his Flailsnails guy (Flailsnails? It's kind of a bring-your-character-between-GMs game thing), and Reece Carter running a just-made-up 3rd level fighter. Apparently Tenkar forgot the highest level guys are 6th level, not 4th or so. Oh well. They'll just level faster. They successfully transited the 5% slope down without great mishap.

We headed right down to level 3, and did a little more exploring. There were a few doors on our maps we hadn't opened. The first one we went to we bashed open and found nothing but broken glass. Bronan searched it but found nothing.

A little more searching found us a room (labeled with a letter). I decided this was a bad idea so Mirado voted with his feet to go elsewhere. We found a door, and in it were stored orange cones and orange-and-white construction barrels. We decided we'll use them in the future to detour wandering monsters away from us. A detour sign pointed to a pit should do. We didn't implement that yet.

We kept looking. We soon found a way down, and took that. Finally! We've been trying to find a way down and back up for a while.

We moved down, and immediately there was a left, and down it we could see the steady glow of Continual Light spells. So Roscoe and Mirado snuck down - Roscoe with his thief skills, Mirado with his Boots of Elvenkind. We saw a blue-decorated room and some guys training inside. They were humans, and Mirado was confident that no human ever did anything evil, so we could negotiate. In we went.

The humans stopped training and casually summoned their leader and some reinforcements. In all, about a dozen human warriors in blue, two trolls (wearing blue tabards), and a half-orc in banded mail and blue, came out. We "negotiated," which tends to be very chaotic with our group. Roscoe yelled stuff from the back, Mirado and Bronan spoke from the front. The confused mess of negotiation and grumpy threats about sending guys out to kill the little voice yelling from the back eventually prompted two things - one, Roscoe came up with the rest. Two, Mirado got into some verbal sparring with the leader when he wouldn't take "we just want to get some information in peace" for a reason to be talking to them. Annoying questions like "How good are you?" and calling Roscoe a gnome was a bit too much. Mirado said he was the best, and nothing faced him yet and lived, which is possibly even true. The leader challenged Mirado, and Mirado wouldn't back down. We got down to dueling, to the death. Roscoe bet 10 cp on the half-orc leader.

We tied for initiative and Mirado shrugged off a Hold Person spell as he whacked the leader for 8 damage. The next turn, Mirado did 4 and took 8. Then it went downhill - Mirado couldn't hit to save his life. Then it was 6 damage, then 8, then 10. Mirado kept refusing the (generous) offer to yield until he was down to 15 HP, which is close to one turn's bad rolling from death. At that, Mirado yielded. The half-orc asked for his silver dagger as the yield price.

Cheap, at that. Mirado handed it over and acknowledged his loss. The rest of the party mostly hooted and made fun of Mirado for losing. Good thing the leader didn't ask for Woundlicker, because Mirado wouldn't yield that no matter what. Mirado changed his name to Mirado Blue Beaten, but reminded Rul that last time something challenged Mirado Rul ended up with a sword +2 vs. mammals, so there. The half-orc also healed Mirado 5 points, which is partly why Mirado doesn't resent his loss. Hey, he was more fair to Mirado than Mirado has been to anyone except those mail-armored men back in session 4.

We spoke to them some more, and they filled us in on some level 4 politics. Apparently this the Arena Level. There are five factions who send fight teams in for pay, or gambling profit, I was never clear on what, from whom. The green are lead by a gnome. The red had a minotaur, but they're hurting a bit. I think they have gnolls, too. The blue are the tops. The purple are weak, and least likely to "enslave" us. I don't recall anything about the Whites. We decided to go check out the Purple, as the Blue felt we weren't worth it for them, although they ranked Mirado as better than 1/3 of their members, equal to some of the middle-rank ones, and below the top 1/3.

We asked for them to show us the arena. They did, escorting us, somewhat oddly, through the White faction's door into the arena. Sure enough, it looked like an area, with a 1' deep layer of sand and spikes to keep the duelists from coming up into the three-deep stands. Not only that, but you can't cast spells in it. As soon as Mirado heard that, his interest in fighting in the arena dropped from "How much do we get paid?" to zero. No way. Leaving our escorts, who were about as useful as tits on a boar hog, we headed into neutral territory. We moved around the area, finding the entrances one by one.

We also found stairs down to level 5, but the GM wasn't ready for that so we backed off.

Right around this time we found a bookie, oddly empty, but with a live video feed (okay, a magic video feed) of the arena. Also, a metal door. We got right to that. Bronan was ready to kick it down, but Roscoe stepped in . . . and rolled a 97 on his Open Locks. He had a 53 to open it, so he used Luck to try again. 67. Nope. We all tried to force it to no avail. Bronan was ready to hack it down but, metal door. Now what?

Minister stepped up and used Knock, which is how it works - the experts try and fail, and then the mage steps up and solved the problem with a spell. Minister was hit with a curse, but shrugged it off. Good thing - he'd have lost HP every day until we put back what we found. Round these parts that's called a fatal curse with no escape clause. (I have to wonder if Remove Curse would work, and if not, why not.)

Inside was some money - 6000 sp, 4000 gp, 19 gems, and 2 pieces of jewelry. We took it all.

We kept exploring, and found stairs going down deeper than level 5. Nice.

We found a room with four entrances and a statue of the god of athletics. Ah, Arnold Schwarzenegger. There was a coin slot so Mirado put in a gold coin. Nothing happened, so he put in 9 more. Still nothing. That's okay, Mirado was just getting serious.

We went back, through a door, and down a short flight of stairs. The door at the bottom defeated us, but some acid from Roscoe weakened it and Bronan kicked it open. Inside were cages with stuff like bonesnappers, giant scorpions, and so on. There were also an elf and a gnome (I think) with a phase panther coeurling away. They demanded 10 gp to repair their door. Bronan offered 5. They asked for 15. Bronan started to berate them about being idiots who don't understand how bargaining works. They started to threaten us with their panther, and the situation started to turn into a threat contest. Mirado got sick of this stupid crap. They were clearly a tough fight with no obvious treasure, or point. So he said he'd paid 10 gp and we were leaving. We did, but the elf and gnome respected Mirado's willingness to deal and said that if we faced one of theirs in the area, Mirado should let them know ahead of time. Mirado agreed.

We explored some more, and found a gated off cave full of bats. We left that alone, but made guano jokes.

We found a room full of some odd shaped winged things - eye killers! We ran. Don't fight creepy Fiend Folio monsters if possible.

We found a door and went through, and found two tough skeletons. We killed them (although Mirado wasn't able to fit into the fight in the tight doorway, and just stood guard), mostly with Rul hacking, Minister throwing Magic Missile, and Bronan and Roscoe whacking away. Once they dropped, we found a 2' diameter copper disc on the wall with a 7th level Lightning Bolt spell on it. We carefully removed it, and Minister took it.

After this, it was late and we had no clear line to anything worth going to. We headed back to the surface.


- a bit under 5000 XP for loot, exploration, and fighting. We spent a lot of, well too much, time bs-ing. Fun, but it slowed down the gaming a bit.

- The first two rounds of fighting the half-orc, Mirado hit and did okay damage - 8 and 4. But then I never rolled above a net 16 again, and rolled a lot of sub-10 totals, which sucks since I have a +5 or 6 to hit. I won't lie, it was pretty frustrating and not fun but my luck just wouldn't turn, and I had no other tricks up my sleeve. Sigh. But I survived it, and the cost was pretty low. Those first two hits and saving throw were the only successful rolls I made the whole session! I rolled a lot of 6s on hit rolls, and 1s on initiative. I still think doors should roll high.

Still, a session gaming with bad rolls is still a good day, and I made it out. During the session Joe was talking about how he kept gambling in Rappan Athuk because it's imaginary money and he doesn't need it to pay the rent. That's how I feel about HP. I can get beat on by a flail, bitten by spiders, whatever, but it doesn't hurt me. I can have the fun of fighting without the consequences. Once I was down to 15 HP, I knew I was a double-damage crit away from death and gave it up.

- If I remember, Mirado is going to give 10 gp to the Arnie Statue every session and thank him for "Commando" and "Pumping Iron." Maybe for the commentary on Conan the Barbarian, too.

- It was good to have a thief - it's so much better than doing without via healing potions and Saving Throws. The loss of Joe the Lawyer's high-powered wizard, though, meant we didn't have a lot of destructive firepower in case we had to fight those trolls or the panther-handlers.

- Rolling gems and jewelry at the end is fun. My approach is to roll them before, but I use a hoard total approach, so I have to know what they are worth. For D&D, though, I like it. Too bad we didn't get any exceptional stones.

- not sure about the Arena. Mirado isn't excited about non-combined arms fighting. I'm not excited about going back to the bookie we robbed to try and place bets. Or dealing with secret masters and the politics of the groups. Maybe if we can pit them against each other, but really, it feels fight-heavy and loot-low.

Overall, fun session, but Mirado needs like 4+ like that to hit level 7 so I'm hoping we can loot more and explore more next time!

Teaser of the Mad Archmage

Last night was a session of the S&W B-Team, run by Erik Tenkar. For Doug Cole's summary, see here. For my teaser of my later session summary, read on.

During the session.

. . . we found a way down to level 4.

. . . we found a bunch of colored factions who run fights in the arena.

. . . Mirado fought an unsuccessful duel with a half-orc faction leader, partly do to being outmatch but mostly because he couldn't roll above a 10 for most of the fight.

. . . blagged a bookie.

. . . ran from eye killers.

. . . killed some touch skeletons.

. . . found ways down to levels 5 and 6.

. . . negotiated with some guys who don't understand how haggling works.

. . . met a statue of the god of athletics, Arnold Schwarzenegger

. . . and somehow made it home alive.

Not a terrifically profitable session, and Mirado was basically useless after a brief stint of good rolls early. After that, no foe or no door was too weak for him to fail against. We did find a teaser in the form of a bunch of gems, but they only averaged out 200 gp each so it wasn't so exciting after all. Not a 10,000 gp one in the bunch! Oh well, next time.

I'll get a full report up this evening.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Evolution of the CRPG

Not only do I like tabletop RPGs, but I also like computer RPGs. So I really enjoyed this article:

The evolution of the RPG

I played a number of these - the Ultimas, Wizardry, Fallout, Pool of Radiance, Diablo. Not all of them by any stretch. But it's interesting to see the development of the CRPG over time.

It builds from, and up to, a bit of a Dragon Age teaser. But that's fine, it's all tied together, from Adventure and the origins of Link and the way CRPGs have tuned the elements of RPGs as they went.

Very entertaining reading.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hireling Loyalty: Obey Under Protest

So what do you do when a hireling really has no choice but to cooperate with an order?

DF15 addresses the question of following exceptionally dangerous or unreasonable commands. But what if the hireling is in extremis, and can't really say no?

This could be because of external threat, or poor planning, or bad circumstances. What if they are stuck in a fight or trapped in a dungeon and then issued a command they'd prefer to refuse?

Try this:

I Obey Under Protest: If a hireling is ordered to do something especially dangerous or unreasonable, but can't refuse do to circumstance, make the Loyalty check (per Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen, p. 30) normally. If the hireling passes the check, he will obey normally. If the hireling fails his or her Loyalty roll, the hireling will obey anyway, but Loyalty will permanently drop by 1, or by the penalty for Poor Treatment, p. 30, whichever is worse. On a critical failure, Loyalty drops by 5, and the hireling will bad mouth the PCs back in town, for a -1 to their ability to recruit new hirelings for 1d months. On a critical success, the hireling's loyalty will increase by 1 temporarily (due to increased confidence, or from resignation!) The effects are immediate, which means continued lack of choice will steadily degrade the hireling's loyalty. If the opportunity arises to refuse, desert, or shirk, the hireling should make another Loyalty check; on a failure, the hireling will do so. If the original check was a critical failure, this second roll automatically fails!

That is a circumstance that DF15 addresses, but doesn't exactly spell out consequences beyond "otherwise fails to perform." This optional rule deals with that exact circumstance - when the PCs essentially give orders a hireling would refuse except that he can't. These aren't really necessary rules, but I have fun spelling out just how badly people take it when you order them to do things they don't want to do, but can't avoid.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How do you treat henchmen and hirelings?

Tenkar asked if you use henchmen and hirelings. We use them, and I like them so much I co-wrote a book on them.

If so, how do you treat them?

Personally, I think the "meatshields," "mine detector," and "potion drinker" approach shows the wargaming roots of D&D. In a persistent wargame setting, it makes perfect sense to risk your least experienced and least valuable resources on the unknown. In a game growing out of a tabletop wargame, where you are moving your characters like pieces and promoting them between expeditions when they do well and survive . . . doing anything but expending your pawns and husbanding your queens and bishops and rooks and such would be foolish.

But a lot of adventuring groups aren't run that way. It's more like communal exploration group with a mix of senior and junior members. The junior members aren't suicidally bound to the commands of the senior members. Even senior members who employ junior members may do so as additional forces, not as resources per se. A hireling isn't a 10' pole, even if you may need one to carry one.

I personally tend to run NPCs as people, so they aren't all that willing to take risks they weren't hired for. Or do things the PCs won't do. I liken it to officers ordering troops around - the hirelings are the troops, and react about as well as real soldiers do when an officer orders them to do something the officer wouldn't do. They react much better when led from the front. I've noticed that my players play that way, perhaps partly from my influence. They lead from the front, and generally expect that NPCs are willing to do what they're willing to do and not much more.

Admittedly, they've squared the circle by using magically summoned, utterly expendable resources. But for living NPCs, they put them in no more danger (and no more risk of automatic death) than the PCs. They treat NPCs as more fragile but less important PCs.

Of course, most of this changes for NPCs who are either magically compelled, or who were hired for a specific task. The lockpicker doesn't balk at being assigned all the locked doors. The potion taster sips away. The suicidal fool who signed on to "check for traps" by walking point doesn't worry when he's on point. But the default isn't obedience to foolishly dangerous commands.

Similarly laborers resent being pressed into the front line to fight, and often solid fighters protest when the PCs treat them as pack mules. It's a matter of what their job is, and what they charged for.

Close allies are more like PCs in our group, but then they tend to be expected to carry more weight and do just as crazy things as the PCs. Of course, they're in it for much more than a salary - they get a piece of the action, or are fulfilling a stronger, deeper contract.

You get into an issue of "send these guys, they're expendable" vs. "watch out for these guys, they're vulnerable." The first attitude is the hireling as meatshield and walking trap detector. The second is that henchmen and hirelings as junior but important delver.

Which do you, and your group, default to?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Set-Pieces, Choices, and Homages from DF Session 51

A couple notes on Sunday's game.

The Unholy Temple

This odd twinned temple - a trapped and dangerous front temple with an unusual connection underneath to a nearly identical temple full of monsters - came about in a fit of mapping inspiration. I just drew the first temple, had some space, and drew the second and connected them. I figured out a reason for it after, after I let it sit on my map for a while. I knew based on the rooms in the area that everything in that spot was kind of strange, so I came up with a reason why and what that would mean. That area of the dungeon had the twinned temple, the dooomchildren-spawning statue locked in a room by big secure doors, the slick curved tunnel to the diamond-shaped room with the gemstone zombies, the hydra, and some other odd stuff.

I needed a monster, and I had one I wanted to use but mostly in a setpiece. I settled on the Demons From Between The Stars.

The Demons From Between The Stars are Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch's creation. Oddly, when we were doing DFM1, I had a shadowy group of life-draining shadowy monsters on my list of things to use. They'd been featured in my previous game, and matched the TDFBTS in a lot of their style and substance. So when I saw Sean's, I was basically like, "Dammit!" and crossed mine off the list. Way, way too similar.

But I still had these seven homemade cardboard standups for them. So I dug around and found them, and although they're more shadowy capes than ebony humanoids, I knew they'd resonate with the players who'd fought them at least 10 years back in our big campaign.

The setpiece of the temple was fun. The floor had three kinds of floor - 1/3 of the hexes cast a powerful Slow spell on the victim, 1/3 did Cosmic, irresistible, ignores all DR damage and FP loss, and 1/3 caused Fear, using my house rules. There was a detectable pattern, but not an easily detectable one. Magical light was reduced dramatically in effect, and the foes had access to Blackout spells to turn non-magical light sources dark, too.

So it was a combination of foe that's lethal in the dark or by surprise, using darkness and surprise on a battlefield primed to disrupt their foes constantly and prevent free movement.

The PCs figured that out last time, and managed to flee. This time, they came back with Dark Vision to deal with all of the darkness, putting them on equal footing with their foes. They also used Walk on Air, in order to circumvent the floor traps. Thus they turned an easy massacre into a solid fight they could win with a little effort.

The Altar

Yes, had someone taken the altar up on its offer and sacrificed a member of the same race, they'd have gotten an attribute boost of their choice. Evil isn't always about false choices. Evil is sometimes about making someone else suffer for your shortcut to power. If the shortcut to power that is evil doesn't come with the power, no one is really tempted to take it.

The Special Space

So what was in that special, 'tween worlds (?) 2d/3d secret door?

It's a secret, and will stay so. But I wanted to give the players a 3-way choice of actions, and make the evil temple more than just a set-piece fight.

Choice 1: Investigate the place, and see what was beyond the (evil?) secret door.
Choice 2: Exorcise the place.
Choice 3: Back off and leave things alone.

Had they chosen 1, options 2 and 3 would be off the table. Option 2 took options 1 and 3 off the table. It was very probable based on their actions that choice 3 might have resulted in the loss of the chance to do anything later. So it was very much a "what do we want?" choice that couldn't be left for later decision.

I didn't present it as an explicit forked choice, but I did volunteer a roll to the Holy Warrior about it. His basic professional knowledge told him that exorcism wasn't "make it safe to investigate freely" but rather "get rid of the evil and much of what came with it."

Pretty much the only poor choice, here, would have been an attempt to temporize, get the loot, and then leave the door and exorcism as a later choice. That wouldn't have gotten anyone a bonus XP, and might have come with more costs. I like the occasional choice that is "Jump left, jump right, or stay in the middle and lose out" to make up for the sheer weight of choices that are more like "jump left, jump right, or leave everything alone and you can decide later."

The Golem

The golem and its illusionary treasure is a straight lift from an AD&D module. I always liked the idea of that encounter. It went spectacularly well, since almost everyone was immediately interested in the chest. That allowed the magic to take effect and weaken the party. Lucky for them Vryce got that 3 (using Luck) and turned the fight from a systematic slaughter by the golem into a straight up fight. It could have been worse.

The golem's look and weapon were based on a Mage Knight terrain bit I had and intended to use at some point. It came in a pack of generic pieces I thought I could use, so I planned from the time I put that room down and brought it every session just in case. Top row, center:

And yes, all of those things will show up at lease once in Felltower. I love that squat idol and the altar!

The Holy Place

Just a question - why are players deeply, deeply suspicious of peace, calm, and holiness? Yet the same suspicious players will see a blatantly obvious falsehood ("Trade your crappy magic items for your choice of almost anything that is way, way better!") and investigate it more without proper precautions? "You sense calm and holiness!" "Stomp it!" vs. "You are offered an unlikely generous offer by a giant statue with a sword." "Oh, what is it offering?"


I wonder if I do that when I'm playing Mirado?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Vryce's 30 HP

Some HP fun, based on discussion of the same at our game on Sunday.

Vryce has HP 30. That's 3x as much as a normal human. This is totally unrealistic, especially as it only comes with positive mass effects. DF falling damage is standardized, for example, and we don't double it when your HP are 20 or triple it at 30. That may or may not be the intention, but either way, I like HP as pure upside. So HP 30 is pure upside. What's it do for Vryce?

- He heals 3x as much. A $120 Minor Healing potion heals 3-18 HP. A $350 Gem of Healing heals a straight 8 HP, which means 24 HP of healing. The weakest Minor Healing spell heals him 3 points. The best Major Healing spell available (A PI 6 Major Healing) would heal him 36 HP.

- His HP are so high, he's at half Move and Dodge at HP 9 or less (Less than HP/3). A slightly weak human has HP 9. However, Vryce at HP 9 still has 158 HP to go without hitting automatic death, that 9 HP human has 53.

- In a single blow, it takes 16+ HP to cripple Vryce's arms or legs. It takes 11+ HP to cripple a hand or foot, and 4+ to cripple an eye.

- It takes 180 HP to kill him automatically. This would take, say, a 47 HP of damage strike to his unarmored skull. 47 HP of damage to the torso would force a 10 HP fighter to make 3 death checks.

- He makes his first death check after 60 HP of injury. 60 HP of injury is automatic death for a 10 HP character.

This wasn't cheap - Vryce has 100 points in ST and a further 20 points in HP. So, 120 points, which is more costly than Unkillable 2 and only 30 points less than Supernatural Durability. But it's made him almost a comic book hero version of a delver.

Yet for all of that, he's only alive because of a plethora of defensive abilities, armor, and careful deployment, augmented by lots and lots of healing and magical defenses and offensive buffs to keep him on par with his foes. The threat of instant incapacitation or quickly accumulating fatal damage is quite real. Good stuff.
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