Friday, February 24, 2017

What are hirelings good for?

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen provides templates for three uses:


Hired Help

Lower-Point PCs

The first are third uses tend to be pretty clear. If you generate an ally you need some templates for sub-250 point characters and generally know what you want from your sidekick. As lower-point PCs, again, pretty straightforward.

But I've found players running 250-point PCs tend to struggle with hired help. Both with what they aren't - not full-powered delvers, not even close (even 125s leave 125 points of upgrades on the table, somewhat similar to a 250 vs. a 375 in terms of choices) - and with what the are.

First off, let's just get this out of the way - 62-point and 125-point hirelings are no where as capable of, nor can they hope to replace, 250-point delvers. They simply can't. "Can't we hire a 125-point healing cleric that can turn the undead and remove curses and exorcise altars?" Sure, if he does most of that on a 9 or less or so. "How come these 125-point skirmishers don't stand up in the front lines as well as martial artists and scouts?" Because they can't. Even a specialist won't always be able to do their specialty as well as most 250-point delver does their secondary job.

Remembering that they won't be pegged at 25% or 50% of your point total thanks to being Allies and don't get 5 xp just because you did is easy.

The main struggle seems to be knowing what to use them for.

Leaving aside what they aren't for now, I want to look at how I've seen hired help used effectively and how I think they can be used effectively. What is hired help good for?

I'm deliberately leaving aside the whole "use them as suicidal mine detectors and meat shields" approach, as my group generally doesn't do that and it's not conducive to long-term hireling market access.

Freeing up PCs for PC-level work.

Some parties struggle during adventures just from sheer lack of numbers. It's hard in a small team to have two guys lifting a heavy portcullis while someone stands ready to fight and three others watch the intersected corridors behind you - even without taking the squishy mage and cleric off of those duties. It's hard to carry lots of sacks of loot when sacks take two hands (or are slung off a two-handed pole.) If someone goes down, you need a person to carry him or her without taking your other fighters out of the line - and the clerics and wizards aren't likely to be strong enough to manage well.

Often you need a pair of eyes, a body to occupy a space, and so on. Some specific roles I find where hireling fit is:

- bodyguard for wizards, cleric, etc. You just need someone who can force an attacker to stop and deal with them, even if only to slow them down, until a better combatant can finish the job.

- Filling in flanks. In a large corridor or in the wilderness, you need people who can occupy space and ensure the enemy can't just run around you. Even a 62-point bargain henchman can do this; a 125 does it better. They won't be able to stand and fight against threats that worry 250-point guys, but they can prevent you from getting cut off or surrounded.

- Fighting over the front ranks with polearms. This is a marginal use - it sounds great, but only works if the players really buy into formation fighting. As soon as someone says, "I need room to Retreat" or "I had to run out of formation, otherwise that demon-wizard would have killed us the next turn with a spell" - right or wrong - this falls apart.

- a tripwire against attacks. A rear guard who isn't capable of winning a fight is still potentially able to guard your rear just by being there.

- standing guard along with higher-value PCs when camping. No matter how well you explain your careful setup to the GM, they never seem to believe you can watch the skies, the ground, listen for noises, watch in a 360-degree circle, and move around silently so no one can draw a bead on you. Extra bodies mean you really can watch multiple directions if you've got multiple people doing it.

- carrying things. More bodies means more gear needed, and more supplies needed, but especially for dungeon delves with a surface base you always benefit from more hands once treasure is discovered.

- junk work. Guarding the horses so the GM doesn't say, "You're seriously just leaving your horses in the owlbear-infested Orcwood and going into the dungeon?" or cooking your meals so you don't have to explain why everyone is engaged in fully restful leisure but somehow the stew gets made.

All of those things can be done by PCs, but it's easier if you can relegate that to hired help. You basically turn money, Leadership, and positive reaction bonuses into more work done and your PC free to do dangerous stuff.

Doing jobs the PCs can't do at all.

Not every party has a barbarian, a scout, a thief, and a cleric. You can hire a specific skill out of those skillsets (usually) by turning to hirelings. You can also augment skills:

- Missing skills like Area Knowledge, specific Hidden Lore specialties, languages, and odd Survival specialties are often more easily hired than learned. Especially if you don't plan to stay in the Lands of Terror after you've cleared out the Death Brain infestation from the Lost Crypt. Thief specialties and outdoors specialties usually play well into being hired out; cleric skills to a much lesser extent (Surgery, perhaps, everyone should have First Aid anyway), and make-it-or-die skills like Traps or Exorcism work better on PCs than on lower-point hired help.

- Missing spells are a good reason to hire casters. You don't always want to learn them yourself, or they'll need prereqs you'd rather hire for than spend points to learn.

- Backing up existing skills. Many adventures have ground to a halt as people realize one guy with Boating or one guy with Seamanship doesn't help when you need two craft to travel. Other times you need a backup person with Survival because of additional numbers or for complementary rolls, a guy with good ST for moving things, solid Per for helping to search, and Lifting for picking things up can help.

Overall, I find those are broadly the ways to use hirelings - fill in gaps where a body matter enough that point value is the second consideration, and add in/supplement skills and skill sets. All the while acknowledging that they're not going to be up to the challenge outside of their specialty. Or even in it, versus a PC - the strongest Laborer or toughest Squire is no Barbarian in ST or Knight in combat skill, respectively.

The big mistakes seem to be using them as if they were 250 ("Put Pigsticker Paul in the front line, he's a fighter"), or thinking of them as such ("Hey, we've got a 125-point cleric, so we're good on healing forever, so don't make a cleric"). A second one is thinking everyone is a Laborer with a side specialty ("The NPCs will carry everything - tell the archer to sling his bow and carry these orc swords for us.") But the main issue is, even knowing what they aren't, is what to use them for?

Hopefully the above will help a bit.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What's money for in GURPS DF Felltower?

So if money can't buy you magical power whenever you've got the cash on hand, what do you do with it?

One of my players asked me that directly. As he said, not trying to argue, just asking, okay, what are we supposed to buy?

Great question. If I'm reining in magic item purchase and that was where money generally went (and your future dream is a shopping scheme), what do you shop for now?

Here is what I visualize money being used for, in a non-domain game situation*:

- weapons (enchanted with basic enchantments** and especially superior mundane weapons)
- armor (ditto, especially superior mundane)
- shields (ditto)
- potions, chemicals, concoctions, etc. (subject to the usual dosage availability)
- minor scrolls
- mundane gear (especially higher-quality gear)
- hirelings
- henchmen/allies
- research
- services (including healing and Resurrection)
- skill training costs
- overspending on upkeep for in-town bonuses to rolls

I'd even expect some bribing monsters (pay X to bypass a fight so you can go get X+1 or 2X or 10X elsewhere), since PCs wouldn't be broke. The PCs did this just to get into the dungeon, for a while, setting the orcs up as guards (and then ruing that every session after).

My ideal is that PCs would be potentially flush with money most of the time, capable of buying the things they need and spending in town as required. I'd rather have guys saying, "I've 75K and I have no idea what I should do with it" instead of "I have a brand new custom-made fine ornate balanced Dwarven Puissance +2 Accuracy +2 Icy Lightning mace with Shatterproof on it and a ring with always-on Dark Vision, and 28 sp. Can someone front me cash for rations? Oh, and upkeep, otherwise I'll crash in the woods and make a Survival roll."

Of course, "buy anything" didn't quite go as planned. If this doesn't, I'll veer the group back onto another route.

* And for what it's worth, if I did have a domain game in mind, I'd:

- ramp up the money a lot.

- ramp up the required loot for XP a lot to match.

- completely cut off magical item purchase but potentially allow hiring enchanters

In other words, I'd scale it all up buy make "build a castle" and "raise an army" viable while kneecapping the ability to buy personal magic power. Instead of looting owlbears for hundreds of coins and buying healing potions and hiring torchbearers, you'd be looting dragons of massive box-cover coin piles and spending it on raising some heavy infantry to help secure your castle.

** Largely Accuracy +1, Puissance +1, Shatterproof, and Continual Light for weapons, Fortify +1 and Deflect +1 and Lighten 25% for armor. Little else.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reigning in magical item purchase in my DF game

Recently I've been tightening up some of the purchase of permanent magic items in my DF game. Mostly it's because people buying magical items is a large load of time on me. Even given price lists, cost calculations, and simple availability rolls, I still need to be involved in answering cost if it's available, how it works if you get it, how long it takes to get, and then is it available at all . . . and at any time the player might say, "Nah, too much."

But there is also the issue that if I put a magical item in the dungeon, the PCs received a magical item. They might turn it into cash, but it's a cash value that is less than what the item is worth to use - you can't find a magical shortsword and trade it in for an equally magical broadsword, you lose a big chunk of value selling it.

But if I give people money, I'm effectively giving them carte blanche to augment their personal power in any way - it's a wildcard magic item. It's not 20,000 apiece in silver, it's 20,000 silver in cash and magical items of your choice once you get back to town. Ironically this makes cash more valueable than rare magical items because it's more flexible.

On top of that, people then spend themselves dry. Since any coin not spent on permanent magical items that buff your abilities is a permanent reduction in power, people spend everything they can on gear. The best possible magical gear, since it's on a cost-comparative basis with mundane gear.

That was fine early on in the game, when people lacked items and it wasn't clear how long we'd play or the long-term dynamics of "money equals magic items of my choice."

But as we've gone on, the spectre of broke guys in magical plate armor with fine swords gleaming with magical power and belts full of potions living hand-to-mouth and griping about $40/day hirelings being too expensive became a pretty standard development. People generally had broke characters with between $50K and $150K+ worth of gear. They had Maseratis and Ferraris and took up a collection for gas.

I realize this wasn't what I wanted - no one did anything really interesting with money because upgrading gear was too important. Until you have a backup of everything, all Puissance +1 or better, the best magical armor possible, a spare of everything magic'ed up, amulets and rings and bracelets with permanent protective magic on them, and unlimited healing potions you don't want to do crazy stuff like pay for research or splurge on better living in town just to get a few useful but ephemeral bonuses. Even the party animal PCs didn't really live it up, because you're always saving for a special magic item. That's really counter to how I'd like the game to play out.

And like I've advised a number of times - if the game is going where you want it to go, keep going. If not, turn back in the direction you do want to go.

So I dramatically cut back on the magic items you can get freely, reigned in the ones you can special order (and put an availability roll onto special orders - there aren't craftsmages sitting by to forge you a sword and then magic it up), and cut off most of the rest. Upping the price to $20/point across the board helped, too - even minor enchantments are pricey enough to make mundane gear look better. Had I it all to do again, I'd simply say magical items are not available for purchase except under special circumstances - one-off encounters with people selling things, say, or offered in exchange for cash as part of a reward. But too much rides on custom gear now to say you can't get it any more, and I'm okay with that.

But then that leads to a question - what is money for in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: Felltower?

I'll go into that question tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What non-combat skills do they bring to the DF table? (Cleric, Druid, Scout)

Here are even more reflections on the non-combat skills DF templates bring to the table. These are based on my experiences in my game; your own experience may vary!


Possibly the most useful non-combat skill you bring to the table is Exorcism. With it you can clear cursed areas, banish evil spirits, and otherwise purge areas of evil. It's not fast or easy, but it's a potentially mission-critical skill. Without it, all you did was kill some temple guards or demons and steal some loot - the root of the evil is still there. With Exorcism you have a chance to finish the job.

Not healing? No, that's basically a combat ability. That you also have post-combat slower healing skills (First Aid, Surgery) and optionally abilities (Healing) is extremely helpful, but it's basically a "recover from combat" ability. Most of your skills support healing or Exorcism.

Besides those, it's really a question of your skill picks. Panhandling to beg for money, Savoir-Faire (High Society) for dealing with bigwig quest givers, Research and Writing for finding things out before your delve or writing up what happened afterward.


Excellent outdoors, the Druid really doesn't need a lot of text to explain its utility outside.

Inside, you're always limited by penalties to spells and skills focused on trees and plants and animals. The non-combat skills you do have mostly feed into the outdoors or the combat skills you have.

That said, even in a dungeon druids have solid Per (base 14) and FP (base 13), so you're good at spotting things and usefully sturdy as well. You also have access to Poisons and a weapons load that really pushes for their use.

Outdoors, you're golden. Indoors, try to leverage your Background skills as much as you can and be a useful spellcaster within the confines of your penalties.


Perception. Outdoor abilities. You are great at both of those. Your Per 14 is equal to that of the druid, but you're a bit faster and more oriented towards combat in case your scouting doesn't quite work out so well.

Beyond that, Tracking will help you find the lair of foes, especially if you are looking for the origin of wandering monsters or roving patrols. Cartography could help, but you're going to want two hands for a bow, not one for a shield with a lectern mount and one for a pen.

Out of your Background Skills, a few are especially useful in dungeons. Prospecting will help with all of that tunnel delving and spotting potential natural sources of treasure (ore), at least in my games. Seamanship will help in non-dungeon trips but Boating comes up more often than you'd like in megadungeons. Knot-Tying is useful for taking prisoners, and Swimming has saved a scout in my games.

Overall, your focus is ranged combat but you make a pretty good point man even in a group with a druid, and a good backup for a stealth-focused thief.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Expanded Realistic Injury in Pyramid

I forgot to mention this, but Pyramid 3/100 come out last week.

One of my articles is in it, expanding the Realistic Injury rules in GURPS Martial Arts.

You can lay this one at the feet of Shawn Fisher, who pretty much literally asked for more of this detail in an email after watching Ronda Rousey lose to Holms. Also, Steven Marsh, who leadingly asked, "Do you have an article that would fit in this issue?"

I pretty much just expanded on what you'll find in GURPS Martial Arts. The article includes breaking jaws, missing teeth, cauliflower ear, temporary disfigurement from injury, and so on. It also has some protective gear (mouth guards and ear flaps), rules for a variety of permanent impairments, and a simplified system if you like the concept but hate to look stuff up.

There is a lot more than just my article in there, but if you like mangled faces, disfigured ears, and long-term consequences to fighting, I've got a couple of pages in there for you.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hireling availability in Stericksburg

The PCs are flush with cash at the moment, so the usual questions have come up about purchases, availability, and so on.

But also, about hirelings. The PCs really need a few niches filled, and no one seems in any hurry to fill them. They have two thieves, but each is run by an intermittently attending player. They have three scouts, but one is a retired PC put aside by a current player, one run by an intermittently attending player, and one run by a player on long-term hiatus. Their only cleric is an NPC set at 50% of the points of Hjalmarr.

Out of the three, the current one wanted is a good archer, probably to shoot down orcs.

The best shot at getting one is deliberate recruiting, aimed at getting a 125-point archer based on the Archer template. I know the PCs would like someone better - 187 or 250 - as a full partner, but that's not really an option. The only NPC higher than 125 base points they've delved with has been Raggi, and he was rescued from a dungeon prison. Others were 125 and gained some experience in play - Orcish Bob ("I'm not an orc"), Melchior the Malevolent, Gort (okay, he wasn't worth nearly 125). Rescue from a dungeon seems to have been the big thing - that's probably what it would take to find a high-value guy.

I'll be busting out Where Did You Find This Guy? (Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen, p. 29) for this.

Finding an archer takes Leadership, although I'll give a default to other skills (Carousing makes sense, for example, as long as you don't mind a certain class of disadvantages being more common) and allowing complementary skill rolls for such skills instead of only Propaganda.

Stericksburg is large enough to rate a bonus for size, but canonically the hireling pool is small right now due to external wars. So it's a flat +0 for recruiting in the city.

Bribes, hired criers, purchased drinks, etc. will be as usual - $400 for +1, 10x per plus after that.

Bonuses for pay are possible, but since the standard is "Let's find this guy and then negotiate a cheap price" I'm assuming no bonus for promised (and delivered) higher pay. "You get a 1/2 share" is the same as promising standard pay, a full share would rate a bonus depending on how the NPC viewed it. I'd roll 1d-2 (-1 to +4) and use that. Yes, it's possible to get a -1, since you're promising $0 and that's often close to what the PCs have brought back, and potential recruits might be turned off by that.

Asking for Heroic Archer - which is possible on the Archer template, but rare - would rate a penalty of at least -2, probably -4 because of the points involved.

The bonuses I apply for dramatically overspending on upkeep would apply, too - after all, it's increased visibility thanks to eating out at better places, drinking better, staying at fancier dwellings, etc. etc.

And if the group chooses quantity over quality, they can get a fair number of 62-point types who can use a bow. It's easier simply because they ask for less pay, so you can ramp up their offered pay quite high without incurring a large overall cost.

Overall, that gives a reasonable shot at finding an NPC. One roll per downtime, with how we play, and a good excuse to burn money carousing and interviewing and otherwise trying to fill a hole in the group. They won't get a full-on scout, they can't without someone setting aside a PC and making one up, but they can potentially get a bow using support fighter. And that would be useful even with a PC Scout.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Minis Primed and Ready

. . . ready for paint, anyway. I got home early today and took advantage of the low-humidity, high-temperature weather to prime some minis.

Here is a collection of Hundred Years War era halberdiers, billmen (well, one), and voulge-wielding infantry, plus my barbarian chief and an old TSR barbarian retrofitted with a replacement Thunderbolt Minis axe:

This way if my PCs hire some pole arm carrying hirelings, I'm set.

Or if they fight more barbarians. I haven't had nearly enough hostile living barbarians in my DF game, yet.
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