Friday, May 22, 2015

Innovate in Systems, or Settings?

Erik Tenkar posted about this, and just about every other cool kid did, too.

My thoughts on this are simple: Innovate either system and setting and you'll get innovation in both.

If you innovate in a system, you will naturally have spill-on effects that influence the setting. Decisions you make about spellcasting, about technology, about character power, about style of play will all spill over into the setting. D&D settings generally have dungeons and dragons in them for a reason.

If you innovate in a setting, you will naturally have some influence on the rules. After all, you need rules or guidelines and system support to keep the magic zeppelins in the air, have dog-men aliens, deal with the ray guns or meson cannons, and so on. An innovative setting will always have some influence on the rules used to play in that setting.

You don't have to consciously do both. You can innovate in one, and petty much just work with what exists for the other part. But if your setting is innovative, it will cause system innovation, and vice versa. Even an homage to another system's basic setting will be influence by the new system, and an existing rules system will be warped by an innovative setting that needs more than that system provides. Only stale retreads will fail to innovate in either. Those stale retreads might still be fun, of course, but I don't think when you think "innovation" you really need to worry about either/or.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

How I do "silver or magic to hit" in DF

One of the things I wanted to emulate in my Felltower/Cold Fens campaign was the old "need silver or magic to hit" rule from D&D. Not for any reason except it added some challenge and otherwise helped match the feel of the games I was pulling concepts and ideas from.

Christopher Rice wrote great post on this subject the other day. Which prompted me to write down how I do this myself, mechanically, in my own DF game.

So, how to do this?

Since GURPS doesn't tie "to hit" with damage directly, you don't want to directly port the concept of "silver or magic to hit." Hit all you want, it might even do Knockback, but it won't cause any injury. Plus, in my games, it's Puissance that counts.

I went with Damage Reduction (GURPS Powers, but especially GURPS Supers, p. 146). Also, I make use of the suggestion for Cosmic from GURPS Powers p. 119 for allowing Cosmic, +50%, to drop minimum damage from 1 to 0. Finally, I couple this with an Accessibility limitation that restricts its effects versus certain attacks.

For example, one of the critters in my DF game has the following:

Damage Reduction/10 (Not vs. Puissance +1 or better)

Hit that guy for 20 penetrating cutting damage and he takes 30/10 = 3. Not likely to go down from even hard blows, but eventually non-magical strikes can wear it down or something like Mungo the Giant Troll can pulverize it in a handful of hits.

Another is basically immune to non-magical damage, and thus has:

Damage Reduction/100 (Cosmic, minimum damage 0; not vs. Puissance +1 or better)

Hit that guy for 20 penetrating cutting damage and he takes 30/100 = 0.3, dropped to 0.

Still another can only be hurt by the greatest of weapons or by bare hands, because godlike invulnerability often forgets to cover all of its bases.

Damage Reduction/100 (Cosmic, minimum damage 0; not vs. Puissance +3 or unarmed attacks)

I did say "silver or magic." For those, just add "silver" to the exclusions. It's up to the GM if silver coating is enough; if not, perhaps it just cuts the reduction down a notch, so /10 goes to /5. Solid silver should always do the job.

What else? I find that DR only vs. non-magical attacks will work okay, too, but generally means you can still get splattered by a sufficiently hard non-magical blow, like from a dragon or giant. That's okay, too - high HD critters could do that in D&D, too, according to the 1st edition DMG, p. 75.

I also couple these with Injury Tolerance and a variety of Vulnerabilities and Weaknesses and things like Unkillable, Regeneration, and Supernatural Durability to get the "right" mix of toughness and survivability.

What about spells? Mostly I stick direct-damage spells under "magic." Dehydrate, Frostbite, Deathtouch - they all count, generally, as magical damage. Ones that inflict it indirectly via an effect or missile (Create Fire, say, or Lightning) are mundane damage. However, many such critters have other vulnerabilities, so you might have a creature basically immune to non-magical weaponry and many spells, but which is vulnerable to fire. For them I'll expand the accessibility limitation on their Damage Reduction.

Just harder to kill? You can also make creatures just less likely to die from such weapons. Supernatural Durability (Achilles Heel: Silver or Puissance +1 or better weapons) is one way to go, as is Unkillable with the same kind of limitation.

And that's pretty much how "silver or magic to hit" works in my game.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Delta's OD&D wilderness romps

I really enjoy reading Delta's con game summaries. They are very interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking.

One series especially - Outdoor Spoilation.

Outdoor Spoilation I
Outdoor Spoilation II
Outdoor Spoilation III

What I like about this series:

- You can see clearly the wargaming roots of D&D. The reason this works so well - rampaging PCs going through a wilderness looking for treasure - is that the rules for individual heroes grew out of this. In a way, this runs smoothly for the same reason D&D sometimes doesn't run as smoothly on the micro scale - this larger scale is what it grew out of.

- So much of the encounter tables, stated percentages for NPCs do do X or Y, treasure types, and reward system of OD&D and early AD&D shows through here. The "implied setting" of D&D is largely because of cramming a lot of adventure into a dangerous area oddly adapted from a simple hexcrawl survival game's map. Why so many castles, caves, etc.? Accident of Outdoor Survival making a bang-up area to battle around in. The world around that battle area? Hey, keep your mind on your success rate. What's off the map matters about as much as the rest of the world does in Monopoly.

- Delta's notes on how he ran it, rules effects, Rules As Written (including house rules) vs. Actual Play, are a gold mine for anyone writing any rules. Which, experience tells me, is every single GM.

- In a way, it sounds more like a Refereed playthrough of a micro wargame than of a modern RPG. This isn't an insult, it's a compliment, because it's very much structured like that. Enter this sandbox, and leave with 100,000 in loot before time runs out. The loot and monsters are set, and I'll ref the game and run the bad guys. GO!

And some reflections on the play in the series:

- I like the lairs, castles, settlements approach. A wilderness should have lairs scattered around. With oddball monsters in them. I liked that about Legends, the PBM game. Is the half-gyger in the cave dangerous, or a pushover with loot? Feel free to find out!

- the large numbers of high-level characters you find in D&D, especially for groups of men, seems all about this kind of challenge. Castles have high-level characters running them. That's how it goes. If castles were run by 3rd level NPCs or something and 8th-9th level PCs just showed up, you'd expect them to sign on to the winners not resist first. But a high-level leader is much less likely to just knuckle under, because that's not how they got to run a castle full of troops.

- If it didn't make sense that orcs come in groups of 30-300 before, it should now.

- A sandboxy crawl like this is a natural place for real and fake treasure maps. Especially with a time crunch and a monetary goal. Is that the win, or a waste of valuable time?

- anytime it's "group of PCs with magic vs. NPCs without" magic pretty much wins. It's such a game changer. NPCs need magic to survive. All good tactics does is extend the life and increase the difficulty, and perhaps cost a few extra spells. But you don't see the PCs lose a lot when magic can shift the odds immensely. This is something you'll see in just about all of my games, too - even the best tactics and cleverest and toughest foes can be undone by superior magical firepower, and sufficient hostile magical firepower can equally do that to the PCs.

- the importance of magic in older D&D sets is even more critical when you think about the damage weapons inflict - aka, not very much. Enemy HP aren't high, but spells can do a lot of damage compared to swords and arrows. That said, masses of archers are trouble for PCs.

- Clever play is always interesting. The use of smart tactics, diplomacy (occasionally), and magic for non-artillery purposes is nice to see. We still tell stories in our own games about clever tactics bypassing hard obstacles just as much as stories about hard obstacles going down in brutal heads-up confrontation. It's also fun to see when overly-clever moves backfire.

- It's always fun watching people scramble for a goal. You get some odd real-world decisions (let's let our friend die and recruit our enemy to replace him) and the occasional short-term thinking decision, but you also get to see a mad rush for loot. It's kind of funny, and it drives play the same way you get in miniatures games, on that final turn of a wargame (seizing VP locations you can't hold), and video game boss fights. Not terribly realistic, but really fun.

- Someday, I'd love the see the character writeups and their magic items. I'm curious to know what they've got to work with to get that 100,000.

- And will the stakes be higher next year?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Things I Misunderstood in AD&D

When I was a kid starting out gaming, I didn't have a lot of resources to turn to. No internet, no discussion groups, not a lot of fellow gamers. So some things I just didn't get, or understand, or wholly misunderstood. Here are a few I remember.

Men are mean. It's true. The Monster Manual says so. Under intelligence, it says stuff like "Mean: average to very." I figured, okay, they're average to very intelligent, but mean. Fair enough.

Knowing the "mean" in terms of "average" is probably still not something most 10 year olds know. Or maybe they do, now, but no one corrected me back in the day. And it never occurred to me that this was odd enough to go look the word up.

So, men are mean. My NPCs are still, on average, mean.

Night Hag Rides. It was decades after I first read Night Hags (also in the MM) that I stumbled across the phrase "hag ridden" and realized it had a connection to sleep paralysis. The whole odd actually being on the person's ethereal back thing is still a little odd to me. But as a kid, I just thought, what the heck? And moved on. We never, ever used Night Hags or their special power if they happened to show up in an adventure. It was confusing, we didn't get the reference, and thus it was left aside.

"1 of each magic excluding potions & scrolls." Oops. Good thing so few monsters have treasure type U or V. Because I read that as one roll on each table. Yes. On each table. One on rings, one on rods/staves/wands, one on weapons, one on artifacts, one on each of the miscellaneous magic item sub-tables. Every. Single. One. That's 11 items.

I just assumed that those monsters were supposed to have great hordes of magical treasures, 70% of the time. The other 30%? Nothing. Like I said, good thing those monsters were rare. And that we generally ran modules.

Lucern Hammers are for clerics. What? It says it's a hammer. We ignored most of the odd polearms because we didn't know what they were, but this was clearly a hammer. We were victims of the "put in everything Oakshotte mentions" syndrome without knowing it until we hit those illustrations in the original Dungeon Masters Adventure Log. Suddenly, no more hammers doing 2-8 instead of 2-5.

There is other stuff I didn't "get" but which are so oddly written nobody seems to have gotten - treasure types being for wilderness only (er, why is that?), the helmet rule (you can choose hit locations?), how initiative worked (we thought we got it, but we didn't), encumbrance, etc. But my total misunderstandings? The ones I remember are above.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Apropos Nothing: 1/72 Scale Tanks

Recently, I've been poking around looking at some WWII tank models. Mostly German, because I think their tanks are interesting and cool. But also some moderns (the T-90) and Allied (I do kind of need a Sherman.)

As far as I can tell, I already have:

(All in 1:72)
- two soft plastic Tiger Is from some unknown manufacturer. I had a T-34A from the same company, but lost about half the bits over the years.
- two hard plastic Tiger Is (one Airfix, one ESCI)
- two hard plastic Panthers (one Airfix, one ESCI)
- one Elefant (ESCI)

I even have a 1:35 scale Tiger I that I purchased because I couldn't find a production-turret Tiger II model. It's unassembled because, well, where I am going to put a 1:35 scale Tiger I? If I finish it, it'll be a dust magnet and need to be stored in a box. No display case here, or space for one. So that's been sitting around so long I can't remember where I got it. I can tell you I got one of the Panthers and the Elefant in Venice, Italy, so technically those are souvenirs.

I keep thinking I need a Panzer IV, because they're also a visually interesting tank. And a Tiger II, because I think they are really cool looking. I always was happy having a Pak40 7.5cm AT gun in whatever video game or board war game I was playing,

But "need" is a tricky word. It's more like "want." I don't even play any games that would use these, but I tell myself I would if I just got a few more models. It's probably a lie - I bought and played with 1/72 scale soldiers endlessly as a kid, and I have a few surviving guys who somehow didn't get lost in the dirt of my backyard when it got too dark to pick them up - mostly Gurkhas, a few German, US, and British paras, and some odder types (Russian winter infantry, Napoleonic Highlanders, and Australian commandos). If any part of me is reclaiming lost kid-dom, it's the part that say, geez, you need a Tiger II. And a Pak40. And a Stug would be nice. Maybe a couple of T-34s to face them off against?

All that said, I'd jump on a good Tiger II model. If only to stash it in the box with the others, until I have a place to put these guys once they're assembled . . .

Sunday, May 17, 2015

How many monsters?

There is an excellent post over at Aeons & Augauries about the number of monsters in a campaign.

The short version is that he did a campaign with about 60 monsters, excluding normal animals and PC races.

My current count is 82 discrete monsters, with a lot of sub-types counted as one (all the various zombie types are just zombies, for example.) That includes normal animals, though - if they were a combat encounter, they are listed. If they aren't identified, just seen, or act as wandering damage (like my bug swarms in the Cold Fens), they don't make the list.

Monsters I've Used So Far

But even so, there are piles of monsters on my list that are already stocked into the Cold Fens and the depths of Felltower that haven't been encountered yet. I think my game will end up with more like 120-150 monsters encountered.

Part of that is the genre. It's Dungeon Fantasy. It's a bash-the-monsters game. It's a loot-the-trapped-chests game. You know there is going to be a lot of monster fighting. It's a game that thrives on a variety of monsters and variations off of that variety.

Part of it is because it's my goal. I'm going to use every stupid monster mini I own. Every cool one. Every weird one. Every oddball ones I ended up with for no reason I can explain. And I'm using some things that aren't even intended to be minis as minis because, you know, I can.

Not only that, but I hope to use every single monster from DF2 and from DFM1. Every. Single. One. The ones I made up I've mostly used before or used already, or have a place for in my games. The ones Sean made up I just want to use because Sean made cool monsters.

Like I said, though, it's that kind of game.

I used a much tinier subset of monsters in my previous GURPS game that went on for 10 years. And, as you can see in the post, the idea of a thinned monster list can make for a real change of pace when the venue changes. If you've used a subset in a specific area of the campaign world, it feels like a real change when you move to a new area and suddenly the monsters change. If every badlands in the whole world is full of orcs, gnolls, and bugbears, it doesn't matter which badlands you are in. If the Eastern Badlands are full of gnolls and the Southern Badlands are full of Bugbears, which the PCs haven't seen to date, a change of locale really does make an impact.

Not only that, but using a subset allows the players to get a feel for what's out there, predict based on a smaller set of possibilities, and general get comfortable with the game world. As much as I'm throwing the entire collection at my players this game, I recognize that what you exclude defines your game and shapes it as much as what you include.

Really thought provoking post. If you've gotten this far in mine without reading it, please go and do so.

And count the monsters you've used. It's a lot of fun.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

GURPS Mars Attacks announced

I was only familiar with this setting from the movie, which I really enjoyed. But I like the look and feel of the setting in general, and so it's cool to see that this is coming out. I liked GURPS Atomic Horror, and this is kind of the same feel for me.
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