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2014-05-31

Mr. X

I use to try and stat up all the NPCs for the games I ran, and quickly found that this was a huge waste of time. Most of the NPCs that the players interacted with didn't need detailed stats, and many of the "random" folks that they met along the way did.

I developed a few generic templates that I could use for guards, merchants, bandits, etc. but even this was cumbersome to port from one genre to the next.

So, now when I need an NPC on the fly, I just stat it up as Mr. (or Ms.) X, where X is the highest level attributes they have. They might have all attributes at X, or have 2 at the X level, 1 at X -2, and 1 at 10 (Unless needed stats rarely go under 10 for these generic characters). I then just decide that any skill that is part of the primary focus for that character is at Attribute+2.

Sometimes I give the character all 12s

Here is an example:

Mr. 10: All stats 10, skills 12

Mr. 12: All stats 12, skills 14

Mr. 14 (combat): ST 14, DX 14, IQ 10, HT 12, Broadsword 16

And so on...

A table with basic damage and listing the common weapons and armor of the setting is the last bit if these are going to be primary combat types.


2014-05-29

Does Dungeon Fantasy Need Story?




"There is a hole in the ground, you've heard it's full of treasure!" For many, this is as much story as you need for a DF game. But for me, I need a be more to keep me from becoming board with the game. That goes for GMing as well as being a player.

While running the "Caverns of Chaos", I found that the only reason the players would need to go to the caves was for another payday. Sure they were helping the town, but the direct effect was getting loot! And while players like loot, the motive felt weak. Some of the he players wanted more of a reason to keep returning.

My initial solution was to create a few "quests" from towns folks who needed item X or to rescue person Y. These worked okay but became "this week's justification." Then, I created a longer quest for the players to find and destroy an evil alter.

The quests worked out fine, but looking back I think what was really needed wasn't a reason to go to the caverns, but a desire to. Perhaps if I had put more work into strange and interesting things that were there, the players wouldn't have needed a particularly strong external reason to return week after week.

What I am saying, is that Dungeon Fantasy does need story, but that the best story should be environmental. The PLACE should be the story. Strange rooms, new creatures, odd happenings, lost history, etc.

Going forward I still will have a "meta-quest" to drive the players into the dungeon, but once there, I think the real story is going to be what they find and discover. Exploration is story.

2014-05-26

Recap: DF Sessions 11 & 12 - Caverns of Chaos 8

2014-03-27 - Session 11
2014-04-03 - Session 12

Characters:
Farthing, Faun Wizard
Noide, Celestial Cleric
Phelix, Cat-folk Swashbuckler
Rider, Cat-folk Warrior
Voide, Infernal Warrior/Thief

---

[There is going to be a lot of info in this post on what happened before the games, because a lot of that was handled via email or posting.]

When we left off Phelix and Noide had retreated out of the cave. They rejoined Farthing and the group, beaten and weak decided to head back to town and see if they could not get some assistance.

The Arakun was left as a spy to watch the caves and see what might happen.

When the party arrives back, they immediately put out the word that their friends had been captured and that they could use any help that was offered. Many in the town looked concerned but there were few who offered any sort of help.

Jones and co were nowhere to be found. Some said that they had headed out down the road just a day before the party arrived back, but they had never seen them passing.

After two days of looking for help and finding little, the party was approached by a guard. He told them that a message had come for them, shot into the wall by arrow. It read:

To the (remaining) dishonorable adventures,

Ya says you wants’ta talk but ‘cause of some door malfunction, ya goes off and attack me dear friends the goblins.

It’s lucky dat dey had some help from our troll allies. I was told dat two of your’s fell, and the rest of you ran ’way crying. The trolls took the bodies (I heard dat the big one was a bit crunchy), and most of their stuff, but left behind a pack in which if found something rolled into a bit of cloth. A gem dat looks remarkably like the one I’ve got.

And now I’ve learned what day are! I gets your game now, you came ‘ere to hunt us down fer the gems! You wants to unlock the door and gain all dat power. We’ll he’s told me all about it now, and dat power will be mine.

We can pay off the knolls just like we paid off the others, then I will gain more power dan you ever dreamed.

So you keep on running and crying. Dat power is mine now!

Lord of the Caverns,
Thullakk

After reading the note, the party heard a scream and some commotion coming from around the building. As they arrived around the corner, they saw several people running inside, others were panicked.

A low rumble could be heard over the cries, and felt under their feet. Off in the distance, to the northeast, dark clouds were growing spreading out. The clouds, rumbling, and panic all were growing.

Later Noide found his half-brother, Voide an Infernal, waiting at the inn. He jokingly told his brother that the family always thought it would be him to destroy the worlds, but it turns out that Noide had done it.

---

The next day the group was on their way out of town and ran into Rider an old friend/rival of Phelix. About a month prior he had a distressing dream involving Phelix and had been traveling to join up the group. The following is his dream (from his perspective):

You were bound, gagged, and a hood placed over your head. Two voices could be heard. The first sounded like a man, human most likely.

“What shall we do with these two?”

Another voice, raspy and unpleasant, “This one will serve as a sacrifice. You must perform the ritual. Cut his heart out and restore the power of the altar.”

“And the other one?”

“I will take him. I have many uses for a body such his. Have the Gnolls slap him in chains. I will leave as soon as the ritual is complete.”

“What shall I do then, master?”

“I give you my staff. One of the six chaos items. With it you will draw power from the altar. Restore the old temple, and rule over this land. Soon you will have an army that obeys your every command. Then you can march against Turnwall and take your revenge.”

“And after I shall join you in the ruins of Strife?”

“No, this shall be your domain. Rule over it as you will. I seek the worlds below.”

Next the vision changes. You can see, but everything is dim and distorted. You are tied down, a man stands over you with a long curved knife. He is chanting, then he thrusts his hands down.

Now you seem to be floating. You are in a room, filled with gnolls, hobgoblins, goblins, and something else. Dark shapes in the distance. The man is standing the the middle, holding something in his hand. A strange light lashes out from him and the others all fall down, they appear dead, but then they begin to rise again.

The vision changed again. There is a town on a hill, surrounded on all sides by undead hordes. Flames rise up on the walls. Inside three figures stand trying to hold off the attack, but soon they too are overcome.

You awake in a cold sweat, yelling out. You don’t know what the dream meant, and you don’t think it was meant for you. Because when you woke, you yelled out, “Phelix”.

---

The group got geared up and decided to end this before things got worse.

They got back to the caves and found that most of them had collapsed. The north side of the cliff was just gone, and smoke was rising from a huge open pit. The whole area was filled with zombies of Goblins, Hobgoblins, Gnolls, and other denizens of the caves.

Rather than battle through the dozens of enemies between them and the entrance to the cave where the altar was said to be, they backtracked around and approached the cliffs from the other side.

Once inside (most of the cavern area was destroyed, but they could now see the walls of some structure within), the made their way through, quickly defeating a group of Zombie Gnolls.

Once inside the tomb area, the group starts to hear a mocking voice. They battle more zombies, Draugr, and make it to a set of double doors.

Beyond they find a large lit room. Here there were several undead and a few Earth Elementals. On the far side of the room was a human mage.

Voide tries to sneak around the perimeter of the room, while the rest of the group engages the other stuff near the door. The mage starts casting Force Dome, Voide can’t make it in time, but throws a dagger at the mage.

The mage was hit, but the Force Dome closes. The mage then tries to cast a spell on Voide, but it fails. This forces him to have to spend a few turns drinking potions.

In the meantime the group has little problem with the other monsters and then all make their way to the Dome. None had any magical weapons and Farthing knew that his projectiles would not get past the dome.

There was a plan to use stench, but it was discovered that Force Dome keeps the air breathable inside like Weather Dome. The mage tried to cast another spell and failed. Then he noticed Noide, and mocked the Celestial.

He tried once more to cast a spell and this time did very well. So well that Noide was not able to resist and Noide became a statue.

The party was enraged by this, all tried to get into the dome once more. Farthing then cast Sparkstorm inside the dome area, and let it blast the mage till he finally fell unconscious.

When the dome came down, Voide went crazy, torturing and mutilating the mage trying to force him to restore Noide. During his brief time conscious, the mage refused, and said that his master would save him.

During this time, the others were smashing the altar till it finally was destroyed, exploding into magical energy.

Also during this time, Farthing picked up the mages staff, which had a large gem set in it. After picking it up, the staff disintegrated in his hand, and the gem flew into and embedded itself into farthings mask (power item), remaking it into something more polished. (The Chaos Staff, is now the Chaos Mask).

The group decided to split. Voide and Rider stayed with the statue of Noide, and the others went back to town to try and get some help from the church. The remainder of the undead had died (again), so the caves were no issue to get out of.

Voide spend some time exploring the other areas, finding a hidden treasure trove, and a spiral staircase that led to a large underground cavern that was quite extensive.

While checking that out, A woman entered into the room with Rider and the Statue of Noide. She came in and told Rider that she was here to collect what was hers. He tried to get between her and the statue and the mage’s unconscious body. She ended getting around the other side of the statue and moved towards the mage.

Rider decided to deny the woman what she wanted, and chopped off the head of the mage. This infuriated the woman, who shoved him back with unnatural force. He then hit her, and she turned to a pile of bones before collapsing.

Just after he heard her voice again saying that she would take what was her’s.

Days later, the others arrive back. They had gotten a scroll of Stone to Flesh, and were able to restore Noide.

---

The altar was destroyed, the town saved, the adventure over. This ended the Caverns of Chaos, which had become a much longer campaign that I had intended.

Next up, a change of scenery… and a lot more crazy!

2014-05-23

Making Disadvantages Fun


I've always thought that Disadvantages define more about a character than anything else on the characters sheet. Sure, Skills and Advantages tell what a character can do, but Disadvantages tell who they are.

So, I like Disadvantages when they are selected to flesh out a character, to play into a characters concept or back story. I also hate when they are used just to pick up points. Honestly, I wish that official templates didn't include Disadvantages at all, and instead just listed some "Common Disadvantages" in the customization notes. (I also have a bit of a pet peeve how GCA requires picking the exact value of Disads from the Template...).

When done right, disads can add a lot to a character, but at the same time they can be very disruptive to the group as a whole. Things like Obsession, Vow, and many Compulsive Behaviors can lead to character in conflict with the party's goals. Of course the basic social contract comes into play here: don't be an ass. RPGs are a group entertainment activity, and should be fun for everyone involved.

To that end, I have a few tips and some advice on how some disadvantages might play out in a game (with a leaning toward DF here).

First off, disadvantages are a great way to get a bit of "spotlight time" for your character, but this can be a tricky road. The game isn't about your character, it is about the group. Try to keep this in mind. If you really want to play an Obsessed, Jealous, Loner, you'd be better off playing a one-on-one game (or go write a book).

Also, when RPing something that could potently be detrimental to the rest of the party (and most things that are bad for your character are bad for the group), try to make it entertaining! It is easier to forgive something that hurts the group if it was fun to watch or be a part of.

Now, here are some disads that have come up in my games (most are on DF templates) and how I see them as being used in a fun way:

Absent-Mindedness: "You have trouble focusing on anything not of immediate interest." This comes into play whenever there someone else is performing a task that takes longer that a few seconds. The character might wonder down a passage while a lock is being picked, start to practice skills while a room is searched.

Again, make this fun and entertaining, but also don't try to steal the spotlight. Absent-Minded is more about not being involved/aware. A quick, "I've wondered down the left path." When things slow down, or right before they pick up, might be enough.

Charitable: "acutely aware of others’ emotions, and feel compelled to help" This is the bleeding heart disadvantage, and should be played up that way. Charitable and other "compulsion" disadvantages shouldn't only mean that you have to do that activity, but that you feel the need to! Play that up!

Code of Honor (Gentleman’s): NEVER break your word, ignore an insult, or take advantage of an opponent. While this states that it only applies between gentlemen, I think that is just seeking recompense, you would still punish "non-gentlemen" such as, "Discourtesy from anyone of Status 0 or less calls for a whipping, not a duel!" There are few gentlemen in the dungeon, but the any sentient being should be treated with some respect, and you should expect some respect in return, or act accordingly.

Curious: This is major curiosity, not just "hm, what's in that dungeon", but "hm, what happens when I press this button marked, 'Never Press'?" This can be easily the most entertaining disadvantage a character has... but is best paired with some resilience to damage.

Obsession: This can be a real problem in a group. If the obsession ties directly into the groups focus, this could work, but may also require in-party arguments or persuasion to convince the character that deviation from the obsession will still lead towards the overall goal. This can be very fun if the other players are willing to have these debates (and they win sometimes). Otherwise avoid this.

Overconfidence: This is probably the most commonly taken disadvantage I've had in my groups, but in some ways the hardest to pull off. The idea is that you think you are FAR more capable than what your character sheet has. Treat all your skills as if they were 6+ points higher! If you don't have Luck, act as if you do! If you do have Luck, act as though you don't need it!

The goal is to have fun as a group, and have an interesting character. These don't have to be in conflict. The group should work together to make sure that the characters are all compatible and okay with each other. Characters with disadvantages that come in conflict with others can be fun, but only when it doesn't lead to deadlock. Figure out what works, change what doesn't, and 

2014-05-22

My Worst GMing Mistakes

To err is human... even when you are the GM. I have had my fair share of GMing fumbles over the years, here are a few and what I've learned since then.

Plot Without Players

I don't think I was ever a "rail-road" GM. If the players wandered off, I might throw the plot at them in the next town, but I never "forced" the plot.

What I did start doing was having the plot progress without the player involvement at all. I had a timeline of events that were going to happen if the PCs got involved or not. The problem with this is that all the prep and investment on my end were wasted, and the player were never quite sure why things kept happening off screen, or why things they clearly had no interest in were the focus of the game. Basically, the PCs were not the principle characters in the story, and that was not as fun as when they are.

Now, I still create strong NPCs, and they have plans. I might even set up events to trigger their next move (if the prince is killed, we declare war...), but the story is about what the players are doing. If they don't get involved, then these NPCs and their plans can go to the way side. I also try to get the players interest or party goals to be what intersects with the NPC plans.

The Michael Bay Effect

I use to have a list of GMing "tips" that I kept at the top of my GM screen, or with my game prep notes, and the first item was something like "if nothing exciting is happening, change that!" So, when I would run games at the first sign of the party floundering or things slowing down, I would have something blow up, or some crazy NPC show up screaming, or something just plain weird happen. And the next, I'd have a bigger explosion, crazier NPCs, or even more strange things.

What this led to is games racing into the "silly zone." Every scene was more over the top than the last. Plots were abandoned and the players pursued or fled from whatever new crazy thing had shown up. Sure, this was fun... for awhile, but games like this tended to burn out fast.

I still try to keep on top of when my games slow down, but now I try to keep the action a little more even. I will jot down a few ideas for "random encounters" that I can plop down, but try to make sure they bring something to the game that ties into what major NPCs are up to, or give some details of the world. I'll still throw in some crazy stuff happening, but also allow for some mild lulls. Sometimes players need a breather.

That's Not Clever Enough

Uh... this is the worst one. To put it simply, when the PCs came up with what they though was a clever plan, but I felt it wouldn't work... it didn't.

One specific example that I recall is when the players needed to "out wit" a powerful (and incredibly intelligent) wizard in a fairy-tale type game. One of the characters had "No Sense of Humor", so they devised a plan to have a battle of "wit" be a humor battle. The first person to laugh would loose. At the time, I just didn't feel this master wizard would go for this plan.

Thinking back on it, I should have allowed it. I want to encourage the players thinking outside of the normal RPG tropes, and handling things in unique ways. This was actually a good plan... and so it should have worked, or at least had the opportunity to be tested.


Well that is just some of the mistakes I've made over the years, and I am sure to make new ones. My goal isn't to be a perfect GM, just a better one each time.



2014-05-20

Recap: DF Session 9, 10, and pbp - Caverns of Chaos 7

2014-03-06 - Session 9
2014-03-06 - Session 10
(also includes play by post from the week in between)

Characters:
Drog, human barbarian
Cal, human martial artist
Farthing, faun wizard
Noide, celestial cleric
Phelix, cat-folk swashbuckler

---

The session began with Jones finding the group at the local tavern. He’s armor was a bit banged up, and he explained that his group had decided to take a “shortcut” through the woods to get to the caves, but ran into a large group of skeletons. Though they defeated the monsters, they had to return to town before they were to set off again.

The next day the party took off back to the caves. As they approached they saw smoke rising up. It seems that there was a battle between the goblins and arakun. Goblin bodies were being piled up and burned, but there were many dead arakun also being collected for burial.

The party spoke to one of the arakun who told them that the goblins had assumed that the giants cave had been cleared out. When they found it otherwise, they attacked, and chaos ensued. Eventually the giant came out and began to pound the goblins down, which sent them running.

Next the group went to the Ogre who at first thought they were goblins. He explained that they had been asking for him to join them in their little “war”.

Then the players decided to speak to the goblins who were on the cliff side. They asked to set up a meeting with the Hobgoblin leader, and that they just wanted to gem. The goblins ask for the group to give them a day to take this offer to the Hobgoblins and discuss this.

The next day a goblin escorted the players into the hobgoblin cave, saying that the hobgoblin leader would hear their offer. But when they got into the cave, the goblin dropped a portcullis down behind them.

Drog easily lifted it, and the panicked goblin ran, but was cut down shortly. Another goblin attacked, but also met his end. At this point Drog started toward the goblin cave. There were some who questioned this course, but all grouped up and headed in.

The entrance had several boxes and boards stacked up at the entrance. This did not make an effective barrier, but it did do an adequate job of hiding the “Freeze Rune” drawn on the floor that hit Drog, Phelix, and Cal.

Undeterred, they went in and found a long dark hall. Arrows were fired out of the darkness somewhere beyond. Risking the arrows, they moved forward and found a door. Opening it revealed a goblin wizard and two hobgoblins. This fight was cut short when the wizard cast a terror spell that hit most of the party. They all ran out until the panic ended a minute later.

This time the players met a group of crazed goblins near the entrance, just behind them were ranks of hobgoblins and still out of the darkness came arrows. The group made short work of the goblins. The hobgoblins put up a bit more of a fight, but still were cut down. A failed spell from a caster alerted the group to his presence. and they started down the hall again.

The caster took off running and another caused flames to erupt in the hall. Some fire resistance spells were cast, allowing Drog to run through the fire. This sent the two goblin wizards and four goblin archers running in opposite directions as the hall split off to the north and south.

Farthing calls out that they reevaluate the situation, most of the others agree, but Drog felt that their best chance was to attack now. Farthing grew angry and left, followed by Noide and Phelix.

Drog and Cal continued on, taking the right hall where they saw one of goblins’ bodies thrown out of a room further on. In this room were three Trolls, who noticed Drog and invited him in for a game of cards.

Drog can Cal came in and told the Trolls that they were just interested in learning about the hobgoblin statue. The trolls informed them that they were hired to “keep these seats warm” but might be willing to part with the information for a price. They all sat down and had some drinks, and played a few rounds of cards. Then Cal passed out and Drog’s legs gave out has he tried to stand.

---

Outside Noide decided to look for some help from the giant, but found that hill giants are not the most even tempered creatures (especially when you had previously got on one’s bad side).

The did convince an arakun to join (well their money did), and the party went back in to get their friends out.

Once they got down the hall they heard some voices and the Arakun scouted ahead and saw the unconscious bodies of Drog and Cal being picked over by three trolls. The trolls were arguing over if they could eat part of the humans, but another had said that they would be paid more if they delivered the bodies intact.

The arakun reported back and the group started to make plans. Farthing objected again, and left the cave again. While the others got weapons ready around the corner from the trolls.

Once the trolls go into the hall they saw the light, and dropped the bodies. One started to circle around the back. Then on called out after smelling Pheilx, taunting him to attack.

The battle that ensued seemed to go okay at first. Phelix was blessed and could parry any attack on him, but nothing seemed to keep the trolls down. Even stabbing one of the trolls in both eyes, only caused him to flail around wildly till they grew back. One troll even got his head chopped off, but then grabbed it and started to put it back on.

The fight was joined by two goblin archers and a wizard. The wizard was cut down by Phelix, but things were not going so well. The arakun had been hit once and was reeling, and Noide had also taken a blow.

After some healing, the group started to move back out of the cave with Phelix covering their retreat. The trolls threw insults, but did not pursue.

If you stick your hand in a dragon's mouth...

Yes, most of this doesn't apply in a Dungeon Fantasy game, which I am currently running. Still, I felt the need to write this as it is something that has bothered me for awhile, and a recent podcast sort of cemented the idea in my head.

I often hear about GMs who care more about the story they want to tell than the story that comes from the PCs actions. The typical reaction to this is that those GMs ought to just write a book, since they want to control every aspect of the story anyway. I totally agree with that assessment, but want to talk a bit about the other side of the story: the player that wants to control ever aspect of their character's story.

Maybe, I am opening up myself for a lot of flak here, but I feel that some players need to learn to just let go of their big plans for these darling little PCs. If they want to be in control of ever aspect of that characters story, then they should go write a book!

I understand that players' level of control within a game is limited to just what their character is (via character creation) and what they do (during play). In some games players have more narrative control and that is fine, too. I'm also not talking about stuff that the PC had no control/choice over at all, such as a PC waking up with a bite on their neck and now they are a vampire.

What I take issue with is a rejection of what can happen to the character in play. Sure, the GM and players should probably decided before the game on things like: how common is death, can it be reversed, how crippling is combat, etc. But sometimes, players simply don't want anything interesting to happen to their character unless they planned for it. 

The PCs take risks, but only wanting the reward not the consequences. I'll take a silly example of a dragon that ask the player to stick his hand in its mouth (maybe he has something suck in his teeth). Now the player should know that there is a risk that the dragon might close his mouth, chomping off the character's hand (if not, that player should buy Common Sense for his characters from now on). Now when that eventually happens, what should be the next step (after killing the dragon that is)?

For some players the solution is to either (1) fast forward time to the point where the character can have the hand magically restored, or (2) retire the character. After all, if they wanted a one-handed character, they would have taken the One Hand disadvantage at character creation, right? But these are are just ways to not have to deal with something the player had not intended for the character.

In GURPS there are all sorts of ways that characters can gain new disadvantages. Fights can end with crippled limbs, fright checks can result in new quirks or even new disadvantages, getting caught trying to con the king is likely to gain a new enemy. And so on.

The argument is, of course, that it isn't fun to deal with this sort of limitation. My counter is: it can be.

First, it is a great opportunity to role-play. What is character growth if not struggling to deal with something new and unexpected? How do the adapt to this? How do the overcome it? How do others react? As both a GM and a player, I like to be surprised by things. Characters often evolve into something totally new based on the experiences they have, so when I play, I want to role-play out the aftermath.

Second, it is not the end of the world... most of the time. Yes, there are cases where the game as is can't really go on. A warrior who lost the use of both his arms is likely to need to retire or become a non-adventuring PC. But how often does that sort of thing happen (other than flat out death)? Lose a hand, you can fight with your other, and get a hook. Loose an eye, you can still see. Loose a leg, get a peg. Let's face it, pirates are cool! Seriously, the adventuring life can continue.

Third, this is a great chance for new adventures, and can often allow a PC to take center stage in the game without the other players taking issue. Sure, it would make me mad to play in a game that was focused on one characters obsession to destroy all the kingdom's cabbages, but if a fellow adventurer had been cursed to violently attack every cabbage on sight, and we had to quest to the lost crypt of Sa-lad to end the curse, I'd be there! Silly examples aside, this is one of the times when it is okay to so a bit of spotlight hogging while dealing with this issue.

I have some other points, but I think my argument has been made. If you want to control your character's fate, go write a story. But, if you want a chance to be surprised, to see actual character growth, and to have a chance to play out a story that might be much better than anything you or your GM would have come up with... let the dice land where they may, and take the good with the bad.

2014-05-16

How I've Maintained a Weekly Game

I've been gaming since the early 90's, and I've always wanted to play/run more than I was. Even back in my high-school and college days, it seemed that I never got to play on a regular basis. Now, even though I am working full time, have a wife, two kids, and the million other things that go into modern life, I am gaming more than ever!

I run a game online with 5 players across 3 time zones on a weekly basis, and have been running (or playing) in these games since March 14th of 2013. In that time we've only missed 6 weeks! Even before that I was doing fairly good in 2012 with a weekly game.

One of the reason for this is that we game on-line. While there are plenty of drawbacks to online gaming and VTTs, they also remove issues of location, travel, etc. The game is always at the same place... at our computer desks. No traffic, no dealing with the need to host, none of that. Just sit and log in.

And it is almost always on the same day at the same time: Thursday's 8:30 pm (eastern). With few exceptions, we have kept to that day and time for over a year. This makes it easy for everyone to plan around the game night and try as best as we can to keep that night free. Making it a week-day and not a week-end also means fewer things "come up" out of the blue to mess with the schedule.

I have to give props to our group at being pretty dedicated and doing what they can to free up this night for our games. It isn't perfect, but everyone had done what they can and it has been working.

The last thing is that while we try to keep everything stable, we are also flexible with folks coming in late, or needing to cut out early. It is better to have a game where someone can't make it or where someone left early, than to not have the game at all. Things keep moving, the story advances, and interest in the game grows. This helps me (and I hope the others) stay motivated to keep playing and having fun.

A few other things that have helped are: Google+, I created a Group where we can post game related information or questions. All our games are scheduled using the Events system, and we run the games using Google Hangouts (with Roll20). Roll20 is another thing that has help a lot. It is hands down the best VTT I've ever used!




2014-05-14

Why Dungeon Fantasy?

I've already covered why GURPS is my preferred system. I've also written on how DF doesn't easily fit into my GMing prep style. So, why did I decide to run Dungeon Fantasy?

It the covers, right?

First and foremost, I was a bit burned out by the games I had been running. The last two campaigns were a Traveller game focused on life aboard an alien ship in unknown space, and then a Fallout game about a group of nomads wandering the wastes to find a new home.

In both games (and in most of my games I've ever run), there wasn't a clear cut antagonist. There were bad people, often very bad and powerful people, but they weren't "evil" they just had conviction in their motives and actions. Plopping the players into this meant that they had to pick lesser evils, or had to deal with folks who were asses. This led to PC disagreements, and opposed goals.

Normally, I enjoy in-party conflict, but these conflicts didn't end with the party reaching an resolution and moving on. Instead the tension kept growing and things stared to fall apart.

...or not.

After these, I wanted to do something that was a bit "simpler" in terms of story. There were good guys, bad guys, and really bad guys. It doesn't get much simpler than monsters who need kill'n, and loot needing to be taken.

I also wanted something that was a change of pace from my standard "drop the players between conflicting sides and let them forge a way." A sort of low pressure situation for both players and GM. Just some visceral fun of being a powerful fantasy hero.

And this simpler world is something that does still resonate with me. Even if I didn't ever run simple hack'n'slash games (even my early Basic D&D games were focused on characters), I've played enough NetHack, Diablo, and other video games based on this sort of game style. In a way it is comforting to play this style in at the table top with my favorite RPG rules.

This, but with fewer graphics!

The rules are also the last reason. I realized that some of my players never had a chance to get a really good handle on the basics of combat. DF is a bit of "trial by fire " in that regard. There is plenty of combat, so you learn quick.

As for why my DF game has continued without break for longer than any of my previous games, the answer is simple: I'm having a lot of fun! Every week I fee the game is getting better. I'm getting more comfortable with it, the players are getting more comfortable with their characters, and the setting is getting more interesting and diverse.

I'm currently running the second "season" of the game, and follow it up with a third that starts the players in a mega dungeon. As long as we are all still having fun with it, I think I'm going to keep going.

See you in the dungeon.


2014-05-13

Recap: DF Session 8, Caverns of Chaos 6

2014.02.20

Characters:
Drog, human barbarian
Farthing, faun wizard
Noide, celestial cleric
Phelix, cat-folk swashbuckler (missed most of part 1)
Calahn, human martial artist (missed half of part 2)

---

Starting out Drog looked into any rumors on the Hill Giant, learning mostly what the group already knew: that he had lived in the caves for some time, but nobody had seen him in a long time.

While at the tavern, a wolfen (might not keep that name) grabbed Phelix, calling him Thomas and claiming that the cat had cheated him at cards because nobody is that lucky. After the initial confrontation, several others joined and when things calmed, introductions were made.

The wolfen was “Bert” and a member of an adventuring group who had heard about the party’s exploits and decided to see if they could find any profit in the caverns. They were Jones, human male knight; Blake, human female bard; Willa, human female cleric; Rodge, human male wizard; and Bert, wolfen male thief.

They sat and drank a bit and discussed the caves. It was mentioned that the goblins had been helpful and the the Ogre was a friend.

The party left town before the new group and headed straight to the giant’s cave. Here they were greeted by an Arakun that took them through the area and into the giant’s lair. He warned them to not come to close and not make the giant angry.

In the room the party found a huge curtain that hung from the ceiling to the floor. After entering, a fire roared up and a silhouette was cast on the curtain. A booming voice told them that he knew what they needed and where to find it, but needed them to retrieve something for him. They accepted and were asked to bring back a shard from a mirror that lies in a ruined temple that was in a connected cave.

First the group had to cross a chasm that divided the cave from the ruined temple. Once across they were attacked by several crushrooms (which can’t stand up to Kiai at all). After this fight the group moved into the temple area and saw something at the back of the cave reflecting bits of light.

As they approached a voice asked who they were and what they wanted. Getting closer the creature formed into 5 humanoid “mirrors”, then as they got even closer the mirrors took the forms of each of the party members. The party tried to question the creature, but it did not seem cooperative.

Noide decided to smash his “reflection” and after hitting had the full damage dealt to him. Knocking him down to the ground. After having a healing potion poured down his throat, the reflection said that it would trade the mirror shard for the amulet of see invisible that Noide had.

Noide wanted to know what they wanted the amulet for and taking the reflection’s hand he was teleported to a strange place. There he was told that this was the creature's home plane and that invisible threats that came from Noide’s world were destroying this world. After seeing some of the creatures, Noide agreed to make the trade. He was teleported back and the mirror creature disappeared and left behind the shard.

They party also examined the temple walls and saw some carvings that told a story of some people that had sealed away an evil alter using 3 stones: two gems like the one they found in the orc statue, and the other was a sphere like what they found in the stalactite cave.

A secret door was also found and behind that there was a chest with some potions, scrolls, and a lot of coins.

The group made their way back to the giant, but then wanted to see him before they handed over the shard. Not heading the advice of the giant who said that they would share his curse if they looked upon him, Cal threw back the curtain. Drog averted his eyes, but all the rest were reduced to one third their original size. After this Noide quickly put the shard in the large mirror that was also behind the curtain restoring the group and the giant to their original heights.

A bit angry, the giant told the group where the altar is, and said that a powerful necromancer was sealed in when the tomb was magically locked. He also told them that the caves outside of the tomb are now filled with a tribe of Gnolls and that they would have to deal with them before even getting to the door.

Then he informed the group of the gems needed to open the door. One they already had, the other is in a statue in the Hobgoblin cave. According to the giant, the third stone is not needed as any unlock magic would open the door once the other two gems were in. He also warned that the Hobgoblin leader had learned to draw power from the gem, and would be more dangerous than the Orcs had been.

After this the parted headed back to town for rest and to prepare for what might be the hardest battle yet.

---

Notes:

XP: (base 5, +1 full exploration, +1 boss, +1 secrets): 8

This was pretty much off the cuff. I pulled the crushrooms from DF2, and the mirror monster was just an old idea of a unique curse. It fit well with the plot hook of a “giant” that nobody has seen hiding behind a curtain (but having a fake giant was just too obvious).

Combat was fairly quick, and nobody got hit by the crushrooms (which is good b/c they are incredibly strong!)

2014-05-12

DF Race: Arakun (Raccoon-folk)

As I mentioned before, I wanted a race that not only filled the roll traditionally held by halflings (small, stealthy thieves), but also had a social rep that fit in with that. The Arakun was the result. I want to give thanks to the many good folks on the SJGames forums for helping out (especially Ejidoth and chandley)

THIS.
http://www.darkswordminiatures.com/shop/index.php/raccoon-thief.html

Arakun [10]
Choice Professions: Thief, Ninja
Marginal Professions: Barbarian, Holy Warrior, Knight

Arakun are a race of sentient raccoons. They are small, quick, and quiet, making them excellent at sneaking and stealing. There natural affinity to climbing and flexibility allow them to get in and out of places that others cannot. Unfortunately, this affinity has earned the distrust from the other races. They are treated as criminals (weather or not they've ever committed any crime).

Attribute Modifiers: ST-3 [-30]; DX+1 [20].
Secondary Characteristic Modifiers: HP+1 [2]; Per+1 [5]; SM -2.
Advantages: Claws (Sharp) [5]; Extra Basic Move (Temp Disad: Quadreped -35%) 2 [7]; Flexibility [5]; Fur [1]; High Manual Dexterity 2 [10]; Masked Bandit 1 [5]*; Night Vision 4 [4]; Teeth (Sharp) [1]; Silence 1 [5].
Disadvantages: Kleptomania (12) [-15]; Curious (12) [-5]; Social Stigma (Criminal Record) [-5].

* Masked Bandit: You're adept at getting into places and getting at things you are not meant to. This talent adds to Climbing, Escape, Filch, Forced Entry, Streetwise, and Urban Survival. Only arakun can have it, and may buy up to 3 more levels at character creation. Reaction Bonus: Mobsters, thieves, etc. 5 points/level

2014-05-11

It's Not a Movie!

It's one of my pet peeves when people use movies, novels, or any other type of media to compare with tabletop RPGs. Usually these are arguments for fudging dice rolls, saving a character from dying, or other ways to subvert the game in favor of the story. After all, "heroes don't meaningless deaths in the middle of the movie."

My main problem with this argument is... this ain't a movie! Or book, or whatever. Applying the conditions for what makes a good movie to a TTRPG is flawed. Books and movies allow their creators full narrative control. Emulating that requires railroading and a loss of player agency.

Second, risk is part of the fun. Most people that play video games will be familiar with the term "god mode". For the rest, this is a cheat in some games where you player become invulnerable. This usually removes the challenge of the game, the tension. For me, this makes the games boring. I know that some argue that "god mode" lets them just experience the story of the game, and that is all they want. But at that point, why not just watch someone else play? In any case "god mode" removes a level of player involvement in the game. If you are desisted to win, what have you accomplished by winning? It's a hollow victory. Why even have situations where the characters are at risk, if no real risk exist?

And that brings me to my next point: why are you playing a TTRPG if you just want to tell stories? Write a story or read one. Want to collaborate, then collaborate and write. If you want to roleplay, then pack up the dice and just roleplay. But don't call yourself a gamer if you don't actually like to play games. Maybe that is a little harsh, but I play and GM because I want rules and chance to play a part in my adventures.

What I don't want, is anyone to already know how the adventure is going to end. As a GM I want to be surprised! Fudging dice and forcing events to play out according to some script is boring and treats the players as spectators and not participants.

I'm not going to tell anyone they are having bad-wrong-fun, but don't try and argue to me that PCs need "script immunity". The "G" stands for game, and sometimes you "lose". Because if you can't lose, have you really won anything?

2014-05-10

Why GURPS?

Today, there are so many options for roleplaying game rule sets to choose from. Professionally produced products with high production value, smaller independent games funded through Kickstarter, and free games put out to the web for the world to enjoy...

When I started paying TTRPGs at the start of the 90s, there were far fewer options. There was only one game shop anywhere near where I lived and it's section was very limited. Still in those days I played D&D Basic Game, AD&D 2nd ed, Marvel Superheroes RPG, Cyberpunk 2020, Star Wars, Palladium Fantasy, Rifts, and probably a few more games that I only ever played once or twice.

Where it all began for me.

There were several other games that I bought but never had the chance to play such as Cyber-generation and Werewolf the Apocalypse. I'm sure that there were a lot more that I have forgotten.

During most of these early days, I didn't really evaluate rules. The games were the settings, and the rules were tailored to that. But then I found GURPS.

I first heard "gurps" mentioned by someone who was running a superhero game. I asked, "What's a gurp?," and was told that GURPS was an RPG system like any other. No big deal, but then months later I saw a copy of the Basic Set 3rd Edition, Revised (the old soft cover with the bubbles). After thumbing through it a bit, I decided to pick it up. The idea of a generic system was interesting. Once I really sat down and started to read the rules though, I was hooked.

I still have mine (but it is spiral bound now).
Img source: http://rpggeek.com/image/499293/gurps-basic-set-third-edition-revised

Over the years since discovering GURPS, I've played other games. Some mentioned above, others (Savage Worlds, Gamma World, D&D 3/4/Next, CoC, Fudge, and more) more recently. But I've always stuck with GURPS as my preferred systems. There were even times when I actively tried to embrace other systems as my "main" game, but for many reasons I've found them lacking.

First, I understand GURPS. I don't just mean that I know the rules, but that the rules are something that I "get." More than any other RPG I've played, the rules in GURPS make sense. Results are what I would expect in "real" world. This makes the game believable and interesting. Other games, by comparison, feel arbitrary and ... "false."

Next, is that GURPS boils down to a very simple set of rules. Yes there is a TON of rules covering all sorts of things... but at the core you can always just "roll 3d6 under skill". I choose to run the game with more options, because I want that greater level of detail. Honestly, there are very few major RPGs that I played that the "base-line" level of knowledge is LESS than GURPS.

Also, I can create the characters I want. Even in other "universal" systems I've always found that you are way too restricted, or that so much is hand-waved that characters are all pretty much the same. GURPS covers every aspect of a character and lets me detail the strengths and the flaws.

Then there is how GURPS adjusts to what I want to run. There are a lot of rules, but you shouldn't use all of them, and you shouldn't use the same ones for every game. Each time I run a game I can use rules that are tailored to that game, but still keep the baseline mechanics the same. This lets me run lots of games in different ways, but still not need to learn a whole new game.

Active Defense. I hate be a passive spectator to my characters being attacked, hit, taking damage, and dying. Sure this can happen in GURPS (critical hits), but that is the extreme, and would still get a chance to roll for survival.

"I can do that in GURPS!" I've said this to myself dozens of times. At the end of the day, that is what is all boils down to. I've never found another game that can do everything that GURPS can do, and I've never found a game that I couldn't do in GURPS. I don't mind playing other games, or even running other games from time to time, but I doubt I'll ever find one that works better for me than the Generic Universal Role Playing System.


2014-05-09

Recap: DF Session 6 & 7, Caverns of Chaos 5

Continuing my DF recaps. Looking back this pair of sessions were some of my favorites. There was some real challenges, a chance to get some RP in, and an interesting dungeon design.

February 6th, 2014 (part 1) &
February 13th, 2014 (part 2)


Characters:
Drog, human barbarian
Farthing, faun wizard
Noide, celestial cleric
Phelix, cat-folk swashbuckler (missed most of part 1)
Calahn, human martial artist (missed half of part 2)


Recap:
Another week passes and the group is ready to take care of the Lizardmen that have been a raiding nearby farms and travelers. Drog asks around the local taverns, but doesn't discover anything new.

They set out and have an uneventful camp. In the morning they head into the caves and Drog spots a cleverly hidden 5x10x30 pit. After jumping over, the he threw a line to the others and they all jumped. There was one miss (Cal) but Drog was able to pull him up before he fell to the pit below.

Once inside they saw a portcullis with some stairs leading up beyond it, and a wooden door. Checking the door, Drog heard movement of several small or light creatures. He threw open the door and discovered a room with eight gecklings, one who was a shaman.

The group piled in and beat down the gecks with little resistance save for a few stabs to Dogs' legs. After looting the bodies they continued on through the next door.

Here a hall turned a corner then split to some stairs leading up to the south, and a door to the east. They decided to enter the east room which had an old well with several boards scattered around the floor. The boards looked as though they were once used to cover the well. Signs of the gecklings living in this area were seen, and checking the well, sounds came from below of some sort of wet movement.

After lowing a light down, they discovered that an Exploding Slime making its way up the side of the well. A few attacks and spells later it had still managed to get to the top, but was quickly swatted back down by Drog's sword. Farthing then threw several lighting bolts down the well while the others waited. Unfortunately, one of the two Lizard men that were in the refectory heard them and went to check it out. Seeing the humans in the cave, he signaled for the other to join him when Noide caught a glimpse of him.

The group charged the new threat and soon the first lizard man was down. The second decided to go warn others, and ran back and towards the door leading to the kitchen. It was here he was taken down, but the sound was enough to alert the two lizard men and one geckling in the kitchen. As the party started to check the bodies the kitchen door sung open and the fight started again. Once again, one of the lizard men decided to flee back and get assistance and again was struck down before opening the next door.

Not wanting another surprise, the party decided to barricade the door west of the kitchen with a bench. After this, they decide to check the passage south of the kitchen which led to an empty room (really just a wide hall). Here there was a door back to the refectory and a door further south from which Drog heard several lizard men discussing raiding plans. Everyone got ready and then the opened the door.

The leader of this group of Lizard men spotted the door opening, and called for her men to attack. Farthing threw lightning at one of the lizards and stunned him for a moment, the others got their weapons ready and started to form up, while the rest of the party waited at the door to bottleneck the reptiles. When her four consorts made it to the party, the leader moved (unseen by the party) to the other door in her chamber.

Melee between the four lizard men and the party took place at the door with the two lizard men with swords taking up the front positions, and the two with spears behind them. Things were going okay for the group until a (critical) parry by one of the lizard men left Drog's sword broken on the ground. Things might have turned bad then if it were not for a powerful blow by Noide which knocked back the lizard man that had disarmed Drog and sent him into the lizard behind him. Both ended up on the ground and Farthing's ice slick was cast and made it even more difficult for them to get up.

Drog grabbed the Lizard man's dropped broadsword, Noide, and Cal kept attacking, and Farthing readied the wand he had been wanting to try out. During all this the lizard leader throws a key to the green scale lizard man they keep as a slave blacksmith, and tells him that they are under attack. She runs to the door as he unlocks himself, then he grabs a sword and follows as she opens of the door and moved through.

Farthing's wand teleports one of the lizard men further into the room, another zap mind controls a diffrent lizard (wand of random effects!) The group takes care of the remaining consorts, and Cal decides to check out the rear flank. As he moves back the leader and green scale come around the corner. She tells the green scale to get the others, but he instead puts his sword into her back.

The others arrive and finish off the leader. The green scale dropped his sword and put his hands in front of him in an attempted calming gesture. Drog charges for the green scale and Cal tackles him sending them both to the ground (crit on attack, but hitting a giant mass of muscle still sent him down). Noide makes an attack, misses then notices that this lizard has different colored scales than the rest that they have fought. Eventually Drog also calms down and the green scale tells the party to come with him before others find them.

He takes them back to the armory where he works and explained that he did not belong to this tribe of lizard men. His tribe and these had an exchange of sons in order to create peace between them, but the brown scale son betrayed the bargain killing the green scale leader. He, the green scale son, was kepted as a slave, made to work as a blacksmith. He offered to help them if they assisted in his escape and did not harm him. Then he gave them a key to a secret door found in the kitchen that he had hidden under the hot coals. Then he warned that even with the leader dead, a giant lizard man and many other guards still remained and would be coming. The group got ready for another fight.

A pounding sound then a crash came from the door they barricaded, so they all ran that way. When they arrived at the door, it was open with a geck and a couple of lizard men standing on the other side. The group fought them down, while another geck and a geck shaman joined the fight.

These didn't take to much work (and the extra geck decided to run back. As most of the party decided to peruse, Farthing went to shut the door to the kitchen, and saw that another group had been approaching from behind.

In total there were two more gecks and a lizard men. They tried to flank the group, and ended up severely injuring Farthing, who started to play dead, but later tried to grab a healing potion and passed out.

Meanwhile the group fight the geckling two lizard men and the giant lizard man in the barracks. Most went down quick, but the giant was brutal. He had a stack of hit points and a giant greatsword. With a powerful blow he took a chunk out of Drog which sent him to the ground stunned.

Phelix jumped in  and slashed away, using lots of feigns, strikes to the arm and vitals (the later doing some pretty heavy damage). Still the brute stayed up.

The flanking group had entered the room behind Noide who had at first tried to heal Farthing, but then seeing how he was outnumbered fled.

Drog now took the roll of assisting these targets and sliced them down. Once only one geck remained he took off running.

Phelix eventually crippled the giant's hand forcing him to drop his sword and go to using his claws in close combat. Drog got behind him and took a chunk out of the lizard's neck. The next turn the lizard man offered to surrender, but Phelix and Drog both attacked. Drogs slice split the monster's skull.

They healed Farthing and looted the bodies, Drog taking the giant (fine) lizard man greatsword. After this they checked the chests in the barracks and found a chest in the commander's room under a giant bed. Last they found and opened the door to the storage room where they found a new shield for Noide a bunch of catnip and other various supplies. Then they found some jewelry which the decided to take, sell, but give the proceeds to the town [still no idea why].

Then Noide did a run through and they found hidden doors that lead to other caves. One they could not operate and the other they thought better to not try. On the way out they had a short chat with a couple of goblins that were on a smoke break. They got some info on the caves on either side of the Lizard man cave. Learning that there was a human summoner in one, and giant spiders in the other.

During that night's camp, a Arakun approached Drog (quite stealthily) and delivered an invite from the hill giant that lives with him and his kind in one of the caverns. It requested that the party visit him next time they were out, as he had a mission for them.

The party returned to town, sold their loot and rested up. Soon they would head back....


Notes:
XP: (base 5, +1 full exploration, +2 Leader, +2 Giant Lizard Man, +1 secrets): 11

Good run, but again took 2 sessions to complete. Biggest lesson from this one is don't separate or leave a man behind, especially when the layout has lots of halls that circle back to other areas, allowing for the enemy to flank.

The split dungeon didn't work well this time. One player had to leave early from the first game, and another was late to the second. At this point I am wondering if the group can only do very small dungeons, or if we find another way to deal with mid-dungeon breaks.

2014-05-08

NWN, VTT, and the Future

Many years ago, a little PC game came out called Neverwinter Nights. While I wasn't a big fan of D&D, I loved that this game allowed user created content and a sort of GM-ing within that game. This was the first time I saw a computer RPG move closer toward the table top experience. My hope was that this would just be the first attempt of a new genre of CRPGs that blurred the line between the Tabletop and Computer. Games with easier to use tools, more GM options, creating of custom rule sets, etc.

But no others came. Sure there are other games that had mod tools, and allowed the creating of custom levels, quests, etc., but they didn't allow for GMing. [I never played with the NWN2 editor, so I can't speak to that.]

Later I found a new tool for gaming, the Virtual Table Top. The early VTTs I tried were often buggy and very limited. These were usually passion projects from gamers who knew how to code, but not what you would call a professional project.

As time when on they got better and better. New VTTs came out that offered more features, better support, and fewer bugs. They were no longer just chat programs with built in dice rollers. They had maps, tokens, HEX GRIDS!

But now I am seeing something even more exciting happening. My dream of a Video Game that can function like the table top may come from a Virtual Table Top that works like a video game!

I currently use Roll20 for my weekly GURPS game, and while this is simply the best VTT I've ever used, there is still a lot of features that I want that it doesn't deliver ... yet. Still, it works well, and has some neat features (subs get the dynamic lighting which is very cool).

Even more exciting for me is Tabletop Connect, which I supported the Kickstarter for. Actual 3d models in a 3d environment, dynamic lighting, physics based dice, easy to create fill-able character sheets, and more! It is still early in development, but getting better all the time. Unfortunately, it isn't usable for me right now (even though as a backer I have access to the dev build), due to it not having support for hex grid, but that is coming.



And then there is Tabletop Simulator, which is basically a physics sandbox for paying board games, but also has support for RPGs. I haven't had a chance to check this one out, but it looks promising.

My hope is that these sorts of projects will just continue to get better and better. None are perfect, but they are moving in the right direction. I also hope that some of the RPG publishers out there are taking notice of these and maybe looking at creating their own or supporting what is out there.

Let's face it, tabletop RPGs are not a great way to make money (that's a whole other post about how lucky we are that anyone bothers to support this hobby at all). But VTT would be a great way for companies to expand their revenue streams. Selling adventure packs with maps, minis, etc. Selling character and monster figures/tokens. GM and player game aides, character sheet imports, etc. I would happily invest in this sort of thing. It is also a great way to allow the community to contribute. Let others build levels and models then sell them through the VTT (and everyone taking their cut).

And it doesn't have to just be for the on-line gamers such as myself. Tools to manage virtual avatars, options to 3d print your custom character. GM and player tablet apps that interact and integrate rules (and upgrade packs that add new supplemental options).

This is where I want to see TTRPGs going, embracing technology and offering new ways to play. Maybe it is just a dream... but it is one that is getting closer every day.

2014-05-07

GURPS Magic: A Mixed Bag

Many years ago, when I first picked up GURPS, one of the things that sold me on it was the magic system. I had been used to other games where even if they tried to have a "unified mechanic," magic was always a special case. Not so in GURPS! Spells were skills, and to cast you just needed to roll under the level just like any other skill. Granted there were a few other additions like FP cost and cast time, but it wasn't really a whole other system. I remember thinking, "This is genius! Why don't other games do this?"

Other aspects of the magic system also followed a logic that I could understand: Advanced spells required understanding of basic spells (to make a Fireball, you need to know how to create a fire, then shape it). Spells tire out the caster. And so on. It felt... un-arbitrary.

Today I still like the magic system... mostly. Over the years there have been a few issues that have caused problems for me as a GM and for my players.

One issue is that there are SO MANY spells. I don't retain the knowledge of what each spell does, how it can be used, etc. As a GM I don't want to consult books to look up things in the middle of a game, but I don't have a better resource for spells other than the Magic book. This effects PC and NPCs.

Players (especially those coming from other games where they needed to know far fewer spells) have a hard time knowing the details of a very large spell list. I've often had a player forget they have spell X, but then something comes up where they feel that spell could be put to some use. Then, I need to look up the details to make sure the spell works as we think it does.

For my part, I dread making NPC casters. I don't want to use the same spell list every time, but creating a new list of spells and trying to figure out what each do and what is a good strategy can be a huge pain. I've tried just creating the 5-6 combat spells I think that they will need, but often find that if they had the prerequisite spells, the encounter would have played out very differently.

Even when I know what a spell is "supposed" to do, players are going to find new and creative ways to abuse utilize them. This is usually a good thing, but does require a lot of off the cuff rulings. I tend to try to keep with the intent of the spell more than anything else. Many times, I find after doing some research and further thinking that I would have ruled a different way, and have to make sure I convey that to my players so that they are not angry when things don't work as they did last time.

None of this makes me hate the default GURPS magic system, but it does make it a pain some times. I've been tempted to use something other than the default system, but since my current game is DF I've decided to stick to the RAW as much as I can. If I had more time, I'd probably make a (digital) "spell card" for each spell that a PC has with full details of the spell, which would probably address my biggest issues.

I'd love to hear other issues, concerns, and solutions others have.

2014-05-05

Recap: DF Session 4 & 5, Caverns of Chaos 4

January 30th, 2014 (part 1)
February 1st, 2014 (part 2)

Characters:

Drog, human barbarian
Farthing, faun wizard
Noide, celestial cleric
Phelix, cat-folk swashbuckler

and introducing...
Calahn, human martial artist

Recap:

Things are starting to change in Turnwall. The local jeweler has taken on a second apprentice due to the increase in gems. Prices for semi-precious gems has fallen somewhat, and the more well to do townsfolk are wearing a lot more jewelry.

Some merchants are feeling better about traveling to/from Turnwall now that the Orc raiders have been dispatched, but the threat from the Lizard men marauders remains.

The adventurers are starting to get recognized by more of the town (especially the merchants). Though this hasn't necessarily translated into a favorable reaction, yet.

---

After some rest the the party wanted to check on some rumors and then head back out. Drog was curious about the Mechalor and while socializing at the pub, was told by several that he was just some old crazy hermit living in the woods north of town and not a powerful wizard.

Farthing decided to do some research on the Lizard men, but was somewhat hampered by the lack of a Mages' Guild or public library. Still, in the town records, he found out that there are many lizard men living in the swamps to the southeast, but that he marauders broke off from them some time ago. He also learned that the Lizard men are located in the back of the caverns and used the gecklings as lookouts if anyone approached that might be coming for them.

With this information in hand, the set off to the Caverns of Chaos once again. During the night a lone Dire Wolf came upon the camp, but the party were alerted before it could descend on them. They made quick work of the lone creature and the remainder of the night was uneventful.

Once to the caves, the group decided to speak with the old Ogre and see what they could learn. The found him cooking again. The talking skull bobbing up and down in his stew (to help with the flavor). The group learned of the exact cave the lizard men lived in. They also got descriptions of the "Pool cave" and "Cattle cave". Then they turned their questions to the abandoned tomb. Still wanting to destroy the Alter of Unspeakable Evil, the group decided to head to the tomb and check it out.

The Abandoned Tomb

As soon as the party entered the cave they all felt a sense of unease. Something was gnawing at the back of their minds giving them all slight headaches. Once they entered the first large chamber this feeling subsided.

In the first room a small stream flowed from the northeast into a pool of water. Bones lay scattered around the room. After probing one of the piles, skeletons rose up from the piles and attacked.

The group made pretty quick work of the skeletons, even the commander who Drog smashed to pieces. Afterwards, a martial artist (Calahn) came crashing through the wall. He too had been out exploring the caves and after a short (and awkward) introductions, the group decided to continue on.

Searching to pool they found a sort of water wheel embedded into the stone. The gentle stream turned the wheel. Above it was some sort of rotating disk with a hourglass like indent.

To the northeast was a small room with another pool. The water seemed to come up through cracks in the floor of the pool and draining out in the same fashion in the larger pool.

North of skeleton's room the cave split, and the delvers took the left path, but as soon as Drog went a few yards down, he felt a terrible pain in his head and began to take damage. There was no way around this psychic attack, to the group when back to the other path.

Here they found a room with four old corpses and a door. As soon as they entered the Corpses attacked. These were Draugr and hit hard. Drog took a blow. Then a few turns later Calahn was hit with a skillful shot (crit), and appeared to die.

The rest of the battle was a long fight. The Draugr's shields game them excellent defense. The group was able to bottleneck them into a small spot and then Farthing cast a spark storm that assisted in damaging the Draugr. Eventually the party destroyed the monsters and were happy to find that through some miracle Calahn was live and not even harmed anymore.

The door was locked, but Phelix was able to pick this and the party found a tomb beyond. At the center of this large room a larger sarcophagus lay on a raised portion of the floor. Four Flaming Skulls were positioned around this and flew at the party as soon as they entered.

The Skulls bites were annoying, but not really threatening. The party tried a variety of things to hurt the skulls after learning that their standard attacks were fairly weak against the semi-corporeal monsters.

Once they destroyed the skulls, they examined the sarcophagus and saw carvings on it that showed the disk near the water wheel has some sort of key that went to it.

Beyond this room there was as chamber with more skulls, but these seemed to be "dormant" and were quickly smashed.

With other options exhausted, the group decided to check back down the hall where the physic attack came from. Calahn being the fastest ran down the hall and found a chamber filled with skulls. One looked different from the rest, and he quickly smashed it ending the constant damage.

Under the skulls he found the "key" to the turning disk, returned to the group, and they all went back to the pool. After using the key, the waters direction changed, and as the waterwheel started to turn the other way, sounds of stone and metal moving came echoing out of the tomb room.

Entering the room, the players saw the sarcophagus opening. Phelix approached then a green cloud of gas escaped. Philix jumped back and the others stayed clear of the gas till a large Wraith emerged.

The Wraith mocked the group then attack Phelix. A purify air spell managed to clear out some of the gas and the party began to wail on the wraith who had to maneuver around to some to keep his enemies in view.

Noide was able to get behind the monster and get a good shot in, Cal kept at Kiai, Farthing added fire to the swords, and Drog and Phelix kept the pressure on.

Eventually the Wraith attempted to negotiate (though he was bluffing), but Drog would not have any of it. And eventually the wraith collapsed. This broke a Death Potion that he had placed just for this sort of occasion, but Noide cleared out the gas. Phelix began to examine the body (which he failed to notice was subtly casting a spell and just paying at "dead". Drog found a switch in the sarcophagus and after flicking it and opening up a wall in the room, decided to cleave the head off the wraith.

The wraith had just finished casting his spell... and failed. His head rolled across the floor. The party found some decorative weaponry and a chest of coins in the secret nook. They took the wraith's sword and shield also.

Since it was still early, the party decided to check out a few other caves. The cattle cave had an old cattle fence with some celestial writing in magic glowing letters that read, "Breaking this seal will release the unseen horror.”

So they broke the seal and fought a Hellcat. They bottled necked the exit, but the creature ran straight at Phelix, knocking him down. Another pounce on Farthing didn't go as well and the creature was quickly dispatched with a some crippling blows from Drog (who had the amulet of see invisible on). Inside they found a holy symbol of Lys and some stones fixed into the wall with continual light on them.

In the pool cave, Noide decided to jump into the water. Catching a glimpse of the lights below, he began to swim to the bottom. Cal dove in after him and was able to pull him out. After this the party decided that there was nothing worth risking drowning themselves for in the cave.

---
Notes:
XP: (base 5, +1 full exploration, +2 Wraith, +1 Hellcat, +2 other): 11

I liked this run (though wish it didn't take two nights). There was a few new types of enemies tried out and a few other ideas (puzzles/traps).

Prep, GMing Style, and DF (or DF is a lot of work)

I've referred to my GMing style before as "simulationist." What I mean by that is, I tend to not have a plan for what the PCs are going to do in my games. Instead I plan on what the NPCs are going to do. I try to create a handful of interesting NPCs who have their own plans for the world. I ask myself what do they want? How are they going to get it? How does this conflict with other NPC plans?

Then I drop the PCs in the middle of that and let them start mucking everything up. I don't plan out what side is going to win, or how things will progress much, because that is what the PCs are for! I want to be as surprised by the outcome as the players are when we reach the end.

GMing this way has worked out with relative success. There is a problem of the PCs choosing different sides (which is a whole other post on it's own). But more or less this has been a success as far as GMing goes. It saves me a ton of time in prep, I just have some major NPCs, their relations to others, and their goals. I might add in a few interesting locations, and I tend to have random "events" that can be dropped in anywhere to add action or something.

This set up also works very well in games where there is little combat, or if there is players are going mostly against other humans, and I can use simple enemy stats like "Mr. 12": ST,DX,HT,Will,Per=12; Weapon skills=DX+2. Or some variation of him (Strong Mr12 is ST+2...).

But then, I decided to run Dungeon Fantasy. And so far I've been loving it, but have found that I need to do a lot more prep than in previous games. I'm worried about combat balance, having a variety of monsters and traps, having loot that makes this all worth while, getting maps made that tie this all together, and having some sort of small plot that gives the PCs a motivation other than loot (yes, some players want that).

Even using published adventures or maps requires conversion to the terms/scale/stats for GURPS. While I am getting better at this, it is still way more work and has left me poorly prepared for for a few games already.

The good news is that as I use more monsters and become familiar with them, they go into my own every growing "Enemy Index". Traps have been a bit more work, but "It's a Trap" from Pyramid 3/60 has helped there. Loot also has been a bit easier for me to figure out, but is probably my weakest point at the moment.

Pyramid's got my (GM) back.

Assuming that I do get to the point where I have plenty of ready to use Monsters, Traps, and Loot to throw down, I still have to get it all organized into a dungeon that makes at least some sense (at least in a Dungeon Fantasy way). Pre-made maps and random generators only get me so far, and I think I just have to find the time and start building my own dungeons...

I actually really like designing "dungeons" (and not just in TTRPGs). I like to get into the head of the dungeon's designer, figure out what he/she/it was thinking and what the use each part of the dungeon has. In a way this is just an extension of my "simulations" GM style. I've just dreaded the time that is needed for this.

Still, I don't think it can be avoided, so I'll just have to start diving in. I'm leaning toward a mega-dungeon where I can have various caves, sewers, tunnels, sunken ruins, etc. all running into each other. Hopefully this will let me work on little bits at a time, but also allow for "cleared" areas to be reused as "friendlies" move in... or as new hostiles fight to take over. (I've considered running a full "wilderness" game, where there is just the regional map, and combat maps of trees, shrubs, etc, can be used over and over. I'm just not sure how long that will remain interesting.)

It has had plenty of rough spots, but I am still really enjoying my DF game (which is nice since I tend to tire of most of my games by the 8th session... and I'm past 14 now!) I guess I'll just see how it goes, and keep adapting. That's the GM's job, anyway!

2014-05-03

Recap: DF 03 - Caverns of Chaos 03

January 23, 2014

Characters:

Drog, human barbarian
Farthing, faun wizard
Noide, celestial cleric
Phelix, cat-folk swashbuckler

Recap:

During the week the adventurers rested, sold off the swords, staff and other loot. Noide was able to remove the ring from Phelix and after a discussion it was decided to destroy the ring. The party still needed to find the Crimson Star for Silva, and Noide revived a message from his order to speak to Tommar, a cleric of Lys the god of light, in town.

Drog also decided to hit up some rumors in the local pub. There he learned that the town's sheriff was offering a rewards for the leader of a local band of Lizard men that has been raiding local farmers and travelers.

The party headed to the Church of the Unyielding Light, to speak to Tommar. Here the older cleric told them of a "Shrine of Unspeakable Evil" that lies within an old tomb, that is said to be somewhere in the caverns. Its exact location is unknown, however.

With new and old quests alike, the party set off for the caverns. Their first stop was to speak with Ogre to see if he knew anything about a tomb or where the cave that where the snake creature was. He was able to inform the group where to find the Stalactite Cave (where the snake monster was), and that there was a tomb filled with undead above the Geckling and Orc caves. They also learned that the goblins nearby, The Cracked Skull Goblins, are very pleased with the adventures actions dealing with the Orcs who they had problems with.

The Stalactite Cave

The party stuck to single file as they entered this cave. The first few chambers held little of interest, but a little further in they found the decaying bodies of various humanoids. On one they found a silver necklace and amulet carved in the shape of an eye. It was clearly magical, but after the incident with the ring, it was thought best to just put the item in a pack and check it out later. [Due to the GM misunderstanding how Analyze Magic worked.]

Deeper still, the players encountered a group of giant rats. These proved little work for the adventures, and after killing a half dozen or so, the others decided to stay away. In the chambers with the rats, the party noticed the sparkle of gemstones inside of the stalactites. Drog started to mine them when something sent the rats fleeing from the area. They decided to finish exploring now and mine later (a wise choice).

In another chamber they found the remains of what might have been an old desk, and a scroll tube. The scroll contained within was written in the Infernal language and couldn't be read by anyone in the party.

In the next room they found a pile of bones and a talking skull. The skull peaked the curiosity of Phelix and Farthing, but scared Drog and Noide. The skull knew of the snake creature that lived in the cave, but was having difficulty recalling any specific details. He couldn't even remember who he was or where he had come from. Phelix decided to take the skull along.

In the last chamber the party saw a sharp rise in the floor and several dead rats. As they entered, Noide heard something from above and looked up just in time to avoid a large snake-like demon fall from above.

The Peshkali Proved to be a very dangerous foe. It had six arms holding scimitars, each able to attack every turn, and a demonic drive to kill the celestial Noide.

Noide did his best to try and break free from the melee, but the Peshkali persisted. The rest of the group kept attacking the monster, eventually weakening it but it wouldn't die.

After one assault, it ended up dropping one of its swords. The following turn, Drog went all out and attacked two of its arms, crippling both. This got the Peshkali's attention and it returned the favor attacking Drog 4 times, slicing deep wounds into him.

Phelix took a queue from Drog and was able to cripple two more arms. The next round another arm was lost. In a desperate last effort, the demon jumped onto Drog, wrapping its body around his. Before it had the chance to squeeze the life out of him though, the final arm was cut and the demon exploded into a thick black ooze.

At the top of the chamber Phelix found a stalactite had grown over a pedestal. While Noide treated Drog, Phelix mined out an orb of black and red stone. It was magical, and the spell on it was somehow related to the other gem they found.

The group spent the next several hours mining out gems from other other chambers, then decided to drop off the skull with Ogre. There they found out that the skull could read the scroll which contained information on the Peshkali including that it cannot be killed except by removing all of its arms.

They returned to town, sold the gems, swords, and found Silva. They asked a bunch of questions about the gem before finally handing it over. She told them that she only wanted the gem because she and her deiced adventuring partners were commissioned to get it. A powerful wizard named Mechalor.

Notes:

XP: (base 5, +1 clearing the dungeon, +2 for defeating the Peshkali, +1 for quest item): 9

Loot:

  • Silver Amulet of shaped like an Eye.
    • See Invisible / Power 20 (Noide)
  • Leather Tube, sealed.
    • Scroll in Infernal Language.
  • 6 Scimitars (sold 1200c)
  • Big Pile of Uncut Gems (sold 1440c)
  • Gem: Black Marble, Red Lines and Swirl (turned in, 400c)


Some Observations:

  • This cave was the first one I set up. It was a simple fodder then boss and not really that interesting combat wise.
  • I need to find a better way to access my notes, combat options, GM control sheet, etc. This is causing me to waste a ton of time trying to figure things out. I should also print out a full grimore for the casters so I have time, cost, skill, etc., info at hand.
  • Group is starting to coordinate a bit better. I feel like we are getting to know what other PCs are going to do.

2014-05-02

DF Race/Monster: Goblins

It seems that everyone has their own version of the Goblin for DF. I knew that I needed to adjust the template somewhat, but decided to ask my players what they expected from a goblin. Based on their answers I created a standard racial template, and from that a base "monster" for my goblin caves.

So here they are:

Goblin [10]

  • ST-1; DX+1; HT+1
  • HP+1; Will+1; Per+1
  • Infravision; Rapid Healing; Teeth (sharp)
  • Appearance (ugly); Cowardice; Social Stigma (Savage)
I removed the "Resistant to Metabolic Hazards" but will allow that as a racial power-up up to 3 levels.

And here is a Goblin Warrior (fodder):


--------------------------------------
| ST: 11   | HP:    12 | Speed: 5.75 |
| DX: 12   | Will:  11 | Move:  5    |
| IQ: 10   | Per:   11 |             |
| HT: 11   | FP:    11 | SM:   +0    |
| Dodge: 8 | Parry:  9 | DR:    2    |
--------------------------------------
Goblin Blade (13): 1d+1 cut
Traits: Infravision, Rapid Healing, Sharp teeth, Ugly, Cowardice, Social Stigma (Savage)
Skills: Stealth-13, Shortsword-13
Class: Mundane.
Notes: Goblin Blade, Leather Armor



2014-05-01

Recap: DF 02 - Caverns of Chaos 02

January 16th, 2014

Characters:
Drog, human barbarian
Farthing, faun wizard
Noide, celestial cleric
Phelix, cat-folk swashbuckler


A week has past, and the prepaid stay at the inn is over. Time to get out and do some more adventuring!

After a bit of shopping and getting things sorted from the last adventure (and many technical issues). Drog and Phelix hit the local pub scene to see what work they can drum up. Silva, a woman with a patch over her right eye offered the group 100 silver if they could deliver a special gem that is said to be in one of the lower caves. She also warned them that a snake-like creature lives in the cave and had killed her whole adventuring party when they had gone looking for the gem years ago.

Later, a woman burst into the tavern pleading for help. Her name is Morrelle and her husband, Darrow, has been kidnapped by the One-eyed clan, I group of Orcs that base in the Caverns.

After getting the others around the group set out to the caves. During the night a sound was heard near the camp, but it wasn't until the next morning that the group found an arrow shot into a tree nearby. A scroll tied to the arrow said that they Orcs were waiting for the party. It was signed with a symbol of a cracked skull.

When the party arrived at the caves they didn't notice that some of sounds of nature were in fact the orcs signaling that the party approached. Still, they had decided to take the hidden tunnel that they found in the Geckling Den to approach the Orcs.

In the Geckling den they noticed a lot of tracks and marks like things had been moved around. There were also secret doors that were left open. The party moved through the area without meeting any Gecks and took their passage into the orc hideout.

The room on the other side of the hidden tunnel was some sort of mess hall. A solitary orc sat in there eating. Drog decided to sneak in and made quick work of the unaware orc. There wasn't much else in the room so Phelix decided to move out through the double doors and scout ahead.

After moving down the hall a bit, he spotted 3 orcs ahead. Soon after, one of them caught sight of Phelix and began to move towards him. Once he recognized that one of the adventurers that he and several other orcs were waiting to ambush had some how make it in behind him, he called out and a fight ensued.

The two of the orcs in that room were wielding spears, the other was a cleric/shaman. Just beyond the character's vision were 2 more orcs with spears and two with swords and shields. These four were waiting behind a set of doors near the front entrance, and another identical set of four were across the hall. Once melee started, three of the orcs came to join, while one went through the door to get the others.

Yeah, this about sums it up.

Being somewhat smarter and better trained in combat than the gecks, the Orcs held back and waited to form up before engaging the enemy. This (I think) caught the party a bit off guard and resulted in several turns of waiting and positioning. This tactic was somewhat successful for the orcs, but after an explosive lightning attack stunned a group of orcs, things started to turn. This is about when the others started to show up.

Eventually though the party finished off all 11 orcs (even the ones that tried to retreat or surrender). They checked the rest of the area finding mostly just cooking supplies and what the orcs had on them.

Across the hall they entered the shrine to the one-eyed god that these orcs worship. Noide felt the presence of a dark power as soon as he entered. At the shrine they found the bodies of several goblins and a geckling laying at the feet of the One-Eyed god's statue. In one hand the statue held a note, evidently from the geckling telling the orcs about the adventurers.

Drog decided that this foul thing needed to be destroyed and knocked over the statue. This shattered the statue's head, and a dark cut gem fell out. The party took the gem and continued on.

Steps leading up ended in a pit trap that Drog spotted. Phelix jumped the pit then put down boards for the others to cross. They checked the next couple of rooms which were empty, then opened up a door (not listening this time!) into another orc barracks.

This group of five orcs had heard the sound of combat, but assumed that their side had won. They were surprised to see the adventurers casually walk in and it took them a second to react. By then most of the party was in the room and attacking. And again the party left no survivors.

After the sounds of combat ended the players heard a thud from beyond the next door. They followed it into an alchemy lab where they found some potions, then into the next room which was the orc leader's bed room. Here the met a pair of non-warrior, female orcs cowering in the corner.

Searching the room they found a chest, and Drog mistakenly thought it was trapped (natural 18 buddy). So after several turns trying to disarm the non-trap, it was discovered that it was not trapped and Phelix unlocked it. Here they found a sizable treasure, some tomes of magic, and a golden key.

After also checking the bookshelf, Noide cast Find Secrets and discovered a hidden door.

Beyond the door the party found the leaders sacrifice chamber. They also saw the body of Darrow and the appearance of a Demon. Drog ran to confront the demon while Phelix sprinted to the leader. The casters were both a bit drained by this point and had to use several vials of paut.

Phelix made quick work of the leader while the Demon and Drog exchanged very powerful blows. Farthing had let everyone know that this type of demon (Demon of Old) could only reliability be killed by an attack to the heart.


Attacking from behind Phelix hit the monster's heart and destroyed it. Afterwards they took the wizards staff, potions, and a small silver ring he wore. Phelix decided to slip on the ring, then found he could not take it off. Moments later the two orc women ran at him asking if he was hurt and if there was anything that they could do to help him.

The party searched the remaining rooms, found a bit more storage and the orc armorer's workshop.

That's were we called it. A follow up to this will detail the return trip, the selling of loot, etc.

---
Notes:
XP: (base 5, +1 clearing the dungeon, +2 for defeating the demon, +1 for finding plot item): 9

This game still had some rough spots. The first combat was slower paced than I wanted, but I think the group was still adjusting. All worthy enemies (even weak-ish ones) can be a slog (especially 11). Magic is still an issue on both sides. I need to make sure my casters have their spells on a cheat sheet.

Anyway, it was fun... and I think I might see some plot on the horizon.