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2017-12-11

Combat for fun and profit


I've talked about how I realized that some old school games were not about killing everything you came across, and how I had never really been a combat heavy GM. So, then why have I run, and plan to run again, Dungeon Fantasy?

First off, I'd like to say there is nothing the prevents me from running a "combat is best avoided" sort of game with GURPS Dungeon Fantasy or the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. But DF (either) does not assume that sort of play. If anything it takes more from video game play, Rouge and Diablo were clearly influences, than the sort of games I use to run. And it clearly states that it is about "killing monsters and taking their stuff", not "avoiding monsters to get to their stuff" or "negotiating with monsters..." and so on.

That said, there are skills and traits that are designed to let characters play that sort of way. The Bard can very much be a "dungeon negotiator". The thief is probably going to be better at sneaking than fighting. Wizards, Martial Artists, and others have several abilities that with some clever use can allow a group to bypass combats.

And DF at it's core is still a game of resource management. And any game that does that, is going to have to have an implied element of choice in combat. What I mean is that if a group is low on Healing Potions, Arrows, FP/ER, etc., then there has to be a choice between risking another fight, or trying to avoid it.

Still, this is one area that I really wish was covered in more detail in G:DF and DFRPG. But it isn't and the game does have a combat focus. A "balanced" combat focus... I really shouldn't like it, but after picking up GURPS DF books 1 and 2 and reading them, I was intrigued.

I don't know exactly what it was, the marriage of my favorite RPG system and the nostalgia for my first, just seeing how well it "emulated" hack and slash, or just because it looked fun. Whatever it was, it drew me in. Even after deciding that I probably wouldn't run a DF game, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I kept coming back. In conversations, online discussions, and other places.

Okay, these guys aren't balanced
Eventually I decided to try out, and ran a "sand box" sort of game using 0one's Caverns of Chaos map, with some of the information from the Caves of Chaos that was distributed with the D&D Next playtest. I found or created a few monster conversions, filled in some treasure, and got ready to play.

But things were hard. I posted several times about my struggles with DF. 250 point characters were on the high end of what I was use to outside of a "supers" game, and figuring out how to balance PCs, enemies, and make it all exciting didn't come naturally to me. After the Caves, the group moved on to the "Castle Von Dark" which was a combination of another published map, and some of my own dungeons. That campaign added more NPC interactions and was a bit more my style.

After a time, I put away DF and moved on to other things. But when I was looking back at my campaigns, I realized that DF was one of the longest running I had ever had. It was "hard" for me as a GM, but over time I was getting better. I was figuring out how to merge my style and the style and assumptions of DF. At times this led to some bad sessions, but I think the good far out weighed the bad.

So, I keep going back to DF. I keep tweaking my approach to it. There are still things I struggle with. Starting combat time before it needs to be, or keeping it going when the action has slowed and it really should be dropped are things I know I need to work on (and will probably write about soon). Dealing with the struggles of Virtual Tables Tops, which can aid some things, but make others more difficult. Adding loot that is rewarding and useful. Creating interesting characters and plots, but letting the players drive the story. Running quicker combats. And yes, even creating "balanced" encounters... and the occasional unbalanced ones. But even with all that, I've had some of the longest campaigns, interesting PCs, and good times running DF.