In a previous post, I linked to +Jason Packer‘s concept for a Dungeon Fantasy sandbox campaign. In it, he posits a royal command, given by someone named King Krail, to reclaim an area bordered by some pretty distinct geography.

In short, he sketches out a sandbox, evocatively enough that it begs many questions, some of which are always relevant to any game, some of which may be a bit too rich for a stereotypical Dungeon Fantasy campaign. That being said, my experience is that while it is possible to run some sort of mindless hack and slash game, DF supports quite a bit more.

In any case, let’s start with the geography:

Describing the Sandbox of Krail’s Folly

I picture a large land area. The geographic features that Jason describes don’t always or necessarily coexist. So I want something that would take quite a while to travel across, perhaps weeks to months. So if I give people a walking pace of 2mph, and assume travel of 8 hours per day, taking two to four weeks to journey across this land gives something like 250-500 miles. That could be something roughly as large as the state of Montana, which might be a bit big. Maybe Maine would be a better example. A very large area (coincidentally, about the same land area as Portugal) that can be geographically distinct and diverse.

That makes it theoretically possible to cross on foot in about two weeks or so if you’re really focused on getting from A to B.
What else can we tell from the writeup? Let’s recap what that is:

“By decree of King Krail II, all lands east of Frostharrow, from the Gray Marshes in the south to the Granite Halls in the north, and as far east as the Broken Coast are to be reclaimed and purged of bandits, brigands and any fell creatures of The Blight. Any person who can carve out a portion of this land for him or herself and hold it against the forces of chaos and predation for a period of one year shall be granted possession of that land, for him or herself and any future heirs, in perpetuity, with appropriate title bestowed by the will of the king, with all rights and responsibilities attached thereto.”

So, to the North we have the Granite Halls. That sounds mountainous and forbidding to me; a natural geographic barrier. If you have Dwarves in your campaign, they’re going to live here, if they are sterotypical miners and dwellers. For some reason, though, they don’t live in this region. Or maybe they do.

To the south we have the Gray Marshes. OK, cool. Lots of standing water, maybe an extensive river delta. This makes some sense to me, since to the east we have the “Broken Coast.” So this monster land area borders a large body of water, probably an ocean or large sea. Maybe something like the Mediterranean. Warm (thus swamp) and fertile, and thus valuable. That it’s not under “civilized” governance means there’s something actively preventing it, likely.

Mwa ha ha.

We also have something called Frostharrow. Well, that sounds cold, and it’s the west, or maybe northwest, presumably. Maybe it’s another mountain range, or a glacier coming off of a range. Yeah, I like that. Maybe a glacier that extends south from the Granite halls. So maybe we have something like this:

Who’s this Krail guy, and why do we care?
OK, so we also have someone named King Krail, who is offering up this territory. What’s his deal? Well, if this land is so valuable, why isn’t Krail going after it himself?
Perhaps he tried and failed. So he’d like to do it himself, in an organized way, but he’s failed. So he’d rather go to volunteers, in the form of PCs, to do what he and his army can’t.
Perhaps he would like to try, but he’s unable. His army is small, untrained, or unwilling. Even more interesting, he would do this in a cold second, but some rival is holding his attention and power elsewhere in his realm. So his most experienced troops, the hardiest fighters, the mages most deeply steeped in arcane lore are all otherwise occupied to the southwest. The PCs are needed because no one else in the King’s direct employ is available – though if the PCs become troublesome, part of the problem (they turn bandit themselves), there is recourse for the King to deal with them.
Another point to consider is why Krail wants this area cleared out. 
  • He is trying to create dutiful nobles because of factional politics
  • His great-great-great-great grandparents were rulers or nobles in the area, and it’s a family legacy thing
  • The monsters and bandits are disrupting his ability to rule his current area
  • There is a legend or reality of great power or riches in the area – but he personally won’t be getting them, it’ll be the PCs. 
  • +Peter V. Dell’Orto makes a great comment below, so I’ll edit: Maybe Krail just wants to conquer this stuff, because he likes to conquer things, and this area is available. Hell, it may be fully inhabited by a functioning civilization, but one that’s just other enough to look like ‘creatures from the blight.’
  • Another variant that comes from the more scheming version of Krail is that he’s giving those most likely to give him trouble an excuse to trouble someone else.
What did this region used to be like?

One thing that makes this all kinds of fun is if this area used to contain some mighty civilization. Rome at its height or something. So there are tons of ruined fortresses, mines, dungeons, and ruined (or partially inhabited) cities. This gives all kinds of excuses for small “dungeons” occupied by all sorts of critters.
What’s this Blight thing?
Ooo. A source of nastiness. Maybe it’s a particular locale, like the Blight in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Maybe “the Blight” is delocalized. It’s a connection between this world and some other realm, plane, or dimension from which foul creatures spring. That’s your Wandering Monster right there.
Net/net
This simple one-paragraph description that +Jason Packer provided leads rapidly to all sorts of plot-rich thoughts. 
Really fun stuff.

Thursday is GURPS-day, and +Jason Packer just threw down the gauntlet. In one paragraph, plus some short supporting details, he sketched out enough of a compelling sandbox game intro to make me want to start running this exact setting in a game of my own.

I love it. I love it so much that I will repost the first paragraph (with Jason’s permission) and make adulatory comments.

“By decree of King Krail II, all lands east of Frostharrow, from the Gray Marshes in the south to the Granite Halls in the north, and as far east as the Broken Coast are to be reclaimed and purged of bandits, brigands and any fell creatures of The Blight. Any person who can carve out a portion of this land for him or herself and hold it against the forces of chaos and predation for a period of one year shall be granted possession of that land, for him or herself and any future heirs, in perpetuity, with appropriate title bestowed by the will of the king, with all rights and responsibilities attached thereto.”

OK, why is this awesome?

  • It immediately sets the boundaries, geographically, of the campaign. The GM has just said “I’m going to give you a map of the area, and if you want to explore beyond it, you’re dumb.” The King has offered estates and title to anyone who can take and hold land in this area, but no other. There’s simply no reason to leave the sandbox. 
  • Part of the genre convention of DF is a very Munchkin-like “kill the bad guys and take their stuff.” This Royal Dispensation tells you that all brigands and foul creatures in this area are “Other” by law, and it’s not just genre convention but your Solemn Duty as a Subject of the Realm to kick ass and take names
  • It sets up that “Fell Creatures of the Blight” are involved. So, look, monsters exist, no surprise.
  • There’s built-in continuity. Once you take land, you have to hold it. 
Seriously: I want to run this.

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Douglas Cole , +Mark Langsdorf , +Kevin Smyth , +Theodore Briggs , +Emily Smirle
Reference for this game 

We start in media res. There’s no Ravenscraeg 3 because I didn’t write up last Thursday’s game. We’d gone upstairs in the tower, and been jumped by a bunch of demon ninja or something. Then a few air elementals showed up, and then Thumvar, the Knight, went up some stairs and found a bloodraven, who threatened him in plain language.

Two air elementals, called Stormy2 and Stormy3 are in the local area. Cadmus had just done Protection from Evil (Enhanced), causing all of the pesky Ninjas – some sort of demonic bird-thing with supernatural durability  – to jump out of far-too-convenient windows. Thumvar, our Knight, had wandered upstairs, and managed to likely walk into the Big Boss encounter with a really big “bloodraven.”

Who immediately cast a spell at him. Unknown effect. Stormy2 throws air back at Brother Michel – a cone attack. Stormy3 fires off a lightning spell at Brody’s flank. It hits for a graze, and the graze, at half damage is still 3d6 (2) burn surge, roll of 16. He’s on the ground, stunned, suffering a major wound.

Yow. Things are not starting off well for Team Ameiko.

Staver does an acrobatic flippy thing over or through Cadmus to get into the room, off the stairs. Lucky him. In the Out-of-Character chat window, we all start fretting about our inability to damage or injury translucent air elementals. Time to seriously think about how we effectively deal with various DF-style threats that don’t respond well to bifurcation via axes.

Thumvar activates the Magic Resistance on his own Named Possession, Svalinn the Axe. Cadmus steps and prays for generic intervention from Pharasma against air elementals. Michel casts a 2d explosive fireball, which will do stuff next turn.

Thumvar gets pecked at by a “black shape,” presumably some sort of construct or spell. Thumvar blocks, which triggers the spell. Some discussion ensues about resisted spells and the general complexity and poor integration of GURPS Magic. There’s an initial roll to cast the spell, and then resisted spells get a second roll. OK, good, important safety tip.

We debate what Thumvar’s about to get nailed with after he fails his roll. The effects bear repeating in full:

You suddenly feel unpleasantly warm. You are Nauseated: you have -2 to all attrib-ute and skill rolls, and -1 to active defenses. As well, roll vs. HT after you eat, are exposed to a foul odor, fail a Fright Check, or are stunned, and every hour in free fall or in any situa-tion where you might suffer motion sickness. A rich meal in the past hour gives -2; anti-nausea remedies give +2. On a failure, you vomit for (25 – HT) seconds – treat as Retching, below. More fun will occur on your turn.

Um. Yow.

Stormy2 drifts closer to Michel and hits him with a horizontal cyclone, which knocks him back a hex. No real impact otherwise, so that’s at least not too bad. Stormy3 chucks an unwelcome lightning bolt at Cadmus, who manages to dodge out of the way.

Brody recovers from his stun, but pretends to still be stunned with an Acting roll. Staver charges up the stairs to shoot arrows at the bloodraven. Thumvar charges up the stairs as well, looking to smite some bloodraven butt.

Cadmus’ turn comes along, and we see what Pharasma has to say in response to his prayer. The entire group feels a tremendous pressure, as with the gaze of, well, a God. Staver, our Infernal, feels like he’s covered in bees. Yucky. Figuring Gods help those who help themselves, he also swings at the elementals torso. And the axe hits the elemental like hitting a tree. The elemental disappears into mist. Yay, Holy Pharasma.

Michel tosses his explosive fireball at the other elemental, and hits it in the face. Vaporized. Fire and Divine Assistance for the win. That’s good: 6d lightning bolts are No Fun.

That leaves the bloodraven and some missing demon ninjas.

…and a bloodthirsty swarm of ravens. Sigh. Why does it always have to be birds. Fortunately, when they swarm around Staver, she’s covered in enough DR to ignore their pecking, at least this turn. Brody chucks a ninja flashbomb, which blinds the swarm, but not the rest of us, and the swarm flaps around confused. Staver leaps backwards, draws a 3d explosive fireball arrow found in a previous adventure, and hits for 10 points, x3 for internal. Kaboom, burning feathers are all that remain.

Staver: “I need more of those.”

Indeed.

Thumvar continues to fight off nausea, and looks around, since our bloodraven quarry seems to have gone missing. Crap. Invisible birds? Teleport? He passes, more or less, and Cadmus starts to head up the stairs. Michel fast-draws a healing potion, and Brody likewise tries (and fails) to Fast-Draw a Healing Stone.

Brody then notices the formerly missing bird-ninja, popping up conveniently (for them) behind various PCs on the lower floor. Staver gets stabbed for 8 imp, while Michel, who is perceptive enough to get a defense, but not agile enough to dodge, gets nailed for 14 injury. Naturally, the weapons are poisoned; Staver gets hit for 4 toxic damage, while Michel, who made his HT roll to resist poison, takes the minimum 1 point of damage. Dwarven constitution for the win.

Guess Cadmus shoulda stayed downstairs. These are demon ninjas, so his Smite (auto-hit 2d burn to all malign supernatural creatures in 4 yard radius) might come in handy.

Thumvar is still rolling HT each turn for nausea from the bloodraven spell, and goes 3-for-3 in making is roll. Cadmus fails to notice anything upstairs, hears the pained screams from downstairs, and books back down. Getting his exorcise. Get it? Exorcise?

Well, Staver’s an infernal, so I can’t Smite near him. So I Heroic Charge, and wind up right behind the guy who just stabbed Brother Michel. I do a Deceptive Attack to the torso, because sneaky ninja, and am glad when he makes a Blindfighting roll and gets to defend anyway. He fails, and I deliver 9 (2) cut to his back; he takes probably 10-12 injury, and falls forward, maybe dead.

Michel does not go unconscious, and drinks his healing potion that was meant for Brody. Heals 12 injury, which is pretty sweet.

Brody too moves away from the ninja and crushes the healing stone to himself, but Brody’s player was pulled away to a tech support call, so we moved on without noting the results publicly.

Staver turns around, draws a demonsbane arrow – his only one, but clearly no time like the present – and shoots the guy with it. 9 imp for the arrow itself, plus 4d more for demonsbane. The demon explodes with a splortch into purple-green ichor. We like results like that.

The last ninja runs out of the window. Again.

Thumvar (again! 4-for-4!) makes his HT roll to resist the effects of the bloodraven’s spell, and jumps back down to the first floor.

We have a break for a moment. Michel figures out that Thumvar’s inflicted with Burning Death, and Cadmus heals Brody from 6/12 to 12/12, taking the injury on himself. Six minutes to recover that. Hope we don’t get attacked in that time.

We then beat feet down to the basement of the tower, hoping to find and slay the bloodraven. Assuming the raven was real. Maybe a construct. Anyway, through a couple of doors, but MapTool is lagging so badly in movement and graphics updates that it’s painful to explore manually.

We decide to head through a passage that branches off north, but is interrupted by running water. There’s a bell and clapper in the wall on the near side of the stream. Cadmus suspects hinkiness, but the successful Holy Warrior roll goes unnoticed, or unimportant, or both. In retrospect, the GM thought my Holy Warrior roll for “detect hinkiness” was jumping the stream. Ah ha.

There’s a five-yard plank that’s nearly a yard wide, and we do something to it, but for the life of me, I can’t parse what it was, or what we did. The lag is bad enough we decide to call it for the night.

Edit: OK, all but Michel jump across the three-yard stream of running water. Michel asks Cadmus to hand him the 3′ wide by 15′ long plank, which thanks to a well-made ST roll (I hate ST rolls) he does. Two trolls come shambling down the hall; Michel plans on negotiating with them. We’ll see how that goes.

Peter posted a note on who’s doing play reports on Dungeon Fantasy games. In the comments section, +Mark Langsdorf notes that my play reports for +Nathan Joy‘s Jade Regent game were sporadic. +Peter V. Dell’Orto noted that he mostly saw me posting on Pathfinder, which I play with +Jeromy French and others.

I thought about that, and came to a conclusion on why:

The Pathfinder game uses Google Hangouts, webcams, and Roll20. This means most of my actions are verbal. “Pel notes that he’s going down the hall.” “I attack the bug-eyed fish monster.” Whatever.

This means that my fingers are mostly not occupied except while I am typing in roll commands into the die roller. I can transcribe, almost blow-for-blow, what’s going on in the background and still uphold my obligations to the group by being an active participant in the fun.

On the GURPS game, we play on MapTool with Skype, all chat, all the time. In order to keep up with what’s going on, I have to keep close tabs on two different chat windows. I therefore have a harder time doing real-time transcription, and thus often don’t get around to going back to it retroactively. Time is precious, etc. Everything I do is text, so when I’m interacting in the OOC window or the game window, I’m not transcribing.

I honestly much prefer the video feed. I find it more social, more fun, and more like the gaming experience I wish to have. I do prefer MapTool to Roll20 for GURPS, by far – actually, I like the MT abilities a lot, and the provided critical hit stuff and the way it does rolls works well for GURPS.

But anyway, that’s the skinny. I’m sure I could scour the game chatlogs and turn it into a play report. No interest in that. I like my free-form commentary. So the Jade Regent reports will continue to be sporadic.

Alas.

Last time in +Jeromy French ‘s Skull and Shackles campaign was a pretty epic fight with a mummy that had killed a lot of Pathfinders, and that had a amulet that allowed it to convert good energy (which really should kill it) into healing dark energy. Oops. We killed it, but it was a close thing.

***

Today’s adventure starts with us becoming aware of a huge ship that moored itself at the river mouth that our vessel had sailed up, blocking our exit. It’s a large warship with actual cannon on it.

+Matt Sutton dispatches his flying (swimming?) minion with telepathy-o-vision. It’s a huge ship, with many dozens of people on it. They’ll be getting water in the morning.

Our resident alchemist, +Joshua Taylor notes he has potions of Alter Self, and comes up with a ruse to make people try and leave, so we can slip by. Naturally, there are dinosaurs on the island. Important safety tip. Oh, and the potions only last 10 minutes. Hrm.

Next idea: sail by quietly, but cause as much havoc as possible as we try and slip by. We contemplate cutting the pulley system connecting the wheel to the rudder. Gotta involve fire somehow too, and an actual powder magazine is going to be hard to pass up.

We decide to send Pel (me) aboard with some potions of Alter Self, making me look more like a Chilaxian. I get on board late at night, make a quick trip to the wheel pulley mechanism, then out.

At least, that’s the plan. I am given a few Alter Self potions, a Wand of Nature’s Ally, three vials of Alchemist’s Fire, and a two-part epoxy called alchemical glue. Also a climbing aid. And a vial of brewed rot. Really foul smelling stuff.

I roll a natural 20 on my stealth roll, for a 33, and a 19 with the climbing aid gives me a 36. I spot an easy way into the wheelhouse room.

I climb into the wheelhouse, and do not make the two people sitting there aware of my presence. These pirate hunters are a nuisance, but they’re not so numerous or powerful that it’s worth uniting the shackles to counter them.

I elect to split a Rapid Shot sneak attack on each one, which crits on the first shot, and nearly kills – but not all the way – the second guy.

The officer turns and nails me with an axe for mild damage. I split shots again, and kill the second guy. The officer and I trade a couple shots, and I eventually kill him, but until he lets out a shout.

I saw at the rope until marines open the door, and then I chuck the bottle of nauseating rot at them. Next round I chuck the alchemists fire at the wheelhouse pulleys; the marine swings at me ineffectually.

Now Pel is faced with three angry marines, and the need to hit the rope one more time. I loose two arrows at my assailants, one miss, one hit.

One marine slips on the vomit of the other’s sickness and falls down, the second and third both swing cutlasses at me. One miss, one hit, minimal damage. I draw my rapier and cut through the remaining rope. One nicks me, and I dive through the window. Alas, my plans to fire the powder magazine will never come to fruition. I drink a Potion of the Sea and then climb back onto my own ship as it sails by.

The larger warship fires a few ballista bolts at us, but no real impact. I’m down to less than half of my HP, having been hit for 23 HP in the battle; the other ship rapidly finds they can’t steer.

I give Alejandro ( +kung fu hillbilly)   his wand back; he’d despaired of it’s return when I started fighting five other guys. I get some healing (back up to 26/36).

We replenish our water stores, and sail around for a while. We notice a fishing trawler with loose sails, and a fishing net that’s not fishing. No occupants, and it’s clearly taking on water. Malgrim sends his water serpent, Atori, to check it out, and finds a coral “underwater magical carpet” just hovering there, that scraped out the bottom (Pel guesses). There are some sea creatures (Sahuagin) gnawing on human remains as well.

But hmmm, the coral thing is magical. Naturally we decide to check it out and try and kick some fish ass. There look to be five of these guys.

Malgrim steps on board the fishing trawler, and they jump up through hatches on the deck; naturally Malgrim uses Cleave to hack at both, the first for 3d6+10 damage, nailing him with 20 HP in one blow. Second guy gets the same treatment. A good start.

Atori the water snake bites and misses.

Alejandro’s up, and also pierces his foe decisively. Only minimal damage. Pel’s turn, attacks a different sahuaguin twice for 8 HP.

Our foes attack Alejandro, to no good purpose. Gimble ( +Joshua Taylor) chucks a firebomb at one, forcing Alejandro to dodge, making a DC 15 reflex save, as well as the other two fishmen. Alejandro burns for 6 HP.

Malgrim steps up and rolls another killing blow, but misses the cleave; the snake successfully chomps the remainder, killing the last one.

Gimble uses a magic weapon to push Alejandro into the water with a hydropump to extinguish him. The bard is not amused. He also grabs the magical coral raft while he’s at it.

For loot, the coral raft/carpet/thing there’s some small amount of treasure. Some jewelry and whatnot. A bunch of wet dried fish (huh?). The magic underwater carpet responds to Aquan, so Alejandro can command the thing. Can fit 5 people on it. Woo hoo.

We then, a few days later, come across another pirate vessel grappled to another ship, which is currently on fire. There’s active combat going on here. A confused situation that we can exploit.

Perhaps next time.

So, Pyramid has an upcoming issue on Swashbucklers and Pirates. I’m playing in a Pathfinder Skull and Shackles campaign GMed by +Jeromy French.

This puts me in a piratical mood, and I was thinking this morning about what would happen if the typical DnD or Dungeon Fantasy world were to take to the open seas. This really applies to most magical fantasy tropes.

Ah, my ship. My glorious vessel, perhaps similar to the ships in the picture.

“They might have the weather gage, but we have the weather gods.”
       – Master and Commander

The ships portrayed in the Aubrey-Maturin novels (if you haven’t seen it, go see Master and Commander. It’s good.) seem to range in length from about 100 to 170 feet or so. Why does this matter? Well, the Wind spell has a base cost of 1/50, meaning you can enclose most ships in the spell’s area of effect for the base cost of the spell: 1 point of energy gives you a 50 yard radius. And for the price of exhaustion of one man (say, 8 FP), you can get a ship from the doldrums and becalmed to steering in a couple of knots of wind for eight hours. Then he can rest for an hour and a half and do it again. It ain’t fast, but it’s not motionless, either. With a few mages, or some sort of manastone or other power source, no ship would ever be motionless. That’s kind of a big deal.

You can also shift the wind by 22.5 degrees with the same spell. While many age of sail ships had issues going directly into the wind, again, one magic spell later, and you can all of a sudden get that much closer. With enough magic, the concept of “the weather gage” largely irrelevant.

An army travels on its stomach.
                     -Napoleon Bonaparte 

Another big deal in long-distance sailing is of course food and water. A frigate would carry a shockingly large quantity of food and water, with “six months’ stores” being a common figure.

Guess you don’t need that if you can purify water, eh? Or create it? Essential food, at six meals to the pound, is 1-2 man-days of food per pound. For a 250-500 person crew for 180 days, that’s less than 45 tons of food. That seems like a lot, but it’s probably not. A thousand-ton ship wouldn’t even notice it (it’s only slightly more than the weight of the crew). If you need a gallon of fresh water per day (ish), call it 10 lbs per man per day, that would normally be 450 tons (you’d probably never carry that much, after all, that’s 450 cubic yards of water).

You can see where this is going. Cornucopia for powder and shot, perhaps. Or bolts for ballistae and stones for catapults if that’s your thing. Forget a ship’s surgeon doing more harm than good – ships would probably sail with an alchemist for various potions, and more than one cleric both as a spiritual leader as well as for healing. Gods of water would be big, as would death or thievery for those of a piratical bent.

Of course, just because you can cast spells doesn’t mean an opposing ship’s wizards will let you. So an evenly matched duel would still be on terms that make the sailors important, if the various supernatural forces are cancelled out by each other.

Finally, if your response to all that is “frack that, you scurvy dog, I’ll hang you from the yardarm!” then you can always go Dresden on it’s ass: Water grounds magical energies. On the open sea, you’re on your own.

Healing and whatnot might be divine, and still work. Learned Prayers for wind might also be OK, though a quick look at GURPS Powers makes it look frightfully expensive.

***

Sorry it’s been a bit dry this week, but work’s been really busy. Today also marks the first time that I’ve tried to embed an image in the flow of text. Blogger handles this quite well, with autoflow around the picture. You guys know what this means, right? Pretty soon, my blog will inevitably have graphs.  

So, I wrote this Big Long Post on melee skill levels in GURPS. It got a lot of favorable attention.

Then, on Saturday night, March 2, I joined +Vaclav Tofl and +Michael Keenan in a Gladiatorial smackdown.

We each played 75 point characters, and since there were two PCs and five pre-gens, Michael and I were on the same team. I joined late, at 8:30, and we started almost immediately. My usual GURPS guy is Cadmus, a 313-point Warrior Saint. So I’m used to rather high-point combat.

Michael played a sword-and-shield guy, and so did I. I had a large shield, Shortsword-14, but not Shield Wall training. I also had Shield-14, for Block-13, Parry-13, Dodge-10. All characters were pre-gen’ed by Vaclav.

We faced a javelin-tosser, a strong berserker with a great axe and Reach-2, and a canny two-sword fighter with Sword-16 or so. So it was 2-on-3, starting at the opposite ends of maybe a 30-40 yard wide circular arena.

We scored a narrow victory. Michael’s character and mine were both down to lower than HP/3 by the end of the fight, with me at 4/13 and Michael hanging on to consciousness at 0 HP. The berserker went berserk, and his All-Out Attacking rapidly and inevitably led to his demise. He was the first casualty. The second foe to fall was the two-sworder, whose skill-16 was nearly the death of both Michael and I. I plodded on to the javeliner at Move 2 (halved for being chopped up a lot) and managed to force some sort of cowardice roll where he dropped his spear, and after that, he yielded. Technically, one might call Michael’s character the second casualty, as he got cut up quite a bit and wound up going all defensive, using the axe-wielder’s fallen body as cover for a while.

What were my take-aways?

  • I don’t know the 4e rules back-to-front, and you really need to run the game to master the game.
  • I stand by my post! Skill-14 to Skill-16 is the beginning of dangerous. My character, with an effective Shortsword-12 due to his large shield, really didn’t have a lot of fun attack options that didn’t leave him totally exposed
  • Reach 2 is a great thing to have; Reach 2 and Grip Mastery (Form Mastery?) that lets you change Reach on a weapon instantly is even cooler (the Axe guy had the Reach, but not the mastery).
  • Committed Attacks are still your friend, much more so than All-Out Attacks. They still have major drawbacks, but they’re a nice little boost. The Long option is really nice in some cases.
  • I brought down – but did not kill or incapacitate – the berserker with a crippling strike to the leg. At only -2, this is really your go-to target at lower skill levels – a cutting attack to the leg. Once it’s crippled (and while Knut the Berserker had DR1 tough skin, that was all the armor anyone had) your foe is basically immobile, and if you can back off a yard or three, he’s out of the fight. A prone foe is still hazardous for a yard or two, though – you can’t just ignore them.
  • The vitals are even nastier than I thought, and at only -3, this is Big News. Any injury to the vitals triggers a check for stunning, just like the head. That’s a monster fight-ender, since it invokes Death Spiral mechanics. I’d missed that when I read the rules, and figured that the x3 injury multiplier was enough. But no, even a 1-point injury to the vitals or head (eyes, face, skull) is enough to trigger a stun check
  • Don’t bother with a Large Shield at this point value if you don’t have Shield Wall training. That -2 hurt a lot at Skill-10-14. 
  • Partner tactics can work, but require a bit of pre-discussion. 
  • We had an interesting rules question (to me): If you start in someone’s side hex, and step to the rear, is that a runaround attack that gives -2, or (the way we played it) do you need to start in the front hex for it to qualify as runaround, and therefore you do get the “can’t defend” hit for stepping from side to rear. I think the text supports that you have to start in a front hex to qualify for runaround, which means letting someone in your side hexes is a bad, bad idea
  • Turns out that lower than 1/3 HP does, in fact, lower your Basic Speed. I thought it was just Move and Dodge.
  • The javeliner spent a lot of time aiming and throwing javelins at about a -3 or -4 penalty to no good effect, really, at the skill level he was tossing at (I’d guess 14). I think this suggests that better tactics for someone with a missile weapon is probably to run in, throw a hatchet (swing damage!) at short range, then Fast-Draw a weapon and mix it up. I think this squares with my comments on ranged weapon skill levels.
  • I’d mis-remembered the rules on Stun. You always take a Do Nothing after you’ve been stunned, and you make your HT roll to recover at the end of your turn. That’s an important bit of trivia, since it guarantees a stun result gives at least one round of Do Nothing to the victim.
  • Fallen foes and friends are a pain in the ass when you’re doing tactical combat, and the rules for movement points and facing changes really add up when it comes to tactical mobility.
I think such combat-heavy games might make good use of The Last Gasp and Delayed Gratification. I’m biased, though.

Vaclav had all this stuff down cold. I don’t think he mis-remembered any rule (maybe once? GURPS has a lot of rules), and he was perfectly willing to make judgement calls when it made sense. He was talking about a campaign that mixed Roma Arcana, Gladiators, and brought in Martial Arts. If I weren’t playing in two games  already, I’d sign up instantly. If you get a chance to play in his campaign, you should take it.

Continuation of the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Campaign following the Pathfinder Jade Regent Adventure Path.

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Mark Langsdorf , +Theodore Briggs , +Kevin Smyth , +Emily Smirle , +Douglas Cole

This will be an abbreviated tale, but let me start with the conclusion: we played for four hours in one giant combat that involved five PCs, and no fewer than fourteen adversaries. We finished the combat in a very satisfactory manner, and play was brisk, rules disputes were minimal, and severe consequences were suffered by the PCs due to battle injuries. 
GURPS is very capable of fast, fun, detailed play. 
*****
We started the game having just finished being attacked by two swarms of ravens after opening the unlocked door to the hall. Thumvar and Cadmus were inside the hall, having entered as part of the combat previously. I honestly don’t recall if Cadmus and Thumvar had both entered and then were attacked (I think so), or one or both of us entered, and then the other rushed in for support. 
Brother Michel, who has a strong Honesty disad, objected to home invasion throughout the session until a key bit of info was revealed. More on that later.

A word here: Honesty is an annoying disadvantage for a group of murder-hobos to have among them, and Cadmus has it too, as a temporary part of a deal with his Goddess that granted him some cool abilities after a crit on a general prayer for Smite. Michel’s player really dug into his disad here – as he should have. What we were doing inside that house was at best questionable. We suspected evil was afoot, but it was all circumstantial. There were some principles/laws/customs that would allow us to act like the vigilantes we were, but they weren’t obvious at the time. I’m not sure to what extent modern western legal theory applies in Golarion, but there’s no question we were pushing our luck, and Michel kept us . . . well, if not honest, at least informed. It was a good bit of roleplaying.

Anyway, the hall was empty – naturally we suspected ninjas. They’re always there when you can’t see ’em, after all. It was on two levels, the lower hall where we’d fought the ravens, and the upper wings, which had benches and tables overlooking the lower hall. I think there may have been some doors up there.
Thumvar flew up to the balcony to check things out. Michel would not enter the building, and was down a few HP and FP for spellcasting. Cadmus went to him and provided healing (he was down 6 HP, I think), which would only take Cadmus 6 minutes to heal thanks to Flesh Wounds. So mostly fully refreshed, we . . .

. . . and then Java wigged out on me totally. Massive errors in MapTool caused by the auto-update to Java7 that are incompatible with MT build 87. I had to log out, shut down, log back on, reinstall Java6 Update 41, find that didn’t work, then get help from our resident IT gurus (actually, that may well be everyone but me in that group), and replace my mt-cfg file pointer with a direct pointer to C:blahblahJava6 instead of the generic pointer. This should also let me run Java6 only for that, and Java7 for everything else. Woot, thanks to Bruno, but when I returned to play . . .

Ninjas! Scads of them!
Oops. That was probably an interface error. No ninjas here. Move along.
Anyway, long story less long: Brody opens a door and maybe walks in.

Then a door opens, and we see a freakin’ were-bear and a few thugs. Nate is borrowing the weres from GURPS Monster Hunters, so they’re kinda badass. 30 HP and some DR.

We prepare for battle – Thumvar fast-draws his axe, Cadmus asks the blessings of Pharasma, anticipating combat, and gets his Righteous Fury on. Michel is bitterly disappointed that we’re all “GRRR!” since we’re home invaders and haven’t the right. Brody hears the commotion and begins to walk out of the room he was exploring. And then Staver draws a couple of arrows and looses them at the Were-bear. As Staver’s player stated: “Staver has the ethics of a cat.”

So battle was on for real. Michel and Staver form up to Cadmus’ left and right, Thumvar gets in the bear+2xThug’s faces at the door from which they’re emerging.


Very soon after this, more ninjas show up, Michel asks if we can all just get along, put our weapons down, and talk. A ninja attacks Michel, who’s on Cadmus’ left side and in his line of sight; he does a Shield Wall block for him. Staver’s foe starts directly behind Cadmus, unseen, and Staver gets badly murderized by one of those pop-up ninjas in their first round of combat. And in the next round, Brody gets badly, badly stabbed. Possibly mortal wound, definitely negative HP . . . 

In retrospect, this was a tough game for Kevin, and he wound up spending a lot of the game working on a replacement character in the background. Brody got it right at the beginning of a four-hour session, or maybe midway through if there were multiple stabbings involved. We were desperately trying to think of ways to mitigate the damage. I don’t think he had any spare CP to use to mitigate wounds. He didn’t have any Destiny points (borrowed from Monster Hunters), nor was he using Thief! wildcard skill to make the wound a Flesh Wound. We’d done the Tactics check at the beginning of the fight, but Brody was not in Thumvar’s line of sight, so couldn’t benefit from a bequeathed re-roll. Ultimately, he had to “just take it.” There might be a lesson here, something +Sean Punch brought up, about keeping the group more together, but maybe not. We weren’t that far apart. Just bad luck.

 At this point, critical information is revealed: Ninja assassins are considered Other. They are “kill on sight” legal, and those associating with them are brought along for the ride. This is a big deal, since it unconstrained the lot of us for full-on combat.
Without going through a blow-by blow, some of my remembered highlights and notes:

  • Righteous Fury is something I’ve mentioned before. It’s a spectacular physical power-up, and Nate has been kind and allows me to roll the three 1d6 rolls and allocate them how I like. I nearly always take the highest roll and give it to DX, the second highest and increase ST, and the lowest goes to HT. This time, I rolled 5, 4, 2, which increased the chracter’s point value by 160! ST 18, DX 18, HT 14. This gave me Axe-24, Shield-22, and with my large shield (Shield Wall negates the -2 for large shields; a wonderful perk) and Combat Reflexes, he has Parry-19 and Block-18. Shrivener, Cadmus’ named possession, does 3d+3 (2) cut damage on a successful hit. That can punch through as much armor on an average roll as a .30-06 . . .
  • His first move was possibly rules-illegal, but we let it slide. He spun and did a rapid strike, hitting first one foe, then stepping and hitting the other. Both were killed or incapacitated. I’m not sure if you can step in the middle of a rapid strike or not; the group decided on yes, but I’ve got a question out to The Powers That Be on this one. Skill levels as high as this enable some truly epic moves. If I would have had Weapon Master, lowering the Rapid Strike penalties to -3 each instead of -6, accounting for four foes per turn would not have been out of the question.

    Edit: Kromm himself commented on this: it’s legal. I paste his comment below in the post in full, since it’s just that useful:

    FYI, the step allowed by the Attack maneuver can come at any time on your turn: before the attack, after the attack, or between attacks if you have more than one. There’s nothing illegal about taking an Attack maneuver, declaring a Rapid Strike, and then attacking at -6, stepping, and attacking at -6. You can’t do this with Dual-Weapon Attack, because that’s simultaneous (and also easier, so suck it up!).

  • Thumvar has DR 14. This is a phenomenal equalizer for many things, and even with Cadmus’ power-up, I’d give mad props to Thumvar in most combat situations. His trademark is a dual-weapon attack with an edged shield and an axe, and he’ll often rack up 15+ points of cutting damage, maybe on each. He eventually wound up dispatching the werebear with two huge blows after Cadmus had crippled its leg (more on that later).
  • I may have said this before, but +Mark Langsdorf is right: if you don’t pay the low fee to silver your weapons in a DF campaign, you’re either inexperienced (me) or dumb (hopefully not me). That being said, though we’d talked about getting Shrivener silvered, we didn’t actually do it. Don’t forget.
  • Cadmus got bull-rushed from behind by the were-bear. He knocked me one hex over, but did not knock me down. Being strong and big helps a lot in this situation – I think the bear rolled 2d+something physical damage, with double-knockback for his slam. I took 4 points of damage even through DR 9, so this was a mightly blow. We started calling the were-bear Ditka or the Refridgerator after that.
  • The fight was basically over when after getting slammed, Cadmus spun and chopped at Ditka’s knee, landing the blow and doing 18(2) raw damage, which was enough to cripple the leg (yay!) but not to take it right off – between the DR and 30HP this guy was a BMF.
  • Towards the end of the fight, I tried once again to do something that was going to be a Moment of Awesome. Committed Attack (Long) to get into a Thug’s hex, use Judo Throw to toss him down, then kill him with an axe blow. Judo Throw defaults from Axe/Mace for me (that’s an allowable Technique Adaptation perk), so I had effectively Judo Throw-24 . . . and the Thug managed to make both defense rolls. Again. I have yet to pull off any nifty grappling stuff in combat, despite several attempts. Sigh.
After that, having dispatched a couple ninja, maybe 3-5 thugs, and the were-bear, everyone else started to head for the door. Thumvar, in his own moment of awesome, actually flies to the door and sizes up what equipment the fleeing foes are carrying, deciding whether or not to kill ’em all or let ’em escape by judging the quality of the plunder.
A fine way to end the night. 

Today’s game started out after we’d been attacked by some sort of acid ooze in the previous game. Naturally, we were immediately attacked by a giant wasp on a narrow set of switchbacked stairs.

Cadmus, usually the shield and magic axe guy, decided to play with his dueling poleaxe (spear tip, hammerhead, axe blade) instead. That’s trading Axe-19 for Polearm-14, but a 2-yard reach. We shall see.

First round, our Knight (also a gargoyle) flew off the stairs, took a Wait maneuver. Then the wasp flew some huge amount of hexes right at Cadmus, who managed to parry him aside with his polearm. That triggered Thumvar’s Wait, and he got in a good thwack. Brother Michel the Cleric/Mage stepped right behind me, which irritated me until he tapped me on the shoulder and casts Walk on Air. “Walk after him, just don’t fall.”

Sweet.

Cadmus steps up into open air, stabs, but the thing dodges. Then Staver, our Infernal Scout, does a ranged Feint and Attack at the things wings, makes the Feint by 14, and destroys them. Crunch, splat, Fight over.

Well, that fight. Two ninjas were naturally hiding in the shadows climbing the suporting timbers of the switchbacked stairway, the way ninjas do.

The less ethical among us (Staver and Brody, our thief) shoot first. Brody chucks a knife at one (Knife Throwing: the art of skillfully discarding a perfectly good weapon), which causes his target ninja to have to make a Climb check to not fall. He makes it. Nimble little bastard.

Staver drills his target with an arrow for 10 impaling. Target also fails to fall. Maybe he’s got some armor, ’cause 20 injury if he don’t, and he didn’t die.

The rest of us non-perceptive folks notice something’s up. Literally. 10 yards up, and enmeshed in the support structures for the stairs.

Thumvar flies, Michel puts himself close to a wall, goes defensive, and ponders what spell to hit them with. I Walk on Air halfway to the ninjas. Brody drops to the ground beside Staver, but would have biffed the landing except for a quick Thief! point. He plucks an arrow from Staver’s cornucopia quiver (infinite arrows) . . . and realizes that with -8 for cover and -4 for range, he doesn’t have the skill to hit them. Oops.

Staver’s turn again, and she sinks an arrow into the boards; -8 for cover is a lot.

The ninja’s try to Stealth out, one succeeds, disappearing into the woodwork. The other does not, and Thumvar fast-draws a hatchet and chucks it at him. Crazy Dodge-monkey gets out of the way. This left Michel little to do, with 10 yards of distance between him and his hidden foes, so since he hadn’t set anything on fire for a few hours, he went with that option, casting explosive fireball.

Cadmus continues walking through air and chops at the neck of his foe, who dodges. The way Ninjas do. Despite missing, he cuts through the support pillar ninja-boy is standing on, since his axe does 2d+3 (2) cut, and rolled 14 penetration. He fails to fall, pesky ninja. The stairs also fail to fall. But are weakened.

I just wanted to say that running through the sky to stab ninjas is really where I want this game to go, and I’m happy we’re partway there already.

                                                                                    — +Nathan Joy 

Cadmus’ foe turns to try and fast draw his sword and stab him in the throat.  Cadmus notices that the thing has black feathers and a yellow beak. Ravencraeg is apparently pretty literal. Cadmus tries to aggressively parry the sword, hoping to chop it in half. He makes the parry, but only by the margin provided by his shield (DB+3), so no dice.

Thumvar flies over and buries his axe into the bird-ninja of Alcatraz, killing him.

The other one is nowhere to be found. Boo! for alert foes.

We bring the body down, and search him, finding two potions, and three more stoppered vials. Plus 10 yards of spider silk rope, a short sword, blowgun, some daggers, and a lightly armored black garment. Ninjas have good loot.

Cadmus remarks we should probably get to the big ol’ doors before archers arrive at the arrow slits – which would make our lives generically difficult. This goes more or less unnoticed. Due to shiny potions and stuff. One’s a blur potion, the other a potion of Insignificance, that makes the eyes just slide off you, not noticing your presence.

Staver (Greedy) searches the wasp’s nest for treasure too. She discovers that wasp’s nests are kinda gross. The GM allows a roll vs. Naturalist (Scout!), Staver biffs it, spends a Scout! point to make the roll, and finds out that wasp’s nest paper makes good field-expedient gauze/bandages for first aid. +2 HP to first aid attempts.

Which, given we keep spending time NOT getting to the doors, I believe we’ll need presently – but it turns out I’m wrong. We swing open the heavy door, and . . .

. . . are attacked by a huge swarm of Ravens. Two of them, actually.

We back off a bit, and Brody tosses an exploding egg (nagateppo). This blinds one swarm.

The swarm attacks the rest of us. Large-area injury is resisted by the average DR of the whole body, so Cadmus is DR 6. So Thumvar and Cadmus, the best protected of the group, flail around being pecked, but that pings off the armor. We kill a few. Michel tosses a Stunball at our feet, which kills most of them, stuns a few of us (including Michel, caught in his own spell), and destroys one of the two swarms. We pause for a moment as the other swarm wakes up and starts coming for us. Thumvar is totally coated in massive amounts of plate, so he’s safe. I’m only threatened if they roll a 6, so I’m 85% safe. We keep swinging at it as we make time for the mage to wake up and kill the swarm with another spell. Michel rolls a lot of 14s.

Eventually we do enough damage to the final swarm to disperse it. Cadmus heals Michel, he recovers fatigue, we eat roast raven, and that’s the session.

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Mark Langsdorf , +Emily Smirle +Theodore Briggs +Kevin Smyth +Douglas Cole

*********

Not much to report this time. Lots of combat, mostly melee. We got caught off-guard by the wasp, who was fast enough to be on us before we could declare and trigger Wait maneuvers. Vulnerable wings made for a relatively easy fight.


The ninjas were more fun, but mostly they just hung out in the rafters, with only one trying anything. 


The ravens were more annoying than dangerous, since those of us in the fray were wearing enough armor to render them ineffective – but 1d6+1 pi++ every round with no hit roll and no defense is bad mojo unless you happen to be slathered in head-to-toe armor. Which Thumvar and Cadmus were. It did get a bit tedious, though – still a better alternative than what would have happened with my old kit, which maxed out at DR 6, which would have given me DR 4 instead of DR 6 for average protection, and that would have let a lot more damage through. As it was, I could just ignore them.


Still, one of the fun things about GURPS combat is the tactical choices, and swarms, while very nasty, don’t really allow for that. You basically do 2 HP per attack per turn, or 1 HP for pi or imp weapons. It’s really a matter of “I hope that you brought explosives, fire, concussion, or other area effects.”


Which we did. QED. 

My previous post about some past GURPS campaigns brought on a very interesting comment string from +Christopher Lorando. I made some comments, and he replied. The gist of it is worth repeating. And since Thursday is GURPS-day, here we go:

My abridged list of common pitfalls:

[Edit: Some of these, as Sean (Dr Kromm) points out, are very much not GURPS-specific, but generic to RPGs and social gatherings alike. His commentary, as always, is well worth reading).

  • Issues with rules lawyering: often caused by pinging of the SoDoM, or expectations clash in the competence level of PCs. This is worth a good conversation, but rules-lawyering is easy: The GM says “we’re doing it this way for today; if we change it, it won’t be today. Take it offline.” 
  • Immobile battlefield: The tendency for every character to want/try to do something every second means that even with combat moves that equate to 5-8 minute miles, your odds of rescuing someone without a ranged aid (gun, spell, muscle-powered ranged weapon, friendly dragon) are nearly zero unless you keep the group together. So keep the group together if you don’t want a bunch of individual combats.
  • Action Overload: attempting an inhuman amount of activity in a row. My Action Points rules from Pyramid #3/44 were a fix for this, but wow. You’re like Neo in bullet time in your hex . . . you just can’t leave that hex to rescue Trinity real well
  • Option Overload: The tendency to try and use every book, every rule, every option can be large. It’s worth fighting in many cases. Maybe all cases.
  • PC Utility Fail: It’s vitally, vitally important to understand what kind of characters are useful i any given game.
  • One-Hit Wonder: GURPS has emergent “death spiral” behavior in some places. The temptation to wade back into the fray is large, and often fatal. The key to GURPS combat is often “how do we avoid getting hit, if we get hit, how do we avoid getting injured.”
  • Breakpoint games: There ARE breakpoints that you should be aware of. Combat attacks and defenses that net out over 14 or 16 should be brought down with options like Deceptive Attack or Riposte.
Likewise, here were some of his comments, and my comments on the comments:

. . . the GM would say “Hey I have a GURPS Game!” and everyone would come up with some random character, only to find out only one player out of the 4 to 5 actually fit what the GM had in mind.

This is a pretty common mistake. Couple easy ways to avoid it, too. The first is that allowable plot connection devices should be supplied by the GM. “You all must be part of Delta Force” is rather specific, and directed. “You all must have the ability to deal with combat encounters, many – but not always – involving gunfights” is another. On the SJG Forums, there are a few posts by +Sean Punch that give Action Hero Basic Skills (there are two links there), and that will at least keep all the PCs “in the game,” even if they’re not in their niche at the moment.

Another way to do it is by insisting that every PC have one super-strong link to another character, and/or one or two minor links to others. I did this in a game I ran (Lords of Light and Shadow) and it worked great. It helped flesh out both the group, why they’d hang together, and some of the local color. It’s how I got a buddhist temple, with martial arts and yoga classes, which was affiliated to a local college somehow. I wouldn’t have come up with that, but my players did for me.

You can also mix and match. A basic template (see below) and direction provided by the GM, and links and interrelationships made up by the characters – always with GM Veto. I’m a massive believer in GM Veto.

I have found Templates absolutely critical in that regard, as it helps myself get an idea of what is expected of players to fit the game that they had in mind. More times than not, I would try to come up with creative ways to roleplay and use talents that fit towards story, only to find out that I am being gunned down repeatedly.

Templates and Lenses are key here, and part of the GM responsibility if he sees every PC needing to be able to participate in his preferred method of conflict resolution. If the GM doesn’t have one, and allows the PCs non-violent outs (bribery, deceit, seduction) that allows the non-bloody to shine too.

That and one thing that REALLY rang true: Trying to use EVERY BOOK! More times than not, I have found two books do just find (At least for the player). The Game Master already has enough on his plate to manage, and in the games I have played many of them ended due to sheer overwhelming numbers and stat blocks.

My first real game was a GURPSification of Dark Conspiracy. I used the 3rd Edition Basic Set, Martial Arts, High Tech, Psionics, Magic, Horror, Martial Arts Adventures, Vehicles, Ultra Tech 1 and 2 . . . dear God, what a mess. I swear I spent more time with my nose in the books than GMing.

One of these days I may actually get a Wuxia style game, though until I can actually follow through with my original setting idea it will likely have to wait.

Well, for that you will certainly need Technical Grappling, when it comes out. And copies for all your friends and relatives.

What?