I was a guest this evening with Matt Finch, talking about my Top 5 DM Tips.

I had a rough week, so I had little time to prepare. That made it pretty easy, in a way: the only thing I could think of was the most important stuff. I took a few notes, and I think we had a great conversation!

You tell me. It’s about an hour.

The Blind Mapmaker was a big backer – he got his own character – on Hall of Judgment. He also does great reviews.

His review of Hall of Judgment  was complete, criticized where warranted and praised what he liked.

So I offered him the opportunity to get a preview of what was done already: This was his report.

Preview of The Citadel at Norðvörn powered by DFRPG

This is Grappling

Grappling has always gotten short shift in games. Gaming Ballistic wrestled with this problem repeatedly over the years, first with GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling for GURPS (available at Warehouse 23), and then for 5e, Swords & Wizardry, and the Pathfinder RPG with Dungeon Grappling (PDF at Warehouse 23Print and PDF at Gaming Ballistic)

The knowledge and play experience from all of that helped me create Fantastic Dungeon Grappling, a short insert in Hall of Judgment. And now, thanks to the successful funding of the Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2 Kickstarter, Steve Jackson Games has a new stretch goal for that campaign.

New Dungeon Fantasy 2 Monsters Stretch Goal: $45,000

If the DFM2 Kickstarter shoots through $45,000, Steve Jackson Games has agreed to include a copy of the 8-page Fantastic Dungeon Grappling booklet in the boxed set itself.

All of Gaming Ballistic’s Dungeon Fantasy RPG products are 8×10″ size . . . just like the box. And if that stretch goal is reached, we get to put that into practice.

Fantastic Dungeon Grappling takes the “attack roll, defense roll, damage roll” basic play of Powered by GURPS and makes it work for grappling as well. A new simplified tracking mechanism – tested over years of play – keeps this fast and light at the table.

And After the Grapple, easily and quickly perform feats such as Takedowns, Disarms, and inflicting pain or injury on your target.

Oh . . . and of course there are a few new magic spells that grapple, plus a short section on the best part about grappling: having your monsters grab and eat the players!

To unlock this new stretch goal and improve the box set contents, please visit and support The Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2 Kickstarter today! And for those of you who already own the box, don’t worry!. . . Fantastic Dungeon Grappling will be available separately as a $9 for Print+PDF, and $4 in PDF-only, during the Backerkit phase of The Citadel at Nordvorn!

So, today’s Adventure seed features Draugr. Lots of them. Obviously, these would fit into Norðlond, because draugr. But did you know that (at least according to the Viking Answer Lady), it was expected for the groom to retrieve an ancestral sword from a barrow.

Let me quote the passage in full:

Originally by Viking Answer Lady

Since men did not wear a visible token of their bachelor status, the symbolic removal of their old identity followed a much different ritual from that being followed by the bride. The groom was required to obtain an ancestral sword belonging to a deceased forebear for use later in the wedding ceremony. There is a string tradition in the sagas of breaking grave-mounds in order to retrieve a sword belonging to a deceased forebear, to be given to a son of the family, and Hilda Ellis-Davidson finds evidence for the importance of such a sword at the wedding (Hilda R. Ellis-Davidson. “The Sword at the Wedding,” in Patterns of Folklore. Ipswich UK: D.S. Brewer, 1978. p. 123). This would indeed be a powerful ritual of separation and destruction of the man’s identity as a bachelor, with the descent into the grave-mound to recover the sword serving as a symbolic death and rebirth for the groom. If an appropriate barrow was not available, the ancestral sword may have been concealed by the groom’s relatives in a mock-tumulus (Ibid., p. 109). This would provide an opportunity for the groom to be confronted by a man costumed as a ghost or aptrgangr of his ancestor, who might elaborate on the young man’s instruction by reminding him of his family history and lineage, the importance of tradition, and the need to continue the ancestral bloodline. On the other hand, the sword which the groom had to obtain might instead be gotten from a living relative, complete with the lecture on family history: the sagas are not clear on this point and nowhere actually describe grave-breaking as a part of the wedding ceremony.

So, in order to get married . . . a vital part of the society . . . our young viking had to go on a dungeon delve. Sure, it’s likely one a one or two room dungeon, but in Fantasy Norse Thegn Land, you have a very, very real expectation of finding a dead guy (or gal!) at the end of it, and that corpse was really possessive about their stuff.

If it is a true ancestor, perhaps you could get by with a test of mettle, or suffering through a lecture on marriage and the undead’s expectations of his living ancestors. Or perhaps that was her favorite sword and she feels she needs it in Valholl, so get yer grubby mitts off of it.

Things like this, plus the deep mythology of the culture, some of which we’re all familiar with (it’s likely that the words wraith and wight came from raiðr and vaettr, pronounced, you guessed it, wraith-urr and vight-urr; not to mention Tiw’s Day, Woden’s Day, Thor’s Day, and Freya’s Day/Frigga’s Day), were one of the reason that, after a quick playtest session using the Norse myths, I quickly settled on that culture as the basis for my future world.

It’s DEEP. And between marriage customs, the expected behavior of its inhabitants, and that the Viking culture got its name from the practice of venturing out, killing people, and taking their stuff, and the deep pervasiveness of magic and rune lore . . . it made it simply a natural for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

Go back the Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2/Boxed Set Reprint campaign, and while you’re at it, throw in for The Citadel at Norðlond too, and put this particular seed to work for you immediately.

In the Dragon Heresy game from last week, the GM had us eventually match up with Loki himself. He’d kidnapped Santa Claus, you see. We challenged Loki to a game of musical chairs. Yes, really.

A few things bore mentioning that were of interest to me. None of these were Dragon Heresy specific, just observations.

One of the players was reaching for her dice saying “I shoot him” with an arrow. Fortunately, that was never resolved. Were I the GM, it would not have ended well; either that, or Loki would have just waved his hand or phased around the shot at least the first time. But frack me, it’s Loki. Taking a pot shot at the Asgardian god of Mischief is an offense punishable by “it takes three days to find all the pieces of you squashed on the floor.”

The GM had us make a single die roll, and Loki rolled the lowest; we beat him on the first round, and thereby saved Yule/Ylir/Christmas. Afterwards, she expressed some disappointment that the contest was over that quickly.

It is likely she hadn’t statted out Loki fully; certainly she didn’t give him the kind of bonuses and proficiencies he should have had relative to a 1st level character . . . or maybe she did. If the Divine Mr L had Proficiency of +6 and a stat bonus of +7 or so, it’s a lower bound of 14. We all did roll very well.

I suggested to her that for things like this where you don’t want luck to completely dominate, you can tame the variability of a flat-roll 1d20 with several methods:

  • Roll 3d6 instead of 1d20, which will tend to actually center around 10, meaning the proficiency and skill bonus would prove the most important
  • Give Loki advantage: he’s a god for goodness’ sake
  • Break it up into two rolls, which will favor the one with the highest bonuses due to averaging. First roll is to realize the music stopped, which would be a Perception check. Loki almost certainly has high WIS and CHA, so on the average he’d probably be among the first to hear it’s time to lunge for chairs. THEN a Dexterity or even Acrobatics or Athletics roll, but made with disadvantage if you rolled a lower Perception check than Loki. Or just apply the margin of victory or defeat relative to Loki’s Perception check to the roll to grab a seat.

That last one is nice, in my opinion, because it’s multiple attribute dependent. You’ll want someone good at WIS and STR or DEX rather than just one; that should prolong the contest.

I also noted that there were, in fact, rules for a ritual exchange of insults (flyting) in Dragon Heresy on page whatever. Would have been apropos.

Gaming Ballistic was one of the hosts of the RPG Breakfast Club this past Sunday. It’s a live podcast also rebroadcast on Anchor.

Topics covered in the ‘cast were: Introducing Kids to RPGs/Marketing, and Introducing children to RPGs,Expanding the audience in general, and possibly pricing books and pdfs in the industry.

My voice is very quiet, for some reason.

https://anchor.fm/…/episodes/RPG-Breakfast-Club-Ep–1-e2urf1

Look for more episodes each week!

Unarmed Lethal Combat

Unarmed combat is a bit of the bastard stepchild of D&D games, and deservedly so . . . at least relative to weapons. While a dagger does 1d4, at least in Fifth Edition (and therefore in Dragon Heresy), unarmed strikes do a single point of damage, modified by your Strength bonus. That can be non-trivial, of course: a strong unarmed blow by a STR 18-20 will do 5-6 points of damage, equivalent to a weaker person (STR 10) with a 1d10 weapon.

Monks, of course, subvert this with their martial arts damage: their strikes are weapons. Equivalent to daggers at low level, and versatile longswords at high. That’s cool. It also puts most of the focus where it should be: fists are, by and large, inferior weapons relative to purpose-built killing devices. Having an unarmed blow do 0-2 points of damage (1d3-1, for example) makes sense.

Problem is, that makes all combat lethal: why do only one point of base damage when you can do 2d6? Worse – from a reality perspective – is the concept of beating the snot out of someone with a fist or sword somehow being “non lethal” or “subdual” damage, where it doesn’t hurt much. One of the selling points of Dungeon Grappling is that it enables some quality unarmed combat, and interesting bar brawls that don’t have to be lethal.

Speaking of Bar Brawls

Reality aside: during the Tavern Chat last night, I got into a fun discussion with Smokestack Jones about the requirement for nonlethal unarmed combat in games. Especially cinematic fantasy games like D&D variants. A spot of fisticuffs in a bar, perhaps adding grappling, perhaps not, is a staple of the genre. Reality aside – and we’re talking elves and half-dragons and hobbits here, so yeah, reality aside – having entertaining unarmed combat is kinda important.

We compared a few other game mechanics. He mentioned one (whose name I forget) that used two tracks: wounds and bruises. Well. That reminded me of wounds and vigor from Dragon Heresy, but mechanically, vigor is all the defenses and luck and not getting hit that you do in a fight, not shrugging off blunt trauma and non-lethal blows.

We also talked about Champions/Hero System, where if you rolled a 6 on the dice, you took 2 body, 2-5 was 1, and 1 was none – so every STUN attack had a bit of a body component to it. That made all kinds of sense to both of us too.

So. An alternate wound track. Spill-over from non-lethal to lethal damage. Good, good. Nice concepts here, well tested in other games. Oh, also: ideally, no extra rolls. Extra rolls slow things down.

I’ll mostly talk about this for Fifth Edition, as it’s what I’m most familiar with. I’ll refer to Swords & Wizardry as we go. Continue reading “Unarmed Combat in D&D”

Fight Like You Train; Don’t Waste Your Time

Roland Warzecha has a new Patreon video out; it will likely be publicly available sooner or later. It was shot at the Berlin Buckler Bouts over the last few weeks. In it he emphasizes the similarities between weapons used in the off hand, and shields are definitely a weapon.

But in it, he really emphasizes how the motions you use with a center-gripped shield[1] are essentially the same training as with the primary-hand sword. “The shield-fighting is really no different than fighting with two weapons.”

So if you swapped out the shield for an axe or sword, there are only mild differences. Slight stuff due to the character and balance of the weapon.

But this is a gaming blog, so what does that mean for RPGs?

This suggests that a “one-handed weapon” skill with reasonable defaults would apply to swords, axes, and the use of the Shield (Buckler) skill. And that much of the training that at least we do (most of the stuff I learn is based on Roland and Arthur’s fighting style, obviously, as they’re our head instructors), we’re using the tools in a way where we more or less train “right-hand weapon,” and “left-hand weapon,” with emphasis on primary-hand sword, and secondary-hand shield, but it translates fairly well to sword-and-axe.

It does help that my own teachings emphasize symmetry of ability (OK, 50 cuts primary hand with the axe. Next, 50 cuts to the pell off-hand with the axe. Repeat for 2-4 angles of cut!). But really, what you’re doing, what works, etc is very similar.

In GURPS, at least, including most of its variants, there’s been recent discussion on a “Melee Weapon” Talent, with everything appropriate defaulting from that, in one way or another. I find this credible for most things (I find it less credible for knife-fighting, but that’s mostly because in my experience knives are utterly unforgiving and utterly quick, so it may be credible still, but at the extreme edge of penalties to be bought off). I mention that D&D handles this easily, and why it mattered recently, below.

In any case, there are some neat and subtle points in the video that I think lend some degree of support to reducing the number of skills. Much as Hans-Christian Vortisch published an article collapsing many Guns skills into “Guns (Longarm),” I think that at least for the right framing: “Reach 1 weapons,” or “1H Reach 1 Weapons” that such a thing fits in with two things:

  • It fits well with how folks wish to build characters in GURPS: put most of the points in one skill. It’s efficient, and effective. It’s how all the Dungeon Fantasy RPG characters tend to be built.
  • It fits well with how real people are going to apply and learn their skills. In a combat, adrenaline-filled situation, you will not wish to flip back and forth between two vastly different mind-sets and physical stances/procedures. That way will introduce openings to get you killed.

More commentary and pictures below the break.

Continue reading “Weapon Defaults, Sword and Shield, and Roland Warzecha”

This is going to be a bit of a meta-post, in that I’ve been trying to work around an idea about running defensive-oriented combat in RPGs ever since I published the related article Unpacking Failed Attack Rolls in GURPS.

In it, I note in the On Guard! and What’s the Point? sections that RPGs tend to prioritize attack over defense, while the practice of fighting with sharps and other potentially-lethal activity tends to bias towards setting up a defense and actively working to maintain that, and then open up an opening into which you can strike freely, with no consequence to yourself.

This is for a pretty simple reason: Attacking is fun. It’s also an outgrowth of the abstract nature of Hit Points, which can easily be reframed as something exactly like maneuvering for position, until you can land that fatal blow that reduces the target to 0 HP or fewer (this is very much a D&D-ism, but has application elsewhere).

I’m going to muse on this for a bit, and see if I can come up with a good way of making a “defense primary” mechanic that doesn’t actively suck. I will do it in GURPS first, and then see what I can do for Dragon Heresy.

I’m ultimately not sure that this will work. “Proactive defense!” sounds great in theory, and it’s a fighting style that can be observed, but we’re playing a game here, and games prioritize and emphasize action, not reaction or even positive defense. Folks “spam the Attack button” because it’s fun, and a mechanical system is going to have to go a long way to help those defenses become exciting, and emphasize the “victory” of achieving superior position on the foe.

Armor Class has DEX modifier in it; that’s a bit of ‘proactive defense.’ Hit Points have long had that mix of “defenses and active exertion” that we’re trying to capture here, and the more abstract games probably subsume a lot of what I’m talking about. GURPS has a series of maneuvers or options that somewhat enable this (Evaluate, Feint, Defensive Feint, Wait, All-Out Defense, Defensive Attack, Retreat, Defensive Bonus) that do allow one to prioritize defense. Mostly I’ve not seen these used, but they’re there. Might be something as simple as my favorite game design maxim: “Use what’s there.”

Stay tuned. I hope to think this through in a series of posts. Some of which will be inevitably “Game X already does this.”

If you don’t have a Cleric in your party, specifically one with Turning, you might not need this. But if you do, or just want to make the standard 250-point Dungeon Fantasy RPG characters work a bit harder to kill undead in Hall of Judgment, consider the following.

What follows inevitably contains spoilers. Continue reading “Cooler Undead Encounters for Hall of Judgment”