Friday, December 28, 2012

Shaving yaks for fun and profit: random encounter tables for the journey to Verbobonc

Sometimes you just have to take a step back and do something fairly useless for your game as a sort of perverse GM-only enjoyment. When this happens to me, I try to make it something at least potentially useful that at the same time won't tempt me to inflict something undesirable on my players. So instead of building some intricate interlocking pieces on the philology of my world, I give you the Random Encounter Table (for travel to and from Verbobonc):

Travel encounters: (to/from Verbobonc) Roll on this table if the party scores a random encounter (check 9 or less on 3d6, or 12 or less at night, check once per day and once per night)
01-05    Gnoll band (3d10)
06-12:    Hobgoblin band (4d10)
13-17:    Highwaymen (3d10) (professionals, with horses)
18-22:    Brigands (4d10) (ill-equipped rough men of the hills)
23-27:    Outlaws (5d10) (men of a local robber-king setting up his outlaw duchy)
28-33:    Bandits, (2d10) (desperate locals, poor equipment and morale)
34-47:    Travelling group (1d50, most noncombatants)
48-54:    Gnome border patrol (18)
55-62:    Orcs (3d10)
63-68:    Bugbears (2d10)
69-77:    Elf patrol (8)
78-82:    Trolls (1d3)
82-86:    Ogres (1d6)
87-90:    Giant Eagles (1d6)
91-99:    Roll again twice more
00:         Special, roll on the Specials table


01-30:    Large Merchant Caravan (PCs may trade at the caravan for normal prices, everything except non-perishable magical goods, e.g. magic swords and armor or artefacts)
31-45:    Patrol of the Barony (1d6 knights, 40 footmen, 20 archers, 20 spearmen/halberdiers)
46-50:    Dire Wolves (4d10)
51-58:    Hill Giants (1d6)
59-66:    GURPS Bugbear lair (use DFM 1 rather than D&D bugbears)
67-70:    Hunting Slorn (1d6)
71-80:    Religious Procession (1d10 clerics, one of whom is actually a Cleric, and 1d100 pilgrims)
81-86:    Travelling Dwarves (2d10, on their way to/from the gnomes or elsewhere)
87-93:    Mercenary group (4d10, well armed and armored, may attack or hire on depending on reactions)
94-96:    Travelling group of Temple folk (like travelling group above, but from Nulb and evil - never better than 'Neutral' reaction)
97-99:    Griffins (1d6)
00:         Green Dragon

And hey, it solves another problem, which is making the journey to Verbobonc more than just an exercise in accounting. Plus, it tells me something about the Duchy of Verbobonc and the Kingdom of Furyondy generally - they're strongholds, and folks can mostly get by in their villages and the like, but houses are fortified, and people move in large groups when they move. Later ages won't be telling stories about the Pax Furyondia.

Later on, if I'm feeling aimlessly ambitious, I'll make a seasonal weather table as well (or just steal Gary's, if I can find one).

I need another one of these for the Hommlet-Nulb or Hommlet-Temple journey...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Happenings in Hommlet

I made this very simple relationship map as a quick-and-dirty explanation of how various different people in Hommlet connect with one another. It doesn't include everyone, just everyone I thought might be interesting to put on such a map. (For example, the braumeister and cabinet-maker aren't on this map; they're just subsumed under 'Townsfolk'.)

I'm using it as a loose who-gets-involved indicator. So, if Burne gets in trouble somehow, natural responders might be the Badgers, Rufus, the clerics of Cuthbert, and the village elder (and through him the militia or other townspeople).

There are some things not shown on the map, too. For example, Black Jay is the villager whose wife and child were killed while he was away during 'the wars', which I'm spontaneously deciding means they were killed by agents of the Temple during a raid from the Moathouse while he was away - the wars being, specifically, the one of Veluna against the Temple. Thus, if he finds out the traders are active agents of the temple, he's liable to gird himself and go burn them out, by himself if he must. However, seeing these relationships mapped out visually like this does make it easier to both represent the individuals in Hommlet with better veracity and to draw up a loose timeline of happenings.

Here's what will happen in Hommlet if the PCs don't interfere somehow (say, by raiding the Moathouse):
  • The traders and their agent will continue feeding information to the Temple fairly unimpeded.
  • At the same time, the agent will try to use his inside status as a member of the laborers (not pictured, whoops!) to compromise the building of Burne's castle somehow, probably by weakening the foundations or including a backdoor somewhere.
  • Within about a month, the traders will begin recruiting bandits and river pirates as laborers to work on the castle. Once there are enough, they will start using the abandoned secret room under the inn again for covert meetings.
  • Around this time, Gundigroot will notice something fishy is going on and the druid Laroo will start spending more time in the Inn.
  • The militia will get a bit edgy as well, with all the lowbrow strangers filtering in and spending a lot of time in the Welcome Wench.
  • After another month or so, a mysterious fire will catch in the Church of St. Cuthbert, razing it with only one survivor, who dies under the ministrations of the druid after spending a few nights in a fever-dream about 'evil in the flames'.
  • The militia will institute a curfew and begin patrolling the village. Burne's Badgers will tighten security around the castle. The two will not get along.
  • Nira will pack up and leave town.
  • Spuignor will sign on with Burne.
  • Fumok will disappear (off to Nulb or the temple, I imagine)
By this point, the village is still playable, but it becomes somewhat harder. Villagers are less inclined to trust strangers, and the Temple's influence is growing faster than ever. I could go further, but I don't see the point - almost certainly, the players will do something to keep anything beyond point 2 (possibly point zero) from happening. This is just a tool to make sure the village doesn't become stale.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Moathouse Operational

Whew. I've finished all the Moathouse NPCs, including a couple small extra surprises of my own. It helps that I could steal a few bits from already published GURPS sources. And people say GURPS doesn't have any monsters!

This still leaves treasure, of which I've already done most, and traps, which are so easy I'll probably handle them on the fly. I'd say it's ready for play, considering I already have an idea of how Hommlet is going to behave.

However, I doubt you tune in here to hear me congratulate myself, so here's a bit of musing.

Lareth's guards are naaasty. Even without a cleric backing them, they could probably destroy a party, played smartly. There are six level 1 fighters, led by a level 2 sergeant, and if they start losing they will call for the rest, which consist of twelve more level 1 fighters and two more level 2 sergeants. Yowch! Any party that just barrels forward into the combat is either going to be very lucky or very dead. If anything, this comes across more in GURPS; for example, the book says that six of these reinforcement guards have spears instead of crossbows, which naturally leads to the assumption that you will run them competently using unit tactics, with spearmen protected by your front-line shield-wall. This tactic transitions very well to GURPS, with the added benefit that a shield-wall is even more difficult to take down due to the ability to use sacrificial blocking and teamwork.

A party is going to have to be smart and sneaky to crack this nut. Oh, and that's not counting the lieutenant (a level 4 fighter) or the cleric.

Hopefully soon I get to let you know how it goes.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas offerings

In the spirit of Christmas, here are a few ideas for situations to inflict on your players:

Goblin Christmas

A tribe of goblins (in or around your local dungeon) has a peculiar ritual: they sneak into adventurers' camps and leave 'gifts': pieces of rotting meat, skulls, filthy rags, and so on. This is a nuisance at least, but can quickly escalate if the goblins leave something foul in the bag with all the rations in it. Alternatively, they've been doing this to the folk of a local village, who want it to stop.

Turns out they're led by an obese, cowardly ogre who got it into his head that giving tribute can convince others to leave him alone, after one meeting with a bunch of delvers who promised not to kill him if he gave away some of his shinies.

Schwartze Peter

In the village of Edgesburg, the peasants have long had a tradition of leaving an offering on their doorsteps on the night of the winter solstice, consisting of a few drops of blood on the lintel from every member of the family. Over the past couple years, the new priest of the Church just founded here (to bring light to the poor pagans) has convinced them to stop this practice as both dangerous and sacreligious. Unfortunately, after this solstice passed (the night before the PCs got there, naturally), every house in the village woke to find their youngest children hung by the rafters, bloated and leaking a bituminous substance, except those few who had secretly kept up the practice.

Perhaps it has something to do with the crypt of Peter the Terrible, rumoured to be somewhere in the forest on the southern edge of the village.

Mother of God

The party's cleric or holy warrior gets a vision: his god's next avatar is to be born soon, but the mother has been abducted by an evil cult of an opposed deity, who plan to offer mother and child as blood sacrifices to their dark goddess. They've repaired to an old warren of crypts for their ritual, which will be completed when the child is born, a month from today. Can the heroes save the child and his mother before they enact their foul plan? For those delvers of a more mercenary mind, there's sure to be treasure to be gained from despoiling the hidden sanctuary, and no doubt the god will be grateful to those who rendered him aid.

The Magi

As a change of pace from digging in old ruins, a caravan has offered to hire on the PCs as guards and guides, so that they can deliver gifts from the local town to the King for his son's birthday. Of course this is in the desert. Can the PCs survive the trek across the Burning Wastes, rumoured hunting grounds of the Great Worm? What about after the unnaturally-strong sandstorm scatters the caravan, kills all the animals and other guards, and causes the gift cargo (rare spices that must be kept cool) to go missing?

For ideas around desert encounters and wildlife, I highly recommend GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 1 - Mirror of the Fire Demon. (It's also good in its own right.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Level Drain revisited

Peter over at Dungeon Fantastic posted a response to my previous post, Level Drain, detailing the ways he handles the effect in GURPS. It's a good read.

In short, he doesn't touch anything like levels or character points, because they're a meta-concept that doesn't exist inside the game-world, and while it works very well to scare the players, it also helps to drag them out of the world into the space of treating it as a game instead of an experience.

Instead, for lasting effects he applies disadvantages to the characters.

I've puzzled it over, and I have to agree I think it's a superior system. While I don't really care about it being a dissociated mechanic (a term Peter gives good grounds for), all things being equal, I'd prefer keeping them from my game if they don't serve some further purpose.

However, what strongly moved me to his camp where the following considerations:

First, disadvantages are baked-in to GURPS already, meaning I don't have to kludge together another mechanic or a mimic for something from somewhere else; instead I can use a native piece, which always feels smoother. As a corrolary to this, I don't have to make up new spells to reverse level drain or glom that effect onto an extant spell.

Second, removing character-points in play seems like it could be a serious pain for the player and the table at large. Levels are fairly easy - you know what comes with your character's level, and you peel that back - but character points involve choices, and choices take time, especially choices you don't want to make.

Third, this gives a good way to differentiate my level-draining undead from each other. Maybe wights confer the Wounded disadvantage, whereas Wraiths confer Hemophilia. Of course, the nastiest forms of undead confer some complex, like Epilepsy and Draining.

Now I'll have to think over what sorts of undead confer what sorts of disadvantages, and how to work with multiple hits (maybe Wounded turns into Slow Healing and then Unhealing and finally -1HT if you get hit several times), but that's a good puzzle. Overall, it's an elegant solution to the problem.

Thanks Peter!

Level Drain

One of the things in D&D that makes certain undead scary is level drain. These were neutered in 3.x and Pathfinder; instead you gain negative levels, which confer some nasty effects (-5 hit points, loss of spells, -1 to practically all rolls), but doesn't actually remove levels and allows a Fortitude save to recover from the effects a day later.

I'll have none of that. But how to convert the old level drain effect to GURPS, given that GURPS doesn't have levels?

As mentioned in this post, I'm using the conceit that 20 points is roughly equivalent to a level, starting at 150 points. Right now I'm doing this mostly for pacing (how many points should the PCs have if the average party level of an AD&D party would be X at this point?) but it could serve in this stead as well.

Now I'm stuck between three options:
  1. Each hit from a level-draining monster drains 2 character points, period. Be careful.
  2. Each critical hit from a level-draining monster drains 20 character points. They're dangerous, but you might survive if you need to go toe-to-toe with them.
  3. Each hit from a level-draining monster drains 20 character points. Once a character gets to 0 character points, they're slain, no resurrection. If a character goes below 125 points, the player can choose to retire them.

I really don't know which one to pick? Which would you choose? In order to maintain that truly frightening level drain ability, should I go with #3? Am I just being too chicken?

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Spoiler alert: there are ghouls in the Moathouse and the Temple. With that in mind, I naturally need GURPS stats for them.

This was going to be a rather straightforward affair: chance for paralysis and ghoul fever, eschewing the three attacks per turn as something reserved for more powerful and scary monsters (like trolls). After all, my experience with ghouls stems from 3.5 D&D and Pathfinder, where they're just not that scary unless they have a huge number advantage. Sure, that paralysis is theoretically scary, but it's an easy save and hardly matters anyway, right?

Then I cam across this post over at Delta's D&D Hotspot.

I was especially intrigued by the possible aversion to sunlight, since that's outside my experience, brings them closer back to their Tolkienian roots, and gives an interesting twist I don't think my players will expect, but can exploit once discovered. It also led to me beefing them up a little further, to bring them in line with what I think was the original intent in the module.

ST: 12 HP: 12 Speed: 5.25
DX: 10 Will: 10 (+2 vs True Faith) Move: 6
IQ: 6 Per: 12
HT: 11 FP: 11 SM: 0
Dodge: 9 Parry: 10 (unarmed) DR: 1

Bite (15): 2d cut, save vs. ghoul fever at HT-2
Claw (15): 1d(5) fat, resist at HT-1 or be paralyzed for 1d seconds. Once paralysis ends, roll as for Mental Stun to recover. Treat this as a Contact Agent affliction.

Ghoul Fever: 1d-2 fat daily (infinite cycles), roll HT-3 to stop cycles. Once at 1/3rd FP, the infected is constantly cold (think Frodo stuck with the Morgul-blade)

Skills: Brawling - 14, Tracking - 12, Stealth - 14

Traits: Appearance (Hideous), Bad Smell, Doesn't Breathe, Doesn't Sleep, Extra Attack 2, Fragile (Unnatural), High Pain Threshold, Immunity to Mind Control, Immunity to Metabolic Hazards, Injury Tolerance (No Blood, Unliving), Infectious Attack (Must kill victim), Uncontrollable Appetite (6), Unfazeable, Vunlerability (Sunlight x2).

Class: Undead

Notes: Truly Evil. Will not negotiate. Attack without fear, except in the presence of very strong light (daylight or stronger, including Continual Light at 6 cost and like spells. Will attempt to hide and ambush prey. Provokes Fright Check -3 in people who have not succeeded in a Fright Check vs. ghouls, ghasts, etc. before

They're glass cannons; they could easily kill off a party if they get the drop on the PCs, but a few good hits will put one down for good. Their Fright Check and tendency toward ambush amplify the chances of them being nasty, but smart players will recognize the signs of a ghoul infestation and be on the alert. Also, I feel like this does a good job of potentially returning the 'scary' to these creatures, which otherwise suffer from Cleric syndrome.

The Vulnerability is not a mistake; a weakness would make them too much like vampires. This way, they take double damage from light sources that cause damage (such as a Sunbolt spell, or a laser), and they can be played as sensitive to strong light sources, but they aren't in the same difficulty more powerful undead are.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Maintaining Encounter Balance

Let me start off by making clear what I'm not talking about.

I'm not talking about scaling 'encounters' to the PCs' capabilities in anything other than a rough and ready fashion. I'm certainly not talking about some analog to CRs or other balancing mechanic designed to maintain an even level of pressure on the characters. I think that's a false idol, both unattainable and undesirable besides.

No, I mean something much simpler: D&D and GURPS consider different things to be difficult, and they favor different sorts of tactics.

D&D at its core involves tactics of resource management and attrition. Roughly speaking, the slope of the increase in hit points for a party is about twice that of the slope of damage output increase for a party. (I'm eyeballing it here; the main point is that it's proportional with some multiplier n.) In GURPS, if anything, it's the opposite; what with points for Targeted Attacks and Weapon Mastery and Heroic Archery and more damaging spells and whatnot, damage increases as about twice HP.

This is reflected in the different challenges in the two games. In D&D, in order to have a monster fight that challenges higher-level characters, you throw bigger monsters with stronger attacks at them - you're still presenting a serious threat to their resources without necessarily killing them outright, and you're pretty well guaranteed to have your monsters stick around long enough to be interesting, since they're bringing enough HP to the fight that the PCs can't get rid of it fast enough to be trivial. Conversely, in GURPS if you try this tactic, you're going to end up with a very quick fight - either the PCs will walk all over your big nasty, or you'll accidentally squish the party.

Instead, in GURPS, the general tactical layout involves multiples of smaller monsters, because smaller monsters can still pose a serious threat, and dividing up the foes divides player actions. In other words, D&D is about managing hit points, whereas GURPS is about managing actions. The side with more actions is the side with the advantage.

This is borne out by the common advice for encounter balancing in GURPS. It's often said that, if pitting the PCs against a singular large monster, you should do one or more of:
  • Give the monster Extra Attacks, always-on effects, or suchlike, thus bringing number of available actions back toward parity
  • Give the monster special defenses, such as insubstantiality or injury tolerance, thus making each opposing action less effective
  • Include environmental effects, thereby requiring that PCs spend their actions on things other than killing the monster
  • Provide tactical advantage to the monster, which reduces PC actions either entirely (e.g. surprise) or in their effectiveness (e.g. an archery battle against an enemy up-hill - which means that PCs either shoot back at minuses or spend actions closing the distance).
In my admittedly inexperienced opinion, the first option is the least effective for lengthening a fight, though it works just fine for maintaining a controllable danger level in the fight.

This is something of a problem for the Temple of Elemental Evil, which naturally assumes a D&D approach to combat tactics. For example, there are places in the modules where a single ogre (or an ogre and a wolf, later on) is put forward not only as a foe, but as very stiff opposition that the party will probably flee from. In GURPS, on the other hand, a party of 50-75pt characters can probably take out a single ogre without much difficulty - maybe one death, if the ogre gets in a lucky hit. So how to convert these?

It turns out the answer is, "only partially", at least for my purposes.

The pivot point between GURPS and D&D works both ways. There are encounters that are supposed to be very tough in D&D that the GURPS characters will walk right over. However, there are also encounters that Gygax reckons will be fairly easy for a group of 4th-5th level D&D characters that will present serious problems for GURPS characters even at 300 pts. (I'm looking at you, group of 25 bandits.) There are enough of these that I think it balances neatly enough, even if sometimes it looks like they're in the wrong places.

The other part is taking a hard look at the large monsters that the Temple favors for challenging PCs and seeing if there isn't some way to preserve some of that element. To that end, let's take ogres are our example du jour:

Ogres in D&D are fairly nasty, especially toward lower-level characters. To help preserve that, in my game, all ogres will have Magic Resistance 5. This, combined with the extra casting cost to directly affect creatures of larger sizes, should put a damper on magical solutions that don't mimic weapons or environmental effects. Further, while they're stupid, they will have a canniness that enables them to use their advantages well. They will all get Tactics-12. Specifically, while they can't really hide (even if they could find a place not to be seen, you'd still be able to smell them), they naturally pick lairs that enable them to use their reach and their greater strength to advantage, doing things like picking places with attached hallways or stairs, and piling up obstacles that create difficult footing for creatures not as large. Finally, ogres in my game have extra DR 3 over vitals and the skull, in the form of thick subdermal ridges of bone, making them look burly even for their size and giving them low, sloping foreheads with weird, angular planing. Evolution has taken advantage of this, layering on extra muscle at these reinforced attachment points, which explains their high strength.

So, in my game, an ogre looks something like this:

ST: 25 HP: 25 Speed: 6.00
DX: 11 Will: 7 Move: 6
IQ: 7 Per: 7
HT: 13 FP: 13 SM: +1
Dodge: 9 Parry: 10 DR: 2, 5 on vitals and 7 skull

Punch (13): 2d+2 cr
Club (14): 5d+3 cr (treat as oversized maul, meaning it's 0U because of strength)
Traits: High Pain Threshold, Magic Resistance 5, Night Vision 7 DR 2 (Tough Skin), DR 3 (Limited: Skull, Vitals), Bad Temper, Bully
Skills: Brawling-13, Tactics-12, Two-Handed Axe-Mace-14
Class: Mundane
Notes: Some may have armor, mostly on the chest; adjust DR accordingly. (Most common is either naked or Heavy Leather.) Willing to negotiate, but only on their level (Food, women, territory, simplistic praise), easily tricked.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Character creation

I've decided that new characters start off at 150 points, as that seems roughly consonant with an AD&D first level character. This is a little bit of a problem because the Dungeon Fantasy Adventurers' templates cost 250 points. There are a few ways around this:

  1. Pick a template from Adventurer’s and build your character on 250 points, then scale back to 150 using "Dungeon Fantasy on the Cheap". Players can also/instead scale back other abilities in the template; DF on the Cheap is pretty much focused on ability scores.
  2. Pick a 125 point template from DF 15: Henchmen that mimics an acceptable template from Adventurers, then spend the extra 25 points for any of: a race, part of a 50 point occupational ‘cross-class’ lens from DF 3, or the complementary 125 point lens from DF 15: Henchmen

Acceptable Templates:

(From DF 1)
·         Barbarian
·         Bard
·         Cleric
·         Druid
·         Holy Warrior
·         Knight
·         Scout
·         Thief
·         Wizard

(From DF 15)
·         Any. However, note there are restrictions inside the templates so that they won’t mimic unacceptable templates. Generally, they’re common-sensical, here are a few:
o   Apprentice: Can only choose wizard package
o   Initiate: Can choose Druid or Good Cleric
o   Sage isn’t allowed, since there’s no point to it
o   Any ‘Eastern-flavored’ portions of the templates should be ignored

The lenses to add on top of them follow the same rules.


Races can be found in Dungeon Fantasy 3: The Next Level. Acceptable races include Human, Halfling, Wood Elf, High Elf, Dwarf, and Half-Orc. Half-orc isn’t liable to be a good idea, at least at first.

Advancement (aka why would I use a henchman template?):
The optional rule, “Changing Professions” in DF 3 on pg 42 will be in effect. In brief, you're stuck with the template you've chosen until you have all the primary abilities that template grants.

Using Dungeon Fantasy on the Cheap usually scales back core stats to remove points from the templates. This can make advancement fairly boring. To alleviate some of that, when you use such a template, only half of your earned points at any given time need to go into attribute advancement; the other half can go into various abilities already provided by the template, whether you took them or no. So, for example a Knight could increase his primary sword skill or his Born War Leader Talent; a wizard could purchase more spells or increase Magery or Energy Reserve.

The henchmen templates, on the other hand, are only 125 points, so you aren’t locked in for as long a journey, and the lenses provided offer more interesting choices than just putting points into attributes.

Also, more generally, the rules under Adding New Abilities (starting on DF 3 pg. 42) and Training Costs (ibid.) are in effect.

Notes for Magic Users including druids, clerics, and wizards:

(Taken in large part from Peter over at Dungeon Fantastic, by way of this post on the SJ Games Forums.)
Instead of the standard fatigue-based magic, we’ll be using Threshold magic. Standard Threshold is 30, and you can buy more at 1 for 1 point. Recovery rate is high enough. You cannot buy Energy Reserve except via a familiar. Other energy sources – power items, paut potions, etc. – still exist. Also, wizards can burn HP for spells at standard rates (and penalties), but druids and clerics cannot. Further, you can concentrate while grappled, if you make a Will-6 roll. If you attempt and fail, you must Do Nothing

  • Shape Earth and Earth to Air only work on unworked stone
  • Walk Through Earth can only be cast on yourself
  • Wizard 'appendages' (Wizard Eye, Wizard Ear, etc) do not exist.
  • ‘Mass’ versions of spells take no longer to cast than their Minimum Costs, in seconds.
  • Geas and Enslave require ceremonial casting on a helpless target, and they take an hour per point
  • Only a small number of Meta college spells exist: Ward, Counterspell, Great Ward, Dispel Magic
  • Counterspell requires you to know the spell countered or five spells in the same college; same with Ward. Further, these spells require that the source of the spell be the same as your source; e.g. clerics cannot counterspell wizards.
  • The Machine, Metal and Energy colleges don’t exist. If their spells are part of another college, then those spells can still be learned.
  • Magical missiles get a save chance vs. Missile Shield and Reverse Missiles
  • Force Dome and Utter Dome, along with their Wall types, don’t exist.
  • See Secrets only works on things that are within plain view. Thus, if there’s a secret door that you can’t detect because it blends in with the wall, See Secrets will show it. However, if it’s hidden behind a tapestry, See Secrets will not work.
  • Explosive spells (Explosive Fireball, Explosive Lightning, etc) use the old 3rd edition explosion rules, meaning that for each hex out from the center, you drop the highest die, rather than dividing by 3 x distance


I don’t have room here to do the subject justice, so here’s the basics. The gritty details must needs wait on another post.

 Halflings and Humans get Common Native/Native, and Tengwar (Common) at Native (it’s written only).

Elves of both types get Elvish Native/Native and Common Native/None. If it ever matters, the Elvish written form is Tengwar (Elvish). They don’t have another sort.

Other races get their native tongues at Native/Native and Common at Native/None. Note that for other races the native writing form is not Tengwar.

Finally, Barbarians of any race only get Spoken proficiencies. Thus, barbarians of any type have 3 points to spend somewhere else. Human barbarians get to choose another language to speak natively, if they so desire.


The Outdoorsman talent costs only 5 points, and doesn’t include Fishing.

Druids and Wizards can consider animal companions/familiars as part of their starting templates, if you so desire.

Healing potions are 1/5th the cost if bought at start.

In Dungeon Fantasy, trading cash for points gives you the same amount of money as buying signature gear. Why would you ever do the former? Well, for one, the cash from Signature Gear must needs all be spent in one place, on one piece of gear. If your signature gear doesn’t cost some multiple of $500, too bad. Also, Signature Gear cannot be used to purchase perishables such as rations, torches, or healing potions. Finally, Signature Gear provides protection, but it also ties you to the item, meaning you can’t easily upgrade later. If you find a better sword, you can’t just leave your Signature Gear sword at home, sorry.

Last note:
The point totals above are for beginning characters. Once the median point value of the party is 200, new characters will start with 200, and so on – the starting value will bump for every 50 points the median increases.

Elmo, Ranger of Verbobonc

Elmo is a drunken lout the PCs find about town in Hommlet who's interested in adventure!

Okay, so not really. Really, he's a 4th-level ranger in Hommlet on orders from the Viscount of Verbobonc 'for the purpose of observing newcomers, to insinuate himself in their expeditions'. Using Collective Restraint's level guide for GURPS, I built him off 210 points.

Here's his statblock in T1:

Elmo: AC 1 (equipped) or 8; Level 4 Ranger
(HD 5); hp 41; #AT 1; D 5-12 (battle axe)
or 6-9 (dagger) each including magic and
strength bonuses); XP 375
S 18/43 I 15 W 16 D 16 Co 17 Ch 11
and also:
 If employed, he
dons his own mail (see below) in place of that
given (or under a lighter type), and uses his
own magical battle axe as well.
Elmo's valuables are hidden in a lead-
lined oaken chest buried in the dirt floor of
the barn: chain mail +1, shield +2, battle
axe +1, 100 sp, 50 gp, 10 pp, and and small
pearls worth 100 gp each. The lead will foil
all attempts at magical detection. He also
owns a longbow with two score arrows,
half of them silver-tipped, though he does
not bring this weapon on adventures.
This guy is serious! Look at those stats! Also, as someone who never played AD&D, it was at first a surprise to me that he'd leave his bow at home. After all, rangers are ranged weapon folks, right? Of course I was wrong, and pleasantly so; rangers in 1st edition seem much closer to the source material, being fighters with some wilderness experience. Here's the character sheet.

Update: It has been asked what Elmo's role would be in my game. Really, I should have included a piece on that here without prompting, but it slipped my mind.

Elmo will try to latch onto the PCs and go adventuring with them, attempting to make himself attractive first as a hireling, then as a cut-rate fellow adventurer. He'll go so far as to take only a half-share of the treasure, if need be, to induce them to take him...which should make the players suspicious, but what's a King's spy going to do? At any rate, if they don't take him along, he'll shadow them into the dungeon, coming forward to aid them if they look like they need it and are worth aiding, or making their lives difficult if they seem likely to be working for the Temple.

Specifically, he could become a thorn in their collective side if they ally themselves with Lareth, or if they seem too willing to work for the traders. Also, he offers a way to help the party come to grips with the deeper plots surrounding the village, especially if he goes adventuring with them - an observant party will quickly see through his ruse of incompetence once actually in the dungeon.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hommlet, springboard to adventure!

Hommlet's a really cool place. There are a few things that I find quite humorous about it (no, I don't think I need to know that the elderly farmer at the modest farmhouse has 172 ep, 51 gp, and 20 pp hidden underneath some rusty nails in a keg in the back shed), but overall I appreciate it as a well-fleshed-out village that provides enough background for the PCs to find it worth their time. Hommlet is a great place to be from and go back to.

What it doesn't do, however, is provide clear means for the PCs to move on. Oh, sure, there are the traders, who are obviously up to something, and there are rumblings in the background about how things are getting more dangerous on the roads, but there's not a clear and present direction. Effectively, the PCs are required to go door to door, asking, "Excuse me, but have you seen an adventure?"

This isn't a problem, necessarily - it certainly preserves player agency, and the premise is that they did come looking for adventure - but I feel like more could be done to represent the various factions, and indeed should be. Hommlet is a place, not an adventure.

In the game I plan to run, the traders are still agents of the Temple, and they're still skeevy and conniving. However, they know of the existence of Lareth, and furthermore they dislike him and want him gone. Lareth represents a budding foe that, at the best, represents a rival faction in the temple vying for dominance. So, once the party makes it clear to the townsfolk that they've arrived on the scene, the traders will seek them out and, attempting a private conference, try to engage them to root out and destroy Lareth. They're still wretches - they'll shortchange the PCs if possible, give them cheap equipment, and so on - and they'll still betray the PCs at the end, engaging a squad of brigands and assassins to waylay them on the road at some later time. However, overall they do want the PCs to succeed, at least in clearing out the moathouse.

Lareth, for his part, has no love for the traders, and cares little for the Temple of Elemental Evil. Lolth would find such a structure and following useful, but usurping Iuz and controlling the minions of Zuggtmoy is quite difficult, especially with no more than a toehold in the area. When the PCs come after Lareth, his inclination will be toward parley, especially if it's clear that the traders sent them. In fact, he'll offer thanks for clearing out the bandits above (who were drawing unwanted attention to the abandoned moathouse, after all) and even engage the PCs as a patron if they so desire. He will betray both the presence of the Temple and the traders' involvement with it, and encourage the PCs to clear out the place if they can.

Of course, Lareth is still jealous, not wanting anyone else to supplant him in the eyes of his spider-queen. If the PCs become too successful - say, they manage to disrupt two of the four elements in the Temple - Lareth will quietly hire an assassination party to, ah, quell their enthusiasm.

All that aside, it's still possible for the PCs to go to the moathouse without the influence of the traders. Both the captain of the guard and Elmo will talk about the place, as will the publican. This just provides some extra incentive and another real choice about its resolution. It provides the PCs a plausible way to work for evil, as well, since evil puts on numerous faces.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Goals of the conversion

Overall I mean to maintain the feel of the module. Hypothetically, if after playing my conversion some of my players went back and played the original, I want them to think, "Yeah, I did just play through this." Doing this comes in several parts, which I lay out in no particular order.

1. Same plot, same locations. This is really a given; if I didn't want to play the same adventure or use the same maps, why would I bother with the module at all? Still, it deserves to be said that I don't plan on changing the background to fit the module into some existing framework. Rather, I'm running it in Greyhawk, though I don't expect the greater world to matter, since I'm making no attempt at continuity.

2. Same play-style. This was written as an open dungeon-crawl with set circumstances but no set plot. The conversion should play the same way.

3. Same difficulty. As I read it the module is meant to be hard and deadly, with the added twist of Gygaxian perversity thrown on top. This is no cake-walk, and PCs who are unprepared or overconfident die. I consider this a feature, and I've made it clear to my players that they probably want to bring two or three characters to any given session except maybe the first, so as to have backups.

4. Same obstacles. I won't be adding or removing traps of secrets, and I'm endeavoring to make the monsters fairly similar to the original. This ties back into point 1 pretty strongly; for me, a large part of the inherent feel of a dungeon is not only its history and architecture but also its denizens and operations.

Basically, the above can be summed up in the statement, "I want to run the original module, but since I don't know the AD&D rules and doubt I could convince people to play by them, I'm doing the next best thing."

However, there are some things I will readily change. First, number of opponents may get quite a bit of adjustment, due both to the fact that combat plays differently in GURPS and that I will have somewhere between seven and nine players, whereas the module was originally designed for six. Tactics of the opposition may also change, though they're pretty good throughout most of the module. Also, there are a couple spots where the deadliness morphs out into "rocks fall, everybody dies" territory that's just mean rather than fun. (Seriously. There's a passage that reads, "If the characters follow the tunnels off the mapped portion, allow them to proceed another hundred feet, and then tell them they are hopelessly lost." Full stop. They starve to death, end of story. And its baited to boot.)

Finally, wealth and reward is also going to change. GURPS and AD&D have completely different economics, meaning that conversion is possible but probably not desirable. I'll be taking the module as a starting point, but the party certainly won't be finding four gems worth $300 each under a farmer's rain barrel.

Addendum: What with Peter's kind post over at Dungeon Fantastic I feel I should point out that one of the things I don't plan on keeping the same is how Hommlet fits into Greyhawk at large, or, more accurately, I don't much care about Greyhawk. I won't be changing anything on that front (Hommlet and Nulb are still rather close to the Nyr Dyv and Verbobonc for example), but I also don't feel compelled to make my (minimal) representation of the outer world align all that well with canon Greyhawk.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Laying the Foundations

I fully expect this whole renovation metaphor to play out very quickly.

Before getting into the mechanics of porting the modules from the old ruleset to new, there are a number of decisions to be made. Dungeon Fantasy embodies different assumptions about play than AD&D. Specifically, Dungeon Fantasy intentionally abstracts away town time and really anything that isn't directly dungeon delving itself, assumes competence out of the box, and the tone is at least a little silly.

Town: The Temple of Elemental Evil has three of these, actually. There's Hommlet, Nulb, and Verbobonc, the last of which is the nearest large city at half a week to a week away. Verbobonc is the easiest; it's outside the scope of the adventure, and it's large enough to have anything the adventurers might want, so I'll just use the DF rules straight - I've no interest in fleshing out a large city. Furthermore, it's large enough I can just assume that most things desired are available, which isn't the case with either of the two villages. That gives the party an incentive to go there, but it's far enough away that they won't want to stay there, since a week across open country is expensive and potentially dangerous. (The area is mostly lawful, but with the resurgence of the temple, the Prince is seeing an upswing in complaints about banditry and roving bands of demihumans.)

Once the party gets to Nulb, they have a choice as to where to stay. That means that I need to differentiate the two somehow, in a way that doesn't make one clearly the better choice. Nulb isn't treated with the same level of detail as Hommlet, either; mostly because by the time the PCs have moved on, they have a large dungeon to focus on, shifting away from town adventure.

The flavor of the two should certainly be different; the module makes this clear. Nulb will be dangerous, with brigands even possibly assaulting the PCs in the streets, if they come back weak and loaded down with treasure. It's a hive a scum and villainy. Why would the PCs ever stay there instead of Hommlet, where not only is it safer, but they're already well-liked by this point?

First, Nulb is a much better place to pick up hirelings. The only hirelings available in Hommlet are some adventurer-types who want far too much coin, a limited number of laborers, and one priest from the temple of St. Cuthbert who I'm throwing in as a backup healer if the party wants to take him along. (I firmly believe no one should be forced to play a cleric if no one wants to.) In contrast, in Nulb you can find the entire gamut of hirelings available in DF 15 - Henchmen (which I picked up yesterday and highly recommend for anyone who actually wants the sort of game where PCs hire people).

Second, Nulb is closer to the dungeon, being only half a day's journey over relatively safe ground from the Temple of Elemental Evil. From Hommlet, you travel for a day and a half, and you either cut through a rather dangerous forest or go through Nulb anyhow.

Third, you can get some things in Nulb you can't get in Hommlet. In Hommlet, there's no potionsmaster. There's a druid, to whom you can go for 'natural' potions (like monster drool poison and antivenin) - if he likes you - and there's a mage who will sell various small magical consumables, but no potions. Since Nulb is larger, I'm willing to abstract away buying most mundane goods, even those of quality (though you may have to wait a week in town if you order something particularly rare). Weapons and armor, in specific, are available, being mentioned by name in the module. In addition, if you need strong clerical magic, Nulb is the place to go, since the main priest of the Temple of St. Cuthbert in Hommlet is away. Also, sponsorship is easier to get here, and Nulb offers some training options not possible in Hommlet (clerics, holy warriors, thieves

Finally, Nulb is the only place for PCs to pick up rumours about the dungeon. People in Hommlet don't know much about the Temple, and they don't want to know.

One way in which Nulb is not going to be different is cost of living, which will be $150/week for each PC (plus cost of hirelings). In Verbobonc this is standard. In Hommlet, the Inn of the Welcome Wench is both the only gig in town and specifically mentioned as expensive. In Nulb, the food and lodging are cheap, but the extra money goes toward garnering rumours, being scalped for non-food sundries (cleaning your clothes, caring for your horses, etc.) and hiring guards to watch your stuff while you're asleep or paying protection money to some of the bandit gangs. If PCs think to ask, they can skimp on this, getting by on $100/week instead of the full cost, but they won't get a rumour and the chances of being attacked and robbed while in town will be substantially higher.

Hommlet at first will be much like written in the book, because T1 is in large part about the town adventure of finding the place the PCs need to go, feeling out the local politics, and inserting themselves successfully into the village. In short, for a little while Hommlet is the site of the adventure, and should be detailed as such. However, once PCs get to/through the Moathouse and/or resolve the tensions in the village, I want to largely abstract it away as a distraction from the dungeon.

Hommlet offers several advantages over Nulb. It's basically safe, with little to no chance of people being assaulted in town, and random encounters happening nearby only on a lower chance (6 or less instead of 9-12 or less, I'm thinking), and not all being bad besides. There's a temple, traders, money-changer, druid, and wizard's keep, along with various craftsmen, meaning most mundane needs and some magical ones (including healing and charging power items) can be taken care of. Some templates can only get training in Hommlet. Finally, what hirelings that can be found here are likely to be more reliable than those in Nulb.

A last note about training: T1 and T2 are very specific about the people that are in Hommlet and Nulb, and T1 is very specific about those that aren't in Hommlet. To that end, the two also differ in what PCs can find training in the two places.

Hommlet: Barbarian, Druid, Knight, Scout, Wizard

Nulb: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Holy Warrior, Knight, Scout, Thief

Yes, this will create some tension in where people want to spend their weeks. This is intentional. However, I don't want this to be crippling, either, so I'm ruling that you can still spend points in your template when you spend time in a town without a teacher, but not for new spells or primary skills (ones you already have are fine), nor power-ups or primary abilities you don't already have points in. Thus a Knight couldn't learn a new weapon, but he could train with the one he has, and a druid couldn't purchase a new animal companion, but he could improve spells he already has or dump more points into Power Investiture.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Excuse our dust

I've started this blog in the hopes that it will help me to work through a large task I've set for myself: converting the original AD&D Temple of Elemental Evil to GURPS 4th Edition for use in the Dungeon Fantasy line.

Wait, wait. Who am I, and why am I doing this again?

I'm not what you would call an 'old school' gamer. I didn't grow up with any of the D&D boxes; in fact, I remember seeing the AD&D books on my father's shelf as a child and marveling at how old they were. Instead, I grew up playing GURPS, set on Yrth, with my father and his group of gaming buddies every Friday night. In fact, I originally started coming with him as a way to entertain their kids - put three young boys together and you only have to make sure they don't kill each other, rather than worrying that they'll get bored - and to spend quality time with my father.

However, that quickly parlayed into me gaming as well at a very young age, using GURPS 3rd Edition and then later 3rd Edition Revised. That circles back around and answers both questions, then: I'm doing this because I am most comfortable with GURPS, and I have no experience with AD&D (or any D&D prior to 3.5, actually).

The answer to why I want to play with the Temple of Elemental Evil is more complicated. Partially, I chose it because it is a touchstone; one of those names that everyone in the hobby, even us youngsters, knows about. Partially, I chose it because it has special associations for me that I hope to elucidate in a further post. And, partially, I chose it because I am becoming enamored with the idea of old school play and want to try my hand at experiencing it myself. (More on that later, too.)

This blog exists as a place for me to brainstorm conversions, talk about what I'm doing and what I'm not, ramble about barely-related things (even I have old war stories, at least in my estimation), and eventually post after-action reports, once the campaign gets rolling. Above all, I created it in the hopes that having to regularly report on my progress will goad me into actually making some.

As a last note, if you're one of my players, and you come across this blog, I'd recommend against reading it. You may stumble into details of the module, changes I've made and haven't made, and other similar material that could partially spoil the experience.