Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Things Eric taught me about GURPS (and gaming in general)

First, I should say I'm sorry; I try to update regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with maybe a post or two in between, but I've missed that schedule twice in quick succession. Work is in overdrive right now; hopefully things will die down soon (unless my life changes, like it might - we'll see).

Anyhow, Eric was my old game master. We played a game set in Yrth, though we weren't much for gritty politicking; it was very much a swords and sorcery dungeon-delving game. Actually, originally, it was set in a cyberpunk world, but I only learned that from my dad. See, I joined this campaign when I was three years old and played until it ended in 14 and a half years; I'm given to understand it actually ran for something like 17.

To call this a formative experience in gaming is something of an understatement. It informs the whole way I look at gaming, and it explains a lot about my priorities, both at the table and beforehand. So, without further ado, lessons I learned (as a GM) by playing and talking with Eric.

All rules are suggestions. Many are good, some are not; none are necessary

No, seriously, all rules. We played GURPS in Eric's game of course, but we rolled 2d10 instead of 3d6. Why? Because Eric wanted to; he liked the curve better and wanted a good excuse to use those dice. Also, we never used the shock rules. Those aren't optional rules; they're core functionality. So what? Eric didn't like bothering with them, so we didn't. There are numerous other examples, especially in monster design. I really don't much care about exactly statting out the Affliction or Innate Attack (Emanation); all I want to know is that if the PCs walk within 5 yards of the slime they have to roll vs HT-5 or be nauseated and take 1d-3 damage because it's spewing out nerve gas.

At the same time, it's good to know the limitations of the rules and the designs that stick to them rigorously, in case it comes up. (PCs have to follow the rules in character creation, for example.) I just don't blink twice at making exceptions.

Player/character actions matter

Had a plan of something really cool that could happen? Did the players mess it up? Good for them.

Here we enter the dangerous waters of gamer reminiscence...

We had an over-arching quest to gather the pieces of a magical hammer so we could destroy a powerstone fueling the transformation of Keyhole Bay into a pocket dimension for various reasons. Along the way, there was a huge, nasty dungeon complex; we attempted it and were soundly thrashed by venemous animated trees in the vestibule. Further, we knew some very nasty folks lived there, who would be very upset if we took their hammer-piece. What to do?

We eventually settled on the plan of teleporting two people in, grabbing the hammer, teleporting back out, and then teleporting in a 2,000 pt Exploding Fireball. This was a risky plan; people had to go in to grab the hammer beforehand, which included finding it. (We knew roughly where it was because of a Seeker spell, but that doesn't give you exact location in a room, and it was guarded.) On top of that, this is on a 5-second timer, because that's roughly now long we have before the ubermenschen figure out they no longer have their piece of the hammer and come looking for it, by our estimation. Plus, there's a chance of teleporting into solid rock, etc.

Needless to say, when we pulled it off, Eric was not particularly happy. He had spent a lot of time preparing that dungeon. However, he let us do it, because we planned it out meticulously, we took advantage of a high-risk high-payoff strategy, and he operated by a policy of no-take-backs.

Conversely, this was all a problem in the first place because we'd accidentally warped the nature of magic by over-abusing the Catastrophe tables. Also, Black Cat.

Black Cat, to be succint, was a former PC-turned-pirate who was the bane and nemesis of the party. She was competent and brutal, and an enemy because of several mistakes on our part, including leaving her in the tender care of a demon while too far down on our priorities list (underneath figuring out what was going on in Minder and killing a local dragon, etc.) Furthermore, she recruited our cast-offs, even occasionally having them show back up to spy on us. (In fact, in the end, she won...)

I could go on (and on, and on), but the point of this post isn't to air my fond memories.

Rulings should be fair, not necessarily consistent

Certainly, the former often includes the latter, but not always. If a player is trying to tie you down with precedent in order to break the game, don't let him.

The game is about having fun, and that happens when people are playing

Sure, there's probably a rule for it somewhere. And you should know the rules fairly intimately, so as to pull it out if you can, and have a good background if you can't. However, if you're not sure what the answer is, it doesn't matter: make something up that sounds fair. Not sure if the PC had that potion in his backpack or somewhere else? Contest of percentile dice. (Sure, that works out to a %50 chance, but rolling competitively when somthing is on the line is fun.) Not sure exactly what the minus is for shooting in the dark with a full moon but cloud cover? -4 sounds about right. How about the minuses to hit your enemy while you both are standing in a cart barrelling down a mountainside and under attack? -3, because anything further is an un-fun series of misses. (See point 1)

Characters come and characters go

Seriously, you don't have to pull punches to protect the kid's special snowflake. He'll make another. What's more, he'll remember that time his favorite fighter lost precisely 2 more points than the -10xHP resurrection threshold, and come to appreciate it later. Besides, everyone has three characters anyway, right? (We engaged in something I only later came to know as 'troupe play' - often, there would be about five players, and about fourteen characters. It worked really well.)

You can always up the ante

Always. It doesn't matter if a player wants to bring in a completely twinked out psi squeezing every last drop out of very optimized point allocations. That just means you get to put a pair of mind flayers in the room. There is not a single thing a player can do that you can't deal with.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Consumable magic items in GURPS

One of the things that Dungeons and Dragons has in profusion that GURPS lacks are consumable magical items. Certainly, we still have one-use items like scrolls and potions, and there are mana stones for mages, but in the place of wands et. al. with charges, we've substituted items of infinite use whose drawback is instead that they draw on the user's FP.

Unfortunately, this is not an equivalent solution. There's quite a bit of cleverness in limiting the use of a magic item; it allows for imbalances to naturally self-correct, and it adds an interesting dynamic of resource management to the use of the items. (I contend that managing non-renewable resources is inherently riskier than managing renewable ones, because the stakes are higher. Accordingly, the payoff can be bigger, and the act of deciding more interesting).

Here's where if I were less interested in mathematics and fun, I'd suggest waving your hands about mana-stones and just giving the items charges and be done with it.

I've always disliked the system of charges. It's too easy to measure, and it requires meticulous book-keeping. Boring, I say.

On the way home from work I had a flash of insight. GURPS magic items already have a statistic that doesn't usually matter much: Power. Power is usually 15, and is equivalent to the effective skill of the enchanter. Mostly it seems to be used for resistance rolls and determining if the item functions (e.g. low mana zones).

Wait, it's equivalent to a skill, so what about a roll-under mechanic?

Every time a PC uses a magic item with limited uses (usually things that let you cast spells or give you temporary effects, like rings of invisibility or fireball wands rather than magic swords), the player rolls 3d6. If he rolls at or under the current effective Power of the item, it behaves normally. If he rolls above the current effective Power of the item, the effect still happens, but the Power of the item is reduced by 1. (It's more stressing to a wand to use it in a low mana zone.) An 18 is always a failure.

Once the item's power goes to 0 (or 2, if you like - it's a difference of two uses), it is depleted and no longer counts as magical. Maybe it can be recharged, maybe it can't.

To get a feel for how this would work, I ran the probabilities, with my target at 75%; that is, I figured out in how many rolls it would take for the item to have a 75% chance of depletion, based on starting Power:

Power 14: 37 rolls
Power 15: 66 rolls
Power 16: 140 rolls
Power 17: 434 rolls (here's where the exponential progression breaks to a purely arithmetic one)
Power 20: 1317 rolls

The system isn't perfect; over a thousand rolls is effectively infinite. However, you can easily assign Power yourself for items the PCs find in the dungeon. Interestingly, this lines up nicely with the enchantment rules in GURPS Magic, which point out that most items will probably have Power 15. (I'm ignoring the bit where they need Power 15 in order to function, of course. I will keep this for swords and other always-on items, but for consumables I'm using it in a different way.)

What about permanent items? If you want to keep some, as truly powerful artifacts, I'd recommend just assigning them a Power of 25 or 30 and ignoring the book-keeping. At the same time you can ratchet up the price for a high-Power item as recommended in Magic, not to mention a premium for the rarity, if this thing even has a sell-price.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Character creation (mostly) complete

I have a confession to make.

Those after-play reports people have on other blogs? The ones they say that no one ever reads, that are the least popular posts?

They're my favorite part of this whole blog thing. In fact, reading through Peter D's campaign log is what convinced me to start on this project originally. It's what made me aware that the OSR exists.

So, with that out of the way, what follows is a play report, of sorts. Okay, not really, but it's the first player-side progress toward actually playing through what I've been working on. Last night, people made characters. (I brought my notes to continue my conversion work, but that didn't happen; instead I helped people with various questions, as expected.)

We have a fairly large table, but not absurdly so, at seven players plus GM. This means that players can cover all the bases, and they gladly did so - we have a knight, a wizard, a thief, and a cleric. We also have a druid, scout, and barbarian, meaning we have representatives of every acceptable class except bards and holy warriors. The lack of bards didn't surprise me - all of the players are sunk into the mindset that bards are useless - but the lack of a paladin analogue was curious. I'd think that, going into someplace named a Temple of Elemental Evil, a holy warrior would be a good person to bring along.

The interesting thing here is that the whole party, save the knight, consists of elves. (The knight is a dwarf.) This was at first unintentional, though of course once we became aware of what had happened it was heartily approved as the party's identifying 'thing'. There's even talk that the next round of characters is to be all dwarves; we'll see. In any case, the bias against bards amuses me even further because everyone now has Musical Ability 1 and Voice

I'm curious to see how this works out in Hommlet. On the one hand, it's a fairly exclusively human town. On the other, there is an elven enclave a few days north that does come into the area for occasional trade and patrols, and which is politically allied with the Duchy. On the gripping hand, there's a current low-level struggle in Hommlet between the Old Faith (firmly entrenched) and the Church of St. Cuthbert, which is a newcomer but influential due to the Archbishop of Veluna's actions the last time the Temple rose to prominence. I imagine it will boil down to how they behave and to whom they talk, as it always does.

In particular, the wizard is a bit eccentric:

One of the things that was driven home to me again is that GURPS character creation takes a longer time and has many more options than pre-3rd edition D&D. This is especially marked with the pre-1st edition D&Ds, where you can roll up a new character in five minutes, including gear. By contrast, it can take hours to shape GURPS characters into being.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. The more I read, the more I come to appreciate the minimalist approach that was taken in the roots of the hobby. The thing GURPS has going for it, though, is that that extra time isn't for 'optimizing' or, to put it another way, navigating through a forest of options looking for the best fit to drive what Courtney over at Hack & Slash calls wish fulfillment. Instead, the extra time is taken to provide mechanical incentives for assuming a role. D&D is not a role-playing game, though role-playing can often happen through it. GURPS is.

That said, reliance on the templates and familiarity with the process can very much quicken that process. I can bang out a DF Knight I might want to play in half an hour. A wizard might take me a whole hour, depending on how much I dithered over the spell list. That's still not five minutes, but it's close enough to work. I don't have to be too afraid of killing characters because they're replaceable without the sacrifice of too much blood and tears on the part of the players.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Where do rumors come from?

I've finally been reading Jack Vance's Dying Earth novels. It seems a rite of passage into the inner mysteries of the dungeon-crawling hobby, after all. This will be relevant soon.

Rumors are an important part of adventuring in dungeons. It's through rumors that players often get their first pieces of concrete information about the dungeon. Without rumors, meaningful choices are difficult to make in that first foray. "Which entrance do we take?" boils down to a cast of lots without something behind it. "What are we looking for and where are we looking for it?" resolves no further than "For treasure," and "In the dungeon." In fact, it can move one step further back; often the way PCs even know there's a dungeon with treasure in it in the first place is through a rumor, though that's usually given away for free, at least at first.

We're all familiar with the old trick of the old man in the tavern/on the roadside/hanging by his toenails from an invisible petrified troll. The reason we're all familiar with it is because it is a time-tested method of rumor communication. However, unless we're in this for the silliness, we're also tired of it. Sure, you can sometimes get away with it if you steer very clear of the words "old man" and "tavern", but it's still pretty recognizable. So, how do we get rumors to our players without seeming hackneyed?

Often the answer is, "young woman in a tavern," or "grizzled man in a not-tavern" or some such. These are good answers, but let me put it to you that you can, at one stroke, tell the players about your local dungeon and flesh out your world before their eyes in an unobtrusive and wonderful way.
He saw a blue-white, green-white flicker against the foliage. It was a Twk-man, mounted on a dragon-fly, and light glinted from the dragon-fly's wings.
Liane called sharply, "Here, sir! Here, sir!"
The Twk-man perched his mount on a twig. "Well, Liane, what do you wish?"
"Watch now, and remember what you see." Liane pulled the ring over his head, dropped it to his feet, lifted it back. He looked up to the Twk-man, who was chewing a leaf. "And what did you see?"
"I saw Liane vanish from mortal sight—except for the red curled toes of his sandals. All else was as air."
"Ha!" cried Liane. "Think of it! Have you ever seen the like?"
The Twk-man asked carelessly, "Do you have salt? I would have salt."
Liane cut his exultations short, eyed the Twk-man closely.
"What news do you bring me?"
"Three erbs killed Florejin the Dream-builder, and burst all his bubbles. The air above the manse was colored for many minutes with the flitting fragments."
"A gram."
"Lord Kandive the Golden has built a barge of carven mo-wood ten lengths high, and it floats on the River Scaum for the Regatta, full of treasure."
"Two grams."
"A golden witch named Lith has come to live on Thamber Meadow. She is quiet and very beautiful."
"Three grams."
"Enough," said the Twk-man, and leaned forward to watch while Liane weighed out the salt in a tiny balance. He packed it in small panniers hanging on each side of the ribbed thorax, then twitched the insect into the air and flicked off through the forest vaults. - Jack Vance, The Dying Earth
 Sure, now that I see it in text, it seems obvious. Still, here are some possible similar answers:
  1. Rivers talk. Larger rivers not quite that often; they've grown wearier of speech than their smaller cousins, but "babbling brook" isn't just a poetic description. With the right incentive (anything from helping clear the banks of that annoying snarl of trees from last season's flood to just being nearby), a river can tell you anything that has been going on in lands it flows through.
  2. If you dance in the faerie rings in the forest, the Little People speak freely, though they might laugh at you for being so concerned with the doings of the mortal world, and you might end up with more (or less) than you bargained for.
  3. When the moon is new and the stars are out, fireflies will arrange themselves in intelligible patterns, of maps or sometimes even short phrases. No one knows what intelligence guides them to do this.
  4. The Akashic Record exists. Sometimes it impinges itself on a consciousness that hasn't gone looking to tap it. Maybe it's lonely? (This is, potentially, both a source of rumours and an adventure hook if you feel like doing a dream-dungeon.)
  5. Owls are well-known for their wisdom, or at least their loquacity. In exchange for a small morsel of fresh meat, they will happily divulge what they know of the doings of the world, and they have eyes nigh everywhere.
The above are designed to be something that happens to the PCs. Once they know they can get rumors from unconventional sources, they might go seeking them out, but the beauty of the above passage is that Liane happens upon a Twk man. He knows it's a source of rumors. Your players won't, until you show them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Anthropological archaeology through treasure

Please excuse the pretentious-sounding title. It popped into my head and made me giggle enough I wanted to keep it despite myself.

One of the things I've noticed in the Temple of Elemental Evil is that there are rooms that are described as richly furnished, or that are in some other way made obviously full of potentially valuable stuff, that aren't detailed. For example, Lareth's chambers are described thus:
"The Master's chamber is lavishly furnished, with thick rugs, wall hangings, and soft chairs, couch, and cushions. Wines, liquors, and dishes of sweetmeats abound."
but none of that is given a value. Contrast in more modern games, at least according to my limited experience, where the assumption is that player characters will strip a place clean, and then go back to strip the clean off. For example, Dungeon Fantasy 2 even has rules for bringing back doors, bars, and other scrap from the dungeon.

This is neither an oversight nor an bias against these types of value on the part of Gygax and Mentzer. Later in the supermodule there's an entire room that's explicitly stocked to the gills with <certain valuable stuff>, and it's assumed that the PCs will take some of it; in fact, there's a set of sort-of-rules for scrounging through all the clutter to find valuable stuff. However, there's no hard description of exactly what is in place and how valuable it is. Instead, it's assumed (and frankly stated) that the PCs won't/can't run off with it all.

When I first saw this it boggled me. Why would you have what's frankly a treasure trove and not have a clear value to it? What's going on here? I'm not certain, but let me advance two possibilities.

Possibly, this stuff wasn't regarded as treasure. The old chant goes, "Gems, Jewels, Magic," not, "Sofas, tapestries, silks." If that's the case, then it's kind of disappointing; interesting treasures, even mundane ones, fire the imagination. A bundle of rare Ismaili redsilks is much better than a bag of 300 gp, especially if that bundle is embroidered with the pattern favored by the late King's Consort because of her heritage in the barbarian north.

A much more compelling possibility rests on the understanding that such details don't matter until they matter. To put it another way, Gygax and Mentzer specifically didn't detail all the objects in the room because that limits a GM's creativity, and they understood that, even though this was based on Gary's game, it wasn't Gary's game. If you bought T1, you didn't buy it for to brush up on your Greyhawk lore so you could sit at the table in Geneva; you bought it so you could run it yourself, in your own version of Greyhawk (or somewhere else). In this hypothesis, the authors expected you to pick up on "lavishly furnished" and provide to your players what that means. Is it stocked with decadent bloodwines from the heathen south? Etruvian brandies? Silks spun from the eggsacs of void-spiders? That's your call, and by leaving such details out you're allowed, even forced, to make it. The simple issue of weight and value is easily solved. ("Oh, and generally it's all worth 40,000 gp, but weighs several thousand pounds. What do you want to take?")

I like that second option more, so I'm going to chalk this up as another case of understanding the game to be permissive rather than restrictive. It's a vehicle for your imagination to fall back on to maintain its own internal plausibility, rather than attempting to be the scope of everything possible.

This is a good way. I can always just come up with specific weights and values when the PCs go back to town.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Distribution of treasure

So, for my purposes, one of the pieces missing from the otherwise-excellent Dugeon Fantasy 8 - Treasure Tables is the ability to generate treasure according to some ideal of Gygaxian naturalism. If you use the main table in the front of the book, you're liable to get a hoard of highly magical nature with no recognizable consistency. Certainly, one can (and should) be divined from the simple aggregate (how did this get here? what is it, really? That sword with Puissance+1 and Noise is actually Modenkeinen's Tuning Fork), but you aren't able to randomly generate treasure while having any control over the nature of the treasure thus created.

By contrast for illustration, take AD&D's treasure types. In these we have the essential components to what I'm looking for:
  • Treasure generation still based on random probability distribution. You could get an Orb of Annihiliation in Type A, but you're more likely to in Type Z
  • Differing probabilities for different classes of treasure to distinguish
  • Treasure put into different classes based on the power of that treasure - silver pieces are less powerful than gold are less powerful than gems are less powerful than magic
  • Lettered treasure types assigned to different monsters
Has anyone built such a thing for GURPS? I may try my hand at it later. I don't need it for the Temple of Elemental Evil, which already has treasure spelt out, but I would if I wanted to built a megadungeon or hexcrawl.

If not, I imagine that the AD&D treasure types are a starting point for such a project, and automating it in my (under-construction) automatic treasure-roller would be A Good Thing, but I don't imagine for a second you could actually stop with a bald conversion of Treasure Types from First Edition.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Yak shaving for fun and profit: Making Procrastination Work for You!

We all get to that point: we want to do more in our crafted little worlds to bring them alive, but something holds us back. I'm not talking about a lack of desire; if that's the case, you're best off doing something else. I'm talking about those days when you're thinking to yourself, "I really do want to work on that new dungeon," or whatever it is, but you just can't find it in you to actually reach for the computer/drafting paper/abacus/tattoo needle.

First, some serious tips:
  1. Have a schedule. Stick to it for three or four weeks straight. After that time, keep sticking to it, but it will be much easier now that you've formed the habit. You don't have to do a lot on any given night that you've committed yourself to, but you have to do something - even if it's just doodling or scratching down some ideas you had during the day.
  2. Find a different section of the project. Want to map that second floor but just can't find the juice? Work out monster placement elsewhere, or webs of relationships, or treasure troves. (Random Generation can help.)
  3. If your world is meant to be more than just a single dungeon, work on another part of it. Maybe you're incapable of statting up the Temple of the Umber Ophidian, but you could make some headway on that Shrine to the Malevolent Malvolio you'd been meaning to save for later. Just because the players won't get to it next session doesn't mean it won't be useful.
  4. Try coming at your work from a different angle. If what you need is monster placement, stats, or mapping, try thinking about the history and present-day uses of the dungeon. Layering interesting bits onto the backstory can fire the imagination with ways to make those bits relevant through gameplay.
I've already used all the above myself, so I can attest to their effectiveness.

"Oh, sure," you say, "but you're not the first person to tell me this. Heck, you're not even the best, with your anemic little four-point list! Give me something entertaining!" And you know, you're right, so here's another, potentially less helpful but more interesting list:

  1. Play Dwarf Fortress? Combine your hobbies! Build a grand fortress, then lose it in any of the million ways you can in that game, then go back in adventurer mode or history mode to check it out. Lift it directly and plop it down in your world. (Extra points if you somehow theme the dungeon, e.g. everything is made of bronze, or the dungeon contains mechanisms to rearrange itself.)
  2. Surf the blogosphere. There's some really cool stuff out there.
  3. Ask a five-year-old
  4. Perhaps my favorite: run some piece of fiction or fantasy gaming materials through a Dissociated Press algorithm and look for interesting words.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Random Encounter Tables: Adventuring around Nulb

I needed to get to these eventually. The Temple of Elemental Evil has some random encounter tables for adventures taking place in the wilderness around Nulb. These are useful, if a bit cursory, for getting a feel for the place. It includes tables for woodlands, swamp, and river adventures. In addition, they're useful for overland travel between Hommlet and Nulb, and I imagine I'll mostly be using them in that respect, though if I get truly grandiose ideas I may create another couple mini-dungeons for the PCs to visit, so the players have some choice. (However, I figure a large part of that strategic choice is made when they come to the table. They know I'm running a romp through the Temple of Elemental Evil, and it's not like I'm the only game in town.)

Without further ado, here they are:

Nulb Encounter tables (roll 3d6)

Scrub/Forest/road (9 or less, roll twice per day and twice per night, double that if off-road):

00-10:    Wild boars (1d6-3 minimum 1) (roll 1d6; on a 1, this is a herd consisting of 1d6 x 30 adults)
10-25:    Wolves (3d10; roll 1d6, on a 1, substitute dire wolves from DF 2 instead)
26-30:    Day: Scouting/hunting party of elves (3d6)
              Night: Werewolves (1d4; alternatively, a different 'were' if you like)
31-45:    Gnoll band (4d10)
46-60:    Bugbears (1d10)
61-70:    On road: small merchant caravan (1 in 6 chance of being diguised evil pilgrims)
              Off road: Bandits, as below
71-90:    Bandits  (4d6) (outfitted like Nulb militia and probably are)
91-99:    Roll twice more
00:         Special, roll on the Specials table

Swamp/Pond/Road (9 or less, roll twice per day and twice per night, double that if off-road):

00-15:    Giant frogs, 1d10 as per the moathouse
16-20:    Day: Giant snake
              Night: Ghouls, (2d6 led by 1d6-3 ghasts - like ghouls but with 3-hex nauseating aura and +1 vs.
21-30:    Leaping Leeches, effectively infinite. If you need a precise number, roll 1d100 x 100
31-45:    Wolves, (3d10; roll 1d6, on a 1, substitute dire wolves from DF 2 instead)
46-60:    Gnoll band (4d10)
61-70:    Toxic Slorn, (1d6)
71-80:    On road: small merchant caravan (1 in 6 chance of being diguised evil pilgrims)
              Off road: bandits, as below
81-90:    Bandits  (4d6) (outfitted like Nulb militia and probably are)
91-99:    Roll twice more
00:         Special, roll on the Specials table

00-05:    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)
06-10:    Horde pygmies (1d10 x 10)
11-20:    Orc raiding party (1d6 x 15)
21-25:    Wyverns (1d6)
26-35:    Slugbeast
36-45:    Stirges (5d10)
46-56:    Day: Dryad
56-65:    Trolls, 1d6-2, minimum 1
61-65:    Giant Ape
66-75:    Hunting party from the temple, roll 1d6:
              1-4: Humans (5d10), packing earth temple robes and outfitted like guards (chain and shield,
              crossbow and broadsword)
              5: Bugbears (2d6) packing fire temple robes and outfitted like guards (chain and shield, bastard
              sword or mace)
              6: Humans (2d6) w/ orcs (2d6) packing water temple robes and outfitted like guards (chain and
              shield, bows, crossbows)
76-85:    Another adventuring party
86-90:    Ogres, 2d6
91-00:    Batchala flock, 3d10

Also, I apologize to anyone on a mobile device or non-standard resolution. I had to format these by hand with spaces,because Blogger doesn't have table support except in the HTML mode, which I'm far too lazy to wrangle with at the moment.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Little gems in random treasure generation

In a previous post I said that with each trove I would also be including one randomly-generated item, just because. Boy, am I glad I did, and here's why:

The very first thing I rolled up was a Textbook of a Common Skill, Written in a Common Language with two enchantments and two embellishments. Those Enchantments were Waves and Fog; the embellishments were expensive extensive inlay and a cover of fine material edged with fur.

Oh, did I mention that the Bookbinding Properties table told me that this book was made out of stone tablets? It weighs twelve hundred pounds. I don't figure I'm spoiling this for the players because the book is around seven cubic feet, and so fairly obvious when you find it.

Given this information, I've decided this book is written in dwarvish and is called the Manual of the Sea, teaching whoever consults it Shiphandling/TL3, and allowing default rolls even without the prerequisite skills. It's bound in thick, fur-edged seal skin (elephant seal, naturally), and its letters are filled with tiny aquamarines, too small for individual sale.

I would never have put such a thing in the moathouse, and in the process of reading the dice I learned something new about my version of Greyhawk.

First, enchanters can sometimes go a little mad. They become obsessed with the creation of some masterpiece of their art; usually some extremely implausible but strangely powerful and valuable item that they go to great expense and hardship to complete. It can take years to finish, and is often made of implausible materials or otherwise reflects the partial insanity of its creator. Dwarves in particular are prone to this malady; any truly absurd item is liable to have been dwarf-work. In addition, if something keeps an enchanter in this mood from completing his work for long enough, he will go truly insane, with unpredictable effects - this is part of why there are so many towers of mad arch-mages about.

Second, the original lord of the moathouse was a sailor, both on the nearby river and on the Nyr Dyv it connects to, as a privateer for the Duke. When he was granted his title and the moathouse, he brought the Manual of the Sea with him at great expense (it was in his ship, as his 'lucky charm' - it didn't hurt that he could hide from other ships and change the conditions of engagement with its enchantments). Eventually he gave it to his son, but by that time the Temple was gaining prominence...

If you haven't, I highly recommend using some random treasure in your game. It provides a focal point for peering into the reality of the world you inhabit, sitting around the table, helping to clear away the mists of unreality just a little.

Monday, January 7, 2013


I figure it's about time I sat down and laid out why I've chosen to go with the system I have. Not because I feel I have to justify myself to my readers, but because being explicit in my reasons will help guide my choices in the appropriate directions.

Firstly, a list of those reasons I might not have chosen GURPS:
  1. GURPS is new-school: Or at least it has new-school elements, whatever that means. It has skill systems rather than relying directly on player skill. It takes time to build a character, and it's expected that that character will be role-played at least a minimal amount. Contrast this with five-minute character generation and no necessity for role-play found in OD&D (at least to judge by reviews and retroclones) up through 1e. Additionally, a lot of the advice that comes with the core rulebooks is new-school, encouraging things like pallete-shifting and adventure design as opposed to objective situation design. (B502)
  2. GURPS is complicated: GURPS has a lot of bells and whistles not present in (most of) old-school D&D and retroclones. GURPS doesn't abstract combat; each sword swing is a sword swing, each combat turn is a second (that overlaps with other turns). There are hit locations and defenses and finicky difficulty modifiers etc.
  3. GURPS requires conversion: Most of the OSR stuff or original stuff picked up by the OSR can't be run out of the box with GURPS, like it can with the D&D family. Want to run B2 in AD&D or S&W? Sure, no problem. In GURPS? You're going to spend about as much time to convert things as it would take an experienced GM to write a like adventure himself.
Wow, with that list, why'd I choose to go with GURPS?

  1. I'm comfortable with GURPS: I don't mean I know every little fiddly rule, or even that I'm totally comfortable with some of the core mechanics. (Is the minus to hit the leg -3 or -2? -2, but I always forget.) But generally, I have a sense of the system, of what modifiers make sense, of what character abilities are useful for what, etc.
  2. My players play GURPS: I might be able to convince them to pick up Swords and Wizardry for a change, if I really wanted them to, maybe. But then, we're in a group with three GMs, potentially more, so it's entirely possible they'd go, "Nah, let's play this other game that uses the GURPS rules instead." This and the first one are the two biggest reasons.
  3. GURPS is old-school: Yes, it's both. GURPS is put together like a tool-kit, and is very up-front about the fact that if you don't like something, you should drop it/change it/house rule it. Don't like the shock rules? Drop'em. Don't know the modifier for hitting your enemy in the vitals under a full moon at 20 yards? Eyeball it. Want DR values to be different? Change'em. Steve isn't going to come to your house with a shotgun, and the other GURPS books will still be useful for your game. Additionally, a lot of the advice that comes with the core rulebooks is old-school, encouraging improvisation and the mindset that the rules are tools, not a straitjacket. (B497, I'm looking at you.)
  4. GURPS is simple: Yes, it's both here, too. GURPS has a lot of fiddly bits, but the core mechanic is easy: roll 3d6, roll below a number. "But," you say, "that's not a real representation. By the same logic, D&D is, 'Roll 1d20, roll above a number,'" and you're right. But the overall system of arriving at the number to roll against is coherent across all uses, and is easy to internalize as an intuition. Sure, you won't be exactly correct making up an on-the-fly ruling compared to totalling up all the published modifiers, but I'll bet 90% of the time you'll be within +-2.
  5. GURPS has good support: GURPS is classless and designed as a huge tool-kit out of which you pick what you want, which could present a problem, but the Dungeon Fantasy line of PDFs does a wonderful job both of trimming out what you don't want or need for your dungeon crawl as well as supplying things that didn't exist before for GURPS but are quite useful for D&D-esque play. Dungeon Fantasy 2, Dungeon Fantasy 8, Dungeon Fantasy 15, Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1, and others. In fact, the support is so good that I'd likely use about half of what's written for GURPS even if I were running a different system.
What does this tell me? First, it tells me not to sweat stuff like exact skill uses or monster write-ups. I can trim back a lot of stuff if I want and still maintain the game I want to run and the group that wants to play it. I can transpose some D&D stuff wholesale, like wands and potions and scrolls. However, I need to maintain the essential "feel" of playing GURPS, which, fortunately enough I can do with a gut-check. I would do myself a dis-service trying to pervert the system I am playing into being a straight D&D clone; my players don't want that and neither do I. Instead, what we want is the wonder, the interest, the agency, the deadliness, of exploring something that was originally created for D&D, not because those rules are the only way to recreate that wonder, but because those were the rules that were available to the writer.

So bring on parrying and blocking and all-out-attacks and called shots to the head and threshold magics and negative HP totals. Just don't forget you need a mysterious, dangerous place and torches to see it by.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Magic swords

This one's a quick idea:

Magic swords in D&D are different from other magic weapons. In order to simulate this, for enchantments in my game, these rules are in effect:

Any weapon can have Puissance and Accuracy enchantments up to +5, and Penetrating Weapon enchantment up to (2).

Swords, after the first level of Puissance and Accuracy, must put a Bane on all further levels. In addition, they can have up to Penetrating Weapon (4) with the same Bane. All Banes must be for the same category of foes.

Further, only swords can be intelligent (and most magical swords of more than +1 are), and only swords can have more powerful enchantments (such as Dancing Weapon or Flaming Weapon, or others).

Treasure in the Temple

I've been mulling this over for a while; after all, this is the entire point of why the characters would risk life and limb going into dark ruins of evil cults in the first place. Otherwise, they'd settle down into the nice safe positions of village blacksmith/publican/prostitute or whatever. So it had better be worthwhile.

Also, it's there for the enjoyment of the players (including myself), so it had better be compelling, or at least momentarily interesting. No, "you find $4000 worth of stuff," or "you find a thousand silver pieces" in my game. Even if the players don't care about the palladium tiara with a frog motif and just care how much it costs, it will amuse me to put it there in the first place.

Peter over at Dungeon Fantastic has a helpful post about what he's learned about treasure from running Keep on the Borderlands and his megadungeon (play reports of which are what got me doing this in the first place, because they're awesome). I never really felt the temptation he mentions of giving too little treasure, because I have ways to soak up and control money written directly into the adventure (training costs, plentiful hirelings at least after the moathouse, carousing, potential for theft, plentiful mundane/consumable items while keeping enchantment rare by forcing people to make a long potentially dangerous trek to the city and then wait for the enchanter, even animals), so I don't feel worried about treasure destabilizing things. If making a big score means the PCs can replenish their supplies, upgrade their gear, and hire a bunch of people to watch their horses/hold their torches/fill out the front line, well then, good - there are a couple places the PCs pretty much need an army. Nevertheless, the post is useful because it puts the practical experience of someone who has done this sort of thing before in one place with reasons and explanation.

Also, it's nice to know that his experience syncs pretty well with what I've been thinking.

Generally, for every gold piece worth of treasure written into the original module, I will substitute $5 worth of GURPS treasure. If this is not in a hoard of some sort (e.g. carried by monsters), then it will probably mostly remain coin. So, for example, one monster carries 1-6 sp, 1-6 ep and 1-6 gp. We'll assume I rolled 4 for each, which would translate into 6.25 gp. This means he'll carry $31, or four silver and fifteen copper, using the default values from DF 2. It could be any coin that adds up to $31.

For gems, I'll convert those by rolling randomly on the random gem creation tables in Dungeon Fantasy 8 - Treasure Tables - which, seriously, if you want to run (or even just play) DF, you should get. It's probably the most awesome book in the series. In fact, I like gems, and will probably be expanding the gem creation table to include a number more, like zircon, that exist in D&D but not the table. #Then I'll do the spot-check above to make sure it equals or exceeds my 1 gp = $5 base.

For hoards, I'll follow the same guideline for establishing total value. However, for specific non-monetary treasure, I'll convert it according to the DF Treasure Tables, picking items and embellishments that best mimic the item as given. For example, in the moathouse there is an ivory box worth 50 gp. After conversion that's a small stone box made of Fine Material (ivory) and Minimal Painting/Enamel. Since I'm feeling pedantic, I'll roll on the Decorative Motif table and find out it has a leopard motif. If I were feeling especially so, I might give it more embellishments and then make it damaged by its treatment, reducing its monetary value back toward the desired amount.

I now have an ivory box about the size of a large book painted with cavorting leopards, worth $250 and weighing 4 lbs, reduced from 6lbs because ivory shouldn't be as heavy as stone.

Once I'm done converting specific items, I'll take half the value in coin, double it, and then roll in the treasure tables (whichever ones I choose, depending on monster, placement, etc.) to pick out various valuable objects to substitute. I'm doubling the halved amount because DF gives 40% for sold items that aren't jewelry or gems, unless someone takes wealth as an advantage, and such objects are invariably harder to carry about than coin anyhow. So instead of a cache of $10,000 in coin, the PCs might come across $5000 in coin and $5000 in assorted fine garments, spices, tea services, books, and dungeon-delving gear.

Then, on top of this I'm going to roll once completely randomly on the treasure tables, just for kicks. Sure, this could end up with a pair of gnolls guarding a giant magical cannon, but if that happens I have an interesting story on my hands. Maybe nobody realizes what it is, because its in several pieces, or these gnolls managed to avoid having it taken from them by the giants next door by threatening to use it, being comfortably affluent roguish adventurers who found it and are waiting for a buyer to get back to them. (By the way, would the PCs like it? Only 5000 gold pieces and three hirelings and it can be yours!)

In the moathouse, this doesn't stand up very well. For example, one treasure hoard contains the wonderful sum of 2000 copper pieces. That's 10gp, for those playing along at home. That's just going to be kept as 2000 copper pieces, or $2000 in GURPS terms. (It's thematically appropriate, too.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Simplified portage rules for Dungeon Fantasy

Simple Rules


Animal ST Wt(lbs) Feed/day Load(lbs) Pull(lbs)
Donkey 15 500 11.25 270 675
Pony/Small Mule 18 800 18 390 975
Work Horse 20 1100 24.75 480 1200
Mule 22 1400 31.5 580 1450
Draft Horse 25 2000 45 750 1875
Ox 27 2500 42 875 2185
Camel 22 1400 31.5 580 1450
Elephant 45 12000 180 2430 6075
Other Herbivore ST Weight 1.5-2.25/100lbs/day BL×6 BL×15
Omnivore/Carnivore ST Weight 0.75-1.25/100lbs/day BL×6 BL×15

Horses, ponies, mules, etc. can travel as fast as a human on foot for long distances; oxen, elephants, and most other animals will cut long-distance travel speeds in half. Feed for herbivores costs $0.75/lb, and they can graze without costing anything in most places when not required to travel (for example, while waiting outsidde the dungeon).

With the ratios above, one donkey can carry 24 days worth of food, whereas one draft horse can carry 16 and 2/3rds days of food, which means that for a dungeon three days away, you will want at least one feed donkey per eight donkeys (including himself), but one feed draft horse to every five draft horses, give or take.

Wagons will generally take up a fourth of the gross pulled weight. Thus, a one-horse wagon weighs 300lbs and has a payload of 900lbs. Sledges count double for encumbrance, except over ice and snow (and special desert sledges over sand, if they exist in your game).

Renting a beast costs %1 of purchase price per week, a number I pulled out of thin air, probably with a deposit. A wagon costs roughly $100/200lbs of cargo space, cheaper for ox-carts, more expensive for more exotic wagons (like an elephant-wain), and probably rents for roughly %0.5 of purchase price per week, or a %5 one-time fee, which are also random feel-good numbers.

"Advanced" Rules


Travel rates

A mixed party of people on foot, on horseback, and/or with a wagon will move at the regular hiking rates on B351, but with no chance to get the extra %20 for Hiking skill (but see below). This assumes 10 hours of movement at Move MPH and 2 hours on each side for starting and stopping. (If the party wants to go longer, see Extra Effort, below.) Any combat or other similar encounter will take roughly an hour to resolve, what with stripping the bodies, getting the horses calmed and moving again, etc. Alternatively, while it may not take an hour to get on the road again, people probably stop earlier in the day due to fatigue. Season to taste.


Terrain, weather and wagons

Any terrain worse than "Bad" or any weather worse than ankle-deep snow will stop a wagon. Generally, any combination of factors that would reduce movement by more than half is impassible to wagons. Specifically, mountains and bogs are impassible, unless there's a road, which overrides terrain quality as per B351, and will probably take a very circuitous route.

Terrain, weather and animals

Ponies and mules are commonly known* to be better at picking their routes in bad terrain than horses. Specifically, people bring mules and ponies into bogs or over mountains, not horses. To simulate this, optionally give ponies and mules a +4 to skill rolls for travel to offset penalties due to terrain. (See below.)
Camels and donkeys/mules are commonly known* to do better in deserts than other animals. To simulate this, optionally give camels and mules a +4 to skill roles for travel to offset penalties due to terrain. Also, camels count as having snowshoes for reducing movement rate modifiers (sand and snow are never more than ankle-deep, which reduces movement by a factor of 2).

Skills and their uses


 Hiking: As per the Basic Set. However, remember that the slowest member of a party determines overland speed, unless people want to separate. Assign penalties due to terrain up to -5 (for very difficult terrain, like the Himalayas). (Otherwise assume a simple failure and 100% land-speed.) Any critical failure is a hiking mishap of some kind - turned ankle, blisters, extra marching because the map was read wrong, etc. Assess 1d6 injury and 1d6 fatigue loss to a random hiker.

Packing: Rather than a caravan moving at %80 if it doesn't have a packer with skill 15+, the person with the highest Packing skill rolls daily. Success grants +10% movement; success by 5 grants +25% movement. Alternatively, each +1 the roll was made by grants +5% movement. Any failure by 5 or more results in some baggage mishap - lost cargo from poor knots, a hurt animal due to chafing, etc. Any critical failure means catastrophe - an animal broke a leg or sank into a swamp, or multiple beasts lost their baggage in a river, etc. Assign up to -10 due to terrain - it's more difficult to get horses over the Himalayas than people.

Riding: If people are on horseback, treat Riding like Hiking above. If a critical failure is rolled, assign fatigue and injury both to a random rider and his horse.

Teamster: You only need this skill if you have a wagon. If you only have a wagon and no beasts of burden, you only need this; else, you need both this skill and Packing (see above). This skill doesn't provide any benefit - it's a skill tax for using a wagon. Roll once a day. Failure means driving the wagon takes 1-3 hours longer than it otherwise would - players may choose to stop early or push on to make up lost time. Critical failure behaves as described in the skill on B225. In addition, there is a 1 in 6 chance of lost baggage - around half of that in the wagon in the first place. (You decided to ford the river instead of caulking the wagon and floating it.)



Moving overland is fatiguing. At the end of the hike each night, assess 3 hours worth of hiking fatigue as per B426. Halve this if the person has the Fit advantage; quarter it for Very Fit Yes, this means that your average ST 10 human will take 9FP from hiking in temperate weather. (Remember fatigue from weather and wearing armor, as well.) Don't add any fatigue assessed because they stopped in the middle of the journey to do something else (see B426), unless that fatigue should last (e.g. fatigue from illness). Any fatigue in excess of available FP comes off as injury - yes, you can kill yourself hiking.

Extra Effort: Rather than a flat 2 FP at the end of the day, Extra Effort costs 1 FP per +%5 distance covered. You can also use this with Packing, Riding, or Teamster, substituting a contest of wills between the beast with the strongest will and the designated driver/packer instead of minuses to the Will Roll. Yes, you can kill your horses this way.



 Water: These rules assume the terrain you are travelling through will have sufficient water, so all you need to bring is foodstuffs. If this is not the case, animals also need a half-gallon of water per 100 lbs per day at 4 lbs per half-gallon. (Water's free, except at desert wells.) Camels can go without water for two weeks, and then begin to suffer fatigue and injury (see B426) at half the listed rate. Also, treat the listed amounts on that page as units to be multiplied by water requirements rather than absolute values.

Running out of food: If the party doesn't have enough food to keep the pack animals fed, the animals can forage to offset the difference. (It's up to you as GM to determine how well this works for omnivores or carnivores.) See B427. However, ruminants take a long time to get fed; slash travel distances in half in good, grass-filled terrain for horses and the like. Oxen and elephants will need to spend all day eating. If the terrain is less favorable to rumination (swamps, high mountains), multiply the time taken by 1.5-2, or more for especially bleak places. With little enough grass, the party is better off stashing their spoils, butchering the horses, and hiking to civilization to procure more supplies. Camels can go without food for a month, and then begin to suffer fatigue and injury at half the listed rate.


These rules are very simplified, and probably wrong as far as realism is concerned. I wanted something I could use to decide quickly how long it would take to move from place to place, and a system that involved meaningful choices for the players, not a dissertation on the vicissitudes of low-tech travel.

This system does not sync up well with the stats for the wagon in the Basic Set, of which I could make neither heads nor tails, given what I understand about how much a horse can carry vs. its ST in GURPS terms. In all cases I have assumed that a horse is capable of carrying heavy encumbrance for a workday, which is convenient because a) it doesn't slow people down and b) it passes the sniff test for me, since horses will refuse to carry too much weight in my extremely-limited experience.

Further, my hiking rules are different from those in High Tech, which calls for a movement speed equal to Move/2 miles per hour. That book also claims that the rules in the Basic Set involve 16 hours of hiking at this pace, which is patently absurd; ideal terrain and no encumbrance involves hiking Move x 10 miles, which at a speed of Move/2 MPH, would be 20 hours of hiking.** So, instead, I came at the problem from two different angles; first, ten hours of actual movement, eight hours of sleep, and four hours to break camp, eat, make camp, etc. made sense to me for people who aren't hustling. Second, I went to the Vehicle rules and found the canonical ruling that speed in mph = 2×move, and that Cruising Speed for vehicles was usually %60-%70 Top Speed. I moved that down to %50 for ease of calculation and rationalized it away.

Pull loads were achieved by the formula given in the table, BL×15. This comes from B353. My sources (below) said that a horse can pull a draft of one-tenth its body-weight for eight hours a day regularly, and that a wagon's draft is somewhere between %10-6, which was a nice confluence, since if that rule didn't exist, the rules for carts would allow you to move a truly absurd amount of stuff. In particular, the rule that a four-wheeled conveyance divides encumbrance weight by 20 fails the realism test, hard.

Camels I eyeballed. The Basic Set gives them Reduced Consumption 3, whereas Wikipedia claims that dromedary camels can, in a pinch, go six months without water and other sources say 1 week to a month without food. However, when given the chance, they'll eat and drink enough to make up the difference.

Generally, these rules are designed to be easy to play while passing the plausibility test for a bunch of guys with little to no professional experience.


Care and feeding: Horse Sense by S. E. Mortimer, an excellent Pyramid Article that also happens to be a free sample, run quickly by GURPS Low-Tech Companion 3: Daily Life and Economics for agreement(ish)

Wagon drafts and horse loads: Tiller International: Estimating Wagon Draft and Wagon Teamster, a guy who decided to sell his house, buy an RV and some horses, convert the RV into a horse-drawn carriage, and travel the United States.

Stats: B459-60, though I checked against Animalia in GURPS as well.

*By us armchair philosophers, at any rate.

**Should I submit an erratum, perhaps?