Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

It's Good Friday today, which means I don't really have a lot of time to dive into posting. However, in the spirit of the day, let's talk about myth*.

The sense of the mythic is what first drew me to fantasy roleplaying. Even as a small child, watching Eric's campaign unfold and reveal new sides to itself, I got the feeling that here was something grand, some primal act of storytelling. It didn't have a plot or defined narrative the way 'story' is mostly interpreted today, but it had an internal consistency and sense of action and discovery that infuses the best of campaigns. In a phrase, myth brought me to roleplaying.

Personally I'd like to play in such a game again. A second-best would be to run it. However, if you're looking for advice on how to evoke such a feeling at the game table, you've come to the wrong place. I'm just as lost as you - maybe more so. I've seen that car, even ridden in it, but I don't even know how to change the oil, much less rebuild the engine.

*I use the word 'myth' not as a judgment about truth or untruth, as it is commonly used today, but rather as a description of the structure of the truths imparted.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Honey I shrunk the PCs: After play report 3

Calawas - Elf Thief (Katz)
Amalia - High Elf Cleric (Paraj)
Volbak - Dwarf Knight (Jim)
Lamaevhun - Wood Elf Scout (Tim)
Ilsildel - High Elf Wizard (Martin)
Chief - Wood Elf Barbarian (Catherine)

Last session ended with the ignominous death of my beloved bandits. (Actually brigands - there is a difference.) The thief, undeterred by his wounds, immediately set about casing their quarters, finding some small change, a few rations, and the Manual of the Sea, a manual of Shiphandling written by the mad Dwarf Durgin Ulubad. It's quite ornate, quite magical, quite valuable (the letters are inlaid aquamarines!) and also 1,400 lbs - the pages are slabs of stone. Yep. This was actually the slab that Calawas was tossed onto for later interrogation in the last session - the book protector is just light enough that the Barbarian could move it without herniating himself.

Cue appropriate amounts of dickering about treasure, spurred on when the party found silver and even a bit of gold on the bodies of their enemies. (I'm using the bog-standard DF values for copper, silver, and gold, which makes gold very valuable.)

Funnily enough, the thief and the scout (who were, for pretty much the whole session, in single-digit HP range - more on this later) were stuck in the bandit hole-up when this noise attracted a swarm of dire rats from the pantry. Things were looking a bit sticky, because your typical ROUS brings friends, until the resident Problem Solv-err, I mean wizard Glued them to the floor. Let's see: rats with ST 9 need to make a ST-5 check to move one hex, then do it again to move another...nope. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Or rats in a trap. Still, this stirred up the indigenous wildlife a tad, so that after folks were done looting the bodies, things had been riled up.

Rather than waiting for healing, Calawas hobbled ahead, going down the southern corridor to check out - oh, hey, wait, is that a bloated decomposing body? Awesome! Does it have any stuff? What? No? Sure it does! Let me squish around in it a bit!

And that's how he didn't notice the Huge Fierce Green Snake Barring the Way! -I mean, curled up in the corner. Or rather, shortly afterward he did, after it missed him. Cue hijinks that involved setting a corner of the moathouse on fire, the already half-dead thief getting poisoned and narrowly escaping with his life thanks to the attentions of the party cleric and the barbarian not killing everyone simply because the wizard prepared Sleep that day. (As noted before, Berserk and Sense of Duty to Adventuring companions creates some powerful synergy for DF.)

Well, that's all well and good - off to the nearby room! What's in here?

At the same time, the scout and wizard, who had wanted to go down the other hallway, get ambushed by a tick. Yes, not that impressive, though it was the size of a human head. More of a freakish annoyance than anything else. After that, there was serious talk of going home - it was around 1900 game time - or at least resting. They eventually decided to clear out one of the rooms, bring the horses into the Great Hall, and post a watch, hoping for the best. Well, what do you know, the best happened - they weren't molested in the slightest, despite the swamp being thick with prowling wildlife. Good thing, too, because the cleric is their only source of healing, and she's beginning to feel stretched. Part of that is that she didn't even focus on healing so much as being a "divine caster" - i.e. the one who deals with undead and other icky stuff.

Afterward they tossed more rooms, finding a few pieces of worthwhile treasure but not much. They finally approached the last room, having already found the stairs and cordoned them off for later exploration, and discovered that the room was an old barracks with a giant lizard. Well, that was easy. The barbarian and the knight took care of him, and we broke there. I fully anticipate the thief going through its guts and trying to swallow anything he finds.


Okay, so I'm coming to realize that I need to help rein in Calawas' player. He likes the limelight, and most of the time other people enjoy him having it up to a point, because he's a good actor and a funny guy. However, other people need to be able and allowed to do things. I need to work on including them.

Also, I need to work on presenting random encounters in a better way. The Moathouse is especially egregious, what with wandering nasty wildlife and ghouls and so on, to the point where there were a few jokes about Gygaxian ecology and spontaneous generation. I think this will die down as the random encounters make more sense, i.e. are more able to be rationally integrated into the backdrop. However, we'll see. It's still an area to work on.

The party badly needs a leader. This is related to the first issue, but the whole session was effectively them flailing around - getting things done, certainly, but mostly because everyone was rescuing the thief when he went off and did stupid stuff on his own. It's in some way self-correcting; if he keeps wandering off alone while bleeding out and barely able to move, something will eat him. As it is, he only survived because I drew the interior of the Moathouse two sizes too small.

Finally, the Manual of the Sea really makes me happy. It's quite valuable, but also quite heavy, and a little crazy to boot. It presents a conundrum to the players and is also the reward to that conundrum. There was talk of clearing out the Moathouse and setting up a museum, even. And it's all thanks to the random tables in Dungeon Fantasy 8

Friday, March 22, 2013

Deceptive yak shaving

You're not stealing it if you say "Martin asked me to post this to see what people thought."
If you say "Look at this awesome thing I made (unless it sucks, then Martin made it)" and I link to it from the forums, it's also not stealing, and pretty funny.
If you actually  claim ownership, then I sic Katz on you.  :)   - Martin, a player in my game

 As an outgrowth from the tactical discussions that happened in previous posts (and will continue to happen, though I haven't gotten back around to them yet), I asked Martin to come up with a short sheet of fill-in-the-blank options for players to have in front of them. He did, and I think it looks fairly nice, though next session I need to pause to make sure people actually fill it out with their own damage and skill levels. (Otherwise it's useless of course.)

While completing that project, he got side-tracked with what he calls "Deceptive yak shaving." Specifically:

So while digging around learnin' about combat strategy for the cheat sheets I idly wondered what the best deceptive attack strategies were for various attack skill/defense roll combos.

A few hours later and a lot of Yaks ended up shaved.  Deceptively shaved.  Boy are they gonna be surprised when they find out.  - Martin again
 And after a quick side trip to a thread on the forums where he tried to pin down exactly how much more "damage" a critical hit was worth than a regular hit, after accounting for the fact that you will hit, and including relative effects like crippling and dropping of weapons, he came up with a really cool chart that lays out your optimal Defensive Attack strategy based on relative offenses and defenses:

For best results, use a yak-hair brush and lather with Mama Bear's handmade soap pucks.

I like this chart for many reasons. First, to defend its relevance, especially at higher defense levels: your base-line opponent in Dungeon Fantasy has Skill 14. With a Medium Shield, that means a defense of 14/2 = 7 + 3 for defense + 2 for shield + 1 for retreat = 13. If you make it a Large Shield and give the opponent Combat Reflexes, that's a 15, which is already pushing the right edge of the chart. (Also: yowza. That shows you right there that "eating up a defense so the Knight can hit" is actually quite useful, not a waste of time and talent at all.)

Second, it broadly validates the first-pass recommendations by +Douglas Cole that lowering your skill to 14 or 16 is the way to go if you want to maximize your chances. There are certainly exceptions, like when you have Skill 22 and your opponent has Defense 15, but they're exceptions around the edges, and you're not too far off from optimal if you stick to the recommended course.

Third, it is supporting evidence that Defensive Attack is doing its job. With the exception of that 22 vs. 18 slot, when your skill goes up and your opponent's skill goes up, you're better off taking a higher defensive attack. (That exception is sensible if you think about it: 22-6 = 16, maximizing your chances for a crit.)

Of course this chart isn't the end-all and be-all of GURPS combat recommendations. It assumes a man-to-man fight on level ground with absolutely no interfering effects. It's a fun little thing to noodle around, though.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Barbarian meatgrinder

So, last session I let the Barbarian bring a maul to a sword party. My poor bandits weren't expecting anything of the sort and were brutally murdered. Brutally! I wept. The children wept. The little puppies wept. (I even had the players wincing at one point - I'm particularly proud of that.) But! lo! a voice from the heavens! I looked into the Holy Writ and it said '13‡'.

Glory! My (next) bandits were saved! That damn dirty ape-err, I mean, technologically challenged exemplar of the Elder Race could no more deal out double-fisted death every turn with a mere 16 ST. Muahahaha!

So I spoke to the player about this, and last night we came up with a solution. (It helps that she's my wife - it means easy access to her opinions on the matter.) At first she wanted to go with a mace, but I explained the delicious advantages of wielding a Reach 1,2 weapon  when all your foes are stuck at Reach 1. So that was out. Still, she didn't like the idea of not getting two attacks every round. "But with a maul," I explained, "you would need to be effectively ST 20 in order to hit with it every round. Instead you'll be taking an All-Out Attack (Strong) and then readying the maul your next turn." I toyed with the idea of making a house rule saying that if you All-Out Attack (Double) you can switch that second attack for a Ready, but no - that was explicitly debarred in the rules, and I respect that when something is explicitly mentioned as a bad idea, Evil Stevie and Dr. Kromm mean it. (Side note: I'd pay money to see a riff off Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog starring Steve Jackson, Sean Punch, and Warehouse 23.)

We cast around for options. She had five points to spend; those obviously went into Striking ST 1. (I allow my players to upgrade Striking ST to full-bore ST if they're lacking ST that the 250-point template calls for.) Okay, ST 17 still isn't enough to wield a maul without it becoming unready. Hmm...what other Two-Handed Axe/Mace weapons are there?
She liked this one specifically.
Oh. Warhammer. A sledgehammer with a spike on one end. And that's only 12‡, you say? Where's the dotted line? 1.5 times 12 is 18; only 9 more points and she'll be swinging that monster twice a round.

My innards ache in sympathy just thinking about it.

(As if that weren't bad enough, going back over her character sheet, I realized that the maul was Dwarven - what berserker barbarian who also has Sense of Duty (Adventuring Companions) also needs a Dwarven weapon? - and that she never spent the extra $900 of debt per person the party was loaned from the Arcanists' Assembly in Verbobonc. So now our Barbarian has a silvered warhammer and real armor as well. Oi, vey. It's a good thing the Knight is badass in his own right.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Party Themes

Something I've always wanted to try is specific, intentional restrictions on classes and races to end up with themed parties - that is, parties whose composition points to a particular purpose. One of the things I'm enjoying about going through the Temple of Elemental Evil right now is that the players have independently done this to some degree; they're all playing elves (and elf adoptees), so we've decided they're an extended family group out on their vision quest / coming of age adventure / going somewhere, anywhere, away from home so they don't cause trouble for the rest of the elven community.

Here are a few I'd love to see or play sometime:

  • Warriors of Light: This is fairly self-explanatory. A party of Clerics and Holy Warriors who go around smiting evil. Methinks this would actually fit pretty well into the Temple of Elemental Evil. ("Why are you going to the Temple of Elemental Evil?" "...uh, it's a Temple of Elemental Evil.")
  • Archaelogical Expedition: This would be a party composed of nothing but Wizards and Sages. Obviously they're there to catalog and study the dungeon, picking up magical lore and artifacts along the way naturally. Strong arms (for holding swords as well as carting treasure) would be provided by various henchmen. Bonus points if you're heavily underwritten by the local College, with Agents and Scribes as grad students.
  • Rock Star Tour: All bards! The only filler they get are Laborers (techies) and Servants (groupies). Rather than kill the monsters and take their stuff, they're there to case a sweet new joint, then renovate it for their next concert. (Works best if they're in a dungeon under a city or castle.) For that truly hardcore feeling, the drummer can be a Bardbarian.
  • An offer you can't refuse: A group consisting solely of Thieves, Assassins, and if you like Ninja. Obviously they're beholden to the Don to get back the family heirloom "or else". This one strikes me as particularly difficult, but quite rewarding if you pull it off.
  • What happened last night?: All Innkeepers.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Build your own Nulb

As anyone who's familiar with the T1-4 supermodule knows, while Hommlet is super detailed, Nulb is not. Instead, you're given a representative sample of buildings and characters who interface with the overarching line of adventure, and told to go to town building your own village.

(See what I did there?)

Well, my players have already made it clear they're not particularly interested in poking townsfolk when there's treasure to be had in the hands of the local bandits in a nearby dungeon. And I say, good on them. (I like Hommlet, I like thinking about it, I like building background for it, but I don't want to force uninterested players to grovel through it. Let them choose their own adventure.)

So, for Nulb, I'm going to try something different. I'm going to keep it as a skeleton village - obviously the important personages will stay in place, and some building names and even some history will appear. However, any real fleshing out of the town will be up to the players, around the table. If they come up with something good, I'll write it down, and it will be so.

How's this different from what I normally do? After all, GMs should steal good ideas from their players.

Mostly, the difference in this case is I'm being explicit. When my group gets to Nulb I'm going to pause and say something to the effect of, "Look, guys, this is Nulb. It's a sketch village. It's a dive, with bandits and mercenaries and docks and etc. Buildings are in disrepair and many are vacant, and the whole place is inhabited by all sorts of scum."

"There are rumours to be had in Nulb, and people who know things. However, it's basically a blank slate. If you want to leave it that way, that's fine - the rules in DF 2 for abstracting Town fit right in. If you want details, they're yours to make, and I'll run with them."

Obviously there will be changes and twists to player suggestions, but I like the idea of letting them build a town if they like. It's less work for me up front and more fun for me, because I get to discover the place as they do. And they don't have any danger of an infodump or unfamiliarity with the town. If they don't care, it will be obvious, and we'll move on. If they do care, then they get to take an active hand in something they care about.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Into the Moathouse: After play report 2

Wow, it's been far too long here. Explanations are in order: first I lost my car to a roadside glacier (because it was better to hit that than the schoolbus), and then my wife got sick. With work ticking up on top of that, I simply haven't had time to do justice to this blog.

Hopefully now that I have a new car and my wife is on the mend, we can return to a normal posting schedule.

Calawas - Elf Thief (Katz)
Amalia - High Elf Cleric (Paraj)
Volbak - Dwarf Knight (Jim)
Lamaevhun - Wood Elf Scout (Tim)
Ilsildel - High Elf Wizard (Martin)
Chief - Wood Elf Barbarian (Catherine) Player absent, character present

We had our second session last night. I'm quickly learning the virtues of preparation beforehand; I didn't have much chance to prep anything new or even look at my old stuff, so this was successful only because I had previously done a lot of thinking about what the entrance to the Moathouse would be like.

Last session ended in the middle of combat with the frogs outside, with Lamaevhun in bad condition in the belly of a frog. At the same time, Calawas was charging into combat with a spear, barely keeping astride his ill-trained pony, looking set to go out in a blaze of glory.

Fortunately, Lamaevhun managed to wriggle his knife out while inside the belly of the beast. With his strong right arm, he quickly dispatched the beast and got down to the messy business of cutting himself an exit.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party marshalled well, cutting the frogs to shreds in short order. They even managed to avoid losing their horses, due to some amazing rolls on my part for horse morale. (Basically, I was having them make Fright Checks every other round - and they all passed. Every single one.)

Frogs dispatched, they fairly quickly decided to butcher and cook them. French cuisine is, after all, appreciated by all delvers, even the most uncultured. This was fortuitous for more than rations, though, as in the belly of the largest frog they also found a one-caret amethyst, in finest Gygaxian tradition. (How you find a rock about the size of a pea in the guts of a frog the size of a horse, I don't know. I don't question these things.)

Little did they know at the time that there was a pair of bandits watching them despatch the frogs, and then periodically poking their heads back out to see what the ruckus was about. So, when Calawas got bored and wandered into the Moathouse courtyard to poke about, he was shot several times and silenced before he could get a sound out. The bandits thereupon dragged him back to their hideout for questioning, to get the exact disposition of the forces outside, purpose, etc. (At this point, Katz, the guy who plays Calawas, started playing the barbarian instead, who is normally played by my wife. She was home sick.)

Fortunately for Calawas, the Lamaevhun noticed his absence not too long after he left, and Ilsildel even thought he heard a scuffle of chain against stone in a lull in the conversation. (I called for Perception checks; Ilsildel made his by six.)

In short order the party hobbled the horses, banked the fire, and went to take a look. The bandits for their part were mostly prepared, figuring the party would come in after their comrade.

For those of you who don't know or don't remember the first floor of the moathouse, the courtyard doubles as an abbatoir. The walls are pierced by murder holes, and the only entrance to the inner keep is up a small set of stairs and through a set of stout double doors. However, the bandits didn't have enough men (only eight) to take full advantage, and the doors are in bad disrepair, one completely off and the other only holding on by one rusty hinge. So when the party entered the courtyard, they bided their time until the party was close enough, at which point the four with crossbows let fly while four others set up a two-man deep blockade on the stairs.

They missed, causing the Ilsildel and Lamaevhun to drop to the ground. Neither of them care. Hooray for Heroic Archer. Also, they failed to consider the effect a raging barbarian with a Reach 2 weapon would have on their formation. Oh, and with someone behind you it's very difficult to retreat for +1/+3 to defenses. What should have been an easy victory for the bandits quickly turned into a slaughter, and then a rout. The bandit leader called for terms after Lamaevhun dropped one of the front line with an arrow, and Volbak split his head open like a melon.

Terms were accepted...sort of. Volbak made his roll to check his Bloodlust, but our barbarian didn't snap out of the berserker rage, which led to the line of the night:

Volbak, stepping up after a wounded bandit who has already dropped his weapon and is stepping back out of combat: "You realize she isn't going to stop." With Jim's delivery in a Nolan-esque Batman voice, it was very scary, especially if you were a bandit.

At that point it was every man for himself. Lamaevhun and Ilsildel worked together to light up the great hall with an arrow, and Amalia put a Sunbolt through the leader's shoulderblades for max damage, earning her first kill. Shortly thereafter they patched together one of the footmen and found Calawas, alive and hastily bandaged, tied up and slung onto a large block of stone.

We ended there, because it was ten o'clock. Everyone earned five character points (the first milestone being penetration into the moathouse and dealing with the bandits). Volbak earned the MVP point for 1) being awesome on the front line, and 2) having the best quote. Next session will start with finding and divvying up the loot, then deciding whether or not they want to go back to town.



The players have taken fairly well to me giving tactical suggestions. It both speeds along the fight and makes them more effective. At the same time, I've put in an effort to have more narrative flair. I feel it's pretty weak so far, but with time and practice I'll get better and more comfortable again.

One thing about the barbarian: I realized about halfway through the session that I'd brought the wrong character sheet. Instead, I had a higher-powered one (by 25 points) that had a maul instead of a mace. Normally, being 150 points, he wouldn't have enough strength to attack every round with a mace. I let it slide for this session though, because it was awesome. However, had he been played correctly, the bandits would have been much tougher opponents.

We got through one and a half fights in three hours, shoving in a fifteen minute break and some roleplaying/logistical discussion in between. It's a pretty good pace. I think it's helped along by a) me getting more comfortable with the capabilities of my NPCs, b) help provided by me and one of the players on tactical decisions, and c) an interest in fast play instead of strict rules-correctness.

I made a mistake in the mapping of the Moathouse: rather than remembering that the squares on the map are actually 10' squares, I went with 5' squares in my transposition to hexes. This means the moathouse is about 2/3rds the size it should be. (5' = 2 hexes, and 10' = 3 hexes, or close enough for government work.) Whoops. Maybe I need to take the maps, blow them up, and put them on hexes, but that seems like a lot of work. Either way, the first and second floors won't line up, if anyone cares.

I need to figure out what to do with players when their characters get killed. Fortunately, in this instance, there was another PC to jump into. However, generally speaking between sessions I want PCs to drop out (stay at camp, feel sick, whatever) when their players aren't about. The party so far has refused to hire on help; should I give them some hirelings who usually stay with the horses anyway? I'm not sure. One thing I know I don't want is for someone to have to just sit there and watch everyone else.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Know your options:

Next up: Bard and Cleric! These two are both less complicated than your front-line combatants, and so require less advice.


Before we get into this, understand: you are not a combatant. If Knights are front-liners, and Clerics and their ilk are second-string, you're assuredly third rank. Stay out of combat if at all possible.

Now we'll discuss your options.

In melee, your primary skill starts out at 14. This gives you a parry of 10, possibly with a +1 from a buckler. Frankly, if you're forced into combat and are the focus of something's aggression, your best bet is to take All-Out Defense for the +2 to your defenses, retreat for another +1 to parry and +3 to dodge, and get out of there.

If you aren't the focus of something's aggression, what are you doing in combat? Oh well, we'll assume you find yourself in that situation anyway. Your primary task will probably be to soak up a defense roll so the Knight or Barbarian can land a hit. If you're certain you won't be the focus of retaliation, you should go ahead and take All-Out Attack (Determined) and trade the +4 for a -2 to your foe's defense. Or, for heavily armored foes, don't forget All-Out Attack (Strong) for the extra damage.

For ranged combat, your primary skill is a 13 or 12. You must aim in order to hit anything. This means you'll be shooting every two to four seconds (most favorable is with Fast-Draw (Knife), least is with a Bow and without Fast-Draw (Arrow)). That sounds grim, but let's be clear: this is where you should be. You should never be in melee if you can help it, and if you're not slinging songs about (which, frankly, is a perfectly good thing to be doing - it's your schtick) you might as well be shooting things.

Your primary goal in ranged combat is to soak up defenses so someone actually good at fighting can hit something. Don't bother aiming for a specific location unless you need to to be considered a threat. Just aim, subtract the range penalty, and fire.


You're a second-tier fighter, nowhere near as good as a Knight or Barbarian but still not totally helpless in a fight. With a skill of 14 in both weapon and shield, you can hit your opponent %90 of the time and defend competently. Congratulations; you meet the baseline required to be considered a threat. Unless you have compelling reason to do otherwise, aim for the torso. Don't worry if they defend against you - unless they're dodging, that's one more defense they can't use against the Knight.

On the defensive, always remember to retreat for the extra +1/+3. With a shield, your defense is 12 or 13, which gives you a %90 chance of success with the retreat. If facing opponents doing Deceptive Attacks, switch to All-Out Defense - as a cleric, you want to keep your FP instead of using it for Extra Effort. Someone will be along to help you shortly, since a cleric under attack is a high priority issue.

Let's talk Sunbolt. This is your go-to ranged option. The most important thing about Sunbolt is, you want it to hit. Unlike the Scout, for whom landing arrows is nice, for you landing Sunbolt is necessary. You spent a lot of energy and time to get it up, and all that's wasted if you miss or your enemy defends against the attack.

This means two things: always Aim for at least one second to get the +2 Acc, and pick a target that's already being harrassed or otherwise can't defend well. Don't bother with aiming for the face or eyes; the special effects are a trap.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Know your options

This is less a post and more asking for help. You have been warned.

As was pointed out to me by my most knowledgeable player (who may be more knowledgeable than me about GURPS, quite frankly), one of the things that could help immensely in convincing my group to make the switch from, "I hit it with my axe," to, "I take a Rapid Strike with the Flurry of Blows option to Feint once and then aim a swing at the leg with -4 for Deceptive Attack, which puts me at 14 because I have Weapon Master and Axe-Mace at 21," is to come up with a condensed list of tactical recommendations. However, y'all collectively have played a lot more GURPS than I have. So I need some advice from the community; I'm trying to boil things down.

Preferably, I'd have a class-by-class list of recommendations for different situations, along with explanations of why and wheretofore. For example, "As a Barbarian, you'll be relying on beats,"..."As a Scout, don't forget to aim for body locations, and try to take multiple shots,"..."As a Knight, remember Weapon Master makes you badass for reasons a,b,and c,"..."As a Wizard, stay out of combat," etc.

Before I start out, I should point out that +Douglas Cole has already done the groundwork for me, as well as some of the synthesis, and +Peter V. Dell'Orto has some reflections on making that useful to the GM.

(Who am I kidding? Is there a single one of you out there who didn't find out about this blog through one of those two? Still, it's polite, and I enjoy crafting links.)

The first principle, no matter who you are or what your profession, is this: you almost always want a skill of 14 when attacking. That's not at least 14; that's 14. Though even here there's a decision; maybe you want a 16?

Decide: is it more important for you to critically hit, or for you to hit? The rubric for this decision is simple: if you're unlikely to do damage with a simple hit (either because defenses or DR are too high), then you need a crit. Aim for skill 16. Otherwise, you don't; aim for skill 14. (There are a number of exceptions to this: for example, it's okay to go for skill 13 with multiple attacks, or even dip down to skill 12 if you're desperate, but the rule is pretty firm.)

From here, setting aside the people who shouldn't see combat at all, we naturally divide into two groups: melee and ranged.

Melee consists of Barbarians, Clerics, Druids, Holy Warriors, Knights, Martial artists, Swashbucklers (I won't be covering these two), and Thieves. Ranged consists of Clerics, Druids, Scouts, Thieves, and Wizards. (I'm only considering DF 1. Sorry, Innkeeper fans!)

For this post, I'm going to try covering Barbarians and Scouts. I'll be aiming this squarely at the templates as written, despite the fact that my PCs will have lower skill levels due to having lower point totals. Also, I'm totally ignoring grappling.


As a barbarian, your asset is your strength, not so much your skill. At best you will have Combat Reflexes and Weapon Bond along with skill 17 with some weapon. More likely, you'll have skill 16 or even 15. The basic threatening monster will have skill 14, which means defense of 10, +- any special abilities, like a high dodge or a shield.

In combat, Beats are your friend. (MA100) Especially important is that you can Beat without an extra action, if your attack was blocked or parried. If an enemy blocks, this means you (or the Knight!) will be more likely to hit him next round.

As a rule, try not to go below skill 14 with your main attack. Also, remember the Extra Effort options (especially Heroic Charge, which lets you move ant attack with less of a penalty, and Flurry of Blows, which lets you Rapid Strike better); you'll need them.

In combat, decide if your foe is high-skill or not. If he is, stick with Skill 16 and shots for the torso. If not, your go-to maneuver is a Deceptive Attack (-1), for -2 to hit (giving you skill 14 or 13). If he's tough to hit, consider a Telegraphic Attack (+4 to hit in exchange for +2 to defend). Don't worry so much about aiming at particular spots; you do enough raw damage that it doesn't matter that much.

Defensively, seriously consider taking the Defensive Attack option. For -1 damage per die (and you're doing a lot of damage already), you get +1 to Parry or Block, or the ability to parry with a U weapon.

With High Pain threshold you'll never suffer shock penalties, but you still don't want to get hit. Your defense is probably somewhere in the 11-13 area, which is decent, but not as good as a Knight's. Remember to retreat while defending, which gives you +1 to parries and blocks, and +3 to dodges (bringing your 10 to a 13, possibly your best score). Also, you don't want to get hit, because while you have a lot of HP you probably don't have a lot of armor. Don't forget your Luck or Extraordinary Luck, if you have it.

For berserker barbarians, embrace the beast! Remember you get +4 on rolls vs. knockout and death, meaning you'll practically never fail. (Only on an 18.) Your combat options are limited, though. You must attack the nearest foe, and you must All-Out attack. If your foes are highly skilled, take the +4 and trade it for Deceptive Attack against their defenses (usually for a total of -3). If they're not, go with Double, possibly also trading one for a Rapid Strike (with Flurry of Blows, costing 1FP) for -3 to your skill for three attacks, split how you like.


You're a ranged character. With skill 16 or 17 in melee, that might not seem true, but don't believe it - it's a lie. You're a ranged character. Those 20 points you sank into Heroic Archer prove it. Speaking of which, remember Heroic Archer and what it means. Here's the breakdown: no penalties for footing or positioning or actions, and if you don't move you've already aimed. So unless you can't avoid it, don't move. That takes your skill 18 and drives it up to skill 20, and you'll need that extra skill to overcome range penalties.

Unlike the combat monsters, you'll want to aim at body-parts or at chinks in armor; your base damage is too low to do much otherwise. Chinks in armor is tough at -8, but against large foes might be worth it.

The base effective skill you want is 14, because if you don't hit your foe doesn't even need to defend. Memorize the Size and Speed Range table from 2 yds to 20 yds, which is your maximum effective combat range. The further along this scale your target is, the fewer options you have. At 20 yards, just shoot once a turn for the torso.

While it depends on the exact nature of your opponent (high defenses? high DR? lots of people?) With high defenses, you'll want a lot of arrows on one target, to soak up defenses, or maybe a ranged deceptive attack, which is allowed. With high DR, you want to find weak spots and drill on them. With lots of foes, you'll want to send out a lot of arrows.

Also, remember: if you aren't being attacked, there's no reason not to claim the extra +1 from All-Out Attack (Determined).

One of your hallmarks is rapid fire. For a Fast Draw and two Bow rolls at -3 (or -1 if you have Weapon Master (Bow) or use 1FP) [*Note: Use of FP for this isn't RAW, but it has a nice symmetry with Flurry of Blows, so I allow it.] you can fire every turn. Do this every turn that the range is 7 yards or less. (Skill 18, +2 because you stood still, -6 is 14. 14 is your magic number.) If you use the FP or also have Weapon Master (Bow), aim for the vitals.

Speaking of aiming for the vitals, aiming for the vitals is your go-to maneuver. Expect to pretty much always soak that -3 to skill to aim for the vitals; the x3 damage multiplier is too nice not to. Other options are either not as good for you (arms and legs take less damage from impaling and piercing) or have better modifiers but are harder to hit (like the skull and eyes). In fact, a lot of the time you will be balancing aiming for the vitals with shooting every turn. Average damage through chainmail to the vitals is 3.5 x 3 = 10.5, or enough to take an average man down to a consciousness check in one turn.

What should you aim at? There are two schools of thought. The first is to aim at whatever's attacking the melee fighters; forcing it to use a defense against your attack makes their attacks more likely to get through. Another is to focus on whatever might be able to hurt them (or, say, the wizard) but that they can't hurt, like enemy archers. Which you subscribe to should depend on the situation.

If you're ever in a situation where you need to roll melee combat skills or defenses, leave. That is not your role. All-Out defend and get away.

You can think of that as a sort of first draft.  The hope is that I'll be able to both pretty them up and add more to them, like what the Knight should do. Most will be simple, e.g. "As a Wizard, your main combat experience should be missile spells, and you want skill 14 with them if possible. Don't forget to All-Out Attack (Determined). If you're ever in combat, leave."

Is there anything I missed? Are my recommendations contrary to your experience? Do you have a better, clearer, more concise way of saying what I need to say? Please, let me know.