Thursday, November 23, 2017

Limits on Resurrection?

A few of the PCs in my DF Felltower game have died a number of times.

As-written, though, and as-run, we basically have only two limits on Resurrection:

- cost, in either character points or money or both (25 points or $15,000, or a combination of both at the usual 1 point/$500 exchange)

- a 15 or less success roll in town (with a -1 per day after death).

And for what it's worth, I don't allow Luck or Lesser Wish or Wish spells to affect this. It's just a roll. Dead people aren't lucky, they're dead, and we don't allow wishes to work on spells.

In the DFRPG, it's even less limited:

- cost, in either character points or money or both (25 points or $15,000, or a combination of both at the usual 1 point/$500 exchange)

And that's it. No rolls, no "per day" penalty mentioned, nothing.

So you can come back from death as often as you can afford to.

But what if you want to limit it? What if you don't want death to just be, "okay, you're done for the session, and out $15K"?

Here are some limits you can choose from.

No Cash-Only Resurrection

Instead of $15,000 or 25 points, make it $10,000 and 10 points. Every time you die, you must cough up 10 points of reduced abilities or additional disadvantages or both. This can have an in-game effect of making death really frightening without making it all-or-nothing.

You could also make this an escalating point cost - perhaps it's $15,000 and 0 xp the first time, the second time it's $15,000 and 5 points, then $15,000 and 10 points, etc.

Cumulative Resurrection Penalties

Each Resurrection spell after the first is at -1. Cost is paid up-front, of course, and any failure means no one can try again. If you fail this, hopefully a friend will try Great Wish.

You can make this more steep, if you like: -3 per cumulative attempt will make this a 1-3 time affair. It would match the -3 for cumulative healing spells.

Hard Limits

Put a firm cap on the number of times. One to three is probably thematically appropriate, nine for cat-folk (make it a Perk), if you want to avoid D&D-level issues of Con 13 guys who've died 10-11 times and think, okay, I've got to stop adventuring soon, it's getting risky.

Setting a stat-based limit is possible. HT/5, round down, or Will/5, round down, can make sense depending on how you see it metaphysically.

Generally, I don't have a problem with Resurrection as written and as we play it. But having people killed over and over and come back does make it seem like sufficient money will even take out the sting of death. If you want that sting put back in, those are ways to do it. Still, it's a game, and if people want to earn treasure and spend it getting their paper man playing piece back in play, is that a bad thing? I'd recommend using Resurrection limits sparingly.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Combat in the megadungeon

Another truism I've heard about old-school megadungeon gaming is that combat represents a failure. You've somehow managed to fail at getting treasure through cleverness or stealth or sneaking. Getting it through combat is already paying a price you didn't want to have to pay.

My own experience with old-school systems and even retro-clone megadungeon delving is, basically, that this is not quite true.

Combat is risky, but it's also a very effective means to an end.

The critical aspect to me is, it's the end that's important. You want treasure. Not all of it will be unguarded. You won't be able to get maximal loot without combat. Not every access point to deeper levels will be unguarded, not every treasure will be plunderable without conflict, not every treasure-gifting puzzle is solvable before wandering monsters show up.

Plus, in many game systems, combat gives XP. Even if treasure exceeds or dwarfs it, it's not zero, so there can be a benefit to fighting when you can win with minimal or negligible cost.

Additionally, no matter how careful you are, how stealthy you are - you'll have to fight sometimes. It's hard to sneak in a dungeon, and basically impossible with a large group depending on light to see and spoken words to communicate.

But again, if you don't have to fight, or if fighting comes with a cost but not a reward, you want to avoid it if possible.

I think I can get behind this statement:

If the answer to "Should we fight this?" isn't "we literally have no choice*" or "hell yes!" then you don't want to fight it.

Monsters you can basically execute instead of fight, monsters with disproportional amounts of loot (dragons, especially in old-school D&D games), monsters that have high intrinsic XP values but low intrinsic threat to you - those are going to be "hell yes!" if you're high on resources.

So combat isn't automatically a bad choice. It's just a risky one, and one that comes with costs. You want to avoid combats that aren't going to net you more than they cost you (immediately, and long-term). But you don't want to avoid it at all costs, just when it's cost outweighs its benefits.

* I mean this literally. Not "we convince ourselves we have no choice" or "argue we probably should do this." I mean, Move 12" monsters vs. Move 9" PCs / Move 8 monsters vs. a Move 5 party, attacked by surprise, etc. No choice.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Is megadungeon play really about exploration? (Part II, competition)

Yesterday I argued that in a treasure-based XP system, megadungeon play is about treasure more than exploration.

That is, you explore as needed to get treasure. You fight as needed to get treasure, too. I've often heard combat described as failure, or to be avoided at all costs, but honestly, that doesn't match with D&D and D&D-based systems as I've played them. Combat that nets you less benefit than it costs is a failure. Combat that nets you something you want and costs less than that's worth to you is a net benefit. It costs resources, sure, but so does everything else - light, healing, food, time, even logistical ability to bring out treasure is a limiting factor.

But it's treasure you want.

In other words, combat for combat's sake is a failure.
Exploration for exploration's sake is wasted.
Treasure found and recovered for any reason is success, regardless of if it is coupled with combat or exploration or not. 10,000 gp is 10,000 gp, whether it's in a heap in a corner of room 1 or hidden behind a series of secret doors down on a deep level guarded by demons.

But does this all change if there are other players in the dungeon, competing for access to that treasure? Does that fundamentally change the game to an exploration-based game where treasure is the reward for exploring?

I think no.

Rivals and competition certainly change the dynamic of a dungeon.

In a non-competitive game or single-party game, you can be a lot more relaxed about finding new sources of treasure. You can spend time exploiting loot until you need to move on to look for more.

In a competitive game, though, you could potentially miss out if you don't explore. Your main goal is still loot. But you're more driven to find things first - something not an issue where you're the only group doing so.

You might order a non-competitive game's priorities as:

1. Treasure. Find it and loot it, you need it to advance.
2. Combat. Kill things that are in the way of #1 or #3.
3. Exploration. Discover new areas to loot.

In a competitive game, my own experience of competition puts the priorities as:

1. Treasure. It's still the main goal.
2. Exploration. Being first has potentially great value.
3. Combat. It's to your benefit if your competition has monsters in their way.

Ultimately, then, I think competition just reframes the value of exploration. But only because the pressure to find and exploit treasure first and most makes it so. You can't be leisurely about exploiting finds - or exploring for finds - if you know another group may be more aggressively exploring. You won't spend time thinking, we need to wipe out those orcs/demons/dragons/eyes of death/whatever because they are a long-term risk. You'll be thinking, great, those orcs/demons/dragons/eyes of death/whatever make a great barrier to other groups, let's avoid them and find new places no one has been before "they" get their ahead of us.

Fear of missing out on new areas with new treasures seems like it would drive exploration's value up in a competitive game. Your goal is still identical, but this would become a more of a priority and more of a means you feel you must maximize.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Is megadungeon play really about exploration? (Part I)

Is megadungeon play about exploration? I've heard that it is. It seemed to be a truism back when I was reading material that caused me to launch a megadungeon-based game.

But how exploration-based is it?

A thought experiment

If you have three choices in front of you in a megadungeon . . .

- treasure in a known, already-explored area (guarded, unguarded, doesn't matter)

- a fight that doesn't have any treasure

- new areas to explore

. . . which do you choose?

In my games, you choose the treasure. If I was playing a D&D-based class-and-level system with treasure providing the bulk of the XP, I'd choose the treasure as well.

So my megadungeon game is not about fighting or exploration. It's about treasure.

Fighting is a means to get treasure.

Exploring is a means to get treasure.

If your game rewards exploration, and treasure is a nice thing to have because it enables more exploration, you'd probably explore more.

I'd argue that megadungeon play in a treasure-centered XP system isn't about exploration. You're doing that because it's required to get treasure. Meta-game wise, you're also doing it because it's fun - combat fits this as well. In the game, you fight because some fights are required for gaining treasure or can't be avoided in the process of gaining or finding treasure. Sometimes you fight because you're bored or annoyed or want to try out your spiffy new spell. It might be a bad choice. But then again, sometimes exploring is, too. "Let's just go back down this one corridor and see what's there" dropped my own PC deep down into the dungeon once.

If you wanted it to be about exploration, you could reward exploration directly with rewards - finding new things would give XP, and monsters and other combat encounters would be obstacles to overcome to get to new areas. Treasure could be a secondary objective, or not an objective at all - it might be its own reward as it gives you assets to expend on resources to use exploring.

Tenkar's original B-Team xp approach in the Castle of the Mad Archmage is a good example of a game where the megadungeon play was was heavily about exploration. PCs received an escalating amount of experience points for each new, numbered encounter area explored . . . and since it went up and up, you were driven to go "just one more room" because it was worth more than the previous room. Treasure was a major source of experience but the main XP came from exploration. We still sought treasure as much as possible and avoided fights (risky, least XP) - but we'd explore just to explore. Had Tenkar made treasure XP even smaller, we'd just have skipped known treasure for unknown rooms unless that treasure was trivial to get.

Does any of this change if there is more than one adventuring group exploring the dungeon? I have some thoughts that I'll post up tomorrow.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

DF Feltower: A New Axe for Raggi

So Raggi's axe was sold to fund his return from death.

What he lost was this:

• Dwarven Fine Greataxe (Accuracy +2, Puissance +2, Shatterproof), $49,400, 8 lbs.

It was sold for $19,760, and Resurrection cost $15,000. He has $4,760 plus around some loot money. Not enough for an enchanted axe, but plenty enough to order a pretty good one:

• Balanced Dwarven Fine Ornate Silvered Greataxe, $2,100, 8 lbs.

"Ornate" isn't strictly necessary, but it's only $100 (+1 CF) for a +1, and it'll look nice.

He doesn't have the $10,600 it would cost for a giant spider silk cloth shirt, but he probably needs it for the 2 additional DR. Getting Puissance +1 on his axe for $5,000 is more of a priority.

It's really a shame his magic greataxe is gone. That - like the treasure horde and monster that guarded it - was an exact clone of an encounter from my version of the Forgotten Realms "Dungeon of Death" from my long-running GURPS 1e-converted-to-3e-revised game. It's even the inspiration for a magic item in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Denizens: Barbarians!

Oh well, it's gone now. Perhaps this new axe can carve its own legend.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Player die rolls/details I watch - and the ones I don't

I take a pretty hands-off approach as a GM for a lot of PC details in my game.

For other details, I take an extremely hands-on approach.

I think this says a lot about how I run game.


These things, I pay close attention to.

Die Rolls - There is a short list of die rolls I watch. As in, I stand up and watch the players make the roll. They are:

- Resistance Rolls

- "To Hit" rolls

- Death checks

- Knockdown/Stunning and Consciousness rolls

- success rolls with real, critical and immediate effects

Sometimes I'll watch other ones - almost any other ones - especially if it's dramatically important or really fun (like damage rolls when someone is doing extra damage, or rolling lots of dice such as an 18d missile spell.) A lot of these I watch because of modifiers, margin of success concerns, or to make sure players are rolling against the right number in a critical situation.

Point Totals. I track point totals, XP earned, and advantages, disadvantages, skills, etc. in GCA. If my notes disagree with the players, it's on the players to show I'm wrong. Generally, I'm not, as I'm meticulous about tracking them and doing the point totals in a specific, repeatable way.

Session participation. I write the summaries, so I've got close notes on who was at what game, with what PC, with roughly the right character point total when they participated.



Die Rolls - basically every die roll not listed above, I don't bother to look at. It's not that I don't care, it's just that only the results really matter to me. Defense rolls, damage rolls in most situations, spell casting rolls, healing rolls for potion effects, etc. - the players do that. I don't even look. I often find out after it's all over. "Okay, my guy is up and around." Me: "Wasn't he just like 2 HP from -5xHP?" "Yeah, but I roll X, Y, and Z on my healing potions." Me: "Oh, nice! Okay, you're up and around." I don't even look over the screen unless I feel like the roll might be entertaining.

Equipment - I track some gear for the PCs - mostly armor and weapons, just so I have a handy way of telling them damage and and DR and making sure it's added up correctly or modified correctly (or quickly!) when modified by magic. Other gear? Up to the players. I trust them with our very simple, elegant encumbrance system.*

Sometimes gear gets lost - "What ever happened to that ____________?" If you don't know, don't ask me. I don't know. Maybe it's on some PC that doesn't play anymore. Maybe you sold it. Maybe it's lost in the dungeon. In any case, it's gone.

Money falls in the same category.

Energy - players are in charge of dealing with energy costs, spells on, recovery, using Pool A to recharge buddies's Pool B to min-max the recovery rules to finish up 1 minute faster and avoid a Wandering Monster roll, whatever. They do that. I couldn't even tell you how they do it except that when I ask, it's accurate and detailed.

Everything else, really - Besides those specific examples, I don't really track much for the PCs. The players do that. They do it well enough. The game setting is fairly adversarial, but we aren't. I trust them with their roll.

* Also known as "add up the weight in pounds." Heh. Sorry, I know a lot of people love alternate encumbrance systems, but real-world measures is just so easy for me and works well in play.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Golden Swordsmen and Goldcat minis

The gold cat is a TSR Star Frontiers megasaurus:

To make it a magical, interesting, special creature I wanted a non-standard non-earthly color. I pretty much painted that one up gold because, well, why not.

Once that was done, I put it in storage and kept it in mind.

Then I got around much later to painting the golden swordsmen.

The golden swordsmen are I-Kore Flesh Eaters. I got them because I thought they looked fairly Githyanki or Githzerai-ish.

They're intended to be undead but don't look rotted. So I used a paint scheme that made them look like the cover of the Fiend Folio with its Githyanki - gold, yellow, brown.

Once they were in-process I realized they'd match up well with the golden cat. I started to think of a synergistic set of abilities and powers and you end up with deaf/mute warriors with a "pet" with sound-based attack powers.

I'm quite happy with these guys. They had stayed half-painted for a long, long time until I just suddenly rushed and finished them. For all the rush might have detracted from the minis, I think it forced me to paint better and not second-guess my color scheme. Brown, gold, and yellow is a tough combo but they look good on the table.

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