Tuesday, March 7, 2017

New Dawn Session 8: The Going Gets Tough

Precis: The Resistance goes to explore an evil sorcerer-general's castle, and finds outs to their dismay that evil sorcerers-general can teleport home in a hurry when they need to.

I ran the eighth session of New Dawn last Thursday night. It was a good session, though my prep work for it was a little rushed. Fundamentally, from the GM's perspective, it had the disadvantage of being something of a filler session. That's not completely accurate, as it was more of session to set-up of some revelations. It should pay-off pretty quickly, and it had merit on its own, but it wasn't as great as it could be.

Cast of Characters

New Dawn is a troupe style game, with each player having two characters. One team primarily does military stuff; the other team has been doing delving and diplomacy. This session focused on the diplomacy team.

GM Difficulties

Like I said in the write-up for the seventh session, my initial plan for this session was horrible. The PCs needed to complete a pair of minor battles to liberate Cape Har and earn a lot of character points, which they needed, but two minor battles is not a sufficient narrative thread to hang a session on. I mostly dealt with this problem by ignoring it, which was a bad decision, and finally around Tuesday I confessed to the players that while I wanted the climax for the liberation of Cape Har, it wasn't going to happen narratively and did they mind if we just skipped that and moved on? They were okay with it, so we did.

By scrapping a weak plot, I got to replace it with a stronger plot: the investigation of the mysterious Black Library. The Library is a repository of books on magic in southwest Hanist, believed to be owned by a sorcerer-general named Arcane who left Hanist to fight in the civil war at the capitol. All that is the rumor, anyway, but the Empire's sorcerer-generals deliberate cultivate an aura of mystery so parts of that are not actually true.

Crossing the River

The PCs head south, fighting battles at the
ford and again at Duzen Iken.
The game started with the PCs figuring out which characters were going to accompany the army south. I didn't have a strong care, though I thought it made sense for both of the magic focused characters to go, they needed someone who could lead the troops, and it would be helpful if they had an intelligence analyst, a scout, and a strong guy. Kevin was a little perturbed when he realized that meant leaving the leadership to Skyler, who has a tendency to only do all-out attacks and take huge casualties against skilled enemies. But Eilmyn promised to be sensible, and Kevin played Ariana instead of Aisling.

Skyler led the field army (reinforced by some recently trained heavy infantry and the stone golem they'd found beneath Costvud) down to the ferry and crossed. There was an orc garrison company on the other side of the ferry, but excellent reconnaissance and Intelligence Analysis on Nesta's part meant that the PC's managed to surprise them. Skyler launched three all-out attacks, and the orcs didn't manage to rally until after the second one, after they'd already taken 85% casualties while delivering none in return. The orc commander was actually especially skilled at attacking, and relatively skilled at Strategy, but was had something like a -13 skill penalty to Skyler's +19 skill bonus when the orc finally got his troops organized to attack. So that didn't work.

A pair of wolf-riders managed to flee the battle. The PCs could have sent the golem and their fairly incompetent heavy cavalry after them, but I warned them that they didn't know where any other orc forces might be in the vicinity. They decided not to risk their golem in a possible ambush, but instead made a forced march on Duzen Iken, the castle guarding the Black Library, to limit the orcs' ability to bring in reinforcements.

The Battles at Duzen Iken

Duzen Iken was held by a company of the Pale Hands. Unlike the Red Swords the PCs had fought at the ferry, the Pale Hands were well supplied, well led, well trained, and reinforced by a squad of ogres and some extra wizards. They actually had more troop strength than the PCs' forces, though the PCs had the advantage in special classes, especially armor and engineering, courtesy of a giant stone golem. Nesta managed to learn they were in for a hard fight before the battle, but she didn't immediately learn that the orc commander, Major Kong, was a master of siege warfare.

Skyler, being Skyler, launched an all-out assault on the walls as soon as the PCs arrived. And being Skyler, he managed to win that round, delivering 30% casualties to the orcs and only taking 10% in return while managing to breach at least some of the walls. Doing so took until dark, and the orcs' infravision gave them an advantage at night - or at least reduced their relative disadvantage.

Eilmyn decided to be sensible for a change, and initiated a deliberate assault over the next two rounds. This reduced the value of the fortress and reduced the risk that Skyler's troops would take substantial casualties, and Eilmyn continued to roll well and grind the orcs down. By the next evening, the orcs were down to 10% effectives in one last tower, but Resistance scouts reported three more companies of orcs approaching Duzen Iken. Skyler launched one all-out assault, slaughtered the last of the Pale Hands, and started organizing his troops to defend the castle they had just taken.

We didn't actually play out the orc assault. The orcs in question, another three companies of Red Hands, were in low supply and had lazy leadership that didn't try to arrive at the castle quickly. The three of them combined actually had less effective troop strength than the single company of Pale Hands. Since Skyler had already beaten a more powerful with a better general and superior defensive position, I handwaved the fight against the Red Hands. The most likely result was Skyler all-out defending the castle against some slow orc assaults, and then charging out to finish off the wounded. I didn't want to play through all that because I had other things I wanted to accomplish in this session.

The Mesa and the Black Library

One thing that was very weird about Duzen Iken was the small mesa in the center of it. There was a roughly 80' tall, 300' wide mesa within the castle walls, and there was a small forest on the top of the mesa. There was a narrow path spiraling up the side of the mesa.

I emphasized to the PCs that southwest Hanist was a land of rolling hills, forests, and coastal plains, and giant mesas were not part of the normal environment. They all agreed that it was weird and needed investigation.

Brute Force and Ignorant Trapfinding

At the base of the path was a minimal gate and a warning not to pass. After some jockeying for position, Arianna and Skyler decided to walk up the path. I immediately had them roll Hearing at a penalty, and when they both succeeded, I told them they heard twangs and saw a pair of crossbow bolts fly out of the side of the mesa, aimed for them. Both of them failed their defenses and while Arianna's amazing plate harness bounced the bolt, the damage roll (3d+5) was pretty decent for Skyler.

We immediately had a discussion about what kind of armor Skyler was wearing. When Skyler was first created, he was wearing DR 1 leather armor ("a bomber jacket and leather dance pants" as I described it). Despite several opportunities since then, he hadn't upgraded his armor since despite the availability of high quality, orc plate scavenged from the battlefield. After some discussion, he ended up in some of that armor and only took a grave wound. He and Arianna retreated, Arianna used her new Lay on Hands prayer to heal him, and then used Flesh Wounds to heal herself up from the transferred damage. The PCs heard some clicking and muffled thuds from the area near the crossbows, but ignored them.

Arianna and Skyler proceeded up the path again, and what do you know, but they got shot by crossbows again. Arianna managed to block with her new metal shield, but the arrow went right through it - but without enough force to also penetrate her armor. Skyler got lucky this time and his armor bounced the bolt. Skyler fell back, and Arianna moved forward, and Nesta ran up to get next to Arianna while the crosbows reloaded.

Finally Arianna just walked up to the crossbows and covered them with her shield while everyone else walked forward. So that's how the PCs got past the crossbow trap. After that, Nesta started checking the path for traps, though she didn't find any.

The Black Library

At the top of the mesa, hidden behind the trees, was a nice villa with boarded windows and padlocked doors. This was probably Arcane's house. There was some discussion about breaking in through the windows, but they followed a trail to a pair of double doors. After Nesta checked for traps, Arianna smashed the lock with her magic hammer that does extra damage to inanimate objects and opened the doors.

The doors opened onto a large room with bookshelves, magical circles, alchemical knicknacks, and an ugly altar to dark gods. Most important, though, was a 7' tall crystal statue of a man that charged forward to attack.

The resulting fight was pretty ugly. The golem was fast, nigh invulnerable, strong, skilled, and backed up by three more that trickled in over the next couple of rounds. Attivi managed to daze one with a lucky magic spell, and Arianna crippled another with a solid hit to the knee, but most of the PC's attacks were parried or bounced against strong armor. Nayla's bow, for instance, wasn't doing much. One of the golems managed to do a maximum critical hit punch to Attivi, sending the sorceror flying and leaving him 1 HP away from a death check.

Things Get Worse

Arcane arrives. Attivi lies on the ground after being
smashed by a crystal golem.
When Arianna had destroyed the padlock, Attivi alone had heard a weird magical peal. It was both nearby, and strangely far away. No one was really sure what it meant.

They found out when they heard a clap of thunder, and saw Arcane teleport in. She said something chiding like, "What, when the cat is away the mice will play?" and initially assumed that the PCs were orcs since Skyler and Nesta were in full orc plate. But Arianna looked different, so Arcane said "Who are you? Don't bother answering, that's just a rhetorical question. I'll find out myself." She then cast her Mass Mind Read/Mind Probe spell (with stun as a linked effect, because Arcane hates it when people she's trying to interrogate interfere). Since just about every PC had a Will of 11, they were not particularly successful in resisting a high IQ/high Sorcery talent super sorcerer and had their brains peeled.

At this point, I ended the session. It was late, Emily was tired, and I am a firm believer in ending sessions on cliffhangers whenever possible.

Review of Play

Like I said, this session was a lot of set-up. Mostly, it set up the arrival of Arcane, which is a pay-off all of its own. If the PCs can defeat Arcane, there are going to be other pay-offs as they learn more about the nature of the sorcerer-generals of the Empire of Night.

This session featured several wake-up call bosses. The improved quality of the Pale Hands compared to most of the orc riff-raff the PCs have dealt with up to this point was certainly noticeable, and the PCs handled it well. The crystal golems, in contrast, were a horror show from the PC perspective. Kevin thought they were doing okay, but from my side of the GM's screen, they were losing badly and having Attivi nearly get killed just reinforced that fact. And obviously, Arcane is an entire different level of threat than anything the PCs have fought to this point. I have a good idea of her abilities, and she is meant to be a challenge to a group of delvers and will deliver.

A large part of the problem is that the PCs, although they've earned a fair number of CP, mundane equipment upgrades, and magical equipment, have mostly not optimized themselves at all. As far as I know, Arianna is the only PC who has spent all her earned CP, upgraded all her equipment, and maximized her magical gear. Attivi and Skyler have spent parts of their CP but don't have impressive magical gear yet (and Eilmyn needed to be reminded to upgrade Skyler's armor during the sesssion!), and Nesta and Nayla are pretty close to being the same characters they started as.

I have sent out some emails, encouraging the PCs to upgrade their characters and reminding them of the available resources. Even though I generally don't let people upgrade in mid-combat, I'm going to make an exception in this case. I don't know if they will actually do so, but I'm okay with Arcane killing some Resistance leaders to emphasize the idea that scary people are scary.

What Next?

Next session is obviously going to deal with Arcane. It should be a good fight, assumign the PCs gear up appropriately.

Friday, March 3, 2017

New Dawn Session 7: (Some) Orcs Are Stupid

Precis: The PCs, having infiltrated a castle, take it over and use it as base to liberate the countryside from the orcs.

I ran the seventh session of New Dawn last week. It was a good session and a lot of fun at the time, but for some reason I didn't do all my follow-up immediately and that included not writing up a blog post. So now I am going back and fixing that.

This session finished up the infiltration of Otern county. It was another cascade of errors by the orcs, and the PCs quickly triumphed.

Cast of Characters

New Dawn is a troupe style game, with each player having two characters. One team primarily does military stuff; the other team has been doing delving and diplomacy. This session focused on the diplomacy team.

The Conquest of Hortskink 

Play picked up where session 6 ended: the PCs were widely separated as they ran around Hortskink castle. I pretty much went in initiative order and gave each PC a little bit of action, and then went onto the next person.

Nayla moved through the inner courtyard toward the only barracks that was lit. She peeked through the arrowslits and saw a bunch of orcs putting on armor. She fired a scattershot arrow through the arrow slits and did a little damage, but not much. Since she was running out of fatigue, she climbed up the barracks wall to hide on the roof and rest a bit.

Attivi, Aisling, and Michael moved to the southeast tower with plans to get to the wall and make sure there weren't any orcs left. Aisling got into the tower first and encountered an orc: he fell for her nymph charm and let himself get fast-talked into believing that she was a collaborator taking shelter from the rebels. The orc turned to the stairwell and readied his crossbow to shoot Attivi, but Aisling brained him from behind, The orc had forgotten to put on his helmet and went down immediately. Attivi and Michael caught up with Aisling and they all went onto the walls and starting moving clockwise, looking for orcs.

Nesta was in the gatehouse when she heard another orc enter. They fumbled around in the dark and I think Nesta ended up behind the orc at close range. She backstabbed the orc and then moved north to clear the walls. I think this was another orc too stupid to put on his helmet.

After a couple more minutes, most of the PCs were in the northeastern tower and the orcs in the barracks were armed, armored, formed up, and ready to squelch the rebellion. Sadly for them, Lieutenant Hok blew an easy Tactics roll and took them out through the main courtyard instead of going up onto the walls. Most of the PCs hid in the tower and worried about what to do: two lightly armored fighters, an archer, and a semi-competent sorcerer versus eight heavily armored and armored orc infantrymen backed by five orcs with crossbows and a pair of goblin archers was not exactly a recipe for success.

The orcs advance to the south in formation, but Nayla perches on the corner
of the barracks with intent to do harm.
Fortunately, Nayla was behind and above the orcs, and she landed an overstrength Scattershot arrow in the middle of their formation. Orc infantry plate armor doesn't cover the back of the legs, and the crossbow orc's armor doesn't cover their arms, and most of the orcs ended with crippled legs or arms. We could have played it out from there, but had gone from massed orcs to crippled orcs caught in a crossfire and didn't bother.

The Liberation of Otern 

The PCs decided that they would just hold onto Hortskink, and maybe even liberate all of Otern while they waited for Trahaern. They went out recruiting the next day, and kept on recruiting for days after that. Otern wasn't exactly prime militia recruiting country, and so they were going for large number of poorly equipped and badly trained troops. I think they ended with 800 or so.

As part of my prep for this game, I'd randomly rolled for Captain Grunak's abilities: Strategy-9, Intelligence Analysis-9, Leadership-13, Overconfidence, and Megalomania. I also rolled for the captains of the other nearby orc companies, and while some were more competent, Overconfidence and Megalomania were a common theme. I'd also tracked out Grunak's movement: he'd spent three days heading down to the Engenstut border and waiting for reinforcements from some other orcs, then had advanced on Swartun, besieged the PC's training forces, and gotten his tail thoroughly kicked over the course of two days before finally realizing he was losing and retreating back to Hortskink. The point was, when the orcs returned to challenge the PCs, the orc army was at 40% of its nominal strength and being led by an idiot with delusions of grandeur.
From Hortskink, they went to Mayla and south to deal with the orcs at Crickfeeg.

Nesta's scouts gave the PC's plenty of warning of the orc advance, and Aisling prepared a raid. Meanwhile, Captain Grunak tried to launch a probe against the castle gates and then have his cavalry race around to the "undefended" back wall of the castle. This worked very poorly for him and his force was wiped out, leaving him to flee south to the orc stronghold of Crickfeeg. The next day, the PCs took half their army and pursued.

Captain Grunak was theoretically superior to Captain Hulg at Crickfeeg, but since it was Hulg's company that had reinforced Grunak for the disaster at Swartun, Hulg refused to turn commander over to the idiot. Hulg made a good defense at Crickfeeg, but Aisling was a superior leader and ground him down.

We ended the session there.

Off Screen: the Liberation of Stineyer and Cape Har

At this point, there were two orc companies on Cape Har: another at the orc stronghold of Niswunstine to the east and one at the fortress of Travgrave in Stineyer. I had some vague ideas that session 8 would deal with those battles, but since the PCs had already demonstrated that Trahaern's army could defeat an orc company holding a fortress, and the combined forces would smash an orc company holding a stronghold, I didn't think that would be a very good session. Instead, we all agreed to handwave those two fights and move onto something more interesting.

Review of Play 

Part of the backstory of New Dawn is that there was a coup at the Imperial capitol, and most of the orc garrisons went there to fight in the resulting civil war. The remaining forces are generally not very good, and were left behind because the generals needed someone to garrison the lands but didn't want to leave behind their best warfighters. Thus, the initial forces arrayed against the PCs are not very good, and the PCs are easily defeating them.

There's something of a Sorting Algorithm of Evil effect going on here, somewhat intentionally on my part. The first forces the PCs are fighting are scattered companies, led by incompetents, and undersupplied. Over time, those companies are going to get fully supplied, merge into regiments and eventually legions, and start getting some more competent leadership. Ideally, the PCs' forces will have improved by then and will continue to overmatch them. But for now, it explains why the orcs are so bad and make so many suboptimal choices like forgetting to put on their helmets when their castle is under attack: these are the dumbest and laziest of the orcs, left behind because their leadership knew they were dumb and lazy.

Aside from criminal stupidity on the part of the orcs, this was a good session: a little bit of PC scale combat at the start, some role-playing and decision making in the middle, and two small battles at the end to good purpose. I'm getting a little better at pacing the plots for this style of game, which makes me happy. On the downside, preparing for these sessions is a lot of work, and unlike a large dungeon like Castle of Horrors, I can't do prep in advance when I have time and let it carry me for a couple of weeks when I'm busy. Every session ends up getting prepped in the week before it, and if I'm busy or uninspired then the prep is rushed or unsatisfactory. That's frustrating, but I don't see an easy way around that.

What's Next?

Like I said at the start, for some reason, I wasn't up to writing this blog post or figuring out CP awards immediately after the game. I let doing that slide, which cascaded to me not really doing prep work until Tuesday or Wednesday for a game I run on Thursday, and then having to work late on both those days. All of which did not help that I was a little uninspired about the idea of doing two rote battles.

Fortunately, I whined to the players, and they all agreed to handwave the liberation of Stineyer and focus instead on the assault on the Black Library. The Black Library is a semi-legendary magical library owned by Arcane, one of the sorcerer-generals of the Empire of Night, that just happened to be across the river from Otern. As it turned out, the orc garrison at the Black Library was not a bunch of worthless idiots, but instead a hand-picked force, so it served as something of a Wake-Up Call Boss. But that's a tale for another post.

Friday, February 17, 2017

New Dawn Session 6: Orcs are Jerks

Precis: The Resistance infiltrates an orc castle and wackiness ensues.

I ran the sixth session of New Dawn, my GURPS Fantasy Mass Combat game, last night. This session was went back to the game's root in Midnight, since the PCs were operating covertly in orc territory. It was a very fun session, and a little silly, as we got to see the full powers of a nymph diplomat in action. We also got to use my rules for finding people covertly, though that only made up a small part of the session.

Cast of Characters

New Dawn is a troupe style game, with each player having two characters. One team primarily does military stuff; the other team has been doing delving and diplomacy. This session focused on the diplomacy team.

Otern county, and the major villages, towns, orc strongholds, and the fortress of Hortskink.

"Aisling gets +5 to reactions from trees."

The session started in early April, game time. Finbar Gullvan, the Old Man of the Resistance, got regular intelligence drops from Resistance cells in Otern, an orc controlled county to the north. His contact Kyell had missed the last two meetings. Finbar wanted the PCs to sneak into Otern and find either Kyell or someone who knew him and figure out what was going on.

The PCs hurried up to the first large village. Correctly figuring that Kyell had probably been captured by orcs, they started searching for him as soon as they got into town, even though it was late in the day. They also sacrificed stealth for an easier time of finding Kyell, which somewhat surprised me because they weren't particularly good at stealth. As such, a lot of Luck was used and Destiny points spent to avoid being exposed to the orcs. They managed to determine that though the local villagers knew of Kyell, they didn't know him well and only knew that he came from someplace to the north and maybe had a Resistance contact named Kara. As most of Otern was north of them, and Kara was a common name, this wasn't much to go on.

The next day they moved to up the road to the village of Lelund and did another conspicuous search. Luck was with them, in a way - a critical success on the search roll found Kara, the leader of the Otern Resistance. They also managed to blow the Stealth roll.

Now at this point I misread my notes - as I usually do when I end running stuff on the fly like this. Kara was supposed to be hiding in Lelund, but I placed her in the open as a bartender. No huge harm done, but Kara in hiding made more sense. At any rate, Kara sent the PCs to the nearby farm village of Aliaberg to talk with Kyell's wife.

On the way to Aliaberg, they ran across a detachment of orcs taking a break during a road march. The PCs were traveling cross country in a hurry. In the towns, Attivi had been using a magic spell to disguise Michael, but it was too fatiguing to keep up while hiking so the orcs got a good look at Michael's unusual height, slender build, and strange orange eyes. The PCs managed to break contact before the orcs could get up and chase them, but now the orcs knew of at least one Squallite moving around Otern - in short, the orcs were alerted to the PCs' presence.

When they arrived in Aliaberg, I started making reaction rolls for the peasants. Aisling is a nymph, and has charisma +5, universal transcendent beauty, and a lovely cultured voice, netting her +12 in reaction bonuses from most intelligent things, and as Kevin pointed out, substantial bonuses even against trees. I rolled a natural 18 for a total of 30, giving her a supernaturally excellent reaction, to the point where people were so eager to be helpful that it was something of a problem.

Kyell's wife confirmed that he'd been captured by orcs, and sent the PCs to a witness of the event, Yonus. Yonus proceeded to lie to Aisling, claiming that he was in the Resistance and had tracked the orcs after they took Kyell. Unfortunately for him, Nesta, Attivi, and Aisling are all good at detecting lies, and all of them realized he was lying. They immediately assumed he was a collaborator, grabbed him, and threatened to start hurting him. He confessed to his lies, and the PCs decided he wasn't a collaborator, just a braggart trying to get in good with the supernaturally pretty woman. They got some more information, and decided that the orcs had taken Kyell to their fortress of Hortskink. The PCs headed north, making plans to climb the walls and rescue Kyell.

"Hortskink is a fortress... we need a new plan."

I pulled up the map of Hortskink castle that I'd prepared for this eventuality. With a 15-20' wide moat, 40' tall walls, multiple towers, and a single gate, Hortskink was a serious castle. It was meant to hold over a thousand orcs at a time, though the current garrison was only a hundred or so. The PCs immediately decided that a raid wasn't going to work at all, and they'd have to get sneaky.
Hortskink castle

They knew from Kara that the messengers from the south had arrived at Hortskink, and the orcs knew about the rebellion in Engenstut county and were bringing in supplies and starting to train more extensively to bring their force up to full strength and ability. That also meant that peasants were bringing in supply wagons into at least the lower bailey.

The PCs crafted a plan: Aisling would convince some peasants to loan her their wagon, and then Attivi and Nesta would hide everyone's weapons in it. Attivi would use magic to disguise Michael as donkey, and Nesta would drive the wagon into the castle while Nayla led Michael. Once inside, Nayla, Nesta, Michael, and Attivi would hide, while Aisling pretended to be a collaborator. She'd gain access to the orc leadership and then magic would happen. I was dubious about some of the details, but it was a plan, and they'd come up with it on their own with minimal prompting from me, so I didn't try to damp down their enthusiasms.

Aisling easily charmed the peasants, everyone else hid their gear, and they moved into the castle. Inside the gate, Aisling flashed some coin to establish her status as a collaborator and said she had some information. The orc knight supervising the unloading of supplies was impressed by her story and took her to Captain Grunak, flirting with her on the way. Meanwhile, everyone else noticed that the doors to the south barracks were padlocked and a baby was crying intermittently from inside.

I split up the action at this point. Everyone but Nesta went into the storehouse, waited until the kobold workers weren't around, and then hid. Except for Michael, who was disguised as a donkey and couldn't wander off as easily. This actually caused some confusion, because now the kobolds were looking for the humans who owned the donkey, but those same humans had gone into hiding. Things didn't get any better when Attivi disguised himself as an orc and scared the kobolds.

Meanwhile, Aisling went and talked to Captain Grunak. He was inclined to be suspicious, but a little luck and a large dose of supernatural charm and beauty got past his defenses. He acknowledged that the orcs were looking for a Squallite among a party of a half dozen humans, but Aisling reported that Trahaern and Hloomawl were leading a substantial army up the road from Dons. This didn't work as well as she'd hoped, mainly because the orc military intelligence was terrible and the only resistance leader they'd identified at this point was Skyler. Regardless, Aisling managed to con him into believing that a weak human army was approaching, so he sent out orders to put most of Hortskink's garrison on a march to deal with them.

Aisling used more charm to convince the orcs to let her stay while they prepared, but they firmly put her and her donkey outside the castle when they left. Meanwhile, the other PCs stayed hidden in the storehouse until dark. Attivi desperately held onto Michael's disguise spell for several hours before passing out.

As an aside, the orcs were constantly making Perception and IQ rolls to see through the PCs' thin disguises and improbable plans. Sadly, the orcs aren't very smart, and luck was consistently against them, so they failed every time and never quite realized the PCs had disappeared or found their weapons when they searched the weapons or whatever else might have helped.

"I think it's time for the 'Chewie, put these cuffs on' stage of the plan."

After dusk, Aisling grabbed Michael, now back in his natural Squallite form, and took him back to the castle. After a bit of shouting, she woke up one of the orcs that was supposed to be on watch, charmed him with her supernatural charisma and beauty, and convinced him to open up the gates and take Michael prisoner. The orcs did that, and then Aisling convinced them that since the roads were dangerous - after all, there were Squallites out there - she should be allowed to sleep in the mostly empty stables. Michael was thrown into the barracks with the other prisoners.

Michael doesn't have Aisling's supernatural charisma, so his fellow prisoners weren't particularly impressed by him. He told them that he was with the Resistance and that his friends would rescue them soon, but they didn't really believe him. On the plus side, Michael finally did make contact with Kyell, but the Resistance messenger had been tortured by the orcs and wasn't really able to contribute.

Nayla and Nesta sneaked out of the storehouse, grabbed their weapons from the cart, and started making plans for violence. Nayla waited for orcs to shoot, while Nesta climbed up the walls and eventually sneaked up onto the southeast tower and rushed the orc on watch there. Violence ensued, drawing the attention of the orcs, and then Nayla began sniping at them. Between Heroic Archer, a balanced composite bow, Night Vision 5, and the Guided Weapon imbuement, she didn't have any particular problem making headshots at 70+ yards against moving orcs partially hidden by the castle ramparts, even in the dark. She dropped two out right, and wounded a third before the remainder managed to flee into the towers.

"Man, orcs are jerks!"

Aisling had improvised a set of lock picks out of the files and whatnot in the saddlery room at the stables, and confidently set off to free Michael and the other prisoners. She's smart, and has the Cat Burglar talent, so what could go wrong? Apparently Kevin forgot to buy the actual lockpick skill, so she was working off a poor default. Still, a lucky critical success got the doors open, and Aisling slipped inside.

These prisoners were scheduled to be executed in a few days, as a grand show of orc might and determination, but Aisling was going to rally them, lead them to the nearby smithy and arm them, and then have them defeat the orcs. Except these supposed "Resistance leaders" were a collection of elderly men and women, three children, and a baby. The only people of fighting age were Kyell, who'd been worked over extensively, and the baby's mother. The PCs were dismayed and disgusted at the laziness and cruelty of the orcs - there were several shouts of "man, orcs are jerks," which is one of the game's themes. Nayla showed up with Michael's bow and then headed north to hold the gate between the two courtyards.

Michael stepped into the courtyard and spotted the orc lieutenant in charge of the fortress heading for the east tower. He went for a headshot, but the orc had his helmet on and the steel plate protected him.

At this point, it was really late and I ended the game.

Evaluation of Play

This was a fun session. I messed up a couple of things, but I mostly managed to keep things moving. The group voluntarily split up, and that made things a little confusing, but I think I handled it pretty well. One thing I tried to do, and mostly succeeded, was handle the least risky parts of the plan first. So the PCs in the storehouse had to decide what they were going to do without knowing how Aisling's part of the plan was going to work. I don't know if really upped the dramatic tension, but I think it helped a bit.

The players were mostly focused this time. There was some confusion and hesitation at first when they were trying to find Kyell, but they were pretty decisive as soon as they meant Kara and had obvious leads to pursue. The plan for dealing with the fortress kept changing as they got new information, but reasonably so: first they wanted to do a combat raid, then they decided to sneak in, then they wanted to rally the prisoners but that clearly isn't going to work, so now they're talking about killing the remaining dozen or so orcs in the garrison and burning the place. I pointed out that I'd specifically described the fortress of being made of stone, with brick buildings with clay tile roofs to make it hard to burn, but they're sticking with that for now.

Aisling's charisma and beauty really came into play in this session. It's actually been fairly important in other sessions when they've been recruiting their army, but it was much more obvious this time through. I'm pretty happy about that, as Kevin has played a nymph in one of my Dungeon Fantasy games before, and all those points in charisma and beauty didn't do much to affect the game. This time, they really mattered and mostly for the better.

What Next?

At this time, I'm not really sure what the PC's plan is for the next session. I think they're going to have a brief combat with the orcs in Hortskink, which could go either way: a half dozen orcs in full plate backed by a half dozen orcs with crossbows is no joke, especially since the PCs don't have much in the way of similarly high quality armor. Then I think they're going to evacuate the prisoners and disable as much of Hortskink as they can.

One possibility that Kevin mentioned is recruiting an army and trying to defend Hortskink. Otern, unlike the PC's home county of Engenstut, doesn't have much of a Resistance tradition and any hurriedly raised militia troops would be pretty low quality. They would also only have a day or two to recruit before the orcs came back. They know there was a company of orcs stationed at Hortskink, and two or three more companies at other strongholds in the area. A massive fortress gives a big edge in Mass Combat terms, but quality infantry and bowmen backed by magic can counter a lot of that. It's a possibility, especially since Aisling is a pretty good commander, but it's a pretty risky play. Hopefully, the PCs will decide what to do early in the week and I'll be able to make plans.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Covert Social Engineering

Precis: A review of the rules for finding a specific criminal, and coming up some rules for doing that while evading authority.

The next session of New Dawn will involve the PCs going into orc controlled territory and trying to find out what happened to the local Resistance movement. I need to go over the rules for that.

Finding Criminals...

Fortunately, GURPS has at least some mechanics in the core rules for finding people, and Social Engineering provides some more details. Finding a particular criminal is a straightforward roll against Streetwise, modified by the size of the search area (its harder to find a specific person in a big city) and the distinctiveness of the person sought. Each attempt takes a day. On a success, you either find the person, or if the person isn't in your search area, determine that. Failure wastes time but the search can be repeated at no penalty.

...While Hiding From the Authorities

New Dawn adds the complication that the PCs are effectively wanted criminals by the local law enforcement, and thus need to keep their heads down. The GURPS rules for hiding from the authority while doing stuff aren't as straightforward, but they can be teased out from the basic set and Action: Exploits. The skill to hide in a crowd is Shadowing (or Stealth, in my games, since I feel Shadowing is a skill tax and roll all its functions into Stealth) and the skill to to detect people doing bad stuff and to detect oncoming guards is Observation. The question is how do they all work together?

I'm going to say that that any PC searching for an informant, and any PC aiding with a complementary skill, needs to make a Stealth roll to avoid being found by the orcs. Stealth rolls are modified by any Holdout penalty for the PC's armor and any Distinctive Features quirks or Forgettable Face perks. Also, any PC can act as a look-out, and provide a complementary bonus to Stealth with an Observation roll. They can also pursue their inquiries more aggressively or circumspectly, trading -2 penalties to Stealth for +1 bonuses to Streetwise or -2 penalties to Streetwise for +1 bonuses to Stealth.

In Summary

Each day, the PCs can search some of the villages and towns for a Resistance Contact. They choose how much area to search:
  • A single farm village (100 people; +3)
  • A small market village and surrounding farm villages (800 people; +2)
  • A single small or large market village (less than 500 people; +2)
  • A large market village and surrounding villages (3000 people; +1)
  • The town of Flostrund (2500 people; +1)
  • The town and the surrounding villages (8000 people: 0)
 Once per day spent searching, a single PC may roll Streetwise to attempt to contact the local Resistance in the search area. The following modifiers apply:
  • Complementary bonuses for any other PC using an Influence skill
  • +1 per -2 penalty to the following Stealth roll
  • -2 per +1 bonus on the following Stealth roll
  • The search area modifier
On success, the PCs find a contact in the local Resistance, if there is one in the area, or determine that there isn't one. On failure, they don't find anyone but can try again. Critical failure means contacting a collaborator who betrays them to the orcs.

Each PC involved in the Streetwise roll, either directly, providing a complementary bonus, or acting as a look-out, must also roll Stealth. The following modifiers apply
  • Complementary bonuses from any PC acting as a lookout with an Observation check. Lookouts can aid in the Streetwise test, but are at -2 on both rolls because they have to split their attention
  • The bonus or penalty from the Streetwise roll as above
  • Any Holdout penalty from the PC's armor (a successful Holdout roll halves the penalty, round down) and for any large weapons
  • Any modifiers from the PC's Distinctive Features, Forgettable Face, or Size Modifiers or other physical traits
  • Half of the search area modifier, as a penalty
  • A -3 penalty if the orcs are on alert.
The first failure puts the orcs on alert; the second failure causes an orc patrol to investigate. Multiple failures on the same day only count as one failure.

If the PCs succeed on a Streetwise check on the same day that a Stealth failure causes the orcs to investigate, the PCs make contact first if their Margin of Success is more than the absolute value of their Margin of Failure and otherwise they make contact after dealing with the orc patrol.

What's the Point

Hopefully, this will be at least a mildly interesting mini-game that will keep all the PCs somewhat involved. They need to decide where to search: smaller areas produce more definite results, but can produce a lot of negative results, which uses up time. Smaller areas are also riskier to search, especially since repeated searches increase the iterative chance of Stealth failure. They also need to decide who conducts the searches, who acts as look-outs, and who is left hiding away from the villages because that PC is too distinctive to be useful. They've already sent Hloomawl off with the army rather than try to have a 8' tall, 600 lb minotaur try to infiltrate orc territory, and they may have to make similar decisions with some of the other PCs.

These rules are a fairly tailored to my game, but they're just an expansion of the existing rules from the Basic Set and Social Engineering. They could be repurposed for other games where the PCs need to find some one while evading the authorities.

Friday, February 10, 2017

New Dawn Session 5: A Trope Subverted

Precis: The Resistance army rescues a smaller force, recruits more troops, does a little delving, and defeats the orcs to liberate Namdalside.

I ran the fifth session of New Dawn, my GURPS Fantasy Mass Combat game last night. A lot was accomplished, in a session with a bit of role-playing, a little bit of delving, and a couple of big battles.

Cast of Characters

New Dawn is a troupe style game, with each player having two characters. One team primarily does military stuff; the other team has been doing delving and diplomacy. The players know that the non-military team will be making contact with the Resistance in orc occupied territory next session, so there was some rearrangement of teams here.

The War Leaders

  • +Uhuk of the Guard's Hloomawl, a minotaur princeling and mighty warrior.
  • +Eric Schmidt's Trahaern ab Owen, a human master strategist.
  • +Eilmyn Davidson's Skyler Therris, a human reprobate, warrior, and general.
  • +Kevin Smyth's Ariana Rees, a human blacksmith and minor saint.
  • Kiara Schmidt's Greex "Wrongway", a cowardly kobold spymaster. 
 As usual, Kevin wrote a session report from the player's perspective.

Taking Stock

The previous session ended with the Resistance army conquering the orc stronghold of Swartun, and the displaced orcs fleeing to the west. The war leaders wanted to take a few days to reorganize, so I declared there had been a week of rain. That brought us through the beginning of April in game time, which was also tax time, and they had a lot of money to spend. They set aside their most experienced troops for training and conversion from short term levies to long term soldiers and recruited more troops. Kevin decided Aisling, being a faerie ambassador, would be more useful with the non-military team, and swapped in Ariana for this session so he could play Aisling next session.

So the session started off a little slowly, with some paperwork, but things started rolling within fifteen minutes or so. The Resistance army began moving west on April 3rd, in game time, but the orcs had long fled and all of Engenstut, the starting territory, was effectively liberated. This was a big thing for the PCs, since they got a big chunk of CP for doing that.

Moving Out, Making Decisions

As they crossed into the next orc territoy, Namdalside, their scouts brought them a member of the local resistance. Suvven (not of Nein, though all the players made that joke repeatedly) was part of a Resistance group under General Vaipnesterk. The Namdalside Resistance had risen up and chased the understrength local garrison out of Fort Scrite, but a reinforced orc company was coming up from the south and would overrun the Fort in a day or so. The Resistance's wizard had a prophecy that help would come out of the west, since Vaipnesterk was refusing to retreat and planned to die at the walls if necessary. Suvven had been sent to make contact with that help, and he did, and would the PCs please come save them?

Skyler was suspicious, thinking it was some kind of trap, but Greex and Hloomawl thought Suvven was being honest and Trahaern and Ariana immediately started arranging for a forced march. There was a bit of role-playing between Skyler and Arianna, as Skyler doesn't believe in magic and Arianna is a low key but actual priestess of a forgotten god. As an aside, this kind of minor prophecy is the sort of thing I really like in fantasy games. It's not much work, but it reminds people that magic is real and can influence events.

The Resistance army made it to the next major village where they met Beyorn, a member of the northern Namdalside Resistance. He reported that multiple orc forces were converging on their fortress of Costvud in the north, but if the army hurried, it could reach Costvud first and assault while there were only 100 or so orcs there. This put the PCs in a dilemma, since their available forces could easily beat a company of orcs, even behind castle walls, but three or four hundred orcs in a castle would be a tough nut to crack. On the other hand, abandoning the Resistance at Fort Scrite to their fate wasn't a pleasant idea.

In the end, they decided to go to Fort Scrite. They arrived there a few hours before dark, while the reinforced orc company was coming up from the south.

The Battle of Fort Scrite

The PCs first obstacle was dealing with General Vaipnesterk. They had already figured that he was a general in Skyler's mode, but without Skyler's touch of genius that makes all-out charges work. He was also touchy and arrogant, and didn't want to let the western Resistance forces into Fort Scrite if it meant he'd no longer be in charge of the battle. After some quick discussion, Trahaern agreed to let Vaipnesterk stay in command - though they were already plotting to disable him somehow.

Things didn't get any better after they got inside. Vaipnesterk's plan of battle was an All-Out Defense of the walls, and it was already obvious that the orcs weren't going to attack until after dark, when their infravision would give them a substantial edge over the combined force. Arianna gave an inspiring speech and convinced several elements of the garrison to turn against Vaipnesterk, and the PCs took him out. I had warned them that an assault of on the Namdalside Resistance's leader would cause problems, but they figured those problems couldn't be as bad as having Vaipnesterk in charge.
Trahearn outflanks the orcs for massive casualties while Skyler grinds them down.

Trahaern and Skyler took charge and led an immediate assault on the orcs outside the walls. Giving up the substantial advantage of the fortifications was a loss, especially since they were taking additional penalties in the upcoming strategy contest for integrating the Namdalside troops into their own forces, but it was considered much better than fighting the orcs in the dark. At any rate, the orcish right managed to rebuff Skyler's all-out assault with moderate losses on their side, but Trahaern's flanking attack into the orcish left's "give no ground" defense was enormously successful, causing 80% casualties in the first thirty minutes. The orcs desperately reinforced their left flank, which didn't substantially change the odds against Trahaern but did leave them with insufficient forces to resist Skyler's assault. As the sun set, Trahaern demolished the left flank (with 85% of the participating orcs killed) and Skyler's force ground up the right flank with few losses on his side. The remaining 40 or so orcs fled into the night, but most didn't make it very far.

Not All Rumors Pan Out

Since the PCs figured they'd lost the race for Costvud, they spent a couple more days in the vicinity of Fort Scrite, recruiting troops and reorganizing. Then they headed north. On the way, their scouts brought them another intriguing rumor. At this point, I also pointed out that their scouts were always bringing them intriguing rumors, but in the interest of play time, I wasn't dealing with the ones that didn't pan out in any way. At any rate, Yunnah claimed to be descended from the aristocrats who lived in Costvud before the Empire of Night. Family lore was that they had fled through an escape tunnel that led to some caves about 3/4 of a mile away from the castle. There were three problems with using these caves to bypass Costvud's defenses: they were in bear country, they were definitely haunted as Yunnuh's uncles had died exploring them, and there was some confused family lore about some kind of guardian.

So we had a micro-dungeon delving experience. Trahaern confirmed they were in bear country and that they could expect bears waking up from hibernation and being hungry. The PCs still pressed in, and soon found a room with a trio of cave bears sleeping in it. Ariana also spotted something weird about the shadows in the room - they were moving independently of the lights, and thanks to the burnt books she'd recovered from the crypt at Camp Liberty, she thought they were some kind of shadow monster that would be hard to kill without weapons that they did not have. All this prompted a discussion about the merits of acquiring bearskin rugs versus getting killed by hostile shadow monsters with unknown capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. In the end, they decided to sneak past them.

They eventually found the escape tunnel - a narrow, 4' wide, 5' tall passage cut through the rock - but it led to a cave-in with a bunch of skeletons and pieces of moldy armor scattered around. There was also a 15' tall statue bizarrely built into the wall, and I don't think any of the players were surprised when it's eyes glowed red and it's one free arm started reaching for a boulder. Hloomawl yanked Yunnah forward, hoping that the Guardian was friendly, and Trahaern and Arianna started trying to talk to it.

As it turned out, the Guardian was missing most of its jaw and was pretty hard to understand. Kevin pointed out that it was weird that a magic statue wouldn't be able to talk just because it's jaw was missing, given that it wasn't like it had flexible lips or lungs or anything, but I said that magic works in weird ways. Arianna quickly called upon the forge god and carved something of a replacement, and while it didn't make the Guardian completely understandable, it was at least intelligible with effort now.

The Guardian wanted to fight the orcs, but it couldn't free itself from the collapsed ceiling. And even if it could, the passage was way too small for it to pass through. The PCs would need to come back with miners and shoring beams and whatnot, which they promised to do, but it turned out this rumor was something of a dead end in the short term.

Assault the Castle? Not yet

The PCs evaluated the enemy troop strength at Costvud. It looked like the orcs had rough parity with the Resistance forces, before counting the massive +9 Defense Bonus the castle would give the orcs. It might be possible to take the place, but it would hard. They briefly discussed surrounding the place and starving the orcs out, but realized the orcs would sally forth at night when their infravision gave them a substantial edge.

In the end, the Resistance fell back to Fort Scrite, which had a substantial village and a large town nearby, and started recruiting like crazy.

The Battle of Trevya

One of the orcs more impetuous company commanders, the imfamous Captain Erigash, decided that since the humans had retreated, that meant they were weak. He took about half the Costvud garrison and headed south to assault the humans.

Greex once again had better intelligence and recon forces, and orcs were ambushed on the road. This was a short, sharp battle: all the orcs might have had rough parity with the Resistance forces, but half the orcs were outmatched two to one in total troop strength and each individual special class, and being ambushed never helps. Within an hour, a couple of goblin wolf-riders and Captain Erigash and his bodyguards were fleeing north.

The Battle of Costvud

The Resistance reorganized and headed back up to Costvud. This was the final battle of the night, and was another overwhelming victory for the PCs. With their reinforcements, they had a huge edge in numbers (something like 2000 to 130 or so). Colonel Gulm handled Trahaern a little roughly and actually beat him in the first round, but Skyler's all-out assault against Captain Erigash carried the wall and inflicted a lot of casualties on the orcs. Once again, the orcs reinforced the losing flank, and once again, they managed to critically weaken their strong position in exchange for not materially improving their odds on the weak flank.

Arianna convinced Trahaern to let Captain Erigash flee, figuring that he much more of a threat to the orcs than he was to the Resistance, and we closed up the game with a great victory.
Resistance Movement in Blue, Orc Movement in Red.

Evaluation of Play

This was a pretty good session, all told. There were plenty of opportunities for role-playing, and there was some tension in the decision to go straight to Costvud or save the allies at Fort Scrite. I had planned with having two battles, and stretching it to accommodate a third through the pacing a little off, but I think it worked okay anyway.

I wouldn't have minded if the PCs had decided to attack the cave bears, even though it would probably have taken up the rest of the session, but I was also okay with the PCs sneaking past the bears. In a pure Dungeon Fantasy game, I would have probably forced the combat, or at least extracted more of a price for avoiding it. But this is a Fantasy Mass combat game, not a DF game, and I don't feel the same need to make every potential combat into a combat.

I think the players were disappointed that they didn't find a hidden passage inside the garrison. It's such an expected trope that if the GM offers it as bait, the players expect the pay-off. It was interesting, from the GM's perspective, to subvert that trope. And it's not like the PCs could really complain about their time being wasted - getting a Giant unit will do a lot make future combats easier.

One thing that may not have come through the write-up was that, although a lot was accomplished in just four hours of play, this was also a long session in game-time. A week passed with just a hand-wave, but there was still another twelve days of active campaigning that consumed half of April. I'm pretty happy with that, as it means the orcs are getting more time to prepare and get organized themselves. The Resistance forces are now overwhelmingly powerful against any lone orc company that they fight, so for this to stay interesting, the orcs are going to have to start banding together and getting reinforcements. Of course, the Resistance will start getting better troops, now that they can train and recruit openly and aren't just relying on hastily cobbled together formations of militia.

Technical Notes

Uhuk had some microphone troubles. Hloomawl also initially failed the Stealth roll to sneak past the cave bears right at the time the microphone cut out, and the PCs were almost forced into that combat because I couldn't hear Uhuk saying she wanted to use her Luck to reroll. We wasted a couple of minutes on that.

I'm continuing to refine the Mass Combat army tracker spreadsheet. The latest improvement is that each subcommand (currently Skyler's force, Trahaern's force, the garrison force, and the training force) has its own page, and there is a separate page that lists all the combined forces. Each page keeps track of the troops assigned to its page, and the unassigned troops of the same type listed on the combined forces page. This makes it a lot easier to split forces up since you can see at a glance what is available, and you can also easily record casualties on a subcommand's page and then see which ones need to be reduced on the combined forces page. I still need to make some more improvements and play with it some more, but I hope to release it to the wider GURPS community sometime this spring.

What Next

Next week, we'll focus on the other characters and their attempt to make contact with the Resistance in Otern. I have some vague ideas about what should happen, but I need to work out all the details and get everything prepared.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Giants throwing boulders in GURPS

Precis: I play with the math of the GURPS throwing rules for very strong combatants, and come up with a better solution using the slam rules.

While doing some prep work for New Dawn, I once again ran into the weirdness that are the GURPS throwing rules. This also came up in Mecha Against the Giants, but I don't remember doing much about it then.

The basic issue is that the throwing damage rules are scaled for human sized fighters with non-cinematic strength, and the assumption is that if you're throwing something that doesn't weigh very much compared to the amount you can lift, it must not weigh very much at all. Which is maybe acceptable when you're dealing with an average guy throwing a one pound rock at someone a dozen yards away, but falls to pieces when you're dealing with a giant, stronger than an elephant, throwing 100 pound boulders. Or when you deal with that giant's big brother, who is four times as strong, but throws those same boulders three times as far for the same damage.

I like charts and tables, so here's a table going into more detail on how far, and for how much damage, various ST levels can throw things under the standard GURPS rules

ST50 lb100 lb200 lb400 lb800 lb
603d @ 210 yds5d @ 150 yds7d @ 70 yds9d @ 50 yds7d @ 35 yds
904d+2 @ 315 yds4d+2 @ 315 yds4d+2 @ 225 yds7d+1 @ 135 yds10d @ 90 yds
1206d-3 @ 420 yds6d-3 @ 420 yds6d-3 @ 420 yds9d+2 @ 300 yds13d @ 145 yds
1507d-1 @ 525 yds7d-1 @ 525 yds7d-1 @ 525 yds7d-1 @ 525 yds11d+3 @ 300 yds

This table is nicely demonstrative. A ST 120 giant is four times as strong as a ST 60 giant, but the ST 120 giant throws 100 lb and 200 lbs for the same or less damage at the ST 60 giant, even though he can throw them three or six times as far.

The damage amounts are also unsatisfying. A ST 120 giant throws a 50 lb rock farther than a ballista can, but for half the damage, and the same with a 200 lb rock.

Slam Damage to the Rescue?

I was talking about this on the GURPS Discord chat channel last night, and mused that these boulders would do a lot more damage if they slammed into people. A 50 lb boulder has 29 HP, and does 1d of damage in a slam for every 3 yards per second of velocity. Presumably a giant who can throw a rock 210 yards can throw it faster than 10 yards per second.

Actually, if you do the math from the physics, an object thrown in a perfect 45 degree arc for maximum distance travels at the square root of 10 times the distance, in yards per second. If you calculate the slam damage for rocks moving at that speed, you get a damage table that looks like this:

ST50 lb100 lb200 lb400 lb800 lb
6013d+1 @
210 yds
14d+1 @ 150 yds12d+2 @ 70 yds12d+3 @ 50 yds14d @ 35 yds
9016d+1 @
315 yds
20d+2 @ 315 yds22d+1 @ 225 yds22d+2 @ 135 yds22d+1 @ 90 yds
12018d+2 @
420 yds
23d+3 @ 420 yds30d-1 @ 420 yds32d+1 @ 300 yds28d @ 145 yds
15021d @ 525 yds26d+2 @ 525 yds34d @ 525 yds42d+2 @ 525 yds40d+2 @ 300 yds

To me, this is a much more satisfying table. Stronger giants throw big rocks for farther, and much harder, than weaker giants. The optimum rock for damage varies with the strength of the giant, in somewhat reasonable ways.

The only problem is that calculating this damage in play requires performing an ugly square root. That's not necessarily a huge issue for me, because I can write a spreadsheet to do the math, but here's a simple table that pre-calculates it:

Max RangeSpeed
10 yds or less10
30 yds or less15
100 yds or less30
300 yds or less50
1000 yds or less100

Just for grins, let's compare this table with it's breakpoints to the table above:

ST50 lb100 lb200 lb400 lb800 lb
6014d+2 @
210 yds
18d+2 @ 150 yds14d+1 @ 70 yds17d+3 @ 50 yds22d+1 @ 35 yds
9029d @
315 yds
37d @ 315 yds23d+2 @ 225 yds29d+2 @ 135 yds22d+1 @ 90 yds
12029 @
420 yds
37d @ 420 yds47d @ 420 yds29d+2 @ 300 yds37d @ 145 yds
15029d @ 525 yds37d @ 525 yds47d @ 525 yds59d @ 525 yds37d @ 300 yds

Generally, all the damage got a bump, of around 25 to 50%. That's not great, but some things are going to have to be sacrificed for speed of play.

Calculating it In Play

So now I want to see how this works in play, both using the standard rules and these houserules.

The situation is a bunch of delvers are fighting a 18' tall giant with ST 75. He grabs a 270 lb boulder - a rock about 16" in diameter -   and then throws it at a delver.

Standard Rules

The giant has BL (75 * 75 / 5) or 1125. 270 lbs / 1125 is just under 0.25, so his throw distance multiplier is 1.2 for 90 yards of range and thrust damage at -1 per die. If the giant chucks the boulder and hits, the target can expect to take 8d+2 -8 or 8d-6 damage, averaging about 22 points.

House Rules

The giant can throw the boulder 90 yards, so the boulder's speed is 30 yards per second. The boulder has about 50 HP (Campaigns p 558). 50*30 / 100 is 25d, for an average of 87 cr damage on a hit. That delver had better dodge!


Strong giants, or strong superheroes, throwing big rocks can do a lot of damage under these rules, perhaps too much. I don't mind large objects moving fast (30 yards per second is 60 miles per hour) doing a fair bit of damage, but people aren't routinely killed by being hit by a motorcycle at 60 miles per hour, though it's certainly a concern.

I'm not sure what the correct answer is. I like these rules better than I like the standard GURPS rules, but the damage is probably too high. I think that's an artifact of the slam damage rules, especially the extra HP for unliving and homogeonous objects compared to people of the same weight. Reducing the damage by half for unliving objects and to a quarter for homogeneous objects would do a lot to bring things under control while still smoothing out breakpoints. It'd also get rid of a minor weakness, where throwing a living creature (like a knight) does much less damage than throwing a boulder for the same weight.

Actually, what I really recommend is doubling damage for living targets and halving damage for homogeneous objects. If you do that, the ST 75 giant throwing a 270 lb rock does 12d+2 cr, which is a lot, while if he throws a ST 16 knight (weighing 270 lbs with gear), he does 2*16*30/100, or 9d+2, which is still a lot but fairly reasonable.

I think, in play, these rules wouldn't be any worse than the standard GURPS rules and they feel slightly more reasonable to me.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Some More Experiences With Technical Grappling

Precis: I evaluate my group's experience with Technical Grappling, and conclude that the minor permanent increase in complexity sometimes pays off but its very borderline.

Doug Cole noted that Peter Dell'Orto had been using Technical Grappling in Peter's Dungeon Fantasy game, and Peter wrote a post about his group's experience with it.

My online group has also been using Technical Grappling, for at least two years, in a variety of games: +Uhuk of the Guard's Dungeon Fantasy game, my Mecha Against the Giants, my Castle of Horrors, and now in my New Dawn game. Along the way, I've had to ask questions once or twice to get clarification on how things work in Technical Grappling. I wouldn't say I have a great grasp of Technical Grappling, but I've certainly used it.

Peter gives a great overview of the relative complexity of Technical Grappling versus the standard GURPS system, and there's nothing in there that I really disagree with. Technical Grappling is a little more book keeping, but not much more, and is sometimes a little more confusing than the standard rules, but it does let you do more.

The difficult question is whether Technical Grappling's complexity is worth it? To me, it's very much a borderline answer. In my experience, there's basically two instances when grappling occurs:

  1. A specialized grappler initiates grappling, with the intent of turning the victim into a pretzel or wearing them as a hat or whatever
  2. Someone initiates a grapple as the least bad option out of handle of bad options, like when someone is disarmed and goes for a grapple because it at least keeps them in a combat

In both cases, the target of the grapple has very little incentive to counter-grapple. In the first case, the target is almost certainly worse at grappling than the grappler is, and struggling with the grapple is probably a worse plan than counter-attacking with a melee weapon or going into an all-out defense and hoping allies can get rid of the grappler. In the second case, whatever the target had been doing was apparently working just fine, and there's little reason to switch tactics just because the guy who was getting the worse of the exchange tried to change the game.

This can work for the PCs, of course. +Kevin Smyth had a barbarian beetle man wrestler in Uhuk's Chaos Scar game, and he used his ridiculous lifting ST, multiple arms, and mastery of wrestling to turn kobolds inside out and once pinned a dragon and broke its back while said dragon flailed away uselessly. But there was very little that Technical Grappling actually enabled; just about everything that Kevin's character did could have been done in a slightly more binary fashion with just the core rules.

My conclusion would be that Technical Grappling slightly increases the complexity and book keeping of grappling in play in 100% of the time when someone grapples, and that complexity pays off with an interesting new result in maybe 10% of the time when someone grapples. The complexity and book keeping load is just low enough that its worth it for those 10% occasions, but I could see how a different group would find the permanent complexity not worth the infrequent pay-off.