Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Challenges and Party Abilities in Dungeon Fantasy: Combat Specialties

In Dungeon Fantasy, there are a lot of different threats that delvers can face: from hordes of weak minions such as giant rats, to nigh indestructible creatures such flaming skulls, to hard-hitting damage sinks such as siege beasts, to party-defeating monsters such floating electric jellies. On top of the monsters, delve sites might have puzzles, traps, riddles, cursed altars, difficult and impassible terrain and other out of combat challenges.

There's a lot to cover. What challenges do the members of a competent, efficient delving band need to be able to overcome?

(This is part 2 of a multipart series. You may want to also read General Abilities and Non-Combat Specialties.)

Combat Specialties

Every member of a delving band needs to be able to fight, but not every member of the band needs to be able to fight in the same way. Some people fight in melee, others fight at range. Some people have great defenses across the board, while others need to be protected but hopefully have excellent offensive abilities to make up for it.

Defensive Challenges

Some of the challenges in combat require defensive ability: the specialist can handle the way the monster attacks, but non-specialists most likely can't. This brings in an additional complication: it's not enough for the specialist to have the abilities to fend off the monster, she must have additional abilities to force the monster to attack her and not someone less capable. Clever positioning can help, but Perks such as Sacrificial Parry or Shield Wall Training and the various Taunting skills are useful for drawing fire. Generally, defenders are melee types such as the Knight or the Swashbuckler, but against select foes, carefully constructed spellcasters can use Blocking spells (Command, Deflect Missile, or Iron Arm) to protect their allies.

  • Hard hitting foes: Some foes hit so hard that non-specialists can't deal with them. A siege beast hits for an average of 23 crushing damage, and puts the average HP 10 DR3 wizard into the death check region in a single blow. A Barbarian with 22 HP and DR11 against crushing attacks can take 2 hits before needing to check for consciousness. Basically, this is a specialist with a lot of armor and the strength to carry it, backed up by a lot of HP and advantages like Hard to Subdue, Fit, and High Pain Threshold to allow the specialist to keep fighting even after being hit. Knights and Barbarians are the classic archetypes, though Mystic Knights can pull off some clever tricks with Defensive Imbuements. A wizard with Iron Arm can do surprisingly well in this role for a few seconds before running out of fatigue.
  • High skill foes: Some foes have enough skill to pull off devastating Deceptive Attacks or have enough Extra Attacks to easily blow through a non-specialist's defenses. A few dreaded foes have both. The usual counter is to force them to engage someone who has the skill and defenses to avoid all their attacks. Knights, Swashbucklers, and Martial Artists are the usual choices, with Knights having an edge because they generally have better DR and are hurt less when the foe's strike gets through. Spellcasters generally have a harder time with this kind of foe, since Rapid Strikes generally negate a once per turn Blocking spell.
  • Many foes at once: Some foes bring lots of friends and surround people, using their numbers to overwhelm defenses. Again, a high skill delver (especially one with Trained by a Master or Weapon Master) can counter a lot of foes by making multiple repeated defenses and then making Rapid Strikes to quickly clear the foes away. Mystic Knights can use Imbuements such as Scattershot, Multishot, or Shockwave to deal damage to multiple foes in a single action, and wizards and other spellcasters can use Area spells or Explosive Missile spells to channel the enemy and limit the number of foes that can attack at once. GURPS combat can be something of a numbers game, and there's a huge difference between 6 foes attacking all at once and 6 foes attacking in pairs over 6 turns.
  • Grapplers: A lot of monsters are just big and strong, and are quite capable of grabbing a delver and doing something horrible. There's no good symmetric solution: even the biggest Ogre Barbarian (SM2, ST27+) can't begin to challenge a Giant Ape (SM4, ST43+) to an arm-wrestling match. The best solution is to have enough defensive ability to avoid the grapple and enough offensive skill to separate the enemy grappler from the victim while striking into close combat.

Offensive Challenges

Other challenges require a specialist who either can either harm something that is generally difficult to harm or  that needs special techniques to harm quickly. Since the specialist can generally maneuver to engage the foe, there's more variation in the available archetypes to handle these challenges.

  • Demons: There's a wide variety in the ability of demons in the published sources, from diffuse Toxifiers to high skill, multiple weapon Peshkali. Generally, any individual demon is bad news and most demons bring many other demons along. Fortunately, the Holy abilities of True Faith (Turning) and Smite are highly effective against demons, either forcing them well out of melee range or doing constant and unavoidable damage. It's not necessary to include a Cleric or Holy Warrior with these abilities, but it is highly advantageous.
  • Diffuse foes: From swarms to oozes to Toxifiers, diffuse enemies are some of the most difficult things to fight with a mundane character. Diffuse enemies usually don't have a huge amount of HP, but the strict damage limits for non-area effect attacks gives them a huge multiplier. Most diffuse opponents are easy to kill with a specialist, which just means someone with ready access to area effect damage. In a pinch, that can be a Martial Artist with Throwing Art and a bandoleer of Alchemical Fire grenades, but a Wizard or Mystic Knight is generally more reliable and less expensive. As a desperate measure, many diffuse foes can be killed by having the entire delving band attack wildly, but this is a risky solution.
  • Enemy spellcasters: Spellcasters aren't as dangerous in GURPS as they are in some other games, but they can still be a threat. Spellcasters often have good defensive, hiding behind other monsters and using spells to reduce their vulnerabilities. A mobile, high Stealth character such as a Thief or Martial Artist can get behind their guards to shank them, or a Scout with meteoric iron arrows can just shoot them at a distance.
  • Flying foes: Some foes fly and stay out of reach of the direct melee types. The solution is either a direct melee type who can also fly or a skilled ranged combatant. Melee combatants who aren't gargoyles or winged elves can get a Flight spell cast on them by their friendly neighborhood Wizard.
  • Foes with missile weapons: Foes with missile weapons aren't generally too much of a threat, since most of them aren't Heroic Archers with highly accurate bows. But even a bunch of goblins standing on the other side of a chasm can eventually get lucky with arrows if the delvers can't attack back. The usual solution to foes with missile weapons is a defense focused character with a shield (or Parry Missile Weapons for Martial Artists) standing in front of a range attacked such as a Scout, Wizard, or Mystic Knight. The defensive character acts as cover while the ranged attacker engages in a shooting duel.
  • High DR foes: Some foes are just hard to damage at all. Sword-Armor golems have DR17! There's many ways to get around high DR, though. Weapon Masters like Swashbucklers may do enough damage directly, as do Barbarians with high Strength. Highly skilled characters can aim for Chinks. Martial Artists may attempt to grapple the foe and subdue them without dealing with armor at all. Wizards have a variety of melee spells that ignore artificial armor entirely and the lightning family of spells are very good at penetrating metal armor. Levitate is another good spell for dealing with non-flying but heavily armored foes: it's somewhat slow and expensive to cast offensively, but most things die after dropping 180 yards.
  • High skill foes: High skill foes aren't just a problem on the defense. The same skill that makes them hard to defend against also makes them hard to hit. Solutions include area effect spells, highly skilled combatants challenging them, and stealthy and mobile combatants sneaking up on them and attacking from behind.
  • Homogeneous foes: Homgenous foes are generally not a huge threat, but archetypes that mostly deal piercing or impaling damage (especially to the skull or vitals) have to take a back seat to them. It's good to have a least one member of the delving band that can produce a large amount of cutting or crushing damage to deal with ambulatory plants and stone golems.
  • Invisible foes: Invisible foes are hard to defend against and hard to hit. Martial Artists have access to the Blindfighting skill, which can even the odds quite a bit. Otherwise, they're best opposed by high skill combatants such as the Knight or the Swashbuckler. Depending on the source of the invisiblity, a Wizard or Cleric may have a way to negate it.
  • Undead: Undead, like demons, come in many different forms, but most of them are dangerous in various different ways. An individual Horde Zombie is much less dangerous than an orc, but while a GM may not put 20 orcs in a single room, it's perfectly reasonable to throw 30+ zombies at the delving band at a time. Similarly, ghosts aren't any more dangerous than any other insubstantial foe, but it's a good bet than any insubstantial foes are going to be ghosts. Undead share another trait with demons: Smite and Truth Faith (Turning) make them go away quickly.

Summoners and Combat Challenges

Quite a few archetypes are best known for their friends: Demonologists, Elementalists, Necromancers, and Shamans are strongly defined by their conjurable or summonable allies, and Clerics, Druids, and Wizards often have similar allies. These allies often make excellent specialists to deal with certain challenges. A demon might have the skill, armor, and strength to go toe to toe with any number of strong, skilled, high DR foes (and that demon might fly, to the dismay of enemy archers and flyers). A necromancer's zombie legion is just the thing to deal with a hoard of giant rats. Many elemental allies are diffuse creatures with area attacks, making them effective against other diffuse foes and also hard hitting foes - a Siege Beast doing 5d+5 cr still only does 2 injury per attack to an air elemental.


  1. " Fortunately, the Holy abilities of True Faith (Turning) and Smite are highly effective against demons, either forcing them well out of melee range or doing constant and unavoidable damage."

    Does True Faith w/Turning work on demons? DF1 only says undead and "evil spirits." I guess you could take that to mean evil supernatural beings, but honestly, I haven't taken it to mean you can repel demons. Is there a specific mention elsewhere that links demons with evil spirits, or as affected by Turning? DF2 seems to link the Undead monster type to being turned, and Demon to be able to be Banished. DFM1 uses that same definition.

    1. I forgot to add - the demon templates in DF9 Summoners all have the special feature, affected by True Faith. No other demons have this . . . which makes them the exception, not a correction/expansion to the other ones (some of whom have Dread of holy objects, others of whom don't.)

    2. I always assumed that demons are affected by True Faith, since they are in Monster Hunters (not a good example) and are an example of something affected by True Faith in the advantage description (B94, better example). Now that you ask, I can't find a cite inside of the DF line, though.

      Demons can certainly be Smite'd, though, if you're using Dungeon Saints.

    3. I just assume the ones in DF9 are especially wussy demons!

    4. It makes sense from a logical standpoint because undead are opposed to the will of the a Divine thus they are affected by Divine oower. Demons are those beings which are opposed to the gods thus the power of the Divine should affect them. Demons were sent to Hell for their rebellion and are mark as being unholy. Holy power opposes unholy power.

    5. It makes sense, but it also makes sense to split turning undead from turning demons. Other "demon" means "undead that is also subject to banish" and you get much less useful differentiation between them.

    6. "If the [Demonologist] happens to be in the zone of effect of someone exerting the True Faith advantage, they suffer a penalty on the use of these abilities equal to the amount by which the person with True Faith makes a Will roll." DF9:8