Thursday, December 10, 2015

Castle of Horrors Session 10

Thursday is GURPS Day!

Last night my online group met for the tenth session of Castle of Horrors. In contrast to the previous session, this session went very smoothly and was a lot of fun. There was only a little exploring, which made me somewhat sad, but there was plenty of good role-playing and decision making. The plot, such as it, was advanced slightly, and there was a combat that ran quickly and was well balanced.

Role-Playing Scene: the Body

We started with the PCs in the Leprechauns' upper room, their combined garden and larder. +Kevin Smyth's character Raleigh proposed that the corpse in the corner looked like a goblin and might have belonged to the goblin traders' tribe, and the PCs should either bury it or return it to the goblins to see what they'd like done with it.  +Theodore Briggs' character Thomas counterproposed selling the body back to the goblins, or at least seeing what concessions they could get from the goblins. +Uhuk of the Guard's character Ryan agreed with Thomas, and Raleigh lit into them for being insensitive jerks.

It was an entirely spontaneous bit of role-playing. I'd never thought about the body beyond being a bit of icky set dressing, but the players used it to illustrate their personalities: Raleigh is a xenophile, and thinks that everyone is people, while Thomas and Ryan are greedy and looking for a profit.

In the end, Raleigh more or less won the argument, and Ryan was dispatched to take the body off the hook and shroud it as best they could in the cloth from the Leprechauns' beds. Ryan wasn't pleased with this task, but accepted it.

Opening (and closing!) the door

Next the PCs decided to open the door in the curved wall that probably led to the extremely bizarre north tower, home of the giant pulsing heart and the floating halberds. People lined up, Thomas checked for traps, and  +Eric Schmidt's character Yusef opened the door and went through. He found himself on the second floor of the tower, next to a pile of metal armor and weapons, and was immediately menaced by a half dozen floating halberds. He jumped back into the room and slammed the door behind him.

The PCs quickly surmised that the Leprechauns, being faeries, probably had some kind of allergy to iron. That explained why all the nails in their areas were made from copper. The pile of iron goods outside the door were probably the iron weapons and armor of their victims, discarded at some convenient location. As the pile included at least two suits of mail and a presumably expensive rapier, the PCs decided they wanted it.

Some experiments demonstrated that anything living that crossed the door's threshold into the tower activated the animated halberds, but inanimate objects didn't. They repurposed their crudely made grappling hook into a dredging device, and spent an hour or two patiently hooking stuff and dragging it into the room. The resulting take was pretty good: a mail half-shirt and kilt that fit Ryan fairly well, an iron breastplate and gauntlet set that fit Yusef, a suit of double mail that didn't quite fit Thomas but that could be tailored to him with some work, a finely made and balanced axe, and a half dozen other weapons and bits of armor. They also found a blue-grey iron key, which Raleigh pronounced was somehow magical. They weren't sure what lock the key fitted, but they figured it was important.

Loaded down with their new kit and a body, they went down to visit Wiremu and make some trades.

Cutting a Deal

Wiremu and his goblins were by the stables. Wiremu acknowledged the body as one of his tribe, and the witch-doctor Tane came out to secure the body. Wiremu quickly returned to business, though, and asked what they wanted. Yusef decided to negotiate to see if they had any more vials of alchemist fire or potions of fire-breathing. Wiremu said they were out, but he could buy some on spec if the PCs were willing to put down a substantial deposit. Raleigh countered by offering trade goods: to wit, the metal goods that the PCs weren't planning on keeping. Haggling commenced, and Wiremu agreed to take the entire lot and 10 silver coins in exchange for providing a dozen vials of alchemist's fire and three potions of fire-breathing. Thomas suspected that the PCs didn't come out ahead on that exchange, and +Douglas Cole's character Neil distrusted Wiremu on principle, but Raleigh argued that the arms and armor weren't particularly valuable in the Real World so this was as good a deal as they were going to get.

Their business with the goblins concluded, the PCs returned to the chapel with plans to investigate the ladder on the second floor.

Shmuck Bait

The first question was whether the ladder could support Ryan's weight. At first I said yes, but then I double-checked how much Ryan weighed: 670 lbs, plus another 200 lbs of gear! I quickly reversed course and said it didn't seem to hold him.

There was more discussion, and Neil's girlfriend Angela volunteered to climb up the ladder and take a look around. She was eventually argued down, and Yusef went up first. The room at the top of the ladder was a belfry, about 20' by 30', with a bell tower containing a single, massive bronze bell. A long rope hung from the bell as a pullcord. There were no signs of life in the room. The rest of the PCs made their way up, and then everyone's curiosity kicked in and Yusef pulled the cord. Neil's Danger Sense went off and he shouted a warning.

Five pairs of glowing green eyes appeared in the bell tower, and then five jaguars made of obsidian pounced down on the PCs. I rolled randomly to see who got attacked, and everyone but Ryan and Neil had a jaguar land on them. Angela and Yusef managed to dodge, but everyone else got hit, though their armor mostly absorbed the blows. Raleigh did get knocked over.

Ryan and Raleigh beat up a panther.
A general melee ensued, in fairly close quarters. Ryan grabbed the one on Raleigh, and Raleigh proceeded to cast Sun Breath. I started to ask Kevin how he was performing ritual gestures with a 300 lb stone beast on top of him, but he reminded me that Breath spells don't have ritual gestures. With the jaguar held in place by Ryan, it couldn't dodge the area attack, and Raleigh maintained it for the next several rounds until the cumulative damage melted the thing's face off.

Thomas used his plexiglass shield to fend off the jaguar on him and shot it a couple fo times with shotgun slugs, but eventually it got a solid bite on the side of his shield and he was forced to abandon it. The swirling melee meant that another jaguar had lost its partner at about the same time, and the second jaguar took a swipe at him that penetrated his weak chest armor and did a good bit of damage to him. At which point Thomas focused on defending himself, and eventually slipped behind Ryan and Neil.

Neil and Angela took pot shots at the jaguars or fled from them, as necessary. The gun shots didn't do much to slow the jaguars, but they weren't quite as tough as the gargoyles and they went down after enough bullets. Jamie also fought the jaguars, using the magic axe Vengeance as a hatchet and taking several hits on the way. Between the three of them, they eventually took care of three of the jaguars.

The last jaguar dueled Yusef on the outskirts of the main melee, as Yusef retreated away from the fight to give his allies room to maneuver. Eventually Yusef's luck failed and the jaguar got a critical hit on his neck, delivering a major wound and knocking him to the ground. On the next turn, it continued to gnaw at his neck, and Yusef starting make checks to avoid dying. Fortunately, everyone else had mostly finished the other jaguars, and Ryan managed to get a critical hit with his new oversized greatsword and attract the jaguar's attention. I called the combat at that point, as the jaguar was badly wounded, slowed, and vulnerable to gunfire, and since Yusef wasn't being attacked anymore, he wasn't in any danger.

The jaguar corpses were worthless, much to everyone's disappointment. I pointed out they could loot the bell, as it was roughly 3000 lbs of copper and worth some money if it could be transported back to the Real World, but they nixed that plan as impractical. Raleigh cast Great Healing to patch up Yusef, and then her and Thomas performed first aid on everyone else. Thomas critically failed his first aid roll on Jamie, and accidentally used the wrong medication on the orc, which made Jamie's magically induced bad temper and berserker tendencies much worse.

Yusef was down to 25 rounds for his rifle, and Neil was also low on ammo. Raleigh was back over her Threshold, almost everyone was beat up and tired, and in general no one wanted to explore the castle anymore. They retreated back to the dining room and waited until the Icon finished recharging and went back to the Real World.

Ominous Signs

Two weird things happened when they returned. First, even though they'd left at 5 pm on Friday and spent 50 hours in the Castle, they returned at 11 pm Friday. Everyone was surprised, and a little relieved to have gotten their weekend back.

The second event was that someone had obviously been at the site after them. There were tire tracks over their cars' tire tracks, there were faint foot prints tramping over the foot prints, and Raleigh's car's tires were slashed. Since Raleigh knew she had a stalker who'd slashed her tires previously, the culprit was pretty obvious, but there was the worrisome implication that the stalker knew something was odd was going on. They'd been heavily laden when they went to the Castle, and their footprints met at a central point and then didn't go anyplace else. Still, there wasn't anything they could do about it at that point.

It was late, and this was an excellent stopping point, so we stopped. I still need to sort out their cash and character points, but they did a lot of exploring and secured two great treasures, so they're going to do very well.

Technical Notes

Doug was sick and couldn't play today. I don't think that altered much in the session, though it did have the interesting effect that I could have simplified my life by having the jaguars only attack PCs with active players. I twigged on this idea eventually, but I could have saved myself a little time if I'd thought of that earlier.

Skype call quality was terrible. We restarted the call twice and it didn't help. I have no idea why, but we're considering moving to some other voice chat application, most likely Mumble since Uhuk, Kevin, and Ted already use it.

Evaluation of Play

So this was a pretty good session. There was a little exploration, a little looting, a fair bit of role-playing, and a surprisingly well-balanced combat.

The combat actually probably should have be a little harder. I missed the fact that the jaguars had Born Biter at first, and thus they shouldn't have been slashing with their claws but instead biting with their jaws and getting automatic grapples. After I looked up that rule, the combat got a bit harder. Ted was pretty miffed about it when he blocked with his shield and the jaguar grappled his shield, since he wanted to argue that he had blocked successfully and therefore nothing bad could happen to him. But I was right and he wasn't: he'd blocked by less than his shield's DB, which meant the attack occurred on the shield, and Born Biters can do damage and grapple at the same time. He could have tried to free his shield, but between wound penalties and referred control, it was unlikely that he would or that he'd do it quickly, and he couldn't effectively shoot his pump action shotgun or block with his shield as long as the jaguar was holding it.

Another complication was how to resolve Ryan shoving the jaguar into Raleigh's sun breath. Kevin argued that it should have been a Smash and Grab, but technically a Smash and Grab has to be done in a single turn by a single person. I wanted to ask Doug how he'd handle it, but as is often the case, when I have a complicated question for the author of Technical Grappling he's not in the game. We fudged it in the end. If nothing else, the fact that Ryan was grappling the jaguar meant it couldn't retreat out of the cone of the area attack and always got hit.

There were two reasons why this combat went faster: first, the monsters were easier for me to handle. They generally attacked the closest PC, biting for the neck if the PC was within a yard or stepping closer and clawing if not. So my turns went pretty fast. The second reason was that we went with some suggestions from Doug's blog and instituted a "Do Something or Do Nothing" rule: people had about 10 seconds to announce their action or they lost their action for the turn. I originally wanted them to have to Do Nothing, but I was argued down to a "All-Out Defense: Dodge." The rule was spottily enforced, and there were a couple of points when someone's turn took a long time (most noticeably when Ryan was readying his greastsword and Uhuk couldn't decide which grip was best suited for the situation) but in general it helped a bit.

Speaking of Ryan and his sword, he used a defensive grip "half-sword" attack to stab the jaguar attacking Yusef. Normally, in GURPS, this would have been a completely ineffectual attack: impaling attacks do half damage against homogeneous creatures such as living statues, and thrusting attacks do roughly half the damage of swinging attacks. Under the normal rules, instead of doing an average of 20 points of damage and around 30 points of injury with a swing/cut attack, he would have done an average of 12 points of damage and 6 points of injury with the thrust/impaling attack he used. But we're using a house rule where thrusting damage is only two points less than swinging damage, and so he would have averaged 18 points of damage and 9 points of injury - still a lot less, but not horribly so. Except he got a critical hit for maximum damage (around 30 points). I really recommend the better thrust damage as a house rule, as it really changes combat tactics and makes stabbing things a very viable choice instead of a chump move.

Checking over my notes, I missed an opportunity to have an encounter while the PCs were holed up in the dining room. I'm not too upset with myself, because this means I can use it later and it will be slightly more challenging.

What Next

We're going to handle selling the loot and character improvement over email. I expect that everyone is going to add armor and Ted has indicated he wants to bring more explosives and incendiaries for the next expedition. There's still the question of where to go next: they've mostly explored the easily accessible areas of the Castle, and the remaining areas either require passing through areas controlled by non-hostile groups or some non-standard activities. There are at least two ways past the Endless Staircase that I can think of, but I don't know if the PCs have thought about them yet.

I need to finish stocking the basement and continue working on the Caves Beneath. I'm looking forward to them making it into the Caves, as there are a bunch of old D&D modules that I can randomly re-use for maps and encounters, and some of them are adventures I've had for decades but have never had a chance to run.


  1. Grab and Smash is a way of adding grappling damage to a strike. The thing that I suspect you're looking for is Shoving People Around. It's in Martial Arts (p. 118) and allows a Quick Contest to do a few things, one of which is to force a foe to take a step with you. You could also resolve this as a Beat (MA, p. 100-101) where pushing someone into the line of fire is represented by lowering his defenses against it. There are probably other ways, too - those are the two I came up with.

    As far as compatibility with TG, in nearly any Contest or Quick Contest, Control Points can be spent to LOWER your FOE'S ability to win the contest.

    1. I'm pretty sure that Kevin wanted to do a variation of Grab and Smash: Ryan grabs the jaguar and holds its head in the area of the cone for more damage. I think I wanted some variation of "Don't Shoot Yourself" but looking at it closer that's not it either.

      The actual mechanically useful effect of Ryan's grab was, as I stated, that the jaguar couldn't Retreat out of the hex and thus had to take damage from the area effect attack. Letting Ryan burn a few CP to maybe do some extra damage wasn't changing the situation that much.

    2. Was Kevin himself casting the spell? Even if so, Grab and Smash is the wrong mechanic for it, since it's using CP to inflict injury by virtue of controlled motion.

      Now, spending CP 2:1 to inflict a penalty on a Dodge roll (or 1:1 to lower a roll on a Contest, as usual) would increase the likelihood of multiple hits assuming a good attack roll. So if you've got 4 CP, you can spend them to impose -2 on the Dodge, and ergo maybe hit a few more times. That seems legit.

    3. I'd go with Shoving People Around, too. It's what it's for. Beat's mechanics would work for determining how much the defenses are lowered. Grab and Smash? Doesn't make sense to me given a non-physical attack. Even a physical one would be odd, since you'd really need to coordinate with someone else to ensure you pushed them into the incoming force at the right moment.