Saturday, March 30, 2013

Improving Shamans in Dungeon Fantasy

So I had some words about the effectiveness of shamans in DF, along with a teaser about ways to improve them. Below is a revised shaman template that hopefully has a better place in the delving milieu.

SHAMAN 250 points

You're an expert diplomat, negotiator, and bargainer. Sometimes you make deals and solve the problems of people in the material world, but more often you deal with spirits. You're equally comfortable with both worlds, and repaid favors from spirits often allow you to overcome challenges in the mortal realms. You can heal and harm with equal facility. Your fellow delvers appreciate you most when dealing with spirits, but you can also negotiate past unfriendly guards, interrogate prisoners, bargain with the Merchant's Guild, and defeat foes in combat. Your powers work best on material things with minds or with spirits, and you prefer bodyguards when exploring dark pits and corrupted tombs.

Attributes: ST 10 [0]; DX 12 [40]; IQ 14 [80]; HT 12 [20].
Secondary Characteristics: Damage 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lbs.; HP 10 [0]; Will 14 [0]; Per 14 [0]; FP 12 [0]; Basic Speed 6.00 [0]; Basic Move 6 [0].
Advantages: Charisma 2 [10]; Medium [10]; Power Investiture 2 (Shamanic) (see below) [20]; and Spirit Empathy [10]. • Another 60 points in Shamanic gifts (see below), additional spells, or ST +1 [10], DX +1 [20], IQ +1[20], HT +1 [10], Will +1 to +3 [5/level], Per +1 to +3 [15], FP +1 to +5 [3/level], Acute Senses [2/level], Animal Friend 1-3 [5/level], Channeling [10], Charisma 3-5 [5/level], Deep Sleeper [1], Empathy [15] or Sensitive [5], Energy Reserve (Shamanic) 1-20 [3/level], Fearlessness [2/level] or Unfazeable [15], Fit [5], Healer 1 [10], Higher Purpose ( Protect the spirit realm; etc.) [5], Intuition [15], Languages (Any) [2-6/language], Night Vision 1-3 [1/level], Outdoorsman 1 [10], Power Investiture 3-6 (Shamanic) [10/level], Spirit Badge (DF: Summoners p. 5) [1], Spirit Weapon (DF: Summoners p. 5) [1], Temperature Tolerance 1 [1], or Voice [10].
Disadvantages: -10 points chosen from among Code of Honor (Shaman’s) (DF: Summoners p. 18) [-5], Disciplines of Faith (Ritualism or Mysticism) [-5 or -10], Sense of Duty (Regular Spirit-Helpers orA large category of spirits) [-5 or -10], or Vow (Vegetarianism or Always help a spirits who ask for aid) [-5 or -10]. • Another -15 points chosen from among Addiction (Weird mushrooms; Cheap; Hallucinogenic; Legal) [-10], Appearance (Unattractive or Ugly) [-4 or -8], Curious [-5*], Delusion (“Anyone could talk to the spirits if they weren't being deliberately stupid”) [-5], Obsession (Becoming as familiar with the spirit realm as with material reality; Defending humanity against evil spirit workers; etc.) [-10*], Sense of Duty (Fellow adventurers; or Community/tribe) [-5, or -10], or Wealth (Struggling or Poor) [-10 or -15]. • A further -25 points chosen from among the previous traits or Epilepsy (Mitigator, Daily herbal medicine, -60%) [-12], Innumerate [-5], Language: Spoken (Native)/Written (Broken or None) [-2 or -3], Loner [-5*], Low TL 1 or 2 [-5 or -10], Odious Personal Habit (“Scruffy primitive”; Talks to people no one else can see; or Willfully enigmatic) [-5], Skinny [-5], Social Stigma (Excommunicated† or Minority Group) [-10], Stubbornness [-5], or Weirdness Magnet [-15].
Primary Skills: Diplomacy (H) IQ [4]-16††; Herbal Lore (VH) IQ [4]-13; Hidden Lore (Spirits) (A) IQ+1 [4]-15; Merchant (A) IQ [2]-15.
Secondary Skills: Exorcism (H) Will [2]-13; First Aid (E) IQ [1]-14; Interrogation (A) IQ [2]-14; Meditation (H) Will-2 [1]-12; Naturalist (H) IQ-1 [2]-13; Stealth (A) DX [2]-12. • One of Bow (A) DX [2]-12, Sling (H) DX-1 [2]-11, or Thrown Weapon (Spear) (E) DX+1 [2]-13. • One of these two melee skills packages: 
  1. Either Axe/Mace or Spear, both (A) DX+1 [4]-13, and Shield (E) DX+2 [4]-14.
  2. Staff (A) DX+2 [8]-14.
Background Skills: Six of Brawling, Jumping, Knife, or Knot-Tying, all (E) DX [1]-12; Riding, Throwing, or Wrestling, all (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Blowpipe or Net, both (H) DX-2 [1]-10; Area Knowledge (Home Area) or Camouflage, both (E) IQ [1]-14; Animal Handling, Cartography, Falconry, Fortune-Telling (Augury  or Dream Interpretation), Navigation (Land), Occultism, Teamster, or Traps, all (A) IQ-1 [1]-13; Diagnosis, Theology, or Veterinary, all (H) IQ-2 [1]-12; Carousing or Singing, both (E) HT [1]-12; Intimidation (A) Will-1 [1]-13; Fishing (E) Per [1]-14; Observation, Search, or Survival (any specialty), all (A) Per-1 [1]-13; or Detect Lies (H) Per-2 [1]-12.
Spells: Choose ten shamanic spells (see below), which will be either (H) IQ [1]-14 or (VH) IQ-1 [1]-13 with the +2 for Power Investiture.

Customization Notes

Although shamans have a lot of potential powers, any given shaman only has a subset of them. There are a couple of obvious ways to focus.
  • The spirit master puts most of his points in Allies. He should choose spells like Minor Healing that helps him empower and protect those allies. Background skills like Observation, Net, and Theology allow the shaman to warn his allies of potential ambushes, aid them in combat, or direct them toward identifiable supernatural threats.
  • The bargainer puts more of his points in Charisma, Empathy, and Influence skills. A powerful combat focused Ally, such as an Elemental or Enslaved Demon, can make up his lack of direct combat power, but he mostly focuses on avoiding combat through negotiation. Take Animal Handling and Animal Empathy to help get past hostile critters.
  • The empowered shaman puts most of his points into shamanic gifts such as Terror, Mind Control, or Paralyzing Spirits. A Chanting Shaman with the Mind Control advantage gets a fair bit of utility for very few points. Secondary skills should include Brawling and Wrestling.
  • The spellcasting shaman increases his Power Investiture to 4 or more and buys up a lot of spells, making him more like a wizard or a cleric. Again, a combat focused Ally makes for a good bodyguard.

Power Modifier: Shamanic Gift -20%

A shaman has a Power Investiture, granted by the various spirits that she has befriended, enslaved, or bargained with. A shaman's power waxes and wanes depending on her relationships with the local spirits, and a successful shaman is a master of negotiation and bribery.

When entering a new territory (GM determines, but generally a change of terrain is necessary) and each week thereafter, the shaman must make a Reaction Roll for, or use an Influence skill on, the local spirits. The ease or difficulty of using shaman abilities and spells depends on the result:

  • Disastrous: No spell casting or shaman abilities can be used at all! A further -2 on Reaction Rolls and Influence skills when dealing with spirits in this territory in the future.
  • Very Bad: -10 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. A further -1 on Reaction Rolls and Influence skills when dealing with spirits in this territory in the future.
  • Bad: -5 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. 
  • Poor: -2 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. 
  • Neutral: -1 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. 
  • Good: No bonuses or penalties to casts spells or on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities.
  • Very Good: +1 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. 
  • Excellent: +2 on all on spell casting rolls and on negotiation rolls to use shamanic abilities. A further +1 on Reaction Rolls and Influence skills when dealing with spirits in this territory in the future.

Whenever a shaman attempts to activate a shamanic gift (but not cast a spell), she needs to make a successful Diplomacy roll to persuade the local spirits to do what she wants.

No shaman can attempt to negotiate with the local spirits without having made a fundamental agreement with the spirit world. The shaman must have a combination of Code of Honor, Disciplines of Faith, Sense of Duty (Spirit Community), or Vow totaling at -10 points to form the basis of that pact. If the shaman violates any of his Pact disadvantages, he must immediately reroll the Reaction Roll, as though he had just entered the territory, but with a -5 penalty. This reaction penalty applies to every new territory the shaman enters until he atones appropriately. Repeated violations can increase the penalty and the difficulty of the penance.


A shaman can use  a bribe to further entice the local spirits to do her bidding. Bribes are small gifts of unusual rocks, herbs and spices, strange incense, and food. Generic bribes weigh 1 lb per $100 value. A shaman can offer bribes before attempting to activate a shamanic gift to get a +1 on the Diplomacy roll per $1 spent, or +1 per $3 spent after the roll is made. A shaman can also get a bonus on the Reaction Roll or Influence skill made when entering a territory, at $10 per +1 bonus made before the roll or $30 per +1 bonus made after the roll.

A successful Merchant roll with a penalty equal to the size of the bribe bonus halves the effective cost of the bribe.

If a shaman runs out of generic bribes, a martial artist's chi incenses or a bookish wizard's reagents can be used, but at half value. In a pinch, a shaman can also use food, but each meal (whether a $2 traveler ration or $15 elven wafer) is worth $1 as a bribe.

Power Modifier: Shaman Chanting -30%

A shaman can apply this modifier to any of his powers except Allies. With this modifier, the shaman must summon the spirits to him before using any power by loud, rhythmic chanting. The spirits will only stay and support the shaman as long as he continues chanting.  The shaman must have Singing at 14+ and must take a Concentrate maneuver before using a power. He cannot talk while chanting, and the power ends immediately if he stops chanting for any reason.

Shaman Chanting is an additional modifier on top of Shamanic Gifts.

Shamanic Gift Abilities

Absolute Direction (PM, -20%) [4]; Animal Empathy (PM, -20%) [4]; Blessed or Very Blessed (PM, -20%) [8 or 16]; Clairsentience (PM, -20%) [40]; Danger Sense (PM, -20%) [12]; Dark Vision (PM, -20%) [20]; Detect (Supernatural phenomena or Supernatural phenomena and beings; PM, -20%) [16 or 24]; Healing (Earthly Xenohealing +40%, PM -20%) [36]; Luck or Extraordinary Luck (PM, -20%) [12 or 24] or (Active, -40%) [6 or 12]; Magic Resistance 1-3 (Improved, +150%; PM, -20%) [5/level]; Mind Control (No Memory +10%, Puppet -40%, PM -20%) [25]; Mind Shield (PM, -20%) [3.2/level*]; Oracle (PM, -20%) [12]; Paralyzing Spirits [38]; Plant Empathy (PM, -20%) [4]; Resistant to Disease (+3) or (+8) (PM, -20%) [3 or 5]; Resistant to Spirit Powers (+3) or (+8) (PM, -20%) [3 or 5]; See Invisible (Spirits; PM, -20%) [12]; Serendipity (PM, -20%) [12]; Speak With Animals (PM, -20%) [20]; Speak With Plants (PM, -20%) [12]; Stunning Spirits [23]; Telekinesis 1-5 (PM, -20%) [4/level]; Terror (PM, -20%) [24], True Faith (PM, -20%) [12].

Paralyzing Spirits is Affliction (Speed/Range Malediction +150%, Paralzying +150%, PM -20%) [38].
Stunning Spirits is Affliction (Speed/Range Malediction +150%,PM -20%) [23].

Shamanic Chanting Gift Abilities

Blessed or Very Blessed (PM, -50%) [5 or 10]; Clairsentience (PM, -50%) [25]; Dark Vision (PM, -50%) [13]; Detect (Supernatural phenomena or Supernatural phenomena and beings; PM, -50%) [10 or 15]; Healing (Earthly Xenohealing +40%, PM -50%) [27]; Luck or Extraordinary Luck (Active -40%, PM, -20%) [3 or 6]; Mind Control (No Memory +10%, Puppet -40%, PM -50%) [5]; Paralyzing Spirits [35]; Plant Empathy (PM, -20%) [4]; See Invisible (Spirits; PM, -50%) [8]; Stunning Spirits [20]; Telekinesis 1-5 (PM, -50%) [2.5/level]; Terror (PM, -50%) [15], True Faith (PM, -50%) [8].


Shamanic spells are unaffected by mana levels and sanctity, but they are affected by the shaman's relationship with the local spirits as described under the Shamanic Gifts power modifier.

PI 1: Astral Vision, Fear, Final Rest, History, Know True Shape, Message, Recover Energy, Sense Life, Sense Mana, Sense Spirit, Spasm, Stop Spasm.
PI 2: Affect Spirits, Awaken Craft Spirit, Command Spirit, Command, Daze, Detect Magic, Materialize, Mental Stun, Minor Healing, Panic, Paralyze Limb, Pathfinder, Rooted Feet, See Secrets, Silver Tongue, Solidify, Strike Barren, Strike Blind, Strike Deaf, Strike Dumb, Strike Numb, Summon Spirit, Turn Spirit.
PI 3: Banish, Control Elemental, Divination (Augury or Oneiromancy), Dream Sending, Entrap Spirit, Major Healing, Mass Daze, Pentagram, Planar Visit (Astral Plane), Predict Weather, Presence, Projection, Repel Spirits, See Invisible, Skull Spirit, Sleep, Suspend Curse, Terror, Total Paralysis, Turn Zombie, Watchdog.
PI 4: Animation, Animate Shadow, Bind Spirit, Bless, Compel Truth, Cure Disease, Curse, Deathtouch, Dispel Magic, Dream Projection, Force Touch, Madness, Nightingale, Nightmare, Planar Visit (Realms of the Dead), Remove Curse, Rider Within*, Soul Rider, Summon Elemental.
PI 5: Astral Block, Create Elemental, Explosive Force Ball, Magic Resistance, Mystic Mist, Planar Summons, Remove Contagion, Retrogression, Sense Observation, Soul Jar, Summon Shade, Trace Teleport, Utter Dome.
PI 6: Beacon, Beast Summoning, Create Door, Hide Object, Planar Visit (Any), Plane Shift, Summon Demon.

When using Rational Damage Spells, shamans have access to the Body and Force elements, and the Touch, Jet, and Weapon forms, all at PI 4, in addition to the specific spells listed above.

Designer's Notes

The goal was to create a shaman who was generally useful. Making Diplomacy and Merchant into primary skills both centered the character and makes the shaman into an alternate social monster for delving groups that don't want a bard.

The spell list was expanded, adding a number of Body Control, Knowledge, and Mind Control spells to give the shaman something to do when spirits aren't on the center stage. They're still not generalist problem-solvers, but they can engage against a wider range of foes. Major and Minor Healing also allow the shaman to act as a semi-cleric, though a delving band expecting to fight undead would still want a full Cleric or Holy Warrior. Similarly, the list of shamanic abilities was expanded to include some generally useful abilities.

The higher levels of the PI are still lacking somewhat in spells. It's hard to add spells that don't overlap with the druid, necromancer, or demonologist. The spell list has been revised since this article was first published, but could still use more work.

I significantly altered the power modifier, to codify the idea of negotiating and bargaining with spirits. It might be a bit more cumbersome in play than the original rules, but I think it gives the shaman a lot more flavor.

Edited on July 17, 2014 to add additional spells.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Effectiveness of Shamans in Dungeon Fantasy

The shaman is a weird template. It's described as a primitive mix of a cleric and wizard, a technical specialist focusing on dealing with spirits. Unlike just about every other delver, the text explicitly says that adventuring isn't the point of shamanism, and makes it sound like most shamans would be just as happy not delving. There's some token nods to adventuring, but for a game line focused on killing monsters and taking their stuff, the shaman feels misfocused.

The shaman also feels underpowered, on several levels. The basic abilities aren't very good, the spell list is bad, and the special abilities that define the class are underwhelming.

The basic chassis

Shamans are among the physically weakest templates, with ST10. They're also the lowest DX template, at DX11. They're the least smart of the "smart" templates, with IQ13 (even the maligned bard is smarter!). The shaman is clearly not a melee combat or a stealthy backstabber; a shaman is going to need to be protected in combat. They even have worse melee combat skills than a wizard.

Despite being described as expert negotiators and diplomats, shamans don't have Charisma as a required advantage. Diplomacy isn't a primary or secondary skill: it's an optional background skill.

Shamans don't get Herbal Lore or Esoteric Medicine, but they do get First Aid and Pharmacy (Herbal). They can bandage wounds and prepare antitoxins for poisons, but not provide general healing or healing potions.

They do get Naturalist and Hidden Lore (Spirits). Naturalist is a good monster identification skill and has some other uses in outdoor adventures. Hidden Lore (Spirits) is probably the most obscure Hidden Lore skill, but it is the kind of skill you'd expect from shamans. The lack of other Hidden Lore skills means that the shaman can't substitute for a wizard very well.


Shamans are, in theory, spell-casters. With IQ 13 and Power Investiture 2, they're not very good spell-casters, which is only acerbated by having a mere 8 points in spells. Their spell list is composed of obscure utility spells such as Astral Vision and Sense Spirit. At PI6, they get moderately useful spells like Create Elemental and Beast Summoning, spells that other casters got with much less investment. Despite being described as possible replacement for clerics, the only healing spell they get is Cure Disease, and even that requires PI4.

Shaman spells are unaffected by mana or sanctity, but are "reduced in effectiveness in places that are somehow barred to spirits." This restriction is both flavorless and maddeningly vague for the GM.

Supernatural Abilities

All shamans get Channeling, Medium, and Spirit Empathy: 30 points of advantages that pretty much translate to "you can see, talk to, and try to influence spirits." Completely appropriate. They also get 90 more points of discretionary advantages, which can either be used to buy various allies, shamanic gifts, or mundane advantages like Charisma. The mundane advantages aren't very impressive, and include such depressing oddities as ST or HT +1 (but not IQ or DX!) and Power Investiture 3. Going back to spells, it's sad that the default Shaman isn't even allowed to purchase enough Power Investiture to get the better spells.

Shamanic Gifts

Shamans have a power modifier which is basically a Pact. Fair enough. The actual abilities aren't very impressive: Active Luck, See Invisible (Spirits), Speak with Animals, True Faithing (without Turning, so a Shaman can protect himself but no one else). Dark Vision is probably the winner here, but given the shaman's generally weak abilities, sending one off by himself to scout is a cruel joke.

Shamanic Allies

Shamans can take a range of allies, from indentured petty demons that are almost free (2 points each!) to potent elemental allies (15- less, summonable, for 30 points each). Shamans are summoners, so it makes sense that allies would be their reason for being.

In play, shamanic allies aren't bad, but they're not great. A lot of them are Diffuse, which can be helpful when fighting a lot of typical DF enemies (most orcs do not have area effect attacks). Still, most of the sample allies in DF: Summoners are weak in play: low Perception, low Will, low DX, and low attack skills can make for an ally that gets surprised in ambush situations and can't hit anything when it finally attacks.

Even with hand-crafted allies with more power, the shaman isn't that much more impressive. A demonologist can have demon allies, an elementalist can have elemental allies, and a necromancer can have undead allies. The shaman can have any of those allies, and so if there's some special synergy in having a ghost, a demon, and a fire elemental, the shaman brings something unique to the table. If there's no synergy, it's just as easy to replace the shaman with one of the other summoners (or a druid, cleric, or wizard) with the appropriate ally.

In Summary

Shamans are a bit disappointing. What could have been a mix of Bard, Cleric, and Wizard - basically, a replacement healer and face-man with some utility magic, excellent for small delving bands - is instead a highly focused expert on spirits whose main combat utility is whatever his Allies can do. In an adventure with a lot of focus on spirits, a shaman is really powerful, but as a general delver, the shaman doesn't bring much to the table.

In a 5 person delving band, running through a conversion of a standard AD&D module, the successful band is going to be some collection of (Knight, Barbarian, Mystic Knight, Swashbuckler, or Holy Warrior), (Cleric or Druid), (Scout or Bard), (Thief or Artificer), and (Wizard, Sage, Necromancer, Elementalist, or Demonologist). The shaman can't easily replace any of those roles. He's a specialist, brought in to deal with spirits, but not a regular member of the delving band.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Expanding on the Sunken Ruins

These are my thoughts thus far on the Sinking Ruins, my prospective mega non-dungeon that I may write up and run someday. Or not - I've got a lot of Savage Tides to run for my tabletop group first, and that means a fair bit of time spent converting it to GURPS DF first. It's useful to stash these kind of thoughts, anyway.

History of the Sunken Ruins

The origins and the name of the Sunken City have been lost to any history outside of its own buried archives. Indeed, the very existence of the city was lost when it was razed during the 7th Crusade. The area was resettled by the villagers of Shady Shore, who had only begun to discover the ruins below their fields when the orcish Il-Khan's army dispersed them. The orcs did not linger, and after they passed, Blessedborn monks established the Monastery of the Sacred Victor on the site. Within three generations, the monks had fallen to demon worship, and Templars of the King of Life besieged and burnt the place. Ten years later, rumors have sprung up about the treasures hoarded by the monks and left undiscovered in hidden parts of the cellars, but nothing definite is known.

A Note on Climate

The Sunken City was built in a quite northern climate, and densely packed buildings, covered arcades, and sheltered market areas are a common feature of the local architecture. In addition, ever since the 1st City was buried in the Cataclysm of the Scarlet Warlocks, the ground has been too soft to keep buildings from sinking, and the locals tended to periodically re-elevate their roads and reroof their buildings as ground levels sunk so deep as to become basements.

Levels of the Sunken Ruins

  • Surface Level: The Ruined Village of Shady Shore and the Abandoned Monastery of the Sacred Victor - half sunken and burnt buildings, collapsed and ruined. Inhabited mostly by bandits and savages. A few half-collapsed delving tunnels, wells, and purple worm tunnels provide access to the deeper levels, and stairs and ladders go the buildings' basements.
  • Sublevels 1-2: Mostly the cellars and subbasements of the village and the monastery. A few collapsed cellar floors provide access to the upper levels of the 3rd City.
  • Levels 1-3: The levels of the 3rd City, built over the previous two cities. Consists of buried and collapsed buildings, connected by the purple worm tunnels that riddle the area and break into buried arcades and buildings, as well as the ancient and often collapsed covered streets. On level 2, the Dwarven Delving Hall contains a wealth of information about the 2nd city, including maps. On level 3, the old city cistern can be accessed from the surface through some of the wells. The dwarven delving tunnels descend through the sewers into the 2nd City. 
  • Level 4: The sewers of the 3rd city, ancient brick tunnels pierced by delving shafts and a few purple worm tunnels.
  • Levels 5-7: The levels of the 2nd City. Notable sites include the Cathedral (a multi-level vault that acts as an effective elevator for delvers in the 2nd City) and the Castle (with passages inside the walls). In addition to the buried roads, there are plenty of dwarven delving tunnels branching out between buildings and heading toward the Castle.
  • Sublevel 7: The hard cap created by Cataclysm of the Scarlet Warlocks, forming a cavern over much of the 1st City. A few tunnels, wells, and magical portals pierce it.
  • Sublevel 8: The Adamantite Fortress, a castle made of essential stone. Technically part of the 1st City, but on a hill and above the main floor of the city.
  • Level 8: The nearly intact 1st City in a cavern. A good place to put a dragon. A lot of orichalcum weapons are here (that's what the dwarves of the 3rd City were seeking - they just didn't know about the 2nd City and weren't going deep enough). High level playground. Think of Xak Tsaroth
  • Level 9: Mines of the 1st city, accessible through adits in the 1st City.
  • Level 10: The ancient sewers of the 1st city, mostly made from abandoned mines. Some mines go through or below the sewer level.
  • Levels 11-12: Natural caves. The sewers and some of the mines enter directly into these.
  • Level 13: Hell. "Dug too deep" shouldn't mean "oh, and we found a balrog." It should mean "no, there's a literal Hell in the underworld and you can get there by going deep enough." (Just like you should be able to get to Heaven or at least the moon by flying high enough. Fantasy physics should be fantastic.) As a bonus, any delvers that actually reach the 13th level are going to be 1000 point Lords of Crazy Town, so you might as well send ST40 DR10 Skill-26 demons against them as mooks so there's some sense of challenge.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Writing Posts I Would Want to Read

Writing Posts I Would Want To Read... and Then Forgetting I Wrote Them

So for the last day or so, the top article from this blog has been the highly intriguing "The Effectiveness of Bards in Dungeon Fantasy." And I as I wander through my blog-roll and their blog-rolls and sometimes their blog-rolls' blog-rolls, I see an article title that just sounds fascinating to me. And I move my mouse over to click on it and realize that the reason it's so fascinating is because I wrote it in the first place. I also did this all the time for "Fixing the Prices in DF," only I said "doh!" a lot more when I did. Does this happen to anyone else?

Stop Reading the Boring Stuff!

On a possibly related note, the most popular post by page-views on this blog is "Actual Play: Savage Tides Gargoyle Cliffs." I think it's the most popular because +Peter V. Dell'Orto directly linked to it, and his blog is insanely popular. So thanks to Peter for mentioning me, adding me to his blog-roll, and all that. But really, that AP is not one of my better posts; I put it up for content and so I wouldn't forget it. But really, people, please go read the better stuff like the Changing Tides articles (especially the Sargasso Sea), which are more about the design process, or my clever blending of the Ritual Magic system with the grimoires from Ritual Path Magic.

Or keep reading the Actual Play articles - eyeballs and comments are gratefully appreciated, whatever posts they land on!

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Effectiveness of Bards in Dungeon Fantasy

Are bards cool?

So the DF interpretation of the bard is the spoony bard: a weedy little guy in light armor, a jack of all trades with elements of spell-caster, face-man, and light combatant. Mechanically, bards have 4 things going for them: interaction skills, mind control spells, Bard-Song abilities, and enthrallment skills. Are they good enough?

Interaction skills

I wouldn't say that interaction skills are something that everyone wants, but no one complains if you show up at the table with a bard and point out that you're going to double, triple, or quintuple the take from the next expedition (depending on the skill of the bard and the number of other PCs who have discovered that taking Wealth: Struggling and trading a character point for money is a pretty good deal). The ability to maybe negotiate with something at the bottom of the dungeon is mostly gravy.

I've had at least three players ask me, "I'd like to be a diplomat, but y'know... not a bard," versus only one willing to play a bard (and another claiming to be a spoony bard while actually be a half-ogre knight with the other half being wrecking machine). So I think the interaction skills are good enough in DF, especially if you're using Bard! and destiny points.

Mind Control Spells

As written, Bards also get Communication and Empathy spells, but the point is that if isn't a fairly mundane being with an IQ above 6, the bard's spells aren't going to come into play. So bards can't rely on their magic versus animals, constructs, many demons, most elder things, many faeries, plants, oozes, and almost all undead. That's not the entirety of the monster list, but there's an enormous number of deadly and/or "high level" threats the bard can't even affect with magic.

The bard isn't a particularly good spellcaster, with a base skill of 14, but Mind Control does have some great spells in it (Command). Most of them are resisted, which is a drag, and have long casting times, which is also a drag, and are fairly expensive for someone without a dedicated Energy Reserve and Recover Energy. Points for spells have to be balanced against Bard Song abilities and enthrallment skills, so this can be tricky. Still, this isn't anything the wizard couldn't do generally better, so this probably isn't enough to justify the bard by itself.

(As an aside, Bruno and I came up with an alternate college system for bards, where they got select Illusion and Knowledge spells and all their spells were organized in to Comedy, Drama, History, and Tragedy colleges. I think she was going to polish it up and submit it to Pyramid, but I'll try to post it here if she got rejected or something.)

Bard Song Abilities

A grab bag of abilities based on sound; the bard has to sing or play a musical instrument to use them and they're subject to the same restrictions as magical abilities. Highlights include Speak With Animals (usually good for gathering information from birds and rodents, if nothing else), Mind Control, Rapier Wit, and Terror. Some of these are pretty good, but most of the good ones are expensive.

Bard Song also includes auras of power, which again can be pretty good ("everyone gets +2 DR while I sing this next song") but again can be pretty expensive. A bard can have 1-2 of the really good abilities, at the cost of any other advancement opportunities. Mind Control and Terror are pretty enticing, but so are +1 DX and +1 HT.

Enthrallment Skills

These are Musical Influence, Persuade, Suggest, Sway Emotions, and Captivate. These are a bit of a mixed bag, really.

Musical Influence is one of the cinematic skills that might work really well in a low powered, almost entirely mundane game, and fails miserably in the higher powered magical cinematic reality of Dungeon Fantasy. Playing a bunch of music to get a minor bonus on reactions is hard to justify as a worthwhile expenditure of Very Hard skill points.

Persuade is just like Musical Influence, but is easier to learn (Will/Hard vs IQ/Very Hard), significantly faster, and requiring some FP to use. It also doesn't work against animals, while Musical Influence does. Bards usually already have a lot of positive reaction modifiers, but getting an Enraged Dire Tiger to calm down requires a lot, too.

Suggest lets the bard make the audience believe that a straightforward suggestion is their idea. The suggestion has to be straightforward to express (subject, verb, object, and two adjectives or adverbs) and the duration is pretty short. In theory, this could a really useful ability, but I can't think of a lot of instances in any DF game I've ever seen where it could come up.

Sway Emotions is written so vaguely that it's almost unusable.

Captivate is like Suggest, but the audience acts in your best interest as they understand it, or per your direct orders. This is like having Mind Control with Area effect, a huge FP cost, and 30 minutes of onset. Still, it's area effect Mind Control, so that's really good. On the other hand, 30 minutes of uninterrupted story-telling is a huge luxury in most DF games. This is a really good skill if the bard can arranged to get captured by the orcs, thrown into their cells to rot, and can start telling stories to the entire tribe until they're having gladiatorial death matches for his enjoyment. It's a great skill for some games, but I'm not sure how useful it is in DF.


Bard abilities are a mixed bag. The Agent henchman template can provide the interaction skills, and layered with a combat template such as Veteran (or a Scout lens), a fairly effective combatant without the iffy spells and Bard Song powers.

On balance, as a GM, I'd be tempted to up the power of the Enthrallment skills and perhaps let the bard take some Bard Song abilities as alternate abilities of each other (auras of power are an obvious choice). I'd be worried that there's not a lot of room in the Enthrallment skills between "situationally useful" and "oh dear, I just broke my game again." Improving the spell list to include select Illusion, Sound, and Knowledge spells is also a good idea.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Actual Play: Savage Tides Fogmire Part 2

I just got back from running the second Fogmire session of my DF:STAP game (here's the link to the first). This session was mostly a big brawl.

SPOILERS for Savage: Here There Be Monsters below

This session started where the last one ended: the delvers have opened a bunch of magically locked doors, and are staring down a corridor lined with monkey statues. Some Scout! and Thief! rolls later, and Blackjack the scout was convinced there are proximity traps on the statues, and Simon the swashbuckler-thief was convinced the hall was safe. He failed his roll against Overconfidence, and ther was a flurry of diplomacy and physical grapples to keep him from setting them off.

The proximity traps didn't go to the ceiling, so Blackjack activates hid Sailor Slippers (letting him walk on walls and ceilings) and Chi the elementalist cast levitate and floated past them. On the far side, Chi spent a lot of fatigue to effectively disarm the traps and everyone else walked down to the doors to the final shrine. No traps were found on the doors, everyone got ready, and Big Al kicked the door opens.

Inside, a pair of teleporting ape demon martial artists and their spirit naga wizard pal were torturing some captives, suspended thirty feet over a fire (it's at time like these I cop to the fact that my game is over-the-top gonzo). Knowledge checks were made, and Big Al shouted "the snake-woman is like a medusa! Don't look at her face!" to general scoffing.

Blackjack quickly learnt that Big Al did know something: looking at the naga triggers her gaze attack and he was inflicted with Pacifism: Reluctant Killer (Naga only). There was some whining about the power of the effect, but that's how Afflictions work in GURPS and I was unmoved. Honestly, it could have been worse: Blackjack narrowly missed gaining a Sense of Duty to the naga. He hit the naga with his arrows anyway, but she burnt some Destiny points to make her Dodge rolls. Everyone else advanced into the room. The naga activated her Delay spells, granting her Armor 5, Blur 5, Walk on Air, and Great Haste. The demons ready to attack.

A general melee ensued. Blackjack ran around on the walls, complaining all the time that he can't really do much against Homogeneous enemies with DR10 (true) or against people that he a -9 or more to hit. I continued to be unmoved. Sister Joan the saint starting smiting demons, only to find that one of the demons is wearing a cloak of Cosmic Fire Resistance +10. There was more whining, and then someone remembered that that Simon can actually pickpocket the cloak in combat (yes, there's a massive penalty, but he has Thief! points).

The lesser demon tried to teleport to kill Blackjack, but critically failed and ended up unsupported over the ceiling. Two rounds later, it landed and got murdered by Big Al (with ST22, Weapon Master, and an silver oversized flail, he was much less concerned about their DR). Blackjack ended up shooting the naga, killing it with meteoric iron arrows after it took out Chi with a 6d lightning bolt. The boss demon, without its cloak, got worn down by Sister Joan's smites after spending a couple of round trading Knight! and generic destiny points with Big Al.

With the monsters down, Sister Joan went to heal up Chi while the others rescued the captives. People were celebrating their victory and admiring Simon's fancy new cloak when they heard an ominous growl - and the Lemurian Golem, previously looking like a statue, began moving. Sadly, it was 5pm and we had places to go, so the session ended there.

This was a pretty good session. The delvers did really well, killing 3 highly abusive enemies that were often tailored against their specific strengths. Chi went down, and Sister Joan was hurt, but everyone else survived without wounds (though Luck and Destiny points had pretty much been exhausted). I don't think it's the kind of session that I want to run very often, but it was fun this time.

One thing I realized again is that I really need to play every weird monster at least twice before I get a feel for its best tactics. The bar-lgura where a lot more effective this time, since I remembered to use their teleport this time. It just makes me sad, since I tend to generate a lot of my own monsters and I don't often play them to their best potential on the first appearance, and there isn't always a second time.

Escapism versus Struggle

Some people play role-playing games for the struggle, and some people play it for the escapism. I'm much more the latter than the former, and I think most of my players are the same way. I don't think that one style is better than the other, but it is an aesthetic preference that most people on the table should share for maximum enjoyment. This was much more of a struggle session than an escapism session.

(Snide aside: I do have the same derision for the people who think they're proving their superiority by beating arbitrary imaginary fights that they do for me for playing in "wuss mode." Fair's fair. But that's not directed at people like Peter V. Dell'Orto, who seem to prefer a more struggle oriented style without casting aspersions on people who don't share that preference.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Sinking Ruins, a mega (non) dungeon

I'm not a big fan of mega-dungeons. I'm not much of a fan of dungeons, really. I much prefer adventures set in abandoned cities or ruined castles or tangled forests or, well, anything with an open sky above. I'm not claustrophobic, so it's not like I'm afraid of dungeons, I just don't especially enjoy preparing them or playing in them extensively. I think that's a huge part of why Red Hand of Doom is one of my favorite modules: despite being a huge module, there's only two "dungeons" and the three other major set-pieces are an abandoned keep, the ruins of a sunken city, and a town undergoing a siege.

Nevertheless, I've been reading Peter V. Dell'Orto's articles on megadungeons, and a couple of things he's said sound interesting to me. The idea that it's impossible to completely clear the dungeon, or even clear a level, just sounds fascinating to me. Having to make some strategic choices as you enter the dungeon so that you always have a retreat path could be really cool. For various reasons, I don't know if that would work with my current tabletop group, but it could be really neat for the right group.

I'm currently running Savage Tides for my group, nominally in between running things we actually care about. I'm probably going to wrap it up later this year when they complete the Tides of Dread adventure, because after that the adventure rapidly goes to places that I'm pretty sure aren't going to work for my group (ie, literally to Hell, where Sister Joan's intolerance of other religions is not going to play well with the adventure's requirements that you cut deals with demons and devils). So what to run next?

One option would be to heavily adapt the later adventures in Savage Tide so they're workable with the group. I've also been inspired by Peter's reviews of Dragonlance, and it looks like it might be fun to ditch the stupid storyline and convert the early modules into delving sites for a bunch of murder-hobos. Or I could create a mega-dungeon of my own.

The Sinking Ruins

One thing I know I don't like about mega-dungeons is I often have a hard time believing that anyone would build the silly things in the first place. I know there are a few historical examples in history, but they're rare. And since mining is hard, real life examples don't have miles of extraneous corridors and widely spread out rooms, which serve important purposes in a mega-dungeon of making it plausible that the delvers don't fight the entire orc tribe at one time.

So my first problem with creating a megadungeon is coming up with a reason that I can accept for it to exist. And then I remembered that Chicago has been sinking almost since it was founded: the early settlers would periodically reraise the roads and build steps down to their buildings, and then eventually add new levels to the buildings to put them above the roads. There's a similar line about Discworld's Ankh-Morpork, "a fellow with a pick-axe and a good sense of direction could travel anywhere beneath the city by knocking down a few walls." If the mega-dungeon is the ruins of an ancient town that has been sinking into the ground forever, with multiple layers of buildings and roads built up around it, then that's very interesting and plausible for me.

So now I want to flesh out this concept, provide a few more details. Starting at the very bottom, there are some natural caves (I can totally accept natural caves in a mega-dungeon). Maybe a lot of natural caves, or some semi-unnatural caves that people only find by "digging too deep." In order to dig too deep, you've got to dig, so some layers of mines and/or sewers above that; maybe some of the sewers are played out mines. Above that, the original roads and buildings of the city, now buried and having become sub-cellars of the next few rebuildings of the city. I might add a nearby volcano or some other equivalent natural disaster producer, so that the city can have been knocked down or buried a couple of times and rebuilt, radically changing the layout and road plan.

I don't know if I'm going to go any farther in actually fleshing this out. Right now, it's an idea I don't have a huge amount of use for. But it's definitely something to reflect on, should I ever be in a position where I need a mega-dungeon. 

Blogger's Note

I posted twice today, so if you're following a direct link from someone's blog-roll, consider reading Daily Posting, Double Posting.

Also, I've expanded on this article with more detail.

Daily Posting, Double Posting

I've been trying to post more or less daily here. I like the ego boost I get from seeing more page views, and I figure I'm more likely to develop followers and active commentators if there's always regular content.

I didn't manage to post yesterday. I started to write a post, revised it, decided it was crap, and left it sitting in drafts while I rethink the approach. I have two ideas I want to discuss: a) which DF templates work well, and which don't, and why some of the templates need some oomph via house rules or whatever, and b) some suggestions on improving the Bard and the Martial Artist. The first draft of the first article came off as pretentious and contentious and I wasn't sure I wanted to be besieged by commentators telling me that the Thief is consistently the most valuable template in their games (though honestly, comments are good, so maybe I should, and maybe I'll get someone telling me that a Shaman is their best template and I can be amazed). The second post I just haven't put enough thought into: I know I want to revise Enthrallment and Chi skills to better match the power level of Wizards and Weapon Masters, I just haven't sat down and researched it enough. Research takes time, and I could be catching up on Dragon Age II here.

The other thing I've noticed is that posting twice a day is a bad plan. I posted Talents for RPM, and followed it immediately with Saints and Ritual Path Mages in Dungeon Fantasy. Talents currently has 4 page views, and Saints has 14. While I'll grant that the second is a generally more interesting article, I think the culprit is more that Talents only showed up in people's blogrolls for about 10 minutes, and thus only my active followers even know about it. I'm sure it will get more page views over time, as people binge on my archives. Assuming that ever happens.

The takeaway, then, is that in order to maximize page views, I need to post daily, but I can't post twice in a row to make up for skipping a day. I'm sure that's a known thing that I could have read on a blog somewhere, but until I started this blog I've really been on the consumer side of blogging, not production.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Saints and Ritual Path Mages in Dungeon Fantasy

I wrote this article a few years ago, while trying to make Ritual Path Magic work in Dungeon Fantasy. I've since abandoned the effort (hence the focus on my new College Book Ritual system), or at least postponed until the generic Ritual Path Magic book comes out. I thought I'd add it for archaeological interest.

Revised Templates 

Use Dungeon Saints from the article in Pyramid.

Remove Magery 3 and the optional Magery 4, 5, or 6 from the Advantages list. Remove Hidden Lore and Alchemy from the Primary Skills list. Remove all 30 points in Spells. Add Ritual Path Magery 2 as a mandatory advantage to the Advantages list. Add Alchemy to the Background skill list. Spend 50 points on Ritual Magic Path skills, Thaumatology, or in TBD "fire and forget" spells. "Fire and Forget spells" can also be bought as Advantages, as well as Ritual Path Magery 3, 4, 5, or 6.

Magery and "Fire and Forget Spells" 

A wizard may know one or more spells as "Fire and Forget". These can be bought as Alternate Abilities to his Ritual Path Magery, in which case he can only cast on spell at a time, and its effects end as soon as he casts a new ritual. More powerful or experienced wizards may know multiple "Fire and Forget" spells that can be used at the same time and that don't end when he casts a ritual. 

All "Fire and Forget Spells" have the Magic Spell modifier (-25%) (Magic Power [-10%]; Accessibility: Must have arms, hands, and mouth free to cast [15%]). Each spell may be bought as an alternate ability of the wizard's Ritual Path Magic, or an independent ability, or an alternate ability of an independent ability. 

Templates Needing Further Revision 

One simple solution would be to give bards access to only path of mind, but that would make the magery advantages fairly expensive and open the door for niche invasion. A better solution is to exchange all the magic for Songs from DF: Powerups, along with beefing up the power and cinema of the enthrallment skills.

I like my druids as shape-changers with minor magical abilities, but neither Divine Favor nor Ritual Path Magic is the right approach here.


Summoners, as focused casters, are problematic in normal df. in exchange for saving a few points on magery, they get crippled spell lists. Translating them into distinct and effective RPM casters is tricky since they aren't that effective normally.

Give them Path of Spirit, Path of Crossroads, Path of Magic and call it a day?

Give them Path of Energy, Path of Matter, Path of Spirit, Path of Magic? Just get rid of them?

Path of Undead, Path of Magic

Track down Phil Masters and thump him one. Alternately, grab a bunch of Crusader powers or something?


The basic concept here is to get rid of GURPS Magic as much as possible. Divine Favor versus Ritual Path Magic gives a sharp difference between Clerics and Wizards. Issues I think the big change is reliability versus scope. Standard DF spellcasters are very reliable: they can do 20-30 different things, most of which are small and specific, but they do them very reliably and consistently. Divine Favor reverses that for Saints: their abilities are random and unreliable, but they can do just about anything if they get lucky enough. Though Learned Prayers increase the reliability quite a bit, but only in a few areas.

 Wizards are in an even worse spot. With low skill levels, Wizards have to specialize in what kind of magic they'll perform. They have a fair amount of flexibility at that level, but powerful effects need to be prepared in advance via charms. Toting grimoires around is pretty useful for wizards, letting them recreate spent charms while the delving band has downtime. But still, I'm worried that wizards would be useless under these rules - they'll certainly feel much more like 1st or 2nd level AD&D wizards than proper GURPS wizards. 

Obviously, I don't know what to do with Summoners. Making them highly specialized casters is the easiest, and works well for Demonologists and Necromancers. Shamans and Elementalists already have problems under the normal templates, and these rules don't help them. I don't know what to do with Druids, either. They're the weakest of the DF: Adventurers spellcasters normally (worse even than Bards, boo-hiss!). Shapechanging might help, but the kind of Earth Elemental one can change into on 70 or so points is not that impressive. So I just dunno.

Talents for Ritual Path Magic

I wrote this a while back for my Monster Hunters game - a bunch of flavorful talents for Ritual Path Mages. I figured I'd increase my post count by adding it here. Some of the talents cover slightly different skills depending on whether they're being used in a Monster Hunters game or in an extremely variant Dungeon Fantasy game.


Casumancer (5 points) 
DF Skills covered: Fast-Talk; Gambling; Hidden Lore (Faerie); Path of Chance; Sleight of Hand
MH Skills covered: Fast-Talk; Gambling; Hidden Lore (Free Spirits); Path of Chance; Sleight of Hand
Reaction Bonus: Faeries, gamblers, and con-men

Demonologist (5 points) 
Hidden Lore (Demons); Law; Path of Crossroads; Path of Spirit; Thaumatology (Demonic); Theology
Reaction Bonus: Demons, lawyers, and exorcists

Elementalist (10 points) 
Chemistry; Innate Attack; Intimidation; Naturalist; Path of Energy; Path of Magic; Path of Matter; Physics; Scrounging; Swimming; Thaumatology (Elemental); Weather Sense; Weird Science
Reaction Bonus: Scientists, outdoorsmen

Mentalist (5 points) 
Acting; Detect Lies; Diplomacy; Path of Mind; Psychology
Reaction Bonus: Actors, psychologists

Necrologist (5 points) 
DF Skills covered: Exorcism; Hidden Lore (Undead); Occultism; Path of Undead; Poisons; Surgery; Thaumatology (Necromantic)
MH Skills covered: Exorcism; Hidden Lore (Mummies); Hidden Lore (Restless Dead); Hidden Lore (Vampires); Occultism; Path of Undead; Surgery; Thaumatology (Necromantic)
Reaction Bonus: The undead

Smooth Talker (15 points) 
Add Path of Mind to Smooth Talker

Thaumaturge (5 points)
Archaeology; Hidden Lore (Sacred Places); Occultism; Path of Magic; Research; Thaumatology
Reaction Bonus: New Agers, mystics, and other casters.

White Mage (5 points) 
Animal Handling; Diagnosis; Esoteric Medicine; Path of Body; Physician; Veterinary
Reaction Bonus: Doctors and patients

Witch Doctor (10 points) 
Esoteric Medicine; Exorcism; Hidden Lore; Path of Body; Path of Spirit; Path of Undead; Physician; Public Speaking; Religious Ritual; Theology; Thaumatology (Shamanism)
Reaction Bonus: Spirits

World-Walker (5 points) 
DF Skills covered: Acrobatics; Running; Hiking; Navigation; Path of Crossroads; Riding
MH Skills covered: Acrobatics; Driving; Hiking; Navigation; Path of Crossroads; Pilot
Reaction Bonus: Travelers, nomads, and wanderers

Thaumatology Specialities 

The Demonologist, Elementalist, Necrologist, and Witch Doctor talents have specialized Thaumatology skills. These specialized skills count as normal Thaumatology for Path skill limits for the following Paths, and at skill-2 for all other Path skills. Each specialized Thaumatology skill is a M/H skill.

DF Templates should add the relevant Thaumatology skill and its covered Path skills to their primary skills.

Path of Crossroads, Path of Energy, Path of Spirit
Path of Energy, Path of Magic, Path of Matter
Path of Body, Path of Crossroads, Path of Undead
Path of Body, Path of Spirit, Path of Undead

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

College Ritual Book Magic and Threshold Mana

So I proposed a new system of magic called College Ritual Book Magic, and made a sample artillery wizard. In the process of creating the example character, I demonstrated to myself that while replacing the a 10 point Magic Talent that applies to all spells (potentially hundreds of skills!) with a 5 point Magic talent that only applies to 2-3 colleges of spells seems like it would reduce a wizard's power, it only does so in the long-term. In the short-term, a sufficiently focused wizard just saved 15 points.

+Jason Packard suggested charging a 5 point UB per college the wizard knows, up to a maximum of 30 points. It's a decent suggestion, but not the one I'm going with, because there's another problem I want to solve.

Wizards Can Cast Too Many Spells Each Day

A well-designed GURPS Wizard has Recover Energy-20, and a decently designed one has Recover Energy-15. Even assuming the wizard gets no other energy reduction on spell cost and performs no other tricks, he can cast 12-30 FP worth of magical spells every hour. That's not a huge problem if most of those spells have a very short duration, but if some or all of them have durations of a few days or more, the effects can be over-the-top. It's trivially easy for a decently prepared wizard to equip everyone in the gaming group with magically glowing rocks while fortifying their campsite with deep trenches, long wood berms, and freaky magical mists. This can be a bit upsetting in play and highly upsetting in world design.

A large part of the problem is that wizards can convert the otherwise mostly unused Fatigue attribute into problem-solving. Sure, non-wizards can use Fatigue for extra-effort, helpful in combat or sometimes to break open a wedged door or something, but it doesn't compare to a wizard being able to spend Fatigue to fly or shape earth. Fatigue as a resource for casting spells needs to go.

Fortunately, there's already a system for that: Threshold-Limited Magery.

Threshold-Limited Mages Can't Cast Enough Spells Per Day

The suggested limits for Threshold Mana are a Threshold of 30 and a Recovery Rate of 8, "a power level roughly equivalent to that under the standard rules". But that drastically underestimates how much magic a standard wizard can cast per day (trivially, a 10 FP spell every hour, not an 8 FP spell every day). The Recovery Rate needs to increase to around 30-50.

Dabblers, Extra Threshold, and CRBM Mages

My proposal is that wizards (and other "arcane" spell-casters such as Elementalists, Necromancers, and Demonologists) should get a Threshold of 5 and a Recovery Rate of 5 when they buy the 5 point Magery advantage. They can by additional levels of Extra Magical Ability at 10 points/level, with each level increasing Threshold by 10 and Recovery Rate by 15.

This system means that dabblers in magic - the hypothetical bright thief with IQ13 and a few Easy spells - can only cast a few small spells per day safely, and needs a few days to recover after any significant use of magic. Which can only be expected, as dabblers aren't mighty wizards. A professional wizard would have Extra Magical Ability 2 or 3, giving a Threshold of 25-35 and a Recovery Rate of 35-50. Professional wizards can cast many more spells than dabblers, but they still face a pretty hard limit. If they cast more than about 75 energy in a day they're guaranteed nasty effects on the Calamity table, and recovering that Threshold requires 1-2 days without casting any magic at all.

Of course, rewriting the Calamity table to make it easier to go over threshold without having horrible things happen permanently is useful, too.

Sample Artillery Mage

Here's the same artillery mage above, slightly modified to use Threshold Limited Magery with these rules. With a Threshold of 25 and a Recovery Rate of 35, he's more powerful in a tactical situation than the original, but not as powerful when there's lots of time available since he can't just keep casting small spells. His skill levels are also slightly lower, since he had to drop a level of Talent to pay for the Extra Magical Ability.

250 points

ST 10 [0]; DX 12 [40]; IQ 15 [100]; HT 11 [10].
Damage 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lb; HP 10 [0]; Will 15 [0]; Per 12 [-15]; FP 14 [9].
Basic Speed 6.00 [5]; Basic Move 6 [0]; Dodge 9.


Extra Magical Ability 2 [20]; Fuel-Air Mage Talent 2 (covers Aerobatics, College of Air, College of Fire, Innate Attack, and Weather Sense) [10]; Gizmo 1 [5]; Luck [15]; Magery 0 [5]; Wealth (Comfortable) [10].


Clueless [-10]; Oblivious [-5]; Obsession (To become the world's most powerful fire wizard; 12 or less) [-10]; Pyromania (12 or less) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Adventuring companions) [-5].
Quirks: _Unused Quirk 1; _Unused Quirk 2; _Unused Quirk 3; _Unused Quirk 4; _Unused Quirk 5. [-5]


Alchemy/TL3 (VH) IQ [8]-15; Climbing (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Fast-Draw (Potion) (E) DX+1 [2]-13; First Aid/TL3 (Human) (E) IQ [1]-15; Hazardous Materials/TL3 (Magical) (A) IQ+1 [1]-16*; Hidden Lore (Demon Lore) (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Hidden Lore (Magical Items Lore) (A) IQ [2]-15; Hidden Lore (Spirit Lore) (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Hiking (A) HT-1 [1]-10; Innate Attack (Projectile) (E) DX+4 [4]-16*; Meditation (H) Will-1 [2]-14; Merchant (A) IQ+1 [4]-16; Occultism (A) IQ [2]-15; Research/TL3 (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Savoir-Faire (High Society) (E) IQ-5 [1]-10†; Scrounging (E) Per [1]-12; Speed-Reading (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Staff (A) DX+2 [8]-14; Stealth (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Teaching (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Thaumatology (VH) IQ-1 [4]-14; Weather Sense (A) IQ+2 [1]-16*; Writing (A) IQ-1 [1]-14.


College of Air (VH) IQ+2 [8]-17*; College of Fire (VH) IQ+4 [16]-19*; College of Sound (VH) IQ-2 [2]-13.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

College Ritual Book Magic: Sample DF Artillery Mage

So I've written up alternate magic system College Book Ritual Magic, but I was curious how well normal characters translated over. This is the first, a pretty standard pyromancer based on the DF Adventurers artillery wizard lens.

Artillery Mage

250 points
ST 10 [0]; DX 12 [40]; IQ 15 [100]; HT 11 [10].
Damage 1d-2/1d; BL 20 lb; HP 10 [0]; Will 15 [0]; Per 12 [-15]; FP 14 [9].
Basic Speed 6.00 [5]; Basic Move 6 [0]; Dodge 9.


Energy Reserve 4 (Magical) [12]; Fuel-Air Mage Talent 3 (covers Aerobatics, College of Air, College of Fire, Innate Attack, and Weather Sense) [15]; Gizmo 1 [5]; Luck [15]; Magery 0 [5]; Wealth (Comfortable) [10].


Clueless [-10]; Oblivious [-5]; Obsession (To become the world's most powerful fire wizard; 12 or less) [-10]; Pyromania (12 or less) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Adventuring companions) [-5].
Quirks: _Unused Quirk 1; _Unused Quirk 2; _Unused Quirk 3; _Unused Quirk 4; _Unused Quirk 5. [-5]


Alchemy/TL3 (VH) IQ [8]-15; Climbing (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Fast-Draw (Potion) (E) DX+1 [2]-13; First Aid/TL3 (Human) (E) IQ [1]-15; Hazardous Materials/TL3 (Magical) (A) IQ+2 [1]-17*; Hidden Lore (Demon Lore) (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Hidden Lore (Magical Items Lore) (A) IQ [2]-15; Hidden Lore (Spirit Lore) (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Hiking (A) HT-1 [1]-10; Innate Attack (Projectile) (E) DX+5 [4]-17*; Meditation (H) Will-1 [2]-14; Merchant (A) IQ+1 [4]-16; Occultism (A) IQ [2]-15; Research/TL3 (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Savoir-Faire (High Society) (E) IQ-5 [1]-10†; Scrounging (E) Per [1]-12; Speed-Reading (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Staff (A) DX+2 [8]-14; Stealth (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Teaching (A) IQ-1 [1]-14; Thaumatology (VH) IQ-1 [4]-14; Weather Sense (A) IQ+3 [2]-18*; Writing (A) IQ-1 [1]-14.


College of Air (VH) IQ+3 [8]-18*; College of Fire (VH) IQ+5 [16]-20*; College of Sound (VH) IQ-2 [2]-13; Lend Energy (E) IQ [1]-15; Recover Energy (E) IQ [1]-15.


The artillerist has 19 points in fire spells, 9 points in air spells, and 2 points in sound spells, so this was a pretty easy translation. He didn't have Recover Energy, so I added that because in my experience, all wizards take it. Dropping from 30 points in talents to 15 points in talents really helped here - that was enough to buy Energy Reserve 4. That wasn't entirely intentional (and worse, he could be more point efficient by buying another level of his talent and another level of energy reserve!)

In play, he has enough money to buy some grimoires, and enough skill in Fire magic that he need not bother with grimoires for spells with a prerequisite count of 6 or less. He'll probably want simple grimoires for some of the better Air spells, like Explosive Lightning Bolt or Concussion.

So it looks like CRB magic needs to be more expensive. The simplest solution would be to charge a 30 point Unusual Background - same as Trained by a Master - but that would mean there aren't any magic dabblers, which would make me sad. I have a solution that works for me, but I'll write it up tomorrow.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Spells are easy, college is (very) hard: Another alternate magic system

The Problem

I really dislike the standard GURPS Magic system, for a variety of reasons, but one thing I really dislike about it is that spells are Hard skills. I've got degrees in computer science and engineering (also Hard skills in GURPS, with prerequisites in other Hard skills) so I think I have some understanding of how much effort it takes to learn several Hard skills to a professional level. The idea that every GURPS wizard either has to be a multi-talent genius on the level of Richard Feymann or that every one of them has studied enough to master 20 skills, each the equivalent of getting a minor in Mathematics just doesn't seem reasonable.

The idea of the academic wizard who spends all his time researching and studying magic is common in fiction, and on first pass, the GURPS rules support that. Except each spell is very specific, and it's hard to believe that learning Ignite Fire should be as difficult as learning a legal specialty. It's the accumulation of the various spells and their prerequisites that make magic hard to learn, not learning any given spell.

Fortunately, the rules already do a have a format that models this. The standard Ritual Magic system has each college of spells be a different Very Hard skill, with any individual spell being a Hard technique defaulting to the college skill with a penalty of the spell's prerequisite count. Sadly, this system doesn't work very well, as many useful spells have prerequisite counts of 7+, and that makes it pretty much unlikely to create a Ritual Magic mage who can cast both Lightning Bolt and Shocking Grasp. It also continues the trend that a dabbler wizard is a bad idea: an IQ13 elf thief with Magery 0 who puts 1 point in each of the Movement and Light/Darkness colleges can accidentally summon demons, but has basically no ability to cast even basic spells such as Light or Apportation.

(Aside rant: the current pricing of the Magery talent, which adds to 800+ spells or 20+ ritual colleges, is also broken. Raising the price to 15 points makes it worthless against buying more IQ; narrowing the focus means that wizards buy more IQ anyway.)

The Solution

Ritual Path Magic (introduced in Monster Hunters) provides rules for grimoires: props that provide a bonus to casting rolls for a specific spell. Grimoires should be imported into the Ritual Magic rules, replacing the current technique rules.

College Book Ritual Magic

  • Any spell can be bought as a Mental/Easy skill, following the normal rules for prerequisite chains.
  • Any college can be bought as a Mental/Very Hard skill. There is no "core skill". Spells can be cast from default with a penalty equal to the prerequisite count*.
  • There is no Magic Talent (Magery). Players can come up with specific magical talents with GM approval. For 5 points, the talent should apply to 2-3 college skills (and any individual spells in that college) and 4-3 other related skills. For 10 points, the talent should apply to 6-7 college skills and 6-5 other related skills.
  • Grimoires exist, and reduce the default penalty for a specific spell. A grimoire cannot be used to set the spell's default level above the caster's Thaumatology skill. A spellcaster does not need to have the grimoire on him to cast the spell with the grimoire's bonus, but must have reviewed the grimoire within the last 24 hours. Reviewing grimoires takes 1 hour for every total 100 points in bonuses (round fractions up) provided by the grimoires.

* For easier default casting, change the default penalty to -(prerequisite count/2 +2) for spells with a prerequisite count of 4 or more.


These rules are an extension of the concepts from Bookish Wizards. Wizard delvers will constantly be looking for better grimoires: a new spell that they couldn't otherwise easily cast, a better bonus for their favorite spell, a faerie grimoire that is lighter and more portable. They also have to spend time reading and researching their grimoires.

It is also fixes a bunch of my other issues with the magic system. A smart dabbler can know a couple of basic spells cheaply. Building a specialist wizard is straightforward, instead of a bizarre and pointless exercise in point-shaving. The scope of generalist wizards is reduced somewhat, making wizards something less of a swiss-army-knife of problem solving. Hopefully, wizards can make more interesting optimizations between IQ, Talent, and skill points, though I admit I haven't really worked through the thought experiment.

This system still has the problem that it uses the highly idiosyncratic spell list from GURPS Magic, but fixing that is a subject for another post, or possibly another blog.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Actual Play: Savage Tides Fogmire Part 1

I just got back from running the Fogmire session of my DF:STAP game. We didn't quite complete the dungeon, which I quite expected: the fight with the bar-lgura and the gladiator ape court was quite big.

SPOILERS for Savage Tide: Here There Be Monsters below

The session started with the delvers interrogating a zombie that's being tortured by demons. Why is the zombie being tortured? I don't know. The bar-lgura interrupted the discussion by teleporting in, capturing a bunch of inconvenient NPCs, and teleporting out. The delvers didn't get much of a chance to fight, though they did learn that the bar-lguras were vulnerable to silver (almost none of the PCs have silver weapons) but otherwise had very high DR.

Some prayers were made and a holy oracle pointed the way to the dungeon. The delvers explored a bit, avoided the obvious traps, used Scout! destiny points to track the monsters (the original adventure makes it clear that the bar-lgura drag their captives through the tunnels, despite being presumably able to teleport anywhere inside the complex) and quickly got to the first set of traps: the Doors of Sacrifice and the Shrine of Duplicity.

The Doors require a blood sacrifice from the delvers, in the form of one delver sticking both hands into a pair of bronze demonic mouths. A pair of (non-magical, non-important) statues loom on either side of the door, and the players were convinced they were golems. Some time was wasted, smashing the golems to pieces, but even then, the delvers didn't want to try to open the door. Finally, the elementalist used Shape Metal to shrink the door in its frame and they got in that way - and laughed a bit when they realized they could have just smashed the doors open.

The puzzle in the Shrine is fiendishly difficult, non-intuitive, without clues, and a definite case of pixel-bitching. The delvers searched enough to be able to disarm the traps on the mirrors (more Thief! and Scout! destiny points spent to find those traps) but I made them work out the candle-throne-mirror-candle-throne-mirror-portal sequence all by themselves. I think that took an hour of real-time to get through.

The first couple of delvers through the portal were sneaky, but the elementalist made some noise and the saint was spotted by the demons. A big fight broke out. The elementalist was kidnapped to the upper level, where one of the bar-lgura spent the better part of 7 rounds trying and failing to throw him off the edge. The other bar-lgura bounced around, opened the door for the fiendish gladiator apes, and got smited multiple times by the saint. The apes went after the saint and the scout, but failed to connect with either. Despite a constant stream of reinforcements and the knight taking a couple of rounds to get through the portal, the scout managed to kill enough apes to link up with the swashbuckler, who killed the rest. The ones going after the saint got ignited by smite, and I discovered that gladiator apes don't have High Pain Threshold. So their awesome Brawling-18 got dropped to an effective 11 thanks to "on fire", "-4 shock penalty each turn", and "-1 SM penalty." The saint just kept burning them, dodging, retreating, blocking, and parrying. Eventually the knight showed up and helped her out.

Finally the demons were down and enough apes had died that the rest cowered (and got exterminated by the  scout at range, but we didn't play that out). The delvers quickly explored the rooms. They figured that the valves in the the Chamber of Bones were trapped, and the elementalist used Apportation on a piece of bone to make a lever to turn them. He still got hit by the Rain of Icy Shards, but it wasn't as bad as it could be. They recovered the iron monkey paw ("It's not a statue, or a bas-relief, or a carving, obviously... I guess you'd call it a bit of tacky iron bric-a-brac?") from the fountains, and then went into the Iron Ape Statues room.

My friends are bright people, and confronted with a pair of iron ape statues missing a hand apiece while they were holding an iron model of a monkey paw, they quickly figured out what to do. There was some quick searching ('hey, you guys never said you were searching the court room"), some more Scout! and Thief! destiny points, and then they unlocked the treasure chests and found the other paw.

We ended the session with them opening the doors to the Hall of Howls. So far, they've been quiet enough that they haven't attracted attention of Team Evil in the Shrine, but we'll see how it goes.

My tactics with the bar-lgura could have been better. I'm torn as to whether the Shrine of Duplicity was too hard - it's clearly an annoying, single solution, pixel-bitching puzzle, but on the other hand, my players figured it out with minimal prompting, hints, or clues. I'll have to ask if they thought it was too frustrating or not.

Changing the Tide: Fogmire

Fogmire is a very linear and somewhat random dungeon that nominally acts as the conclusion of Here There Be Monsters (HTBM) in STAP. For my purposes, it has advantages in that its short, straightforward, and filled with interesting traps. It has the disadvantages of being so linear that adding any branching or loops to it would require completely rewriting it, and the one monster to a room problem that is so common with D&D3e adventures.

I can deal with the linear nature of the dungeon by pretty much ignoring it and looking forward to the adventure, Tides of Dread (ToD). ToD is a mini-sandbox, exploring the Isle of Dread while preparing for a pirate invasion. So this silly linear dungeon is fine; the PCs are going to be under a lot of time pressure (their allies have been captured by teleporting demons and are being tortured). A straight dungeon is simple for them, and instead of worrying about which way to go, they can focus on resource management (prayers, potions, HP, time) and not dying in the traps.

The one monster to a room is more of a concern. 5 PCs, plus 1-2 allies, versus a single monster is going to go poorly for the monster in GURPS. Okay, it goes badly in D&D, too, but it's really obvious in GURPS. The choice of monster acerbates the problem. A lone naga wizard is just going to get shredded, and disguising itself as a zombie "to make it look less threatening" isn't a plan, it's insanity. The mob template of gorillas is just a boring melee monster.

My simple solution to these problems is to combine two of the rooms, change the mob template into a bunch of gladiator apes, and move the naga wizard down the hall to the Shrine. A pair of teleporting demons, grabbing people and pulling them onto the upper level of a room with two levels, should distract the PCs plenty while a few waves of a dozen or more gladiator apes come charging in. The naga wizard works better at the end of a long hall filled with traps than at the front of it; the fact that she has another teleporting demon martial artist to play bodyguard should also drastically increase her lifespan. The fact that the PC's allies are slowly dropping toward a pit of fire should also nicely divide their attention, though honestly only for a round or two.

Notes on the conversion to GURPS are here.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Changing the Tide: Reworking the Sargasso Sea

The Sea Wyvern's Wake adventure in the Savage Tide Adventure Path has a sequence where the delvers' ship is trapped in a creepy and eldritch sargasso sea. In the adventure, it's not much of a puzzle: the delvers are harassed at night by creepy assassin vines and vine horrors, they find a journal telling them to go to the center of the sargasso to kill the mother-plant that is summoning the vines, they go to the center and kill the Mother of All in an epic if unrealistic battle.

Even as a simple DF adventure, it's pretty linear and doesn't require much thought. However, my players like thinking, exploring, and solving puzzles and mysteries a lot more than they like straightforward combat. They'd just had a few sessions of straightforward combat, and I figured they'd lose interest if I gave them another. Instead, I adapted the premise to create an interesting puzzle monster.

My first step was to declare to myself that an eldritch horror from beyond time and space, the kind of thing that creates a 10 mile morass of floating vines to entrap ships on the high seas, can't be killed by unsophisticated direct damage. I didn't really stat it out, but I was thinking DR 30 (not versus silver), 1000 HP, Instant Regeneration, Magic Resistance 20, and so forth. The massive DR, HP, and regeneration meant that fighting the thing straight up was an impossible battle, while the weakness to silver was the first step towards giving them an out.

The next step was to think about ways to hurt this thing. I knew I wanted it to be vulnerable to silver weapons because a lot of PCs in my games, over the years, have bought silver weapons that weren't really useful and I wanted to make up for that. I could also provide hints to the vulnerability with vague allusions to moon metal or were-bane, or confuse the issue by alluding to night metal or heavenly metal (which most players would think to be meteoric iron). I finally decided on a multi-ingredient poison or herbicide.

I started with belladonna. It's a poison, but it was also used as a cosmetic, and "beautiful lady" is an easy translation into a lot of languages, at least at a recognizable if not accurate level. Garlic was another easy choice. It's historically a cure for just about everything, is the kind of thing that might reasonably be found on a sailing ship, and has a bunch of funky slang names that are generally recognizable. Two of my players are from the San Francisco Bay, so I was worried that I would give the game away immediately by calling it "the stinky rose".

I was stumped for the last ingredient for a while. I wanted at least one ingredient that if the players couldn't figure it out entirely, the delvers would at least be able to find some close substitutes. That made me think of white wine vinegar, since the ships might have white wine to use as a substitute. A wikipedia search on the varieties of vinegar confirmed that vinegar was a good choice, because of all the varieties, and I finally chose Jacob's Tears vinegar as a strange one that had alternate names.

Finally, I wanted them to have to apply the poison to a specific place. The original adventure has the Mother of All living at a bottom of a 100' shaft lined with budding and growing vine horrors. It's creepy, but a bit stupid: the adventurers can start by standing at the top and dropping damaging spells and attacks straight down, while the Mother can teleport anywhere in the Sargasso Sea so she can either move to the top of the shaft and fight the adventurers or teleport the heck away and completely frustrate any chance of victory. That's weak adventure design, since it means the adventurers only win if the monster gets the Idiot Ball. I wanted the Mother to be a static foe, but clearly some kind of creepy producer of additional threats - a mother indeed. I liked the imagery of the original shaft of budding vine horrors, and it had a nice resonance with the literal meaning of kindergarten - "child garden" - which inspired another clue. The heroes would need to shoot the Mother in the kindergarten.

As this was supposed to be a puzzle, giving them a single list of "moon-metal, stinking rose, pearl barley vinegar; apply to the budding vines" would be something of a let-down. Instead, I came up with the idea that each of three ships previously trapped in the Sargasso had tried to create the poison with varying degrees of cluefulness and resources. The various logs' allusions and half-references could be compared to each other to resolve the puzzle. I ran the clues by Bruno to see if it was too hard - I figured the combined mental resources of 5 people at a table had to be at least as good as one very bright gamer. She figured it all out and even realized the Mother was a load-bearing boss.

I was happy, and wrote up notes and hand-outs here.

Actual Play

As it turned out on the tabletop, I forgot that my players were essentially a committee, and a committee is less bright than the individual members. I had to gently steer them away from some of their more insane half-conclusions, and as it turned out, none of them really knew that belladonna was used as a cosmetic. Eventually, though, they managed to figure out the poison and make it.

When they finally arrived at the Mother of All's rooms underneath a wrecked ship, I had a sudden insight: if there's only one thing to shoot, they're going to shoot that one thing. I probably should have thought of that earlier. So I ended up drawing a bunch of stuff on the map: a collection of venus flytrap-like mouths, a "bunch of weird electrical things, some kind of weird organic Tesla coils and Jacob's ladders", a bunch of weird organic pump-like organs, some "strange polyp like growths", and "a patch of open space in which new vine horrors periodically bud and grow." Then I had to clarify that the pumps were not the thing's heart and didn't look like hearts and for all they could tell, were being used to drain the water from the below sea-level chamber they were in.

The players now had several targets to chose from, and being players, they fixated on those dang pumps. I don't know why. More gentle steering and reminders that pumps are not necessarily hearts when dealing with eldritch biology of some kind of creepy Cthulhuoid plant eventually allowed the players to remember the phrase "essence of motherhood." They couldn't read the word "kindergart" on the print-outs, which was my mistake for putting the blur too close to the word. Though Bruno managed to read it on the PDFs so I'm not sure how I was supposed to catch it. Eventually they shot a silver-coated meteoric iron poisoned arrow (the scout had a collection of silver-coated meteoric iron arrows, so they didn't even have to take the chance on silver versus meteoric) into the nursery, the Mother of All retreated, and we had a fun chase sequences as the delvers fled the suddenly sinking wreck and tried to recover loot on the way.

It was a pretty memorable experience, and a lot of fun. I strongly recommend that other GMs either steal this puzzle or come up with something similar the next time they need to put their PCs up against a nigh-unkillable monster.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fixing the prices in DF

I've been running DF games, online and in person, for something like 3-4 nearly 5 years now. In that time, I've noticed a lot of the prices for DF equipment and treasure can be frustrating.

Food, Water, and Cost of Living

It costs $150 a week to live at the Inn in town. That's 1/4 the monthly cost of living for Status 0 characters, so that's defensible. But delvers are living on the road - they should be paying 20% of the Status -1 cost of living every day, for $420/week. Smart delvers know that they can buy a week's worth of food for $63, so it's hard to justify $360/week just to put a roof over their head.

Basically, the cost of living stuff is entirely too cheap. This has several negative consequences. Because it's so easy to make enough to live for a week (5 delvers need to earn $750, which is less than $2400 in raw goods at the usual 40% discount - or roughly 5 generic humanoids with leather armor, axes, and shields), the various rules for "failing to earn enough to support yourself" are wasted text. Similarly, the use of skills like Survival to cut the cost of expenses is pretty much wasted, because while an extra $75-150/week is appreciated, it's not really all that much. And the GM can hardly even give food as treasure, because at $4/lb in value, food has a worse value/weight ratio than axes or other weapons that no one bothers to take as loot unless they're desperate.

I really recommend tripling the cost of living, to $450 or $500/week, and raising the price of rations to around $10/meal. Survival oriented delvers get more benefit for their skills, earning enough to stay in town is a large enough problem that PCs are forced to take risks for the big scores, the GM can meaningful give out treasure like food or deeds to houses in Town that reduce the cost of living, and heck, even buying a house becomes a sane investment.

Another problem with the current cheap cost of living is that it necessarily means that using in town skills to raise cash can't produce much cash. A bard with Urban Survival needs to raise $75/week by busking, and then he can stay in Town forever. Which is boring, so the rules make it difficult for even a bard to busk for survival. But since busking can barely produce $70/week, it can't buy anything else that a delver wants either, except for maybe a very beginning delver who needs that one last pouch or something. Tripling the cost of living and the rewards of street performance makes it so the bard still needs to go out and adventure, but $200+ week in busking income while searching for rumors is enough that the bard can buy a potion or some alchemical fire.

Abundant Light

It's clear from the published resources - Instant Load-outs, the existence of helmet- and shield-lanterns, the prechosen gear for the rival delvers in Mirror of the Fire Demon - that managing light sources is supposed to be a consideration in DF. It's also clear that the existence of cheap, long-lasting, and hands-free glow vials means that it doesn't require much consideration. People can either buy expensive, heavy, and short-lived torches and muck about with arguing which sucker needs to give up his shield or two-handed weapon to be a target, and then everyone can huddle around the sucker. Or the delvers can each buy a glow vial and forget about it. (Oddly, later editions of D&D had a similar mechanic with torches versus sunrods). That's before we get into wizards and clerics with Continual Light spells.

My only vague solution to this is to radically up the price of glow vials (to $150+ each) and to thread my delves liberally with no-mana and no-sanctity zones. Or to just accept that accounting for light is boring and assess the minor glow vial tax.

Potions and Poisons

"Woe! I'm being killed by treasure!" -- Bruno, as her pixie got caught in a trap that dropped potions on her head.
Poisons and potions are probably too expensive for what they do. A good poison that can reliably damage an enemy - assuming you can get past the enemy defense and penetrate armor - costs as much as a sword. 4 doses cost as much as fine sword. And a fine sword will penetrate more armor and do its bonus damage against foes more than 4 times. Smart delvers sell poisons, they don't buy them or use them.

Similarly, potions are crazy expensive. A Flight potion costs several thousand - nearly as much as a suit of plate armor. That's for a one-time use of flight. It's cheaper to get the party wizard to cast flight and just keep feeding him Paut potions.

Reducing the cost of poisons and potions by a factor of 3 to 5 makes them affordable, expendable items. They're still light enough to make good treasure, though.

Horses, Mules, and Donkeys

I've tried running some far-reaching exploration games, the kind of things where the PCs need to head out for 2-3 weeks just to get to the dungeon. You'd think that'd be the kind of situation where the delvers would want horses, but between the upfront cost ($1500+ for an equipped riding horse, $5000+ for a war horse) and the recurring expenses (easily $15/day for feed and the need to hire a guard to watch them while the delvers are in the dungeon) and the fact that really, standard GURPS horses just don't carry that much, there was never enough value in the horse to make up for the costs.

This is depressing as a player, too. After striking it rich in the dungeon and getting a few thousand $ to spend, it's natural to think "my delver doesn't want to walk in the mud anymore, I should get a horse." But if that horse is 75%+ of available wealth, and the decision is to get a horse or to get a slightly improved weapon or armor - it's easy to see which way that one goes.

Dropping horse prices by a factor of 3 or 5 again helps. A knight can afford to shell out $1000 on a heavy warhorse that'll only help in random encounters on the way to the dungeon. Everyone else doesn't mind spending a few hundred on horses that will speed travel enough to reduce the number of random encounters. It even becomes not insane to hire grooms for the horses, mount them on horses, and hire donkeys and mules to provide the feed for this cavalry troop.

Magical Enchantments

The pricing for magical items is insane. Cornucopia quivers are as cheap as 50 arrows, but provide much more than 50 arrows - so every Scout ends up buying a bodkin Cornucopia, an impaling Cornucopia, a willowleaf Cornucopia, and a blunt Cornucopia quiver for less than 1CP of funds and never runs out of ammo EVER. Tracking ammunition expenditure is a hassle, but I'd rather that getting the "Bow of Endless Ammo" be an exciting adventure reward, rather than something that happened during character creation.

Similarly, the Lighten 25% and Lighten 50% enchantments are very cheap, compared to the 10x cost of Fine armor. Lighten 25% basically comes free with every armor, while its more cost-effective to get Lighten 50% put on any armor that has a base cost of more than $1000. It's depressing to describe a suit of fine field plate and realize that in the PCs' eyes, it's vendor trash.

Continual Light enchantments cost $8000+, the value of 300 glow vials - more than the PCs will probably ever use in a campaign. Alternately, the wizard or priest can just cast Continual Light on the weapon every week or so, at a cost of basically free.

I don't know that there's a good solution, short of going through GURPS Magic and repricing everything. As a first pass, Quick & Dirty enchantments just have to go. Lighten 25% for $2000 is still a really good deal, but at least it's no longer a no-brainer and there might be a period where the delvers aren't all wandering in magically fortified and lightened armor.

+Nathan Joy, the GM in my online game, has a house rule that only items with +1 or more in CF modifiers can be enchanted. It helps some with armor (though I think everyone just got Ornate +1 armor and moved on) but it's just not enough.