Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Adjusting Swing Damage in Dungeon Fantasy

Inspired by a comment I made in response to "Noodling around with DR in Dungeon Fantasy."

In every edition of GURPS, there are two major types of low-tech damage: swing/cutting, representing swung swords and axes and other weapons that act as levers to multiply the user's strength; and thrust/impaling, representing spears and rapiers and other sharp weapons that do not have the same leverage effect. Armor absorbs damage, and the resulting value is (usually) multiplied by x1.5 for cutting weapons and by x2 for impaling weapons to produce injury. (There are other types of damage, but most weapons are one of these two types).

In theory, thrust/impaling weapons are better against unarmored targets, and swing/cutting weapons are better against armored targets. In practice, the base damage for a swing/cutting weapon is at least 50% better than thrust/impaling weapon, so swing/cutting weapons almost always do more damage. 4th edition's revision of Weapon Master (to add per-die bonus damage) and addition of Injury Tolerances (representing various things like doors or skeletons that are more resistant to impaling attacks) magnified the superiority of swing/cutting weapons: a ST13 Weapon Master gets +4 damage when swinging his sword, but needs to be ST19 to get the same bonus damage when thrusting. And if that Weapon Master has to face skeletons, golems, and other common monsters of Dungeon Fantasy, then not only does his thrust/impaling blow do less base damage, it does even less injury than normal. His swing/cutting blow does more damage and gets full x1.5 injury past armor.

In serious DF games, all this has the unfortunate tendency of homogenizing weapons to swing/cutting weapons like swords and axes, with the occasional flail. Spears are not cheap, versatile weapons; they're the weapons of people who don't understand how the game mechanics work. All swashbucklers end up using Edged Rapiers, as these versatile weapons combine swing/cutting damage with fencing parries and a flexible 2-hex Reach. All serious fighters need ST13, if not ST17, and need to be Weapon Masters to get that bonus +4 or +6 damage.

All that has some weird secondary effects. A ST17 Barbarian does 3d+2 (average 12.5) with his oversized ax, while a ST14 knight/weapon master does 2d+7 (average 14) with his broadsword and gets better parries and Rapid Strikes. Second line combatants, like thieves and clerics, can't begin to compete with the DR necessary to challenge the strong weapon masters. Monsters with reasonably low DR that can be penetrated by a ST12 cleric's ax have effectively 0 DR against the knight. And on the other side, monsters with high ST and swing/cutting weapons (such as stone golems or ogres) become extremely swingy: very few delvers wear enough armor to absorb or meaningfully reduce a 3d+6 cu attack, so delvers either get through a combat unscathed or get splattered.

The entire situation is very unsatisfactory.

What's the Real Problem?

The swing damage chart goes up too fast compared to thrusting damage. Each point of ST increases swing damage by 1, but it takes 2 points of ST to increase thrust. So while a ST10 guy with a broadsword does 1d+1 cutting and 1d impaling, and has some reasonable choices for strike type to make depending on his target's armor, a ST17 guy does 3d cutting versus 1d+4 impaling, and there's rarely any reason to thrust. Up to about ST14, and without Weapon Master, the ST table works. Past that, it rapidly spirals into unreason.

What are Some Solutions?

There's been a lot of suggested fixes for this: limit striking ST for humans to 14 (unsatisfactory); create a very complicated ST table (too complicated in play); doubling DR for armor (complicated and unsatisfactory). None of them have been very successful. Most of these solutions require even more rules fixes and carve-outs, such as adding armor divisors for spears or special rules for dwarves or whatever else. They don't address the fundamental problem, which is that swing damage goes up in value too quickly as ST increases.

Reducing Swing Scaling

The solution I'm proposing is fairly simple: get rid of the +1 to swing damage for every +1 to ST. Instead, the swing damage table goes up at the same rate as the thrust table: +1 to swing damage for every +2 to ST. Use the following table:


The progression should readily apparent: +1 to swing damage on even ST scores, and +1 to thrust damage on odd ST scores, with Xd+3 converting to (X+1)d-1.

How does the new table work in practice? Here's the damage for an ordinary thrusting broadsword for various STs, without and with Weapon Master:

Broadsword Damage for various STs, using the old and new tables

Old Swing
New Swing
Weapon Master
Swing Damage
Weapon Master
Thrust Damage











And on on the high end, here's the amount of injury past armor for a ST17 attacker versus various DRs, again without and with Weapon Master.

Broadsword Damage past armor by DR for ST 17
DROld Sw/cuOld Thr/imOld Sw/cu WMOld Thr/im WMNew Sw/cuNew Thr/imNew Sw/cu WMNew Thr/im WM
92.25011.25100 0.751

This last table brings out some of the points I mentioned above: under the normal rules, there's almost no any reason to use an impaling attack, since cutting attacks always do more damage. The new table makes thrusting attacks much more valuable: they're higher damage in almost all instances, though with the usual caveat that targets with Injury Tolerance rapidly reduce the value of impaling damage.


On the positive side:
  • More weapons are useful. Spears do competitive damage to swords and axes at all levels of ST, at least against living targets. Picks (swing/impaling weapons) come into their own for breaking into heavy armor.
  • More templates can usefully contribute to melee combat. The ST12 cleric swings for 1d+3 with his broadsword, versus 2d+4 for the ST17 knight with Weapon Master. The knight is still better, but his average damage is no longer nearly twice the cleric's maximum damage. Unarmed martial artists still have issues, but at least their damage is somewhat on par with everyone else's.
  • Armor is more useful since damage is lower. A ST20 ogre with an oversize axe does 2d+4 cu damage, which can be partially absorbed by heavy mail, instead of 3d+5 that can't be.
  • Lower damage means that one-shot kills are going to less likely. For the players, this means they have more time to get in over their heads without the first successful hit doing so much injury that the delvers can't move fast enough to flee. For the GM, since his monsters are going to last longer, he doesn't need to put as many foes into a given encounter to challenge the PCs, which means the game will run faster.
  • Armor behaves about the way it would realistically. Even a strong man with a broadsword has a hard time penetrating full steel plate. Light armor (DR3 or 4) protects against light weapons used by normal humans.
On the negative side:
  • ST, already probably overpriced at 10 pts/level with the old table, is almost certainly slightly overpriced with the new table. Bruno has suggested 8 points/level, which sounds about right (with Striking ST costing 3 pts/level).
  • Heavily armored foes, like dwarf knights in dwarven steel plate with Armor Mastery (DR11 + 2 tough skin) or sword-armor golems (DR17), are much harder to deal with in straight melee combat. These types of foes are going to have to be grappled, knocked to the ground, and all-out attacked for damage into vulnerable chinks in their armor. Arguably, that's how knights were defeated historically, but it's a bit of a change from the dungeon fantasy tradition. Not all groups are going to want to bring out the grappling rules for every fight.
  • Players who enjoy making one-shot kills on powerful foes are going to be in for disappointment.
  • Knights and barbarians lose some utility as the "big, powerful hitter" guys, especially against big, armored monsters.
  • GMs are going to have to modify the published damage values for monsters that use swinging weapons.
Swing/cutting attacks will stop being the go-to attack for all foes and all target locations. They will still be useful attacks, targeting weaker limb armor or fighting Unliving and Homogeneous foes. Thrust/impaling attacks will be common for attacks to the torso, vitals, face, and skull, which seems to match historical fighting styles.

On the balance, I think this is a change for the better. I do need to playtest it some time, probably after I get done replaying Dragon Age 2 again.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Actual Play: Dungeon World Siege of Citadel

Actual Play: Dungeon World

My face to face group had decided to try Dungeon World. I'm writing something of an Actual Play and a playtest review from my experiences in the first two session. I'm not too positive about it thus far, and that negativity will probably creep into this write-up.

What Is It

Dungeon World is a narrativist, rules-vague, fantasy role-playing game with old-school trappings. By narrativist, I mean it is explicitly focused on creating a story, and uses a loose set of definitions of time, space,  and action in order to focus on the drama of the action instead of worrying about game balance or an attempt to simulate reality. By old school trappings, I mean it uses the most traditional of D&D roles, such as woodsland ranger and bookish wizard, and the traditional D&D races: dwarf, elf, halfling, and human. By rules-vague, I mean that it's a big book, with lots of specific rules that are vaguely worded and unclear.

One of the big concepts in Dungeon World is that the GM doesn't roll any dice and only reacts to character actions. I haven't really read the GM section of the book, so I'm not really sure how this works. As little as I understand it, whenever a PC has a failure or a partial failure on action, the GM selects from a list of moves that ratchet up the danger for the PCs. Since the basic mechanic is 2d6 plus a modifier of -1 to 3 and a full success only occurs on a 10 or more, the GM generally has lots of opportunity to select a move to worsen the situation. 

Another big concept is there are very few situational modifiers. I think this is a nod towards rules-light gaming, but it has the weird effect that there's no such thing as a simple task: scrambling up a 6' fence while running from dogs is as likely or unlikely to succeed as scrambling up a vertical 30' wall while running from demons. Instead of variability, there's supposed to be variable risk/reward: getting bit by a few dogs is less worse than getting bit by a bunch of demons.

The Story Thus Far

We started with three PCs: Thaddeus, a human paladin (of no particular god, because while paladins have to be Lawful and Good, they don't apparently have to worship anyone, as far we could tell, because the rules are vague); Robin, a halfling rogue; and Hawthorn, a human cultist cleric of Sucellus, the god of secrets. We were joined in the second session by Florian, a human spoony bard because all bards in Dungeon World are spoony.

The PCs were at a festival on the island of Citadel, hanging out in a temple at midnight, when something happened outside. Going out to explore, they were attacked by ghouls (turned after a lot of failures) and Sucellus instructed Hawthorn to signal the fleet blockading the island off-shore. The PCs soon discovered that the island had shifted in time about 4 weeks and been taken over by powerful, evil elementals. They worked their way down to lighthouse, got beat up by said elementals, and used the signal light to send semaphore messages to the fleet. The fleet requested the PCs get a magic mirror from the Sterling house, which would allow faster communication.

Robin had experience with the Sterlings, having helped their daughter elope some years in the past (and looting the place in the confusion). The PCs snuck up the house, broke in, fought another thief, and tried to get into the Sterlings' magically warded treasure chamber. After repeated failures, they attracted the attention of the evil elementals, who started knocking the house down and encouraged the PCs to just tunnel through the walls. The PCs broke into the vault, stole the mirror and some coin, and then fled through some hidden tunnels into the hills.

Eventually they used the magic mirror to conflict the fleet, and got a little more information: the festival had been intended to bind a powerful elemental spirit to the island's defense, and apparently had been reversed. More information was probably located in the magic academies' vaults beneath the hill. The PCs then proceeded to explore the halls, trying to find something more. At the end of the session, the PCs had found some magic loot and possibly one of the vaults, but nothing definite.

What Do I Like So Far

Uh... the nice thing about narrativist games is that time and space are vague. You can have a combat that last for "a couple of minutes" and is resolved with only a few die rolls. That vagueness lets PCs experiment more and do more cool things: climbing up a wall and jumping onto the neck of a low-flying dragon is a perfectly reasonable thing when the game is freed from the bounds of yards and rounds and seconds and maneuvers (while in GURPS, that kind of action takes 2 minutes of game-time to resolve in a combat that's over in 7 game seconds, so no one does it).

The "indifferent success" mechanic is interested, and it'd be really great if it were applied consistently and well. For instance, a PC throw a big party, and picks all 3 of the following options on a 10+ and 1 of them on a 7+: befriends a useful NPC, or hears rumors of an opportunity, or gains useful information, or doesn't get into special trouble of some kind. That's an interesting set of choices.

What Don't I Like So Far

A lot of the specifics of the indifferent success mechanics don't mesh well together. The standard melee combat action damages both the PC and the monster on an indifferent success, so it isn't unreasonable for a PC to accumulate 3d6 damage in the course of a single combat. Magical healing either can't be repeated or attracts attention on an indifferent success, and only heals 1d8 in either case (and definitely attracts monsters on failure). So using magical healing after a fight has a very high chance of bringing another round of monsters for more damage before it actually heals the damage from the previous encounter. That's very discouraging. If combat were less deadly, or healing more reliable or more powerful, it'd be tolerable. But as it is, our party's cleric and paladin don't want to try healing unless we absolutely have to. The risk is too high for the minimal reward.

I also don't like the general vagueness of the rules. The rule book runs 360 pages plus appendices, and at that point I don't think it's crazy that we shouldn't be having a debate as to whether paladins need to have gods or not. I'm not saying that you can't get a lot of rules debates (or constant failure, or worthless healing) out of Moldvay Basic D&D, but Moldvay is 64 pages. If you're going to vague, at least be concise.

We're still moving up the learning curve, and maybe I'l like the game in a few more sessions. Our second session was mostly better than our first, at least. But thus far, Dungeon World seems like a good concept poorly executed.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Improving the Effectiveness of Knights in Dungeon Fantasy

Improving the Effectiveness of Knights in Dungeon Fantasy

Knights are already a very effective template at what they do, but they do have some weaknesses. There are a few tweaks that can be made to the template or to the game rules to make them slightly more effective.

Getting Rid of Connoisseur

Knights have to take Connoisseur (Weapons), even though there's no canonical use for it in DF: Dungeons. Superior weapons are identified by an Armory (Melee Weapons) roll. Replacing Connoisseur (Weapons) with Armory (Melee Weapons) is a simple fix that gives knight a little more utility in identifying and repairing weapons and armor.

Improving Born War Leader

Knights' mandatory Born War Leader Talent covers only 5 skills, 2 of which aren't normally used in Dungeon Fantasy. It's actually not a very good Talent. A simple fix would be to add Intimidation to the list of covered skills, giving knights an Influence skill they can use at some level of skill. Since Intimidation is already useful for forcing foes away (DF2 p 12), this is reasonable and appropriate.

Other skills could reasonably be added to Born War Leader. Adding Armory dilutes the concept of the talent somewhat, but it adds to knights' out of combat utility. Heraldry is a more appropriate addition, and lets knights identify organized foes like bandits and orc tribes. An unconventional option would be to add Kiai to both the talent and the knights' background skill list, letting Born War Leader act as the appropriate background advantage. Using Kiai to represent a powerful battle cry is a canonical option for Medieval European knights, so this isn't as strange as it sounds, and knights tend to be good at Kiai due to their high HT.

Wildcard Knight!

Knight! is already an excellent wildcard skill, but there are some changes that can be made to it to better encompass the knight concept. The obvious options are to add some or all of Knights' primary skills to the wildcard skill.

Adding simple unarmed combat skills, like Wrestling, Brawling, and Boxing seems like it would overlap with the Martial Artist, but it doesn't really. Knights are still going to focus on heavy armed and armored combat, though they would have better options for dealing with threats when unarmed. Martial Artists would still be better, with a better base skillset (Judo and Karate) and Trained by a Master giving them improved Rapid Strikes and repeated parries.

Another option would be to let Knight! substitute for all heavy thrown weapon skills, Crossbow, Sling, and Bow. Again, at first glance this is niche invasion into Scout, but I don't think it would work that way in practice. Heroic Archer defines Scouts, and can't be replaced merely by a high level skill. However, adding missile and thrown attacks to Knight! does mean that more people in the delving band can contribute in ranged combat with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

Finally, adding Knife to Knight! saves Knights to save 1 point. Given the general uselessness of knives in almost all dungeon fantasy situations, this is not likely to overlap with Thieves much at all.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Effectiveness of Knights in Dungeon Fantasy

The Effectiveness of Knights in Dungeon Fantasy

This is part of the Melee Academy series with +Peter V. Dell'Orto at Dungeon Fantastic and +Douglas Cole at Gaming Ballistic writing about shields and +Jason Packer at RPG Snob focusing on two-handed weapons.


Knights are an interesting template in Dungeon Fantasy. On the one hand, they have a very straightforward combat role: masters of armed melee slugfests. On the other hand, they have rather limited utility outside of combat. By default, they lack supernatural powers, but they have enough points available for customization to buy a full lens from another template and still have points left over. Overall, how do they rate?

The Basic Chassis

Knights start with solid physical attributes and low mental attributes, which is reasonable for a physically oriented template. They have excellent combat skills, with reasonable amounts of unarmed ability, missile and shield skills, and primary weapon skills in the 17+ range. Knights also have a good selection of weapons, with a variety of sw/cu choices available but also flails and spears.

For secondary skills, knights get low levels of Armory, Tactics, Strategy, and Leadership. These aren't bad skills, but they are mental skills that the knight isn't particularly good at, which lowers their effective utility. An optimized wizard with IQ17+ can have better Armory at default than the trained knight, which can make many knight players ask why they bother.

One interesting quirk of DF is that Carousing, the skill of gathering rumors in taverns, is an HT skill. There's something slightly weird about the way that the knights and barbarians of DF are the ones who find most of the potential quests. Still, it gives the physical templates a way to contribute in the pre-adventure planning, so it's probably for the best.

Advantage Selection

All knights have Combat Reflexes and High Pain Threshold, which are nearly mandatory for focused combatants: Combat Reflexes helps avoid hits, avoid surprise, and avoid being scared by monsters; while High Pain Threshold means a knight can take hits and keep fighting. They also have 60 points to spend at their discretion, and a good list of advantages to buy. A knight can add an entire lens to give themselves slightly more versatility, improve their basic attributes, or add Luck and Weapon Master to give themselves the daredevil attitude and stupid damage abilities of the swashbuckler.

One often overlooked advantage choice that more knights should take is increased Basic Move. Knights are usually at Medium or worse encumbrance, slowing them down quite a bit. All of a knight's great combat abilities mean nothing if the combat is over before the knight arrives at Move 3 or less.

Knight! or Not

The option to use Wildcard skills requires some interesting choices from the Knight. On the default template, knights have 51 points allocated to knightly skills, so a Knight! can have Knight! at stat+2 and 3 points left over. It's basically a trade of ridiculously high primary weapon skills for improved mental skills and the ability to use a lot of weapons. Knights who anticipate acting as heavy cavalry should definitely take this option, since the 3-skill set of Broadsword, Lance, and Riding (Horse) gets bought at stat+2 anyway.

For games that are using Wildcard skills and the destiny point rules from Monster Hunters, Knight! is a much simpler decision. The 4 destiny points that can be spent in combat are very valuable, and are probably worth not having skill-20 in a single weapon.

Knights and Race

In games using the Tolkien family of races, knights are mostly going to be humans or dwarves. Dwarves get Pick-axe penchant, for cheap increases skill for axes, and cheaper dwarven axes. Elves and halflings don't bring as much to the table.

In games using the full range of DF races, there are a lot of fun but sometimes expensive options. Gargoyles have inherent DR and wings, reinforcing one of the knight's strengths and improving their Move and maneuverability to get around one of their weaknesses. Coleopterans have 4 arms, which means a Knight! can reasonably carry a pole-arm, bastard sword, large shield, and a slung crossbow or bow, and use each and every one of them as the tactical situation demands. Half-ogres are stupidly strong and can be bought with Weapon Master (primary weapon and shield) and Luck out of the starting point budget.

Equipping Knights

The basic choice for a knight is either medium shield and axe or flail versus two-handed sword. Knights who can buy perks have the option of Reach Mastery, which opens up pole-arms as a cheap and versatile version of the expensive two-handed sword. If perks are available, Sacrificial Parry is nearly mandatory and Shield Wall Training is de rigeur for knights with (large) shields. Knights with shields generally want to use thrown weapons for ranged attacks, since the mechanics of strapping and unstrapping a shield take too long. Two-handed swordsman can use crossbows and bows as they please.

For armor, the simple choice is knights want as much armor as they can afford, counterbalanced against the need to have a Move of 4+.

Knights in Play

The role of the knight is to find quests while drinking in taverns and to destroy mortal enemies while exploring dungeons. The knight is the go-to guy for fighting animals, corporeal undead, and constructs. A reasonably constructed starting knight can defeat even deadly monsters like Siege Beasts or Sword-Armor Golems.

Despite his strengths, the knight needs a fair bit of support in typical delving situations. While he's nearly immune to surprise and resistant to fear, he doesn't have the ranged firepower of the scout and tends to move slowly, so powerful ranged combatants at a distance are a problem. He has no good way to deal with diffuse opponents, so things like flaming skulls, erupting slime, and toxifiers are a problem. A Low Will score makes him vulnerable to mind-affecting supernatural foes. Still, in most games, these are less common threats that the hordes of melee focused monsters, so the knight is usually a valuable member of the team.

As mentioned upthread, the knight has less to do out of combat. He can bash doors and lift heavy loads, but most people want a bit more pep in their utility than "loud skeleton key" and "mule". Armory has some uses for identifying treasure, but with skill-11, I've seen Knights fail to notice that a silk jacket was actually made of Giant Spidersilk. Knight! helps here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Long Term Fatigue in GURPS

One issue with the GURPS fatigue model is that fatigue recovers too quickly. Joe Genero can work himself to exhaustion and recover by sitting around for two hours. If Joe Genero goes to the track enough to pick up the Fit, he can recover in less than an hour of rest. This is arguably suitable for high heroic games, but it's a terrible model for reality. It also has all kinds of negative effects for fatigue based magic, since mages have massive fatigue pools overtime.

There have been some attempts to fix that, but many of them are cumbersome to track and finicky in the details. I prefer my game rules to be simpler.

Simple Long Term Fatigue System

GURPS already has several mechanics for fatigue that doesn't go away quickly: starvation causes FP loss that can only recovered by eating extra meals, and FP lost from missing sleep can only be recovered by sleeping. These FP become "lost FP", that can't be recovered by simply sitting around. Since that's what I want, using these mechanics would be good.

Most FP lost should be recoverable with only a short rest. Brief periods of exertion doesn't make one tired or hungry the same way that extended exertion does. There seems to be a threshold for fatigue before it can't be recovered quickly.

With all that in mind, here's the rule:

If a character accumulates more than FP/3 in lost FP, then 1 of those FP is long term fatigue. Long term fatigue counts as both an FP lost to starvation (B426) and to missed sleep (B427). For every extra FP/3 accumulated with more than FP/3 lost, another FP becomes long term fatigue. A character never accumulates long term fatigue as long as they never accumulate more than FP/3 of lost fatigue at one time.

Long term fatigue does not count as starvation FP for characters with Doesn't Eat. It also doesn't count as missed sleep for characters with Doesn't Sleep. Characters with both of those advantages and FP scores do not suffer long term fatigue.

Long term fatigue never applies to FP spent in an Energy Reserve.


This is pretty simple and takes advantage of existing GURPS rules. People who only do brief bursts of effort with plenty of rest aren't affected, but anyone who really pushes himself will end up tired and hungry.

It has the side effect of weakening fatigue based mages. It's very easy for a mage to cast 1 or 2 spells in a row that cause them to accumulate long term fatigue. Losing access to 1-2 FP for a day after every encounter makes resource management much more critical. Given that I'm moving more and more toward Threshold magery for other reasons, I don't consider this a real downside.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Actual Play: Calvinball in the Shrine of Duplicity

Savage Tides: Fogmire Part 3

Today's game picked up immediately from where last week's game left off: the delvers are in an evil shrine, wounded after killing a bunch of demons, and huge statue-golem is animating and coming to kill them.

Plans Change

I'm adapting the Savage Tides Adventure Path for these sessions, and I'd already done the prep work and monster conversions. In the adventure as written, the golem wakes up a few rounds after the delvers kill the demons and attacks. It's a big pile of hit points, DR, and magical immunity and I'm sure it's a lot of fun in D&D. In GURPS, it's a bit less overwhelming, and I always figured it was going to be a bit boring after the "oh no, emergency!" surprise ended. The swashbuckler, the saint, and the scout would hardly be able to hurt it, and so it would really just be a solo combat with the knight.

Then as I was reviewing my notes this morning, I had an inspiration: put some cursed artifacts on the altar behind the golem, and have the golem continue to revive every time it went down as long as the artifacts where in the shrine. The delvers would have to fetch the artifacts, dodge the golem while moving them out of the room, taking damage all the time, and then kill the golem again. It sounded a lot more fun.

Slow Start

The play of the game started slow. For some reason, the delvers decided to evacuate the wounded before fighting the golem. There was about 5 rounds of people being picked up and carried around while everyone argued whether it was a good idea to fight the golem in the shrine or in the hallway. Finally the half-ogre knight threw the cabin boy into the wall (he was aiming for the door but missed), drew his flail, and began wailing on the golem.

The golem had DR10 and 45 HP. Big Al decided to go for the leg, on the general principle that things that have fallen over are easier to fight. Without being specific, I warned them that the golem was huge, and it would be really hard to cripple its leg in a single hit, or even in multiple hits. So on his first shot, Big Al rolled 23 damage (on 4d), added his +12 bonus damage from Weapon Master, and totally crippled the monster. A couple more rounds of beat down and the golem was out.


Then the chaos started. The artifacts wreathed themselves and the golem in an impenetrable field of evil light, healing the golem in the process. The saint recognized what was going on, and alerted the other delvers that as long as the artifacts where in the shrine, the golem would heal and get stronger every time in went down.

The golem rose up and engaged the knight while the scout and the swashbuckler ran for the altar. The swashbuckler picked up a cursed knife (taking 1d-3 irresistible toxic damage every second) and starting running for the door, followed by the golem. The saint said a prayer and pulled the other two artifacts off the altar, one of them landing near the knight. Who proceeded to play croquet or maybe jai alai with it, giving it a massive wallop with his flail.

Over the next several rounds, the golem and the delvers played a really weird game of rugby or field hockey, kicking the various artifacts across the floor of the shrine, picking them up and tossing them to each other, and dodging the deadly golem. Everyone really got into the experience, with the swashbuckler gleefully dodging between the golem's legs to retrieve an evil skull and the scout running up and down the walls while impaling artifacts on his arrows and shooting them away. It was crazy fun.

Finally, the delvers got all the artifacts in the hall, the golem fell over, and we wrapped that sequence of play with the assumption that Big Al could just beat the golem to death again.

Elated and amused, the delvers looted the place, sanctified the shrine, and left.

The Colony of Farshore

The rest of the session was mostly role-playing. The delvers walked south to the Great Wall of Tanaroa, got through the gate, and sold an annoying NPC's horse to the natives for passage to the colony of Farshore. Finally! Back to civilization, of sorts.

The delvers were annoyed to discover that their ship still hadn't made it around the island after dropping them off a week earlier. They were more annoyed when they discovered that thanks to the gold trade with the natives, inflation was rampant in Farshore and meals at the tavern were costing 80 times normal. They were somewhat relieved when they discovered that local pirates were attacking the fishing fleet, and that was artificially raising the price of food even more - there was an obvious solution for delvers. All that pretty much went as I had anticipated and planned.

I introduced the morally ambiguous antagonist of the Farshore social scene, Lord Manthalay Meravanchi, at the very end of the session. He's an obvious villain in the adventure as written, the rival of the delvers' long-standing patron. I wanted the question of whom to support to at least be a bit tricky, so I introduced him as a devout follower of the same religion as Daughter Joan, the saint. He fawned over her, praising her wisdom and thanking the gods for sending her to his island, and then commiserated with the other delvers about having to travel with his annoying nephew (aforementioned NPC). As I had hoped, the delvers were charmed, though some of Manthalay's more comments about how to deal with the natives made them a little squeamish.

What Next?

That's the end of Here There Be Monsters, and a good pausing point in the campaign. I'll be writing some Changing Tide articles about my preparation for Tides of Dread, the next adventure, but I won't be in a hurry. One of the other players will take over running Dungeon World for a while, and that should take us through April and mid-May.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Changing the Tide: Welcome to Farshore and Beyond

Welcome to Farshore

In the Savage Tide Adventures Path (STAP), the final episode of the 4th adventure (Here There Be Monsters) segues directly into the opening of the 5th adventure (Tides of Dread). The delvers, having just crossed a significant portion of the Isle of Dread, arrive at the northern colony of Farshore just in time to rescue it from pirates. Cue dramatic music!

My problem with this presentation is that it's a huge pain for me. I've got one session left before our group returns to its normal gaming experience, which in this case is going to be Dungeonworld. There's already the final tedious fight from Fogmire to complete, and I ended on that cliffhanger so I'm pretty much committed to the grindfest versus the nigh-invulnerable golem. This is probably something I should have thought of ahead of time and planned differently. The opening of Tides of Dread is a neat set piece, with the delvers running around town saving people from pirates and probably needing to split up to save everyone in time. I don't really want to cut it, but I don't want to end on a cliffhanger that may never get resolved, nor do I want to start it and then play Dungeonworld for a couple of months and come back to Savage Tide.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to resolve this: postpone the attack. Let the delvers arrive safely in town, and discover the rampant inflation. Having to put up with the inflation for a day or two should make the impact of the town's gratitude for saving them from the pirates more meaningful. It should also give me time to set up some of the role-playing bits and politics without the pressure of recovering from the pirate attack.

And Beyond

STAP covers 12 adventures, but I'm only running about half of them. Some just came off as boring or implausible to me on the read-through, so I'm cutting them. For sure, I've already skipped the first adventure, and I don't intend to run Lightless Depths, which is a weird railroad trip that's hard to explain and not interesting. I'll probably keep City of Broken Idols, which is an expansion of the old Taboo Island from X1: Isle of Dread, though I'll remove a lot of the plot elements that I'm using inconsistently at best (ie, all the references to the demonic pearl factory which ties into the overall "let's kill Demogorgon" storyline that I've been ignoring). The Snakes of Shuttlecove, or whatever the next adventure after that is, bores me to tears, so I'm definitely skipping that.

In summary, my current plans are to run the main plot of Tides of Dread, since it's an interesting sand-boxy sort of story. The delvers have a limited amount of time to explore the Isle of Dread, recruit allies, loot Taboo Island, fortify Farshore, and do other heroic stuff before a pirate fleet comes to raze the colony. Depending on how well the delvers do at looting and fortifying, they may decide to flee back to civilization or defeat the pirate fleet. Either way, we'll pretty much be done with the Isle of Dread (and most of STAP), unless the delvers want to stick around some more and explore more stuff.

At some point, though, they'll be done with the Isle and go back to civilization, turn all their loot into magic items, and become more powerful than I can imagine. Killing orcs and ogres will stop being a challenge at that point, but it seems cruel to not let them play around with their Puissant Fine Balanced Elven Welsh Longbows of Armor-Breaking Accuracy and whatnot. So while I will happily offer to retire the characters at that point, when they refuse, I have a plan.

After Serpents of Shuttlecove, the next STAP adventure Into the Maw. As written, it's a sailing trip into the Abyss and then a prison-break from a demonic prison. It sounds rather insane, and I don't think it's going to work for my group: first, all the delvers are "good" that they won't cut deals with demons, and second, Sister Joan the Saint will have Enhanced Smite by then, and 3d bu damage in a 16 yard radius means that you don't have to cut deals with demons because the demons are all burnt to ash. Reflecting on this reality, I was going to just toss the adventure, but then I had a good idea. Instead of making it a demonic prison in the Abyss, make it an unseelie faerie prison in Faerieland. It should convert over pretty easily, since the difference between "scary scaly demon" and "creepy unseelie nightmare" isn't really that much in concept. But there's nothing objectively evil about bargaining with the fae, even if its often unwise.

So adapting Into the Maw should work as a high level adventure, and high powered unseelie fae make perfectly adequate enemies against 400 point delvers and don't strain credibility at all. The fact that the place is a prison means I can even use some of the demons, since they would be escaped prisoners either way.

The last 3 adventures in STAP are a big war against Demogorgon. I'm not sure how I feel about them, and I'm not sure that even high point delvers are really ready to kill gods. But I can worry about all that next year.