Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bones: Paint the Easy Stuff First

Stone golems are some of the quickest and easiest miniatures to paint. There's a simple base coat, one or two layers of dry-brushing, and some detail work. Since I'm really out of practice with painting miniatures and half my paints are crusted over, I thought I'd start with something easy to get back into good habits.

So here's the stone golem: one base coat of dark grey, a heavy dry brush of medium grey, a quick dry brush of pale flesh, and then some detailing. My gold paint was nearly dry so I just blotched the eyes and then went back with the dark grey and a fine brush and cleaned them up a bit. The purple jewels on the headband could still use some more clean-up work. And of course, I still need to paint base and seal the figure.

The Bones plastic was generally easy to paint, though some of the paint on the feet rubbed off as I was handling it. There was also a cut into the paint or something on the interior right leg, I think from the drybrushing pulling up some of the paint that hadn't adhered very well. I covered it with dark grey paint, which is fine, but I hope that behavior doesn't continue when I'm working on the hydra, the dragons, or other figures that are actually going to be moderately detailed.

This was good practice. My brush skills are about as good as they ever were, so I feel I can move on to more complicated paint jobs with some confidence.

Bones: Drybrushing Transparent Plastic

So I got my Bones on Friday, and one of the first things I thought was that the transparent plastic figures look interesting, but it's hard to make out the details on them. The transparent figures are things that are supposed to be translucent, such as ghosts and fire elementals, so putting a heavy coat of paint down on them seemed like it would defeat the point of making them from special plastic in the first place.

I thought that a medium drybrush in a light green for the green figures, or a light yellow for the red figures, would bring out the highlights without disturbing the translucency too much. I used Reaper Master Paint Green Orc Flesh and RMP Buckskin, since I head those lying around (and unfortunately, drying out - I haven't painted in years). I think I was mostly right - the figures have a lot more contrast now, and its a bit easier to see the lines and folds of the figures.

This picture isn't the best, but it should give an idea:
The effect looks best at about 2' distance, holding the figure up to examine it. On the tabletop, the green figures tends to look like they have dark lines on them, which still gives them a bit more definition even if I can't figure out the optical illusion involved.

Anyway, for people who have Reaper Bones and are only half-assed painters, drybrushing the translucent figures is a quick and easy way to make them look better.

Friday, June 28, 2013

My Bones Came Today

So like a lot of people, I participated in the Reaper Bones kickstarter. I already have lots of miniatures, so I was less interested in the random goblins, orcs, and generic adventurers, and more interested in the chance to get some of the larger miniatures cheaply. I was hoping to get the order in March, when I'd have time to paint them, instead of in June, when I'm overwhelmed at work and playing Borderlands 2 in my not particular lycopious spare time (hence the lack of updates here).

Anyway, my Bones arrived today and after an hour or two I've finished preliminary sorting. I tossed most of the stuff I already have a lot of back into the box: all the orcs, armored warriors, and the like. I separated out the stuff I plan to paint: the hydra, the three griffins, the two large demons, the two giants, the giant skeleton, the fourteen lizardmen and fishmen, the eleven modern day figures, a half dozen small demons, another six golems, and the transparent green and red figures. That's already over fifty figures, and a month or more worth of painting even at my best speed.

The ironic bit is that my group has been playing narrative games recently, and detailed tactical maps and miniatures aren't really necessary.

If I get done this batch, there's a couple of sprues of kobolds I'd like to paint, along with some extra lightly armored warriors, the pirates and townsfolk, and some other miscellaneous figures that caught my eye. And if I somehow get all that done, I should probably tackle my backlog of unfinished metal miniature projects.

It all sounds like so much work. I guess I'll go play Borderlands 2 instead.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Optimum Delving Band Composition

I want to write more about group tactics in Dungeon Fantasy, but tactics are strongly influenced by what you have to fight and what you have to fight with. I just finished two articles about the things that delvers need to be prepared to fight, so now I'm covering what a successful delving band should have to fight with.

A Word of Warning

The "optimum" delving band composition described below isn't the only possible successful delving band composition. It's a reference point for discussing tactics, not the end all and be all. Inexperienced groups will hopefully be able to use this as a reference for group composition, but these are guidelines and examples, not ironclad rules. It's certainly possible to have successful delves (and more importantly, to have fun) with a delving band made from a shaman, a martial artist, a thief, a druid, and a barbarian. That delving band will find a lot of challenges more challenging than a more conventional delving band, but if everyone is having fun, no one should care.

Necessary Key Roles

These are the most important roles that a delving band needs to fill, though multiple roles can often be filled by the same person.
  • Defender: Someone needs to able to keep monsters from killing everyone else, preferably by a combination of high active defenses, perks and abilities that let him share those defenses with others, and lots of armor and hit points and abilities that let him get hit and still fight.
  • Healer: Even the best defender is going to let some damage through, and it helps to have someone who can patch people up in the field.
  • Observer: Someone needs to able to scout ahead, notice traps, see potential ambushes before they're triggered, and find hidden treasure. 
  • Ranged Attacker: Killing enemy spellcasters, flyers, distant missile troops, and critters with nasty auras is best done by a ranged specialist. The ranged attacker needs to reliably and continuously generate damaging hits on the enemy at range.
  • Diffuse Foe Killer: Diffuse foes are hard to kill but they are often good at killing delvers. Someone needs to be able to reliably and continuously generate area effect attacks.
  • Tough Foe Killer: Many foes are hard to hit, well-armored, and full of hit points. Someone needs to be able to reliably get through their active defenses and armor and whittle down all those hit points.
  • Undead and Demon Slayer: The powers of Smite and True Faith (Turning) are so potent that a delving band should really try to have someone with these abilities unless they're completely sure that there won't be facing any undead or demons.
  • Utility Spellcaster: Magic can make everything easier. A talented spellcaster can retrieve distant things, make her allies harder to hit, illuminate darkness, create improvised barriers and choke points, and so much more. It's possible to delve without a utility spellcaster, but it is much, much harder.

That's eight key roles, but most desirable templates can fill at least two of them.

Filling the  Key Roles

With the suggested DF guidelines of 250 point characters, it is possible for a 4 person group to cover all the key roles. They may not have enough depth to cover all the possible challenges in dungeon fantasy, but they adequately cover the most common ones.
  • Cleric (or Saint): A Cleric with some healing spells and the True Faith (Turning) advantage fills the Healer and Undead/Demon Slayer roles, and has some ability as a Utility Spellcaster.
  • Knight: A Knight with perks like Sacrificial Parry or Shield Wall Training is an obvious Defender, and has the skill and damage capability to be a Tough Foe Killer.
  • Scout: The Scout is the classic Ranged Attacker, and makes a very good Observer with high Perception, Stealth, Tracking, and Traps.
  • Wizard: The wizard is a weaker Diffuse Foe Killer than a focused Mystic Knight, but does okay with Explosive spells. She can assist the Scout as a Ranged Attacker, and can be the band's primary Utility Spellcaster with spells such as Blur, Continual Light, Create Fire, Shape Earth, and Walk on Air.
Note that this is similar to but different from the "classic D&D 4 member party." The mechanic differences between GURPS and D&D mean that the archery focused Scout is just a better archetype than the Thief. The Scout is a good Observer and great Ranged Attacker; the Thief is no better as an Observer and a much worse Ranged Attacker.

Adding Additional Members

Groups that have more than 4 players have more flexibility in their band composition. A fifth member can cover some of the challenges that aren't covered by the existing members, or provide reinforcement for one of the key roles, or just be a whimsy character that someone really wants to play.

To cover additional challenges, add a bard or a revised shaman. Both templates provide the ability to handle negotiations and selling loot, and can add some additional utility spellcasting or ranged combat ability.

To provide reinforcement of key roles, adding a Swashbuckler lensed with Thief creates an Observer, a Tough Foe Killer, and a bit of a Defender. A Mystic Knight with the Shockwave Imbuement helps with killing Diffuse Foes, and can also use ranged imbuments to augment the Ranged Attacker role.

Whimsy characters can be just about anything: a Celestial Martial Artist isn't amazingly effective out of the gate, but but with other people covering the key roles, she may have time to grow into something amazing. If the sixth member of the band really wants to play a Minotaur Justicar, it's great to let them.

A Sample Five Person Near-Optimum Delving Band

For future group tactical discussions, I'll be referencing the following delving band. They're based loosely on the successful delving band from my face to face game.

Sir Allen, Half-Ogre Knight. Sir Allen spent his discretionary points on Sacrificial Parry, Shield Wall Training, Wealthy, extra Strength, and being a Half-Ogre. He does massive damage with his longsword and has enough skill to hit regularly, and that same skill paired with a large shield and heavy armor gives him lots of protection. Sir Allen helps cover Lifting and Carrying, Selling Loot, and Taking Damage out of combat and handles all defensive combat challenges as well the Homogeneous, High DR, and High Skill foes offensive combat challenges.

Jane of Arcadia, Human Cleric. Jane knows all the healing spells and has True Faith (Turning). She has a background with animals and can Handle Animals, as well as Heal, Clear Curses, Identify Monsters, and See in the Dark with her magic spells. In combat, she can deal with Undead and Demons thanks to her Faith.

Grumpy, Half-Elven Scout. Grumpy is an excellent archer and sneaky scout, thanks to plenty of levels of Woodland Guardian. He's good at Scouting, Tracking, Looting, and Map-Making out of combat. Thanks to some meteoric iron arrows, he's murder on enemy spellcasters and his normal load of arrows and skill means that enemy ranged attackers and flyers aren't a threat to the band.

Simonne, Human Swashbuckler-Thief. Simonne has a lot of Night Vision and can assist Grumpy in Scouting, as well as Bypassing Locked Doors, Obstacles, and Traps safely thanks to her thief lens. In combat, she can assist Sir Allen in Defender the other delvers thanks to her Sacrificial Parry and Edged Rapier, and her absurd levels of skill mean that she can easily take down High Skill foes.

Isawa, Human Wizard. Isawa has some diplomatic skills and a conjurable Fire Elemental Ally. Outside of combat, he handles Identifying Monsters and Loot, Negotiating, Researching, and general niche invasion. In combat, he's a backup ranged attacker and with the help of the fire elemental, he kills most diffuse foes really well. He also has access to Burning Touch to get through heavy armor, if Sir Allen's damage isn't sufficient.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Challenges and Party Abilities in Dungeon Fantasy: Combat Specialties

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

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

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

Combat Specialties

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

Defensive Challenges

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

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

Offensive Challenges

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

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

Summoners and Combat Challenges

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

Monday, June 10, 2013

Challenges and Party Abilities in Dungeon Fantasy: General Abilities and Non-Combat Specialties

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

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

General Abilities

A lot of challenges can be handled by a specialist, or at least don't need to be handled by every member of the delving band. Crossing the ice-covered spiked tightrope over the no-mana zone Pit of Doom! is something best left to the thief, for instance. But there are a couple of challenges that every member of the band will have to face.
  • Combat Defense: Every member of the delving band should have some defensive ability in combat. The bare minimum here is a single defense against a single melee foe rolled against a 12 or more - which is Dodge-9 and a Retreat or Staff-14 and a quarterstaff. At least some DR is helpful, too - DR3 is generally cheap (Lightened, Fortified Medium Leather is 15 lbs and $500) but DR4 or more is better.
  • Combat Offense: Every member of the delving band should have some offensive ability in combat. The basic orc from Mirror of the Fire Demon is probably a good standard here: if a 250 point delver can't defeat a lone orc in single combat (including any of the delver's Allies), that delver is almost certainly a liability
  • Communicating Silently: If the GM is using the rules for Gesture, then every member of the delving needs either a point in the skill or 1-2 points in Language (Sign Language).
  • Rope Climbing: A lot of obstacles can be bypassed by sending an agile guy to climb up the side and throwing down a rope, but only if most every member of the delving band can climb up that rope. Some bands manage by having the bad climbers tie themselves up with the rope and get pulled up by a strong guy, but it's generally easiest if everyone can climb simple, short obstacles.
  • Sneaking: Not every member of the delving bands needs to be good enough at Stealth to backstab while ambushed in an open field, but every members needs to have an adjusted Stealth skill of at least 10 to let them sneak up on (or sneak away from) a not particularly alert enemy.

Non-combat Specialist Abilities

A lot of challenges can be handled by a specialist. There's nothing wrong with having two or more specialists for the same tasks in the delving band, and for some (Healing) it is highly recommended. More specialists available for the same challenge provide redundancy if one is wounded or busy, may provide alternate methods to overcome the challenge, or can at least provide complementary bonuses in most situations.
  • Acquiring Rumors: All the combat ability in the world does no good if the delvers don't know where to go. Getting rumors is the first step toward finding out where the dungeon actually is, and can also be useful for finding out information about special threats within the dungeon. The upfront investment in acquiring rumors is cheap, and this is an ability where the more, the better. Almost every archetype can acquire rumors with Carousing.
  • Animal Handling: Mules and donkeys make excellent load bearers, especially for bulky items like food when travelling to a dungeon or bags of silver when returning from a dungeon. It's useful to have someone who can keep the animals steady. This can be a hireling, but for a modest investment in skills, the delving band can spare the expense. Hirelings, Druids, and Scouts are the normal animal handlers, but any high IQ template can pick up the skill cheaply.
  • Bridging Hazards: What with bottomless pits, vertical shafts, and  intermeshing adamantium blades powered by a stone golem treadmill in the next room, walking through a delving site can be tricky. Having someone who can fly, walk on air, or tic-tac up walls and then throw a rope down is essential. This role generally goes to Wizards, Scouts, Thieves, or Martial Artists.
  • Bypassing Locked Doors: Delving sites are filled with locked doors and chests, some of which may be trapped. Avoiding them means avoiding valuable loot. Someone in the band needs to know either how to pick locks (including magical ways) or be strong enough to bash down doors in a reasonable amount of time. Thieves and Artificers can unlock doors and every melee archetype except perhaps Swashbucklers can bash them down, though Knights and Barbarians are usually best. Wizards can cast Lockmaster to open the lock or Shape Earth to adjust the doorframe.
  • Clearing Curses: Curses are best avoided in the first place, but that's not always possible. Sometimes an area is cursed before the delvers arrive, or someone triggers a curse despite everyone's best efforts. Usually, it's possible to remove a curse in Town for a large fee, but it's very helpful to remove them on site and save the money (and possible death on the way back to Town, depending on the nature of the curse). Clerics, Holy Warriors, and Shamans are the go-to guys for removing most curses through Exorcism, and Wizards can Remove Curse with enough available energy.
  • Corpse-Looting: Some monsters hide their loot within their body and the internal bits of some monsters are loot. Either way, it's embarrassing to discover after the delve that you left $15K in magical loot inside a dead enemy because no one had the skills to find it. If possible, some members of the delving band should have the Search, Surgery, and Survival skills. Depending on the approach, just about any delver may be able to contribute, but healing types and outdoorsman may have these skills for other reasons.
  • Getting Sponsorship: Not all groups like to do this, but sometimes it's helpful to have an extra several thousand in starting supplies. Bards are the best choice, but Sages and other high IQ types or Thieves can give it a shot.
  • Going Without Magic: A spellcaster's spells provide a lot of out of combat utility, but sometimes the Pit of Doom! is a no-mana zone and a Fly spell isn't going to cut it. An especially efficient delving band has a back-up specialist for everything the spellcasters can do, since some things need to be done without magic.
  • Healing: Delving is a dangerous profession, and people are going to get hurt. A band without the ability to heal quickly is just one disastrous fight from a downward spiral of doom. The minimum here is the ability to recover 16 HP per delver per day, so First Aid clearly doesn't cut it. Having someone who can cure Mortal Wounds is also helpful. Clerics or summonable allies with healing abilities fit the bill, and potions can be used in a pinch. Having two healers is helpful, since there's few ways to recover if the badly wounded delver is the band's lone healer.
  • Identifying Loot: The ability to determine if a bulky painting is schlock or worth a fortune can make the difference between a successful delve and a waste of time. Someone with Magery is essential here; someone with Holiness or Power Investiture is helpful; delving bands without access to Armory end up leaving a lot of Giant Spidersilk on the ground. Doubling up on identification abilities isn't particularly useful but many of the skills have alternate uses so doubling up is somewhat inevitable.
  • Identifying Magic: Anyone with Magery can notice that a magic item is magic, but it takes Analyze Magic or other weird abilities to know whether an item is magic because it's cursed or because its an +3 Accurate, +3 Puissant, +3 Heartseeker Elven bow. Analyze Magic can be cast in Town for a fee, but having a Wizard or someone else to identify magic items in the field saves money and lets magical gear be used almost immediately.
  • Identifying Monsters: Identifying a monster before attacking it means that special abilities can be used more efficiently and that no one wastes valuable time trying to wallop insubstantial things with physical objects. There are a lot of different monster types, so the skills to identify them are spread around. Sages know everything, and what type of monster is a subset of everything, but Clerics, Druids, Holy Warriors, and Wizards can contribute against at least some monsters. Multiple people with identification skills is usually necessary just to get all the relevant skills; overlap provides some reassurance against unfortunate critical failures.
  • Interrogating: Many monsters don't survive long enough to talk, but interrogating the survivors can be a useful supplement to scouting. This is an optional specialist, but a good interrogator can make things easier. Bards are best at interrogating, having access to both the skill and to Detect Lies, but revised Shamans are also a good choice.
  • Lifting and Carrying: It's not the most glamorous job, but there's space in most delving bands for someone who can carry all the weak guys' backpacks without slowing down or who can carry the unconscious cleric out of the no-sanctity zone to a place where healing potions work. More carrying capacity also means more loot retrieved per delve. Barbarians and Knights often end up contributing as mules.
  • Map-Making: Depending on the play of the game, this can be an optional specialty. Smart players can map without their characters having the ability or the delve site may be simple enough that mapping isn't really necessary. Still, having a high-IQ character drop a point in Cartography can pay off.
  • Negotiating: Most delving bands would rather fight monsters than talk to them, and that's okay. But sometimes delvers encounter other delvers or neutral beings (nature fae being the classic example) that are powerful enough to actually threaten the delvers but non-hostile. Most high IQ delvers can learn enough Diplomacy to be moderately helpful, but Bards and revised Shamans are the clear winners in the diplomacy sweepstakes.
  • Researching Facts: Research is useful for learning more about the delve site and getting advance information about the weaknesses or strengths of foes. Almost all high IQ delvers can do it and there's no advantage to having more than one researcher.
  • Scouting: Having someone who can move ahead of the main mass of the delving band and spot monsters without being spotted can provide tactical advantage. Generally, a scout needs a lot of stealth and perception, the ability to see in the dark without a light source, and possibly some trap detection ability. A high movement speed is also helpful, for retreating back to the main body when spotted. Two scouts are generally better than one, since they can watch out for each other. Scouts, unsurprisingly, make great Scouts, but so do Thieves and suitably-buffed Wizards. Martial Artists can sneak around, but their low perception scores make them poor choices as primary scouts.
  • Seeing in the Dark: Delvers spend a lot of time in unlit depths, and they either need to bring light sources along or have some way of seeing in the dark. The simplest method is for someone to carry a torch, but it's also the worst because it ties up the torch-bearer's hand and provides a dim, short-range light source. Better methods include helmet or shield lanterns, the Illumination perk available to Celestials and some magical types, cleric and wizard's Continual (mage) Light spells, and glow vials; alternately, an all Infernal band can all take Dark Vision and dispense with lighting entirely and some non-human bands can see quite well in very dim light. Most delving bands are advised to carry a torch and tinderbox anyway, as it can be embarrassing to land in a dark, no-mana, no-sanctity pit and be eaten by a grue because no one had a non-magical light source. Although its possible to get by with just one delver carrying a light, multiple light sources are generally better. Any delver can sling a glow vial around their neck, and most spellcasters have a way of accessing Continual Light.
  • Selling Loot: A Wealthy delver doubles the band's take for selling random vendor trash, and a Very Wealthy delver or a Wealthy one with large Reaction bonuses (say, a Nymph) adds 150% to the loot per delving expedition. More wealth means more money for better armor, weapons, and delving gear. In the short term, this is one of the less essential specialists, since character points are as much a reward as looting, but over several expeditions a band with a good loot-seller will be much, much better equipped than a band without one. Even having a single member of the band with Comfortable is probably a good investment: a single addition level of Magery for a wizard or +1 Strength for the knight probably won't generate as much additional cash return as Comfortable Wealth and a 60% cut on random loot. However, only one delver really needs this ability and multiple people skilled at selling loot don't work well together. Bards and Nymphs generally have the reaction rolls to sell stuff, Wizards and other high IQ types are good Merchants, and Knights and Swashbucklers have the discretionary points to afford Comfortable or Wealthy.
  • Taking Damage: Sometimes there's a trap or obstacle that unavoidably does damage over time and protects something that the delving band really wants. There's a couple of ways to deal with such traps: send someone who is heavily armored with lots of HP to absorb the damage and heal them up later, send someone fast who can retrieve the desired item quickly and minimize the damage taken, or summon some disposable minions and let them get it. These methods play to strengths of Barbarians and Knights, Martial Artists and Scouts, and Wizards and the various summoning archetypes, respectively.
  • Tracking: Tracking is a nice to have ability, but isn't essential. It can be used to get to some delving sites somewhat quicker, to figure out where the fleeing monsters went, and sometimes to learn which doors to avoid in the dungeon. Outdoorsman types such as Barbarians, Druids, and Scouts are the usually trackers, as well as the Justicar.
  • Trap-Detecting and Bypassing: Traps are a contentious part of dungeon design. They're usually just an avoidable source of wandering damage or a deadly barrier to delving bands that don't have a trap removal specialist. Most traps can be bypassed in a variety of ways: disarming them is an obvious solution, but triggers can be avoided by magic or clever thinking, mechanisms can be destroyed by brute force, or ammo can be depleted by sending disposal minions repeated through the trap. Still, the base ability to detect a trap before it goes off is very useful, as it informs the choice of how to bypass the trap and makes sure the trap isn't triggered by an especially vulnerable member of the band. Only one member of the band needs to be good at trap-detecting, and it's helpful if she is also good at scouting. It's useful to have several different methods of bypassing traps, though.
    (Some ruthless bands use the disposable minion approach to trap detection, too. That's a valid but not recommended approach, since some traps may not trigger depending on the type of minion used. It can be fatally embarassing to send the necromancer's skeletal servants down the hall and decide the path is clear, and then have the entire delving band killed by a fatigue draining trap.)
    Given the variety of approaches to trap detection and bypass, almost anyone in the delving band can contribute. Thieves are the classic archetype for finding and removing traps, though Scouts are also good choices.
Part 2 of this series covers the wide variety of combat specialties.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Melee Academy: Fundamental Tactics Principles

Welcome to the third installment of Melee Academy!

The last time we had a Melee Academy, I riffed on +Douglas Cole's post on melee positioning, giving suggestions on how to do what he recommended but better. That worked pretty well so I'm going to do it again, but this time I'm going to reinforce what he said.

Doug's advice is simple, but good: stay close to to your allies, compensate for each other's weaknesses, focus your attacks on your enemies to overwhelm them, and protect your allies when they're wounded. Those are all great basic tactical principles. But if you're part of a group in which each person goes off haring by themselves and gets ambushed and surrounded by enemies, you may wonder how you can put those principles in practice.


Role-playing games are meant to be social and co-operative experiences, and its strange how people will stop being social in combat. As soon as the GM starts setting up the initiative order, everyone begins assessing the table and planning their own actions, but at most tables, people don't ask each other what to do.

This is a bad habit, but it's an easy to break. Before making any plans, ask the other players what they intend to do. The rogue may want to run forward and stab someone, but the wizard may want to fireball all the enemies clustered together. A few words from the rogue's player or the wizard's player can be enough to stop the confusion.

Be Patient

A good step to not haring off alone is to not go haring off at all. A lot of players want their characters to close with the enemy as quickly as possible. In a way, this is reasonable: each player's turn is their time in the spotlight, and it can be hard to resist the temptation to do something that seems proactive. A simple declaration of "I wait here for the enemy to approach" doesn't feel proactive and means giving up the spotlight almost as soon as the player gets it. But if almost every player makes a simple declaration, the turn goes by fast, and the spotlight returns to each player quickly.

The advantage of staying still and waiting for the enemy to approach is the PCs are generally aware of their immediate surroundings and in something approaching a formation at the start of a fight. If they all charge toward the enemy, they move into an area that hasn't been scouted, with unknown potential traps or ambushers. At the same time, unless the players are really good at co-operating, differences in character speed can cause formations to break up.

Another advantage to staying put is that PCs generally have superior ranged options to their enemies. In DF, the PC Scout probably has a higher accuracy, better damage, and a faster rate of fire than most enemies, and the PC Wizard can use all kinds of nasty spells to control the terrain and damage incoming enemies or channel their approach that most enemies don't have. Use those comparative advantages well, by making the enemy to come to the PCs and extending the amount of time that the PCs' ranged specialists can rain doom and destruction on the enemy.

The final advantage to waiting for the enemy, at least in GURPS, is that the Wait maneuver provides a huge tactical advantage when used well. Melee opponents who have to make Move and Attack maneuvers to reach the PCs are already at a disadvantage, and if the PCs can strike the enemy as the enemy moves into reach, things are even better for the PCs. Enemies who slow up as they approach spend more time under the eye of the Wizard and Scout, and have to do it at can't miss ranges.

Make A Plan

After a group starts communicating with each other, they can move to the next step: making a plans. Plans don't have to be complicated or involved, and they don't need to have a lot of contingencies. A reasonable plan can be made after all the PCs have acted once, and should cover what the PCs intend to do with their next actions. This should be simple stuff: "The Scout should shoot the big enemy who just shield-rushed the Knight, because the big enemy can't shield block this turn and the Scout has a good chance of killing him. The Knight needs to get off the ground and the Cleric needs to heal him. The Wizard needs to turn around and cast Create Fire in the hallway behind us to hold off whatever is running up from behind. The Swashbuckler needs to engage those two orcs before they get to the Wizard." Each plan just covers a single set of actions, and is mostly guidelines and objectives and less specific actions.

Support Your Allies

What to do if none of this works? If you yourself are telling your allies what you intend to do and they don't respond, and you stand still and wait while they go off in separate directions, and no one makes a plan or sticks to it, what can be done to improve the situation?

If nothing else, each player should try to support their allies. If the Barbarian goes charging off into unknown territory, its probably better for everyone else to follow him - or for at least one or two people to follow him - then to let him get killed all alone. If the first three PCs to act each move in a different direction, the fourth and fifth PCs should probably follow one or two of the first three rather than find their own new directions to go. That's true even if they both see a threat in a different direction than any of the directions chosen thus far.

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