Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Effectiveness of Swashbucklers in Dungeon Fantasy

The swashbuckler is one of my favorite DF templates. A swashbuckler has a clear and useful role in a delving band, and the template does a good job of enabling that role. Although the template lacks a little out of combat utility, with 60 free advantage points, a swashbuckler can be customized with an entire different lens.

In play, swashbucklers are very combat focused. They deal a lot of damage with their attacks, especially against foes that have vulnerable parts, but they also have good defenses against most attacks. Their big weakness in combat is their generally low DR, which makes them vulnerable to aura and area attacks. Out of combat, the base template doesn't have many ways to contribute, but since all swashbucklers have Luck, they can always try something and hope.

The Basic Chassis

Swashbucklers have high DX, moderate HT, and low ST and IQ. They have a high Basic Speed and Move. All this nicely suits their role as fast, mobile melee combatant, though most swashbucklers are going to want more ST (or at least more Striking ST, but generally more ST).

Advantages and Disadvantages

All swashbucklers get a very effective starting package of advantages: Combat Reflexes, Enhanced Parry, Luck, and Weapon Master. These, combined with their high weapon skill with fencing weapons, means that swashbucklers have very solid Parries, even against repeated attacks. The mandatory Luck provides protection against enemy critical hits and friendly critical misses. The lack of High Pain Threshold is a bit of a weakness for a primary combatant, but most swashbucklers don't expect to get hit in a fight.

On the disadvantage side, swashbucklers are not required to have Overconfidence and Impulsive, but almost every player takes them. The rest of the disadvantages are a mix of Codes of Honor, dubiously sane Vows, and various mental issues that reinforce the concept of the swashbuckler as a rake, a rogue, and a party animal.

One of the great strengths of the swashbuckler template is 60 points in optional advantages. Obvious choices from the template include more ST and DX, Extra Attack, and Ambidexterity (a lot of swashbucklers fight Florentine-style with two rapiers). Extra Luck is another good choice. Rapier Wit is also an option, but most swashbucklers don't have a high enough Public Speaking to reliably make use of it. The only possibly mandatory advantage is 2 points in total of extra ST or Striking ST, so as to get an effective ST of 13 for damage purposes and an extra +2 damage for swung weapons.

Expanding the Swashbuckler with a Lens

Another option for the swashbuckler is to spend 50 of those optional advantage points on a lens, which can expand the swashbuckler's combat or non-combat options. I think that swashbucklers lensing into thieves make for more enjoyable thieves than the straight Thief template, as well as giving the swashbuckler interesting things to do out of combat. The various spell-casting lenses aren't particularly potent, but a low skill spellcaster can do stuff out of combat. Swashbuckler-Bard is an obvious combination, especially for people who want to play a more charismatic, seductive swashbuckler.

The various combat templates are less satisfactory. Swashbuckler-Scout solves the issue of the swashbuckler not having good ranged combat options, but is also involves careful juggling of weapons to decide whether to engage with the bow or the sword. Swashbuckler-Martial Artist ends up spending a lot of points on the mostly redundant Weapon Master/Trained by a Master combination, and there are easier ways for a swashbuckler to learn Power Blow.

Swashbucklers and Race

A third option for some of those advantage points is to add a racial template. Cat-Folk is an obvious choice, providing a bunch of benefits such as Night Vision 5 and DX+1 at the low price of 25 points (since both swashbucklers and Cat-Folk have Combat Reflexes, swashbucklers get a 15 point reduction on the price of the Cat-Folk template). Coleopteran is another great, if expensive, choice: the innate DR is higher than most swashbucklers get through gear, the lack of armor means more weight can be devoted to weapons or gear without providing encumbrance penalties, and multiple arms means that a coleopteran swashbucker can carry two edged-rapiers and a shield while still have a hand free to hold a crossbow or main-gauche. Gargoyle is an unorthodox choice, but flight is always a good ability for melee types. Most races make good, or at least decent, swashbucklers.

Leprechauns and pixies make for less optimum swashbucklers, as those races many advantages don't make up for the massive reduction in damage that their sizes impose. It's not impossible, but there are generally better options - even if a swashbuckling pixie has numerous literary antecedents. Minotaurs are another bad choice for swashbuckers: swashbucklers depend on their parries and dodges for defense, and don't have the HP and DR necessary to survive while going berserk.


Every swashbuckler has at least skill-18 in at least one fencing weapon: usually Saber or Rapier, and possibly higher depending on how important the swashbuckler thinks a shield is. Two weapon swashbucklers are really popular, since it maximizes the Weapon Master and Enhanced Parry advantages, but I think that swashbucklers are generally better served by learning how to use a shield and having a defense against arrows. For ranged weapons, swashbucklers get thrown knives, which are horrible. There's almost no point in using them.

Swashbucklers also get Jumping, Acrobatics, and Stealth, making them good escorts for a thief or scout who is scouting ahead for the delving band. They have the usual choices for background skills, including First Aid, Carousing, and Hiking. With their attributes, swashbucklers should focus on DX based background skills, not the IQ choices.

Swashbuckler Skills or Swashbuckler!

For most templates, the choice of going with the Wildcard skill over a rash of skills is easy: the Wildcard gives a higher average skill level for almost all secondary and background skills and only a slightly lower level for primary skills. And if the game is using the Destiny Point rules from PU5: Impulse Buys, it's an even easier choice. Swashbucklers are the exception: giving up 3-5 levels of their sword skill in exchange for slightly better levels of skill at Acrobatics is probably not an advantage for a template so focused on a single weapon.

Equipping Swashbucklers

Although most of the sample swashbucklers in SJ Games sources use small-swords or non-edged rapiers, the true munchkin shells out the big dollars for the edged-rapier: the combination of impaling or cutting damage, flexible reach 1 or 2, and fencing parries is well worth the base cost of $900. The hard decision is whether to buy one or two of the things, and whether to buy a cheap one to start out. The savings for a cheap sword are impressive, and the risk of breakage is pretty low, but a swashbuckler has a lot of advantages and skills tied to their sword, and having them break is painful. It's also generally not affordable to add many qualities to the starting sword: a Balanced, Fine Rapier costs $9000(!), which is 18 points of Signature Gear - which is 18 points that could be better spent elsewhere.

Swashbucklers are generally not particularly strong and are penalized by encumbrance. Other than their weapons, they want to carry as little weight as possible. They generally can't afford the weight of the heavier armors, leaving them in DR2 Heavy Leather (or DR3 Fortified and Lightened Heavy Leather for games with inexpensive enchanted items) at best. There's a temptation to not wear armor and rely on their blades and speed for defense, but I believe that any DR is better than no DR, even if it's just a suit of Light Leather.

Swashbucklers in Play

Swashbucklers are murderous in combat, especially against the usual range of starting foes in DF. Against typical orcs and ogres, a swashbuckler can Rapid Strike and reasonably expect to get a hit in every turn, and usually do enough damage between Weapon Master and targeted attacks to the vitals to take out the target. They can be less effective against constructs and spirits, but those are usually boss monsters in beginning DF play. By the time that creatures with high DR and good skills are common foes, most swashbucklers have improved swords and skills and can still contribute.

Outside of combat, swashbucklers have less to do. They lack even the weapon identification skills of knights, and don't have enough Perception to scout reliably by themselves. They make acceptable escorts for Thieves or Scouts who are scouting ahead, and depending on the lens chosen (if any), they can pick up a lot of out-of-combat utility.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Magic Economics: How much should spellcasting cost?

GURPS Magic has a section on the economics of creating magic items, which is fairly reasonable: it starts by assuming the monthly wages of wizards capable of enchantment, and works from there to determine how much enchantments would need to cost for them to be able to earn those enchantments. Which is fine, but it's something of a static analysis: if a wizard earns an Average wage (as defined by the GURPS rules), then magic items cost so much. But it doesn't really address what a wizard should earn, assuming that should be a setting detail.

The thing is that a wizard's earnings should be based on the opportunity cost of not paying a wizard to cast some particular spell. If a wizard can produce some service that people would want to buy for less than other providers, then people seeking that service are going to bid up the wizard's payments until the cost matches the other providers. Since many things that a wizard can theoretically provide have no easy to price equivalent service (what's the value of a Teleport Other spell?), this exercise can't necessarily determine how much a wizard should get paid, but it can put a lower bound on a wizard's wages. If a wizard can maintain a Wealthy lifestyle by casting Create Food, there's little reason to think that he's going to work for Average wages by enchanting objects.

The Opportunity Costs of Candles and Continual Light

As mentioned, a lot of spells provide services that don't have an easy to price equivalent. But some spells do. For example, Continual Light provides enough light to eliminate darkness penalties in a 1, 2, or 3 yard radius for an average of 7 days. $7 of tallow candles provides 1 yard of light for 7 days; a $20 lantern and $14 of lantern oil provides 2 yards of light for 7 days. A wizard who can make an acceptable living by casting Continual Light for $7 or less can undercut candlemakers and oil salesman; a wizard who needs more money than that might have a niche market (underwater lighting, for instance) or need to find other spells to earn money.

Continual Light is an interesting spell for this example because it is easy to learn: it requires Magery 0 and a single prerequisite within the same college. Even an IQ11, Magery 0 spellcaster can learn with not much effort: learning two hard skills, one to a professional level, is equivalent to getting a BS with a major and a minor. It has a linear energy cost of 2 per yard of light produced, so 2 energy for a 1 yard light and a 4 energy for a 2 yard light, nicely matching the doubled cost of moving from candles to lantern oil.

Using the standard magic system, a hypothetical IQ11, Magery 0 spellcaster with Light-9 and Continual Light-13 can recover 6 FP per hour, succeeds in casting Continual Light 86% of time, and can expect to produce 20 castings of a 1 yard Continual Light per 8 hour working day. Selling these spells for a mere $6 each and leaving some leeway for disastrous critical failures (roughly twice a year, our wizard forgets how to cast Continual Light for an average of 2 weeks and every other year he summons a demon) gives an income that is high end Comfortable, if not Wealthy, in GURPS terms. A delving or enchanter grade wizard, with IQ15, Magery 3+, and Recover Energy-15 puts out 95 castings a day and is Very Wealthy if not Filthy Rich.

In a Threshold system, a wizard's spellcasting frequency is limited by the lower of his Threshold or his Recovery Rate. Thaumatology suggests a Recovery Rate of 8, which puts the sample minimal spellcaster at a low Average wage, and a delving grade wizard (without an increased Recovery Rate) at Average or possibly Comfortable. My College Ritual Book system suggests that Recovery Rate should be purchased as an advantage. A low end spellworker with Recovery Rate 10 makes at least Average wage, and a delving wizard can earn Comfortable to Wealth wages, depending on his exact Recovery Rate.

So what does this mean?

This is a pretty simple thought experiment, but it strongly suggests that most lighting in a world of magic should either be Continual Light spells, or that wizards should be paid more than the standard GURPS model. The standard model assumes that wizards get paid Average wages and that spells cost about $1/FP to cast. More realistically, wizards should get paid Wealthy to Filthy Rich wages and spells should cost $5/FP to cast (or probably more, since this analysis doesn't begin to factor in the rarity costs of being the only IQ16 wizard in 200 miles who knows how to cast Teleport Other).

Which isn't to say that all PC wizards should be rich and well-employed, casting Continual Light all day. PC wizards tend to have all kinds of issues that make them unsuitable for employment, such as Obsessions with becoming liches or an Elder Thing ancestry. It just means that NPC wizards who lack those issues should be well paid, and willing to charge people a pretty penny for spell-casting services.

Aside: What About Enchantment?

At the start of this discussion, I noted that the GURPS Magic treatment of the enchantment of magic items assumes certain wages and works out the cost of magical items from there. It does have a brief section on changing those assumptions. The cost of Quick and Dirty enchantment goes from $1/point to $25/point (Filthy Rich enchanters with Enchantment-20 could easily have Continual Light-20 and be raking it in on the lighting market, so they don't come cheap) while Slow and Sure enchantment goes from $33/point to $666/point.

Alternately, people can ditch the GURPS Magic enchantment rules, which don't produce very fun or interesting results anyway. In Dungeon Fantasy, PCs can't become enchanters, and the exact details of the enchanting process are unknown. It's entirely possible that Q&D items are still $1/point because it doesn't take a master enchanter and a circle of five enchanter-grade wizards costing $6600/day to produce 4 Q&D items/day. Maybe a single enchanter can pump out 6 of them a day.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rationalizing Damage Spells in GURPS

GURPS Magic presents a variety of combat spells that do direct damage: Stone Missile, Fireball, Sunbolt, Deathtouch, Lightning Bolt, Explosive Fireball, and many others. They're scattered across the colleges, and while there's something of a theme of a touch spell, a jet spell, a basic missile spell, an explosive missile spell, a rain spell, and a breath spell, not every college has all of those spells and the damage and side effects of the various spells vary tremendously, even within the same college. A lightning bolt has different side effects than a shocking touch, even though they're both supposed to represent hitting someone with a huge jolt of electricity.

Arguably, magic should be mysterious, organic, and off-beat. Not every college should have every type of spell, and maybe the effects of lightning should differ depending on how it is used. I don't hold to that view. Magic in GURPS is consistent and organized.

This is an attempt to rationalize the spells, so that there is a common list of elemental effects and common list of spell forms. It also makes most direct damage spells a bit cheaper, so as to encourage blaster style casters over utility casters.

Revamping Missile Spells

Currently, missile spells in GURPS have their own set of rules. A missile spell creates some object that can be thrown, with a base damage related to the caster's Magery. If the caster has time, she can concentrate on it more, building up the damage for up to 3 seconds - if she has the energy to do so.

In practice, this model is not particularly satisfactory in play. Spellcasters normally only build up spells in ambush situations, when they know they have time to do so safely and recover the energy before starting the fight. In those circumstances, a caster creates a 9d missile spell, and then potentially does a huge amount of damage to a single target - more than anyone else in the game with a single strike. The rest of the time, the caster only builds the missile spell for a second, and does somewhere between 1d and 6d damage, depending on Magery and available FP. Sometimes a caster will use an explosive spell to damage multiple targets, but the poor damage propagation makes this futile, as even an explosive spell that does 18d to the target at the center of the blast does only 3d to people 2 hexes away, and the more reasonable 6d explosive spell rarely penetrates the armor of targets more than a yard away.

I want a system where wizards can contribute reasonably to fighting a single big monster, without having to burn all their fatigue on a single all-or-nothing attack, and can also do reasonable amounts of damage to clustered targets. So I'm changing the rules for Melee, Missile, and other damaging spells.

Fast progression damaging spells (such as Lightning Bolt or Flame Jet) can do a base damage of Sw damage based on the caster's IQ+relevant magical talent by Concentrating on it for one turn (this may be modified by the spell's element, just as swung shortsword and a swung halberd do different damage). By enlarging it, the caster can increase the damage by +2 or +1/die, whichever is better.

Slow progression damaging spells (such as Rain of Fire or Explosive Lightning Bolt) can do a base damage of Thr damage based on the caster's IQ+relevant magical talent by Concentrating on it for one turn. The caster can spend additional turns concentrating to either increase the area of the spell's effect or increasing the damage by +4 or +2/die, whichever is better.

The Elements

Any damaging spell is built out of two components: the element that determines the college, damage type, special effects, and bonus damage of the spell, and the form that determines the range, area, and cost of the spell.

Lightning (Air): -1 damage per die. Treat as a Tight Beam Burning Innate Attack with Double Knockback, Arcing Surge, and Side Effect (Stun). Ranged Attacks are Acc 4, Range 50/100. Double knockback, in this case, lets it do knockback damage as though it were a crushing attack.
Thunder (Air, Sound): +3 damage per die. Treat as a Crushing Innate Attack with Armor Multiplier 5, Double Knockback, and Hearing Based Side Effect (Stun). Treat attacks against swarms or vaporous creatures as area effect attacks, even if the spell form is normally a single target spell. Ranged Attacks are Acc 3, Range 30/60.
Blight (Body): +0 damage per die. Treat as a Toxic Innate Attack with Cosmic (Ignores DR), Cosmic (Affects things with Immune to Metabolic Hazards), Accessibility (Only living or previously animals and humanoids; cannot target locations). Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 25/50.  Deathtouch should affect zombies, but not stone golems or trees.
Deprivation (Body, Food): -2 damage per die. Treat as a Fatigue Innate Attack with Cosmic (Ignores DR), Hazard (Starvation or Thirst, chosen when the spell is learned), and Resistable (HT -4). Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 50/100.
Enervation (Body): +0 damage per die. Treat as a Fatigue Innate Attack with Armor Divisor 2. Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 50/100.
Stone (Earth): +2 damage per die. Treat as a Crushing Innate Attack with Double Knockback linked to another Crushing Innate Attack with Double Knockback and No Wounding. Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 25/50. Essentially, calculate knockback based on quadruple the rolled damage.Fire (Fire): +1 damage per die. Treat as a Burning Innate Attack with Incendiary and Armor Divisor 2. Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 50/100.
Poison (Food): +3 damage per die. Treat as Toxic Innate Attack with Blood Agent, Cyclic (3x10 seconds), Resistable by HT-5. Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 25/50.
Sun (Light): +1 damage per die. Treat as a Tight Beam Burning Innate Attack. Ranged Attacks are Acc 8, Range 100/200, and get +1 to hit. Sun attacks are laser beams, and should benefit from having a built-in laser sight.
Ruin (Making and Breaking): +0 damage per die. Treat as Toxic Innate Attack with Cosmic (Ignores DR), Cosmic (Affects things with Immune to Metabolic Hazards), Accessibility (Only never living inanimate objects; cannot target locations). Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 25/50. Making and Breaking spells can't affect golems, zombies, or housecats, but they can destroy cars and furniture.
Force (Movement): -1 damage per die. Treat as a Cutting Innate Attack with Affects Insubstantial and Double Knockback. Ranged Attacks are Acc 3, Range 50/100.
Cessation (Necromantic): +3 damage per die. Treat as Toxic Innate Attack with Cosmic (Ignores DR), Cosmic (Affects things with Immune to Metabolic Hazards), Accessibility (Only zombies; cannot target locations). Targets that take damage have a 1 in 6 chance of being forced to flee out of sight of the caster for one day. Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 25/50. 
Sound (Sound): +2 damage per die. Treat as a Crushing Innate Attack with Side Effect (Stun). Ranged Attacks are Acc 3, Range 25/50.
Ice (Water): +0 damage per die. Treat as a Burning Innate Attack with No Incendiary and Armor Divisor 5. Ranged Attacks are Acc 3, Range 50/100.
Acid (Water): -1 damage per die. Treat as a Corrosive Innate Attack. Ranged Attacks are Acc 1, Range 25/50.

Obviously, a specific spell might use a variant of the elemental or form name, or even both. Lightning Storm sounds better than Explosive Lightning Ball; Sunbolt is better known than Sunball, and so on.

The Forms

Each form determines the physical description of the spell, including its range, area of effect if any, and energy cost.

(Element) Ball: Creates a single target Missile that does fast progression damage at the cost of 1 FP per 2d of base damage. Double the cost to enlarge the spell. Prerequisites are Magery 1 and Shape (Element) and Create (Element) or 6 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
Explosive (Element) Ball: Creates an area effect Missile that does full slow progression damage in up to Magery yards radius, at 1 FP per yard of radius. Enlarging the spell can either increase damage, at double cost, or increase the radius of effect by Magery yards, again at 1 FP yard of radius. At the caster's option, the attack is also explosive for 1 FP, with double cost if the spell damage was enlarged. Prerequisite is (Element) Ball.
(Element) Jet: Creates an elemental jet extending from the caster's fist. It can be used to attack using DX or Innate Attack with any normal Attack maneuver, and cannot be parried, nor can it parry. The jet does fast progression damage, cannot be enlarged, and costs 1 FP per 2 yards of reach (up to a maximum of 4). The jet has a duration of 1 second, but the duration doesn't begin until the caster has an opportunity to make the attack maneuver. Prerequisites are Magery 1 and Shape (Element) and Create (Element) or 6 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
(Element) Breath (VH): Allows the caster to breath out a cone of the element by taking an attack maneuver and rolling against DX or Innate Attack (Breath). The cone does slow progression damage and cannot be blocked or parried. The cone has a combined length and width in yards equal to the caster's magery, and the caster may enlarge the spell for more damage or for more length or width normally. The base cost of the spell is 1 FP per 2 yards of length or 4 yards of width, doubled if the damage is enlarged. Prerequisite is (Elemental) Jet.
(Element) Touch: Imbues the caster's hand with elemental energy, allowing him to transfer that energy to a foe with a touch. This is a Melee spell that does fast progression damage at the cost of 1 FP per 2d of base damage. Prerequisites are Magery 1 and Shape (Element) and Create (Element) or 6 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
(Element) Weapon: Imbues a melee weapon with elemental energy that does slow progression damage as a follow-up attack on any successful attack with the weapon. This spell takes 2 seconds and 4 FP to cast and has a duration of 60 seconds, with a maintenance cost of 2 FP. The weapon is not harmed by the elemental energy. Prerequisites are Magery 2 and Shape (Element), Resist (Element), Create (Element) or 9 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
(Element) Missiles: Imbues a missile weapon with elemental energy that does slow progression damage as a follow-up attack on any successful attack with the weapon. This spell takes 2 seconds and 4 FP to cast and has a duration of 60 seconds, with a maintenance cost of 2 FP. The weapon is not harmed by the elemental energy. Prerequisites are Magery 2 and Shape (Element), Resist (Element), Create (Element) or 9 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
(Element) Armor: Surrounds the subject with a sheathe of elemental energy. Anyone who attacks the subject with a melee weapon takes slow progression damage on a successful hit. Anyone who grapples the subject take fast progrssion damage upon securing the grapple and cancels the spell in the process. Elemental Armor takes 4 FP to cast, 2 FP to maintain, and has a duration of 1 minute. Prerequisites are Magery 2 and (Element) Jet, Resist (Element) or 9 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
Rain of (Element): This spell can only be cast outdoors, and creates a rain of elemental energy inside the target area. Anyone inside the target area at the end of his turn takes full damage; anyone who enters or starts in the area but moves out during his turn takes half damage. This spell does slow progression damage and is an Area spell with a base cost of 1 FP, the same maintenance cost, and a duration of 1 minute. Prerequisites are Magery 2 and Shape (Element), Create (Element) or 9 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
(Element) Volley: Creates a missile that does fast progression damage to a single target with RoF 4 and Rcl 3. It can still be used for suppressive fire, walking fire, or to otherwise engage multiple targets using the normal RoF attack rules. It has a base cost of 4 FP per die of damage. Enlarging the spell can increase the damage at double FP cost, increase the RoF to 10 at double the FP cost, or both at triple FP cost. Prerequisites are Rain of (Element), Element (Ball), and Element (Breath).


Lenia is a typical DF wizard with IQ15, Magery 4, and a collection of combat spells, including Stone Jet, Sunbolt, Lightning Storm, Force Touch, and Acid Armor (all at skill 17). Her single target spells do a base of 3d+1 and her area effect spells do a base of 2d-1.

Confronted by an orc on a high stone wall, Lenia Concentrates for a second and casts Stone Jet for 2 FP, giving her a Reach 4 jet attack on her next turn. She strikes the orc who fails to dodge, and does 3d+7 damage, rolling high for 19 cr. The orc's mail armor has DR3, so he takes 16 injury, and suffers 68 knockback. Since he has only 13 HP for knockback purposes, the orc is knocked back 6 yards and sent flying over the wall.

After climbing the wall, Lenia is attacked by a manticore. She Concentrates and casts Sunbolt, but decides to enlarge it for a round for extra damage. Normally her Sunbolt would do 3d+4 damage for 2 FP, but she has to spend another 2 FP to enlarge it to 3d+7 damage. Aiming carefully, she gets a net +9 to hit, enough to easily nail the manticore in the vitals for 17 burning damage. Since manticore flesh is only DR4, it takes 39 injury and falls to the ground.

Continuing on her way, Lenia is confronted by three knights in a line abreast, each separated by two yards. They all have crossbows and are aiming meteoric bolts at her. She quickly casts a Lightning Storm (Explosive Lightning Ball) and throws it. The Lightning Storm has a radius of 4 yards, just enough to catch everyone in the blast, so she doesn't make it explosive or try to enlarge it, and it costs her 4 FP. She targets the attack at the central knight's feet, and each of them takes 2d-3 damage, mostly unprotected by their metal armor thanks to the Arcing Surge, and possibly stunned from the Side Effect.

Past the knights, Lenia enters a haunted tower and is accosted by a ghost. Diplomacy fails, and Lenia casts Force Touch for 2 FP before punching the ghost. The ghost fails to dodge and takes 2d-3 cu damage, which normally wouldn't affect the insubstantial threat, but the spell's effects include Affects Insubstantial.

In the tower's dungeon, she sees the treasure she seeks, down a hallway filled with wasp swarms. She casts Acid Armor on herself for 4 FP and runs down the hallway, driving off the wasp swarms by doing 2 corrosive damage to them every time they touch her (she'd normally do 2d-3 damage, but they're diffuse and can't take more than than 2 points from a non-area attack). Finally clearing the wasp hall, she reaches for the Grimoire of Improbable Spells when she's ambushed by a throttler. The throttler grapples her from behind and immediately takes 3d-2 corrosive damage. Lenia rolls a 12 for the damage, which is enough to send the throttler staggering back without any DR. Still, Lenia recognizes this is going to be a challenging fight.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Puppets, Possessions, and Alternate Forms

As part of my article on the effectiveness of druids, I noted that one of the problems with druids is that shapeshifting is expensive. That's not entirely unreasonable, since becoming a bear some of the time should cost nearly as much as just being a bear all of the time. The counterargument is that having a 187 CP bear as an ally costs a lot when you're a beginning delver, not very much when you're a medium powered adventurer, and almost nothing when you're an experienced adventurer. It's the same bear in all cases, so it's odd that it has a base cost of 10 for a 125-pt apprentice druid (~10% of total points), a base cost of 3 for a 250 pt druid (~2% of total points), and a base cost of 1 for a 500 point master druid (less than 1% of total points). Being able to turn into a bear takes 183 points, though, and is really only affordable for the master druid.

I then starting thinking about other ways that the rules would allow some kind of shapeshifting ability.

Puppets and Possessions

Poking around the rules, I ran across the Possession and Puppet advantages. For 100 points, Possession lets your mental abilties take over another person's body in a soul jar effect, and for 5 points, Puppet lets you designate an Ally as someone who can't resist Possession attempts. The Parasitic limitation allows you to have a physical body and Possess the bodies' of people that you can move into and use their bodies as a meat shield against attacks. Possession (Assimilation +10%, Parasitic -60%, Puppets Only -30%) [20], Permeate (Possession Puppets) [5], Ally (100%, Constantly x4, Summonable +100%, Minion +0%) [40], and Puppet (Summonable Minion) [5] lets you effectively shapeshift into a single alternate form for 70 points, by summoning the puppet and physically possessing it. The shapeshifted form is a 100% ally, and since Puppets and Minions both basically need to have IQ0, there's plenty of available points for buying useful advantages such as Unkillable 2 and Regeneration. Additional alternate forms cost either 45 oinbts (for an additional summonable puppet ally) or 9 points (for an alternate ability ally if the GM allows that). That's for the ability to spend 100% of a character's points on the alternate form; less capable alternate forms would be cheaper.

Going by the Puppet/Possession route, the 125 point apprentice druid spends 110 points to turn into a bear, while the 250 point druid pays 70 points, and the 500 point master druid pays 38 points. That's a lot more affordable, though it has some disturbing implications at the upper levels. Being a shape changer who can turn into several different, highly competent forms is surprisingly affordable on a 500 point budget, and is even more affordable on a 1000 point budget, and in both cases, the alternate forms scale in capability.

At surprisingly cheap levels, Morph also becomes affordable. Modular Abilities 40 (Cosmic Power, Social Only +0%, Only Allies with Summonable and Minion -50%) [200] and Modular Abilities 5 (Cosmic Power, Social Only +0%, Only Puppet -50%) [50] allows you to unfailingly summon any 100% ally and turn him into a Puppet, and with Permeate/Possession combo above [25], that Puppet can then be parasitically possessed. For 275 points, that's a form of Morph that completely scales with the character point level. For another 200 points, another 40 levels of Modular Abilities would be enough to get 150% allies and be able to Morph with more points than the base character.

Abusive? You Bet!

So clearly this little thought experiment demonstrates a good way to break the game, but does it illuminate anything about how much shapeshifting should cost? Or does it just demonstrate that the costs of an Ally is too cheap in 4e, just like it was too expensive in 3e? I think it's more of the latter, but I do think that shapeshifting costs too much.

Bruno has suggested that the base shapeshifting advantage should "cost 25 points, take a single Concentrate to transform, and should not automatically revert with unconsciousness." Taking extra time or reverting should be limitations that reduce the cost. I think that the implicit Accessibility limitation of an alternate form should be -20% or maybe -30%, not -10%. Taking these ideas together, the cost of turning into a 187 point bear should be 175 or 156 points, not 183 - or as low as 155 or 136 points with enough limitations on the base shapeshifting advantage.

That still doesn't help the druid enough to make shapeshifting into combat forms a viable tactic. But it might make it affordable to shapeshift into scouting or transport forms, even for apprentice druids.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Effectiveness of Druids in Dungeon Fantasy

The druid is another archetype with a varied history in role-playing games. At the apex of the concept's power, you have the D&D3e version of a shapeshifting warrior spellcaster, who can heal and harm with magic and goes into battle with a summoned bear ally, his personal bear companion, and himself shapeshifted into a bear (or at the higher levels, some kind of carnivorous dinosaur). At the lower end, AD&D2e's druid was a second rate cleric with worse access to spells, limited healing ability, no special abilities against undead or demons, annoying armor and weapon restrictions, and limited and inconsequential shapeshifting to make up for it.

The Dungeon Fantasy druid is closer to the latter than the former: something like a cleric, but generally weaker. The druid isn't all bad, and has a place in some delving bands, but it could be a more powerful template. The druid has a unique role as the only spellcaster with access to plant and animal spells, but generally those spells aren't very good. The druid can also have animal allies and shapeshift into animal forms (either through the Shapeshift spell or as an Advantage), but normal or even slightly enhanced animals aren't good combat challenges in Dungeon Fantasy, so it's debatable if those abilities are really worthwhile. Finally, the druid has excellent nature skills, and can be very helpful for delving bands that lack Scouts. However, most delving bands are going to want to have a Scout, since the Scout is a great archetype that helps solve a lot of challenges.

The Basic Chassis

Druids have similar attributes to clerics, but with more HT and less ST. They're at best secondary melee combatants, with indifferent combat skills and damage. They have a high IQ and matching Perception and Will, though they have less use for that Will than a Cleric. Nothing really stands out here: Druids are solid but not exceptional.

Skillwise, druids focus on nature skills. The Herb Lore skill allows a druid to very cheaply brew healing potions in town - trading the versatility of the wizard's Alchemy skill for a much deeper discount on some of the most important potions in the game. Naturalist and various Hidden Lore skills let a druid identify quite a few monster threats, including many that are likely to be encountered by beginning delvers. Naturalist also lets a druid eat for cheap in the wild, reducing the cost and weight of rations on long trips.

Advantages and Disadvantages

All druids have Druidic Investiture 3, which allows for a decent range of animal and plant focused spellcasting, Green Thumb 1, and 40 more points in optional druidic advantages. Druidic abilities focus mostly on animal or nature spirit Allies or the potentially useful Speak with Animal (or Speak with Plant) ability to turn local critters into scouts and informants. Their mundane advantage choices include various talents to make the druid better at dealing with plants, animals, or healing, or better attributes or spellcasting. They can also shapeshift into animal forms, but with even a decent wardog or boar costing 127 points, combat shapeshifting is very much out of budget for beginning druids. Non-combat scouting forms such as hawks, owls, or rats are much more feasible at the start of the game.

On the disadvantage size, druids are nature loving hippies, and their recommended disadvantages show that. Sense of Duty (Nature) is an obvious choice, but can be crippling with its requirement that the druid not defend the rest of the delving band from wild animal attacks until the druid herself is attacked.  One traditional limitation of druids - a vow or geas against using metal armor and weapons - is strangely absent, but is easy enough to add back in.

Animal Companions and Nature Spirits

Druids have a wide range of animal companions and spirit allies available (from DF5: Allies). Most of the actual animals use unarmed attacks and that prevent them from being truly useful allies in combat: a bear may have a 3d+1 cu bite attack, and that's enough to impress even the barbarian or the knight, but a lowly goblin with a spear can parry that attack and do heavy damage. Combat animal allies either need to have strikers (Boar) or use weapons (Gorilla, Chimp) or be diffuse (Insect Swarm). Utility allies such as the Hound, the Stallion, or the various familiars aren't expected to go into combat, and so their poor combat performance isn't an issue.

Druidic Servitors are also available. The basic servitor chassis provides a decent but not amazing ally, modified by the choice of divine elements. The base Nature element is required for druidic servitors and isn't that impressive, but Doubled Nature provides Speak with Plants and Speak with Animals, so a druid can get a decent henchmen and a pair of useful advantages on the cheap less expensive. None of the first level nature elements are particularly interesting for most delvers, but the Life element provides Faith Healing, which coupled with cheap healing potions means the Druid can provide healing support for the delving band. Servitors can use weapons and armor, so while they may be more expensive to equip, any Servitor can also be an acceptable second-line combat in a way that an Anaconda animal companion really can't.

Druid Skills or Druid!

Druid! isn't a particularly amazing Wildcard skill, but converting 24 points of skills at the IQ-2 to the IQ range into a single Wildcard at IQ level is a no-brainer if the GM allows it. If nothing else, it improves the druid's effective skills in every nature related Hidden Lore and all types of Survival. It's a great to have a druid to know what berries/cacti/kelp to eat, whether you're in the 100 Acre Woods, the Deserts of Desolation, or fighting sauhagin at the bottom of the Marinas Trench.


Druids have spells, but they're nothing to write home about. In a clear case of niche protection, only druids can learn spells from the Animal or Plant colleges - but who else would want to? Animal spells tend to be weak but expensive: controlling a bear or a horse can cost 10 FP, plus 5 FP per minute to maintain. Shapeshifting is versatile, but expensive, and requires a different VH spell for each animal form. Plant spells have limited utility outside overgrown forests and jungles, and almost no combat utility: no one fears Rain of Nuts.

There is one nifty trick for healing out of the Plant college: a druid who knows Plant Form Other and Heal Plant can turn his allies into saplings and then heal them all at once with a single area casting of Heal Plant. This isn't useful for combat healing (minimal casting time: 90 seconds), but when the minotaur berserker is at -4xHP and the cleric needs 4 days to heal him, Heal Plant gets him back on his feet.

Druids and Race

None of the standard races bring anything useful to the table for druids. Elves get Magery 0, but druids don't need it; Fauns have Animal Empathy but a lot of other baggage for 20 points. One decent choice is Pixie: since a druid isn't much of a melee combatant anyway, the low ST is less of a problem, and if you intend to fight by throwing lightning bolts and sending a swarm of bees against your foes, then increased DX and Dodge are definite improvements.

As a house rule, Chandley on the forums came up with a Treant racial template that is tailor-made for druids, if a bit unorthodox. For 0 points, the ability to get Druidic Investiture 12, some natural DR and Injury Tolerance, and a bonus to IQ is probably worth being a hidebound nature-loving tree, especially if you were already planning to be a nature-loving hippie.

Equipping Druids

Druids are much like clerics in that they have a fair bit of stuff to carry and not a lot of ST to carry it with. Any band with a druid in it should be well-stocked with healing potions, and it's in everyone interests to buy potions from the druid at 75% of list price (with the druid pocketing 25% of the base cost as profit).

Since the typical druid isn't strong enough to wield a full-sized axe, a cheap sword or hatchet is a better choice. The usual trade-offs exist: a good thrusting broadsword is $600, the same as a Fine Balanced hatchet, so do you want the utility of thrusting damage or a slightly better chance to hit? Or on the low end, a cheap shortsword is $160 but a decent hatchet is $40, and they both do about the same damage. Highly expensive items, like a Balanced Fine broadsword, make good power items and high powered druids need a lot of power to cast and maintain the better shapeshifting spells.

A druid with a Servitor or animal companion should also consider spending money to equip the ally: a Hound with barding will last longer in combat than a Hound without.

Druids in Play

Druids are most useful on nature oriented adventures where their animal and plant related abilities can be used to the max, especially in delving bands that don't have Barbarians or Scouts. Similarly, they can be great healers for bands without Clerics.

The biggest problem with being the animal specialist is that most animals just aren't a threat to most delving bands. Even the big, bad, ST65 King of the Apes is in bad shape when the band's Knight hits him 3-4 times. Creatures like dire wolves and giant rats need to outnumber the delvers 5 or more to be anything more than a nuisance. And it's hard to deny charges of "not pulling your own weight" if your biggest specialty is dealing with nuisances.

Improving Druids

Part of the reason that druids are so weak is that shapeshifting is so expensive for what it gets: 180 points to turn into a hound that is a weaker combatant than a 180 point henchmen is not exactly a bargain. Similarly, the Shapeshifting spell is enormously draining: spending 10 FP to turn into a bear is probably not as decisive as the wizard spending 9 FP on a big Grease or Glue spell. Fixing the cost of the Shapeshifting advantage is too much to get into here, but the costs of the Shapeshifting spell should probably be scaled with the character's CP total, much like allies are. If Shapeshifting cost 1 FP per 1/5th of your point total that the new form cost (which matches the 1 FP per 20 points suggested in the spell for the original 100 point characters in GURPS Fantasy 1e), then cheap animal forms like Boar or Anaconda would only cost 3 FP and the bigger animal forms would only cost 4 FP.

On a similar vein, upgrading the power of the animal forms really helps. Turning into a bear is a so-so spell, but turning into a allosauraus is reasonably impressive. I let the druid in one of my campaigns combine his animal forms with elemental forms: a Bear with Body of Stone is a DR8, Homogeneous terror on the battlefield for 7 FP casting cost for a 250 point druid.

Scaling and empowering the Shapeshifting spell like this powers up druids. Does it bring them to the dreaded level of the D&D Druidzilla? I don't think it does: a Stone Bear is a reasonably impressive combatant, but a basic Knight has nearly as much DR, a lot more skill, and better weapons. The druid still spends a lot of FP to turn into that Stone Bear, and between the IQ penalty, the muteness, and the clumsy hands, the druid isn't going to be casting any spells while in beast form.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Magical Styles in College Ritual Book Magic

One of the more interesting supplements for GURPS Magic is Thaumatology: Magic Styles. It expands the rules from Martial Arts to wizardry, so that spell-casters can have styles like Fire magic or the Ebon Path, similar to the way that martial artists can know Sambo or Wing Chun Karate.

I was reading through it again last night, and thinking about how to apply it to my College Ritual Book Magic rules. At first pass, the two don't mesh very well: Magical Styles is very focused on having stylists advance by learning specific spells in a fairly specific order, while CRB Magic mostly replaces learning individual spells with learning spell colleges as Very Hard spells. There's not really a lot of overlap between the concepts.

As I thought about it more, I realized I was very wrong. An ordered list of spells is conceptually a set of grimoires. For instance, the first two Circles of spells in the sample Onyx Path style could easily be two grimoires: the Neophyte's Primer and the Black Tome of the Gravekeeper. Furthermore, to encourage the use of styles, the bonus for the Magical School Familiarity Perk should be changed. Instead of allowing a stylist to learn the school's public spells at any time, the stylist increases the grimoire bonus for any of the style's grimoires as long as he has the grimoires for the previous levels.
Example: Bonegnawer is a Reanimator (Fourth Circle) of the Onyx Path who owns the Neophyte's Primer, the Black Tome of the Gravekeeper, and the Book Ebon (a 3rd Circle Grimoire with 7 spells in it). He finds an Onyx Path Grimoire containing Gift of Letters +3. Even though Gift of Letters normally has a prerequisite count of 5, Bonegnawer is only at -1 skill to cast it because the grimoire counts as a +4 grimoire for him. If Maldo the Magnificent steals the grimoire from Bonegnawer, Maldo casts Gift of Letters at -2 because he is not an Onyx Path stylist. Similarly, when Bonegnawer's apprentice Darklight sneaks into his master's study and tries to study the grimoire, he also treats it as a +3 grimoire, because though Darklight is an Onyx Path stylist, he only has the Neophyte's Primer and doesn't meet the prerequisites for using the grimoire.
Magical styles are a very neat concept, and I think tying them into CRB Magic actually works better than the standard GURPS Magic rules.

Edit: Added a title. The things you forget if you don't update your blog for a month...