Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Astral Diamonds, Magic Items, and Dungeon Fantasy

+Peter V. Dell'Orto at Dungeon Fantastic wrote a post on magic item shops versus the domain game: the way that if adventurers can upgrade their abilities by buying magic items, they'll generally do that to the limit if their wealth, while if they can't, they'll spend that money on castles, inns, henchmen, minions, and other facets of the "domain game." I'm already seeing that in the D&D 5e game I'm playing in: now that all the PCs have the best mundane armor that money can buy, we're throwing our funds into turning the dungeons we've conquered into bases because we can't really buy magic items. Whereas in my old Dungeon Fantasy games, PCs poured money into their magic items all the time.

I commented that I've seen one work-around for the magic item shops vs the domain game dichotomy: powerful magic items are only traded with non-mundane currency (astral diamonds, for instance), so after a certain point, a pile of gold can only be spent to upgrade your castle because it can't buy a better magic item. Meanwhile, any found astral diamonds can't be used to upgrade your castle, because they're only used for buying magic items.

I'm already on record as disliking how magic items work in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: the utility of any random item is generally pretty low compared to its sale price, so everything turns into vendor trash so that the PCs can buy an actually useful magic item or better mundane equipment. Now I'm wondering if astral diamonds might be a partial solution to the issue. I'm going to noodle around with idea and maybe someone will comment on it.

Only Astral Diamonds Here

Dungeon Fantasy doesn't allow PC enchanters, and makes the rules for enchanting vague since PCs can't access them. So I'm going to rule that every enchanter can only make one powerful magic item every decade or so, unless he has access to astral diamonds: astral diamonds can be converted in powerful magic items at some rate, and powerful magic items can be converted into astral diamonds at some rate. Most powerful magic items are exchanged for astral diamonds, and vice versa, though sometimes you'll find someone with way more money from sense that will buy a powerful magic item for a ridiculous amount of gold (which is how enchanters get the gold they need to pay the mortgage and buy dinner), but people with many magic items rarely or never buy them with gold: it's astral diamonds or get out.

This means that PCs delve, searching for powerful magic items, astral diamonds, and gold. Gold can buy mundane gear, castles, and minions. Powerful magic items and astral diamonds can be traded for each other, but not for gold, so there's no point in trying to trade a Puissance +1 sword for a suit of fine plate armor. Gold can, in theory, be traded for powerful magic items, but the exchange ratio is so awful that delvers will rarely do so: PCs are generally kind of reluctant to pay $10000 for a Puissance +1 sword, there's no way they're going to pay 100x that amount especially when they have a stack of otherwise worthless astral diamonds that could be used to make the trade.

Where Do Astral Diamonds Come From?

Astral diamonds are found in dungeons. Specifically, the souls of powerful monsters and heroes leave astral diamonds behind when they die. Monsters and delvers hoard astral diamonds, and some monsters can consume them in order to become even more powerful. This requires a lot of them, consumed in a short period of time, so if a major demon needs 50 astral diamonds to become an archdemon, eating 3 a year of 17 years doesn't do the job.

Diamonds for Items, Items for Diamonds

The biggest problem I have with astral diamonds is deciding how to price them versus magic items. This is part of my rant about GURPS Magic's magic items in general: Steve Jackson set the energy costs for enchanting back in 1986 or whatever and those costs haven't been changed or really even been looked at very much since. I don't think there's any justifiable reason why Burning Touch costs 300 energy to enchant but Shocking Grasp takes 1500 energy. I'm not about to go through the spells and try to come up with a consistent pricing scheme, and even if I were, I don't think I'd know how.

Still, one theme I've been pounding on here is powerful magic items. Maybe the best solution would be to make a virtue out of craziness and say that a single astral diamond converts to 2500 enchantment energy, and for every 2500 energy worth of enchantments, an item can be converted into one astral diamond. So the minimum magic sword has Accuracy +2, Puissance +2, and Defending Sword +1, and the minimum Cornucopia quiver produces $50 arrows: so Fine Balanced Silvered arrows or some such.

Lesser Magic Items

Under this scheme, should there even be minor magic items? I'm torn, but I'd almost be tempted to say that anything under 150 energy can be bought with gold (and can't be turned into astral diamonds) at a reasonable price: $5 per energy point, or something. My only concern there is that some of the most annoying enchantments are under that threshold: Deflect +1, Fortify +1, Lighten +1, and Cornucopia of normal arrows are all under 100. The best solution is probably just to fiat those spells to a higher cost or knock them out of existence.

Other Problematic Points

Given that I envision people having 5-10 astral diamonds at a time, it's going to be awfully tempting to commission magic items with Power 3+ and Speed 3+ and then a half dozen other useful enchantments. I think the problem there isn't with the astral diamond concept, but with the Power and Speed enchantments being too cheap for their effects and possibly just too powerful at any cost. Again, some kind of modification of those spells is probably the best solution. I think Power would probably be okay if it could only provide that free energy for 1 spell at a time (so Power 4 can maintain 2 spells of 2 energy maintenance each, or 4 spells of 1 energy each, or 1 spell of 4 energy, not 14 spells of 4 energy maintenance). Speed needs to either have its cost increased by a factor of 10, or just have the last sentence from its description removed, in line with 4e rules for faster casting.

Starting PCs Under This System

In a standard DF game using this system, I'd suggest that each PC start with 1 astral diamond - or the equivalent in enchantments - with no option to purchase more. For a more low magic feeling, PCs don't start with any astral diamonds and have to find them by delving.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Princes of the Apocalypse Session 11

In addition to my online group, I'm also a player in a biweekly D&D 5th edition game. I haven't been writing Actual Plays for it so far, for a variety of reasons, but I've decided to start doing so anyway. I'm not very fond of the game mechanics and I don't think there's much in Princes of the Apocalypse worth remembering past the end of the session but the actual sessions are usually fun. It's also possible that reviewing the sessions will give me some unexpected insight. It's something to hope for, anyway.

There are unmarked spoilers for Princes of the Apocalypse below, so if you're playing that adventure and are below 10th level or so, you probably shouldn't read this.

Who We Play

My group rather deliberately power-gamed character creation, and ended up with a party of half-elf bard, half-elf tempest cleric, elf rogue, and elf wizard. That meant we could be somewhat sneaky and operate in low light situations, that we had a fair bit of healing, and a lot of area effect spells to damage groups of foes We're arguably a little weak in straight melee combat, but a tempest cleric can pinch hit as a fighter if need be.

At 7th level, here's what we look like in terms of feats, optional abilities, and magic abilities:

  • Rachel's character is Aeminriel aka Amy. She's a Knowledge Bard that in play is a generalist jack-of-all trades bard, with decent social skills and the Lightning Bolt spell as one of her 6th level picks. In combat, she's probably the weakest, but she's solid and her ability to reduce enemy attack rolls is pretty useful. She used to have a demon slaying crossbow, but it had some nasty side effects and she got rid of it.
  • Caius Flavius is my half-elven tempest cleric. He normally wears full plate and shield and carries a Frost Brand shortsword. His shield gives him advantage on Initiative and Perception tests. In combat, he starts by staying well behind everyone else (his Stealth is terrible, though the rest of the party is pretty sneaky) and then runs to the front lines to hit people with a sword or smite with Radiant Bolts. In important fights, he can cast Maximum damage Shatter spells or Spiritual Guardians/Spiritual Weapon, or healing spells if things are really desperate.
  • Derick's character is Galen, an elf Assassin Rogue. He has Slippers of Spider Climbing and a Poison Bow. He sneaks ahead of the rest of us, scouts out the opponents, and uses his assassin ability to murder someone at the start of the fight, and then hides and snipes for the rest of the fight. Preferably doing all of this while standing upside down on the ceiling.
  • Ted's character Verus is an Invoker Wizard with the spell sniper and I Like Fire feats, so he ignores resistance to fire spells and has double range for spells and can avoid targeting allies with area attack spells. He casts cantrips (Fire Bolt, Ray of Frost) in most spells and then blasts people with Fireball, Shatter, or whatever else in major fights.
+Will Scott is our masterful GM. He's apparently been adding stuff to the published adventure to fill in holes. He's also really good at improvising. He's turned a middling-decent adventure in a so-so gaming system into a really fun game.

What We're Playing

We're currently playing Princes of the Apocalypse, which (I gather) is a re-imaging of Temple of Elemental Evil as a sandboxy campaign setting. We've taken a (I gather) fairly idiosyncratic path through the adventure: we noodled around Red Larch, Goldenfields, and Beliard until about 5th level, when we decided to deal with the pirates at Rivenguard Keep. Then we decided to make it a base of operations, which meant we felt obliged to clean out the basement, and through careful play and repeated raids, we destroyed the Water Temple. After that, we wiped out the crazies at Feathergale Spire and visited Scarlet Moon Hall to burn up their big Burning Man festival. Most recently, we adopted the Knights of Summit Hall after the hall got destroyed in retribution for the destruction of Feathergale Spire, and promised to clear out Sacred Stone Monastery to make into a new base for them.

In our last session, we cleared out most of the first floor of the Monastery, leaving untouched only some rooms on the west side. We were helped in this endeavor by four paladins from Summit Hall, who did a lot to up our melee damage. We burned through a lot of hit points and a fair bit of spells, so we took a short rest to recover. At the start of today's session, we were planning to clear the last rooms and start looking into the basement.

Wrong Room, Then

The last two doors on the first floor were wizard-locked. Fortunately, Cavius is strong and can pray to the gods for aid (yay, Guidance!) when he knows he's about to do something difficult, so he smashed down one of the doors with the aid of one of the paladins. On the other side of the door was a lich. Verus made a knowledge check that revealed that the lich could still cast 9th level spells, and I pointed that meant he could presumably cast Time Stop, draw funny mustaches on our faces, and leave off a few Delayed Blast Fireballs to kill us without us being able to much to stop him.

Fortunately, the lich didn't want to fight us. And we certainly didn't want to fight him. We closed the door and left and thanked the GM for not killing us.

Into the Basement

Our brush with near certain death averted, we sent Galen down some stairs to a small room occupied by three big orcs and an ogre. He snuck away, reported the situation to the rest of us, and then snuck back to await the reinforcements. Caius and the paladins (at this point I'd nicknamed them the "God Squad" which is obvious but still funny) charged forward and Galen assassinated one of the orcs for the crime of reading a book and possibly being a wizard. Everyone cast a Shatter and that dropped the orcs, and then the God Squad surrounded the ogre and beat him to death. No one on our side took damage.

We looted (Ted took notes, I don't remember the details) and listened at doors to decide to know where to go next. We heard some rhythmic noise like someone mining to the north, so we went north.

Doing Good Deeds

Galen scouted ahead and found a waif mining alone in a tunnel. The rest of us followed up, determined the waif was a captive, and rescued her. She was part of a group of slaves that the Earth temple had collected, so we went and rescued the rest of the slaves, too. We took them all upstairs, grabbed some evil prisoners of war that we'd stashed in the upper temple last session, and brought all of them to our camp. There, our minions from Summit Hall provided healing or trials, as necessary, and Will rewarded us all an Inspiration Point for being heroic and stuff.

One of the former slaves was a member of a dwarf delegation that we'd been nominally trying to find for about four levels by now. He gave us a little more detail about the basement, but nothing particularly useful.

A Puzzle! Also, Zombies

There was a dwarf tomb to the north of the room filled with dead orcs, so we went there under the assumption that the graves had been desecrated, undead had risen, and the situation had put to rights. To no one's surprise, that turned out to be correct.

A half-dozen zombies aren't actually a threat for 7th level adventurers and some 5 HD beatstick allies, so there wasn't much to say about the fight: assassinate, melee violence, sneak attack, cantrips. It was a quick and short fight, I'll say that much for it.

The weird thing was that we found an empty coffin, apparently for Samular Caradoon. Since the paladins were pretty sure that Samular was the founder of their order buried in the crypts below their former base at Summit Hall, this was something of mystery. However, it wasn't a mystery we could solve at the time, so I noted it in my list of notable things and made plans to write it up on this blog. Which I have.

Two Out of Three is Good Odds

We next headed west, into the apparently the temple's execution room. They had a half-blinded umber hulk imprisoned behind some steel bars in a room with three entrances: two were on the far side from the umber hulk, but the last one went straight into the creature's cage. Ted and I commiserated on those poor delving bands that picked the wrong door, and had a surprise melee with an umber hulk. Since we were one of the lucky ones, we shot it with ranged weapons until it broke out of the cage, and then the god squad closed to melee range and beat it to death.

200' of Stairs is A Lot of Stairs

The next bit was something you see a lot in D&D games, and it makes me wonder if no one in Seattle has ever really climbed a lot of stairs. My alma mater, Trinity University, has 166' tower that most students climb once at freshmen and never again. So I have some vague memories of climbing an seemingly endless set of steps, and I don't think that most people would put half their base 150' above or below the rest of it. So those endless steps in Ravenloft and in the Earth Temple just feel really weird to me.

Anyway, our characters apparently walked down some 200' of steps to get to the Temple of Black Earth, home of the evil earth cult. Galen scouted ahead, and found a chasm, crossed by a bridge without railings, and guarded by gargoyles. The gargoyles got assassinated and shattered a couple of times and died. Another quick combat.

Galen continued to poke around the chasm while the rest of waited for enemy reinforcements attracted by all the explosions. No reinforcements showed up, but we still decided that crossing the bridge seemed sub-optimum.

Galen had found a hole in the chasm wall that led a room filled with incredibly detailed statues. Since we already knew that the leader of the Earth Cult was a medusa, we figured this was his incredibly tacky foyer and we could probably decapitate the leadership of the Earth Cult by exploring that way.

New Plan: Alpha Strike 

We climbed down the chasm, walked across its floor, and then climbed back up into the room full of statues. Galen was dispatched to put some wedges beneath the door, but Ted's character noticed some of the shadows moving in weird directions and shouted we were about to be attacked by a shadow or a wraith or a shadow demon or something. We struck pre-emptively but not not too successfully.

At that point, the medusa and his blind monk girlfriend came out of the north door. Galen had already tangled with the monk last session, and she'd hit him with some stunning attacks and left him for her apprentices to beat into a pulp, so she was definitely kill on sight. And the medusa was obviously bad news. So our plan changed from "cautiously engage a shadow demon" to "burn every spell we had" and things went down.

Caius took half the God Squad and engaged the monk with swords and Spiritual Guardians and Spiritual Weapons. As it turns out, while the monk was quite adept at beating the snot of sneaky people in leather armor, her prowess was somewhat lacking when it came to penetrated steel plate harness backed by shields. And while the monk had Blindsense and could tell where Galen was even when he was hiding (thus negating about half his offensive bag of tricks), Blindsense doesn't protect against sneak attacks when you're engaged in melee with the rogue's allies. She took a bunch of sword attacks from the paladins and an arrow to the eye and fell over.

Meanwhile, Verus and Amy were cutting loose with fireballs and lightning bolts and knocking whole chunks of hit points off the medusa. He fell back into the Spiritual Guardians aura and then got surrounded by the God Squad and hit with a couple of Smites and a Sneak Attack or two. All that did him no particular good, so he died and turned into a pile of mud. Since the Water Cult head has died and turned into water and come back on at least two occasions, we assumed we picked up a new recurring enemy.

The shadow demon disappeared into a wall at one point, and apparently didn't want to move into the Spirit Guardians and die, so we never saw it again. Presumably we'll fight it again next session when it rallies the rest of the Earth cult against it.

We Like Loot

It was getting pretty close to quitting time. We'd earned enough XP to reach 8th level (we're leveling about every other session at this point), so we looted the medusa's stuff. Caius picked up a sweet magical war pick that had the slight negative effect of making him want to destroy stuff, but as I pointed out to Will, that mostly mostly meant that when Caius wantonly destroyed stuff, I would get Inspiration points for role-playing. Ted and Rachel evaluated a suit of elven chain that eventually went to Ted, and we broke for the night.

Technical Notes

Ted rigged up a projector pointed at a mirror and attached it to Will's laptop, and we use MapTools to project maps onto the table. It works really well, though, and speeds up play a lot: we don't have to wait for Will to draw maps. I really recommend it if you can keep the set-up between games, but we can only really do that because Ted is a bachelor that can have a dedicated gaming room without worrying about kids or cats knocking stuff over.

Given all the problems I have with MapTools in the online game, it's surprisingly painless in this role.

Evaluation of Play

I'm not particularly fond of D&D 5e. I think the design team made a lot of poor design decisions, though it was an improvement over D&D 4e. And certainly, the open sandboxy nature of Princes of the Apocalypse is much better than the railroad style adventures of D&D 4e, and fulfills some of the promise I saw in Lost Mines of Fandelvin or whatever it was called.

We're playing D&D as a compromise: Derrick wanted to play some experimental narrative games that I can't stand, and he can't stand GURPS anymore, and D&D 5e generally allows for quick combats against scrub foes and even non-scrub foes. It's still a mechanically bland and uninspired system, though it's getting somewhat less annoying as we go up in levels. We ran out of hit points a lot of levels 1-3, but now it's a rare fight where someone goes down.

Our current tactics are pretty good. We scout, to know who are foes are, and then attack with overwhelming firepower. That usually works pretty well when it's just the four of us, but adding the four paladin NPCs has really improved things. They get two attacks at +5 for 10 damage each, which doesn't suck at all, and we can also use them to watch our backs or block potential avenues of attack while we're futzing around with any other thing. The theorists at the Gaming Den argue that minions are the key to ultimate power in D&D 5e, and I can see their point.

What Next?

We're going to work our way through the rest of the Earth temple next week. Hopefully, it shouldn't be too hard or take more than a session or two. It took us three sessions to clear the Water temple but we've gained a few levels since then.

After that, we still need to deal with the Fire and Air temples, and there's a dragon turtle in the Water temple that we avoided on the grounds that it couldn't come attack us and we didn't think we could kill it. Now we probably can.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Castle of Horrors Session 11

Thursday is GURPS Day!

I ran another session of Castle of Horrors last night. It was a pretty good session, with a bit of exploring, a little combat, some role-playing and social interaction, and a rare display of good sense on the part of the PCs. It also had one of the more amusing reactions to a trap I've ever seen, and ended with a good discussion of what is and isn't working in the game.

Behind the Scenes

The PCs returned from their second expedition last week, and there was some lively email traffic about improving characters, making better armor, and the like now that the characters were back in the Real World. Inevitably, the emails reached a crescendo just before the game started, with something like 30 messages in the last thirty minutes before the game started to clarify last minute issues. I was slightly perturbed, because I was trying to finish up my own last minute preparations like updating my GM tracker spreadsheet with the newly updated character stats, but it all went well in the end. It was just a little more chaotic than I would liked at the last minute.

One interesting thing that came out of all that was a link to two auctions for Hawk MM1 40mm grenade launchers - which are civilian weapons in the United states. +Theodore Briggs' character Thomas snatched one up, and I expected I would regret letting him do so, and it turns out I was right. As high explosive rounds are NOT civilian weapons in the US, he ended up making some of his own, and I warned him that there was a slight possibility that the things might explode in the tube.

A couple of other people armored up, and +Eric Schmidt retired Yusef in favor of a character of his own design: an Orc-strain Native American shaman who really believed in the power of prayer named Quanah. There was some pre-game discussion about how that name was even pronounced, and we were good to go.

Fortifying the Dungeon

The PCs transported over into the Castle Courtyard a few hours before dark. They immediately (well, after some gentle prompting) headed into the dining room and made camp. Thomas had brought a huge amount of stuff: cordless drills, car batteries, extra ammo for his grenade launcher, wireless cameras, door locks, etc. which he dropped off in the room and used to make it as secure as possible. I noted that the wireless cameras would be fine for seeing who was on the other side of the dining room door but that getting signal from elsewhere in the castle would be difficult. As it turned out, they had an uneventful night.

Talking to the Neighbors

The next morning, they decided to start by talking to Wiremu the goblin merchant. Sadly, Wiremu's tribe wasn't around, so they decided to talk to the gnomes instead. The gnomes were around.

The conversation was pretty brief: the gnomes were secretive and mildly surly, and while they might have needed the PCs' help, they didn't want to pay the necessary price to do. +Kevin Smyth's character Raleigh kept pushing the issue, and finally tried casting a Command spell to force the gnome leader to "Tell me." I ruled as how that was a valid Command ("at most two words", as per GURPS Magic), but the gnome won the quick contest and resisted the spell, and also noticed that Raleigh had cast some kind of mind control spell on him. In my games, I treat the use of mind control as a hostile act, so the gnomes slammed the door in Raleigh's face.

Moving On Up

Next, the PCs decided to climb the south tower stairs from its entrance in the chapel. That meant climbing a lot of a spiral staircase, winding around a central shaft wall, in a tower with no windows. After a while they started making chalk marks to determine they weren't trapped in another endless staircase, and went back a couple of times to make sure that nothing was erasing the chalk marks. Eventually, they made it to the top of the tower: a walkway around a deep shaft, some arrowslits looking out onto the surrounding countryside, and a carpet of rotten crow corpses. was somewhat creepy, but it got creepier as the crow corpses began sliding across the room like iron filings being pulled by a magnet and assembling into a man-sized figure. +Douglas Cole's Neil failed an easy Fright Check (despite Doug having improved his Will between expeditions) and really failed the Fright Check when the crow-monster used its powerful Terror ability. Most everyone else fired away at the thing to little effect, but Neil was forced to Do Nothing in order to remove a crippling -6 penalty. Thomas used his grenade launcher to good effect, dropping a round at the thing's feet and destroying some of its component crow parts.

The creature retaliated by throwing a bundle of dead birds at near super-sonic speeds at Thomas, putting a crack in his shield. Thomas responded with a barrage of grenades, including napalm, that blew the thing to pieces. An anti-climax little battle, all things considered.

There wasn't anything else in the tower top, so Thomas dropped a chem light down the central shaft. Some 200' down below, they caught a brief glimpse of the bottom of the stairs - and of another, smaller set of spiral stairs descending deeper below the castle. That seemed interesting, but rappelling down a 200' shaft seemed problematic (especially the part about getting out) so they went back down to the chapel and told +Uhuk of the Guard's character Ryan (an inhumanly strong troll) to pound through the wall with his sledgehammer.

Napalm is Not a Good Fire Extinguisher

Gameplay stopped for a bit while we tried to figure out how long it took a super-strong man to smash a 3' by 3' hole in a 2' thick stone wall. GURPS actually has numbers for this, which is nice, but it took a while to figure out how to use them and in the end, I just eyeballed it at 3-4 hours.  The PCs set up watches, because, as they noted, this was not going to be a subtle or quiet operation and would attract the attention of any wandering monsters in the vicinity.

Now, for various reasons, there actually aren't a lot of wandering monsters in the Castle proper. However, there was one, and he heard them. The first warning anyone got was the crazy axeman running into the chapel and screaming "Cheaters! Thieves! Give me back my axe!" and Vengeance flying off Raleigh's boyfriend Jamie's vest. Neil and Thomas were on watch in the chapel, and responded with grenades and semi-automatic weapon fire. The axeman mostly dodged the grenades, though he did catch a bit of napalm, and Neil nailed him twice in the heart. Some 200 points of damage later, the axeman fell to the ground.

A long and slightly confused argument ensued. Some people wanted to burn the body and scatter the ashes, and it was pointed out that the body WAS burning. At which point people looked up the difficulty of putting out napalm, and apparently the second item in the Google search was "". Raleigh and Jamie wanted to return the axe in hopes that would make the crazy person stop coming after them, and Neil wanted to keep Vengeance but dump the body off the overlook. Jamie didn't want to keep Vengeance, either way, eventually Neil's girlfriend Angela claimed it under the logic that her boyfriend had shot the guy this time and it was hers as spoils by proxy. Good enough, and Neil and Quanah ended up dumping the body off the overlook.

Into the Crypts

Eventually Ryan finished making a hole, and people rapplled down about 40' to the bottom of the stairs. There was the second, smaller set of spiral stairs going further down, and an archway to the west opening up into catacombs: a series of halls and small 10' square tombs and crypts. There was some writing over the archway, which Raleigh used Gift of Tongues to translate to "Here lie the children of Crowspire. Disturb not their rest, lest you join them in damnation and slumber eternal." She also noted that there was a huge magical charge in the catacombs.

People were curious, but not so curious as to want to suffer whatever horrible curse might hit them. They cautiously poked at one of the crypts, where it looked like someone had disturbed one of the bodies and left behind a silver ring. The greedy people resisted their greediness and left everything alone, displaying some rare common sense.

Further to the west, some stairs descended past two huge bronze statues (Doug dourly noted "these are the statues that are going to animate and kill us" but nothing happened at the time) and into a large crypt that was apparently up against the cliff wall: there were windows, some with strands of giant spider silk hanging from them. The PCs realized that these were the windows they'd seen beneath them from the overlook. They also noticed that someone had rigged a leather sheet to collect rainwater into a keg, and immediately began shouting out if anyone was home.

Meet Ted Kazynski?

A rough looking fellow approached from the north and started talking. He was soft spoken and reasonably friendly, though he admitted to living in the crypts because it was "nice" and "he liked it here" and "no one bothered him." At one point, he even claimed that while he knew they were powerful wizards, and he didn't wish to give offense, he could defend himself and they shouldn't start anything.

In the out-of-character chat, there was a bit of speculation about this guy: was he a were rat? maybe he had stolen something from the crypt and was now cursed to stay? Or maybe he was Ted Kazynski and would eat them soon. As it turned out, whatever he was, he wasn't hostile, and showed them to a iron reinforced door that was unlike the other doors in the catacombs.

Follow the Leader

The doors were barred from the far side, but Neil managed to slide his katana through the gap in the doors and lever the bar off. Opening the doors revealed a long and somewhat uninteresting hallway. which the PCs decided to explore. About halfway down, Thomas and Ryan - in the lead - heard a click beneath their feet and then the floor dropped away and they were sent hurtling down a magically slick shaft to someplace else.

Neil and Quanah tied a rope harness to Raleigh and sent her ahead (with plans to pull her back) but as luck would have it (and Kevin did use Raleigh's luck to reroll the necessary Dodge and failed badly every time), the trap got her too. At which point Neil, Quanah, Angela, and Jamie looked at each other, sighed, and resignedly walked into the trap. I guess it was a better choice than splitting the party.

In the Drink

Everyone found themselves in a 10' by 10' cell with the floor covered in 3' of water: a mild inconvenience to 9' tall Ryan, something of a worry to 4'6" tall Thomas. Fortunately, most everyone had wrapped their sensitive electronic goods in plastic bags, so nothing too vital was lost, though probably a good bit of ready ammunition got wet.

Ryan still had his maul, and somewhat rusty iron cell bars were no match for troll strength. The PCs left the cell and found themselves in a cell block of eight similar cells: most of the others were empty, but one had a drider corpse in it. There was an open archway to the south leading to another flooded hallway, and they moved in that direction.

I was tempted to end the session on a cliff-hanger, but I restrained myself for once. We stopped just before they entered the hallway and dealt with the next set of difficulties. Which was good, because it gave us some time to talk about what was and was not working in the game.

The Catacombs and Dungeon Level, as explored so far.

Things That Aren't Working

I initiated the conversation, and a couple of things came out immediately. First, Fright Checks were annoying because they sometimes meant your character couldn't do anything in combat. Second, there was a lot of dead time in the game where nothing was happening. Third, gameplay in general felt directionless because no one was sure of what to do, which was probably the cause of the dead time but I want to address it separately.

People Don't Know What They Want Until You (Don't) Give It to Them

The first issue was Fright Checks. Now, Castle of Horrors, despite the name and the use of Castle Ravenloft for inspiration, is not a horror game. It's a non-escapist, non-gritty game of dungeon exploring. I personally didn't have a strong opinion on Fright Checks, but +Nathan Joy and Doug had specifically requested that the PCs have realistic reactions for people encountering strange and dangerous situations for the first time, and that meant Fright Checks. (I thought it was fishy at the time that Nate's character had a Fear Check vaule of 16 and was unlikely to fail Fright Checks, but I went with it.) As it turns out, being scared of a monster means you're less effective against it, and this is not fun.

I was slightly bemused that people were upset that they'd gotten what they'd wanted, but I pointed out that sometimes the dice meant that you were scared and unable to take action, and sometimes the dice meant you got to snapshoot someone three times in the vitals and end a combat almost before it began, and Doug allowed as how that was true and maybe this wasn't that large a problem. Especially as since in the encounter with the crow-monster, Neil hadn't been too incapacitated by the first Fright Check, but only had problems when the monster used its Terror ability. As since if it hadn't used its Terror ability, it would have rushed the PCs and Thomas wouldn't have been able to use his grenade launcher and the resulting fight would have been a long, brutal slog - well, the point is, Fright Checks are probably going to stay in the game.

We'd Like Less Dead Time

The players all agreed that they would like less dead time in the game, and I agree with them. Sadly, I don't know what I can do about it: I can't make them take action quicker, aside from giving them less time to think about what to do before saying "Okay, and what are you doing now?" My opinion is that no one has a strong opinion what do when exploring, and everyone is friendly and accommodating and no one wants to step on anyone else's toes. So when they hit a point where their isn't an obvious thing to do, everyone waits for someone else to step up first and normally no one does.

It's a player dynamic issue. I don't experience it as much in Emily's Chaos Scar game or in the face to face game I'm playing in, because I don't like dead time and will put forth a suggestion of what to do next at the first hint of it. Eric suggested that maybe someone should act as the group's leader, and I think that would really work, but I don't think it's a solution I can impose on them. Or maybe I can: maybe I'll just randomly assign a leader each session and tell them it's their responsibility to decide what to do unless everyone else overrides them. It might work, and it's definitely worth throwing out on the mailing list to see what everyone thinks.

There Aren't Any Clues

I felt very ambivalent about the general consensus that there wasn't enough direction in the game. It's a wide open sandbox dungeon exploration game, there isn't supposed to be a mission controller telling you what do, that's part of the point! And when I said that, the players allowed as how that was true, but they were still having less fun than they could be having. Fortunately, the discussion quickly segued into a statement that they didn't feel like they had enough clues, and so they didn't know where to go.

That was a more concrete problem, and one that I agree with more. I mean, I'd done things like create lists of "Great Treasures" to get them pointed in the right direction, but Doug noted those were out of character knowledge and not something they could easily use. That sparked more discussion, such as my pointing out they'd seen at least two of the Great Treasures and not done anything about the, and some private reflections about how if they'd done more with some stuff, they'd be in a better situation. But honestly, there was a very valid point: they hadn't gotten a lot of clues to help them decide where to go in the Castle. And while some of the suggestions for rectifying that annoyed me, such as adding some characters that could give quests (though ironically, there are already such characters in setting), the general ideas were sound.

As a first step, I retroactively noted that they'd stolen the ghost butler's journal from his bedroom and that Raleigh had found some diary like notes in the grimoire they'd looted off the drider wizard. That was enough to spark some discussion, and now they're apparently prepared to go back and loot the crypts again: they weren't going to poke through random crypts in hopes of finding gold, but if they can just go to the right crypt, they're entirely willing to risk the curse. Players, what can you say?

Evaluation of Play

So aside from some general issues, this was a pretty good session in my opinion: a little combat, a little exploring, a little role-playing. I still really like that this isn't a standard Dungeon Fantasy game, where every NPC is there to be killed, and I can introduce potentially worrisome people and the PCs can have a conversation with them. The change of pace and attitude is really liberating.

I knew when I let Ted buy a grenade launcher for Thomas I would regret it, and I did. Checking over the weapon's stats, it turns out it has a minimum arming distance of 10 yards, which is going to drastically cut down on the weapon's effectiveness. So maybe I won't regret it as much as I thought. And with the grenades weighing 0.5 lbs apiece, ammo is going be a concern, especially when they reach the Caves Beneath.

What Next

We're not playing next week, because of Christmas travel plans, but hopefully we'll play again on the 30th. That gives me two weeks to finish mapping and stocking the major portion of the Caves Beneath, which should be plenty if I can do a room or two a day.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

College Ritual Book Magic: Some playtest results

I've been using my College Ritual Book Magic system in my Castle of Horrors game, which has been the most sustained playtest of it so far. (+Nathan Joy used it a bit in +Uhuk of the Guard's Chaos Scar game, but those sessions were scattershot and Nate's attendance was spotty and it was hard to really evaluate what was going on.) I think it's held up fairly well, which doesn't really surprise me since it's really a codification of a bunch of existing GURPS optional rules, but there have been a couple of things we need to change.

Rational Spell Damage Changes

The biggest thing we noticed is that [Elemental] Weapon and [Elemental] Missiles are overpowered, the latter especially so when combined with modern firearms. Adding 4-7 points of damage to every shot from an automatic weapon for a minute is overpowered for 4 energy points.

My intent with [Elemental] Weapon/Missile was to make it a more powerful spell: +2 damage for 4 energy and 2 seconds casting time might have been acceptable in 2nd edition GURPS, with 100 point adventurers, but it fails to be useful under 4th edition expectations of 200+ point adventurers with rapid strikes and Weapon Master. I think I went too far.

One easy change is to double the energy cost. Then these spells compete with Great Haste as highly desirable combat buff spells, but with a different tactical role: Great Haste turns a warrior into a cuisinart against foes he can already harm but can only be cast after the fighting starts, while [Elemental] Weapon/Missile can be cast in anticipation of a fight and can give a warrior a more effective damage type against foes nigh-invulnerable to his usual attacks.

The other change we made was to rule that either spell's bonus damage can only be applied to one damage roll per attack roll. This is a simple way to reign in autofire and area effect attacks.

One other change is giving the spells a lesser form. For 4 energy and 1 second casting time, the bonus damage is fixed at 2 points.

Finally, +Kevin Smyth suggested blocking versions of each spell that would work for a single attack. It's a good suggestion, but I don't see why there needs to be two spells for such a minor effect.

Here's the new versions:
(Element) Weapon: Imbues a melee weapon with elemental energy that does 2 points of damage as a follow-up attack on a single damage roll from a successful attack with the weapon, with the element's usual damage type and damage modifiers. This spell takes 1 seconds and 4 energy to cast and has a duration of 60 seconds, with a maintenance cost of 2 energy. Enlarging the spell doubles the energy cost and increases the damage to slow progression. As a separate concentrate action that may be repeated, the spell can also be enlarged to apply to another weapon, at 4 or 8 energy per extra weapon. 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 2 points of damage as a follow-up attack on a single damage roll from a successful attack with the weapon, with the element's usual damage type and damage modifiers. This spell takes 1 seconds and 4 energy to cast and has a duration of 60 seconds, with a maintenance cost of 2 energy. Enlarging the spell doubles the energy cost and increases the damage to slow progression. As a separate concentrate action that may be repeated, the spell can also be enlarged to apply to another weapon, at 4 or 8 energy per extra weapon. 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) Strike: This is a blocking spell that imbues a melee  or ranged weapon with elemental energy that does 2 points of damage on a single damage roll from a successful attack with the weapon within the next second. It costs 1 FP to cast, but can be cast for 3 energy in which case the follow-up damage uses slow progression damage instead. 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.

Threshold and Calamity

Kevin has been casually letting his tally go over his Threshold, and he's suffered some minor penalties from calamity for doing so. The risk has been been pretty manageable, and if it looks like a spell will get people out of jam, or prevent a badly wounded comrade from dying, it's worth going over Threshold. Given that in my prior limited experience with Threshold magic, no one went over Threshold for fear of exploding, I'm very pleased with the new table.

I'm not as pleased with the balance point on Threshold magic in general, though. Wizards are still generalists, and they pick up a lot of power for not a lot of points. I'm toying with changing the cost of Extra Magic Ability, the advantage that increase Threshold and Recovery Rate, from 10 points/level to 15 or even 20 points/level. Wizards will still be able to do a lot of stuff, but they'll run out of power faster and risk Calamity earlier. I haven't made the change yet, but it's something to keep in mind as we do more with the system.

Learning Spells

In my original thoughts for the system, I assumed there would be two types of spell-casters: dabblers, who would pick up individual spells as Mental/Easy skills using the existing prerequisite system, and wizards, who would learn entire Colleges as Mental/Very Hard skills and would use grimoires to improve their skills with individual spells. Which was fine, as far as it went, but there was never a good solution to question of a wizard who wanted to specialize in a specific spell.

My current suggestion is that a wizard can use the points spent to learn a College to learn "virtual prerequisites," so a wizard with 4 points in the College of Fire could effectively know Ignite Fire, Create Fire, Shape Fire, and Fireball - and then learn Explosive Fireball as a M/E skill for 1 point at IQ+Talent level. He still wouldn't be able to learn Fast Fire, because he wouldn't know the prerequisites of Extinguish Fire and Slow Fire, but he could cast it at the normal default penalty and improve his effective skill with a grimoire.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Castle of Horrors Session 10

Thursday is GURPS Day!

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

Role-Playing Scene: the Body

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

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

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

Opening (and closing!) the door

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

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

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

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

Cutting a Deal

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

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

Shmuck Bait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ominous Signs

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

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

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

Technical Notes

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

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

Evaluation of Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Next

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Castle of Horrors Session 9

Last week, my online group met for the ninth session of Castle of Horrors. This was a fairly unsatisfying session, for a variety of reasons, and I didn't want to revisit it so it's taken a while for me to write it up. I have some ideas about what didn't go right, but I don't have any grand ideas about how to improve things. There are just some things that GURPS doesn't do well, and maybe that most games don't do well, and this session highlighted them.

+Douglas Cole didn't exactly write up a session report, but he shared his feelings about what went wrong on a game design level.


Last session ended with the PCs deciding to call off exploring for a while and take a full twelve hours to rest. For some reason, they decided to set up in the highly exposed courtyard, and this cost them quite dearly. We figured out a watch rotation and I prepared an ambush.

The leprechauns were periodically checking on their gold, and they noticed that someone had stolen it. Not being stupid, they assumed the PCs, being new people wandering around the castle, were the ones who stole it. One of the leprechauns had Invisibility and Flight as Charms, and since he had 12 Destiny Points, he got critical successes when he cast those two spells. So he didn't have to pay anything to cast them or maintain them, and they worked on two of his comrades. As these were brutishly strong Leprechauns with ST 10, it was trivial for the flying leprechauns to lift the others to the top of the wall.

The leprechauns then sneaked along the parapets. With DX 16, SM -4, Stealth-16, and lots of Destiny Points, it was trivial for them to sneak past the PCs' sentries. They positioned themselves in two strike teams: the non-flyers were on the wall to the west of the PCs while the flyers were going to dive bomb them. Almost every member of both groups had vials of Alchemist's Fire ready, except for one on the wall that had a fully expanded Sun Volley charm prepared: he would do 1d+5 bu RoF 10 with an Acc of 8 on his initial attack (again, he'd been Lucky on his casting roll and gotten a critical success).

+Douglas Cole's character Neil has Danger Sense, which I've generally forgotten to deal with but remembered this time. He got just enough warning to be out of his tent when the dive bombers started dropping alchemist's fire on people. His dependent Angela managed to dodge a direct hit, but Neil and +Uhuk of the Guard's character Ryan got coated with sticky burning goo. This was especially alarming, since Ryan is a troll that takes double injury from fire, and alchemist's fire easily penetrated his natural DR. +Kevin Smyth's character Raleigh and her boyfriend Jamie were in their tent, which got riddled by the Sun Volley but mostly missed them. +Theodore Briggs ' character Thomas' tent got set on fire, and so did +Eric Schmidt's character Yusef's tent. Fortunately, modern tents are fire resistant, so they protected the occupants from direct damage, but smoke inhalation was an issue and neither Ted nor Eric wanted to exit into the flames.

So by the second round of combat, the situation was pretty dire: one PC ally had managed to beat out the fire, but two other PCs were frantically rolling on the ground trying to put out the flames that were eating at them. Two other PCs were pinned in their tents, and the only two PCs that were free to act had Pacifism (Reluctant Killer) and couldn't possibly hit the 2' leprechauns perched on the wall some 60' overhead. Even looking at the leprechauns meant looking into the setting sun, which blinded people until they made a HT roll.

As the GM, I had a different problem: the leprechauns were the opposite of eggshells armed with sledgehammers, in that they had great defense but terrible offense. After the first and only volley of alchemist fire, they had daggers that did 1d-4 im damage and nothing else. The flyers descended on Ryan and started trying to stab him to death, which didn't work, and then started trying to stab him in the eyes, which didn't work well. Meanwhile, the PCs were putting out the flames and getting out of their tents (Yusef cut through the back of his) and making lucky shots on the leprechauns.. The leprechauns could mostly dodge the burst, but mostly isn't good enough when you only have 8 HP and are dealing with 7.62mm rounds.

To make tracking the leprechauns simpler, I'd converted their normal Ridiculous Luck (roll 3 times, every fifteen minutes) to 12 Destiny Points (buy successes) so that I wouldn't have to track when they had used their luck most recently. Unfortunately, 12 Destiny Points meant that even a badly wounded Leprechaun (at -4xHP or worse) could expect to make a lot of consciousness checks, and one of the Leprechauns had Major Healing and could bring them back into the fight. So a fight that was already dragging was just going to drag on, and the leprechauns weren't going to do more than injure a few of the PCs a little bit. I finally just called it, because everyone was already bored and frustrated and no one was interested in having this continue through the rest of the session, much less the through the next session.

Raleigh had tried to negotiate with the Leprechauns, to return the gold in exchange for ending the combat. As it turns out, the Leprechauns were people-eaters, and wanted to restock their larder with the PCs' corpses, so that didn't work out. Raleigh did get a critical success on her Diplomacy checks, so they agreed to not eat her, but it was otherwise a battle to the death.

New Camp!

Raleigh's, Thomas', and Yusef's tents were ruined, though they had protected the backpacks within. Everyone decided to move camp to someplace less dangerous, and after some discussion they nixed my suggestion of the hallway and moved back to the dining room. There they encountered a ghost, which after some observation they decided was a butler still supervising dinner, but he didn't bother them and they avoided him and he eventually left to go back to his room downstairs.

The rest of the night was uneventful from the PCs' perspective. Things might have happened in the castle, but they were in a windowless room with the doors closed and they didn't witness anything. At least they all got a full 8 hours of sleep.

Burying the Lede

The next morning, they got up late and went to explore the leprechauns' rooms. They didn't really find much: a room on the first floor had several crates that the leprechauns used as houses but no interesting loot. The room in the second floor was a garden and larder: the ground was covered with dirt and growing herb plants, and a green-skinned corpse was hanging from a hook in the southeast corner. Uhuk accused me of burying the lede in that description, and it is something I need to work on.

There was one more door in the Leprechaun rooms that looked like it led out to the second floor of the northern tower. It was late, and Uhuk and Doug were sleepy, so we called it there and said we'd explore that door next week.

Evaluation of Play

When I started this game, I warned the players that balance was going to be all over the place. It's extremely difficult to balance encounters for unarmored combatants with weak melee combat skills and little healing magic: everything is going to be a blow-out in the PCs' favor, a massacre of the PCs, or a long, boring grind. The Leprechauns started out as a massacre and turned into a grind.

One of GURPS' problems is its highly detailed, second-by-second combat. Sometimes, this goes well and is interesting, but other times it means a player has to wait twenty minutes to announce that his character is rolling on the ground for the second of three turns. Alternately, after waiting twenty minutes, he can roll defenses against a series of attacks that are unlikely to damage him but have a small chance of crippling him. It just isn't fun.

It's nearly as bad on the GM's side of the screen: I had seven combatants to run, and I'm trying to maximize their damage without being entirely unfair. I probably should have used a slightly different arrangement of the Leprechauns, as a couple of the ones on the wall had Melee charms that they couldn't use. I also possibly should have been more violent, with the flying leprechauns deciding that Ryan wasn't a threat and stabbing some of the other PCs, possibly in the eyes. Giving the leprechauns a second set of potions - possibly liquid ice that would have hurt but not forced the PCs to spend actions putting out fire - would have been a good idea. In retrospect, replacing all the alchemist's fire with liquid ice and poisonous gas potions would have been a great idea.

The PCs screwed up here. I have no idea why they thought camping in the highly exposed courtyard was a good idea, and I'm glad I punished them for it. The question is how much to punish people: a total party kill is always a downer, and it also turns the game into something of a shaggy dog story. +Peter V. Dell'Orto has managed it a couple of times, but I'm very reluctant to do it. Castle of Horrors isn't as escapist as Mecha Against the Giants, but it isn't supposed to be a grim and gritty game either.

On a plus side, the playtest of College Ritual Book magic is continuing and going well. Raleigh has now had enough calamities on healing spells that she's reluctant to continuing using them (double cost on both Major Healing and Minor Healing) and really needs to stop spell-casting for a couple of days. I haven't had to muck around with changing mana fields: her magic is self-limiting in a natural, organic manner. I'm pleased with that.

What Next

Since there wasn't a total party kill, the game can continue. I suspect there is going to be a brief foray into the north tower next week, and then I'm not sure about the PCs' plans. They've made noises about continuing to explore the upper levels of the Castle, but doing so might put them into conflict with the gnomes or the sorcerer and I think that's something they want to avoid for now.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Castle of Horrors Session 8

Thursday is GURPS day!

Most of my gaming group met for another session of Castle of Horrors, though +Douglas Cole wasn't able to make it. This was another fun and interesting, but not necessarily terribly productive, session. Fighting undead may or may not be dangerous, but it tends to take up a lot of play time.

Well, That's Creepy

At the end of the previous session, the PCs were in the castle's basement after having killed a mad ax man and secured the magic ax Vengeance. Doug's character Neil and +Eric Schmidt's character Yusef had explored down some stairs and found a locked door. After some discussion and further recriminations on the subject of murder, the PCs decided to climb some nearby stairs that led to the base of the north tower.

When I first mapped and stocked the dungeon, I noted to myself at one point that there were only two ways to the base of the north tower: down the spiral stairs from the upper levels, and up the stairs from below. For reasons that will shortly be obvious, I thought it was very unlikely that the PCs would be coming down the spiral stairs and thus they'd have to be coming up from below. Nevertheless, I staged the encounter under the assumption that the PCs wouldn't see in the stair well and had the monsters hiding there. I'm not really sure why I did that.

At any rate, the new room was a roughly 60' across circle, with the PCs coming up a square flight of stairs on the west side. Roughly a dozen bodies of dead adventurers lay strewn on the floor, obviously dead from hideous wounds. The stairs themselves were shrouded in mist. Looking up above (with the aid of +Theodore Briggs' character Thomas and his tactical flashlight's 100 yard beam), the PCs saw the hollow interior of the tower rising around 160', nearly empty aside from the spiral stairs. And a huge beating heart hanging from the ceiling at the top of the tower.

I ruled that huge beating hearts are eerie and a little scary, and called for Fright Checks. Neil and his girlfriend Angela both failed them, as well as +Uhuk of the Guard's character Ryan. Neil ended up throwing up for about fifteen seconds, while Ryan and Angela were stunned. Since I was running Neil in Doug's absence, I was pleased by these results since it meant I didn't have to deal with them. Meanwhile, the mists in the stairwell were flowing into a pair of the dead bodies (despite the lack of a breeze) and the bodies were starting to animate. The PCs drew weapons and a fight was on.

Undead: Sometimes dangerous, always tedious

Rifles and shotguns are good for killing living things, as has been previously noted, but not particularly efficient at disabling things that are already dead. The PCs shot and blasted the bodies as they climbed to their feet, and dropped one of them after a barrage of bullets. The mist flowed out of the body and into another one, which proceeded to animate and return to the attack.

With only two zombies attacking at a time, the PCs weren't in too much danger, though one of the zombies managed to get behind +Kevin Smyth's character Raleigh's Ally/Dependent Jamie and give him a solid punch to the back of the skull that knocked Jamie to the floor with a concussion. But the zombies were resilient (they had bonus HP and needed to be dropped to -5xHP before the mists were forced to abandon) and the mists that were animating them were only briefly vulnerable when they were out of a body, and even then, rifles and shotguns aren't the best weapon against diffuse mists.

At one point, Thomas decided to drop his shotgun onto his sling and pull out the magic axe Vengeance and go to town with that. Sadly, Thomas didn't actually know how to use the axe, and even though Vengeance created a couple of shockwaves that were capable of damaging the mists, Thomas couldn't hit with them. He dropped it about the same time that Jamie was knocked to the floor, so Jamie picked it up. Jamie is significantly stronger than Thomas and knows how to fight with an axe, so the zombies started getting carved up pretty quickly.

Also around this time, Raleigh had an idea. I'm not saying it was the worst idea of the session, but it didn't do much to improve the situation. She aimed at the huge heart above and eventually shot it. Her slugs bounced off the heart and apparently angered it: it began filling the tower with pulses of red light, and a dozen or more halberds began animating and swinging wildly on the spiral stairs. Since the PCs weren't on the spiral stairs, it wasn't an immediate danger, but Raleigh freaked out and everyone decided that was a clear sign not to attack the heart or climb the spiral stairs.

Eventually, Jamie managed to down a zombie. Yusef had just drunk the potion of fire breathing, and expelled a lethal burp at the mist. Jamie's next attack created an explosion that blew the mist into nothingness. At that point, I called the fight: the remaining mist wasn't going to better alone than two mists working together, and Jamie with Vengeance was sufficiently skilled at killing the mist as to make the outcome more or less inevitable. Spending another three hours running the fight wasn't worthwhile.

Much to my surprise, that fight ran 14 rounds of game time: long enough for Neil to recover from his vomiting and rejoin the fight. It wasn't the longest fight I've run, in terms of time spent fighting, but I think it's one of the longest in terms of in-game time.

Recognizing Danger

The PCs weren't willing to try making their way up the spiral staircase in the face of a dozen animated halberds, but they did take the time to loot the bodies for some minor coinage. Then they decided to explore the third exit from the room: a hallway running east on the north side of the castle.

As Kevin predicted, it went into an octagonal tower, because castle defenses tend to be symmetrical. The tower itself was similar to its sibling to the south, except that the ceiling was bare of cobwebs. The PCs decided that was a bad sign and stopped at the threshold to examine for potential problems. The tower walls were littered with small black half-disks, which turned into swarms of stone butterflies under prolonged examination by high powered flashlights. Neil, Thomas, and Yusef backed up as the swarms flew forward and began cutting at their clothes and skin.

Raleigh quickly cast Thunder Breath, and belched a deadly sonic attack that shattered half the swarms and sent the rest flying into the far wall fast enough to crush the rest on impact. In the process, she also sent Yusef tumbling to the ground, badly injured, but some aspirin and splints (aka first aid) resolved the worst of his problems.

At this point, Raleigh was regularly failing calamity checks whenever she cast a spell, and was so far past her Threshold that she wouldn't recover all her Tally that night. Everyone was also short on sleep and yawning. After a brief discussion, they elected to make an immediate camp in the courtyard: they were doing well for treasure with roughly $70,000 in gold coins alone, and no one wanted to take more injury while tired.

Since it was already after 9pm, we ended the session there.

Evaluation of Play

My players are convinced that every monster has a weak spot, in its vitals or in its skull, and if they just shoot it there, it will take massive damage and/or be easily stunned. They persist in this belief even after I point out that they're fighting a zombie that started with half it's head blown off, and that  after a couple of rifle shots to the forehead, the zombie doesn't meaningfully have a skull or head and is still fighting. I'm not really sure what's up with that.

Castle of Horrors is turning into an extended playtest of my College Ritual Book Magic system. +Nathan Joy and I were both using it in Uhuk's Chaos Scar game, but Nate was only available intermittently and there's a limit to how useful it is to playtest your own stuff. I'm pleased that it's working out fairly well, and that Kevin feels safe in risking calamity by going over his threshold. Kevin's character is possibly a little over-powered, though not more than any other wizard would be. We had a good discussion about it after the game, which will probably be turned into a blog post or two later this week.

One thing that I've started doing is using Angela to break tedious debates. As has been noted, my players are a cautious bunch, and will sometimes waste ten or fifteen minutes arguing about taking some course of action that I know, from behind my screen, is perfectly safe but that seems risky to them. Since I know it's safe, I've started having Angela just go ahead and do whatever they're debating to break the logjam and move the game along. It's worked well so far on the two instances I've used it, and I'm going to keep pushing it.

Another thing I didn't mention in the write-up is that Vengeance is starting to change Jamie's personality. He's now more irritable (Bad Temper) and reckless in battle (Berserker). It's not a huge thing, but it's a side effect of the weapon. However, Vengeance itself isn't cursed, at least not in the modern post-D&D gaming parlance meaning of the term: Jamie can put down Vengeance at any time. This is a deliberate choice on my part: I think a weapon that will potentially harm the user is more interesting if the user has the choice to give it up whenever they're ready to give up a weapon that is very useful against a large category of hard to hurt foes. That way, it's Jamie's tragic choices that will eventually cause many of the PCs to get hacked to pieces by an ally, instead of some kind of compulsory hex that prevents him from putting the weapon down.

I was really pleased that the PCs realized that the lack of cobwebs on the ceiling of the tower meant danger. It's been a subtle but consistent theme in the room descriptions, and I'm glad that effort paid off. Of course, that also means its time to subvert it soon. I think I know how that's going to happen.

Technical Notes

The new version of MapTools 1.4 has a feature for isometric views. I've ranted on the group that I'm not very impressed with this feature: it requires a lot more art assets and doesn't really improve clarity very much. This session was one of the few times it would have helped: the layout of the stairs at the tower base is obvious in an isometric view and a little confusing on a flat map.
The location of the stairs flat, top-down view in lower left is confusing.
The isometric view in the upper right is clear about the stairs.

What Next?

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving in America, and people are traveling Wednesday night so I'm not running a game next week. That gives me two weeks to contemplate the consequences of the various decisions the PCs have made so far. They're wreaked a fair bit of havoc throughout the castle, and various people are going to respond in various ways. I think that's also an important part of the story of this game, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.

Beyond that, I finally figured out how I wanted to stock the last room in the sub basement, the one that had been giving me problems for the last two weeks. I still need to finish stocking the crypts, but I mostly know what I want to do there and it's just a matter of writing down the details. I've also started drawing the map of the first of the Caves Beneath, which I'm adapting from Xak Tsaroth in DL1 "Dragons of Despair". I probably won't need that for several months, but better to be ahead while there's time.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Castle of Horrors Session 7

Thursday is GURPS Day!

Another Wednesday, and another session of Castle of Horrors. This was a good session, but not as much was accomplished as I might have hoped: the opening fight with the skeletons bogged down a bit, and there wasn't enough time to accomplish much else. The PCs mostly finished exploring the basement, though.

"These are fast skeletons, then!"

The session started in the middle of the fight from last session: the undead erupting ooze was merrily burning from multiple alchemist fires, but some of the PCs could just barely make out some animated skeletons rising. People shifted position a bit, and wondered aloud if the skeletons were going to be fast or slow.

The answer was fast: very fast. The skeletons had a move of 11, and quickly a horde of twenty were racing through the piles of burning alchemical fire and into melee range. Gunfire slowed them, but it took multiple rounds to actually stop them. +Uhuk of the Guard's character Ryan was more successful with his machete and bony fists, generally eliminating a skeleton a round. +Kevin Smyth's character Raleigh ended up casting Sound Missiles on +Eric Schmidt's character Yusef's rifle, and after that, Yusef was capable of blasting through two or three skeletons per burst, since the crushing follow-up damage of the missiles did double injury to the skeletons and tended to evaporate some important bones.

Raleigh also built up and threw an explosive Blight Ball, which didn't destroy any of the skeletons but did damage several of them. This was actually an interesting bit of action mechanically: Raleigh had to lob the ball over several of the skeleton's heads, and even with Luck ended up missing. The scatter roll had it landing short, such that the front line of the PCs would be effected, and no one wanted to eat 1d+4 toxic damage (DR does not protect). +Theodore Briggs argued that since the scatter roll affected his character Thomas, he should be able to use Luck to reroll it, and that seemed valid to me. The best of three rolls wasn't great, but it was good enough to scatter the blast to get several of the zombies and none of the PCs.

Around this point, the erupting ooze glob that was on Thomas' plastic riot shield finished eating its way through the shield and soaked through his shirt. There was an argument as to whether or not I had adequately warned him and whether or not he would have had time to do anything about it even I had, what with the attacking hordes of skeletons and all. As it turned out, he only took 1 injury, so I told him to suck it up. Thomas discarded his shield and play resumed.

Jamie got beaten up again to establish
the skeletons are dangerous
Eventually, I called the fight on the grounds that it'd been two and a half hours and I wanted to do other things in the session. The PCs won, but had to immediately retreat up the stairs due to all the smoke generated by the alchemical fire. In the hidden passage, they bandaged up and Raleigh cast a healing spell but failed her calamity check. Nothing too bad, but now the cost of Major Healing is doubled and she probably won't be casting it again.

As a side note, at some point Eric got a critical hit on a skeleton, and hit it in the funny bone. No real effect in game since skeletons are immune to stunning, but everyone though it was a hilarious effect.

The basement of no loot

An hour or so later, the PCs returned to the basement and searched the place. The skeletons had no loot aside from rusty broadswords of tetanus and unpadded chainmail in equally awful condition. Searching their rooms discovered about half a pound of corroded copper coins and some random bits of metal: everything organic within two feet of the ground had been destroyed.

A fist-sized lump of ooze was eating Thomas' shield, but it was easy enough to burn away with the resources the PCs had available. Thomas now had a somewhat smaller and frailer shield, but the thing only cost him $90 to start with and could be replaced in the Real World.

The PCs moved north, into the empty great room which was now filled with burnt undead ooze ash. Nothing useful came out of searching that, so they kept moving on, to another set of empty rooms in which everything had been eaten by the ooze. Past that was another half-eaten doo

Duel to the Death

Thomas peered under the door and saw that the next room was an armory, filled with rusty weapons. The area in front of the door had been repeatedly gouged by a jackhammer or something and scorched, too. Also, there was a man in full plate harness carrying a halberd. It's possible I buried the lede in that description.

There was a quick confab about what to do about a guy in the basement, and eventually Yusef was delegated to knock on the door and try to talk to the guy. Which he did.

They never got the halberdeer's name, but they quickly established some things about him: he was crazy, he wanted to duel, and his halberd's name was Vengeance. He would duel any of them, one at a time, axe or polearms versus his halberd, to the death. The winner (which would be him) would keep Vengeance, or in the unlikely event that one of them one, take it.

It worked for Indy, so it must be a valid solution!
Almost everyone was moving toward the "leave the crazy guy alone in the basement" when Yusef brought his rifle to his shoulder and decided to kill the guy. The halberdeer screamed "cheaters!" and turned out to be a variant Sword Spirit, with Higher Purpose +4 to "Defeat Cheaters." There was various and sundry whining about how this was unfair, blah blah blah, but I ignored them. Yusef and +Douglas Cole's character Neil tried firing at the guy, but he was quick and close and had a long reach weapon and parried their attacks, knocking their rifles out of line. Then Thomas nailed him with a pair of rifled shotguns slugs that blew through his armor and killed him outright. It was a bit anti-climatic.


At this point, another argument broke out: Raleigh wanted to know why her friends had turned into a bunch of murderers, and upon reflection, no one really wanted to pick up the halberd because they were afraid it was cursed. I sat back and laughed and laughed. This is the kind of role-playing that advances the plot, so I was fine with it, and it was really funny.
Finally, Neil's girlfriend Angela decided she wanted to know what it was and went to pick it up, but Thomas blocked her and eventually picked it up himself. Nothing particularly bad happened to him immediately: the halberd resized itself to a dwarf-sized hand axe, which was convenient, and Thomas improvised a blade cover for it.

Further Downstairs

Neil searched the room and found a secret door, which led to a set of stairs descending down a level (or as Yusef dourly pointed up, possibly to some other level of the castle entirely). By that point, it was time to end the game, so we wrapped up there. The PCs now had two obvious choices: continue down the stairs and explore the sub-basement, or take some stairs up from the empty rooms, which would presumably put them on the first floor at the base of the north tower. It should be an interesting choice.

Evaluation of Play

The skeletons were nasty foes, but the narrow corridor made it hard for them to bring their weight of numbers down on the PCs. Instead, they ended up getting shot and smashed to pieces. That's been my general experience with mook rushes in dungeon fantasy style games: although the maneuver economy implies that three to one odds should be good for the mooks, the mechanics of actually getting all their units into place and attacking at the same time never quite work. Mooks in the front line get killed too fast, and their replacements end up with the unviable options of Move (and not attack) or Move & Attack (and miss) or use some kind of Attack maneuver with a Step of 2+, which exposes them to deadly counterattack on the next turn, thus repeating the cycle. All of which lets the PCs heroically stand against a tide of mooks pretty successfully, as long as the PCs stay together in a mostly anchored line so the mooks can't envelope them.

Reviewing my notes, I screwed up on the encounter with the Axe Spirit. He would have dodged at least one, and maybe both of Thomas' shots, and shouldn't have gone down so easily. I suspect he still would have gone down pretty quickly and without really damaging the PCs, so I'm not too bothered by it. As I have mentioned, encounter balance in Castle of Horrors is something of a wild guess, and an easy boss encounter can only be expected sometimes. There will be other things to run from soon enough.

What Next?

I'm still working on the sub-basement. There's one room that I just can't figure out what to do with. I'm getting closer, but the original encounter is subpar and everything I thought of so far is nonsensical. I have a temporary work-around in place, but it's definitely something I need to resolve soon.

Of course, it may not matter. Now that Eric is embracing his inner murder-hobo, the PCs may decide to go on a bandit murder spree against the goblins, leprechauns, and gnomes. That'd be pretty harsh, but it would have the advantage that I have all those encounters prepared.