Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mecha Against the Giants Sessions 15 and 16

Thursday is GURPS Day!

My online group is getting excited about playing in Castle of Horrors, and so we've shifted the schedule: my Mecha Against the Giants game is primary, and GURPS Chaos Scar is what we run when I didn't get my prep done in time. The goal is finish up Mecha Against the Giants, so we can move onto Castle of Horrors in early October.

Send in the Professionals

The pilots have been destroying all the enemies they've faced, from fortresses full of giants to civilization destroying dragons. Unknown to the pilots, the enemy has spied on them, and realized the unstoppable power of their mecha. And the enemy has decided to deal with the problem by striking at the mecha's weak points: their all too human pilots.

At the start of Session 15, the pilots were staying overnight in a villa in the countryside. It was their last fuel depot before they attacked the giants' final stone castle. I'd drawn up the villa based vaguely on historical Roman villas, and it ended up with guest rooms on the second floor facing an open balcony that overlooked a courtyard. We quickly established which pilots (the lecherous ones and the foolish ones) were wearing their pilot suits to bed, and which weren't. Then I announced they heard a muffled cry of "intruders!" from a night watchman behind the villa, followed by the sound of a body hitting the ground.

The pilots wisely grabbed and put on their helmets, so they had 360-degree night vision and head protection. Then they peaked out the window, just in time to see 8 figures armed with a variety of weapons (swords, bows, staves, twin bastard swords) slip behind a villa outbuilding. +Kevin Smyth dropped out the window with a plan to flank the assassins, while the other pilots grabbed weapons and started moving toward the balcony.

On the ground, Kevin's character spotted a pair of small giants lifting the bowmen to the top of the wall. In turned out that the guys with twin bastard swords had been shrunken giants, and now the giants had grown back to their full 15' size. The giants lifted the swordsmen over the wall, and then one hopped the wall to engage the pilots on the balcony while the other turned to charge Kevin's character.

On the balcony, the pilots started opening fire on the bowmen and swordsmen. Much to their disgust, their targets had high DX and Acrobatic skill, and could use the same Acrobatic Dodge trick that the PC's used to bump their Dodge skills to unreasonable level. Also, the bowmen were insanely high skill Heroic Archers with the Dual-Shot technique, and were firing very accurate, armor penetrating, poisoned tipped arrows at unreasonable speeds.

+Nathan Joy's pilot took some arrows that barely penetrated and lightly poisoned him, while +Uhuk of the Guard's character ran out and immediately got pinned down by arrow fire: he dropped to the ground in response to the first flight of arrows, and each turn he would get to his knees only to have to drop prone again.

+Theodore Briggs' character finally got a couple of lucky shots into the giant in the courtyard's brain, dropping it. One the archers ran up the stairs, so Uhuk's character shot him at point blank range and connected, dropping him. Nate's character took cover in the other stair well, only to be ambushed by a swordsman. Nate's character responded by frantically backpedaling and opening with fully automatic rifle fire, dropping him.

Things Get Worse, Then Get Better

Back behind the villa, Kevin's character used his Luck to avoid a critical hit from the giant, and then discovered that even his best blows with his swords were insufficient to deal with the giant. The next round, the giant got another critical hit, and Kevin was literally out of luck. Even DR 18 armor isn't up to an 9d attack, and Kevin's character was nearly killed and expected to have to spend the rest of the fight desperately defending himself. Ted's character responded to Kevin's character's pleas and shot the giant through the window, wounding it enough to drop prone. Kevin promptly moved up the giant and thrust his swords through the giant's eyes, then attempted to intimidate the last two staff wielding foes. Sadly, at this point his character passed out from blood loss.

The staff wielders jumped over the wall and then flew up onto the balcony, all while the last archer kept Uhuk's character pinned. Ted's character took a shot, but encountered a Reflect Missiles spell - and since he was the lecherous horndog who wasn't wearing armor, a single rifle shot was enough to nearly drop him. He kept on fighting for a round or two, but then passed out.

Nate's character took out the wizard immediately afterwards, and Uhuk's character managed to get behind the cover of one of the pillars after getting hit with an arrow or two. They combined to shoot the second wizard (who blew his Reflect Missile roll, oops) and then tried to figure out how to deal with the last archer. I pointed out that they had their helmets on, and their guns had cameras that fed into the helmet's HUD, and so they could take a minor penalty to poke their gun barrels out from behind cover without risking themselves. Nate originally said he was get an entire arm of cover to aim at the archer, but after having to duck behind cover to avoid a flurry of arrows, he abandoned that plan.

The last archer exchanged fire with them for a while, but they were behind cover and he was exposed on a wall. Eventually he gave and at fled. Unfortunately, the pilots had remotely started their mecha at the start of the combat, and one guy on foot cannot expect to outrun a mecha with only a minute's head start. Nate was very specific about his desire and plan to not just run down the last assassin, but to run him over and then stomp on him a bit. Given that the assassins had caused much more casualties to the pilots than any other foe, it was a pretty reasonable response.

We ended the session there.

Using the PCs' Tactics Against Them

I've played and run a lot of Dungeon Fantasy, but this was the first time that I got to see what a pair of fully optimized, Elven Scouts with maximum Forest Guardian talent could if they were on the GM's side. It was pretty ugly from the PCs' view: all their nasty tricks were being used against them. Obviously, they won eventually, but with half their group at -1xHP or worse and another with 1 HP remaining.

The big players on the assassin's side were the archers and the giants. The swashbucklers ended up being bullet fodder, and while the wizards did some cool stuff, it wasn't enough.

What Now?

According to my original notes, the next and ultimate set piece in the campaign was going to be an assault on the giant king's castle. As I got closer to needing to really prepare for that sequence, the less I liked it. It felt like a boring retread of the fight at the giant wooden fort.

However, the success of the assassins inspired me. The leadership of the giants know that their assassins didn't survive, but that they did badly wound several of the pilots. That, and some new tactics, meant that a rapid strike by the giants could give the giants 50:1 odds against the remaining pilots, and hopefully the ability to close with the mecha without getting destroyed at range. So that's what is going to happen next: a big open field engagement with the giants on the offensive.

And Then What?

Work on the Castle of Horrors wiki is proceeding, and should go faster now that I've got all my preparations for this campaign completed. So Castle of Horrors should start on time in October. As part of that, I've done some more work on using the Size and Speed/Range table for rapid fire, and I'm in the process of revising the default counts for ritual magic, which I'll publish here when it's complete.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Two Tales of Dragons

As it happened, the Sunday after I ran the Dragonslayers session of Mecha Against the Giants (MAtG), my face-to-face group also fought a dragon. One session was exciting and fun for everyone, and the other was a bit of a bore.

Anti-Tank Missiles for Great Justice!

I already went over the MAtG in detail, but let me give a quick overview for people who don't read those summaries. The PCs were attacked by a 100-ton, SM+6 dragon with a 60d breath weapon that
hit out to 1000 yards away. The dragon could damage their mecha, and demonstrated that as it flew in. The pilots responded with an anti-tank missile, followed by light anti-tank rockets and armor-piercing autocannon fire, and dropped it from the sky in a gloriously triumphant victory.

Even as the GM, I really enjoyed the session.

Cowardly Dragons Are Unsatisfying

In the face-to-face session, a party of five 5th level adventurers assaulted a blue dragon in his lair using D&D5e rules. We had a Tempest Cleric, an Invoker Wizard, a Knowledge Bard, an Assassin Rogue, and a Frenzied Barbarian (or whatever it's called, I don't play that character and I wouldn't know). The fight started pretty straightforwardly: we crept up on it, widely separated, and then launched an alpha strike of a maximized Shatter, a Fireball, a Shatter, an auto-critical sneak attack with surprise, and a volley of frenzied strikes. The dragon breathed lightning on a couple of us, then burrowed into the ground and fled. He may have popped out once or twice and breathed lightning again, but apparently he was really low on HP and not in the mood for a stand up fight against us.

There really wasn't much we could do to stop a burrowing monster from fleeing. We couldn't dig after him, we couldn't see where he was going, and we hadn't had a conveniently placed, ridiculously strong barbarian in a position to grab his tail and hold him there. We tried playing to the dragon's greed and arrogance by loudly announcing we were stealing his treasures, but that didn't work.

Flimsy Flying Steeds Are Unsatisfying, Too

The next day, game-time, we were flying to our next adventure area on our new hippogriffin mounts when the dragon dropped out of the clouds and attacked us. Again, the sequence of combat was pretty much the same: breath weapon from the dragon, alpha strikes of powerful spells from us. The difference was that while the PCs could survive a breath weapon hit or two, the mounts died whether or not they made their savings throws. And since none of us could fly natively, that meant that every time the dragon breathed, one or more of us was sentenced to death by fall from a great height.

Fortunately, I had decided to memorize Mass Healing Word as a 3rd level cleric spell, even though I wasn't particularly impressed with the spell. So an already annoying combat turned into something of a farce when I starting healing our dead hippogriffins, only for them to be killed the next turn from
another breath weapon, and then revived again. There was a moment that was pretty cool when the barbarian jumped off his dying hippogriffin and onto the dragon's back, but it really wasn't that impressive. We did massive damage and the dragon died.

As a player, these two fights were irritating. The first fight was meh, since the dragon ran off and we couldn't do anything about it. The second fight was still meh, but with the added annoyance of worrying that we'd lose our new hippogriffin mounts that we'd had for all of one session and that in doing so, we'd take 20d6 damage impacting the ground. Even knowing that we were fighting a blue dragon that would use lightning as a weapon, we couldn't do anything useful to prepare for the fight: Protection from Energy is a 3rd level spell, but it only gives minor protection to a single target, and we wouldn't have been able to protect more than four of mounts, and only by exhausting all of our best spells. And clearly, using a 3rd level spell slot for Fireball that did a lot of damage to the dragon was better than extending the life span of a hippogriffin by 1 round, if it was lucky and made it's save.

I don't think the GM was that much more impressed.

What Does It All Mean?

I don't really know what the D&D5e dragon's statistics were like, but he just wasn't that impressive. He turned tail after being attacked by five adventurers of middling levels. He might have been able to safely attack a small village, but a small army with 1000 archers would have defeated him trivially. Ambushing him made it easy to defeat him (if he had been foolish enough to stay and fight) and even when he attacked from ambush, he was only a threat because he could take down our flying steeds. If he had ambushed us while we were on horseback, we would have been annoyed at the cost of replacing our dead steeds, but not really threatened.

On the other hand, I know what the GURPS dragon's statistics were like, and he's an unholy terror that can walk through .50 machine gun fire without flinching. There is no army of mundane soldiers before WWII that can even hope to hurt him, much less drive him off. Of course, the PCs in MAtG are near-future mecha pilots with weapons that could easily defeat the dragon, and that's what they did. And they did it in a way that was over-the-top and a lot of fun.

In summary, D&D5e hasn't made dragons more interesting to fight than they were in previous editions, and in some ways they're less interesting. It just reinforces my feeling that D&D5e isn't a very good edition: it's better than 2nd, I guess, but not enough better that I wouldn't rather be playing something else.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mecha Against the Giants Session 14: Dragonslayers

I ran another session of Mecha Against the Giants, and again, this was a sequence that I'd be waiting for. I slightly muffed up the lead-up, but the session turned out to be absolutely awesome, and that's what counts.

Setting the Stage

The session started with the pilots finishing the repairs on their mecha and having a grand review so that notable dignitaries would be reassured that the pilots were defending them and that the war against the giants would be successful. The pilots also needed to plan some logistics, which I hand-waved, but basically they needed a lot of fuel sent west so they could attack the giants major stronghold.

As part of the review, the pilots had a meeting with the local Pontiff. He beat around the bush, implicitly suggesting that the secular powers were not doing enough to support the Divine Champions (aka the pilots) and that he should lead a revolution leading to a theocracy that would support them better. +Nathan Joy played his character well here, ignoring the subtler hints while still gently tamping down on the Pontiff's schemes. Sadly, he wasn't forceful enough about it.

Later that day, there was a review of the mecha for the Consul and some other important people. I messed this up a bit, to my chagrin. My notes for this scene specifically called for the Oracle to relay a vision she'd had to the pilots, relaying a message from the Gods that they would be challenged shortly and should hold nothing back. Unfortunately, I totally forgot to do this and the players were a little hesitant in the next sequence.

So I skipped the sequence with the prophet, jumping instead to the arrival of a soot stained courier. The courier was babbling about a legendary monster known as "Downfall, the Graveyard of Nations" who apparently had destroyed the old kingdoms and was unkillable and generally horrible. According to the courier, the giants had revived Downfall and he was coming soon.

Enter Downfall, the Graveyard of Nations

At that point, the pilots spotted a giant riding a flying dragon in the sky some distance away. Not being fools, they immediately sprinted for their mecha and began powering them up.  Rangefinders showed the dragon was less than a mile away, closing rapidly, and roughly the size of B-52: SM+6 in GURPS terms, and weighing upwards of 100 tons. While the players were digesting that, Downfall slowed and spewed a cone of flame on them from half a mile away: it did a remarkable 20d damage, and penetrated everyone's armor for minor damage.

As designed, Downfall's breath weapon did 60d of damage, being a 3 MJ heat ray from GURPS Spaceships. Half damage should have been 30d, but I took pity on the PCs and decided that since they were hit at the extreme end of the cone, it was reduced to 20d. I shouldn't have done that: 20d damage averaged 6-10 injury to their mecha after armor, and that wasn't impressive. Another 35 points of injury would have panicked them properly.

Minimal damage or not, when their weapons finally came online, the PCs were motivated to take out the dragon.

Dragonslaying Done Big

I played this fast and loose, because people were aiming for multiple seconds, Downfall was closing at various rates depending on whether he was preparing to breathe fire or not, and his breath weapon had a significant travel time (it flew at 300 mph, but he was more than 1/4 a mile from his targets for most of the fight). So instead of a strict turn order and initiative, we had something closer to each person deciding whether to attack or not on any given turn and just skipping the turns when people weren't attacking. Even so, the entire fight only took about 20 seconds of game-time and maybe two hours of real time.

+Theodore Briggs started with some aimed rifle shots at Downfall's wings, hoping to drop him from the sky. Given that Downfall had DR 125 and 300 HP, he was reasonably resistant to crippling from 25mm APEX rounds - the rounds penetrated armor, but didn't have enough remaining energy to get close to 150 injury. Nate decided to use his mecha's mortar to send an explosively forged projectile in the massive giant on Downfall's back: 6dx16 damage easily put paid to the giant, but didn't have enough remaining energy to penetrate Downfall's thick hide.

+Uhuk of the Guard  started looking over her options. She'd taken over from another player who'd dropped out of the game early, and so she's even less familiar with her mecha's equipment than the other players. I noted she had the same 25mm rifled cannon that Ted wasn't doing much with, and a pair of 125mm guided anti-tank missiles on the mecha's shoulder hardpoints. That woke her up, and the only thing to do was feed one of them to Downfall.

As it turned out, even guided missiles flying at 440 mph need a couple of seconds to hit a massive dragon 1/4th of a mile away. Uhuk produced a little guided missile token for maptools, and we moved it every second as it closed while frantically looking up the rules for guided weapons. At any rate, Downfall tooks some more hits from cannon on the way in, and had lost control of his flight when the missile hit.

Roll 80 dice, please

The missile's base damage was 6dx14 (10), and after subtracting 6dx6 worth of armor, that worked out to 80 dice of damage. Now, we play with Skype voice chat but don't use cameras, so I didn't see the expression on Uhuk's face. But I could hear the glee in voice when I told her to roll that damage - that's a larger bucket of dice than I think any of physically owned, and it's certainly the largest amount I personally have ever heard of being rolled in actually play, including some stints with Warhammer, Shadowrun, and Exalted. Fortunately, MapTools has die-roller macros, and it's only one more key stroke to roll 80 dice than it is to roll 2 dice.

Downfall took 457 damage from the missile: not enough to kill him, but enough to stun him and slow him. The rest of the pilots got into the act, launching a swarm of lighter, 70mm HEDP missiles at him and firing some rifle rounds into his neck and head. Downfall had dodged some of the earlier attacks, but that wasn't possible while he was stunned and slowed. He made his death checks and stayed conscious, and I think he even managed to recover from stun and pull out of the stall, but he was taking several hundred injury every second. Fortunately, I have a spreadsheet to do the math for me, and before Downfall could breath again, his injuries totaled 1957: enough to put him below -5xHP, and therefore dead.

I went ahead and did the math for how long it would take him to hit the ground (because I enjoy physics, okay?) and he ended up crashing just outside the castle walls. Somewhere in the process, he flipped over, and the (already dead) giant king on his back was crushed into powder.

Celebration Time!

I don't know if method role-playing is a thing, but my players were giddy after fighting. And so where their characters. Ridiculous suggestions for what to do with the body were proposed and executed, and everyone had a good time. The citizens of the local town spilled out into the streets, carving up the dragon's corpse for burgers and starting a huge party.

The pilots participated. Ted's character tried to get +Kevin Smyth  character drunk, so that Ted's character could go seduce the pretty Oracle without getting cock-blocked, but Ted blew didn't do well enough on his Carousing rolls and his character ended up in bed with several daughters of the local aristocracy instead. The other pilots had their own fun.

Good Bye to that Sub-Plot

At some point in the celebrations, the Pontiff held a prayer meeting that turned briefly into a riot. I had hopes for this turn of events, but no one was particular interested in it. I asked them what they
intended to do about it, and they all felt this was a bad enough idea that they would have to step in. Given that they were already Divine Champions and heroes of the hour for having killed an unkillable monster, plus they had invincible mecha, it was pretty easy for them to quench the riot and take the pontiff into custody. No one was particularly interested in it, so we just handwaved it and moved on. And pretty much ended the night there.

What Did You Think Would Happen?

As we were saying our good-byes, Kevin asked me if I was disappointed in how the fight played out. It was rather anti-climatic: Downfall was presented as being a huge unstoppable monster, but he went down in a dozen or so attacks and did very little damage. I responded that, to the contrary, I had always intended the fight to go down pretty much exactly as it had. An unreasonably tough monster, by Iron Age standards, was simply no match for anti-tank missiles and rockets.

Staging the fight the way I did reinforced two of the campaigns themes: escapist power fantasy, and that all problems are solvable with the right tool. The escapist power fantasy element was obvious: here was a massive, unkillable monster that the PCs took down in seconds, and everyone enjoyed that, even me. And the right tool for the right job has been a theme since the game started: the locals can't meaningfully harm the giants, but the PCs slaughter them in droves because they have the right tools in the form of their mecha.

In some games, the PCs have to snatch every victory out of the jaws of defeat through clever tactics and desperate use of every resource they have. Mecha Against the Giants isn't one of those games. The threats are real, and are grave if not countered, but the PCs should have the resources to deal with them if they act promptly. It's a lot of fun for everyone involved.

What Next?

The end of Mecha Against the Giants is approaching, which is good, because I want to move on to Castle of Horrors. I still have one more sequence that I'm looking forward to, and then a relatively straightforward climax, and this campaign is over. Of course, that'll still end up taking six sessions, so I'll be lucky to be done by Christmas.

Designer Notes

This is Downfall, as I wrote him up. Use him to challenge Dungeon Fantasy delvers that think they're really cool. He's certainly unstoppable by any mundane TL1-4 society, being flat out immune to any conceivable siege engine barring a critical hit.

ST: 300 HP: 300Speed: 8.00
DX: 14 Will: 14Move: 50 flying, 28 ground
IQ: 6 Per: 14
HT: 12 FP: 20SM: +6 (20x3 hexes)
Dodge: 11 Parry: N/ADR: 125 (6dx6)
Fiery Breath (18): 6dx10 Burn. Ranged Attack with Cone (50), Acc 9, Range 100/1000. Takes 6 actions to use and has a 10 second recharge.
Claws (20): 57d Cu, Reach 10.
Traits: Fearlessness +4; Injury Tolerance: Damage Reduction 2 (Explosions Only); Magic Resistance 5; Nicating Membranes (50); Arm and Leg Strikers; Winged Flight
Class: Mundane?
Notes: Surprisingly low HT and lack of High Pain Threshold mean that it goes down easy in combat, if you can do 160+ damage in a single strike.

In Spaceships terms, which is where he started, Downfall is an organic SM+6 spacecraft, with Ornithopter Wings, Arms, Legs, and a 3 MJ Fixed Forward Main Battery containing a Heat Ray. He has 3-4 locations of Organic Armor per section. You can probably recreate the rest of him
yourself if you need to.