Monday, January 30, 2017

Defense Strategies in Mass Combat

Precis: A quick review of the ways to get a Defense Bonus in Mass Combat

In my Mass Combat game, there's been some confusion about when a force can benefit from a Defense Bonus and when it can use the various defense strategies. I was pretty confused myself, and when I went back and rechecked the rules, I realized I was confused because the conditions are pretty confusing. So I want to write about all the conditions and what they require.

Mass Combat distinguishes between pitched and encounter battles, and mobile, encamped, and bunkered forces. As an additional complication, a force can be surprised or ambushed. How does all that effect available battle strategies?

Battle TypeForce ConditionAvailable StrategiesDefense BonusHouse Rule Defense Bonus
EncounterMobileAny but Deliberate Attack or Deliberate Retreat
No defenses except Mobile Defense on 1st round;
No retreat strategies on 1st round
EncounterEncampedAny but Deliberate Attack or Deliberate RetreatCan't get DBYes
EncounterBunkeredAny but Deliberate Attack or Deliberate RetreatCan get DBYes
PitchedMobileAny; can't choose Deliberate Defense after 1st round or at all without a DBCan get DB with initiativeWith iniative
PitchedEncampedAny; can't choose Deliberate Defense after 1st round or at all without a DBCan get DB with initiativeYes
PitchedBunkeredAny; can't choose Deliberate Defense after 1st round or at all without a DBCan't win initiative so can't get DBYes
PitchedMobile AmbusherAny but DefensiveGets DB even without a defense strategyYes
PitchedMobile AmbusheeMust Rally until confusion is cleared or Full Retreat; can't choose Deliberate AttackLost initiative so doesn't get DBNo
PitchedEncamped or Bunkered AmbusheeMust Rally until confusion is cleared or Full Retreat; can't choose Deliberate AttackLost initiative so doesn't get DBYes
PitchedBesiegedAny Defense except Rally, or RaidCan't win initiative so can't get DBYes

This actually turned out to be more confusing than I intended. Bunkered forces can never win initiative in the Recon contest (Mass Combat 29) but that means they can never win the initiative contest and can only get a Defense Bonus if they're lucky enough to have a mobile force trip over them in a forced encounter battle. Encamped forces can win initiative and force an encounter battle, but if they do, they don't get any Defense Bonus. This makes very little sense.

I double checked the Mass Combat errata and this is apparently how the system is supposed to work, unless I'm missing something.

I think the easiest and most understandable house rule is to rule that encamped forces always get a defense bonus unless they have the No Security posture.

Friday, January 27, 2017

New Dawn Session 3: Wight Men Can't Jump

Precis: A group of adventurers investigate a heavily trapped ruin and encounter a bunch of ghouls.

This was the third session of my New Dawn campaign. One of the elements of New Dawn that was forced on me by the players is that is a troupe style game, with each player having two characters. The second session focused on the military exploits of one group of characters; this session focused on some old school style delving of the second group.

Kevin recapped this session, too, for a view from a player's side.

Cast of Characters

  • +Uhuk of the Guard's Hloomawl, a minotaur princeling and mighty warrior.
  • +Eric Schmidt's Nesta Bowen, a human master spy with a grudge against the orcs.
  • +Eilmyn Davidson's Michael Jones, a Squallite archer.
  • +Kevin Smyth's Ariana Rees, a human blacksmith and minor saint.
  • Kiara Schmidt's Nayla, a supernaturally skilled archer.
  • Finbar Gullvan, the old man of the Resistance 

Role-Playing and Perceptions

While I was doing prepwork for the game, Eilmyn stated that she thought the game was supposed to entirely be a war story with no character growth. I was rather disappointed by this, since I thought I'd made it clear that New Dawn was more than just a sequence of mass battles: there was going to be role-playing, spying, delving, diplomacy, and all kinds of stuff. I could see how she might have missed that point, because there hadn't been much space for role-playing in the first two sessions. I apologized, publicly restated the campaign's themes, and admitted that I'm still learning how to pace the game.

I was a little bemused, though, because I had originally planned to have a role-playing scene in the second session, but it was centered around Hloomawl, and Uhuk wasn't able to make it to the game that week so I had to postpone it. But now I had the opportunity and I ran with it.

Hloomawl is Selfish. It's almost never a disadvantage that I see on PCs, because it makes you a self-important prick concerned with status and social dominance. It's not something that most of the nerdish people who play RPGs find appealing. But for whatever reason, Hloomawl is Selfish. Furthermore, Ariana had made Trahaern, the Resistance general, a really nice dueling glaive, and then spent most of a week making herself an extremely nice suit of armor (DR 11 very fine plate). Hloomawl hadn't gotten anything, and in his opinion, how could that possibly be just?

I'm afraid I ambushed Uhuk with the concept, but she rolled with it and had Hloomawl stomp in and confront Ariana. Nesta isn't selfish, but she wasn't too satisfied with the sword the kobold smiths had made her, either, and she also laid in Ariana for focusing on her own armor instead of making good stuff for everyone. Ariana stood her ground and yelled back at people, which is probably not the best way to reason with a minotaur with Bad Temper. Ariana claimed that she was inspired by the Forge-God, and made what he wanted her to make, and she didn't control it. Since neither Hloomawl nor Nesta had ever heard of Volundr, this was not the best argument, but Ariana performed a minor miracle by sticking her hand into the middle of the forge with burning it. (As an aside, I had to remind Kevin that he had to say a prayer before performing that trick in order to activate the Learned Prayer, and he acknowledged that he could have used Flesh Wounds to heal the damage as different Learned Prayer afterwards but it probably wouldn't have been as amazing.) Hloomawl and Nesta didn't sign up for Volundr's priesthood, but they did stop grumbling, and Ariana stayed up all night making Hloomawl a fine and balanced flail.

Curious Things are Curious

Finbar is the Old Man of the Resistance. He's my deliberate GMPC who is there to prod the PCs in the directions I'd like them to go when they can't think of things to do. In this case, he pointed out that there was a ruined building surrounded by a wall on the grounds of Camp Liberty, and he'd like them to go sort it out. There were rumors about the ruins being dangerous, and the remaining levied Resistance soldiers weren't interested in exploring.

The orcs had a couple of watchtowers that overlooked the ruins, so the PCs tromped up and took a look. The ruins were a mass of rubble. At the south end, there was what looked to be a covered entrance into the ground. Six huge stone blocks, topped with crystals, were in a hexagon around the entrance. Beyond that was a crudely built and maintained rubble wall, around 8' to 11' tall, topped with logs. Someone had pounded spikes into the logs to discourage climbing the walls. About 15' past the rubble wall on the outside was a low, poorly built split-rail fence. The fence was possibly sufficient to keep out unambitious sheep, but anything smaller could climb through it, and anything larger or more nimble could go over or through it. All of this roused the PCs' curiousity. They climbed back down from the tower and to the fence.

Nesta checked for traps (and blew the secret rolls) but didn't find any. Ariana hopped over the fence and strode off toward the wall, only to put her foot into a gopher hole with caltrops on the bottom. Fortunately, she was wearing DR11 plate boots and the caltrops failed to penetrate her armor and the hole failed to break her ankle, though she did fall over ungracefully. Ungraceful falls turned into a running theme. Looking around more carefully, the PCs spotted a lot of gopher holes. They finally went and found some lumber - included a couple of pieces of plywood with rope handles on them - and used those to make a platform to walk on.
Nesta and Ariana investigate layered defenses: fence, caltrops,
pit traps, spiked wall, more pits, and lightning dispensers.

Approaching the wall, Nesta again checked for traps (and failed again). She almost fell into a concealed trench at the base of the wall, but caught herself at the last second. More lumber was used to make a bridge to the base of the wall, and then the agile climbers easily scaled it, cleared off the spikes, and tied off a rope for the less talented climbers.

On the other side of the wall, Nesta checked for traps again and finally spotted a trap before it went off: there was another trench at the base of the interior side of the wall. This was somewhat trickier to evade, because people had to climb down the side of the wall and then make the jump to clear the trench. Michael and Hloomawl both failed and fell into the trench, but managed to catch themselves on the far side, damaging only their dignity.

Nesta took point, heading toward the rubble, crystal-topped blocks, and possible entrance. She was looking down, probing ahead of her for pits and traps. Although she did see the crystals start growing, she was focused on what was happening ahead of her, and was pretty badly surprised when the next set of crystals zapped her with a lightning bolt. Fortunately, it wasn't her Destiny to die that day and she managed to dodge. That set of crystals stopped glowing, but Nesta didn't want to continue on.

Ariana borrowed Hloomawl's large kite shield and put her own on her right arm. Holding her shield above her and Hloomawl's in front, she cautiously advanced toward another set of crystals. It started glowing and when she got close enough, blasted her with lightning. She calmly blocked, and then discovered that magically lightning can't really be blocked with wooden shields. She was blasted for a lot of damage, that her armor didn't protect her against, and thrown back. Fortunately she has the Flesh Wounds Learned Prayer, and could regenerate her injuries in about ten minutes. Again, the crystals dimmed after releasing the lightning.

The PCs tried a couple of methods to disarm the lightning generators. Hloomawl and the archers attacked them, but their weapons did nothing, not even Nayla's scattershot arrows. Nesta, being Callous, proposed using a couple of the remaining goblin prisoners to clear the mines, but almost everyone else had Pacifism: Cannot Harm Innocents or a Soldier's Code of Honor, and that suggestion was vetoed to Nesta's annoyance. Finally, Ariana proposed strapping herself into several layers of leather armor and clearing the lightning generators herself. I double checked to see if anyone had a better plan than brute force and ignorance, but no one did.

Ariana got blasted a couple of times, but not for more damage than she could easily heal with Flesh Wounds, and the lightning generators were cleared. While Ariana changed back into her nice armor, Hloomawl cleared the rubble. There was a pit entrance there, leading down into a dimly lit room filled with ash covered rubble.

Down the Rabbit Hole

At this point, I noted that it was about 20' down to the floor. People with the Acrobatics skill could hang off the edge and drop about 5 yards, and with a successful Acrobatics roll take no damage, and people without could make a DX roll (penalized by encumbrance) to only fall about 4 yards or so - less for Hloomawl and Michael, since they are very tall.  Michael had Acrobatics and jumped down.

This caused a bit of confusion, as to when exactly Michael jumped down: as soon as Hloomawl had cleared the entrance, or after Nesta and Nayla had tied their ropes together and tied them off a nearby block and dangled the rest down the hole? Eilmyn claimed I had told her to go down the hole, which I hadn't, but the claim did annoy me. It didn't help when I retroactively realized that Michael had Danger Sense, and would have known that going down the hole was dangerous. Eilmyn argued that if Michael was going to let danger stop him, he would have stayed on the other side of the fence, and I couldn't argue with that.

At the bottom of the hole, Michael's night vision let him see he was in a large room, and his keen hearing let him (and Hloomawl above) hear that there were multiple other things in the room - things larger than a rabbit and smaller than a crocodile. Hloomawl activated his glow vial, dangled off the ledge, and dropped down. His size worked against him, and he took enough damage damage in the drop to make it past his hoof DR, though nowhere near enough to cripple his foot.

The extra light let Hloomawl and Michael see they were in some kind of large, vaulted chamber with three side passages in each of the east and west walls. Also, something was in the side passages. They barely had time to ready their weapons before a pack of animated dead bodies came charging out, screaming "Flesh!" and "Hungry!" from desiccated throats.

The fight was on! Ariana followed Hloomawl's lead and dropped down, taking some injury despite her armor. Hloomawl brained the first ghoul to get near Michael, stunning it and effectively taking it out of the fight. It had a HT of 12, but still took 5 seconds to recover from that stun, and by that time the archers were nearly out of targets and were free to concentrate fire on it before it got back off the ground. Nayla provided overwatch fire from above. Ariana bashed ghouls as they approached and Michael shot and dodged.

One of the ghouls had been a knight, and was still in his rusted armor. Michael shot him at short range, and the arrow bounced off the knight's armor (though he critically failed his block and his shield disintegrated, which would prove crucial). Nayla shot him from above, and the knight didn't bothered to defend, but the arrow curved in flight and struck him in the eye. The knight was tough enough that this strike didn't kill him, but it did stun him and effectively take him out of the melee.

Another ghoul was a spellcaster, and he started flinging deathbolts around. One missed Ariana and almost hit Michael, but Hloomawl interposed his shield, only to discover that deathbolts are cosmically irresistible against DR and don't care. Fortunately, the damage was low and Hloomawl has High Pain Threshold, so he sucked it. Ariana wasn't as fortunate on the second shot, and took more damage and felt it. Hloomawl left Michael to his own devices and charged across a rubble field to get to the spellcaster. This next bit was a comedy of errors: Hloomawl was going for telegraphed head shots, to put the ghoul down in one shot, but the ghoul was agile enough to avoid the blows but couldn't really do much against Hloomawl either.
Ariana engages ghouls while Hloomawl flails at the spellcaster and Nayla provides covering fire.
The ghoul knight is already dead from arrows to the eyes.

Ariana, Nayla, and Michael whittled down the ghouls in the melee. Generally Nayla and Michael would slow them down with arrows, and then Ariana would hit them in the skulls with a hammer to kill them. Michael had to dodge and retreat a bit from the ghouls, but he was lucky (literally) and none of them hit him. Nesta stayed above, frantically tying a rope together. I asked Eric if he wanted her to jump down, but he didn't, since she wasn't very well armored and wasn't a melee fighter anyway, but a scout, spy, and sneaky thief.

Eventually, Ariana managed to join Hloomawl against the spellcaster. Nayla finished off the knight with a second arrow to the eye before he got to his feet, and Michael and Nayla killed off the brained ghoul with arrow shots about as soon as he recovered from stun. Ariana sent another telegraphed hammer shot at the ghoul spellcaster, and iterative probability caught up with him and he took the hit, stunning him and knocking him to the ground. Michael finished him off.

Tidying Up

Nesta finally finished getting her rope ready, and she and Nayla climbed down while the other PCs investigated. They appeared to be in some kind of crypt, though the ghouls had long since eaten the corpses. Someone had desecrated and vandalized all the religious icons and paintings on the walls, and the altar was smashed to rubble.

There was one more passage out of the crypt, a set of double doors leading to a small antechamber that was flled with sooty rubble. It looked like the ghouls had piled the rubble as a blockade against whatever was in the room to the north. Hloomawl and Ariana cleared away the rubble, and could smell something stinky to high heaven in the next room. But it was getting late, so I ended the session.

Technical Issues

We were using MapTools, and as usual, it proved to be the worst virtual tabletop except all the others. The first issue was that I had drawn both the catacombs and the above ground ruins on the same map, but forgotten this minor detail when I first started describing things to the players. So they were all on the catacomb portion of the map, and what I was describing did not at all match what they were seeing and Kiara thought I was insane. That got cleared up after they pointed it out to me, but it was silly.

The second and weirder issue happened when they climbed over the wall. For some reason, the light sources I'd placed inside the wall weren't working, and no one could see anything outside of their immediate vicinity. I wasted a few minutes trying to figure it out before turning off the night setting and moving on, but again, silly and annoying.

Review of Play

Overall, this was a good session. It had some low points, but they were pretty minor and I liked the multiply trapped orc defenses.

New Dawn is third in a series of games that at least somewhat involve Dungeon Fantasy style delving, but with character design so different from DF that it's hard to guess how dangerous foes should be. Mecha Against the Giants had characters with wonderful weapons and armor and it was fairly safe to throw hordes of monsters at them. Castle of Horrors had characters with sometimes wonderful weapons and inadequate armor and healing, and the combats were noticeably swingy. New Dawn has characters that range from insanely well armored (Ariana) and fairly dangerous (Hloomawl), to underequipped thieves (Nesta) and frankly unarmored archers (Michael). I really had no idea if the ghouls were going to blow through the PCs or be pushovers, but they had a couple of attacks that could penetrate DR but nothing that was too damaging. I think it worked out in the end: Arianna and Hloomawl took a couple of hits, Michael got lucky, and Nayla and Nesta stayed away from sources of damage. It makes me feel pretty good about next week's fight, good enough that I'll probably power it up a bit.

I liked the little bit of role-playing at the start. Uhuk did a good job of picking up on it, even with little prep, and Eric jumped in with Nesta's own concerns. I wish Kiara and Eilmyn had participated more, but you can only give people opportunities, you can't make them take advantage of them. There should be more scenes next week that deal directly with Michael, so hopefully there'll be more role-playing then.

What Next?

The fourth session is going to start with the PCs opening the door and finding out what stinks in the next room. After they've cleared the dungeon, Finbar is going to send them to find the Squallites of the local forest and see if the PCs can convince the Squallites to commit more forces to the Resistance. I'm expecting that to take about three hours in all, which isn't quite a full session. Unless I think of something better, we're going to shift focus back to the northern group and their battles at the end of the session. It's not a perfect way to make sure that Mass Combat doesn't dominate a session, but it's good enough for now.

Friday, January 20, 2017

New Dawn Session 2

Precis: In the second session of the New Dawn campaign, the PCs reorganize their army and strike north, until to discover the orcs are on the move. The group as a whole discovers some issues with the Mass Combat rules, and some fixes and retcons are performed after the game.

Cast of Characters
We're doing troupe style play, with each player controlling two characters. So half the cast from last time wasn't here. +Uhuk of the Guard was entirely absent due to some life concerns but she'll be back next week.
  • +Eric Schmidt's Trahaern ab Owen, a human master strategist.
  • +Eilmyn Davidson's Skyler Therris, a human reprobate, warrior, and general.
  • +Kevin Smyth's Aisling Mhic Muiris, a Nymph ambassador from the Fae court.
  • Kiara Schmidt's Greex "Wrongway", a cowardly kobold spymaster. 
Kevin recapped this session, too, for a view from a player's side.

The GM Makes Plans

I'd sent out some email to my players last Sunday, asking for some plans from them so I could prepare for the game. I didn't get much response, which rather annoyed me, but I rolled with it and came up with some plans.

Orcish movement: couriers in orange,
infantry in red, cavalry in brown.
Some of the orc survivors from the battle at the end of last session had managed to make it to the orcish fortress of Swartun, and I tried to figure out what the orcs would do. Their typical response would have been to have six to eight full companies garrisoning Swartun, and that force would sally out and eliminate the Resistance uprising. Unfortunately for the orcs, those companies had left the country, and there was only one company left at Swartun and another three within a few days march. So couriers were dispatched with orders, detachments were left at strongholds, and orcish infantry and cavalry marched back to Swartun and on to the town of Harbuck. At Harbuck, the infantry took up positions guarding the bridge, while the cavalry went south to perform a reconnaissance in force.

The PCs marched north on the same day the orcs arrived in Swartun, and ran into the cavalry force on the next day.

The Skirmish near Harbuck

As there were three PC commanders (Trahaern, Skyler, and Aisling), the PCs divided their forces into three groups according to my house rules. Aisling got most of the archery and artillery, while the other two had most of the infantry on the flanks. They faced off against 8 elements of orcish heavy cavalry (the lead elements of the four nearest orc companies) and 3 elements of goblin wolf riders (horse archers) acting as scouts.

The first round of combat was a little confusing: Trahaern on the left flank held his ground with his Gifted Commander: Stonewall advantage, while Aisling attempted to use her Gifted Commander: Cunning advantage to get some bonuses from an Indirect Attack. Skyler had the Gifted Commander: Death or Glory, which gives bonuses for Desperate and All-Out strategies, so he All-Out Attacked on the right flank: that's right, the pikemen charged the heavy cavalry. The orcs skirmished or raided, and soundly lost the round, taking some casualties.

The PCs pushed on the orcs on the second round, hoping to finish them off, but the orcs had done enough recon and realized they were outmatched and went into Full Retreat. The PCs caused some more casualties on the orcs, but not much more, and the orcs fled back to Harbuck.

The PCs could have pursued them, but infantry pursuing cavalry is a losing game, and decided to hold the field instead which reduced their casualties to 0%. There had been some bruising and a few of the troops disabled, but no deaths and nothing that effected the strength of the Resistance army. They spent the rest of the day resting and looting the battlefield.

The Battle of Harbuck

The next day, the Resistance army advanced to Harbuck, which was on the other side of a narrow bridge and guarded by two or three hundred orcs: cavalry, infantry, archers, and most noticeably, battle wizards. The PCs had a quick conference and decided they didn't want to force the bridge, but fortunately, there was a nearby ford that would let them safely to the other side of the river and hit the orcs from the side.

Trahaern got left with a token force to pin the orcs down while Skyler and Aisling took most of the army to the ford. Goblin wolfrider scouts spotted the PC army in motion, and the orcish cavalry sallied forth to block the ford.

I started to set up the battle at the ford, and while I was doing that, I noticed that remaining orc forces noticeably outnumbered Trahaern's blocking force. I figured that he was superior commander to the orc leader, especially on defense, but the orcs wouldn't know that, so having the orcs attack him would make sense from the orcs' perspective and keep a player in the game. It was a win-win, or so I thought.

Aisling and Skyler won the recon contest at the ford, and managed to make it an encounter battle, which prevented the orc cavalry from making an effective defense of the ford - basically, the Resistance army crossed significant forces before the orcs arrived. Aisling mixed it up with raids and indirect attacks, grinding the orcs down without taking any casualties, while Skyler charged all in again. Skyler's tactics triumphed, again, but his margin of victory was pretty low and he ended up taking nearly as many losses as he caused. Regardless, in three rounds, the remaining orcs were fleeing with the Resistance in hot pursuit.

The battle at the bridge did not go nearly so well. Four elements of Battle Mages gave the orcs overwhelming Fire, Artillery, and Command and Control advantage, to a degree I didn't really expect, and Trahaern got trounced on the first round, losing position and taking heavy casualties. He also rolled poorly in Misfortunes of War, not helped by the habitual high Risk modifier the PCs had adopted, and took enough injury to nearly knock him out. The orcs charged into his feigned retreat on the second round, but their massive position and class superiority bonuses and Trahaern's casualties meant that Trahaern took it on the chin, again. And another botched Misfortune of War caused even more injury to him, leaving him at almost -1xHP and a death check and certainly out of command. The captain of the artillery unit took over command and staged a credible retreat, but Trahaern's command took 60% casualties and failed to dislodge the orcs.

Overall, it was a dark day for the Resistance. Attriting the orcish cavalry wasn't worth splitting their army, taking substantial losses, and almost losing their best commander.

The Battle of Fiddler's Ridge

Skyler, Aisling, and Greex proceeded to move away from Harbuck and recruit some new resistance forces. The orcs pounced on them later that day. Thanks to some lucky rolls and destiny point spending by Greex, the PCs managed to ambush the orcs again. But once again, the massive class superiority bonuses provided by the orcish battle mages put the PCs into a losing situation: the PCs didn't do overwhelmingly well on the first round of the ambush, when they had the most advantages, and on the second round they were defeated and took much more casualties than the orcs. I stopped the game for lack of time before playing out the third round.

What Went Wrong

The Triumph of the Battle Mages

Mass Combat makes battle mages really potent: an element of battle wizards has the same base troop strength as an element of heavy cavalry, but the battle wizards also provide a host of class superiority bonuses. For structural reasons in the game background, the orcs have a limited number of wizards, but at this point, the PCs have none. Which results in the orcs having overwhelming class superiority in a couple of classes when the wizards are present at a battle, and the PCs having a hard time to defeat them.

Arguably, this is what supposed to happen in a fantasy world if you don't have wizards and the other side does: you lose, badly. But although I want wizards to be part of the game and not somewhat common, I don't want them to be so dominant that a single squad of wizards cancels a five to one advantage in numbers. I don't think the actual mechanics of GURPS make wizards that valuable, and I especially don't think the magic systems I'm using in the game (low point cost Divine Favor and Sorcery) make wizards that valuable. And just from a game balance perspective, there's no other unit where the absence or presence makes such a huge difference. If you don't any cavalry or pikemen and your opponent has cavalry, you're at a disadvantage, but you're not guaranteed to lose absent overwhelming advantages in troop numbers, strategy, and circumstances. But if you don't have wizards and your opponent does, you'll lose even if you're the better general with more troops.

Too Many Battles

This was more a question of pacing, and something of a minor issue, but there was too many battles and not enough other stuff in the game. Three battles in a session took up all the time and turned the game into more of a wargame with cumbersome mechanics than a role-playing game with the occasional battle.

I'm less upset about this problem. I mean, it was a problem, but we're learning the rules of Mass Combat and I've never ran a game anything like this before. I'll have to figure out how to address it in the future, but I think it's just a question of pacing and plotting that will get resolved with more experience. I just want to point it out for other GMs that are planing Mass Combat games: think about how you're going to pace the battles so they're an occasional climax of a session, not the dominating factor in every game.

What Went Right

A lot of things went wrong this session, but nevertheless, some things went well. The multifront battle rules worked really well, and kept all the PC commanders engaged throughout the game. The Gifted Commander advantage worked very well for my purposes: each of the PC commanders has preferred strategies and a different approach to command, and will sometimes do possibly subpar things in pursuit of those bonuses. And the Misfortunes of War rules demonstrated that there is some risk to acting aggressively heroic all the time.

Another thing that went well but didn't show up in the write-up was having the different orc commanders have different skills. Captain Erigash had Strategy-9, while Captain Krauk had Strategy-13, so when the PCs knew they were fighting Erigash again, they were willing to try riskier strategies because the odds were in their favor. As the PCs start fighting even better enemy commanders, ones with Gifted Commander and command perks of their own, I think the game will become even more interesting.
The Battle of Harbuck, in crude pictures. Margin of success in bright red,
positional bonuses in green, casualties in dark red.
You can see Trahaern's force on the left get ground down on successive rounds.

Finally, for this session, I started drawing rough little maps of each battle. The maps were really crude, but I could write down each side's margin of victory, casualties, and positional bonus gain each round. They were a helpful reminder in play and very useful (along with the chat log of die rolls) in reconstructing the battles afterward.

Righting What Was Wrong

Kevin and I had a brief chat after the game about the power of mages. We batted around some ideas, but the general feeling was that battle mages had too much Troop Strength and way too many class specials. It's possible that mages, as a group, could usefully contribute to artillery support, general ranged attacks, long distance communication and intelligence, and local reconnaissance operations, but our experience was that any given wizard couldn't do all of those things. We also felt that the Resistance needed at least some wizards to help level the playing field.

The eventual house rule was to split wizards into two troop types: Battle Wizards with TS 3, Artillery, and Fire, and Support Wizards with TS 3, C3I, and Recon. The reduced TS would make wizards less critical, and splitting the roles meant a single wizard unit couldn't provide superiority in four classes. Instead, wizards were more like horse archers or rifle skirmishers: they provided a couple of class superiorities in a compact package, but they weren't game changers that everyone had to have.

I also reviewed my notes, and realized that the orcs were only supposed to have 2 elements of wizards at Harbuck, not 4. I don't know much difference that would have made, but it certainly contributed to the problem. I also assigned an element of support wizards to Trahaern's force.

I then reran the Trahaern's portion of the Battle of Harbuck, using the rough maps and the chat logs to recreate the decisions and die rolls from the original. With fewer and weaker wizards and a little arcane backup of his own, Trahaern went from losing the first round to barely winning it. With less casualties and no loss of position from the first round, he went from decisively losing the second round to decisively winning it. Ironically, the change in fortunes didn't change his Misfortunes of War, and he still fell unconscious after the second round, allowing the orcs to flee. But this time, the orcs were dislodged from Harbuck with 80% casualties, not sitting pretty with 20% casualties.

So I retconned the battle, and left the situation with some dispirited orcish troops huddled in the woods north of Harbuck, while the PCs controlled Harbuck and had a plethora of possible targets.

What Next

Next week, we're going to do a micro-dungeon delve with the other characters. It's not the most elegant way to break up the pacing, but it will be a change of pace and give everyone an opportunity to do some stuff with their other characters. It should be interesting, and since I'm much more experienced with running dungeon delves, hopefully I won't bolix it up the way I did this session.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Mass Combat: Battle Experience and Cadres

Precis: Some house rules for GURPS Mass Combat, dealing with improving the quality of your troops through battle experience and merging existing experienced units with new hires to improve their experience.

GURPS Mass Combat is a reasonably comprehensive set of rules for running large scale battles in GURPS. It has rules for different types of troops with different levels of training and equipment, for raising new units and maintaining existing ones, and for fighting all different types of battles. One thing that is mostly missing are rules for improving the quality of existing troops as they gain battlefield experience.

There are two references to improving units: on 12, under Improvements, "The GM may allow troops to improve in quality... if events justify it," and on p 14, under Disbanding Elements, "For flavor, an element may be converted rather than disbanded." There's no real guidance for deciding when troops should improve in quality, and so I'm writing some house rules for New Dawn to provide some guidance.

Battlefield Experience

Each time a unit survives a battlefield, it gains 1 experience. It then loses 1 experience if it took more than 40% casualties, half its experience (round the remaining experience down) if it took more than 50% casualties, and all its experience if took more than 75% casualties.

A unit can be retrained to lock in its experience and improve its troop quality by 1 step after earning 2 experience. Retraining takes one week per $10K of the difference in the raise costs of the improved troop and the unimproved troop. Units with more experience are cheaper to retrain: each extra point of experience reduces the cost by 20%, to a minimum of 0. The retraining time is based on the adjust cost, but can't be reduced below the lower of four weeks or the normal time to raise the unit. A unit cannot move or fight in any battles while it is being retrained, and if it moves or fights in a battle, an entire week of training needs to be redone.

A very experienced unit can improve its quality by multiple steps at once instead of reducing the cost of training. It takes 8 experience to raise the quality by two steps or 15 to raise it by three.

Instructors, Cadres, and Replacement Troops

Troop quality is determined by training and culture and all new troops are raised at the appropriate quality level. If an army has created higher quality troops through battlefield experience, it may not be able to raise fresh units of the same quality to act as replacements. Adding lesser quality troops to a high quality unit generally lowers the quality of the high quality unit, but there are ways to get around it.

In general, if a unit gets has its size increased by more than 10% and the new troops are of a lower quality than the unit, the unit's quality drops to the average of the two quality levels: adding Average reinforcements to an Elite unit turns the entire unit into a Good unit. Any battle experience is lost.


A unit can absorb more reinforcements if it is given time to absorb them and train them to the unit's standards. A unit can take up to 60% of its size in lower quality reinforcements without losing quality (and indeed, raising the quality of the reinforcements) by taking four weeks to train with them. This training is expensive (pay the cost to raise the quality of the reinforcements normally) but is an easy way to quickly produce a high quality armor. The high quality unit loses all its battle experience and can't absorb any more reinforcements without losing quality until it has gained at least one battle experience.

Units acting as cadres and absorbing reinforcements cannot move or fight in any battles and must repeat the full week of training if they do move or fight in a battle. The reinforcements are keep their lower quality until the training with the cadre unit is complete.


A high quality unit can be used as instructors to improve the quality of newly raised troops. Each element assigned to act as an instructor can train ten elements to its quality. Raising new elements with instructors has the normal cost of raising a new element of the appropriate quality. Instructors don't save money, they just allow veteran units to raise better units than a nation's normal training programs.

Elements acting as instructors cannot move or fight in any battles and must repeat the full week of training if they do move or fight in a battle. Elements in the process of being raised do not exist for mass combat purposes until their training is complete.


This is pretty straightforward and is really just a set of guidelines for things that Mass Combat allows with GM permission. The biggest departure from Mass Combat is clarifying that you can't just raise high quality replacements unless you could have raised those replacements normally.

Friday, January 13, 2017

New Dawn Session 1

Precis: In the first session of the New Dawn campaign, the PCs ambushed an orc patrol, recruited a small army, and had an overwhelming victory in their first Mass Battles combat.

Cast of Characters

  • +Uhuk of the Guard's Hloomawl, a minotaur princeling and mighty warrior.
  • +Eric Schmidt's Nesta Bowen, a human master spy with a grudge against the orcs.
  • +Eric Schmidt's Trahaern ab Owen, a human master strategist.
  • +Eilmyn Davidson's Michael Jones, a Squallite archer.
  • +Eilmyn Davidson's Skyler Therris, a human reprobate, warrior, and general.
  • +Kevin Smyth's Aisling Mhic Muiris, a Nymph ambassador from the Fae court.
  • +Kevin Smyth's Ariana Rees, a human blacksmith and minor saint.
  • Kiara Schmidt's Greex "Wrongway", a cowardly kobold spymaster.
  • Kiara Schmidt's Nayla, a supernaturally skilled archer.
  • Finbar Gullvan, the old man of the Resistance 
Kevin recapped this session, too, for a view from a player's side.

Orcish Introductions

One of my favorite video games is Shadows of Mordor. You spend a lot of time fighting common orcs in that game, but at times a orcish captain will join the fray. When you start fighting the captain, there's a sudden cut-scene where the captain taunts you while all the orcs chant his name, and you might see a list of some of the awful and dangerous deeds he's done. I don't have the video or audio skills to do that, but one of things I'm doing with New Dawn is introducing each orcish leader with a little tagline. If the PCs have done any research on him, I'll probably tell them more about the leader but so far it hasn't come up.

I will almost certainly regret doing this, as coming up with the taglines is hard, but so far it amuses me. Each orc and his tagline will follow the header for the battle that he's in.

An Ambush

Sir Brolo - "Greatness comes from humble beginnings"
I like to start my games with an action scene, to get things going immediately. In this case, the Resistance of Engenstut County - essentially the PCs plus some NPC spear-throwers - were ambushing a patrol of orcs. The ambush had many purposes: acquire some metal weapons and armor instead of stone and leather; demonstrate to the countryside that the Resistance had what it took to defeat orcs; commit a provocation that would encourage the orcs to leave their stronghold. The Resistance were set up on either side of a steep-sided path through two hills, with the intention of attacking the orcs when their mounted leader made it into a bend in the pass. The orcs were on a routine patrol that they weren't taking seriously, with almost none of them wearing their helmets and the infantry not wearing their arm armor or gauntlets. This turned out to be significant.

The PCs' forces were strung out on either side of the path, and not set up super well. They had a nice ambush with their better archers covering the bend, but the melee fighters were set up too far up the pass. They had some of their melee fighters close to the mouth of the pass, but ironically those fighters were too close to the action and easy to spot.

As it turned out, the ambush almost failed when the orc leader spotted Aisling. People tensed up, but trusted the nymph to talk her way out of it, which she did. She Fast-Talked the orcs with a story about a bunch of kobolds attacking her and claimed the kobolds were just around the bend. The orcs formed up, but foolishly neglected to put on their helmets (overconfidence was a crippling disadvantage for the orcs) and charged up the pass. It was possibly something of a net loss for the PCs, since though the orcs were still surprised by the subsequent ambush, they were much less surprised and responded quicker.

At any rate, as the orc knight made it around the bend, Nayla put an arrow in his face. Even with HP 17 and HT 12, he still took a major wound and fell off his horse, unconscious. The rest of the orcs were surprised by this turn of events (IQ 9 and no Combat Reflexes) and things just degenerated for them from there. Ariana and Aisling slipped to the back of the orcish column and began clobbering the goblin wolf-rider archers from behind while Nesta, Traeharn, Hloomawl, Skyler, and Greex frantically repositioned themselves closer to the orcish infantry. Michael got off some shots of varying effectiveness: I think he nailed one orc in the face, but another shot mostly bowed off a DR7 steel breastplate. Nayla was much more effective, using her Guided Shot and Scattershot imbuments to telling effect: her first blast of shrapnel got a lucky cripple on one of the orc infantry's hands, effectively taking him out of the fight, and she put a shot into one of the wolves' face at 30 yards, dropping him and preventing the goblins from fleeing the fight.

Arianna caught a lot of attention from the orcs for a bit: a wolf jumped her but she blocked and retreated, then a goblin just missed her with a bow, and finally she took a crossbow bolt that penetrated her shield and heavy leather gloves to stick into her arm. She survived and continued to lay about on the orcs, but even a couple of hard hits to the face weren't always enough to knock the orcs down.

Back at the front of the column, Hloomawl closed the distance with a horn slam. The orc in question blocked with his shield, but Hloomawl penetrated the shield and the unarmored arm, knocking him down. Hloomawl's horns also got stuck, leading to the amusing image of 9' minotaur, bent over double at the waist, muttering, "Don't worry, I got this," as he tried to unstick himself. Immediately behind him, Skyler ran up and threw a hand axe into the back of an orc's skull, dropping him and rendering the orcs' attempts to fight back to back futile.

On the next round, Hloomawl freed his horns by trying to wrench the orc's arm off. He did a pretty good job, but not quite enough to cripple the orc. The PCs were quite impressed with the hardiness of the orcs. Skyler stepped forward and brained the orc with his barbed wire bat, Lucille.
Skyler and Hloomawl beat down the orcish infantry as Arianna and Aisling cut
off their retreat and Nayla, Michael, and the generic Resistance force rain down missiles.

The combat pretty much petered out at this point, with the surviving goblins surrendering. Two of the orcs were still conscious, but both were wounded and on their backs with Skyler, Hloomawl, and Arianna closing in while Michael and Nayla provided covering fire.


At this point, the PCs split into two groups. Hloomawl, Traehern, Skyler, Aisling, and Greex went off to recruit an army, while the other PCs went off to do something else. The logic was that whoever did the recruiting would also have to fight in the first battle, so the PCs stacked that team with their best leaders and persuaders.

My mechanic for recruiting was pretty simple: it took 3 hours to give a rousing speech in a village square, and success on a contest of Public Speaking versus average peasant Will resulted in 1 + MoS elements of levy medium infantry showing up. Anyone could use an Influence skill to give a complementary bonus, or people could work the crowd with an Influence skill and recruit 1 element of levy medium infantry +1 per 2 MoS. I mostly set it up that way because Aisling's Public Speaking skill is unreal and if the only option had been to perform complementary work with her, it would have been the Aisling and her backup band show. As it was, each of the PCs got their own chance to recruit: Greex rallied some kobolds, Skyler won some drinking contests, Hloomawl convinced people they could stand behind him and watch him kill orcs, and Trahaern made some appeals to patriotism. Aisling actually gave a reasonably ineffective speech (she's Intolerant of loggers, and the village of Trones is a logging community) but an ineffective speech by a nymph is still a massive success. Within a few hours, the PCs had recruited most of the people they could in Trones. I offered to let them go at it again, at -4 on all rolls, but they chose to move to another village and try again. Rolls were even better there, and since it was a smaller village, they recruited everyone they could ("except for the Mayor, the bitter drunk, and three guys that absolutely needed to stay behind to run businesses" as we eventually decided).

That was the first day after the battle. They could have spent another day recruiting, but they decided to spend it organizing their forces since they had 30 elements of Medium Infantry (with Poor equipment and Poor quality). I told them they could set up as much of their forces as they liked as Light Infantry (again, Poor/Poor) or a quarter of them as Pikemen in the form of a bunch of guys holding sharpened tree branches (Poor/Inferior quality). They had could have 1 Unit of Poor/Poor Bowmen using some of the captured orc weapons and the Resistance stockpile. As a houserule, I'd already said that a PC attached to an element could raise the troop quality for a single battle with a Leadership roll. Aisling took charge of the Resistance's lone light artillery (dubbed "Finbar's Folly" but it actually turned out pretty useful), Skyler led the Bowmen element, and Hloomawl had a bodyguard of Pikemen. Greex didn't have any Leadership skills and Trahaern was too busy commanding the overall battle. They had 7 elements of Pikemen, 8 or so elements of Light Infantry, and a mass of Medium Infantry.

The Battle of Trones

Captain Hugrash - "He's bad, and he's an ass, but is he a bad-ass?" 
Lieutenant Bruurt - "A calm head can still be lost in a disasater"

On the morning of the third day, some of the Resistance scouts put the heads of the orc patrol up on stakes in view of the orc stronghold. Captain Hugrash ordered his troops to armor up and prepared to sally forth to crush the insolent humans.

I had something of a personality in mind for Hugrash. He's a minor orc commander of an inferior regiment that was left behind to guard the countryside when the rest of the orcish forces left to fight the battle at the capitol. He's arrogant and not particularly skilled (Intelligence Analysis-8, Tactics-11, Leadership-12, Overconfidence 9 or less, no useful mass combat Perks or Advantages). His forces, generally a collection of Average troops with Good equipment, were penalized by being in Low Supply for reasons of economy and had half the TS they normally would.

Trones campaign theater, showing the
titular village, the orc stronghold, the town
of Harbuck, and the orc fortress of Swartun.

This was everyone's first experience with GURPS Mass Combat, and justifying my purchase of Mass Combat is the point of the campaign, so we went through the whole deal. First step was the Reconnaissance Contest. The PC's had a 2:1 edge in Recon Strength (mostly through overwhelming numbers) and had friendly locals. Kiara rolled for Greex and succeeded by 12. Hugrash, on the other hand, had unfriendly locals and wasn't taking basic route security options, so he was rolling at -6 and failed by 5 or so. Long story short, the Resistance trivially ambushed the orcs.

In the rest of the campaign, each PC commander will have their own fronts and there will be multiple mass combats going on at once, but for the first one, I just wanted to get through the rules with as little confusion as possible. Trahaern took command, and put his Gifted Commander: Slow and Steady advantage to best use by ordering a Deliberate Attack. The orcs, ambushed, were forced to Rally. The humans had a troop strength advantage, but the orcs had better class specials: the human pikes and artillery neutralized or countered their cavalry and (magic) artillery, but they still had more archers for a Fire bonus and mages for C3I bonus. Numbers and skill triumph over confusion, and the Resistance won the first round by 15 or so, inflicting 35% casualties on the orcs and gaining a superior position.

In the second round, Trahaern moved for a double envelopment (an Indirect Attack to take some advantage of his Gifted Commander: Cunning Commander advantage, though it conflicts some with being Slow and Sure) while the orcs went for a general attack. Trahaern gambled big, but won big with something like +17 on the initial contest and double that after his Indirect Attack, for another 40% casualties and more position bonuses. Captain Hugrash had taken injuries in the first round (Misfortunes of War are likely if you risk big and lose big) which had been described as Hloomawl getting close enough to beat on him a bit in a Significant Action. Hugrash took injuries again this round, as Skyler beat him unconscious in another Significant Action.

Orcish Lieutenant Bruurt stepped up, but the orcish position was untenable. He correctly predicted that Trahaern was going to order an All-Out Attack, and surprised Trahaern by ordering a Full Retreat, but Bruurt's net success by 1 was not sufficient to keep the orcs from being overrun by the humans who succeeded by 12 or so. Trahaern's roll was pretty bad this round, but +8 in positional bonuses and no casualties will make up for some bad rolls. The orcs took another 30% casualties, accumulating at 110%, and were wiped out.

We did some of the post battle accounting and ended the session on a high note. 55 of the orcs were killed on the field of battle, with another 34 successfully fleeing. Most of those survivors would be killed by Resistance sympathizers among the peasantry, but a handful (mostly goblin wolf-riders and a knight or two) would survive the 40 mile journey to the orc fortress of Swartun. Meanwhile, the Resistance got $240,000 in loot, including a couple of suits of Fine plate harness from the orcish officers.

Review of Play

So this session started out a little slow. 5 players, most with 2 PCs, a horde of allied NPCs that the GM had to run, and a mass of enemies makes for a long battle. That was somewhat helped by a lot of the orcs being stunned, either from surprise or via damage, and not doing much. I was a little sad about that: I wanted an orc or two to recover and rampage through the PC's lines, demonstrating just how dangerous an orc was. Ariana took some hits, but there was never anything really impressive. Still, the awful endurance of the orcs who sometimes took multiple hits to the face without stopping did impress the PCs.

All in all, the starting ambush took two and half hours to play through. That didn't leave much time for the recruitment and mass combat, but it did come in just under the clock so no harm dead. I had an optional encounter in my notes, where the orcs would send out a second patrol and the PCs would ambush it again, but this time with they'd have their captured orcish metal weapons and armor. I didn't run that, because the initial ambush was such a success that there wouldn't have been much contrast in the second, and because it would have taken up too much time. Oh, well.

As another minor note on tactics, I expected the PCs to station Hloomawl much closer to the mouth of the pass, and have him enter the fight by jumping off the hillside and landing on an orc's shoulders. It would have been amazing, and I actually looked up the rules for it. But Uhuk wasn't feeling so well and didn't think of that.

The recruiting section went well. I was surprised that the PC's stopped early, but they were right that they had sufficient forces.

The battle actually went very smoothly. There were a few rules look-ups and a couple of minor mishaps (Trahaern ordered a Deliberate Defense on the first round, which isn't legal for ambushers, but it wouldn't have made a difference in the outcome) but things mostly went pretty well. I'm going to need to experiment more with maptools to see if I can make tracking some things easier, as there was a little confusion about modifiers at various points. Still, it went well, and it was a massive victory for the PCs at the very end of the session, so things ended on a high note.

Much like I anticipated yesterday, the PCs are already becoming pretty potent. They have a lot of money and a fair amount of high quality armor. Skyler potentially has a magic weapon. Common orcs are still going to be a threat, but if everyone has DR7 or DR8 armor then fights are going to have a differnt quality than if only one side is wearing DR2 leather.

What Next?

The Resistance has a lot of things to do, and hopefully people will decide what do to do over email. They'd probably do best to continue the current military campaign with their current forces, and try to overrun the the undersupplied and spread out Orc garrison companies while they can. Sooner or later the orcs are going to start retraining for war and consolidating their forces. The orcs can theoretically field over 10,000 troops in Hanist alone, so a force of 300 militia is not going to cut it. The PCs will need to balance liberating the countryside with recruiting new troops and sending old troops back to re-equipped and retrained with looted weapons.

That's on the Mass Combat side. This game is also supposed to involve some delving and diplomacy. Currently, there's not a lot of good options for that, but I'll try to think of something and present it. Delving may not show up until the fourth or fifth session, though.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New Dawn: Anticipation

Precis: I'm starting my new mass battles fantasy game tonight and reflecting on some decisions and campaign features while I wait.

I'm running the first session of New Dawn tonight. As usual, I'm excited about the start of a new game but can't do much about it until the game actually starts. So I'll post some thoughts about it.

Zero to Hero in 1.4 seconds

I don't normally like Zero to Hero style games. They're an RPG convention, for reasons good and bad, but I prefer starting with more experienced heroes that are comparatively static. On the player side, I like playing the character I want to play at the start of the game, not having to wait for several sessions for the character to grow into my desired concept. On the GM side, static characters from the start of the game make it easier to plot challenges since the character abilities don't change. Similarly, record keeping is easier because the characters don't change much.

New Dawn is a Zero to Hero game. But it's a Zero to Hero game with a turbo-supercharger and nitrous oxide. The first fight of the first session pits the PCs wearing leather armor and wielding stone weapons against an orc patrol in heavy plate armor with good steel weapons. I expect it will be a brutal fight, and only the facts that the PCs have advantage in numbers and skill and set up an ambush will allow them to triumph. But after that first fight, the PCs will have heavy plate armor and good steel weapons. Within short order - hopefully at the end of the first session or the second at the latest - they'll be lords of a collection of little villages. And by the third or fourth session, they'll start getting fine weapons and armor as they become the lords of county and collecting the tax income from 30000 people. It's a very fast ramp up.

Your Money Is Meaningless

One of the odd consequences of a military game is that money is somewhat meaningless on a personal scale. The cost of outfitting a single squad of standard Medium Infantry - the backbone of the armies - is $30K, which normally in Dungeon Fantasy is the kind of money you find at the end of a fairly successful delve. The PCs can expect to outfit hundreds, if not thousands, of Medium Infantry squads over the course of the game. One less Medium Infantry squad isn't going to effect the outcome of the mid-game battles, but it's enough money to give a single PC some very high quality gear. Similarly, the cost of buying a single war elephant is $400K, which buys a full set of very high end armor. It wouldn't be unreasonable for the PCs to get forty war elephants (Hannibal had that many during the Punic Wars), or to get 30 or so and have everyone wearing the best armor money can buy.

As part of the game is supposed to include Dungeon Fantasy style delving, this is going to be a weird dynamic. The vast wealth from totally looting a typical dungeon isn't enough to buy a the horses and armor for a squadron of heavy cavalry, and delving isn't as profitable as sitting around for a couple of months and letting the tax money roll in. There might be other reasons to delve, such as finding lost forgotten magics or acquiring military units that can't be found any other way, but money isn't a motivator.

I could come up with some kind of complicated rule that limited how much tax money the PCs could spend on themselves, but I'd rather embrace the dynamic. It's part of the Zero to Hero in 1.4 seconds concept: the PCs aren't going to spend much time grubbing for gear.

Troupe Style Play

I originally wanted to have a single character per player, but my players ganged up on me and decided they wanted two characters apiece. That way, everyone could get the role they wanted, even with a lot of overlap in roles. Each player can only have one active character at a time, in general, though that rule is going to be relaxed at times.

Another element of troupe style play is bit parts for players. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, but there are going times when one or two PCs are the focus of the action and rather than leave all the other players with nothing to do, they're going to get bit parts. The most obvious instance of this will be Detailed Actions in the Mass Combat minigame, when a single PC gets to fight a little melee with the assistance of his bodyguards or whatever, but I expect I'll do the same when one of the spies needs to infiltrate a castle and non-stealthy PCs need to be left behind. People without characters appropriate for infiltration will get to play some sneaky bit parts. Who knows? If a bit part gets enough screen time, it might become a low point value PC permanently.

Disadvantages That Bite

Another thing that's come up while preparing for the game is that there a lot of disadvantages that are normally free points but that, in the context of a military game, are much more likely to hurt. Several people took Pacifism: Cannot Harm Innocents, which in my Dungeon Fantasy games is normally such a weak disadvantage that it should really be a quirk. It just doesn't come up much. In a military game, it has teeth: you have to avoid collateral damage, it's hard to besiege a town (starving innocent town folk is definitely forbidden), and even starting a war with a neutral party in order to get access to a needed resource isn't allowed. I like the change, but I was surprised by the number of PCs that took Pacifism: Cannot Harm Innocents and I'm curious how it will work out in play. Soldier's Code of Honor, another disadvantage that several PCs, has similar restrictions.

A Multinational Approach

I swear I didn't suggest this or really do much to encourage it, but as it worked out, the PCs come from a multitude of races and nations that, while generally agreeing to defeat the evil Empire, have their own agendas. This obviously sets up some plot hooks down the road and meshes with some of my hidden plans, but wasn't planned by me. Currently, the group includes a fae, some humans, a kobold, a minotaur, and a squallite (a kind of wood-elf thing), with possibly one more race in +Uhuk of the Guard's second character.

I'm somewhat surprised that the "normal" non-human races aren't present. There aren't any dwarves, elves, or halflings, though minotaur, fae, and kobold are all conceptually similar. That might just be a side effect of the kind of people I game with. It simplified some things for me, though, in terms of long term campaign planning.

Cast of Characters

The full list of characters is on the wiki, but here's a quick summary:
Hloomawl: +Uhuk of the Guard's minotaur champion/herald.
Nesta: +Eric Schmidt's human spymaster/thief.
Trahaern: +Eric Schmidt's human general/trapper.
Michael: +Eilmyn Davidson's squallite scout.
Skyler: +Eilmyn Davidson's human champion/war captain.
Aisling: +Kevin Smyth's fae nymph ambassador/war captain.
Ariana: +Kevin Smyth's human priest.
Greex: Kiara's kobold spymaster/thief.
Nayla: Kiara's human imbued scout.

Greex was original one of Kevin's concepts, but Kiara liked the idea and took the character. Uhuk is supposedly making a sorcerer but I haven't seen anything yet.

It's a pretty good mix. I'm a little sad that there are two spymaster/thief characters, but it's a reasonable combination so I can't really blame people. I also wish there were more spellcaster types, but neither Divine Favor nor Sorcery are particularly effective with only 50 points to start so I can't blame people for skipping those roles.

I'm excited, and really looking forward to tonight's session.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Enchantment Through Deeds

So the New Dawn campaign starts Thursday. It's going to have a couple of new players, and that accidentally exposed some issues with GURPS Enchantment that bothered me.

The Benefits and Problems of Named Possessions

GURPS Fantasy came up with the idea of Named Possessions: for the cost of a Perk, one of your PC's Signature Items could freely earn enchantments as the PC earned CP. In a long-running campaign, this is an amazing perk: 50 CP is worth 750 energy points of enchantments, which is 2-3 decent enchantments. Conceptually, it's neat that as your PC grows from zero to hero, his favorite weapon or armor grows with him.

Named Possessions have a lot of problems. First off, the equipment needs to be Fine and Signature Gear, which means it's easier to have Named Hand Axes ($500 and 1 CP for Signature Gear in most Fantasy games) than Named Two-Handed Swords ($3600 and 10 CP for Signature Gear in most Fantasy games) and nearly impossible to have Named armor (because Fine armor starts at $2000 and goes up quickly). Second, a PC gets the most benefit from having a Named Possession at the game - if a new player starts to admire a more experienced player's Named Possession 10 sessions in and buys the Perk then, the new player's Named Possession has 375 energy at the time the experienced player's has 3750. Finally, Named Possessions discourage upgrading your weapon: if you have 3000 energy of free enchantment's on your named Balanced Longbow, then getting a Fine Balanced Elven Composite Bow as a reward from the Faerie princess might be a step backwards because you lose all those enchantments.

On balance, Named Possessions are probably more trouble than they're worth. But the concept is neat, doubly so because it means that a non-magical fighting type can get a powerful magical weapon without having to be nice to a wizard so the wizard will enchant it for him. I like the idea that non-magical fighter types can get by without wizards, so I want to preserve that concept. The following rules try to preserve the good parts of Named Possessions and reduce the bad parts.

Enchantment Through Deeds

Each PC has several pools of Deed Points that normally start at 0 (in a high power game, the GM might start them at some other level). Deed Points stay with a PC and can be applied as CP to buy Advantages, Perks, and Skills for specific pieces of equipment. After Deed Points have been applied to a specific piece of equipment, they stay with that equipment but are still available (subject to some restrictions) for applying to other pieces of equipment.

Deed Pools

Normally, a PC has three Deed Pools: Weapons, Armor, and Miscellaneous.

Earning Deed Points

There are lots of ways to earn Deed Points. The general rule is to do stuff, and then to do awesome stuff on top of that:
  • A PC earns 3 Deed Points (1 Weapon, 1 Armor, and one that can be applied to any pool) for every significant fight they're in.
  • A PC earns Deed Points for doing significant non-combat activities (sneaking into a fortress to open the gates, negotiating an alliance with the minotaurs, finding the Lost Orb of Phantasma). The GM will specify the amount and which pools the Deed Points apply to.
  • A PC earns a Weapon Deed Point for defeating a foe in a memorable manner (massive damage, an arrow to the eye, a really impressive critical hit, picking up the foe and throwing them out a window).
  • A PC earns a Deed Point for surviving an impressive set of attacks (Actively Defending against 4 or more skilled foes in a single turn, dodging multitple lows from a giant that can disable the PC in a single hit)
  • In Mass Combat, a PC earns a Deed point for being involved in the battle, and another for any Significant Actions by the PC. If the Significant Actions don't break into a Detailed Action, the PC earns another 3 Deed Points.

Spending Deed Points

Deed Points can be spent to enhance equipment, including the PC's body, by buying Advantages, Perks, and Skills. Once spent, Deed Points cannot be changed.
  • Weapon Deed Points can be spent freely between the PC's equipment and the PC's body.
  • No more half the Deed Points in the Armor and Miscellaneous pools can be spent on the PC's body.

No Advantage, Perk, or Skill comes into effect until the PC has spent at least 10 Deed Points on that piece of equipment. Weapon, Armor, and Miscellaneous Deed Points applied to the body count separately for activation purposes.

Each Deed Point buys 1 CP worth of Advantages, Perks, or Skills.
  • Extra skill for equipment costs a flat 4 points per level of bonus and only applies when using that piece of equipment.
  • Imbuement skills can be bought for the item, and in addition to the Imbuement advantage, the individual Imbuement skills cost 4 points for level 12 and 4 points for each additional level. Item Imbuement's are always independent of the user's abilities, though the user has to pay the Fatigue costs unless the item has an Energy Reserve.

Changing Equipment

The first time a piece of Deeded Equipment is passed on to someone else (voluntarily or involuntarily), it immediately loses 10 Deed Points worth of enhancements. If that leaves it with less than 10 Deed Points, it no longer has any active Enhancements. Killing the owned of a Deeded item does not strip the item of existing Deed Points, beyond losing the usual 10. If the original owner of a Deeded Item recovers it, it immediately recovers the lost 10 Deed Points and the owner may spend any additional earned Deed Points on it.

If a PC picks up a new piece of equipment, they may immediately use any active Deed enhancements. After earning another 5 Deed Points with that piece of equipment, the PC may spend their full Deed pool on the new equipment.

Example: John has 20 Deed Points in his sword. He fights the Sanguine Count, who has 45 Deed Points in its spear. John claims the spear as his new weapon and can use its 35 Deed Points, and gives his sword to his squire, who can use its 10 Deed Points. After John earns 5 more Deed Points with the spear, he can spend all 25 of his Weapon Deed points on it. If after earning another 10 Deed Points with the spear, he loses it to a rust monster and has to start again with an ax, he'll have to earn 5 more Deed Points before enhancing the ax with his 40 Weapon Deed points. If his squire dies and he gets his original sword back, the sword goes back to having 20 Deed Points and John can spend another 20 Deed Points on it (he has earned 20 Weapon Deed Points since giving up the Sword).

Upgrading Equipment

Upgrading equipment (by making it Balanced, Fine, or whatever) does not change the amount of Deed Points in the equipment. Armor with Deed Points can be upgraded piecemeal, as long as at least 55% of the armor coverage stays the same and 5 Armor Deed Points are earned and applied between upgrades.

Example: John's career starts with him wearing a mail shirt, leather pants, and a pot helm. After earning 10 Armor Deed Points, his armor is magical. John replaces the leather pants with plate greaves. The enhancement stays. After earning 5 more Armor Deed Points, John replaces the pot helm with an Orichalcum helm and the enchantment stays. He then also replaces the mail shirt with plate harness, but since that changes more than 45% of the coverage, the enchantment moves with the shirt and his new plate harness is not enhanced (and the mail shirt loses 10 Deed Points and also becomes unenhanced). If John then earns another 10 Armor Deed Points, he can spend all 20 Armor Deed Points on his plate harness.

Sample Items

  • Bracers of Force (12 Deed Points) - These DR 6 metal arm guards project a minor forcefield, protecting the wearer from harm. DR +2 (Force Field +20%) [12]. 7 lbs. 
  • Hammer of the Forge God (50 Deed Points) - This minor artifact destroys inanimate objects and makes the wielder a better smith. Smithing Talent +4 [20], Crushing Innate Attack 20 (Melee Reach 1 No Parry Follow-up -30%; Accessibility: Inanimate Objects Only -40) [30]. Treat as a Fine Mace in melee combat. 5 lbs.
  • Ever-Distant Bow (36 Deed Points) - This bow shoots at long distances incredibly well, though it can be very fatiguing to use. Imbue 2 (2 skills only -60%) [8], Imbuement Talent 2 [10], Guided Weapon (Bow)-14 [4], Far-Shot (Bow)-14 [4], Energy Reserve 4 [12].


I've tried to make this system as simple as possible, but I'm not sure I've succeeded. My concerns are:
  • Record keeping for keeping track of the Deed Points available to the PC and the Deed Points invested in an item (especially for items that have had multiple owners). Hopefully limited the new owner charge to a 1 time deal will minimize this.
  • Keeping track of when PCs earn Deed Points. It's mostly Rule of Cool plus some simple static guidelines, so hopefully everyone will keep track, but I suspect people will forget. I don't have a good solution for this.
  • Whining about whether something counts as Cool enough to earn a Deed point is potentially a problem. My theory is it that it has to be memorable: it's not enough to get a critical hit, it's got to be a critical hit to the head that takes someone out or something like that
  • Favoritism towards certain builds. Hulking warriors and eagle-eyed elf scouts are much more likely to get one shot kills than weedy kobold thieves. To some extent, the requirement that actions be memorable will mitigate against this: the elf's 3rd eyeshot in the same fight isn't memorable, while the one time the thief backstabbed that guy to the neck is memorable. 
  • Power level: things could get out of hand quick, with everyone earning 10+ Deed Points per session and getting new and wonderful items regularly while handing off reasonably potent stuff to their allies. If it looks like people are trying to game the system to an unreasonable extent by changing to identical equipment to power it up and pass it on to allies, then I'll have to take steps but I hope/expect it won't be a problem.