July 22, 2014

Three Takes on Sleep (DnD/S&W, GURPS, Night's Black Agents)

+Tim Shorts over at Gothridge Manor just wrote two pieces on the Sleep spell. 

It called my attention to something that I didn't pay much mind to, since I play a boring old fighter. Or young fighter. Whatever.

Tim's character Minister has used sleep to good effect before, but I didn't really realize how darn powerful it is. Rather than just start tweaking from the get-go (I'll get to that later), I thought I might first look at how such a power is handled in the two games I actively play, and one I'd love to play a game in.

D&D (5e) and Swords and Wizardry

These two really aren't that different. In S&W, you can impact a certain number of hit dice of critters. 1 at 4 HD (4 HD total), 1d6 at 3 HD (about 10 HD total), 2d6 at 2 HD (14 HD total), and 2d8 at 1 HD (9 HD total). 

For DnD 5th edition, casting this at first level you roll 5d8, and you can put that many HP of creatures asleep. Since the monster HD is a d8, by and large you'll, on the average put 5 critters to sleep, or 5 HD.

Comparing the two, I think that the D&D version is clearly easier to adjudicate. You start from weakest to strongest, and put to sleep creatures until you run out of HP, and if your pool of HP don't cover the next critter on the list, you're done.

For S&W, the spell is a bit odd, and clearly the best way to throw it is against 2-3 HD creatures. And if you have a group of mixed foes . . . huh. Not sure. I think a better way would be to roll (say) either 3d6 or 2d8 (likely 2d8) and you can put to sleep that many HD of creatures, and steal a page from D&D5 and start from the weakest.

Because, wow . . . no saving throw. If you're impacted by the spell, you're just o-u-t out, and snoozing for a minute (D&D) or an hour (S&W). Against PCs of low-ish level, this is bad, bad news. 1d6 creatures at 3HD (3rd level)? A good roll can snooze half the party. 

Darn good reason to have at least one elf or something in the party!

GURPS

Now, there are a few different versions of magic spells in GURPS, so we'll hit two of them. 

GURPS Magic - Standard Skill-based system
The basic Sleep spell costs 4 fatigue points (a normal human starts with 10, but casters will maximize this; I expect 15-20 to be more usual, plus mana stones, and discounts for high skill). You have to roll to cast it, but that's probably not a big deal unless your subject is fairly close. A caster worth his salt will likely have high IQ and as much Magery as they can eat. Still, range penalties are -1 per yard of distance, and the subject gets a HT roll to resist. 

If it works, the single victim drops for 8 hours of normal sleep. If awakened, they're stunned for a bit until they snap out of it.

The more apt comparison, of course, is mass sleep. That has a base cost of 3, minimum radius 2 yards. . . so 6 FP for 2-yard raddius, 9 FP for 3 yards, etc. Everything else is basically the same as Sleep, though by rules-as-written you need to already know Sleep and have IQ 13 or higher - and Sleep has a "prerequisite chain" as well.

This is clearly depowered compared to D&D and S&W. You have to first make a skill roll to cast the spell, and even Joe Average has a 50% chance to resist it if you do successfully make your roll. 

Ritual Path Magic
Another system that is gaining in popularity, and is a highly interesting alternative to the standard skill-based system, is Ritual Path Magic. This system uses a framework based on Powers, and is considerably more flexible, but requires a lot of GM and player participation, and no small amount of oversight, and a GM willing to say "no." 

Still, +Christopher R. Rice has a substantial amount of mastery with the system, and he created for me three versions of an RPM sleep spell.


Sleep
  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Sleep.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).
This spell causes the target (who must be within 30 yards) to fall asleepfor the next 12 hours if he fails to resist.
Typical Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Sleep (30) +Duration, 12 hours (6) + Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3).153 energy (51×3).
Mass Sleep
  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Sleep + Area of Effect.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).
This spell causes multiple targets in a 10-yard area (who must be within 30yards of the caster) to fall asleep for the next 12 hours if they fail toresist the ritual
This Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Sleep (30) + Area OfEffect, 10 yards, excluding up to 4 subjects (10) + Duration, 12 hours (6) +Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3). 183 energy (61×3).

Sleeping Curse
  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Coma + Extra Energy.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).
This spell (a favorite of wicked godmothers and evil faeries) causes thesubject to enter a coma (p. B429) which lasts until the spell is broken orthe subject is kissed by their true love (commonly a prince).
This Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Coma (50) + Duration,Until subject is kissed by their true love (24) + Extra Energy, +61 energy(61) + Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3). 450 energy(150×3).

Looking at the three, each is cast by rolling against the Path skill in question, and resisted by the better of Will or HT. The energy gathering phase can take many seconds, and is often done offstage, using a charm or some sort of suspended spell when it comes time for casting it. For that purpose, if you think "spell slots," you're not too far wrong, though significant differences exist.

An important modification to RPM is that by spending more energy - sometimes considerably more - you can hit the victim(s) with penalties to that HT or Will roll. So if you want to drop your average HT/Will 12 adventurer to 6-, you're probably looking at about 100 extra energy. That's quite a bit, but it's doable . . . and that might just bring you into the level of a 1st level D&D Magic User!
Night's Black Agents

I actually have no idea if NBA has a sleep sleep spell in it. Yep, p. 132, send to sleep. A vampire can put a single target to sleep by spending at least 2 Aberrence points, adding that to a die roll (1d6+2 or more). That roll must be 5 or higher ("more than 4") for the attack to occur. If it does occur, the victim must make a Stability check of equal or higher to the original attack roll. Against normals, well, they're probably just out light lights. Against the Night's Black Agents, which start with Stabilty 4 and may go to 12 or higher, they might have a good chance of resisting. PCs probably don't have a snowball's chance in hell of putting a vamp to sleep. 

Parting Shot

Wow. I didn't really have much of an appreciation for how awesome the sleep spell is in D&D. Especially compared to the hit-and-miss nature of most GURPS spells. 

The typical 1st level Wizard can probably count on a DC for his spells of about 13 - 8 +2 for his saving throw proficiency and likely +2 or +3 for intelligence; I'll assume 13. A foe will likely get some sort of bonus to his save roll, likely again about +1 (for 1 HD) to +3, which means he's got about a 50% chance to resist. If one wanted to make the 1st level Sleep spell just a bit less automatically nasty, double the dice rolled for HP or HD impacted, but allow a Saving Throw against the effects of the spell. 

That has its own possibilities, for tweakage, but as it stands . . . Sleep? 

Awesome.

July 18, 2014

S&W Castle of the Mad Archmage: Comedy of Errors

We started off looking for potions. Didn't see any. Went down the stairs this time, then wandered down a slope. Kicking in a door gave us another hallway, but the other direction led to four giant scorpions. Killing them netted over 2,047 gp, and four pieces of jewelry (250 gp each, for 1,000).

Continuing on, Peter cleverly finds a pit trap by falling into it. Shortly thereafter, we get totally ganked by a bunch of giant apes. Mirado hits one for tiny damage, then two apes rock Rul's world for 19 HP total, bringing him down to 18 HP. That's the most damage that's been inflicted by anyone in one shot since we started. Ouch.

Minister of the God of Quantum 1's casts some sort of illusion spell, making it seem like the floor opens up beneath the apes. Three of them freak out, the other doesn't.

Rul gets a critical hit on the ape that's not flailing around in terror, doing 15 HP of damage. Take that, bite boy. He goes down, and Rul's cleave does 10 HP on another one, but not dead. We finish up the apes, and Rul gets hit again in the meantime, bringing him down to 10 of 37 HP.

An extra healing potion and two Cure Light Wounds spells later, Rul's back to 36, which is nice, but significantly depleted.

We kick down another door, and find a makeshift evil shrine. Minister manages to make a Quantum 20 save roll, and we decide we've got a shrine to Mephistopheles. Bad smelling evil incense? We decide we're in Colorado.

Mirado sneakily prances up to the door on the other side of the room in his nancy-boy Boots of Elvenkind, and listens carefully. There's definitely noise and chanting. Maybe only one voice.

"I think we should interrupt his chanting with an arrow in the back of his head." We like that plan. We quietly open the door, then rush through. The door itself was not stuck, we throw themselves through the door. Mirado burst through the door, Rul comes up and looses an arrow into his back, which hits.

He's shrieking in Hobgoblin, and we lose initiative. Mirado, flying through the door, lands at the feet of the shaman . . . his muscles stiffen for a half-second, then loosen as he makes his saving throw. Rul has him eat another arrow, but he's still up, having absorbed 15 HP thus far. Minister whiffs with his magic dagger. Mirado drops him. Rul guards the hallway, while Mirado and Minister loot the room.

He's got a well-made morningstar, and a small hidden chest with 112 platinum pieces. 

We send Ogre-boy with his quiet shoes up ahead; and we see stairs up. Lots more stairs around here, all going up. We come to a door, which, and an opening to the north where we see light from a fire and hear hobgoblin voices.

We toss the severed hobgoblin shaman head into the big room, then retreat to a defensible position. The GM hits us with an "are you sure?" moment. He's probably just messing with us.

The room is huge. At least 40x40. With passageways. And a porticullis, and . . . finally we get told that the Very Large Room is guarded by five hobgoblin soldiers, and a dozen women, children, and other more passive soldiers. This is like hobgoblin Grand Central Station or something. YMHA or something.

The hobgoblins are armed with swords and composite bows; no slouches. And we smell apes too, but don't see them. We decide to leave the area. Only three of us, and a hard fight with uncertain reward. We spike the door shut and find hopefully greener pastures.

We head down alternate corridors until we find a bunch of doors. We don't do much subtle, so we kick down the door. Even though it's slightly ajar. Lots of scrolls in here - Minister is completely interested. He opens a scroll, and a D&D Dire Bookworm, which eats magical scrolls and spellbooks, is in the scroll case. Lots of destroyed scrolls; a Detect Magic spell finds no magical scrolls, but the morningstar detects as magical. It's a +1 Morningstar, so 2d4+1. Better than his mace.

We kick down yet another door, and find nearly a dozen or so lizard men. Rul greets them with an arrow and our battle-cry, which we decide is Par-laaaaayyy!! which we, as uneducated folks, figure means "wer'e going to kick your ass."

Minister tries out his new flail, and rolls a natural 20.

Guess it's a keeper.

11 HP of damage later, we kill one, and Minster scores a cleave. Doesn't drop him. So we killed one on the surprise round. Mirado wades in and attacks the one I hit with an arrow. Kills two, wounds another. Rul hits, does 10 HP, and he's still up. Tough.

The various lizard men use their longswords on us. Seven attacks on the three of us later, they all miss. They win initiative the next round, hitting Mirado for 7 HP total.

Our turn. Mirado kills one, wounds one, which Rul kills. Minister misses again. He must have used up his 20 on his first attack. We figure the morningstar's empty.

We win initative again. Mirado kills one, misses. Rul hits but doesn't finish him, but Minister does, and does 5 HP on his cleave.

At this point a door opens up and two large lizard-men come out with tridents. Followed by a lizard man in plate armor.

"Treasure!" shouts Mirado.

Minister is hit by one of them for 5 HP; he's down to 9 HP.

The skrugs turn to attack, and miss. The enemies are intelligent; the king attacks Mirado, in plate dual-wielding a magic sword and an ogre head.

They whiff. Badly.

Our turn. Peter nails and kills a wounded scrub. He cleaves through to the Captain, but only does 4 HP of damage.Rul hits but doesn't kill a scrub. Minister hits his hard, but he's still up.

Peter's rolling badly, so we lose initiative again. The two scrubs, two lieutentants, and the captain. Two misses on Rul, Minister gets hit twice for 11 HP total, putting him down. Ouch.

The captain hits Mirado, and knocks him for 11 HP. Not too shabby.

Rul kills his scrub and lightly wounds the lieutenant facing him. We win initiative this time. and Mirado hits his guy for 7 HP, Rul hits his for 8 HP. We're down two captain, two lieutenants, and one scrub. The scrub and lieutenant treat the captain - Mirado fight as a single combat. They pile on Rul, hitting for 8 HP. Not too bad.

Mirado is still dueling the chief, and misses AC 18. Rul hits a scrub, downing him. He needs a 16 to hit the two lieutenants threatening him, and misses.  Rul takes one point of damage from the two foes.

We continue to roll well for initiative, and attack first again. Peter hits the chief for 6 hp, killing him. Rul kills one and finishes off his foes.

We heal up Minister. The chief's longsword is magical (+1, +2 vs mammals). The captain's room has 5,617 sp and 2,166 gp, and a bundle of 14 gems, at about 120 gp per gem (1680 gp).

We decide we have about one reasonable encounter left in us.

We decide discretion is the better part of valor. We depart.

Total haul is 8,014 gp worth of cash and jewels, a magical longsword, and a magical morningstart. Not

Exploration and combat is 4,270 XP, 2,680 for the gold.

So Rul's at 27, 658 XP total, still 4,342 shy of 6th level. Minister levels up (yay) in Cleric. So now he's 4th/4th in Cleric and MU, each. Yay, hit points. And spells.









July 17, 2014

Guest Blogger: JakeB takes three articles for a test drive

Thursday is GURPS-Day, and today Gaming Ballistic welcomes a guest poster, +Jake Bernstein

It's not often that you get direct feedback from someone using something you've written. Mailanka gave it over on the SJG Forums when he decided to use The Last Gasp in a super-detailed samurai campaign, and +Peter V. Dell'Orto has mentioned a few times that he's using a version of Technical Grappling in his Felltower campaign.

Well, Jake turned this to 11, and is using three of my pieces in his campaign. TG, Dodge This, and a draft of an article that sprung from an old idea I had on making Aim an attack roll.

One thing I've learned over time, though, is that there's zero substitute, when it comes to writing rules, for not just playing them, but having someone else play them without you. Is your writing clear? Are the rules ambiguous, or direct? Do they miss common in-play test cases? Do they hit edge cases too soon, or at all? 

You can answer all of those through thought experiments. But you'll get the answers wrong. If you play it, you'll learn something. If you let someone else run it, you'll learn even more.

The new article hasn't been published yet, so some of the features have been kept vague, including the title!

Without further ado:


Introduction!

Hello everyone!  A special thanks to Doug for letting me use Gaming Ballistic for what may amount to a glorified play report, but since it involves several sets of rules written by Mr. Cole, I suppose this makes some sense.  I don’t have a blog, but I post on the SJ Games forums as apoc527.  I also play in Doug’s Alien Menace campaign as Dr. Samuel McKay, a combat-ready scientist in the tradition of Colonel Sam Carter from SG-1. 

GURPS Cred

I have been running GURPS 4th Edition since about December 2011.  My group tends to run in ~4-6 month “rotations” so I can’t take credit for the full time, but I have run an XCOM/Fallout hybrid post-apoc campaign (TL7-9), a THS campaign, a Banestorm campaign, and now my current game, a conversion of the Star*Drive Campaign Setting, which is about TL10^.  I also played and ran in quite a few GURPS 3rd Edition games, but suffered some major burnout and left the GURPS scene for quite a few years. 

My Campaign

GURPS Star*Drive: 2525 is my fourth full-length GURPS campaign.  It’s somewhere in between gritty cyberpunk-in-space and space opera, uses approximately TL10^ technology, includes psionics, and has a mostly human-dominated Stellar Ring with some aliens interspersed.  The campaign theme is bounty hunting. 

Testing Douglas H. Cole Rules

Doug would probably be the first to admit that he writes a lot of rules.  I happen to like most of his articles, and he was kind enough to include me in the playtest of an upcoming article about the Aim maneuver.  Since I certainly don’t want to spoil much about that article, I will say only this: the new aiming rules are about convergence of the melee and ranged combat options and about making the Aim action into something other than a skipped turn. 

I am also using TechnicalGrappling, and Dodge This!.  Fortunately, Star*Drive doesn’t have many bows, so The Deadly Spring was right out (for which my group shall be eternally grateful). 


Note: The grunt work on The Deadly Spring is usually on the prep work and design side. It should mostly not impact play much. 

The Fight

On Monday, July 7, I ran the PCs in this Star*Drive game through their first major battle.  The PCs are an odd group, consisting of a rugged human rifleman and tactician (Aidan Kane), an ex-Voidcorp sesheyan assassin (Gargoyle), a fraal psi-scout/tracker (Sinon), a Thuldan gengineered Chronos-class commando (Seamus), a Starmech pilot/tech (Blake) and an ex-Concord combat medic (Benton).  They were arrayed against a human soldier (Rackham), a human telekinetic grappler (Shenna), a weren brute (Gorblog), and a twitchy t’sa pilot (Yelk).  Additionally, the fight included three bounty hunter NPCs, a group of Solar “space cowboys:” Thaddeus Burns, Liam Walker, and Mese Smorra, all human males. 
Quite the array of bad guys, good guys, and who knows. This will be an interesting test case. Far enough from the "mostly human norm" the articles are written for to stretch the concepts but not so far that anything should really break. The TL10 technology plus the aim and dodge rules might prove interesting - TL10 has some, well, badass technology in it.
At the start of the fight, the PCs thought the bad guys were the space cowboys, who they understood to be bounty hunters who didn’t exactly follow the “code.”  The actual bad guys were a group of mercenaries hired to extract the very person the PCs were trying to capture.  A battle was inevitable.  If you a picture a small airport terminal with three landing pads and associated jetways, you have an idea of where the PCs were.  Now, convert that airport terminal to a spaceport, stick it on a hostile world with a toxic atmosphere and make the jetways into airlocked passages, and it’s even closer to what the PCs faced.  Skipping quite a few details, the PCs went into the terminal area looking for three space cowboys they were convinced were about to ambush them in order to steal the bounty.  Coming out of their own airlocked jetway, the group of mercs (Rackham, Shenna, Gorblog, and Yelk) appeared, still acting as “fellow bounty hunters” and asked if the PCs needed help dealing the “treacherous space cowboys.”  Oh, and they were in full combat gear…nothing too suspicious about that! 

After exploring around the area and failing to locate the space cowboys, Sinon decided to use his Seekersense psi power to locate them.  Turns out they were in the ceiling.  The PCs didn’t have long to ponder this fact, however, as the mercs chose that moment to attack!  The very first hostile act involved Gorblog using a hyperdense weren chuurchkna (basically a dueling halberd) to chop off one of Sinon’s legs.  The fraal dropped, started bleeding, but remained conscious.  Yelk, the dual laser pistol wielding t’sa, fired at Gargoyle, unaimed, and scored 2 hits out of 6, after some Aerobatic dodging (yes, he was flying inside the terminal).  Gargoyle is massively cybered up (21 hp from a base ST of 9), and so kept going.  He readied his laser rifle for a counter attack…

Meanwhile, Rackham tossed a prepared plasma grenade at Blake’s feet, and Shenna used a nasty custom technique she calls “The Nutcracker” to crush Aidan’s “vital organs” (modeled as a TK Crush technique similar to Brain Squeeze but targeting the vulnerable bits of males).  I ruled the PCs were surprised, but given that many had Combat Reflexes, most snapped out of it pretty quickly and got into the fight.  I should note at this point that this was my first GURPS combat GMed since late last year and was my first TL7+ combat since approximately Summer 2013.  So, things didn’t go 100% smoothly, and thinking back, I think I allowed the PCs a round of actions they probably shouldn’t have gotten.  Ah well!

Here’s where we get to Doug’s rules!  Aidan’s turn came up and he has Extra Attack from cyberware.  In the new rules, the Aim maneuver is eliminated and replaced with a series of Aim “attacks” that follow the same All-Out, Committed, Normal progression that melee attacks do.  Using his Extra Attack for a basic Aim action, Aidan was able to, in one second, aim his very large, very powerful rifle at Yelk, who was positioned a rather suboptimal 6 yards away with no cover, and squeeze off a 5-round burst of 11mm ETC rifle death at his Skull.  Aidan’s adjusted skill was something in the 20s and he hit with about 3 bullets, resulting in the immediate, irretrievable, and rather messy end of one Lo’kra Yelk.  Score one for the new rules!

Since Aidan apparently had brass balls and shrugged off her attack (he has a high Will and some anti-psi), she shifted her attention to the flying sesheyan (see here) and used her TK Grab and Wrestling skill to grapple him…Technically!  After, frankly, a fair amount of confusion (I had never used TG before, nor had my players), we realized that we were dealing with an invisible attacker (-4 dodge) and since Gargoyle had no idea what was coming, I didn’t let him use any other defense against her ranged, telekinetic grapple to his right arm.  Needless to say, he failed his Dodge roll and suffered all of 1 CP to that arm.  Her goal was to put him in an Arm Lock, which I read as immediately “disabling” his use of that arm.  
True enough, a locked limb can't be used for any other purpose, with a side order of dear God, that hurts.
In retrospect, she never actually made an Arm Lock check, as I attempted to have her grapple him again to increase her CP total.  It was also, therefore, my mistake that I didn’t allow him to shoot anyone—the 1 CP shouldn’t have impaired him much at all, but I ruled at the moment that his arm was held and he couldn’t use it to fire his rifle. 
Grabbing limbs is an admittedly weird test case for grappling. A 1CP grapple isn't much, and doesn't interfere with much (no ST or DX penalty from such a poor grip). It doesn't take much to throw off an Aim maneuver, though - so not allowing certain things is within the scope of GM judgement. The rules on Concentrate had this in mind, though.
 C’est la vie!  Anyway, the rest of that portion of the fight went like this: Gargoyle tried to Break Free, but Shenna “TK Grab-Wrestle parried” and Gargoyle couldn’t generate any CP to break her grip.  She attempted to improve her TK Grab-Wrestle grip, but this time I ruled that Gargoyle could “feel it” and try a Parry with his own grappling skill, which was successful. 
Totally legit. "Hands-free" Parry would have worked here, and the rules about being able to defend from attacks from the rear arc while grappling are all about feeling your foe, as well.
 He then got sick of this exchange and flew out of her line of sight, which is a situation not covered all that extensively in TG.  I ruled that this broke her TK Grab grip and by this time, she ended up with a back full of flechettes from one of the space cowboys who dropped from the ceiling and turned out to be rather more honorable than the PCs thought. 
How many CP does it take to hold your foe in the air? That's a good question. Probably something like "use your mass-based HP as a guide." So if you have a 175-lb person in your grip, you probably need something like 11 CP to hoist them by main strength if they're unwilling. That seems like a lot, though, so this might need some refining. 
So, that was the TG action…not a whole lot this time, but it sure was interesting using it in the context of TK Grab and flying targets!  I look forward to getting more comfortable with the rules and having some more standard fights where the grapplers are, y’know, actually touching one another! 

Back to the rest of the battle and the alternate aiming rules.  The ability to Aim and Shoot in one second ended up being decisive.  While Blake was stunned long enough to eat a plasma grenade at 1 yard and get taken out of the fight, Aidan more than made up for his loss.  

Benton never even engaged, choosing instead to drag the badly burned Blake behind cover and start spraying him with something to ease the pain (Blake took 33 burn damage, and after armor, resulted in over 20 injury—ouch).  Seamus and Gorblog engaged in their own little melee dual, with hyperdense traditional weren halberd vs. monosword.  The details of that fight aren’t that important, as Gorblog eventually got shot in the back of the head by Sinon, who took the simple expedient of pointing his rifle at Gorblog’s skull and going full auto at close range (he didn’t bother Aiming) and getting a lucky roll. 

Shenna was more difficult, thanks to cover and her DR 20 PK Shield.  Aidan used his Extra Attack to good effect, Aiming at her and firing in the same turn.  Two of his rounds, aimed at her skull, hit, but both were stopped by a combination of her PK Shield and DR 26 combat helmet.  Aidan then used Quick Reload to swap to APHC rounds…Sinon dragged himself a yard back and propped himself up to Aim at Shenna using a normal Aim action (frankly, the player here wasn’t yet used to the new Aiming options and just chose one he already knew).  His Aim roll succeeded and on his next turn, he let loose a long burst (15 rounds), but only hit with a few, all of which thudded uselessly against a combination of her PK Shield, the wall, and her DR 18 nanoweave suit.   
It's weird how binary this can be. You either splatter your target over the landscape, or go ping!
Rackham eventually got his own rifle ready, but lacking Extra Attack, didn’t bother Aiming and fired at where Aidan had taken cover behind a thin wall.  The -6 penalty for being unable to see your target caused Rackham to barely miss, and Aidan was alerted to possible danger when a dozen rounds burst through the wall right above him.  Aidan poked himself around the corner, made a successful Aim roll thanks to a timely use of Luck (another important concept from the new rules) and hit Rackham once… in the skull…with an APHC round doing 5dx2(2) pi.  Rackham took about 60 injury and fell over and died 90 seconds later due to excessive cranial bleeding.
Only aiming when it is super-safe to do so is what happens in real life. I consider this bit of player judgment a win.
The other space cowboy threats-turned-allies all dropped from the ceiling and helped to varying degrees.  They didn’t aim either, but scored hits against Gorblog and Shenna, which were damaging, but not decisively so due to some pretty heavy body armor.  All this time, I was enforcing Dodge This! Perception rolls before anyone was allowed a Dodge roll.  Shenna failed to see the guy behind her, and he filled her back with an automatic shotgun firing high tech flechettes.  She ended up living and the PCs healed her and turned her into the authorities later on. 

So, that was the whole fight.  It took about 3 hours of face-to-face gaming, but we spent quite a bit of time trying to remember the basic combat rules and then adding in Doug’s various concepts.  I think the next battle will go faster and it should just get easier from there. 

Jake's Parting Shot

My takeaways are that the new rules on aiming have some really great concepts that I think a lot of folks will like—it creates options for ranged attackers that make ranged fights more interesting than the Aim-Attack-Aim-Attack cadence of the Basic Set.  However, allowing Extra Attack to include Aiming was really powerful—I think it makes sense, but just realize that this will create extremely fast, extremely accurate, and therefore extremely lethal fire from anyone gifted with this Trait.  

Dodge This! was fairly easy to use in actual play, as there’s basically zero bookkeeping—it is, however, an extra step to remember to make a Perception roll before allowing a Dodge roll.  

Finally, Technical Grappling is something that will take some getting used to.  You replace the semi-intuitive “Quick Contest” mechanics from the Basic Set with a more consistent, but not necessarily “intuitive” Attack-Defend-Control Point “Damage” paradigm.  It feels odd, at first, to think of grappling as a series of attacks and parries, but I think once we get used to it, it will make a lot of sense—besides, having the very first example of TG usage involve a flying target being grappled by TK Grab probably didn’t help our understanding much! 

I’ll probably write another guest blog post (though hopefully a shorter one!) when I get some more actual play experience with all of these rules.  If you got this far, thanks for reading! 

July 15, 2014

Skunked at the Ennies

Looks like neither +Peter V. Dell'Orto nor I were graced with a nomination for 'best blog on the planet" at the ENnies this year.

In retaliation for this grotesque miscarriage of justice, I will go start a flamewar on the internet. That'll learn 'em, taking it to 'em old school, etc.

Grrrr. See? Mad. So mad, I



 SQUIRREL!


July 14, 2014

Felltower - Themes from an awesome play report

+Peter V. Dell'Orto runs a pretty awesome "pickup" Dungeon Fantasy megadungeon campaign, called Felltower.

His most recent play report was epic on several levels, not the least of which was, "hey, Dragon!"

More broadly, though, the session was interesting from other perspectives than was was clearly the fun that was had.

What did I notice?

Research Matters: Peter's been doing neat things with his monstrous rumor table, and these rumors, for good or ill, drive self-motivated player actions. The value of a crap-ton of clues, some of which are true, some false, some mixed, tossed into the players' hands can't be overstated. It puts near total agency in their hands, allows plot seeds to be sown with lots of time to ponder implications, and otherwise makes for a fun beginning to each session.

Mysteries Remain Mysterious: Did they ever figure out precisely what was eating their wizard eye scry things? Not right away, though they perhaps made educated guesses. The players, also, are willing to walk away from a mystery and not hound it to death - at least, not immediately.

Loot First!: This was interesting and something I tried to do fairly unsuccessfully in my last Alien Menace campaign. The players scored their loot - tens or even hundreds of thousands of silver pieces worth of loot - immediately and with no real obstacle or fight involved. The trick was preserving the loot, and transporting hundreds of pounds of it out of the dungeon and back to town.

Mysteries II: That sword has serious foreshadowing written all over it, but conveys enough immediate utility (enchanted magical bastard sword that's enhanced vs dragons? In a dragons lair? Out sword and have at 'em!) to tempt/demand immediate use. In the S&W Campaign we play in, Peter's character Mirado has Woundlicker - a magical blood-drinking sword. It so far seems relatively benign, but is already motivating some "on the black side of grey" behavior from Mirado where he's making decisions about prisoners and keeping combatant foes alive. This powerful sword - a Named Weapon, it would seem - reeks of plot development later. That's good.

Fighting Dragons: I'm surprised, in a way, that they didn't make more effort to extract the loot first, then return and kill dragons. Perhaps they had no choice, the way out was blocked. Perhaps the sword was already making its presence felt.

Baby Dragons, Mama Dragons: Were I to come across a party of, say, intelligent apes, carrying the mutilated bodies of human children, perhaps wearing one of their skins as a hat, I'm pretty sure what my reaction would be. Kill 'em all, but before hand let everyone know what I found. They killed the youngling dragons, and successfully engaged the big one. But there are bigger ones, and for all we know, every dragon in the area around Felltower now has a telepathic "Be On the Lookout for . . . " in their heads. The loot is valuable, and the dragon eggs will make a future Danerys very happy. But that pathway is one not easily turned from, and once again, Peter laid the seeds of many future hard fights.

Two-trick ponies: OK, not a pony. And more than one trick. But Peter's dragon always had a second power or ability up its sleeve. Cut the thing with a sword big enough to get through DR (assuming it had DR, maybe some sort of Injury Tolerance, etc)? You trigger an explosive blast of corrosive blood. Fireproof? Oh, well, the non-ignited (or partially ignited) juices powering the breath are bad news by themselves. You have good armor? No problem - dragons are good grapplers with their mouths and claws. Think you can play the one-on-many trick? Great. Have a giant striker tail upside your face. Next time it'll have spikes. Poisonous spikes. Poisonous flaming corrosive spikes. Mwa ha ha, etc.

Mysteries III: I'm not sure his players, other than the last-minute decision to go for the vitals, ever really got the chance to figure out why that dragon was so resilient to their strikes. That might come up later, I have to imagine.

Oh, you thought you were done?: The fight with the bats on the way out was inspired - and handled well by the players. I get a mental image of Vryce as Han Solo charging the stormtroopers in the Death Star. Well, the beginning of that scene, anyway.

Parting Shot

The neat thing about this is how many tropes this manged to invoke while not seeming like consciously trying to invoke any of them. They got the loot first, then getting out was the hard part. The fights they had were challenging and required a lot of thought. They could have gone either way with poor play or bad luck. And they were never really safe until they got out, and the size of the loot, and its lack of portability (and ire-inducing nature if they happened upon another dragon) made it a challenge in and of itself. They're lucky there weren't bandits . . .

July 13, 2014

DnD5 question: Basic vs. Starter set

The starter set seems to contain a chunky (64-page) adventure, and a smaller rulebook. Plus some stuff I don't need like pre-gens and dice. That's not a complaint - it's a starter set for those new to gaming.

I believe I've seen reports that the adventure book is pretty cool.

Are there any rules differences between the Basic and Starter rulebooks? If so, links or reviews would be appreciated. I'll probably pick up the PHB when it comes out, of course.

Ah, the writer's guidelines. I wonder how they'll intend to deal with the concept of rules modules that has been bandied about. Obviously, as a tinkerer I'm interested, for many reasons.

I guess we'll see . . .

July 11, 2014

Rul Scararm - S&W Character in 5th Edition

My Swords and Wizardry character in the game I play with +Erik Tenkar is Rul Scararm, a former mercenary fighter. Inspired in no small part by +Peter V. Dell'Orto converting his own character, Mirado, into the new basic rules, I decided to do the same thing.

I made a few different character decisions that are available to me in 5th edition but not in S&W Complete. Namely, my alignment is Lawful Neutral rather than purely neutral, and I chose the Archery pathway. Rul is more of a sword-and-board guy by default in the S&W game, and yet he's the guy slinging arrows when he can in the game. So I decided to amp that up a bit, making his background a mounted scout. Not a ranger, quite, nor strictly infantry or cavalry.

Rul Scararm
Human Fighter
Level 5
XP: 8,218
Needs 14,000 for next level.
Rul is 23% of the way from 5th to 6th level, so I put his experience total at the same place along that curve here.

STR 16 (+3)
DEX 14 (+2)
CON 14 (+2)
INT 10 (+0)
WIS 12 (+1)
CHA 13 (+1)
Relative to his S&W equivalent, the dice rolls give me more bonuses and I had to make fewer compromises to get his stats decent. Mirado is still better in all ways here - the dice were neither kind nor particularly unkind to Rul.
HP 47 (Max HP 60)
AC 18 (+1 banded mail +6; Shield+2; loses his +2 from DEX)
The banded mail is something that cropped up in S&W as loot. It's basically +5 AC normally, I think, but the magical bonus makes it +6. The shield Rul carries got extra good in Basic DnD as well. So he's got a good Armor Class, but I suspect that bonuses from monsters are the rule rather than the exception. Still, AC 18 doesn't seem bad, but he'd be better off with a suit of half-plate (AC 15), his shield (+2), and his full DX bonus (+2) for AC 19. In fact, depending on what that +1 banded mail would go for on sale, that's really the way to go. Fact is, losing that DEX bonus means that I have to hit 20lbs more for splint mail to break even. Or plate armor. Magical half-plate would be quite the score.
Move Base 30 feet
Proficiency Bonus: +3
Skills: Animal Handling, Athletics, Intimidation, Perception
Proficiencies: Gaming set (dice); Vehicles (land)
Fighting Style: Archery (+2 to hit with bows)
This was the place where things diverged from how Rul was crafted in S&W. I always liked archer characters in DnD and while Rul was supposed to be an exception, he did pick up a few magic items, one of which is a +2 longbow, which is a bit of a big deal. So a bit of retroactive crafting there, picking him out as a mounted infantry scout. Not a Ranger type - he's not all "let me live off the land." He was an outrider, using Perception and horsemanship to bring back information on enemy positions and whanot.
Background: Soldier (Scout)
Personality Trait (2): Can start down hellhound; Slow to make new friends.
Ideals: Do what I must, obey lawful authority (contracts)
Bond: Never leave a friend behind
Flaw: Obey the law, even if misery is the result (mercenary)
I've got him pegged as a bit of a reluctant mercenary. It's all he ever knew, which might have made the Folk Hero background better for him than Soldier. It wouldn't surprise me if there was one day a Big Book of Backgrounds, and that would be cool. 

Armor and Weapons:
+1 Banded Mail (AC 16). I'm going to guess it's about 50 lb, and Disadvantage for Stealth.
+1 Longsword, +3 vs. Undead. 3 lbs. Hmm. Versatile, so in one hand it does 1d8+4, or 1d8+6 vs the undead. In two hands, I slam down 1d10+4, which is sweet.
Shield. +2 to AC.
+2 Longbow. This would have replaced the shortbow or light crossbow I started with, and Rul carries 40 arrows. Does 1d8+2 piercing damge on a hit.

Notes:
Fighting Style: Archery (+2)
Second Wind (1d10+5)
Action Surge
Ability Score improvement at 4th level: +1 CON
Extra Attack
Champion Archetype

* Crit on 19-20

Equipment (copied from S&W list)
+1 Banded Mail [+6]; Shield [+2] 50 lbs.
+2 Longbow, 40 arrows, quiver [1d8+2] 6 lbs.
+1 Longsword, +3 vs undead; Spear (versatile; 1d8+2 in 2 hands) 3 lbs.
Backpack, 200' silk rope, Bedroll, waterskin (37lbs)
Small steel mirror, flint and steel (tinderbox) 1.5 lbs
Gaming dice
(1) Extra Healing Potion (0.5 lbs)
(2) Healing Potion (0.5 lbs)
Riding horse, bit, bridle, saddle (military)

1297 gp (value, not actual coin; we got plenty of gems and stuff on our travels)

About 100 lbs of gear. The rules let me carry 240 lbs, so I've got plenty to spare.

Parting Shot

Rul is a better archer and higher damage-dealing fighter at 5th Level in Basic DnD (5e) . . . but that's offset perhaps by the general higher HP that seems to go 'round.

He may wind up with 50 HP instead of 47, if that boost he got at 4th level to CON hits him with +5 HP instead of just +1 at 4th and 5th level. Rul also speaks Goblin in addition to Common.

What's more impressive, relative to S&W, is that his hit rolls are something like 1d20+7 with his sword, 1d20+6 with his spear, and 1d20+9 with that longbow. So vs my own AC 20, I will hit with a bow 50% of the time, which doesn't seem shabby.

His AC is 18 with sword and shield, AC 12 with no armor and relying on DX, and AC 16 with bow or two-handed spear (armor no shield or DEX bonus).

I'd play him.