Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: Mississippi Jed

No Discount Brains In The Apocalypse! (or, “How Alric Got Ripped Off”)

One of the players asked why I’m not reducing the price of IQ, even though I’m taking away some of its utility by basing Perception on HT, after being mightily persuaded by “Playing With Health” from Pyramid 3/83: Alternate GURPS IV. In a nutshell, it’s because I think IQ’s still a bargain at regular price.

(Up front, I’ll admit I don’t think any of these arguments are original to me. These are discussions that have been floating around for a long, long time.)

Overpriced IQ?

OK.  Let’s start with a regular ol’ point of IQ. Costs 20 points. A point of Will comes with that IQ, for free. Will costs 5 points per level. You also get a bump in Perception, which also costs 5 points per level on its own. Sell those both back, and you’re effectively paying 10 points for a Talent that raises all your IQ-based Skills. That includes knowledge-based skills (like Paleontology and Occultism), practical hands-on skills (Poisons, Explosives), esoteric skills if you can get ’em (Power Blow), skills concerning operating and repairing technology (Computer Operation, Electronics Repair), social skills (Fast-Talk, Diplomacy), and combat-affecting skills, particularly the one key skill that affects initiative (Tactics).

By way of comparison, Alric was happy to pay 10 pts/level for Outdoorsman, which adds to Camouflage (IQ), Fishing (Per), Mimicry (IQ), Naturalist (IQ), Navigation (IQ), Survival (Per), and Tracking (Per)… and nothing else. Oh, yeah, he gets a Reaction Modifier from Timmy after pulling the kid out of the quicksand, too. Meanwhile, Jed buys a point of IQ without the Per or Will for 10 points, and gets a bump in Camouflage, Mimicry, Naturalist, Navigation, Fast-Talk, Hidden Lore, Tactics, and approximately 87 different spells.

I think Alric’s getting the short end of that stick.

And that’s not even getting into defaults. Once you’ve got IQ over 15, it turns into a super-power from the defaults alone. (Come to think of it, wasn’t that part of “Lucky Girl”‘s powers, from the Supers 1200 game? She had great defaults?) A character with a 17 IQ can walk in off the street and make a living as a falconer (Falconry-12, defaulting from IQ-5) without ever having seen a living bird up-close. Just from picking up hints from comic books and Wild Kingdom, apparently. That same person could take her default Streetwise-12 downtown and start a career in wet-work, using her default Stealth-12 (yeah, Stealth has a default from IQ), Disguise-11, and Poisons-11, even if she’s fresh off the bus from Kansas. If she gets hurt, she’s got First Aid-13 (and Physician-10!) to fall back on, from watching Quincy and ER.

I’ve seen that TV show before.

The higher the TL, the more dominant IQ becomes. When we first started up the Space Cowboys game, I was amazed to see the average IQ of the PCs jump by 2 points. Nerds rule in space, it’s a natural law. IQ is the attribute of technology. The more gizmos available, the more room for IQ-based skills to make a difference.

Nerds. RULE. In. Space.

Much more than a smidgen of IQ isn’t realistic. People just aren’t that omni-competent. It’s not even all that true to fiction, either. I can’t think of many characters that are well-educated, keen-sensed, strong-willed, and socially adept, all at the same time. I feel it’s more satisfying to use Talents to boost a character’s key Skills in a targeted fashion, rather than raw DX and IQ.

I guess you could say that my goal here isn’t to make HT more attractive, it’s to nerf IQ.

Will too?!?

In fact, I’m wondering if perhaps I should go a step further, and split Will off from IQ as well. For arguments in favor, see the advice offered by the Reverend Pee Kitty (aka Jason Levine, Assistant GURPS Line Editor and author of a bunch of GURPS books) in the first of his house rules. He starts Per and Will at 10, and still leaves IQ at 20 pts/level.

I’ve said a lot recently about expecting Fright Checks to be common in the upcoming post-apocalyptic game. Fright Checks are based on Will, and with Will being based on IQ, the setup seems to favor geeks with nerves of steel. It might be worthwhile to divorce the concept of willpower from that of intelligence when creating characters for such a game. If nothing else, it would clean up that odd back-and-forth with animals, where the template sells back lots of IQ, then buys all the sold-back Will over again.

And… that still leaves IQ worth 20 points, in my opinion, just as a basis for Skills and rolls to escape mental Stun.

The Bargain Gunslinger

With Guns and so forth based on Perception, and Perception based on HT, and both HT and Perception being so much cheaper than DX, shouldn’t I be worried about crack shots that can spot a mosquito at a half-mile on a foggy day and who laugh off rattlesnake poison?

So… this guy?

Maybe I should be, but I’m not.

It’s a question of what the players are going to emphasize while making their characters. As it stands, across all genres, I see a heavy emphasis on DX, because that’s the one that controls the skills that let you hit stuff. If a character is going to have more than one or two good physical skills, that character will have a high DX. In genres where there’s technology to fiddle with, there’s a sudden rush to IQ. I don’t believe that moving a handful of combat skills, no matter how desirable, is going to change that. There are just too many useful skills that are still under those two Attributes.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a PC in one of my games with points in Perception, aside from the ones based on templates that did so. I have seen several folks who were really happy with the 14+ Perception that they got for free when they raised their character’s IQ to “smartest person who ever lived” levels.

Practically speaking, it’s a moot point. Nobody’s going to have Guns-21, because for this game, I’m turning on a bunch of the buzzkill “realism” switches. I’m following the suggestions from GURPS Tactical Shooting, on page 42, where the average armed citizen is operating at default and most trained police officers might have 1 or 2 points in the Skill. Unless there’s some world-class anti-terrorism task force in Portland that I’m not aware of, the highest skill level in town is likely to be a 15.

Plus, the PCs only have 50 points to work with (plus Disadvantages, of course, but those only go so far), and I don’t think any of my players expect me to set up an apocalypse that takes nothing but Guns skill to defeat. (I’m sure they all remember the time in the Space Cowboys game when the question of “Do we all go to jail, is our cargo confiscated, and is the ship impounded?” was settled by the outcome of a single Housekeeping roll.) I’m expecting more points in Guns than is strictly realistic, but I don’t expect anybody to go crazy. If anything, the players’ chatter has me expecting characters calculated to have remarkably high Scrounging and Urban Survival. Probably Stealth, too, they really like their Stealth.

Anyway, gunfire attracts zombies. Well-known fact.



“So… you’re taking a level… in… Innkeeper?” (Also, character trees.)

Jed’s talking retirement. Maybe it was his “beyond death” experience that got him thinking. At any rate, he’s announced that he’s piled up enough savings to finally afford his dream:  to buy an inn and settle down.

And, of course, the player is wanting to try some new stuff. We’re at the point where folks are getting comfortable with the rules, and the templates, and the kind of stuff the party does, and so there’s a certain tendency towards experimentation. You can see it in the new guys, D’arth and Tantric. We started out with the standard human-dominated fighter/cleric/magic-user/thief party, and now we’re trotting out the freak show… as we’ll see in a moment.

Anyway, back to Jed. The thinking is, he’ll retire to the background animation that we call “town”. He’ll act as an agent for the party, and keep track of their money and investments. The regular pay for an agent will be subtracted from the party’s earnings, and they’ll share out treasure just like they had hired a hireling. The pay will not be added to Jed’s tally, but by the same token, we won’t try to price out an inn and subtract that from his earnings. If and when he returns to play, his character sheet will stay right where it is now.

It doesn’t matter what the story is. Maybe he’ll say that he bought the inn, lost it to arson, worked his way back up from the gutter, and now he’s back with a purse that’s coincidentally just as full as when he left. Maybe he’ll say he started a world-wide franchise of inns called “Mississippi Jed’s Tembladera-Fried Owl-Bear Parts”, became richer than Odin, went to be the king of all Londinium and wear a shiny hat, only to be betrayed by his vizier’s evil mustache, and now he’s back to make his fortune again…. with a purse that’s coincidentally just as full as when he left.

… ’cause that’s how we’re playing it. Ever since Day 1, I’ve offered the option of character trees. I see it working like this:

  • A player can have as many characters as desired, and swap them out freely in town.  Or even in the dungeon, between sessions, if I’m feeling generous. I would treat it similarly to how I’ve handled missing players in the past, with a bit of narrative hand-wave.
  • A player can only have one character active at a time, and a character can’t be active without a player. This means two characters in the same tree shouldn’t share a single bank account. At least, not without an Unusual Background of some kind.
  • A character who’s not on deck is frozen, like a saved game. Tell whatever tales you like about what life is like off-camera. Treasure and experience are only earned in active play. No secondary characters making fat cash working as enchanters who never leave town, bankrolling the primary.
  • Let me say that again:  A character who’s not on deck is frozen. Ever since they mugged Kadabra, they’ve remarked on how a starting 250-point character has $1000 in equipment, on average, while the goblins around Tembladera are usually only carrying a sword and some sub-standard archery equipment. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t care if the party members go around killing each other in play. (The rest of the campaign world might care, but that’s a different story.) What won’t happen is, player A misses one session, returns the following session, and is informed that the party needed cash for dinner, so they robbed and murdered player A’s character, since he was link-dead anyway.
  • For the sake of story, an off-camera character can act as an off-camera hireling.  Like Jed acting as an agent. If the numbers on the character sheets come out the same, I don’t care if they deal with “Nameless The Hireling” or someone they’ve adventured with. Either way, fortunes are made by adventuring, not through boring business deals.

Nobody’s ever taken me up on it, until now. If now, rather. Both TKotBO and, now, Jed, have been retired from play. It’s not clear if they’re “on ice” in the character tree, or retired forever. We won’t know until they come back.

Anyway. At the end of last session, we went through the process of choosing Jed’s replacement. I think the original vision was to give everyone a thumbnail to think over, and then have the in-play auditions next session, but it ended up being more of a quick selection process. The latest news, still subject to change, is that the newest new character will be a dog-folk Knight. Quite a change from Squishy Jed. 😉

For those keeping score at home… Why, yes, I would say that this addition makes the party look an awful lot like the group of monsters in Room 37. My question is… does this mean D’arth will take leadership along with full membership?


Why no mandatory Sense of Duty?

At one point, early on, when I was seeing the amount of treachery and back-stabbing going on, I speculated about the possibility of making “Sense of Duty (Adventuring Companions)” a required trait. I had done such things in the past.  The “Supers 1200” game had a package of required traits just for being on the team, and a recommendation for Injury Tolerance: Damage Reduction that was so strong as to be a requirement. (“If you do not have this, you will die in the first two seconds of your first real superhuman combat.”) The “Space Cowboys” game had the loose arrangement that all PCs were either family members, or hired hands, which had consequences for what traits one could purchase. I didn’t enforce a rule that any family member had to be dedicated to the family’s well-being, but that’s how it worked out. The players enforced their own rule, there.

When it came to Dungeon Fantasy, though, all I did was speculate, the one time. I never actually instituted the requirement. I felt it went against the sandbox nature of the experiment. The idea is to give the players as much power to decide — as much agency, as they say — as possible. In the words of Uncle Al, “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”  My goal is to set up an interesting series of environments and inhabitants of those environments; how the PCs interact with those environments is entirely up to them.

So it follows that if the PCs want to find comical ways to step into the grave, they should have that freedom. If the party is fighting itself, as well as the monsters, I expect an overall drop in treasure extracted, as well as life expectancy. If the party is working well together, covering each other’s weaknesses and reinforcing each other’s strengths, using sound tactics, they’ll walk right over any monster I throw at them, and get rich doing it. I don’t need to wave the all-powerful wand of the GM to make that happen, it just emerges from the variables naturally.

One example came up, this past session, when the seasoned pros told the new recruit the tale of how Needles gave up a fortune by trying to keep the treasure to himself.  Acting alone, he was able to score 25cp, all for himself. Tax-free, you might say. If he had shared the loot, the gem likely would have been identified as magical, sold for ten thousand copper, with a share coming to 2,000cp each.

There’s a reason Jed’s new mantra is “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

In the meantime, since they can’t count on the Immutable Word Of Ghod* to say that every applicant is trustworthy, the party has again started enforcing its own rules. They’ve hammered out something resembling a charter, with the ground rules that the party operates by. Rather than hoping that every party member has uncharacteristically warm feelings for one another, they’re going to spell out expectations and police themselves. You can bet, if PC X is caught stealing from a fallen comrade, rather than honoring that comrade’s will (“I leave all my stuff to my next character…”), PC X will shortly wind up dead at the bottom of a pit, and PC X+1 will get the story of how PC X was swallowed whole by a purple worm, instead of any inheritance.

* * *

* This should go without saying, but:  They really shouldn’t trust everything I say, just ’cause I’m the GM. I’m an unreliable narrator, at best. I’m just reporting the evidence of their character’s senses. I try to shove off as many rolls as I can to the players, but I always try to roll the “what do I know” and “what do I see” rolls in secret, so I can give them false information if they crit fail. My NPCs lie. My truthful NPCs are often wrong. I just promise not to lie about the meta-game stuff, like “town is safe” and “stick to the templates”.

“Corbin, Inc.”, Session #16


This is the 200th post on the blog, and a record-breaking 16th session in the same campaign, and we not only had a full house, we also added a new player!  Big doin’s all around…


  • Alric Redbeard, axe-master barbarian whose hate for technology outweighed his fear of it (PC)
  • D’arth Loathing, surprisingly likable corpse-eater unholy knight (PC)
  • Gabby the Cabin Girl, 15-year-old ex-pirate and rapier prodigy (PC)
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, bard-wizard thinking deep thoughts due to his recent death and resurrection (PC)
  • Needles, thief-swashbuckler and hero of songs (PC)
  • Posy, cat-folk scout raining watery death for a change (PC)
  • Tantric McSwayze, grumpy leprechaun demonologist, fresh off the boat from the Old World, where they stole his lucky charms… (PC)
  • “Dobby”, loyal goblin who thirsts for the blood of Alric’s enemies… still in the rear with the gear (NPC henchman)
  • Trevor, Jed’s loyal apprentice, lookout, and hat-passer (NPC henchman)
  • Pai, cat-folk cleric who tags along with Posy (NPC henchman)
  • Poutine, misen chef, shortest-lived ally ever (NPC henchman)
  • Jack, son of John, the only laborer looking for work on a summer Saturn’s-Day (NPC hireling)

Rumors Gathered:

Needles was out drinking one night. In the wee hours of the morning, when the party got really merry, a dwarf got up on a table and declared that he would sing a song of his people, one that he learned from his grandfather. The song was in a particularly poetic form of Dwarven, but he explained it tells the story of how the first Kings-Under-The-Mountains took control of underground caverns from demons, binding the most powerful to do no more evil, but serve the empire until the end of days.

Alric heard some gossip around the inn.  Several people around town have seen a shadowy figure playing a flute and dancing, in and near the cemetery, near the time of sunset. Sergeant Zim is investigating, but the old folks say it’s no use: you just have to get used to that sort of goings-on when you live in Tembladera.

Gabby, too, hung around the bar listening to folks telling stories. She heard that:

  • Valda Dije was a bandit and rogue in the early days of Tembladera’s settlement. He went into the dungeons, found powerful magic and vast wealth, bribed his way from the noose to a noble title, and died in his bed as an old man.
  • The sages say that some dragons are as intelligent as men and know how to talk, but there’s fighting men around Tembladera that know, most of ’em are just beasts. Giant, flying, cunning devil-beasts that spit fire, or acid, or bloody lightning bolts… but, still, just beasts.

Jed and Trevor spent their mornings in the city library, chasing down references in the lore, and discovered:

  • Many have reported the existence of moving rooms built by the dwarves. No one knows how they are powered.
  • It is a common tactic, among the worshippers of demons, to curse an area such that creatures of hell are summoned regularly. Even if all of the demons are destroyed, if the source is not cleansed, they will soon return.
  • Six-armed demons known as “peshkali” are summoned to act as immortal guardians. They exist only to defend their lairs and practice with their weapons, so only the mightiest of mortal warriors can stand against them.
    • “Hey, look at this picture. Isn’t that the thing that killed FuBar?”  
  • They read an account from a generation ago, telling how a gang of madmen started robbing graves and performing unholy experiments in the laboratories of the dwarves. In time, they came to the attention of the people of Tembladera, who sent a party against them. They were caught red-handed, and wiped out at their workbenches. Interestingly, a member of the party was paid extra to make up for the loss of a ring during the melee, claiming that it was “enchanted for the sight of mine eyes where the sun shineth not”.
    • Jed:  “It’s a ring of dark vision!”  (visibly salivates)
    • Alric:  “That’s not how it sounds to me…”
  • The sages of old say that a dragon has no weakness nor vulnerable point, aside possibly from vanity and greed. The only way to deal with a dragon, they said, was to bargain shrewdly.

Jed then took to the streets in the early afternoon to keep abreast of the latest news. He gathered that:

  • The goblinoid tribes to the west are awful restless this season. There’s rumors that a great leader has risen to weld all the little tribes into a great horde, just like every year, but this year the rumors are different. Usually the great leader from the stories is just another orc that’s a little bigger and badder than his buddies, but this time, they say it’s a talking lion…
  • Anne Page has heard of a dwarven artifact known as the Council Stone, a rock carved with runes and mounted on a shaft wall in the ruins. She would be quite generous to any who could recover it.
  • The Company of the Thunder-Raven went into the dungeons and found an area lit up as bright as day. They camped out there for a couple of days, taking advantage of the situation and plundering a rich set of rooms.
    • All the PCs give voice to angry protests at how those claim-jumping mercenaries were horning in on their monster and taking away their treasure.
  • A party went in to the ruins last year to search for a lost child, and they ran into a creature who they initially thought was a man, who called himself Zosar, the Worm Who Walks. Most of them didn’t survive the encounter. Since that time, some of those who didn’t survive have turned up, as particularly worm-eaten zombies.
    • D’arth expressed regret at the waste of all that perfectly good food.

Needles kept his ear to the ground on the bad side of town and got the word on the street:

  • Zarcoff the Grifter has got himself a new con, calling himself Zarcoff the Magnificent and claiming he’s an alchemist. Don’t be taken in by him.
  • They say there’s a merchant that you can sometimes find near the docks, goes by the name of “Fishy”. They say he’ll pay top dollar for slaves, all kinds, no questions asked.
  • If you ever recover any artwork or such with fish as its subject matter, you want to bring it to Lady Abergavenny. She’s wild about that sort of thing.
  • Be careful where you try to fence any orichalcum you might find, down in the ruins. Friend of mine was trying to sell a handful of bolts, had a couple of good offers, then one day, he just stops coming around. Turns up two days later on the beach, drowned. Looked like it had been two weeks, not two days. Still had his pouch on him, full of copper… but not a single scrap of orichalcum.

Finally, Tantric the leprechaun did some reading on the boat from the Old World, and learned that in the old days, the king of the dwarves would appoint princes over a particular mountain range, and those princes would appoint governors for each section of their mines. The governors each wore silver crowns. The princes wore gold crowns. They would carry these crowns to the grave.

What Happened:

The party took a couple of weeks off to recuperate and re-equip. During this time, D’arth met a new leprechaun in town, Tantric McSwayze, fresh off the boat from the Old World, and introduced him to the party. He’s a pot-bellied, grouchy demonologist who happens to stand only about one foot high. He explained that he was the kind of demonologist who studies demons so as to better defeat them, and there was absolutely no truth to any rumors that he was driven out of the Old World on that account. He went on to explain that he had left after some shadowy “they” had stolen from him. Exactly what they had stolen from him varied, ranging from his pot of gold, to his lucky charms, to the jewels of his family, but he was consistent that “they” had stolen it from him, and he was here to seek a new fortune.

The party also clarified the rules of the party charter, setting several questions. The charter provides for those lost on delves, detailed the way treasure is handled and shares calculated, and determines that until a member has made two trips, they’re on probation and get half-shares. D’arth and Tantric are thus junior members.

The party’s sometime patron, Strang, sent a message, which Alric, being the early riser of the group, picked up and passed along to Jed for doin’ the readin’ magic. The messages read:

Surely you have noticed that you have come close to something very great in your recent delve. I have come to the knowledge that you had indeed stumbled upon one of the chambers that I asked you to search for. I urgently request that you return there as soon as you feel you are able. Truly, you must be fit and well before you attempt to gain entrance to that room. The “dwarves” that you encountered are, in fact, mechanized automatons and are not to be approached lightly. Another band of adventurers met a very grim end in that very room, with very little progress to show for it. I do not wish you to meet such an end.
To that end, Mamu will provide you with something that I have crafted. I think this addition to your arsenal might gain you some advantage against your most dangerous foes. The tips are enchanted to erupt with water upon sinking into an enemy. I recommend making every attempt to slip them between armor plates. The javelins carry a greater charge than the arrows and the shaft must be broken off for the charge to activate. Use them well.
Again, I request that you leave the room as untouched as possible. There is very powerful magic at work there, and I cannot guarantee your safety if you choose to ignore my advice. Indeed, I would feel very generous if I were to have access to that chamber, undisturbed.
Proceed cautiously, but quickly!


The parchment of the letter was wrapped around a claim ticket at the inn front desk, which led them to a long crate. The party took the crate up to Jed’s room and crowded in. Wielding a crowbar, Alric popped the lid to reveal and bundle of half-a-dozen arrows and four javelins, all obviously magical to those who can see such things. Jed tried to figure out the specifics of the enchantment, but aside from seeing it was water-related (not unexpected for an item created by a Fluidist), he could discern nothing.

Gabby finally admitted that she hadn’t been feeling herself for some time, and went to see the clerics. They determined that she was suffering under a curse, which they traced back to the ring of invisibility she’s been carrying around, the one she took off the halfling, Doughal, in session #8. Apparently, it’s got a couple of quirks in its makeup. Aside from being made of unusually dense gold, which they already knew, the ring is also cursed to bring the wearer bad fortune. Furthermore, it weighs on the bearer’s soul, which is why Gabby had been feeling so tired and run-down. The priest didn’t think they had anything to remove the ring’s curse, so it was put in storage where it couldn’t hurt anyone. Gabby left the cathedral with a renewed spring in her step.

Through the week, aside from chasing goblin squatters away from his corner of the sewers, D’arth was pursing a deeper game. He sent Poutine, his misen servant, to clean up the old goblin kitchens, with instructions to scatter a thick layer of flour in the halls outside when he arrived, before locking himself in. When his day of labor was done, the chef was to observe the flour for signs of traffic. (This arrangement was given a name, something like “an Arkansas flour trap”, but I didn’t catch it for certain.) For the first six days, things went as planned. Poutine reported finding various tracks, the most interesting being those of many booted feet and something on wheels.

D’arth passed this information on to the rest of the party. There was much speculation as to the wheel tracks. They knew it was impossible to get a cart up the path they had been taking; it was far too steep, with too many sections of stairs. They though of the possibility of wheelbarrows, but couldn’t do more than speculate, in the end. Poutine cooks the animals, he does not track them.

On the seventh day, though, Poutine didn’t show. Conveniently, though, that was the morning of Saturn’s-Day, so D’arth didn’t have to gather a rescue party, he just had to add “check for Poutine” to the party’s agenda for their regular trip to the dungeon.

They were able to scare up Jack, son of John, but none of the other usual hirelings were available. The hike to the dungeons was uneventful, aside from the comedy relief of constants complaints from Tantric’s devilkin.

At the dungeon entrance, they distributed healing potions, ice potions, and torches enchanted with Continual Light around the party. Jack was given a special torch, with Continual Mage Light cast upon it. Of course, he couldn’t see the mage light, so he constantly questioned the need for it. When assured that it was an important detail, he pointedly asked if they wouldn’t rather have a professional torchbearer handle it, then, since it was so important?

The experienced hands went through all their usual practices for entering the dungeon, pointing out the sights to Tantric as they went. Needles ducked through the entrance and pivoted to check the niche just inside the doors, then sounded the all-clear. The new members admired the large bronze plaque installed inside the alcove. Wondering if the gargoyles holding the sign were gargoyles or, y’know, Gargoyles, D’arth gave one a smart rap with his sword, cracking off one of its arms.

With that long-standing mystery solved, the party turned towards the rest of the dungeon. They followed their usual path, up the main hallway to the second big stone head. They took a moment to admire it, and to tell Tantric a bit of the story of how they met Jim Kadabra. Thinking of the animated goblin statue further in, Jed asked the head for directions, but it persisted in remaining silent.

Right turn, into the broken ground set up so long ago by ambushing goblins. Most of the party picked their way through slowly. As is her way, Gabby jumped atop the barriers and jogged to the far side. For their part, Tantric and his devilkin were largely unhampered by the broken ground, since the narrow paths were wide avenues to them. In due course, the party made their way to the area of the old goblin kitchens.

At D’arth’s signal, the party stopped to investigate. They found Poutine’s flour trap, or, rather, the remains of it. Someone had swept the middle of the hall clean. Only a narrow band remained on either side. Alric bent down to look for tracks, then stood with a satisfied nod, saying, “Straw brooms.”

Unanimously, the party took this bit of dungeon housekeeping as a threatening sign. Needles checked the doors to the kitchens, finding them to be without traps, but sealed from the inside. After a little B&E, he was able to shove the door open.

Inside, they found the corpse of poor Poutine, dead of multiple stab wounds. They closed the door and checked over the scene, recreating what had gone on. They concluded that several goblins had descended from the surface above through the chimney and taken the chef by surprise. After easily overpowering the misen henchman, they had ransacked the place, taking anything of value and destroying everything else. Flour all over the place.

D’arth collected the useful bits of Poutine’s remains with all due dignity and ceremony, then the party sealed the kitchens behind them and proceeded on.

When Needles, the party’s traditional point man, came to the location of the notorious pit trap, he discovered that it had been re-covered with a fresh illusion of the floor. Alric had already retrieved their plank bridge from the former “dungeon convenience store” closet. While he positioned it, the others pointed out items of interest to Tantric, like the places where TKotBo had chipped the walls and pit edge to mark its boundaries, and told him tales of previous encounters with it, like the time it killed the party’s very first cleric.

After safely crossing the pit, the party regrouped on the far side. Posy detected faint squishing sounds coming from up ahead. Thus forewarned, and guessing that they had against run into the gelatinous cube known to lurk in the area, the party members armed themselves and made ready for ambush. It didn’t take long before the cube turned the corner and came into view. At that point, several thrown vials of alchemist’s fire and one extra-large bolt of explosive lightning did it in, messily. In fact, the lightning bolt was so enthusiastic, Jed took some amused ribbing on the next leg of the trip: the others asked if he had some kind of history with the gelatinous cube, like maybe he owed it money, or perhaps they had had a whirlwind romance on his last trip through the dungeon.

The hike continued, still pointing out items of interest. The party hurried past the entrance to the lair of the flame lords, past the broken barrel at the foot of the stairs, and up the stairs to the Great Bridge. The old-timers paused, explaining for Tantric and D’arth the dual threats at this point: the sniper in the tower, and the angry ghost.

Noting that the bridge had a low rail sufficient to entirely conceal him and his devilkin, Tantric dismissed the sniper out of hand, but found the information about the ghost to be interesting. He went out on to the bridge and went to work. Using a combination of luck, his natural abilities with spirits, and a Materialize spell, he located the ghost and forced it to take physical form. A naked, screaming halfling appeared halfway across the span, still shouting about “The ring!  The ring!  My precious ring!”  Posy made a face at the unpleasant noise, then quicker than the eye could see, sent an arrow into the halfling’s brain.

Pleased with their poor man’s exorcism, the party crossed the bridge, with the less-stealthy members opting for the combat crawl to keep themselves out of sight of the sniper.  As is their way, they stopped inside the far entrance for a short rest and a light snack.  “Smoked rat,” Alric said, pulling some from his pouch, “come and get it!”  As they rested, they discussed the tower sniper, and how they were going to have to do something about him, one of these days.

Rested and ready, they continued on up the hall to the turn. They paused at the foot of the stairs, there, to discuss the fact that they’ve never checked any further down the main hallway than this point. Jed cast Light on one of Posy’s arrows, which she sent flying down the hall. It vanished in the distance. Long hallway.

Curiosity satisfied for the moment, they went up the broad stairway, around the landing, and up to the intersection with the goblin statue. Jed demonstrated his command of the Dwarven language by putting the animated statue through its direction-giving routine for Tantric’s entertainment. They then went around the hall to the big room with the Pit of Darkness.

The big sunlight spell had worn off, of course. They gathered around the edge, peering into the dark. As they did so, Jack announced, in a satisfied tone of voice:  “Oops”.  He had dropped his Mage Light torch into the pit.

The falling stick was enough to set off the shriekers at the bottom of the pit, invisible light or no. Having thus dealt with the advantage of surprise, they fiddled around for a while dropping flaming oil and rocks with Light spells cast on them. Something at the bottom kept putting out dropped lights, but since nothing climbed out of the hole to kill them all, they soon got on with business.

Posy landed a Continual Light arrow on the second balcony from the top.  Jed sent a Wizard Eye into the hole, keeping far away from the ledges. He observed movement in the shadows on the first tier, but couldn’t make out any details. The second balcony was better lit, and seemed abandoned… aside from the large human corpse, right in front of the door they were after.

They had blown that door open with a siege stone on a previous visit, but it had since been repaired with stout, fresh, cedar boards. And, of course, equipped with a dead barbarian.

“A corpse, you say?” D’arth commented, listening to Jed describe what he was seeing. The corpse-eater started stepping over towards the hanging chain with a thoughtful look on his face.

It didn’t take long to get the entire party down on the second balcony. Most climbed the chain. Jed levitated. They set up Jack and Trevor as lookouts, then stood back while D’arth checked out the dead guy. Barbarian, for certain: bare chest, furry hat with horns, fur loincloth. After getting a closer look, D’arth realized that the young barbarian was lying atop another corpse, a halfling. When he went to roll the man off the halfling, a leaping leech was disturbed from its feeding and launched itself at his face, but he was able to avoid it and pin it to the ground with his sword.

Now able to see the barbarian’s face, Alric dimly recognized him. The dead man had been a member of the Company of the Thunder-Raven. Corbin, Inc., bristled at this evidence of poachers. Still, it didn’t seem like they had taken the room.

The party organized themselves for a hard fight. They arrayed their forced with care, making sure Posy had a clear line of sight into the room. They had a cascading series of Wait maneuvers set up. The plan was, Needles would pull open the door and duck behind it. Posy would land a Glue arrow a few yards inside the door, with the goal of restricting the inhabitant’s movements and forcing them to pile up for convenient killing, and then avert her gaze. Jed would throw a Flash spell inside the room, aiming to blind and disorient the defenders, and then sound the all-clear. The others would then uncover their eyes, and take the fight from there.

When it came down to it, though, it seemed like the plan would be derailed before it ever really got started. When Needles pulled the door open, he found one of the defending clockwork-armored dwarves waiting for him!  He was barely able to avoid a sword to the back, but he did avoid it. From that point, things were back on track. Posy, of course, put her arrow on target, fortuitously sticking one defender to the floor immediately, and Jed’s spell did disorient nearly all of the dwarves — even blinding one outright.

Alric and D’arth stepped up to hold the door, ready to hold it. They engaged the two defenders standing on either side of the entrance hall. The puddle of glue restricted free movement to one clear hex on Alric’s side, and a narrow avenue along the wall and around a corner on D’arth’s, which kept the fight two-on-two.

Then Posy started raining doom on the clockwork dwarves, in the form of Strang’s gift arrows. She aimed for the gaps in the golden clockwork armor. When an arrow would get to a few feet of its target, it would transform into a concentrated stream of water. Then, once inside the armor, it would convert into an explosive burst of steam. Between that, and heavy blows from the front line, the two defenders quickly fell.

GM interjection:  It should be noted that along about here, Jed’s player let slip that he knew these guys would come back from the dead, but they would only do it once, so they just had to kill everybody inside twice. How did he know this?  He had been reading monsters one day, you see…

The party wasn’t surprised when the first fallen clockwork dwarf stood back up. They were surprised when they knocked it down again, and it got up a second time. And a third…

The battle got desperate. It also got crowded, as everybody pushed in to the narrow gap, trying to deliver more damage, faster. Tantric jumped off his devilkin’s shoulders — he had been riding piggyback — and sent it into battle, clawing and scratching… where it was immediately mashed flat by a single hit from the maul of the defender’s leader. Gabby and Needles slipped inside the room itself, along the wall to the right of the entrance passage. That moved them away from the Glue puddle, exposing their right flank. They found themselves brutally assaulted by up to four and five of the clockwork dwarves at a time, with the fallen being replaced with new troops from further in the room, and their fallen being replaced by the resurrection of the first wave of fallen. D’arth found himself dueling with one defender, trading blows around a corner. Alric kept a lid on the door, which let Jed and Posy work without fear of counterattack. Both, but particularly Posy, were doing tremendous damage, but they couldn’t get a clear shot on most of the enemy forces.

The warriors were able to avoid major damage, for the most part, but they were starting to wear down, a bit at a time. One Fatigue point spent, here. A couple of points of injury, there.

Finally, Needles made a break for open ground inside the room. (GM note: I suspect he was angling to get behind them all, anyway.) This finally gave him a clear view of the parts of the room that they hadn’t seen before, being on the wall that the entrance was in. He saw that there were two big wall hangings on either side of the door. Both bore dwarven writing, and he could see both were magical. Being genre-savvy, he dashed to the nearer of the two and slashed it in two, top to bottom, with his magic short sword. Immediately, all the clockwork dwarves dropped, like marionettes with their strings cut!

While Needles checked for traps, Jed took charge of the party to organize the search of the room. They carried out the fallen clockwork dwarves, lining them up on the balcony outside. Alric bashed one apart, as the party investigated the question of whether the dwarves’ innards were worth money. They weren’t. It turns out, they weren’t dwarves at all, just constructs. What appeared to be armor was actually their bodies. They were clockwork all the way through. The eerily impassive “faces” had actually been porcelain masks.

Back in the room, Jed cataloged the contents of the room. They reasoned that since this room wasn’t octagonal, but square, it must not the be room that Strang wanted. Thus, they could loot the place. Strang’s room must be nearby, though.

They found an alchemist’s notebook, talking about “Wonderous Project Number 3, the Apparatus of Argha-hal”. They found several big bottles of elfbane and lesser amounts of demonbane. The clockwork dwarves’ leader had carried a magical maul with an amusing message carved into it in Dwarven runes. Tantric found three orichalcum pins that had rolled under a table, but no other orichalcum was apparent.

Jed translated the runes on the wall-hangings. One read “Defend the room.” The other, the one Needles destroyed, had read “Live forever.”

While Jed, Trevor, and Jack packed up the equipment of the alchemy lab, D’arth and Tantric scavenged. D’arth claimed the “Defend the room” hanging, figuring it would make a good decoration for his own crypt. After confirming that nobody else wanted to claim the clockwork dwarves’ bodies to sell for scrap, Tantric summoned a demon and gave it the task of hauling all the broken metal out of the dungeon to a hidden location near town, where it could be recovered later.

After the looting, Jed cast See Secrets to make sure they weren’t missing anything. It revealed the outline of a secret door. Needles was able to use his never-fail formula for secret doors — “Third brick in, second down” — to get it open. Inside, they found a small room, barely five feet square, with a pentagram on the floor and eight walls. Strang’s octagon!

They sealed the doors behind them, and headed home.

After selling off the loot, including the clockwork dwarves’ weapons and shields, the full members took home a share of 3,750 copper each, with the junior members each getting a half-share that was still ample pay for a day’s work. They passed the orichalcum pins on to Strang for the usual inflated price, and retired to the inn.

* * *

Hours later, Needles pulls a merry Jed aside from the party. “Hey,” he said, holding out a globe of orichalcum wire tracery the size of a basketball.  “I traded for this at the pub. Think it’s worth anything?”

Then, as they watched, many of the places where the wires met started to glow and blink like fireflies…


By The Numbers: Combat Effectiveness Ratings

In case you hadn’t heard, Pyramid #3/77: Combat includes an article by Christopher R. Rice (of Ravens N’ Pennies), “It’s a Threat!”, which lays out the concept of a Combat Effectiveness Rating (or CER) for GURPS characters. The idea is, you examine different traits of the characters, adding up a score in various areas. Those scores add up to an Offensive Rating (OR) and a Protective Rating (PR), which combine to give an overall CER score. Furthermore, you can calculate a specialized Protective Rating for use against traps. (Since you don’t usually fight a trap, you don’t get the benefit of your OR, but you do get bonuses depending on your ability to deal with traps.) So I’ve been working out the party members’ scores.

There’s a long history for this kind of classification, going all the way back to Gygax and the various levels of monsters. It’s always difficult, because so much depends on the circumstances. The article talks about this is more detail, but the point I want to make clear is, nobody’s character can be summed up in a single number.

Furthermore, I’ve probably goofed up the calculations somewhere along the line. I know I had to go back a couple of times and recalculate things where I had earlier overlooked a detail. I’m sure there are more details I’m still overlooking. If the ratings look wonky, it’s likely because I’ve wonked them.

Basically, my players shouldn’t pay all that much attention to anything more in this post. 🙂

Ok, now that we’ve got them out of the way, here’s the scoop.

The final scores:

  • Alric: OR 57, PR 37, PR (Traps) 37, CER 94
  • D’arth: OR 31, PR 29, PR (Traps) 32, CER 60
  • Gabby: OR 41, PR 17, PR (Traps) 18, CER 58
  • Mississippi Jed: OR 61, PR 12, PR (Traps) 20, CER 73
  • Needles: OR 47, PR 17, PR (Traps) 28, CER 64
  • Posy: OR 51, PR 12, PR (Traps) 24, CER 63

I’m not going to break down all the numbers, but I will offer some observations.

Gabby and Posy are pretty much tied for first in the “Attack Skill” ratings, as you would expect, while D’arth and Jed are similarly tied for last place. Alric managed to take the top spot for “Damage”, even edging out Jed’s Explosive Lightning spell. Gabby lost more points in the damage category than any other, relative to the rest of the group, which dragged down her overall rating. When it comes to overall Offensive Rating, Jed’s got a bit of an edge, thanks to Explosive Lightning and the stunning effects of his Concussion spell, but everybody’s clearly bringing the hurt.

It really says something, that their least offensive member is a cannibalistic nihilist carrying a two-handed sword.

On the defensive front, the overall scores are pretty lop-sided. Gabby is by far the most outstanding member in the area of “Active Defenses”, thanks to her Weapon Mastery and extra Parry from her main-gauche. Jed is equally outstanding as the worst member for “Active Defenses”, which might explain why he so often goes for the blocking spells. D’arth has three times the score of his closest competitor in the “Will” category.

In all the other defensive sub-categories, though, there was one clear winner. Alric took the lead, by far, in “Damage Resistance”, “Health”, and especially “Hit Points”.

Jed’s a glass cannon, as befits a member of the Order of the Sun.

The bonus scores for traps came out… surprising.  Jed, Needles, and Posy all came out with excellent scores for detecting traps, thanks to their high Perception scores and skills — Thaumatology, for detecting magical traps, in the case of Jed, and regular ol’ Traps for the other two. Needles and Posy were tied for being the best trap-disarmers, leaving the others in the dust.

Even so, according to the scores, the party’s best person for dealing with traps is Alric, followed by D’arth, and then Needles!

… because the first two can theoretically take the trap on the chin and walk away from it. Alric was the only member who didn’t pick up any trap bonus points, and he still managed to get the highest PR (Traps), just through being a big pile of rough-cut Hit Points. A trap drops a log on Alric, he shrugs it off and tells everybody else the way is clear. D’arth isn’t as rugged physically, but his mental and emotional stability are unmatched. Some demonic gizmo starts blasting gut-busting terror, he smiles and says it just isn’t like the supernatural fear that Momma D’arth used to make. Still, if you don’t know what kind of trap you’re dealing with, or if there’s a trap at all, I still think I would lean on Needles harder than either one of them.

Overall, when it comes to combined CER, Alric’s just a beast. The average CER across the party is around 68 or 69, and everybody’s pretty close to that average, except for Jed the artillery bard who can throw lightning from his bare hands… and Alric, with his big 94. I guess everybody else only comes up to his chest in more ways than one.


Arguments and Alignments

I was thinking about the big argument at the end of last session. Well, “argument” probably isn’t the right word. It’s just a new phase of the same old bickering. This leg of the journey had to do with the execution of FuBar’s last will and testament, and the appropriate reward for someone who just happened along during the second half of the delve.

But, either way, it got me thinking.

First off, I think I owe all four party members another experience point. I try to toss one out whenever anybody does themselves a disservice through displaying their “role-played” disadvantages. I say “try”, because I regularly forget it… and I think I did so, here.

And I realized I owed a roleplaying award because I was thinking about how the argument was a natural expression of the mental disads involved. D’arth Loathing isn’t a nice guy: he has Bad Temper, Selfish, and Stubbornness. Of course he was going to insist on clinging tight to anything owed to him. Of course he was going to hold a grudge against anyone who got in his way.

Jed, on the other hand, is a little more complex. He’s got a Quirk that amounts to a preference for fair play, but then he’s also got a Sense of Duty to his comrades. D’arth isn’t a comrade, not until he’s walked in the front door of the dungeon alongside the party a couple of times, at least. Jed likes to announce how honest he is (“Ask anyone, they’ll tell you I can be trusted!”), but, strictly speaking, that’s not true. Or, rather, it’s lower-case “honesty”, not the upper-case “Honesty” that means you’ll follow the law and give everybody a fair shake. It’s true that Jed wouldn’t (for example) outright steal from the party fund, but that’s not because he won’t steal.  It’s because he won’t steal from his comrades

Maybe Jed supports the idea of honoring wills, in the abstract. Perhaps he’s a fair dealer, in general. But, when it comes down to some corpse-eater making claims against the party’s living members, his SoD kicks in. He’s pretty much compelled to try to bargain D’arth down. Perhaps if FuBar had lived longer, Jed would have formed more of an attachment to him, and his SoD would compel him to see FuBar’s final wishes through. As it stands, his loyalty is to the party above either FuBar or D’arth.

The way it played out, when they got back to town, they discovered that they had hit the jackpot. Then, Jed’s quirks on fair-dealing and his Xenophilia came along, and D’arth ended up with a half share. Not bad, really, for the short while he was on the scene.

* * *

… and all of that got me thinking about honesty and morality in characters. What Saint Gygax would call “alignment”, in other words.

I see Alric as Chaotic Good, tending towards Neutral Good. He’s pretty easy-going, gets along with everybody, but has no problem going his own way. We know that he’s willing to drop everything — drop treasure! — and put himself through a rough cross-country ride to save a friend. We know he’s willing to go into battle to defend the weak (even if they did turn out to be disguised bad guys).

There’s actually a picture of Gabby in the dictionary under “Chaotic Neutral”. She’s motivated by greed, like all adventurers, but beyond that, there’s simply no telling what she’ll do next. She picked a fight with a mostly-peaceful ogre, once, on a whim. She discovered the hidden ledges on the outside of the Great Bridge when she went over the edge to avoid a fight, again, on a whim. I keep expecting her to light herself on fire… because when you’re on fire, the ninjas can’t catch you.

I would say the same about FuBar. Chaotic Neutral. He had a guiding goal in his life, but in the little time he had, he didn’t really get to show it. Ah, well. At least he died the way he lived: with a full stomach.

D’arth is pretty much evil by definition. Really no way around that, what with being a monster who worships something other than the pantheon of good gods. I would put him down as Lawful Evil, and probably closer to the Lawful side than the Evil. Of course, we haven’t seen much of him, so my first impressions could easily be wrong.

In my opinion, Mississippi Jed is Neutral Good, maybe with a tendency towards Chaotic. As already mentioned, he’s loyal to his friends, all the way to the bitter end.  (Literally.  When he died, he was trying to use a blocking spell to shut down a demon’s fiery breath, to protect the entire party. As it happened, the rest of the party are a bunch of stealthy, agile types, and they all jumped out of harm’s way on their own*, but it’s the thought that counts.) He’s got a couple of specific Quirks about slavery (against) and fair-play (for) that strike me as characteristic of CG. Jed’s also a something of a stickler for “the rules”: he’s the party accountant, quartermaster, and hammerer-out of contracts. If Corbin, Inc., ever wrote out a real charter, he’d do everything but the signatures.

Ah, Needles. As nice a guy as he is, I figure him as Chaotic Evil. He’s a liar, and a thief, and an all-around scumbag. His one redeeming quality, such as it is, is his Pirate’s Code of Honor. He’s loyal to whatever band of thieves and cutthroats he’s fallen in with, at any particular time. For all of that, though, he’s a pleasant enough guy to hang around with, and the party respects his skills, both with sword and lock-pick.

Posy is mildly Neutral Evil, I’d say, like most cats. She gives off a vibe of “eh, I can take you or leave you, I just happen to be headed in the same direction”. She rather enjoys the suffering of others, but not so much that she goes out of her way to inflict it. (Quirk-level Sadism.) She’s not much for taking prisoners. She doesn’t have any particular Sense of Duty, even to long-time comrades. Instead, she makes do with a Pirate’s Code of Honor… so at least she won’t stab anybody in the back while they’re on the job.

* * *

Time to do like the song says, and add it up. Looking only at the living members of the party, nobody shares an alignment. They’ve got everything covered except Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, and plain vanilla True Neutral. As far as that goes, I would argue that Rho was Lawful Neutral and TKotBO was Lawful Good. Knock a Druid in the head and throw ‘im in the wagon, we’ll have a counter on every square of the classic alignment checkerboard.

Put that way, this party should have turned inside-out long ago. Back in the day, playing AD&D, I don’t believe any of my GM’s would have allowed it. Even if they had, the players wouldn’t have; there would have been a PC-on-PC murder within the first twenty minutes. (And it might not have been the so-called Evil ones that drew first, either!) These guys have been getting along reasonably well.

Well, once they got rid of the Lawful types. Hmm. That doesn’t bode well for D’arth…

– – – – –

* Even if Jed had pulled it off, it wouldn’t have worked out like he wanted. His thought was, use Command, cause the entire attack to go somewhere else — towards the other enemy, I believe — so nobody would need to give ground by diving for cover. But, even if he had been able to overcome the effects of range and the demon’s high Will and send the attack astray, everyone would have still gone for cover. Remember, everything’s happening at once. The others see an attack coming. They’ve got a split second to decide what they’re doing. (If I remember correctly, I emphasized that nobody really knows how big the area of effect is going to be, so it’s possible for one to decide to dive out of the way, and still end up inside the area, because it was bigger than one guessed.) Anybody who held their dice to see how the Command worked out would be essentially declaring that they weren’t jumping. When a grenade lands in one’s foxhole, one does not stand there looking around to see if anyone else is going to jump on top of it.


“Corbin, Inc.”, Session #15


  • D’arth Loathing, just a corpse-eater in the right place at the right time, being a good neighbor (PC)
  • FuBar Bombad, sewer-troll who needed eyes in the back of his head (PC)
  • Mississippi Jedadiah Walker, flinging spells like a ninja monkey throws… shuriken. (PC)
  • Needles, thief-swashbuckler who might be getting another song after this trip (PC)
  • Posy, long-distance artillery and a terror for eyes everywhere (PC)
  • Trevor, making his money the old fashioned way: winning it off the new hires (NPC henchman)
  • Pai, cat-folk cleric of Mielikki (the Finnish one, not the other one) who more-or-less follows Posy, when he’s not on the catnip (NPC henchman)
  • Poutine, a humble misen chef, compelled to follow FuBar on a quest for really exotic cuisine (NPC henchman)
  • Höss, Jack, son of John, and John, son of Jack: carriers of heavy things and losers at cards (NPC hirelings)

The entourage of Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Adventure:

  • Alric Redbeard, stung by his new bee-cat in a training incident (PC)
  • Gabby the Cabin Girl, likewise, stung. It’s a long story. It has penguins in it. (PC)
  • “Dobby”, nursing the wounded and practicing his penguin-whisperer technique (NPC henchman)

Rumors Gathered:

Jed was mostly forced to keep his ear to the ground.

  • A band of goblinoids was captured trying to sneak over the walls of Tembladera. When questioned before their execution, they claimed to serve something named “Shauldula”.
  • Lady Abergavenny has been trying to hire shipbuilders who are willing to go into the mountains for a job, but she’s having trouble finding takers. They doubt her sanity: who would build a ship on top of a mountain, miles from the nearest ocean?
  • Sir Hugh has returned from an expedition into the interior jungles, bringing many captured elves and crates of their treasure. If you ever wanted to buy a pair of elven boots, now would be the time!

Still, he got in a little time with the heavy books.

  • The chronicles say that the last of the dwarven kings made a pact with “beautiful creatures from the edge of time” to protect the dwarves’ most precious secrets. There is little recorded detail about these creatures, aside from general agreement as to their invincibility in battle.

Needles picked up the word on the street.

  • A dragon’s been sighted flying over the mountains near Tembladera.

What Happened:

As expected, Jed survived the resurrection process. His apprentice Trevor handled the arrangements, and Trevor’s getting a reputation for both diligence and luck. They stitched his bits back together and brought him back to life, if not health. That was taken care of by a healing potion and a couple of days’ light duty.

Even hampered by Jed’s illness (if that’s the right word for losing your head), and by Gabby and Alric being bedridden with bee-cat-stings, the party still got a lot done around town.

Needles piled up his coin and invested in one of the more expensive, 2 point blessed buttons. The others weren’t so extravagant, sticking with the cheaper, 1-point, bronze buttons… but those, they handed out like candy. All the henchmen got one. I’m pretty sure they’ve got some spares rattling around in the bottom of someone’s pouch.

Furthermore, Needles went over his load-out with a fine-toothed comb. He and Jed hit the armorers’ shops around Tembladera, replacing bits of his kit with new pieces of armor, specially tailored and enchanted to be as light as street clothes. By the time he was done, he had dropped his load enough to be unencumbered. (He’s been lightly encumbered for some time now, believe it or not.) He also picked up a spellbook and learned his first spell: Haste.

Needles wasn’t the only one making capital investments. Posy picked up a wide assortment of arrows, including some spell arrows. (She also picked up a Perk to let her choose her arrows accurately without searching through them, explained as carving coded notches into the shafts.)

Jed hit the books and picked up some new spells. He cast one of those new spells, Seeker, in an attempt to locate his once-friend and now-nemesis, Jim Kadabra. He was able to get a very detailed vision of the illusionist’s location:

Green felt. A table covered in green felt. Playing cards, really expensive hand-painted ones. On the other side of the table, a red-skinned humanoid with horns growing out of his head, wearing a fine silk vest. The other speaks some words, and passes a wooden box across the table towards the viewer.

From his recent studies in demonology (having put points into Hidden Lore: Demons), Jed was able to identify the red guy as a “demon of old”, similar to the ones the party met before, in the Pit of Darkness. Skinnier, though. More like the geekier younger brother of those guys.

FuBar dedicated a lot of time to meditation. Jed dropped a koan on him:  “What was in Kadabra’s box?”  After much pondering, FuBar’s harmony with the Cosmic All brought back the answer, “Cards, for gambling, which is just another dirty trap tying the unwary ego into the illusion of reality.”

It seems like everybody was making friends this week. Posy ran into another cat-folk, a cleric of Mielikki named Pai, who decided to tag along with Posy on her adventures. FuBar ran into a misen cook and saved his life. (“I won’t eat you until after you’re dead.”)  This was enough to gain the cowardly little beastie’s loyalty, and so now the trash ninja has an entourage.

Around mid-week, Mamu delivered a harshly-worded letter from Strang, the party’s sometime-patron:

I must express some frustration with your recent activities. I have provided you ample information – at no small cost in time and money – and you continue to dawdle with this worthless pit. Now, you have seen one of your company fall victim to these unnecessary side-trips with nothing to show for it. Again, I feel it necessary to remind you that finding these orichalcum artifacts is of utmost importance!

Additionally, I must ask you to be on the lookout certain hexagonal rooms that I know to be present within the area near your search locations. I believe these rooms are key to my research and, as such, I must ask you to TOUCH NOTHING when you find them. Regardless of your own perceptions of value or relevance, I need these rooms to be pristine and whole. Kindly catalogue and map the rooms, but do not move any of the contents. I believe that these chambers will ultimately be mutually beneficial, and I will certainly share my good fortune should my requests be met. However, you risk my ire by proceeding recklessly.

Friends, we are close to unlocking something wondrous. Do not delay!


Upon having the note read to him, FuBar remarked on how it was awful that “your guy’s‘ boss” was mad at them. He’s a free agent, don’t ya know. 😉

The question of payment for FuBar’s services on the last delve came up. Rash promises had been made, concerning the party obtaining a ninja-to and black ninja suit for the sewer troll.  (Well, actually, it was more like “some of those awesome black pajamas and one of those cool straight swords to go with it”.  FuBar had a dream to someday be accepted and trained as a ninja. He had admired them from afar. Nobody else know anything at all about how ninja operate — or even that they’re called “ninja”, really — and so nobody realized certain very important facts about them. Like, they don’t just sell that kind of stuff, to anybody….)

Jed asked around, and was given directions to the place where all the fancy black suits came from.  The foot of the stair is just outside of town, just at the edge of the rice paddies, and it travels steeply up to the top of a near peak. All the non-vertical space at the top of the mountain is taken up by an extraordinarily tall castle with multiple roofs. The stairway is carved out of the sheer cliff face, making several switchbacks along the way.

Like this, but more vertical. And on top of a mountain. And swarming with hidden ninja.

A peasant with an ox was standing near the foot of the stair, and passed a few words with Jed. The bard started up the stair and soon came to a wider area, high above the fields below. A section of the path was dug out about six feet, and the hole filled with cut bamboo stakes, forming a grid. A monkey was hanging upside-down from a small tree growing out of the cliff-side, gripping a small bamboo staff and wearing a vest. “What’s your business?” it asked.

Somewhat startled but willing to play along, Jed discussed things with the monkey, who introduced himself (unsurprisingly) as Monkey-san. It turned out that the ninja aren’t willing to let just anybody come up to the castle and do some shopping. Mr Monkey explained that there would be a series of challenges, and that he was the first of them. He asked if Jed cared to try his luck, but the bard declined. They parted respectfully, and Jed walked back to town.

There, he explained the situation to the others. They agreed, the whole party would go up and give FuBar a hand. So, they made the walk to the edge of town. When they returned to Mr Monkey’s station, they found him (seemingly) asleep on his tree branch. FuBar started gathering himself for a sneak attack — the ninja way, after all — but Jed spoiled it by calling out, saying hello to the monkey. After some pleasantries, Mr Monkey offered to give FuBar a shot at the title.

Monkey-san jumped down from his perch to take up a position balancing atop a couple of the bamboo staves, and gave FuBar the classic “bring it” gesture. With the rest of the party cheering him on, FuBar raised his fists, jumped atop… well, ok, not so much “atop” anything. Actually, he missed his footing. Rather than his foot landing on a staff end, he slipped and took the end of the staff directly to the groin. Even the monkey cringed. FuBar slid slowly to the embrace of the soft sand below.

Figuring this was a sign that his mind and spirit were not in unity, FuBar pulled himself back together, bowed to the monkey, and started the long, slow march back to town. “These things take three tries anyway,” he observed. “That’s one.”

Saturn’s-Day came at last. The party hired Höss, their favorite brute, and two laborers: Jack, son of John, and John, son of Jack. The four PCs were also joined by their loyal henchmen: Trevor, Pai, and Poutine. Without the mounts usually provided by Alric and Gabby, the group only had one donkey between them, so the hike was longer and drier than usual. Still, they made it to their usual campsite near the entrance to the dungeon.

Needles took point, confirming that no ambush was lurking inside the door. The party formed up with Needles in the lead, followed by Posy, then the main group, with FuBar trailing, walking backwards, keeping an eye out behind. Between Posy’s nigh-superhuman tracking skills and FuBar’s frankly-superhuman sense of smell, they came to realize that another party had followed the same path not long ago. FuBar was able to identify the scent of Bjorn, one of the members of the Company of the Thunder-Raven, another party of adventurers.

Jed cast another one of his new spells, Seek Earth, to determine the nearest source of orichalcum. It was quite a distance away, in a sort of “over there and down some” direction, more-or-less consistent with the expectation that there was a find to be had in the Pit.

They made their way through the now-familiar halls, stopping briefly at the old goblin kitchens. Poutine was impressed with the room, pointing out how it would only take some cleaning to make it usable. FuBar noted how he had considered moving out of the sewers and into the dwarven dungeons on a permanent basis. The kitchen would make an excellent foothold. FuBar ordered Poutine to stay behind, clean up, and make the kitchen as operational as possible. They scrounged up a plank to prop the door shut, in lieu of a lock, and proceeded on.

As they traveled, they continued to notice signs of another party following the same path, without deviation.  This continued until they reached the Great Bridge.

Mindful of the sniper from the overlooking tower, they crossed the bridge cautiously. Posy took up a concealed post at the door and kept an eye on the tower. First, FuBar went out alone, crossing the entire span doing back-flips, backwards. He made it unscathed. Needles went out, displaying his full sneakiness. Then it came time for the hirelings. Given Trevor’s level of athletic ability, it was decided that John and Jack would just carry him across. The three linked arms, wheezing apprentice in the center, and hustled across the bridge.

They made it about halfway before one of the J’s stopped dead in his tracks, bringing them up short about halfway across. “The dead walk among us!” Trevor shouted, as the possessed laborer yanked him away from the other apprentice-bearer.

The possessed John, or possibly Jack, started dragging Trevor towards the edge, shouting “The ring! Return the ring!”

Everyone but Posy ran to help. As they were running, Posy saw a target appear at the tower window. Her arrow passed the incoming crossbow bolt, which took Höss in the chest. She was certain she had hit her target, which didn’t re-appear at the window. Considering her work here done, she shouldered her bow and strolled across the bridge.

Meanwhile, Trevor used his free arm to draw a bottle of holy water and smash it across the head of Jack-or-maybe-John. This, or the gang tackle, or possibly both, was enough to shake off the possessing spirit’s influence. Dragging their wounded with them, the party again set up camp just inside the door on the far side of the bridge, resting and healing. Pai deigned to share some of his healing prayers with the hairless apes.

After resting up, they continued up the hall. Again, they found signs that Bjorn had passed this way, and taken the right turn up the stairs to the overlook. They followed the same route. After playing with the animated goblin statue for a bit, they trailed Bjorn to the edge of the Pit of Darkness.

The last time they had been there, there had been several dead goblins scattered about. They were gone, now. Furthermore, the big chain down into the Pit had been augmented with the addition of several ropes around the Pit’s edge.

“I’m getting the idea that these guys might have gotten away with some of our treasure,” Needles observed. The others nodded agreement as they collected all the free rope. An adventurer can never have too much rope.

From way, way back in Session #2!

From way, way back in Session #2!

Consulting the map they had picked up from Strang weeks and weeks ago, they decided to go directly to the second balcony down. FuBar led the way, tossing around several pebbles previously enchanted with a candle-strength light spell. Once he had determined that the balcony itself seemed deserted, they others came down to join him.

There, there was some debate. They didn’t want to waste a lot of time searching the place. (Curiously, Jed didn’t think to cast Seek Earth again.) The map said to go west, but it also had a big “X” on the east side of the square representing the Pit. They chose to check out the east wall, sending FuBar through the big open doorway in the center of the wall.

As on the level above, this room turned out to be a dwarven restroom, with several curtained alcoves. Unlike the room above, this one smelled terrible. The source seemed to be the three curtained alcoves in the middle of the row of alcoves. FuBar figured they were dealing with some rotten zombies, and so he might as well take care of things himself. He tossed a bottle of alchemist’s fire into the middle stall.

It wasn’t zombies. Three clouds of disgusting green vapor came boiling out. They were some kind of toxic demon. Hearing his shouts, the party ran to give FuBar some backup. Jed threw down a Wall of Air, which initially threw the demons into disarray, but it turned out that they were fast enough to simply go around it. It also became clear that arrows and swords don’t work well against clouds of noxious gas. After taking a little damage, the party mostly withdrew. Jed blasted two of the three to bits with magical lightning. The third withdrew back into the darkness of the restroom, hoping to draw in victims to pick off one by one.

While this was going on, Needles and FuBar ended up wandering back to the room where they had previously fought the cat-demons. At one point, FuBar looked back at Needles, just entering the room, and said, “You know, you’re standing right where Jed died.”

Needles looked down, at a small bloodstain, then at the wall, at a somewhat larger one, then took a couple of quick strides to one side.

The two rogues looked over the exit on the far side of the room, deciding it didn’t seem to be trapped. Needles picked the lock while FuBar kept an eye out, then threw open the door. He was confronted by a big, beady-eyed, multiple-armed thing sporting enough swords to outfit a squad of infantry, atop a body like a snake. It boomed out a shout of defiance, something about no one disturbing its master.

Needles politely shut the door again.

The rest of the party was just trying strategies to draw out the toxic demon when the two rogues came scampering back. Informed of the news, the others dropped the subtlety. Jed popped into the room with cover from Posy, and blasted the entire right-hand side of the room with explosive lightning. They paused long enough for the bard to gather the remains with a whisk broom, then returned to the site of Jed’s demise.

The arm-thing hadn’t pursued, so the door remained shut. The party held a conference in whispers, then deployed their forces. The general idea was that Jed would make almost everyone else Invisible, while Needles tossed off a couple of Haste spells (easier said than done, as it turned out, but he managed to get himself sped up, at least), and then Jed, pushing himself to his limits, would charge up a gigantic Concussion spell.

The plan was, once Jed gave the sign, FuBar would throw open the door and Jed would unleash destruction. As soon as he started singing that one high note his Concussion spell requires (since he’s a bard-wizard, with song-based magic), though, the door was flung open from inside, and the snake-arm-thing came rushing out.

From its point of view, the only person immediately visible was a wizard in a top hat, in the corner on the far side of the room, clearly casting some kind of spell. Its headlong rush to crush this annoyance was interrupted when it barreled headlong into Posy, standing invisibly in front of Jed! Things got messy, as one by one, the party struck at the creature and became visible. Suddenly, it found itself surrounded and beset. FuBar jumped on its back, likely hoping to apply a choke. Posy hadn’t been knocked back by the impact, so she came up from a crouch and put two arrows into the thing’s eyes at point-blank range. Finally, Pai became visible, violently presenting his holy symbol and shouting “Back, accurséd thing!”

Disconcerted, the demon reeled backwards, seeking better ground. Of course, FuBar was carried along, still clinging to its neck. Unfortunately, that put him square in front of the second demon-thing, coming out the door to see what all the commotion was about. Even forewarned by his keen sense of smell and his uncanny danger sense, FuBar wasn’t able to parry six attacks coming from behind.

He was hit four times. Two of those were critical hits. Both came up “maximum normal damage”. The other two were just above-average damage rolls. FuBar went from “undamaged” to “below -5 x HP” in one second, and died without even a HT roll.

The party went into a frenzy of vengeance. Pai continued to apply the power of his faith and his goddess, stepping forward and forcing both demons back into their lair, even as the others wreaked bloody vengeance. Even with all the damage the party was handing out, though, they still weren’t falling.

At one point, Needles found himself facing the second demon, all alone. It turned all of its attention to him, striking six times at his vitals. Dodging like wild, Needles was able to evade all the attacks!

Posy planted a couple of arrows into the first one’s hands, pinning them both to the outside of the door, as it tried to pull the door shut behind it. Needles hacked at any parts he could reach, while Jed finally got to throw a spell through the door. Between Posy putting arrows through hands and Needles cutting at arms, it wasn’t long before the first demon was entirely (ahem) disarmed. It then fell apart into ectoplasmic goo, the way summoned beings tend to do.

Now that they knew the trick of it, dispatching the second one wasn’t too difficult, even inside its own lair. The only bit of a kerfuffle came when Needles found himself being attacked from surprise by a trio of undead, animated hands.

Like that, but more gnarly and evil.

The first took a wild leap and tried to gouge out his eyes, but he was too (Hasted!) quick and dodged. Another tried to land a foul blow, but as it turns out, Needles’ most heavily armored location is his groin. He’s a street-fightin’ man, after all. His parry impaled one, and the others scurried away to escape the burning power of Pai’s faith.

The party was in some disarray at this point, mourning their fallen comrade. Not so much that they forgot to loot the room, of course, but some.

They found that the demons’ master was long dead. They found a dwarf skeleton in repose on a fine couch, clutching a wand and an iron lockbox, wearing the traditional poncho-and-skirt combination of the dwarven empire. They found a quartz IOUN stone under his pillow. Furthermore, there was a small cabinet full of clothes and bronze jewelry.  (“What’s a nasal?”)  They packed it all up for later inventory. Without Alric along, they were forced to leave the fine couch.

While they were getting organized, they were hailed from the doorway. D’arth Loathing, who had previously tried out for the team and been turned down, was standing there, two-handed sword in hand. (GM: In-game substitution for the fallen FuBar, since the character sheet was on hand.) After some tense negotiations, it was established that both sides were in agreement that FuBar’s death was a bad thing.

In fact, it turned out that FuBar’s short will (“I, FuBar, bein’ only mildly chewed today…”) named D’arth as the recipient of all FuBar’s worldly goods, including Poutine. Being down a man, the party made a rough bargain with the corpse-eater: he would help them carry back all the treasure, he could have FuBar’s valuable, edible corpse and all his stuff, plus some pay to boot.

Getting re-oriented, the party went to the west side of the balcony, with the exception of Posy and Pai, who remained on the eastern edge, poised to act as snipers. (Well, sniper and hanger-on.) As on the floor above, there was a large open doorway, with two closed doors on either side of it. They could heard the sound of trickling water as they approached.

A fountain with a statue of leaping carp was inside, running with clear, clean water. This was an oddity. D’arth boldly stepped up and drank a palmful of water. “Mmm,” he remarked, smacking his lips, “tasted like roasted elf. I haven’t tasted that since…” (looks around at the humans) “…. I mean, wow, that was filling!”

Intrigued by the magic fountain, Needles also took a drink. In his case, all his little aches and pains went away, and he was restored to full Fatigue. Feeling as rested as if he had just risen from bed, he too praised the waters. Seeing this, Jed took a sip, and found himself as satiated as if he had just eaten a big dinner of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and fine ale. Jed took a couple of samples in empty potion bottles.

Back to business. They went to the left door, where Jed did his see-through-doors trick. Empty, trash and ruined furniture. They didn’t even open the door.

On the right, though, they hit paydirt. Jed could dimly see the forms of several dwarves wearing bizarre armor, hanging around tables covered in glassware, apparently some kind of alchemical lab.

Spreading the word, they again set up for door-opening. This time, they applied a Glue spell just in front of the door, then put one of their siege stones on the door, and had Posy shoot it from across the room with a blunt arrow. BOOM!  The door fell in. Jed threw a full-power bolt of lightning at one, knocking it down and seemingly out. Posy shot another in the eye (!), doing only a little damage but driving it berserk. It moved ponderously forward, “rushing” towards her at the rate of a quick walk.

The other dwarves shuffled a bit to take cover, then maintained their positions. D’arth used his sword’s great reach to poke one through the open doorway, hoping to provoke it into stepping into the gluey area, to no avail. Needles decided to hang back, sensing that something was off in this whole scene.

He was proven right when the one that Jed had knocked down stood back up. “Ok, that’s no good,” he said, even as the berserk one stepped into the glue. “Time to go.”

Everyone else agreed, they didn’t want to mess with any self-resurrecting dwarves. Luckily, since the dwarves were so weighed down by all their armor, it was easy for the party to make an organized withdrawal.

In possession of new knowledge and (more importantly) interesting treasure, they decided to head home. The trip was uneventful, aside from the talk. The entire walk home was spent discussing exactly who owed who what. D’arth was of the opinion that, in accordance with FuBar’s will, he should get everything the sewer troll owned, including several expensive potions that the party had purchased for him just this morning. Jed disagreed, claiming that the potions had only been issued to him, not given to him. D’arth pointed out, correctly, that FuBar had considered them to be his own. Furthermore, D’arth claimed that the party still owed FuBar a fancy sword and suit of black clothes, but since he was a reasonable corpse-eater, he would accept their value in coin, instead. Jed pointed out that the ninja toys had turned out to be a dream, anyway, so nothing was owed on that count. Finally, as keeper of the party’s coin purse, Jed wanted to keep the payment for service rendered to a minimum, since D’arth had only participated in the one fight, and that hadn’t been much of anything, anyway. Of course, D’arth claimed that signing on at all entitled him to payment, even if the expected risk hadn’t turned up.

When they arrived at the gates, D’arth pulled his hood down low over his face and managed to make it past the gate guards without being ejected.

Back in town, Needles picked the lock on the dwarf wizard’s lockbox. He made an attempt at pulling some sleight of hand, but Jed’s sharp eye prevented it. Inside, they found a magic ring, some gems, and a pile of mixed coin! After identification, it turned out that the ring was a Ring Of Breath Holding, and the IOUN stone could cast Grace with its own dedicated power reserve. They were very impressed with the shininess of it all, but decided they could use the coin more, and sold both.

In the end, a full share worked out to over $18,500 each. As is the practice of Corbin, Inc., the party fund got one full share. Somewhat light-headed with the sudden influx of precious metals to his financial system, Jed agreed that D’arth could have half of FuBar’s expected share, with the other half going to the party fund.

* * *

Even if the monetary award was exceptional, experience points were relatively low, what with a dead party member, no completed quests, and comparatively little exploration. Needles was unanimously voted the Cool Point, for being the recipient of six highly-skilled attacks and coming away without so much as mussed hair. Of course, FuBar was awarded the Booby Point, for losing sight of the classic adventurer’s rule: “Always check your six.”

In accordance with FuBar’s will, D’arth took posession of the Booby Point, as well as all that savory sewer troll goodness… “Yum, yeah, no fear in this meat…”


The Quest For “Boom!”

Jed’s been moving up in the ranks of the Order of the Sun, learning the secrets of how to make things explode in different ways. It had been his intention, after the last trip to the dungeon, to request training in the hidden secrets of the order. Unless I’ve misunderstood, I believe he’s interested in the Blast Ball spell, specifically.

As I’ve mentioned before, this training will require the completion of a quest.  Assuming he makes the roll for his resurrection, he’ll be given the details of the quest before our next session. Here, then, are those details.

“Adventurers have brought back many reports of demons within the ruins that look superficially like children, despite being creatures of vile darkness. They travel in packs, and are known for exploding in a burst of hellfire and bone shards when mortally wounded.

“Master of the Ultimata Dantillus has grown interested in these creatures, which she has dubbed ‘Doomchildren’.  Her studies have hit a dead end. She has heard many eyewitness accounts, and analyzed several sets of remains. To advance her knowledge, she says she needs to study one while it is alive.

“Preferably, several.

“Your task, then, should you choose to accept it, is to collect one or more of these demons, alive and undamaged, and return it here for examination. The Lady Dantillus proposes to teach you one of the secret spells of the Order in exchange. Should you obtain more than one, she would pay a premium of three gold pieces for each one after the first, and would smile upon your future endeavors.”

Taking The Nerf Bat To Bless

One of the first tricks the party picked up was to have everybody stop off at the church and get themselves a Bless. These days, they’re going with 2-point blessing all around, except for FuBar, who usually can’t make it into town, and so has to get by with a mere 1-point blessed button up his nose. From my perspective as the GM, there’s good and bad sides to it.

On the “pro” side:  It’s another thing to suck up excess money, which is good, because it lights a fire under them to get more money. There’s a real, immediate cost for playing a monster who can’t come into town like normal folk, which is good, because if you’re not paying for your Disadvantages, they aren’t worth points — even in a game as fast and loose as this one. It’s a buffer against them being wiped out in one shot, which takes care of any reluctance I might have to play hardball.

On the “con”: Picky to track, hard to remember who has it and who doesn’t. It’s a pain to come up with miracles that can save a person from disaster just a little bit. It’s even worse when somebody gets whacked hard, three turns go by, and then somebody says, “Hey, wait a minute, shouldn’t the miraculous hand of divinity have stooped down and sheltered so-and-so from harm a minute ago?  He shouldn’t be falling off the bridge on fire at all! He should have cake! And ice cream!”

Which brings up the point: sure, it sucks money, but not much at all. For $10, you get a 1-point Bless, which makes you better at everything you do, until you need a miracle to pull your fat out of the fire. Then, a miracle turns “dead” into “wounded”. Not even “mortally wounded”, since the example given is moving a heart shot to an arm. Now that is some bang for your buck! If they were serving that at the coffee shop, I’d buy a big cup of it every morning, just for the +1 to all rolls. Come to think of it, back when I was working downtown and passed by several dozen coffee shops every morning, I would regularly pay nearly that just for a +1 to rolls to wake up in the morning, no miraculous protection required.

In the case of the Bless-on-a-person, it’s hard to envision how a person could know if they were, or were not, still blessed. With the enchantment, at least, you can say that the icon breaks, giving a nice visual indicator. But if you’ve gone in for a Bless from your friendly neighborhood cleric, and you get shot in the arm:  did you just get shot in the arm?  Or did that bullet have your name on it, it was going right for your heart, and your Bless spell jumped in front of it? How could you be sure? (I guess you could have your buddy the Holy Warrior take a look at you, but this party’s pretty low on the faithful these days, what with getting all their priests killed…)

I wonder what the existence of such a spell would do to society.  I envision peasants saving up to afford the $10 that would suddenly make them prosperous. Not that it matters, in a Dungeon Fantasy game, where the peasants working the fields in the background are just an animated backdrop for Town, and Town is just two shopkeepers, a healer, and an old guy telling stories in front of the inn.

Not Strang; no, nor Mamu neither; though by your smiling you seem to say so…

You can tell Bless is high-octane stuff, because in by-the-book Dungeon Fantasy, it requires Power Investiture 5.  That’s 5, alongside such fun party tricks as Earthquake and Storm. That’s the level of Power Investiture enjoyed by Moses. The only tier higher is PI6, the tier that includes… hey, look, there’s our old friend Resurrection!

… and now that I look at it, I see that Resurrection is a “one try” spell, so next time around, I guess we’ll need to roll and see the effective skill for the spell and roll it to make sure Jed’s not dead after all, huh, how about that (makes notes)…


Now where were we?

Oh, yeah.


I think I’m a-gonna nerf Bless.

At this point, perhaps it would be useful to point out this post over on Dungeon Fantastic, in which Peter Dell’Orto mentions that he removed Bless from his long-running campaign entirely.  I follow his suggestions pretty closely; my players could be forgiven for thinking that the biggest stained-glass window in the church was dedicated to the Great God Delorto, he gets mentioned so often.

In this case, though, I fear player revolt, so we’re going to go with something less drastic, for now.

I think the thing that bugs me most, really, is the question of how, exactly, everybody knows when they just cheated death. It wouldn’t hurt to make it a trifle more expensive, more on par with healing potions and so forth. Therefore, I’m just going to say that The Church has announced, they will no longer provide the Bless spell to be cast on people.

Why? Precisely because the layman can’t tell when a Bless has worn off! It has come to the attention of the priesthood that folks are pushing their luck, taking risks that they ordinarily wouldn’t take, because “I’m protected by the gods! Hey, y’all, watch this!” Tembladera’s the kind of town where you find people standing on the bar at three in the morning, lighting themselves on fire. On a week night. When they take up risky behavior, it’s a hazard for miles around.

Mechanically, we’ll do it like this.  If somebody picks up a blessed button or the like, I’ll give ’em a poker chip. Flash the chip, get the bonus. Take a hit, turn in your chip, and we’ll figure out your miracle. Lose your chip, well, I guess you were almost bit by a black widow back at camp, or you didn’t step in the pile of leaves that had a rattlesnake in it.

… and I’m sure somebody’s immediately thinking, “We’ll just hire a cleric and have them pray for us on the way out of town!”  Sure, that’ll work. Except for, there’s a few hurdles to clear, first. You’ve got to find a cleric, which has been problematic in the past. You’ve got to find a cleric, willing to go into the dungeon for day-labor pay, who has PI5.  That, I would describe as “challenging”.  Then you’ve got to fast talk or browbeat that cleric into disobeying the standard orders of the higher-ups. Clerics with PI5 are often known for being wise and strong of will. You go through all that trouble, you deserve your 1-point Bless.

Somebody could always play a cleric, but I reckon that’s a drastic move. I don’t expect they’ll go that far, just for one spell.

Anyway, if they manage to thread that needle and get the spell cast directly on themselves, as they have been, well, like I said:  the layman cannot tell if they are under a Bless or not. I’ll make a note of it, and apply the effects as necessary. If it goes away, I won’t say anything.

Any player rebellion?  😉


Favorite Moves

Over time, most characters are going to develop a fondness for certain attacks. We’ve seen a lot of experimentation as people worked out what made sense for their character’s stats. The way the PCs fight has evolved as we (slowly, oh so very slowly) work out the parts of the combat system we didn’t understand before, as people have become aware of options, as experience points have been spent to improve discovered strengths and paper over unsuspected weaknesses. There are some actions that are becoming characteristic of certain PCs.

Even so, we’ve pretty much been grinding through the calculations and consequences every time. “Rapid Strike, which is -6 for each attack after the first, except you’re a Weapon Master, so it’s -3 for you, but you’re spending Fatigue for a Flurry Of Blows…”  There’s value in this, even though it slows things down. Folks get to hear about options that might be news to them:  we’ve got one player in particular who mines the combat option cheat sheet for tricks, then others see what he’s pulling, and they copy the parts that make sense for them. Familiarity comes with repetition, and familiarity with the options and modifiers speeds things up:  we’ve got so many folks making called shots for high-value targets, they’re starting to memorize the hit location penalties, and just about everybody’s gotten comfortable with Rapid Strikes.

This last session, the combats went really smoothly. It was remarked that we were moving the turns around the table at a speed that we hadn’t seen since the Old West game. In that campaign, all the fights were like the 10-12 second gunfight from Appaloosa: a bunch of guys standing around insulting each other, followed by a few seconds of a bunch of guys blazing away, followed by bleeding. (No, really, the first time a PC died, he took something like six bullets to the torso, won the fight, and then bled to death because he was the second in line to get first aid. Thirty minutes of bleeding is bad for the complexion, kids.)

“That was quick.”

“Yeah, everybody could shoot.”

Incidentally, in Pyramid #3-74, Hans-Christian Vortisch, the mind behind GURPS Tactical Shooting, breaks down that very gunfight in GURPS detail, along with several others. There’s a lot of All-Out Attack (Determined) in there. I recall that being the case with our Old West game, as well.

Anyhow, point is, when you cut down on the options you consider, you can make your decisions faster when it’s your turn. Too many options lead to analysis paralysis. As it happens, though, most characters are going to have a very small selection of “go-to” moves, that they’ll use over and over.

For example…

Alric: The party’s Big Man has been switching between maul and great axe a lot, as he goes between the roles of “damage-per-second” and “door-opener”.

  • Cleave:  Used when two targets present themselves side-by-side, as they so often do. A Rapid Strike using the great axe against the torso. Effective skill 16 + 1 fine weapon +1 weapon bond -3 Rapid Strike with Weapon Master = 15; does 3d+13 cutting.
  • Decapitation:  A popular move with the whole party, it seems. A normal attack, with the great axe, against the neck of a standing opponent. Effective skill 18 -5 neck = 13; does 3d+13 cutting, with a x2 wounding modifier.

From time to time, he’ll change things up with an AOA version of one of these, if he sees a good opportunity.

FuBar: The exception to the rule. He actually makes a point of not using the same attack twice if he can avoid it. He’s thrown shuriken. He’s grabbed weapons with his kusari to create an opening for a comrade. He’s thrown potions and scattered them behind himself while fleeing wildly. He’s knocked down a zombie with a thrown severed head. (He threatened to use Jed’s head as a weapon in the same way, but finally decided against it.)

If FuBar ever does develop an actual signature move, I fear it’ll be some sort of “Johnny Cage”-inspired horribleness.

Gabby:  Gabby fights exclusively with rapier and main-gauche. She’s got lots of things going on, on her character sheet, and we’ve probably screwed up the rules as they apply to her more than we have for any other subject, short of magic.

To be frank, I’ve been a little bothered by Gabby. (No, no, wait, hear me out, now!)  She’s got gobs and gobs of points dedicated to making her hell on wheels in melee combat. She’s got the highest weapon skill in the group. She’s got more effective options available to her than anybody else. And… I’ve gotten the feeling sometimes that that very plethora of options is a problem, that it’s such a huge bite to chew that it ends up with that paralysis of choice, and so in actual play, more often than not, Gabby’s actions amount to “I poke it a lot. I need to roll anything better than an 18.”  I worry about player frustration, honestly.

Lately, though, she’s started exploiting more of her potential, and it shows in the kinds of attacks she’s been throwing.

  • Dual-weapon: A normal Attack maneuver, in which she strikes with both her rapier and her main-gauche. She can attack two targets, but if she uses both attacks on a single target, that target defends at -1. She cannot perform a Rapid Strike! (We’ve goofed this sooo many times…) If she takes the default torso hit location, her rapier is at an effective skill of 20, doing 1d+2 imp, and her main-gauche is at 18, doing 1d+1, either cutting or impaling.
    • Since an 18 always fails, there’s nothing to be gained by rolling against an effective 20. If there’s nothing else to soak up excess skill — see below — and if the default torso hit location is acceptable, there’s no reason not to go for a Deceptive Attack. At a minimum, taking -2 to the rapier would leave an effective 18 skill, meaning the same chance to hit, and the target of that attack would defend at -1. If she were ever to meet an enemy with great active defenses, like another fencing Weapon Master, she might make both attacks Deceptive. If she reduced both attacks to an effective 12 skill, the target would defend against the rapier at -4 and the main-gauche at -3…. or -5/-4 if aiming at the same target.
    • It doesn’t take much DR at all to hamper Gabby’s damage rolls. Therefore, if her opponents aren’t soft and squishy all over, she’ll likely want to go for high-value, lightly-armored locations. Lately, she’s been directing her dual attacks at enemies’ two eyes; at -9 to hit, that gives her effective skills of 11 and 9. Luckily (heh), she has Extraordinary Luck, so even if the dice aren’t cooperating, every half-hour, she can nudge ’em.
    • Another favorite is the vitals, for skill of 17/15… which could be made deceptive to 13/13 for -2/-1 to defense (or -3/-2, for a single target, remember).
  • Rapid Strike: As a Weapon Master, Gabby only pays -3 for her extra attacks in a Rapid Strike. Less, if she burns Fatigue… but, then, there’s been some oddities about Gabby’s Fatigue and how it recovers, lately, so it seems like she’s being a bit more tight-fisted about spending it.
    • Two attacks with rapier at torso, both effective skill 17.
    • Two at the vitals would be at effective skill 14, or three at 11.

Jed: Being a Bard-Wizard, the first tool to come to Jed’s hand has always been a song. Since he picked up that awesome staff with the purple flames, though, he’s been more willing to mix it up, hand to hand. No word, as yet, if his recent post-death experience will change his ways.

At a skill of 12, Jed isn’t pulling any fancy tricks. Generally, he swings for 1d+5+2 burning, which is pretty darn good for a spell-caster. I believe he’s gone for an AOA (Strong) at least once, which would bump his damage to 1d+7+2 burn.  Probably fighting zombies. I could have sworn he whacked something in the face, but that would have dropped his effective skill to 7, which seems really unlikely.

Needles: Ah, Needles, the well-known engine of destruction. He’s all DPS. He’s not only a Weapon Master with his chosen weapon, he’s also gone to some trouble to spend experience elsewhere to improve his damage-dealing prowess. (I just noticed again that Needles has Lifting ST 1 and Striking ST 3, so he’s essentially bought a point of ST, hold the Hit Point. “Wiry”, I guess you’d call ‘im…)  In particular, he’s picked up Slayer Training for a shortsword swing to the neck, and the Run And Hit power-up. That last one gives him outstanding mobility on the battlefield, which he has used to line up multiple targets for his Rapid Strikes.

Needles carries two shortswords, but I don’t believe he’s ever held both at the same time. He didn’t invest in the dual-weapon traits like Gabby, so if he ever did use them both and try to attack with both of them, he would suffer penalties to both attacks — crippling penalties, in the case of the off-hand — and he wouldn’t get all his nice Weapon Master stuff for Rapid Strikes. Then again, if he just carried one in each hand, he would pick up an extra Parry. At any rate, he favors the fine, balance, Penetrating one. With it, he has an effective skill of 19, doing 2d+5(2) cut or 1d+3(2) imp. Ever since he got that extra die of damage with the swing, he’s favored it pretty much exclusively.

  • Stand-Up Fight:  Needles likes to share the love, so he’s prone to performing Rapid Strikes for two attacks (-3) against the neck, at an effective skill of 14.
    • “I Ain’t Got Time For This”: Needles isn’t afraid to burn Fatigue when he’s in a hurry. He’s been known to spend 3 Fatigue to half his Rapid Strike penalties for a total of three attacks, at the neck, each at an effective skill of 15. (We’ve goofed on that, too, and counted it as just 1 Fatigue for the whole turn’s-worth of attacks, when it should be 1 per attack. When we finally realized our error, someone was just on the verge of trying to launch seven attacks…) It’s not something he can do very many times in one fight, but it’s been a win-maker. The fight that’s made him famous, when he was locked in a room with a bunch of goblinoids, he started his first action doing this. I think he might have done it again, on his second action, but couldn’t swear to it. I don’t remember there being much of a third action.
  • Sneak Attack: Of course, Needles preference is to work from behind. He’ll usually perform an All-Out Attack (Double), then Rapid Strike one of those attacks into two (-3), using a Telegraphic Attack (+4) with a swing targeting the neck (-2, with slayer training). That would give him one attack at +2, then two more attacks at -1. And now that I see the math laid out, I think we’ve been doing it wrong, and applying the Rapid Strike penalties to all the attacks, when it should not apply to the other attack given by the AOA maneuver. Not that it matters, so much, since we’re still talking about effective skills of 21 and 18. Either way, he can absorb some darkness penalties.

Posy: All bow, all day long. I don’t think Posy’s ever readied a melee weapon, that I can remember. Once she used her natural claws on an unsuspecting target. There was some discussion once about the possibility of her using her bow as a club, but she decided to put two arrows into whatever-it-was in the end, anyway. She’s a Heroic Archer and has paid points to do the “two arrows at once” trick. Without bothering to aim, she’s got an effective 23 skill, before range and hit location penalties. She’s doing 1d+5 imp with each arrow, and the only reason not to fire two would be conservation of ammo.

As it is, she’s carrying two quivers, one divided into two compartments, so she can keep three kinds of arrows organized. Just wait until she finds out about the Cornucopia enchantment… In fact, it seems to me that even a small investment in enchantments could prove useful for Posy. Enchanted arrows can be astonishin’ cheap.

  • “Heart.” (zip-thwap!):  The standard shot, two to the vitals.  Effective skill 20, minus range modifiers.
  • “Head.” (zip-thump!):  Used on zombies and such. When heart shots aren’t enough, go for right between the eyes. Two shots at the skull. Effective 16, or 18 if they’re running away.
  • “Eye.” (zip-squish!) “Other eye.” (zip-squish!): Once or twice, just for variety, there have been some eye shots. Effective skill of 14. Ends up about as damaging as a skull hit, but blinds ’em, too. So far, everything that she’s hit anywhere in the head region has immediately died, so she hasn’t gotten any benefit from taking that extra -2, but now they’re getting into territory where there’s monsters that won’t necessarily die just from a single arrow in their brain. Might also come in handy against anything with heavy DR that doesn’t cover its eyes, like folks in heavy armor, or giant man-eating armadillos.


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