Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: tactics

Technical Footwork

One thing I noticed about the fights with the flame lords was the effect of movement. The battlefield consisted of a series of smallish chambers with rough entrances that were more than a single hex wide. Nearly all the movement came in single-hex steps and retreats, but it made a big difference in the outcome.

At one point, the party held all three entrances to the room. They had (if I remember correctly) the left blocked by TKotBO and the two shield-hirelings, the right controlled by Alric and Needles, and the rear covered by a couple of hirelings. Jed and Posy had a more-or-less central location, and had a mostly-clear shot all three ways. It seemed like a strong position, tactically speaking.

Then, the flame lords realized their ranged attacks weren’t going to work, thanks to the party’s resistance to fire. They had to fall back on fists and feet. In other words, they had to enter close combat. Their targets started taking penalties for using weapons with reach in close combat. Given the choice between eating the penalties or retreating a step, the PCs chose to retreat. This was enough to open a gap for the enemy to push through.

Another case where movement and positioning made the difference was when the party was considering an attack on the big chamber. The entrance to the chamber is a mostly-vertical, not-entirely-straight drop of about twenty-five feet. At the bottom, there’s a convenient ledge to land on, but it’s between two and three hexes wide at its widest. Four flame lords had positioned themselves with their backs against the wall.

Anyone landing on the ledge would be faced with the possibility of simply being pushed off. That would lead to a long fall, likely ending in a pool of lava. Fire resistance is all well and good, but nobody wanted to test it against that kind of heat. (Which is good, because their potions would fail. “Volcano” is specifically listed as an example of something requiring the second level of resistance.) Anyway, the fall would be plenty enough to kill anyone who can’t fly. (Though, now that I think of it, I haven’t actually run the numbers for Posy. Catfall might be enough to turn a fatal fall into a cat-folk barbecue.) If the PCs could get a large enough force into place, they might be able to resist being shoved off into space, but the tightness of the quarters works against them.

Finally, there’s the question of the approach itself. It’s twisty enough to hamper long-distance sniping. It’s steep enough that most climbers are going to want to use a rope, which leads to questions as to the flame-retardant qualities of fine hemp rope. The potions protect the character and anything carried, but I don’t believe that covers a rope that’s uncoiled over a distance of more than thirty feet. Only expert climbers are likely to be able to make the descent in safety and dignity, since anyone relying on a rope will probably find it burnt away everywhere that isn’t actually covered by their hands.

Situations like these are why the gear list includes “chain”.

All that said… Once Gabby returns, and TKotBO’s less-encumbered replacement joins the group, the party’s overall agility and climbing ability will suddenly shoot through the roof. If the new kid really does turn out to be a cat-folk martial artist, they could just take that ledge outright. Needles and Gabby are the team’s climbers, and sneaky to boot. Posy and the feline-to-be-named-later have Catfall, so they could pretty much just jump the twenty-five feet, expecting to land on their feet. (Posy would still have to deal with the difficulties of using a bow at knife-fight range, of course, but that doesn’t seem to be too much of a challenge.) Alric’s a big enough pile o’ hit points, and enough of a mountaineer, that he could join the festivities as well.

Assuming the want to pick a fight with the flame lords at all. In the past, the motivation for moving against them was based entirely on what they had. First, it was the orichalcum relics. Then, it was the rumored magical short sword, which they found on their last trip. At this point, the only treasure that the party knows is held by the flame lords is the amulet that they, themselves, handed over to them. I feel its against the spirit of things to count recovered treasure as “profit”, really.  If the PCs hand something over one day, or have it taken from them by force, and then take it back the next, that’s not a profit, that’s recovering a loss. So, while the amulet might well be worth plenty of cash, it wouldn’t be worthwhile for the experience points.

(The management makes no statement regarding the flame lord’s actual treasure, or lack of, merely the treasure that they are known, by the PCs, to have. For all they know, the flame lords keep a tribe of leprechauns tied up in the back, and they’ve got a closet full of pots o’ gold and piles o’ lucky charms. And a pony. TWO ponies!)

 

Wizard! (Half-bard, y’all) What is he good for?

The player who animates Mississippi Jed came back to an old question that we had previously explored. The first time around, the question was, “Since a GURPS wizard isn’t going to be throwing around pyromaniacal death in the style of Tim the Enchanter, the way we’ve come to expect and love from the D&D magic-user, what’s a wizard’s job, in Dungeon Fantasy?”

At the time, the key answer was “Dealing with attackers that the front-line fighters can’t touch.”  Oh, I mentioned all the utility of having a party member who can sense magic, both for picking out the good loot and for avoiding traps that the scout can’t even see. I’m sure notice was taken of buffing the front-line fighters. Bottom line, though, players like to go looking for the place where their character can step up, roll up its sleeves, and calmly announce: “Don’t sweat it. I got this.”

Best delivered when the rest of the party is having a “Game over, man!” moment and soiling their armor, naturally.

And that was that, for quite some time. Now, though, we’ve seen how Jed operates in play, and the question has come up again. This time, we’re looking for specifics. “Great,” the player says, “I’m the wizard, I’m in charge of MC Hammer and all other things you can’t touch. So what do I do to them?

Like, specifically? OK.

The first question is, why can’t the target be touched?  As is the way with GURPS, there are a couple of options. The big two are Insubstantiality and Injury Tolerance (Diffuse). The first, Insubstantiality, is the real deal, for creatures that just don’t interact with the physical world. The second is for things that are physical, but not really solid, like slimes, oozes, clouds of evil vapor, swarms of demonic rats, and so forth.

If the enemy is really-and-truly insubstantial, a wizard might be able to apply non-physical magic, like Charm or Sleep. In DF, the most likely opponents with true Insubstantiality are ghosts. They’re more of a job for the holy guys. Still, if it’s got a mind to befuddle or control, a wizard is better equipped to handle it than one of the sword-swingers.

A Diffuse enemy is trouble for folks fighting with melee weapons. The solution is area-affecting attacks. Think of a swarm of army ants. You won’t get anywhere trying to use an axe on them. Even if each blow kills dozens, the carpet of insects just keeps marching. However, if you pull out a flamethrower, they crisp up wholesale. You can apply damage to an entire hex-full, rather than trying to fight them on a personal scale.

Now, maybe the DF wizards aren’t the “rolling thunder” that a high-level D&D wizard can be*, but area-of-effect attacks are still their thing. Others might make do with lobbing potions or getting inventive with the environment, but nobody has the wide selection of Area spells that arcane spell-casters do.

In fact, if you cast your mind back to the very last session, the party was beset in a small tunnel by a Diffuse swarm of fire-crazed rats, until Jed turned them back in disarray with an area-affecting spell. Isn’t it great when one’s natural instincts and the rules intersect?

 

* A point which I’m currently accepting for the sake of discussion, but not necessarily agreeing with. I’m pretty sure a sufficiently motivated DF wizard could potentially create a global (or plate-shaped, if your world is flat, I guess) apocalypse, with the right selection of spells. It’s like, who would win in a fight between Bat-man, Bruce Lee, and President Obama?  If we’re talking about a fist-fight, that’s one thing, but if it comes down to it, nuking Gotham is a heck of a hay-maker.

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