Thursday, March 17, 2016

Sola Scriptura VIII

Dungeon Fantasy 2: Dungeons

Chapter 2: Mastering Dungeons

This is the part of the book that the players aren’t supposed to see. Frankly, I don’t see the issue since the details won’t be the same from game to game, dungeon to dungeon.

Anyways, diving in. First up is Dungeon Design, and the first choice is Archetype. The book gives some quick ones, with few GURPS stats: Cave, Cellar, Labyrinth, Mine, Prison, Sewer, Tomb, and Warren. The only thing remarkable is a note that it is “traditional to give the party a clue when they change sectors” and goes on to suggest skill rolls. I’ve never heard of that tradition.

And now, a sidebar, Tavern Tales and Moldy Books. This is about Rumors and Details of the dungeon. It’s basically a note to say that you’ll need these. Here’s one where I’d want to have some advice about what is a good rumor or tidbit that a Research roll would find. I’ve seen too many crappy, irrelevant rumors, and frankly I’ve written those on tables too, only to ignore them when I get that roll to my horror.

After that, we get a bit on dungeon Maps from the GM’s perspective. Other than Walls, which have DR and HP for walls (duh), none of this is GURPS-specific. For the record, the E-Heads are Scale, Walls, Ups and Downs, Area Labels, and Legend.

The Area Information has a little more. There are Doors and Locks, which again have DR and HP for those, as well as for Metalwork. There’s a graf about Inhabitants. After these are Nasty Surprises, and those start to get a little interesting. There are Traps and Curses, which will get more detail later, and Evil Runes. Christopher Rice’s article “It’s a Trap!” in Pyramid #3/62 gives quite a bit on these; it’s a needed part of the Dungeon Fantasy line. There are also bits on Gunk and Tricks; Gunk especially would be a good, short Pyramid article.

Beyond this are Obstacles. The big takeaway I get from the start of this is that you should have the height and width of any obstacles written down. In case you haven’t gotten the memo yet, but dungeon adventures often have a lot of detail with them. But for those who don’t feel the need to fret this stuff, there’s always the One-Page Dungeon. Anyways, there’s a new table for Falls, which beats breaking out the calculator to calculate falling damage, and notes about both Pits of Death and Water.

Next up are Special Features. There are the old standby of Altars, then Enchanted Fountains … hold on. Here’s something that’s unique to dungeons—the idea that folks go around jumping in strange fountains on a whim. And there are loads of D&D monsters that are hats or cloaks or other pieces of clothing, because after all, the first thing you do when you find an intact hat in a dungeon is put it on your head. Anyways, back to special features. There are changes in Mana and Sanctity, weird Statues, and Natural Features, which include ore veins and weird fungus. Here’s another oddity of the genre—folks eating random stuff in a dungeon. If you see a glowing blue-green fungus, the first thing you’d do is eat it? And yes, I have played a character who did eat the fungus. Trust me, it was in character for him.

After all this, there are two more bits. The first is Secret and Concealed Doors, which just repeats the stuff in the last chapter. There’s a note about Booty, which says that there well might be some.

The next section is Fiendish Traps. If you’re thinking that I just talked about traps, you’re right, I did. Now going through this closely, I must say I’m more impressed with the organization of the first chapter than of this one. I do suppose that bad organization could be an homage to Gygax, though this isn't stuff that's hard to find, just redundant.

Back to traps. The subheadings have how to Detect the trap, how to Disarm it, how to Circumvent it if you know it's there, whether you can Evade its Effects if you do set it off, how many Shots it has and if you can Rearm it, and whether you can Steal it. This is top-notch writing of the game mechanics of traps, and should be in the Basic Set, as it would work well in any genre. One thing that sticks out is how the Traps skill floats to many attributes: to Perception for spotting, to Dexterity for disarming, to Intelligence for stealing. This shows a 4e idea that some folks missed.

After that we have three sample traps: a concealed crossbow, frozen runes, and an illusion-covered pit. In light of traps being new to GURPS as a statted element, I would have liked more, so again I guide you to "It's a Trap!"

I don't want to blow off this section so lightly; it's one of the handiest in a GURPS book. One of the marvels of Dungeon Fantasy and Action (I don't have Monster Hunters; the genre doesn't interest me) is how Kromm gets so much utility out of so few words. Much of it is because most of the background work is in the Basic Set. It's a shame that it took so long for him to come up with the worked example supplement. Had Evil Stevie published something like this back in 1989, when there were more tabletop RPG players in general, it could have pushed GURPS higher in market share. It would have been behind D&D, of course, but it could have picked up GMs that GURPS's genericness and toolkit approach otherwise put off.

There's a short blurb about Monsters and Player Knowledge, which says to change up monsters to screw with the peeking munchkins. Then it's on to Perilous Encounters: the monsters. 

First up are Encounter Types: Wandering Monsters and Set Encounters. Kromm rolls 3d to see if a wandering monster shows up, which seems cumbersome to me. It does allow for players to be stealthy to shun encounters, though that means always shifting the target number for clues, which should usually be possible. Maybe an encounter usually happens on a 7 or less, which a Stealth roll can change, while clues always happen on a 14 or more? Regardless of the number of dice, rolling more often for loud or otherwise obvious parties makes more sense to me than raising the target number. I did like the idea of “9 or less chance of 2d orcs,” which would enhance the idea that monsters in the dungeon have lives.

Creating Monsters gives not only advice for doing just that, but it also gives a new (well, new for December 2007) stat block and some advice for using it. The biggest changes from the Bestiary chapter in Campaigns are putting DR with the attributes and writing out attacks. That last one should be in a new printing of Campaigns, no waiting for a new edition. 

There are monster classes, which are mostly for skill rolls to recognize them. Some folks take these classes more seriously than I; to me, many of the monster classes are too generic to mean much. Both dragons and orcs are Mundane. In terms of identification and basic effects? That's fine. In terms of trying to handle them in-game, or build a new monster off existing ones? Don't kid me. One of the reasons to have pre-written monsters is to use them as a base for new ones. At a minimum, the hit location table involved needs to be in the notes if it isn't obvious.

A few more notes on this format. In the right stat column, there's a blank spot in the middle. You can make use of this. In the official bestiary format in the Steve Jackson Games formatting template, you'd put the weight there. For most monsters, this isn't a big deal. Also, if your monster has a Block defense, you'd put it on the line with the other defenses, and move up SM and DR. The shield-bearing monsters in Mirror of the Fire Demon have this.

Another minor quibble is that, at least in this book, the monsters don't have how many hexes they take up on a battle mat. Likewise, melee attacks herein lack Reach and ranged attacks lack Range and Accuracy (and Rate of Fire and Bulk, when those would be relevant). 

Now, onto the Sample Monsters. First up is the Acid Spider, which is, uh, a big spider for the third act that injects acid when it bites. Then we have the as-Sharak, or the rakshasa, a weretiger/demon. There’s the Crushroom, a big walking mushroom. There’s the staple of the Dire Wolf, then Doomchildren, which are little demons that explode when you kill them. Think of the Bomb Bobs from Marathon, for those who remember Marathon. The next page has four monsters that are exactly what they say on the tin: Erupting Slime, Flaming Skull, Flesh-Eating Ape, Foul Bat (Batchala). The next page also has four monsters that are exactly what they say on the tin: Frost Snake, Giant Rat, Golem-Armor Swordsman, Horde Zombie. Next we have the Mindwarper, a mind flayer knockoff, the Peshkali, a six-armed demon, and the Siege Beast, a giant with a hammer riveted to its hand. And then we have the Stone Golem, which should need no introduction, the Toxifier, a demonic poisonous cloud, and the Triger, a nasty three-headed tiger.

This is a good starter list of monsters. Personally, I’d like for someone to crack open the Chainmail fantasy supplement and make versions of the monsters therein. These are basic monsters, and common for what many folks want to do with Dungeon Fantasy: play old D&D adventures. There needs to be some more Plants and Faeries, since there aren’t many of them yet and they have some common characteristics. They could have supplements like Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2 was for Slimes.

Oh well. You do reviews with the supplements you have, not the supplements you don’t have, and back to this one. Balancing Encounters has some notes about, well, balancing encounters. There are entries for Offense, Defense, and Mobility, but I can sum all of this up in that if it can’t do damage to your players’ characters at all, or if your players’ characters can’t do damage to it at all, maybe it isn’t a good combat encounter. The text gives three levels of toughness: Fodder, Worthy, and Boss. There isn’t hard-and-fast advice for what monster gets what level, nor should there be. Think about D&D Challenge Ratings and all the hell they make. I'm not big on encounter balance anyways. Players gotta know when to walk away and know when to run. And for that, I'd offer up GURPS Action 2: Exploits, which has a chase system in it.

More relevant on this page is the sidebar about Combat Rules. Trademark Moves means your players should come up with their common attacks in advance and write them down. I was in a D&D game about 10 years ago wherein we got higher attributes if we did this, so think about awarding character points for a player who does this. Dumb Monsters means monsters shouldn’t try stuff like Deceptive Attack or Feints. Personally, Deceptive Attacks and Feints should be characteristics of monsters with IQ 10+, not for your common ogres. “And Stay Down!” says that fodder monsters should go down with any damage, while worthy monsters should die at 0 HP. I have all fodder and worthy monsters dropping at 0 HP, which saves rolling, especially as few such monsters would make their HT rolls more than once or twice anyways. Having fodder monsters drop after taking even a point of damage leads to metagaming, which was common in D&D 4e games with minion monsters, which had this rule in effect.

And now there is another section about Treasure. Among the notes are that Rare Artifacts might be objets d’art. Uh, that isn’t the definition of Rare Artifacts that I’ve always understood. Mine’s “rare and mighty magic items that can fuck up the world and corrupt you if you abuse them.” Weapons and Armor need their stats right away. Magic Items and Blessed Items will want prices to become power items. Magical Writings and Potions are what you expect. Unique Items are more in line with my idea of artifacts. You don’t always need the underlying spells and the prices, though power items need prices because their FP is keyed to their non-magical price. Is there a quick and dirty way to estimate prices of magic items?

How Much? advises us to not worry too much about Monty Haul campaigns, which is mostly right and contradicts Gygax’s biggest fear. Playing Hard to Get deals with hiding the treasure. Dead Bodies need a Search roll. Containers have stats for common ones. Handily, there is a rule for how to handle fragile items in trunks that players have smashed. Troves are, well, piles of loot, maybe behind a door.

Beyond the Dungeon has advice on two other kinds of adventures. The first are Wilderness Adventures, which again are in DF16. Town Adventures mostly talks about the “urban dungeon crawl,” which aren’t quite all of town adventures. I suspect a supplement sometime down the line. Making Everybody Useful is a graf for handling each template and making sure someone playing them has something to do.

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