New technique: Sweeping Slash

Recently a player in my Star Wars campaign asked if there was a way they could attack several foes near them at once, or rather if there was a better way of doing it than with Rapid Strike. Cleaving Strike from Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups came to mind immediately but I had a couple problems recommending it. Firstly, I’m personally extremely averse to All-Out Attack and almost never do it as a player. Cleaving Strike is therefore dead to me, so I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone else. Secondly, I really think that Force-users leaping around with lightsabers should be capable of doing something like that without remaining defenseless. So I came up with this:

Sweeping Slash (H)

Default: Any Melee Weapon skill -6; cannot exceed Melee Weapon skill.

Prerequisites: Unique Technique (Sweeping Slash) perk and one of Weapon Master or Trained By A Master (or alternatively ST 18+ for non-force weapons)

This is a special use of the Committed Attack maneuver. You attack up to three opponents adjacent to each other in a line within your reach with a wide swinging attack. All attacks must be with the same swung weapon. You may move two steps (before or after the attack, or split between both), you may not retreat, and all of your defenses are at -2 until your next turn. Unlike with a normal Committed Attack, you may parry with the weapon used to attack.

Additionally, if using a non-force weapon, at least one of the following conditions must be met by each attack in the sequence otherwise all subsequent attacks are lost:

  • you miss your foe
  • your foe retreats or dodges
  • you knock your foe back or down
  • you hit a limb or extremity with enough damage to dismember it
  • you kill your foe

As a minor consolation, foes struck with non-force weapon suffer a -1 penalty to DX and HT rolls made to avoid falling down due to knockback and to avoid knockdown/stunning.


This is essentially a bit more cinematic version of Cleaving Strike optimized for force weapons (but usable with any swing-capable melee weapon). Retaining most of the defensive penalties of Committed Attack colors this as part of aggressive styles without going too far with an All-Out Attack. I have built the technique using the technique design system from Martial Arts as follows:

  • A base penalty of -6 for a triple Rapid Strike with Trained by a Master or Weapon Master (and the same reasoning for high ST being equally valid as in Dungeon Fantasy)
  • Benefit: being able to parry with the attacking weapon, -1
  • Drawback: targets must be adjacent to one another, +1
  • Drawback: the conditions which must be met in order to not lose subsequent attacks for a non-force weapon, +1
  • Benefit: penalty to victim’s DX/HT rolls vs knockback and knockdown/stunning, -1

All of these come down to a default of -6 and the technique is Hard because it enables multiple strikes. I chose Committed Attack as the base because such a move without that kind of drawbacks would essentially be a rather cheap way to buy off the Rapid Strike penalty, especially since we use the house rule where each point invested in techniques counts double.

I am currently not counting the Unique Technique perk required for this technique against the limit of style perks. Doing so, or on the other hand completely dispensing with the perk wouldn’t be a big deal.

Grappling techniques in Fantastic Dungeon Grappling

GMs using Fantastic Dungeon Grappling (FDG for the remainder of this article) in games other than DFRPG or even GURPS Dungeon Fantasy often encounter questions about using various grappling techniques from Basic Set and Martial Arts. Having a technique-happy player create a grappling character for my recently started campaign, I had to answer many such questions myself, so I decided to take a look at all techniques presented in Martial Arts. In this article I will address how those techniques could be treated under FDG as well as how to improve them.

Arm or Wrist Lock, Choke Hold, Finger Lock, Head Lock and Leg Lock are all treated the same way in FDG: grab the desired body part (or just the torso, if the extra -2 to DX for grabbing a specific location is of no concern to you), generate CP, and then convert those CP to damage via Injure the Foe. Any differences originally present between them are below the resolution of FDG.

Grabbing a specific hit location can be improved as a targeted attack with a grab, for example Targeted Attack (Wrestling Grab/Face), while applying injury would require its own targeted attack, e.g. Targeted Attack (Sumo Wrestling Injure the Foe/Arm).

Throws from locks are, as per the example given for a neck lock under I Grapple His Face! on FDG p. 8, simply damaging takedowns. They can be improved as, to give an example, Targeted Attack (Judo Takedown/Neck).

Targeted attacks for grabs use the grappling hit location penalties found at the start of FDG p. 3, which are half of the standard hit location penalties. Those for inflicting damage of any kind use the standard ones. Note that unlike the original grappling techniques, these targeted attacks may only remove half (round in your favor) of the hit location penalty. If closer resemblance of the original techniques is more important to you than systemic consistency, you could allow for these targeted attacks to improve their penalties fully, but this moves FDG away from its concept that grappling should function in the same way striking does.

Hand Catch and Hand-Clap Parry simply become Grabbing Parry as presented on FDG p.3. Improving them would be a separate hard technique for each hit location being grabbed (weapons would count as one).

Armed Grapple is unchanged. It is in fact the Armed Grappling Attack on FDG p. 2 and can be improved as a hard technique. The penalties for grappling a specific hit location can additionally be bought off via targeted attack, for example Targeted Attack (Axe/Mace Grab/Neck).

Bind Weapon is treated as a Weapon/Shield Bind from FDG p. 3 and requires no improvement.

Entangle and Hook are Armed Grapples (above) with a whip or a hooked weapon, respectively, using Long-Distance Grapple from FDG p. 3.

Handcuffing can be treated as grappling the hands, with the extra -2 to penalties using those limbs remaining in place even if you switch your grip to other body parts. The victim should also be flat out unable to take specific actions depending on the position you cuffed them in; while they may be able to wield a weapon at -2 if you cuffed their hands in front of them, they should not be able to do so at all if you cuffed their hands behind their back, for example. Similar GM discretion should be exercised while  handcuffing; you should only be able to cuff a person behind their back if you’re standing in their rear hex. All other special considerations from Martial Arts should be disregarded (yes, the victim can parry your attempt to attach a cuff to an inanimate object – by yanking the chain). To remove the handcuffs, the victim must use the Escape skill. Handcuffing can be improved via Targeted Attack (Judo or Wrestling Handcuffing/Hand).

Judo Throw is treated as an attack on the turn immediately after a successful parry but as a quick contest after a grapple in Martial Arts, even though Basic Set treats it as an attack in both cases. DFRPG follows suit so this move does not require any special treatment under FDG. You may want to decide on how to treat a damaging throw, because it does not exist in DFRPG and it works differently between Martial Arts and FDG. The former assigns an additional -1 penalty to the attack roll and thrust-1 damage without bonus for skill, while under the latter as per Kiss the Wall on p. 8 there is no attack penalty but it does thrust-2 damage with the standard FDG high skill bonus. I would recommend the FDG approach.

Leg Grapple is simply a grapple targeting a leg.

Neck Snap, Wrench Limb and Wrench Spine lose their special status of being ST-based techniques and become simple cases of causing injury to a specific hit location after a grapple. They can be improved with, for example, Targeted Attack (Wrestling Injure the Foe/Neck).

Sacrifice Throw… mechanically speaking, I see very few cases where you’d want to use this technique instead of a normal All-Out Attack judo throw. Maybe you’re counting on your opponent parrying instead of using any other defense, or maybe landing on top of them is of critical importance to you. A deceptive attack judo throw from an All-Out Attack (Determined) is strictly superior otherwise. If you wanted, you could transfer the special effect of this All-Out Attack variant into FDG verbatim and it would work without issue. The downside is the added complexity which you probably don’t want if you’re running FDG in the first place, especially since you can increase your skill (to perform deceptive attacks, for example) via CP expenditure. So unless you’re really into the details, just do a normal judo throw with the desired attack options.

Scissors Hold is just a case of grabbing the opponent by their leg(s) using your own, and can not be improved other than via Targeted Attack (Wrestling Grab/Leg). Use the same posture restrictions as in Martial Arts.

Sweep becomes the iconic example of Sweep the Leg! from FDG p. 8. It can not be improved and does not take any kind of penalty to its attack.

Trip works as described in Martial Arts. It is not really a grappling move, but I’ve included it here for the sake of completeness since it’s a technique for the grappling skills.

Backbreaker is covered under I Grapple His Face! on FDG p. 8.

Binding should be treated similar to Handcuffing. If using cuffs, the only difference is you can also target the victim’s feet. If using a rope, you can also target their arms and legs, but the victim automatically removes the rope from all bound hit locations if they reduce their CP to where they no longer suffer any DX penalty. The exception to this is if you bind all of their limbs; they can then only get rid of the bindings using the Escape skill. Binding can be improved via Targeted Attack (Judo or Knot-Tying Binding/Arm, Hand, Foot or Leg).

Piledriver is just a variant backbreaker targeting the skull instead.


And that covers all of the grappling techniques from Martial Arts. It just shows how Fantastic Dungeon Grappling is both streamlined, flexible and comprehensive.

Thief buffs for Dungeon Fantasy

After I announced the Martial Artist buffs to my players, I got asked to fix Thieves too. Sucking in combat in comparison to other professions is not the only thing they often catch flak for, but it’s what I wanted to focus on. I originally wrote this article an entire year ago, but put it in a drawer due to wanting to playtest it first… other things took priority after the playtest and eventually I forgot about it. In the meantime ideas on how to make Thieves better have become more widespread in the community so some of this may be old news to you, but amplifying the signal never hurts.

1. Perfect Balance is now an optional advantage for Thieves, not a mandatory one.

Opinions are divided on this advantage. It can certainly be useful, but for example over the course of 16 sessions in my current DF campaign so far there were exactly zero opportunities where it would have enabled a Thief to do something cool, something other professions could not, or would have a hard time trying. Its bonus to Acrobatics and Climbing is nice, but very point inefficient if the Thief doesn’t encounter many tight spaces to walk on (such as in a fully dungeon-based campaign like mine). Hence, making it optional to make space for some other traits dearly needed by Thieves to be more viable.

Update: since I originally wrote this article my DF campaign has run its course over a total of 42 sessions and I still can’t remember opportunities for Perfect Balance to justify its point investment. A part of this is on me since I didn’t really think about providing said opportunities, but if something like this happened in my campaign it is bound to happen in others as well.

2. Trim the skills required by the profession template.

It is a rather common argument that some of the obligatory starting skills for Thieves such as Filch or Smuggling don’t get many usage opportunities in typical Dungeon Fantasy campaigns, or that they should even be rolled into other skills. I personally prefer Peter Dell’Orto’s variant which saves 7 points by dropping some skills to optional and merging others.

3. Weapon Master (Knives), up to 10 levels of Striking ST (Only on surprise attack) and Backstabber are now a core part of the profession template as optional advantages.

These were previously listed as Thief power-ups in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11 so some players may have missed them, but they are in fact found on the Thief template in DFRPG (except for Backstabber). This is just getting them in the front row, to make good mileage out of the next item on the docket.

4. Use the Disappearing and Sniping rules from GURPS Action 2 (reprinted in GURPS After The End 2 with additional detail).

These allow Thieves  to backstab more than once per combat, as well as to “backstab” with ranged weapons. The Disappear technique included in Backstabber applies to both Disappearing and Sniping, but the First Strike perk still applies only to the first attack in a fight.

5. Heroic Archer and Throwing Master are now optional advantages for Thieves.

This ties into a topic for another day (why is Scout the only capable archer in the game?), but it has been requested often enough and I certainly think it makes sense. Throwing Master is a Krommpost, by the way, and is an analogue to Heroic Archer.

6. The Animals, Faeries and Hybrids specialties of the Physiology skill are now background skills on the Thief template.

Thieves need access to vitals to do their best work. Sure, the skull hit location is mostly where expected on any creature, and armor chinks are another viable option, but vitals are much easier to hit, especially if a Thief is unable to backstab. This lets them do so against many more foes beyond humanoids but still within the bounds of what is established for the stereotype. Physiology is a hard skill, but Thieves have IQ 13 per default so they’re able to use it just fine.


The above changes are relatively conservative and unlike my adjustments to Martial Artists, they mostly bring attention to already existing components and give players more options. Due to their minimal divergence from DF as published and requiring almost no effort, they would be my preferred start to fixing Thieves. Developing interesting Power Ups would be the next step , and for my future DF campaigns I will likely use one of the several popular reduced swing damage campaign switches. They solve more problems than just bringing Thieves’ combat capabilities up to par.

First impressions: Fantastic Dungeon Grappling

After about 10 games using Fantastic Dungeon Grappling I thought I’d share some of my impressions. This is not a review; if you’re unfamiliar with this excellent DFRPG supplement by Gaming Ballistic (works perfectly well with GURPS as well), I’ll just say that it aims to bring grappling mechanics closer to the way striking is handled: making attack rolls which opponents can defend against and rolling for effect (called control in this case) if a hit connects.

I have to point out that all of the games were part of either a 275-point Dungeon Fantasy campaign including a Wrestler (Pyramid #3/111)  in the party, or a 400-point cinematic Star Wars game with a specialized grappler (albeit a bit less capable than the Wrestler due to characters in that campaign being more broadly trained). In most cases grappling happened between a grappling specialist PC and a rather beefy opponent, so I don’t yet know how bouts between more normal people look like. With that out of the way, on to my impressions:

  • What a specialized grappler touches, gets defeated in 2-5 rounds, no ifs buts or discussions. Only exceptions are if the victim is itself a similar specialized grappler or has ST in excess of 2x the amount of control the attacker can keep on the victim. The latter case is the breakpoint between the victim getting -2 and -4 to DX, which in my experience is a difference between “not ideal but can manage” and”oof we have a problem”.
  • On first glance the above timeline is not very different from that of a capable weapon master engaging a similar opponent, but in my experience tough opponents can withstand more strikes than grapples before relevant penalties sink in and send them down the death spiral. If an opponent has High Pain Threshold the only penalty due to the loss of HP is the halving of dodge and move below 1/3 HP, but with grappling the penalty to DX sets in right away. Consequently, a bad guy getting pummeled by strikes has the potential to be relevant for a longer time whereas with grappling it has often been the case that they were completely neutered after a couple of rounds. So it is working as expected I guess, since the point of grappling is disabling someone at the cost of not being able to swiftly dispatch multiple foes.
  • I had fights vs ST 30 and 40 demons with decent but not specialized grappling skills. They had a chance, but luck was not on their side. After getting hit by the grappler, they weren’t successful in countergrappling and the grappler could withstand their attacks long enough to either accumulate enough control and convert to injury, or for the rest of the party to easily dispatch the penalized victim.
  • I had a fight vs a ST 70 dinosaur. It had skill of 14 or thereabouts. The grappler could not get it to -4 and it had 70 hit points so converting CP to damage was not very effective either, but the dinosaur had absolutely no chance of either shaking off the grappler, or grappling the grappler himself.
  • In default GURPS a big, strong monster without great skill could put up with and outmatch a specialized grappler due to its ST and most grappling moves being contests of ST. In FDG it doesn’t work that way for the most part; while ST is important to get enough control, skill is king much the same as in combat with strikes. So unless you change your expectations, “big, strong monsters” could be rather disappointing unless they have the very highest end of ST normally encountered in GURPS games, and even in that case they won’t be able to grapple a trained grappler effectively themselves.
  • The above points showcase that you really have to design monsters with grappling in mind when running FDG. Skilled fighters who are not at least competent in grappling can get defeated that way without much effort.
  • I haven’t yet had a character use a weapon attack and spend control on it to increase damage so I can’t really comment on how that performs. My suspicion is that it could be a very useful tool for fighters otherwise not specialized in grappling, and that a swinging weapon in the hands of a specialized grappler will be much more horrendous than a DF barbarian with Weapon Master.
  • FDG works seamlessly with DF monsters that grapple automatically on a hit (just let them inflict control as well as damage), and also rather elegant with very little head scratching needed in special situations such as monsters that can engulf opponents (just inflict maximum control).
  • I would say that FDG is an even better addition if you also use Conditional Injury because it can be used to exceed the usual “damage caps” if you find your attacks not being able to inflict severe enough wounds on your opponents. I have a veritable tank in my current party who is very hard to injure even when he gets hit in the vitals or other sensitive hit locations because very little damage gets through the DR, but he was inflicted with a severity 1 wound after 3 rounds of grappling by a competent grappler (15 control converted into 5d damage ignoring DR).

That’s it for now. I look forward to more games using FDG, and I already know I’m never going back to the default GURPS grappling rules.

Conditional Injury calculator

I’ve built a small tool for calculating the effects of damage according to the Conditional Injury article from Pyramid 3/120 by Douglas H. Cole of gamingballistic.com. You can find it here:

https://jscalc.io/calc/30GyHBOoMYnXFmRc

You put in inflicted damage, the victim’s HP and a couple other parameters, and you get the effects of the resulting wound. Where the article left room for interpretation, I tried to be as close to Basic Set as possible.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to post them here or in the #apps channel of the GURPS Discord.

Enjoy!

Meet the Boss: Brutus

One of the boss monsters I used recently, this guy is taken from the excellent multiplatform ARPG Path of Exile. Originally a human prison warden, he was experimented upon by a sadistic wizard who transformed him into a hulking monstrosity. Ripping with muscle more than any natural creature should, Brutus smashed his fists into masses of pulp during a bout of anger. His only weapon aside from his inhuman strength is a hook on a chain wrapped around his arm, which he uses to reel in distant victims. He wears little more than tattered rags and the remains of restraints used during his transformation.

ST: 35      HP: 35      Speed: 7
DX: 12     Will: 13   Move: 10
IQ: 9        Per: 10
HT: 14     FP: 18      SM: +1

Dodge: 11 Parry: 13 DR: 8

Punch (18): 4d+3 crushing. Reach C, 1.
Grapple (18): 4d-1 control. Reach C, 1.
Hook Throw (18): 4d-1 impaling. Ranged, with Acc 0, Max 20, Bulk -2, Shots T(1). On a hit, apply control points to the target equal to damage rolled. The hook remains stuck in the victim; Brutus can’t use that arm to attack others without relinquishing the grapple. Breaking the grapple gets rid of the hook.
Get Over Here!: Brutus reels in a hooked victim. If the their Lifting ST is 17 or lower, he can reel them in 10 yards per turn, or 5 yards per turn if it’s 35 or lower, or a yard per turn if it’s 52 or lower. This counts as an attack but is automatically successful.
Unhook (18): Rips the hook out of a victim for 4d-1 cutting damage. On a miss, the victim remains hooked, but on a successful dodge or parry (can’t be blocked) the victim manages to “maneuver” the hook out harmlessly.
Ground Slam (18): Brutus smashes his pulped fist into the ground, causing a shockwave in a 5-yard-wide, 5-yard-long cone. 4d+3 crushing, double knockback. Costs 2 FP per use.

Traits: Bad Temper (12); Combat Reflexes; Extra Attack 2; High Pain Threshold; Nictitating Membrane 4; Injury Tolerance: Damage Reduction 2; Infravision; Peripheral Vision; Unfazeable.
Skills: Brawling-18; Dual-Weapon Attack (Brawling)-18.
Class: Mundane.
Notes: Can parry twice, once with each arm. Arms count as weapons. Unwilling to negotiate.

This writeup is for use with Fantastic Dungeon Grappling. If you do not use this supplement (which you should reconsider!), ignore the control damage of Grapple and Hook Throw, and the victim of a successful Hook Throw is automatically grappled.

Brutus opens fights with a Hook Throw or a Ground Slam, depending on the positioning of the party. He is smart enough to use his hook against physically weaker delvers or those without shields, and only uses ground slam on fewer than two opponents if knocking them away would be important. He can make three attacks per round and usually performs one of them as a Dual-Weapon Attack (smashing someone between his fists), or a Rapid Strike if he’s grappling a delver with his hook. He doesn’t grapple much otherwise, but grabbing someone and smashing them into a wall or floor could be fun. Don’t forget to spend any remaining control points when ripping out the hook! Lastly, mind his high HT score; it is here primarily to resist HT-contested spells. You will likely want to do your players a favor and just kill him once he’s the last foe remaining and deep into negative HP, instead of dragging the fight out.

I originally used Brutus against a party of seven ~300 point delvers and he had about half a dozen weaker monsters with him, one of which was a tougher “worthy” while the remainder were a bit stronger “fodder” (fodder drops at 0  HP in my games and worthies at -1 x HP). He is a bit on the low end of the boss monster “protections” I wrote about previously: half DR on eyes (as formalized by Nictitating Membrane), halves all injury due to the Injury Tolerance and can defend against attacks from behind due to Peripheral Vision. None of these (except maybe for Injury Tolerance) are the result of “special” features of his physiology, they are there to make him live long enough as a boss monster. He doesn’t have the active defenses to be fielded as a solo boss against the party I used him against. To do that I’d halve the penalties he suffers on multiple attacks and parries (he doesn’t need any extra damage so I wouldn’t give him flat out Weapon Master), raise his skill to 20, give him another level of Extra Attack and figure out another defensively-useful ability.

Care and feeding of boss monsters

Recently in my Dungeon Fantasy game I had a couple encounters against big, strong “boss monsters”. Designing such adversaries for any flavor of GURPS is a tough challenge, especially if they are intended to be encountered alone, so I’d like to share some thoughts on the matter.

If treated without any additional considerations than those usually afforded to ordinary monsters or player characters, “boss monsters” could easily be taken down in a turn or two by an average Dungeon Fantasy party. For example, there’s a good chance of them failing to dodge a knife throw or arrow into the eye. Without Nictitating Membrane which normally only rare monsters have or No Brain which is usually only found with some demons, undead and slimes (you don’t want to make a slime boss monster btw.), a damage roll of 5 is enough to cause a major wound even to a 40-HP monster necessitating a HT-10 roll for them not to drop out of the fight. Then if the melee is joined and the monster takes up more than 1 hex, it is very easy to pile up on their back hexes (they will have multiple) and make short work of them. And so on. The action economy and support for “real” moves like targeting vulnerable hit locations make big solo monsters have a hard time. While such gameplay is fine in some campaigns, Dungeon Fantasy and more cinematic games usually want their big bad bosses to put up a terrifying, memorable fight lasting more than a couple turns. The usual wisdom is to have enough supporting adversaries in the battle so that the player characters’ actions and resources are split, but sometimes you just want to have a singular boss. And you don’t want them to always be one of the few kinds of creatures that patch up the above mentioned and other commonly encountered problems with rare traits usually assigned only to them.

So what can we do to make our bosses survive long enough to cause some drama? The solution I came to prefer lately is to notch up the “cinematicness” of the bosses in regards to what abilities or even campaign switches they have available in comparison with “normal” opponents. It still makes them work within the established GURPS framework, but in some cases you will need to talk with your players so they know what they can expect. Some things you could do are:

  • Unless their schtick is a high Dodge, the boss needs a lot of active defenses. Having just two parries, or just a parry and a block can’t compete with a whole party unless they have high skill (~20) and the equivalent of Weapon Master for the reduced iterative penalties. You don’t have to give them full-on WM if you worry about applying it faithfully and the extra damage it would bring, after all you don’t build monsters with points so having the iterative parry/block penalty halved can just be a note in your monster listing. If that isn’t enough because you have a large party, go ahead and outright increase their active defense scores just like players would with Enhanced Defense advantages (don’t go overboard though). You can also simply give the boss more than two active defenses, though personally I prefer to do that only if the boss has extra arms or another thematically appropriate ability. In some cases, multiple active defenses will be good enough without the reduced iterative penalty. Your mileage will vary.
  • I have heard of house rules where closed-face helmets give half of their DR to eye shots, so you could apply that. Even if your monster does not wear a helmet, they may have a “protective, reinforced brow” or whatever. This is basically what a Nictitating Membrane does, and the idea is to broaden the applicability of the effect instead of just keeping it restricted to reptiles or amphibians or whatever. Keeping your monster’s traits “realistic” keeps the monster realistic, and boss monsters don’t really fit that paradigm. Providing half of the DR they’d normally have is also consistent with chinks in armor.
  • Give your bosses Peripheral Vision. This is especially important for those that take up multiple hexes. If you have concerns about your monster not having the appropriate physiology to warrant it, the advantage isn’t tagged as “exotic” in the Basic Set and could simply be treated as excellent situational awareness. If you require precedent, three of the player character templates in GURPS Monster Hunters offer it and two of those are completely “mundane”.
  • In a lot of cases boss monsters will require an “extreme survivability” feature, such as Injury Tolerance (Damage Reduction) or Regeneration (Extreme). Be careful how you combine such traits with previously existing ones, for example if a monster already has Injury Tolerance (No Brain, No Vitals), adding Damage Reduction on top could very easily be overkill. If you’re worried about “appropriate” advantages, I’d recommend Damage Reduction as something that can simply be slapped on to any kind of creature as a “cinematic boss monster survivability switch”.
  • If you don’t want your boss to slow down when below 1/3 HP, Injury Tolereance (Unstoppable) which does exactly that was priced at “only” 10 points in Monster Hunters: Power-Ups 1.

The above features are something you could reasonably apply to any kind of boss monster. Personally I would always go with the first three (I see the first one as absolutely indispensable) while the latter two I’d apply or not depending on how the monster already looks like. There is still more you could do; a good boss monster should likely have some kind of ability that makes it tricky to engage them, such as being hit at a penalty, having a damaging aura, causing a lot of knockback etc., but you probably won’t want every boss to have them.

I originally wanted to include at least one monster writeup in this post but that would make it too long now. Look for it in the coming days. In the meantime, an excellent example of boss monster design is the Krabbari demon from Hall of Judgement. It is a “big tough guy” that not only has an array of physically intimidating characteristics but also has some magical ones, can do multiple things per turn (as every boss should) and even offers an “off” switch for its strongest defensive ability that can only be exploited by a type of character usually considered underpowered in a fight compared to their peers.

Lair of The Invincible Legion of Evil session 42

Date: 2019-12-14

Player Characters:
Acor, coleopteran sorcerer (~350 points)
Arwen, shadow elf fluidist wizard (278 points)
Gugro, kobold alchemist (~325 points)
Rod Steele, human cleric of war (~300 points)
Thundarr, minotaur barbarian (~300 points)

After a brief rest and healing following Barrister’s attempt at partycide, the group proceeded through the (hopefully no longer) trapped back door of the library. Beyond, there was a room with many pedestals and display cases, but it looked ransacked. The cases were either open or laying broken on the ground, and most were empty. Only a couple smaller wooden boxes remained among them. The party checked them for traps, and finding none, proceeded to open them. Within they found various jewelry: rings, necklaces, amulets, bracelets. Three of the amulets registered as magical; two of them would be later identified in town as a Pain Resistance Amulet and a Speed Amulet, while the third drew immediate attention and also registered as a holy item to Rod. Several party members, especially Acor, recognized it as the amulet blessed by the Good God to permanently lay to rest Jugorax, the notorious warlord who was entombed some two hundred years ago and whom the party encountered in ghostly form at the start of their adventures. They originally learned of this amulet while they were researching Jugorax after suffering a humiliating defeat at his hands. So now the party decided to mop up a few loose ends here before returning to town to analyze the amulet and form a plan of attack.

They returned to the “outer” corridor of the wizard’s lair, where there was a large metal hatch in a small side room and where tunnels of reddish stone opened cracks in the floor. After brief consideration, they decided to investigate the second tunnel, the one they did not come through previously. They jumped down into it, and while traversing it started hearing a continuous low grinding noise they noticed before. After a couple dozen yards of winding through the tunnel a cavern opened before the party. It had stone bones, teeth and spikes embedded in all of its surfaces every couple feet. But its most noticeable characteristic was that in the largest part of the cavern, the floor and ceiling were slowly rising and lowering again in about half a yard sections, which was producing the grinding noise (the difference in their height through this effect was a couple feet). And at the end of the cavern, there was a large bed of crystals in a multitude of colors, similar to ones that Alyssa found previously. They registered as faintly magical.

While deciding whether to pick the crystals or not risk triggering some kind of a trap or curse, the party heard (and saw, in case of Gugro and Thundarr with their Peripheral Vision) something moving behind them. A large insectoid creature made of stone arose from the floor, with six legs attached to a bulbous abdomen, a humanoid torso extending from its front, two “arms” or forelegs on the torso ending in long blades, and an insect-like head. It was joined by four flaming miscreations suddenly being released from the stone walls around the party in apparently half-digested state. Thundarr charged at the insectoid, Gugro in his backpack, while the rest of the party engaged the miscreations. The insectoid grinded its blades against each other and struck the ground, unleashing a cone of electricity at the party before proceeding to engage Thundarr. The miscreations distracted most of the party long enough for the insectoid to critically injure Thundarr (who went berserk), impaling him with its blades into the vitals several times even though its attempts to sever his head failed. But thanks to Gugro’s healing potions Thundarr was kept alive long enough for him and Acor’s stone missiles to defeat the monster.

After healing from the battle, the party decided to grab as many crystals as they could. Their suspicion of traps was justified when the cavern started closing in on them. Running as fast as they could all of them escaped the closing section in time. They decided to return to Caverntown, and we brought the session to a close.

Lair of The Invincible Legion of Evil session 41

Date: 2019-12-07

Player Characters:
Acor, coleopteran sorcerer (~350 points)
Gugro, kobold alchemist (~325 points)
Sir Barrister, minotaur knight (~290 points)
Tallus, human wrestler (~290 points)
Arwen, shadow elf fluidist wizard (275 points)
Thundarr, minotaur barbarian (~300 points)

Leaving Caverntown, the party made very safe progress towards the dungeon. Their pacing wasn’t up to par however, but some good underground navigation found a couple of freshly dug out tunnels which served as a shortcut so the group still made the average time of 2 days.

Returning to the lava sea and the stone castle, Acor led the group straight towards the pantry near the servants’ quarters on the upper level of the south-western castle building. The party was alarmed that most of the food was gone. Looking around, they also found all of the hobgoblin corpses from the battle on the stairs down missing, just like the corpses from the fight in the kitchen. The wall to the servant bedroom where they immured four hobgoblins was torn down, and there was no trace of the captives or their bodies.

After expressing their concerns, the group didn’t really do anything about it and went to investigate the courtyard to the north of the building, which they previously only glanced through the windows. There they found a training area with a bunch of junk in some crates, a 100 yard deep well ending in a stream of water, and a stone stable which was obviously not intended for salamanders due to the wooden stalls and hay inside. The whole place was vacant.

The western “wall” of the courtyard were the battlements above the island’s edge, and the eastern wall belonged to the “north-eastern” castle building which the group already largely explored. The northern wall, however, was dominated by a huge, 10 yard tall and 5 yard wide door. It didn’t seem to have any kind of locking mechanism, just a pair of handles, so the whole group got together to open it, which they succeeded just enough so they may squeeze through.

On the other side there was a “great hall”, dominated by a large stone bust of a menacing humanoid leaning out of the opposing wall, over a stone throne. The eastern wall obviously held an “upper level” gallery at some point, but it has since crumbled to the floor taking much of the wall with it. On the western wall, there was a similar but much smaller “cave-in” where probably a passage existed previously. The party looked around the hall, the caved-in tunnel, and around the throne, but having found nothing of interest they decided to enter the Red Door once more and continue where they left off after their battle with the demon.

The way to the large circular room was clear, and the party ventured beyond it through an unassuming wooden door. Gugro and Tallus remained behind. Beyond, Arwen, Acor and Sir Barrister found what looked like a study, with a large desk, a cushy chair and walls lined with bookshelves. It looked ransacked; books were missing from the shelves, some were strewn along the floor, and the desk was a mess. Among the papers on the desk the group pieced together several fragments of what looked like a journal hastily written by the castle’s “court wizard”, who was behind all of this. Apparently an experiment on the captive demon failed and caused it to die, but it managed to cast a terrible curse on the whole place before perishing. The wizard was almost killed in an accompanying blast of energy, and after that they went on to evacuate out of the place.

There was another door in the study. Opening it, the party found a small library on the other side, with books neatly stacked on shelves and not ransacked like in the previous room, though some books were obviously missing from their places. Arwen perused the books for a couple minutes and found a grimoire granting +1 to casting of the Freeze spell to those who’ve consulted it recently. The party then bunched up around a stone door they found on the other side of the library. Barrister opened it, and a blast of lightning struck everybody. But that was not the worst of it. Barrister suddenly saw red and wanted to murder everyone around him. As he turned with rage toward Acor and Arwen, another minotaur entered the room: Thundarr, whom the party hadn’t seen for almost two months. Acor and Arwen retreated, with Arwen casting Slide on Barrister. She managed to evade him until Thundarr closed in, at which point a battle between the two minotaurs ensued. Barrister eventually broke through the influence of the spell driving him to madness, and managed to snap Thundarr out of his Berserk by a rallying cry. It is there where we stopped.

Lair of The Invincible Legion of Evil session 40

Date: 2019-11-30

Player Characters:
Acor, coleopteran sorcerer (~350 points)
Gugro, kobold alchemist (~325 points)
Sir Barrister, minotaur knight (~290 points)
Tallus, human wrestler (~290 points)
Old Wizard, human wizard (275 points)

While the rest of the party rested from their battle with the monstrous brute, Gugro dug into its carcass while Old Wizard examined the surgical tomes. Their efforts revealed that the castle’s “court wizard” experimented with “enhancing” humanoids by infusing them with demonic energies and implanting them with demon body parts. Most experiments failed and the few surviving specimens were imperfect in both physical in mental ways, dubbed “miscreations” by the wizard. This changed when the they obtained a “greater demon”, as using its essence and parts resulted in many more subjects surviving the process. Implanted with a piece of the demon’s regenerating heart, the brute was the masterpiece.

Recuperated, the party continued onward. They found a trio of rooms
continuing the grisly theme: a cadaver storage room, a smaller surgical room, and a room with a pool of blood surrounded by several grooved stone tables. They didn’t dally in any of them except for the surgical room, where they found more high quality surgical instruments (most notably one each of a silver, meteoric and orichalcum scalpels) and several books on surgery and demons.

Around the corner of the corridor, the next room was apparently some kind of a magical laboratory. A section with several bookcases and desks remained intact, while the other half was ravaged by what looked like magical elemental anomalies; motes of fire and lightning floating in the air, zapping their surroundings. The party found some books on elementals and demons exhibiting elemental abilities among the shelves, but they had to risk the anomalies to get a set of journals sitting in the dangerous section. There the court wizard wrote about experiments with mixing demonic and elemental forces, and extracting elemental powers from demons exhibiting them. They were not happy with their progress using lesser demons, but the experiments improved after they captured a greater demon referenced as a “Darkflame Lord”. The name was vaguely familiar to the party, but they couldn’t recall any actionable information aside from the demon being wrapped in “darkflame” which gave it fire and darkness related abilities.

A another door opened from the laboratory into a small storeroom. There the party hit a jackpot, as its shelves were filled from top to bottom with valuable magical components and paraphernalia. After looting it, they proceeded further down the corridor, where their path was blocked by a large metal door.

Beyond, there was a large circular room with staircases going up from both sides of the door, eventually leveling at a several yards tall gallery surrounding the whole room. In the center there was a hemisphere of pure darkness. Having spied a passage leading further from the far end of the gallery, the party started climbing the stairs. As they did so, the torches in the room flickered as a strong gust of wind sucked everyone in the room several yards toward the hemisphere. The hemisphere imploded, revealing a huge four-armed demon engulfed in dark fire, wielding a flaming whip and sword. It charged at the party with a roar. Luck was with them, and they emerged from the battle without significant injuries, as the demon faded out of the world. They completely expended all of their resources however, and promptly retreated out of the dungeon and to Caverntown.