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.

Lair of The Invincible Legion of Evil session 39

Date: 2019-11-23

Player Characters:
Acor, coleopteran sorcerer (~350 points)
Alyssa, halfling thief (~280 points)
Bennett, human holy warrior (~280 points)
Gugro, kobold alchemist (~325 points)
Sir Barrister, minotaur knight (~280 points)
Tallus, human wrestler (~280 points)
Yulia, dwarf knight (~290 points)

Beyond the prison block explored in the previous session, torchlight could be seen and slow, deep breathing sounds could be heard. The party cautiously proceeded to peer into the next room (the hallway entered into it at its southeastern corner), and were met by a gruesome scene. It was a larger hall, with a raised L-shaped platform along the eastern and northern walls, reachable by stairs on either end. On the platform along the walls, many horizontal and vertical wooden “surgery tables” were set up, most containing mutilated bodies. Further corpses were strewn between them. In the SW corner, there was a rectangular pool of blood, with a whole pile of bodies adjacent to the north of it. And in the crutch of the L-shaped platform on the lower level, a huge humanoid was strapped on to a vertical table. Almost 3 yards tall, it was bulging from muscle, heavily scarred, its hands and lower arms turned into pulpy masses of flesh. Many small spikes were embedded in its flesh, and several chains were wrapped around it. It was the source of the slow, heavy breathing.

The party cautiously entered the hall with some of them sneaking, Acor casting protective spells, and Benett slowly approaching the monstrosity from the front. It soon noticed, bellowed in anger and burst its restraints. A battle ensued where the monstrosity was joined by a blood elemental emerging out of the pool and several corpses (of the entrails-turned-tentacles variety the party already encountered) rising from the piles. Highlights include Alyssa blinding the brute in one eye at the outset of combat and Yulia jumping at it from the raised platform only to be swatted away by its massive arms. The monstrosity smashed at the ground several times during the fight, causing shockwaves that dispersed the party due to dodge-and-dropping. Tallus and Yulia engaged the brute while Sir Barrister and Bennett held off the lesser foes, which Alyssa efficiently dispatched. Eventually, Tallus grappled the brute from the ground and managed to hold it off for long enough for Yulia and Acor to cave its skull in.

After the battle, the group took a look around. They found several tomes about anatomy and radical surgical procedures, some high quality surgical implements, and noticed that the blood pool was steaming and bubbling. That is when we concluded the session.

Where we are: Lair of The Invincible Legion of Evil

I last wrote play recaps about my Dungeon Fantasy campaign more than a year ago, soon after it started. Writing detailed reports about my other campaign at that time exhausted me, so I tried a more summarized format for this one. That didn’t stick either. I’m taking it up again, but primarily as a way to provide recaps for my players since the roster changes from session to session due to the campaign being open in nature. I could use some refreshers as well since I must confess I’ve become lazy with my own notes lately.

What has gone before (sessions 6-33)

After exploring the caverns under the “hobgoblin outpost” (which I’ve started writing up in the last report but never finished), the group decided not to follow some tunnels which led deeper underground but to return upstairs and check two areas they haven’t so far. One yielded an encounter with an angry ghost who mopped the floor with the party. They managed to retreat and vowed to defeat it later. The other led out of this dungeon section and into a large, built-out, fortified cavern dubbed the “lava cave” due to a stream of lava flowing through it. Exploration ensued but eventually the group passed the source of the lava and found an enormous underground lake of it on the other side. In the lake, against the far away cavern wall, a stone castle was carved out of the top of an island. There was a bridge leading to it, so that was the group’s next destination.

Both the “lava cave” and the stone castle deserve articles of their own, but for now a fast-forward will have to suffice. Within the castle there was an ominous door heavily warded with magic. Dubbed the “red door” due to the primary magic circle covering it being made of blood which shed red light, the party eventually disabled the warding rituals and ventured beyond. This is where the last couple of sessions have been happening.

Beyond the Red Door (sessions 34-38)

The area on the other side looked like cellars belonging to the castle, but soon the party noticed that the entirety of it was both a low-mana zone and infused with a background of demonic energies, making it low-sanctity as well. A creepy feeling of otherness permeated the atmosphere, and figments of darkness were playing tricks at the edges of everyone’s vision. The deeper the party went, the more twisted the whole place looked, with the corridors themselves starting to seem jagged and sinister. The stone displayed strange properties, from slightly bleeding at places to sometimes resisting being shaped by magic. One such attempt even produced a “living” rock which sprouted spikes and attacked the group. Big Ron, the current party Wizard, concluded that the background magical aura, which was already present in the entire castle, was much stronger here. It had mind-affecting properties, and anyone staying for more than a dozen hours would end up with their mind in a haze, “claimed” by the place and unable or unwilling to leave.

The party proceeded forward, undaunted. The area was in complete darkness without any light sources. After going through several storerooms they found a “hell’s kitchen”. It was a kitchen, originally belonging to this part of the castle, but it was now inhabited by a couple of “butcher demons”, like the one the party previously encountered in the servants’ quarters of the castle. They were joined in their attack on the group by one of the humanoid corpses which they were spit-roasting; it blazed its way to the fight in a stream of fire and proceeded to display further fiery abilities. The party of course prevailed (the demons seemed weaker than the one previously encountered) and looted the kitchen.

In a room opposite the kitchen there was a crack in the wall. Following it revealed a small cave with a pool of water in it, and several smaller tunnels branching off away from it. One tunnel yielded an undead corpse crushed under a cave-in and another some large crystals Alyssa the thief pried away. The third terminated in a submerged section. Since nobody was interested in diving either through the pool or the third tunnel, they returned through the crack to the cellars.

The next storeroom had a several yards wide hole in its floor which was obviously not an original part of its design. It proved just a dozen yards deep and a tunnel lead off from it, so the party descended down. The cavernous tunnel winded horizontally and started to climb vertically, and its stone eventually took on a reddish color and a jagged texture. After an encounter with a steam vent which burned Tallus the wrestler, the tunnel’s ceiling opened up to reveal another cellar room above it. The tunnel also continued further onward, but the group decided to climb up into the room and continue that way instead.

The room exited to a corridor which terminated with a wall on one side and a large double door on the other. Examination revealed the wall end contained a discrete door which acted as “secret” from the other side, the other side being the previously explored cellar area. The metal door was locked and trapped, severely zapping Tallus with lightning. The corridor beyond led to another such door, as well as a large metal hatch on the floor before it. Both the hatch and the other door were locked and trapped, but the trap pointed to the other side. Since the side they came through was a “simple” cellar, Acor concluded through his architectural knowledge that the area beyond must be some sort of secret, secure place which also didn’t want anything escaping from inside of it.

His suspicions were confirmed as beyond the second metal door there were two rooms with rows of prison cells. They were filled with corpses and skeletons, but in one of the rooms some of the “corpses” still seemed alive (barely moving) and a trio of demonically altered humanoids (such as were previously encountered when the red door was opened) was torturing them. Most of the party didn’t pay much attention to stealth so the trio attacked, but they were swiftly dispatched by Sir Barrister the minotaur knight’s halberd and Gugro the alchemist’s death cloud potion. Gugro examined their bodies and found some left-behind surgical instruments in them. The party eventually granted mercy to the barely living wretches and proceeded onward beyond the prison block.

But that is the tale of the latest session, which I will publish in the next post. A big reason for writing it up separately is trying to get a hang of a format in which I can write about the course of my games in a sustainable manner.

State of the games

My Hidden Suns campaign, which was the primary motivator for starting this blog, has ended. Not from a lack of interest or a TPK as has mostly been the case in my gaming career, but we actually played it until the end of its story. It started as a sandboxy Dungeon Fantasy in Space, but a month or so after I last wrote about it, the players lost interest in the sandbox without an overarching story so we sat together to see how we’d want to proceed. Not wanting to scrap the large amount of effort I invested in preparing the materials for the campaign, we decided to switch to the Dead Suns Starfinder adventure path from Paizo, which was the original adventure I intended to run before I caught the Dungeon Fantasy bug. It path started off rather well, but at about half of the third of six books the quality of the published adventure took a nosedive, resulting with me often coming up with scenarios which were more sensible than the ones published. We ended up compressing much of the second half of the campaign because the as originally written, it was often short circuited by smart play. Life being short, me wanting to run a lot of different stuff, and somewhat disappointed by Paizo’s materials, it was decided already before the adventure’s conclusion that we would be ending our time in the Starfinder universe once we play through the published story. And that we did last week, having replaced the final book with something completely different because the players of course did not stick with the script the authors intended. I am still a fan of taking published adventures for various systems and running them in GURPS, but an important thing I learned this time around is that you really have to read the entire campaign before committing to running it, lest the quality of its writing takes a bait and switch somewhere during the run. As it stands, I can’t recommend Dead Suns unless you’re prepared to replace large pieces of it.

After presenting my players with several new campaign ideas, we settled on visiting Star Wars next. It will however be my own alternate version of the setting, set in the Old Republic period approximately at the time of the SWTOR MMO. I hope to write more about it here soon.

My GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game, Lair of The Invincible Legion of Evil, which grew out after a oneshot, is still going strong. I intend to run it for a couple more months however, because I want to try a similar open game concept in another setting.

One other thing I have learned in the meantime is that I’m unfortunately not the kind of guy who can write detailed reports about his sessions. I tried a somewhat condensed approach as you can see in this post (it recaps the first 5 sessions, and we’ve just had our 34th!), but that didn’t work out either. I still want to write about my games, but it will either have to be in a very summarized format or something entirely else. We’ll see. One big reason why I’d like to do it is that both the players and myself would have a reminder of the most important things which happened and which were discovered during the game. I haven’t been taking proper GM notes for a looong time, and this could be a nice way to start doing it again.

Spellslinging for Wizards

Players and GMs alike sometimes don’t like the cast – (aim) – attack cadence of 2-3 rounds for missile spells cast by wizards using the default GURPS magic system.  It is similar to the draw – (aim) – shoot mechanic for archers with Fast-Draw (Arrow), but while the latter can be circumvented by investing into Heroic Archer and Weapon Master (Bow), the former can’t. For a lot of games that is fine, it flavors this kind of casters not as artillery platforms but as utility casters, buffers/debuffers, crowd controllers and those who sometimes bring the whole house down before fainting due to spending all of their FP on a fat spell. And in some games archers really do shoot once every 3 rounds while melee combatants don’t hit every round or maybe even (gasp) evaluate.

In other cases, players would rather do something else than 2 rounds of nothing but stepping and then unleashing their spell on the third. Sure, a lot of regular spells have a cast lime longer than 1 second, but those can be brought down with high skill, especially at the point levels of Dungeon Fantasy. Missile and Melee spells can’t. When this is perceived as a problem, GURPS sourcebooks don’t really offer much except switching to another magic system, such as for example Sorcery. So let’s see what can be done about it.

Let’s start with the Spellslinger advantage, worth 25 points, published by Christopher Rice in Pyramid #3-66. It is intended for use with the Ritual Path Magic so it doesn’t completely suit the default magic system, but it has some parts which can be ported to spells-as-skills quite literally:

  • It effectively lets the character claim Accuracy for a spell without aiming
  • It lets them use the Mighty Spell perk from GURPS Thaumatology: Magical Styles with all spells
  • For spells requiring both a casting roll and an attack roll, it lets them cast the spell and attack with it in a single round instead over a course of two, albeit at a penalty equal to that for performing Rapid Strikes.

It also facilitates casting blocking spells with RPM which is hard in that system but not an issue with default magic, and it lets the caster use DX-based path skills instead of Innate Attack to hit. The former could, if the GM deems it necessary, be replaced with allowing the character to apply the Blocking Spell Mastery perk to all of their spells, just like they may already do with Mighty Spell. The latter is a bit trickier to port to spells-as-skills magic, since using a DX-based spell skill instead of Innate Attack would not really be advantageous for most wizards. Even with Magery applying to spells but not to Innate Attack, most spells only ever get one point put into them and the difference between a spellcaster’s IQ and DX is generally rather significant. Another option would be to use standard IQ-based spell skills to attack, but personally I’m leery of it as being too strong. A middle ground would be to apply Magery as a bonus to Innate Attack. That isn’t far fetched since it already works that way for Sorcery.

Spellslinger is a nice option with several dials to turn according to taste, but the penalty to cast and attack in a single round could make it unattractive to some. That is of course yet another dial to turn, but let’s see what else is out there.

Compartmentalized Mind taken with No Mental Separation, -20% and Limited, Magic, -5% for 38 points would let a character both cast a spell and attack with it on the same turn, without any kind of penalty. But it also effectively doubles the casting rate of the character for all spells since it allows two Concentrate maneuvers per turn for the purposes of casting. This may be too much.

We could increase Limited to “only Missile and Melee spells” and eyeball it at -30%. That would be more in line with what we want at a cost of 25 points, the same as Spellslinger. We get rid of the Rapid Strike penalty, but also miss out on some other benefits. Again, adjust to personal taste.

The final variant I’d like to discuss is a “native” feature of the GURPS Magic system. High skill reduces the casting time of spells, but not of Missile and Melee spells. If we have a problem with not attacking every round, we can easily ignore this exception. We’ll also ignore the technicalities of the case, such as these spells actually having a casting time of 1 below which reduction through high skill is impossible. Just smooth it over with “high skill reduces the time needed to cast and attack with Missile and Melee spells, down to 1 second for the attack itself”.

So at skill 20 a character could both cast the spell and attack with it on the same turn. At skill 25 they could also aim “for free” or invest additional energy into that fireball. Once more, a GM should turn the dials as they prefer. I would personally not allow the reduction for investing additional energy in spells but would allow the reduction for aiming.

The nice thing about this approach is that it doesn’t make special snowflakes out of Missile and Melee spells but instead handles them the same as all others (including jet spells, which complete the trinity of typical attack magic). Sure, mages must invest points to get spells to level 20, and I doubt any will go for 25, but that’s no different than with the Spellslinger and Compartmentalized Mind solutions. Of the three, I am most inclined to use this one in my Dungeon Fantasy game.

Martial Artist buffs for Dungeon Fantasy

The Martial Artist profession in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (and Dungeon Fantasy RPG) has long been known for having a lot of problems when it comes to their primary role of whacking stuff on the head. Unlike any other combative profession, they must take extra care not to injure themselves while attacking, their performance at 250 points is lackluster and they need a lot of additional points to get reliably good at fighting. Motivated by my observations and player experience during my Dungeon Fantasy campaign, I decided to introduce some changes.

Big thanks to Kyle Norton of Dungeons on Automatic for ideas and bringing the building blocks to my attention.

My solution consists of the following:

1. Trained by a Master costs 5 points and is just an “enabler” for chi abilities.

It lets you buy all of the skills such as Power Blow etc. which have it as prerequisite in the Basic Set, as well as Chi Talent and the various abilities with the Chi, -10% modifier.

It also allows you to make a Per roll with a bonus equal to your Chi Talent level to detect when you enter a space with “broken chi”. These are places where the natural order is disturbed, such as heavily polluted areas (but not merely urbanized ones or most others viewed as unnatural by Druids), places under the influence of Elder Things or where reality itself is somehow disturbed. Low/no mana zones, unholy places or those affected by extraplanar energies specifically don’t qualify, since such things all have their place in the order of the world. Vacuum would also qualify, but is unlikely to be encountered by delvers and is otherwise highly noticeable.

2. Chi Talent costs 10 points per level, but is otherwise unchanged.

This makes TBAM and Chi Talent functionally the same as Magery, both in benefits offered, cost and effect. It seemed rather odd that Martial Artists paid 15 points for their power talent while Wizards, Clerics and Druids paid only 10 while getting its bonus to a lot more skills. I could have just left TBAM being an Unusual Background without the extra detection benefit, but it felt unfair to me to be charging points for it when Magery 0 offered the same plus the detection of magic items.

Clerics and Druids, by the way, don’t have such a “gateway” advantage yet still have a similar detection benefit and get access to loads of skills you normally can’t access, all rolled into their power talent. In fact, a technically correct solution would be to increase the cost of Magery and Power Investiture to 15 per level because that’s the cost of talents that affect so many skills, but that would cause too many ripple effects and I’m a fan of “buffing” underperforming traits with patch notes instead of “nerfing” the overperformers.

3. Martial Artists get Weapon Master (Unarmed) [25] as a mandatory advantage on their template.

Together with TBAM this costs exactly the same as before, gives all the same benefits, but also give Martial Artists an additional +2 damage per die if they have Karate at DX+2 or more, cumulative with Karate’s innate bonus for a total of +4 per die.

I have not made a permanent decision for my campaign yet, but I would currently not allow the per die bonuses to damage from Karate and Weapon Master to stack with further ones such as those from Claws and Seven Secret Kicks (GURPS DF11) or Unarmed Master (Pyramid 3/61). Speaking of the latter…

4. Martial Artists get Rules Exemption (Cannot hurt self) as an optional perk on their template.

This is what gives Unarmed Master the component of not hurting oneself with unarmed strikes anymore. The perk has TBAM or Weapon Master (Unarmed) as prerequisite.

I have included it as optional and not mandatory primarily not to mess with the total point cost of the Martial Artist template. Theoretically, you could build a Martial Artist who focuses on weapons instead of unarmed skills, but this being just a perk is a steal even in that case. Martial artists wielding weapons? Well…

5. Martial Artists get Weapon Master (Martial Artist weapons) [35] as an optional advantage on their template.

This replaces Weapon Master (Unarmed), and includes it. Martial artist stereotypes in fiction often use much more than their bare hands. This enables such builds.

Weapons covered are baton, blowpipe, bo, brass knuckles, cestus, club, hatchet, heavy sling, javelin, jo, jutte, kama, katar, knobbed club, kusari, large katar, large throwing knife, monk’s spade, naginata, nunchaku, quarterstaff, sai, short baton, short spear, short staff, shortsword, sling, small falchion, small throwing knife, shuriken, spear, throwing dart, tonfa, unarmed strikes and grapples.

Add Polearm, Spear and Thrown Weapon (Spear) to the list of primary skills Martial Artists may choose from.

This list only includes weapons published in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. Additional weapons may be included at the GM’s leisure.

Some of these weapons may be used with the Karate skill. Karate adds its per die damage bonus to weapon attacks only if they deal thrust damage.

And that’s it. TBAM has always seemed off to me, costing more points than Weapon Master (Unarmed) but missing the damage bonus. Sure, Karate has an innate damage bonus, but doing purely thrust attacks with unarmed strikes doesn’t really amount to much even with that. Effectively doubling that bonus through these changes puts Martial Artists on a much more even footing with other fighter-types, and hurting yourself when attacking really isn’t something you should worry about in Dungeon Fantasy.

Note that this solution makes Unarmed Master, Claws (Blunt) and Seven Secret Kicks redundant. Well, Seven Secret Kicks can be repriced to 2 points and be bought just for the Kicking technique.