Nordlond Bestiary – Baenadyrid in Action

Nordlond Bestiary from Gaming Ballistic is an upcoming Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game supplement chock full  of gorgeously illustrated Dungeon Fantasy monsters (perfectly usable within the broader GURPS scope as well). Its Kickstarter campaign runs for another week at the time of this writing, so if you want more monsters for your DF(RPG) games, don’t forget to back it!

Chatting on the Gamig Ballistic Discord server the other day I decided to test one of the monsters being published in the book – the Baenadyrid, a small bug-like demon designed to swarm and soften up the opposition in great numbers. I pitted it against a 62-point knight built with Delvers to Grow. Now this is probably the most solidly built defensive character for that point level (with a couple points spent for extra gear beyond the default starting $1000), rocking 4 DR over most hit locations, a block score of 15, a parry of 13 with a balanced dwarven axe, and a dodge score of 11 – all including the DB from a large shield, which also doesn’t penalize him due to the Shield Wall perk from the Juggernaut upgrade module. Oh, he also does a very respectable (for the point level) 2d+1 cutting damage with the axe.

Here’s a transcript of the first 1v1 fight:

Round 1
Knight acts first due to higher Basic Speed, hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 11 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 12 injury, baenadyrid is out (-1 HP)

That went quick. A single solid blow from a beefy character, even at 62 points, will knock this sucker out. Let’s give it another go:

Round 1
Knight acts first due to higher Basic Speed, hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 5 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 3 injury
Baenadyrid does not go berserk (12)
Baenadyrid spits at knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 2
Knight steps forward
Knight hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid dodges with retreat (11)
Baenadyrid rolls 6 on 1d and spits at knight again (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 3
Knight misses baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid rolls 5 on 1d and spits at knight again (12) and misses
Round 4
Knight hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid dodges with retreat (11)
Baenadyrid rolls 3 on 1d, can’t spit
Baenadyrid steps forward and tries to slash knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 5
Knight hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid dodges with retreat (11)
Baenadyrid rolls 1 on 1d, can’t spit
Baenadyrid steps forward and tries to slash knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 6
Knight hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid dodges with retreat (11)
Baenadyrid rolls 4 on 1d, can’t spit
Baenadyrid steps forward and tries to slash knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 7
Knight hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 10 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 10 injury; baenadyrid was already at 8 HP and is now out (-2 HP)

As we see here, in the best case the baenadyrid can just delay its inevitable demise. Its best course of action would be try and grapple the knight using an All-Out Attack (Double) and hope that the knight fails his parry roll of 13 (14 with retreat) because he sure won’t fail at blocking. If it succeeds, the knight will have -3 to DX due to having a large shield in close combat on top of -2 from being grappled, and the demon is likely to win. If it fails… well, no sense protracting the fight anyway.

But how does the knight fare when outnumbered? Let’s see.

2 baenadyrids vs 1 knight

Round 1
Knight acts first due to higher Basic Speed, hits baenadyrid 1 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid 1 dodges with retreat (11)
Baenadyrid 1 spits at knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Baenadyrid 1 steps forward (wants to grapple next turn)
Baenadyrid 2 spits at knight (12) and hits
Knight fails to dodge (11)
Spittle deals 2 corrosive damage
Round 2
Knight misses baenadyrid 1 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid rolls 1 on 1d, can’t spit
Baenadyrid 1 steps in close combat and tries to cutting grapple knight (12) and hits
Knight dodges (14) while retreating
Spittle from baenadyrid 2 deals another 2 damage, for 4 total
Baenadyrid 2 steps forward to close gap made by knight’s retreat and slashes (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 3
Knight hits baenadyrid 1 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid 1 fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 7 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 6 injury; 1 suffers -4 shock and is at 5 HP
Baenadyrid 1 steps forward and tries to slash knight (8) and misses
Spittle from baenadyrid 2 deals another 2 damage, for 6 total – reducing knight’s DR on torso by 1
Baenadyrid 2 steps into close combat and tries to cutting grapple knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks while retreating (15)
Round 4
Knight steps forward to hit baenadyrid 1 with axe (13) and hits
Baenadyrid 1 fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 11 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 12 injury; baenadyrid 1 is out
… rest of the fight skipped due to Knight being superior in 1v1

With the demons not using All-Out Attack (Double) in hopes of grappling the knight, they have a really hard time doing anything other than corroding his armor. Even with that… the knight can retreat and dodge vs one baenadyrid at a score of 14, and block and parry the second one at 15 and 13, respectively. But let’s juice this up a bit more…

3 baenadyrids vs 1 knight

Round 1
Knight acts first due to higher Basic Speed, hits baenadyrid 1 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid 1 fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 7 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 6 injury; baenadyrid 1 suffers -4 shock and is at 5 HP
Baenadyrid 1 steps forward and tries to slash knight (8) and misses
Baenadyrid 2 steps to knight’s side and spits at him (12) and hits
Knight blocks (13)
Baenadyrid 3 steps to knight’s side and spits at him (12) and hits
Knight dodges (9)
Round 2
Knight hits baenadyrid 1 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid 1 dodges with retreat (11)
Knight steps back to have 2 baenadyrids in front-side hexes and baenadyrid 1 at reach 3 in front hex
Baenadyrid 1 steps forward and spits at knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks (15)
Baenadyrid 2 steps to knight’s side and slashes him (12)
Knights dodges with retreat (10)
Baenadyrid 3, now in knight’s front hex, steps into his front-right hex but fails to slash him (12)
Round 3
Knight sidesteps so that baenadyrid 3 is in his front hex – baenadyrid 2 is now at reach 3 and baenadyrid 1 quite farther away
Knight hits baenadyrid 3 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid 3 fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 5 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 3 injury; baenadyrid 3 suffers -3 shock and is at 8 HP
Baenadyrid 1 runs around into knight’s back hex, enters close combat and hits him with cutting grapple (9)
Knight dodges by retreating directly in front of baenadyrid 3, and turns one facing left so that baenadyrid 3 is in his front-right hex and baenadyrid 1 in his left side hex
Baenadyrid 2 runs around baenadyrid 1 and the knight, entering close combat with the knight from his rear hex, but misses with the cutting grapple (9)
baenadyrid 3 steps into close combat with knight as well but misses due to shock (9)
Round 4
Knight steps into the lower-left hex; baenadyrid 1 is in his lower-right hex, baenadyrid 2 is in his upper-right hex and baenadyrid 3 is one hex up from that
He changes facing so that baenadyrid 1 is in his front-right hex and baenadyrid 2 in his front central hex
He whacks baenadyrid 1 with his axe (14)
Baenadyrid 1 fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 5 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 3 injury; baenadyrid 1 is down to 5 HP and suffering -3 shock
Baenadyrid 1 runs around the knight and enters close combat from his back hex, but misses (9)
Baenadyrid 2 enters close combat with the knight from his front hex and hits him with cutting grapple (12)

The knight is now in a pickle, because he is in close combat with 2 foes from diametrically opposite sides; this means that no matter into which hex he wishes to retreat, he has to evade one of the baenadyrids!

The knight makes a contest of DX at -5 (because the foe is standing) vs the baenadyrid 1 at his back and fails, so he cannot retreat from baenadyrid 2
The knight fails to dodge (11)
Baenadyrid 2 deals 2 points of cutting damage (1d+1) which doesn’t penetrate armor but also inflicts the same amount of control! The Knight is now grappled with a -2 DX penalty
Baenadyrid 3 performs a Move and Attack and enters the knight’s hex from one of his sides but misses the grapple (9)
Round 5
The knight attempts to break free of the grapple but he suffers a total of -5 to his DX (-2 from being grappled and -3 from his shield)! He fails to so (6), and we may conclude this fight now as with those penalties and 3 little demons grappling him, the knight is generally going down.

 

Ironically, it seems that the demons defeated the knight primarily through a quirk of the rules when a demon entering close combat misses the knight. Since the demon missed, the knight couldn’t retreat, and so remains in close combat. If another demon then enters close combat with the knight from the opposite hex than the first demon, the knight can no longer retreat anywhere without evading, which he is going to fail because evading has a base -5 penalty if your foe is standing. So it seems that even 2 demons could be able to beat the knight, but only through the exploitation of this rules quirk; the first demon runs around the knight and enters close combat from the back, and misses so the knight remains in close combat. The second demon then enters close combat from the front, and if the knight fails his dodge (without retreat), he is grappled, and will generally go down because his DB 4 shield is now -4 to his DX.

Conclusion

The knight used in these fights was likely the optimal fighter-type at 62 points. Other fighty characters would have likely fared poorer, but even non-fighter ones would likely come out on top against a single baenadyrid. That is fine. This is a monster you throw at the party in a 2:1 or bigger ratio to soften them up In such a case even a 62-point party probably wouldn’t suffer significant injuries, but their armor would be corroded and maybe some healing expended to set them up against the baenadyrids’ master.

Oh, this was also the first time I’ve built a 62-point DF character – I was extremely surprised at how solid the knight was even with so few points.

 

Disclaimer: I’m a subscriber of Gaming Ballistic’s Patreon and a fan of Doug’s work in general. So I guess you could call me biased. It’s good stuff though!

 

Update

By popular request, here is the knight used in the test. It is a 62-point Delvers to Grow knight with the juggernaut upgrade module who spent 3 quirk points for extra money used to buy a balanced dwarven axe, a large shield and huskarl’s armor. 

 

New Advantages in Delvers to Grow

Gaming Ballistic’s Delvers to Grow by Kevin Smith doesn’t just bring lightning fast Dungeon Fantasy character generation for GURPS and DFRPG, it also introduces a bunch of advantages and perks you may want even if not using the character module system presented within. Some are imports from GURPS not previously available in DFRPG, some are new takes on familiar advantages, while a couple are brand new. All are useful!

But to me, it is even more important how some show that it’s perfectly fine to do some things which are often considered non-kosher by the fanbase, proving that the system is robust and can be further streamlined without breaking anything.

Expanded Bardic Talent

Not content with your bard only able to learn spells from the Communication and Empathy, Knowledge, Mind Control and Sound colleges? Take this instead of regular Bardic Talent and add one of Animal, Healing, Illusion, or Protection and Warning to the list!

Fevered Defense, Mighty Blow, Two-Weapon Training, Walking Armory

The former two perks introduce their namesake extra effort combat options to DFRPG, while the latter two are ports from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 3: The Next Level and Gun Fu, respectively. Naturally, Walking Armory is adapted for the Dungeon Fantasy genre.

Herbaceous Mastery

This allows druids to brew healing potions and natural preparations using the Dungeon Brewmasters rules from Pyramid #3/82, briefly reprinted here and adapted for use in DFRPG. Essentially, it is a maximally limited Quick  Gadgeteer allowing druids to serve as solid party healers.

Heroic Spellslinger and Weapon Master (Missile Spells)

One of the long-standing complaints against GURPS Magic is missile spells taking forever to use in combat. With these two, mages are able to sling fireballs as quick as scouts shoot arrows. While it’s right and proper that they cost as much as the two equivalents for archers, there’s still a bunch of regular spells that can have at least the same effect on a battlefield in roughly the same time, and those don’t require you to invest 20-45 points in order to be able to do so. Still, this is as much as missile spells can be fixed without reworking the core of the magic system.

Rapid Switch

A simplified combination of the Reverse Grip and Quick-Sheathe techniques from GURPS Martial Arts in perk form, this lets you switch between different weapons as a free action, stowing away the old weapon and drawing the new one. It even allows you to switch between weapons not allowing for Fast-Draw as a Ready maneuver.

Master at Arms

Dislike the need to specialize in a single weapon to be an effective combatant? Sad that your players sell all the nice magic weapons you place as loot simply because they lack appropriate skills to use them? Unsure if weapon skill talents are fine? This talent is for you! It does have a solid prerequisite, but it adds +1 per level to all skills allowing attacks and active defenses, at a very reasonable price. Personally, I really hope this will encourage more GMs to allow weapon skill talents, and use more talents in their games in general.

Scroll Scribbling

This leveled perk is essentially a severely limited version of Gizmo allowing you to to prepare temporary scrolls. It’s too slow to use in combat and the scrolls expire rather soon, but anyone can use them!

Soul Warding

Don’t like how Holiness is only useful for some holy abilities? This import from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 20: Slayers for Holy Warriors is a great step in making Holiness more useful. It gives DR against attacks from demons, and you could easily build an equivalent for other thematically appropriate foes.

Vanishing Act

A pet peeve of mine was that Backstabbing could only be used at the start of combat in DF and DFRPG, while GURPS Action, Monster Hunters and After the End have expanded it to be usable multiple times during combat itself. This advantage finally backports this to DFRPG and reduces the penalties for doing so.

Wrestling Master

This is a port from Pyramid #3/111, including an adaptation for Fantastic Dungeon Grappling. I’m very glad Wrestlers were included in Delvers to Grow and otherwise feature prominently in Gaming Ballistic’s offerings. 

New DFRPG Kickstarter: Delvers to Grow

Gaming Ballistic has launched a new Kickstarter project. Delvers to Grow by Kevin Smyth is a DFRPG supplement scratching two common itches: character creation taking too long even with the distilled ruleset and 250-point characters having too many moving parts for players inexperienced with the genre. Both have one thing in common: too many choices, and DtG reduces this down to just half a dozen major ones per character while still producing effective, flavorful characters at 62, 125 and 187 points fully compatible with the DFRPG profession templates.

Delvers_Mockup_SMALL
Art by Ksenia Kozhevnikova.

I had the privilege of running a bunch of playtests at the 125-point level, and I can confidently say that DtG delivers what it set out to do. It was a meatgrinder scenario where characters would die often and each player would create several different characters during a 4-hour session. Some players reported character generation time (including gear and spells) as low as 10 minutes, even complaining that half of that was wrangling with GCS or GCA. Now for first-timers this will likely be higher, 30 minutes seems to be an average. Even for those with no prior DFRPG experience whatsoever or those who get overwhelmed with too many options, it shouldn’t take longer than an hour and they’ll have a fully fledged character ready to throw some dice at the table.

DtG achieves this by having each character built from a base template (one for each of three categories of characters  – “strong”, “fast” and “smart” – at each of the three point levels), up to four 25- or 50-point profession and “upgrade” modules, and two -25-point disadvantage modules. Finally, each character chooses a couple gear packages and in case of casters, one of several spell lists available for each profession. Unlike the 250-point profession templates, you get no more than a couple choices within each of the base templates and modules, and many of the modules offer no such smaller choices at all. If this seems too constraining – it really is not, because the way you can mix and match the modules results in a wide variety of builds even within a single profession. You can always loosen it up if more customization is desired – DtG is simply a tool to speed up character creation, not a prescriptive rulebook to follow to the letter or else.

Aside from being a great DFRPG resource, DtG left an important impression with me. While the endless options and fine granularity of GURPS character generation are one of the main reasons why it’s my favorite game, over the last year or two I grew to like “profession” templates very much as a tool for illustrating character archetypes, effective builds and even setting flavor for any given game. I like the chunkier, simpler evolution presented in DtG even more and will seriously consider it for all my GURPS material going forward. And if anyone asks me what should be done to get more new players into the GURPS ecosystem, my first answer will be “this”. So much this.

New DF Profession: Monster Slayer

There was a discussion the other day on the GURPS discord on how to build a “monster slayer” in Dungeon Fantasy. My first thought (and I wasn’t alone in this) was “all delvers are monster slayers, aren’t they?”, but it was clear that the original question was about a delver specialized in hunting and exterminating dangerous beasts as most recently popularized by The Witcher. Two lines of advice were presented: just pick any of the more combative professions and give the character some appropriate skills like Naturalist, Physiology, Tracking and Traps, while the other was to look at Dungeon Fantasy 20: Slayers and create a new profession based on the three presented there. This piqued my interest so I gave it a go.

The three slayers from DF 20 are all fighter-types specialized for killing a rather narrow class of foes. They are similar to the holy warrior in that they don’t have access to Weapon Master, super-high weapon skills or huge strength, but compensate with specialized knowledge and exotic abilities potent against their chosen foe. To differentiate them from (and give an edge over) other professions that are traditionally also strong adversaries of these kinds of creatures, these abilities, while supernatural, aren’t magical or holy and otherwise don’t possess any kind of power modifier which would disable them in specific circumstances. This is attributed to the “power of their souls” gained through exotic means, harrowing experiences etc.

While I took a lot of the same cues, I decided against my Monster Slayer having similar supernatural abilities. His intended targets are broader in scope and have little in common aside from the general theme of “exotic monster” and being highly lethal, so it would be hard to find a proper theme for such special abilities other than the more generic magical ones. Since I wasn’t interested in developing a witcher analogue for DF, I decided on a more mundane approach.


The Monster Slayer

You are a delver specialized in exterminating dangerous creatures preying on civilized folk. Your quarry is for the most part quite “natural”, if rather exotic – you leave supernatural foes like demons, constructs and elementals to others. If the countryside is terrorized by an owlbear or a hydra prevents safe travel through the forest, you are there to save the day.

Specialized knowledge and gear, careful preparation, cunning and grit are the tools of your trade. You uncover, track down and eliminate some of the most lethal creatures out there. While you’re quite a capable warrior on your own, you prefer to stack fights in your favor using traps, surprise attacks and dirty tricks, especially since your battles occur on your quarry’s territory.

Monster Slayer Advantages

Foresight [5 or 10/level]

See Pyramid #3/53 p. 32-33. Monster slayers make thorough preparations in pursuit of their prey. Foresight facilitates this without requiring the same of the players. Some useful types of actions for the 5-point version include ambushes, getaways, research and survival (as described in Pyramid), or setting traps. A suggested limit for starting slayers is up to 30 points in any combination of Foresight, including Gizmos (see below).

Gizmos [5/level]

See B57 and Dungeon Fantasy 4: Sages p. 4. All items from the Monster Slayer Gear section below are considered appropriate to the Monster Slayer profession.

Heroic Reserves [3/level]

See Dungeon Fantasy 20: Slayers p. 5.

Higher Purpose (Slay Monsters) [5/level]

You get +1 per level on all attack, damage, defense and resistance rolls against all monsters belonging to the following classes: dire and giant animals (but not ordinary ones), hybrids, plants. You also get this bonus against members of the mundane class which are of SM +2 or larger, or display traditionally monstrous characteristics. Creatures like medusas, siege beasts, dragons, trolls, werewolves and “generic mouth-and-tentacles creatures” are all fair game, but orcs, dinomen and others which could be considered “people” (even when stretching that term to its limit) living in large, organized societies never are. Consult your GM.

You are not compelled to pursue every single qualifying creature, only those that prey on civilized folk (so friendly giants are exempt, for example). But if you ever avoid confrontation with such a creature, or back off from pursuing one you’ve engaged, your bonus turns into a penalty against all qualifying creatures until you slay either the original offender or another creature of the same or greater threat. Merely running away from a fight does not trigger this – strategic withdrawal is part of the job but until you slay your foe you must behave as if under an Obsession to slay it. If you resist the Obsession, the penalties kick in.

Slayer Training

See Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups p. 13. Monster slayers make good use of Slayer Swing at Neck [4/skill], Slayer Swing at Skull [5/skill] and Slayer Thrust to Vitals [3/skill].

Stalker [5/level]

See GURPS Power-Ups 3: Talents p. 15.

Utilitarian Naturalist [5/level]

You have a knack for understanding how living things work and exploiting their biology. You get +1 per level to the Cooking, Naturalist, Pharmacy (Herbal), Physiology, Poisons and Surgery skills. You also get +1 per level on Survival rolls to remove external parts from dead critters and field dress game.

Very Rapid Healing [15]

Use the version from DFRPG which lets you recover more HP every time you heal.

Monster Slayer Perks

Monster Slayers may buy as many of these perks as they will, and they don’t count against other perk limits.

Bane Brewer

See Pyramid #3/50 p. 33. You may only choose from the Animal, Hybrid, Mundane and Plant specialties.

Dirty Fighting

See GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups p. 11. Helps start fights by hitting monsters in sensitive hit locations from long range.

Finishing Move

See GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups p. 11. Synergizes well with Slayer Training.

Focused Fury

See GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups p. 18. Synergizes well with Finishing Move.

Reach Mastery

See GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups p. 11. Invaluable to slayers opting for Polearm or Two-Handed Axe/Mace.

Scent Masking

You minimize your bodily odor by maintaining a careful diet, and with adequate preparation you may fool the discerning sense of smell many monsters possess. After taking half an hour to smear yourself and your gear with local plants, soil and so on, you get +1 per level to use Stealth against creatures with Discriminatory Smell, and they get -1 per level to track you. You may take up to 5 levels of this perk.

Sure-Footed

See GURPS Power-Ups 2: Perks p. 8 or GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Denizens: Barbarians p. 18-19. Monster lairs often feature rough terrain, and this puts slayers on equal footing.

Planned Assassination

See Pyramid #3/50 p. 34. Your target must be a valid subject of Higher Purpose (Slay Monsters).

Practical Poisoner

See Pyramid #3/50 p. 34. Monsters tend to have high HT and HP, so slayers like to apply multiple doses of poison at once.

Monster Slayer Skills

You may learn Blind Fighting and Body Control without their usual prerequisites. Learned this way, Blind Fighting may only be used against living creatures, and Body Control only for affecting involuntary bodily functions or flushing poison.

Monster Slayer

Attributes: ST 13 [30]; DX 13 [60]; IQ 12 [40]; HT 12 [20].

Secondary Characteristics: Damage 1d/2d-1; BL 34 lbs.; HP 13 [0]; Will 12 [0]; Per 14 [10]; FP 12 [0]; Basic Speed 6.25 [0]; Basic Move 6 [0].

Advantages: Combat Reflexes [15]; Higher Purpose (Slay Monsters) [5]; Stalker 1 [5]; Utilitarian Naturalist 2 [10]; and either Danger Sense or Peripheral Vision, both [15], or 15 points chosen from any combination of Foresight and Gizmos. A further 40 points chosen from among ST +1 to +4 [10/level], DX +1 or +2 [20/level], IQ +1 or +2 [20/level], HT +1 to +4 [10/level], Per +1 to +6 [5/level], FP +1 to +4 [3/level], HP +1 to +4 [2/level], Basic Move +1 or +2 [5/level], Basic Speed +0.75 [15] or +1.75 [35], Acute Senses (any) [2/level], Damage Resistance (Tough Skin, -40%) 1-2 [3/level], Danger Sense [15], Enhanced Block 1 [5], Enhanced Dodge 1 [15], Enhanced Parry 1 (One Melee Weapon skill) [5], Extra Attack 1 [25], Fearlessness [2/level] or Unfazeable [15], Fit [5] or Very Fit [15], Foresight [5 or 10/level], Gizmos 1-3 [5/level], Hard to Kill [2/level], Hard to Subdue [2/level], Heroic Reserves 1-13 [3/level], High Pain Threshold [10], Higher Purpose 2-3 (Slay Monsters) [5/level], Luck [15] or Extraordinary Luck [30], Night Vision 1-9 [1/level], Peripheral Vision [15], Rapid Healing [5] or Very Rapid Healing [15], Recovery [10], Resistant to Disease (+3) or (+8) [3 or 5], Resistant to Poison (+3) or (+8) [5 or 7], Signature Gear [varies], Slayer Training [3-5/skill], Stalker 2-4 [5/level], Striking ST 1 or 2 [5/level], Striking ST 1 or 2 (Only on surprise attack, -60%) [2/level], Utilitarian Naturalist 3-4 [5/level], Weapon Bond [1], or more monster slayer perks.

Disadvantages: -50 points chosen from Bad Temper [-10*], Bloodlust [-10*], Callous [-5], Code of Honor (Soldier’s) [-10], Compulsive Vowing [-5], Greed [-15*], Honesty [-10*], Loner [-5*], No Sense of Humor [-10], Obsession (Monster-Hunting) [-10*], One Eye [-15], Overconfidence [-5*], Selfless [-5*], Sense of Duty (Adventuring Companions) [-5], Stubbornness [-5], Vow (Own no more than a horse can carry) [-10], or Wounded [-5].

Primary Skills: Naturalist, Physiology (Animals), Physiology (Hybrids), all (H) IQ+1 [2]-13‡; Physiology (Plants) (H) IQ+0 [1]-12‡. One of Crossbow or Thrown Weapon (Axe/Mace or Spear), both (E) DX+3 [4]-15; or Bow or Throwing, both (A) DX+2 [4]-14. One of these two melee skills packages:

  1. One of Polearm, Spear, Two-Handed Axe/Mace, or Two-Handed Sword, all (A) DX+4 [16]-17.
  2. One of Axe/Mace, Broadsword, or Spear, all (A) DX+3 [12]-16; – and Shield (E) DX+2 [4]-15.

Secondary Skills: One of Knife (E) DX+2 [4]-15; or Wrestling (A) DX+1 [4]-14. Navigation (Land) (A) IQ+0 [1]-12§; Observation (A) Per+0 [4]-14; Poisons (H) IQ+0 [1]-12‡; Stealth (A) DX+1 [2]-14§; Survival (Any) (A) Per-1 [1]-13; Tactics (H) IQ-2 [1]-10; Tracking (A) Per+0 [1]-14§; Traps (A) IQ+0 [2]-12.

Background Skills: Spend 8 points among Area Knowledge (Any), Connoisseur (Weapons), Current Affairs, First Aid, or Gesture, all (E) IQ+0 [1]-12; Armoury (Any), Interrogation, Merchant, or Research, all (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Blind Fighting (VH) Per-3 [1]-11; Boating, Boxing, Climbing, Riding (Horse), or Throwing, all (A) DX-1 [1]-12; Body Control (VH) HT-3 [1]-9; Brawling, Forced Entry, or Knot-Tying, all (E) DX+0 [1]-13; Fast-Draw (Any) (E) DX+1 [1]-14#; Camouflage (E) IQ+1 [1]-13§; Carousing or Swimming, both (E) HT+0 [1]-12; Hiking (A) HT+0 [1]-12§; Intimidation (A) Will-1 [1]-11; Mimicry (Animal Sounds) (H) IQ-2 [1]-10; Net (H) DX-2 [1]-11; Scrounging (E) Per+0 [1]-14; Search (A) Per-1 [1]-13; Surgery (VH) IQ-1 [1]-11‡; or to improve primary or secondary skills.

* Multiplied for self-control number, see B120.
† On hearing of or encountering a monster as defined per Higher Purpose, make a self-control roll. Failure means you have to track it down and slay it. Also roll whenever an intelligent monster communicates with you. Failure means you treat everything it says as lies.
‡ Includes +2 from Utilitarian Naturalist
§ Includes +1 from Stalker.
# Includes +1 from Combat Reflexes.

Customization Notes

Being caught off guard by their quarry means death for a monster slayer, which is reflected in the required choice of advantages. Beyond that, an ideal slayer should be strong, tough, cunning, observant, well prepared and skilled at arms – it’s hard to be all of that at once, so individual slayers specialize. Increased ST and DX, Enhanced Defenses, Extra Attack, Finishing Move, High Pain Threshold, Slayer Training, Striking ST and Weapon Bond help in direct combat. Increased Perception, Acute Senses, Danger Sense, Night Vision, Stalker, Peripheral Vision, Camouflage, Scent Masking, Stealth and Observation help the slayer get the drop on the monsters and not the other way around. Bane Brewer, Foresight, Gizmos, Naturalist, Observation, Physiology, Planned Assassination, Poisons, Practical Poisoner, Research and Traps stack the deck in the slayer’s favor. Increased HT, Hard to Kill and Subdue, Luck, Rapid or Very Rapid Healing, Recovery, Resistant and Tough Skin help the slayer survive.

Slayers prefer cutting and impaling weapons since their targets are generally fleshy and chopping off important bits or striking at vital points is the quickest way to victory. Many prefer to have both in a single weapon so Broadsword, Polearm (for use with dueling varieties) and Two-Handed Sword are the most popular weapon skills, but some choose Axe/Mace, Spear or Two-Handed Axe/Mace instead. Crushing weapons are specialty tools most often used by those already favoring axes or polearms. Most slayers use two-handed weapons because they hit the hardest and are more convenient to use along other tools, but some prefer a shield and a one-handed weapon because monsters hit hard as well. All slayers will want to start an engagement with a ranged weapon; Crossbow or Thrown Weapon (laced with poison!) if they prefer a single hard hit and then to wade into melee, or Bow if they like to keep their distance as long as possible. Knife or Wrestling are indispensable since many monsters like to grapple.

Slayers come from many different backgrounds. Some are consummate professionals and protectors of innocents with Code of Honor, Honesty or Selfless, while others are self-centered brutes with Bloodlust, Callous or Greed. Many are Loners, or scarred by their experiences with No Sense of Humor, One Eye, or Wounded.

The selection of supporting skills is wide. Area Knowledge, Boating, Climbing, Survival and Swimming help the slayer traverse the wilderness to their quarry. Carousing and Current Affairs let them learn of monsters plaguing the locals. Interrogation lets slayers question their more intelligent victims if they have friends or relatives nearby, while Forced Entry helps break into their lairs. Merchant is crucial for slayers who want to get paid for their work, while Surgery and Survival lets them extract valuable bits from their prey. Knot Tying and Net help capture monsters alive.

Slayers often trade the 5 quirk points for cash for weapons and armor, but are also likely to spend them on more Foresight, Gizmos, Higher Purpose, Slayer Training, Stalker, Tough Skin, Utilitarian Naturalist, perks, or for improving skills.

Monster Slayer Power-Ups

Monster Slayers can already choose a wide repertoire of abilities at start, and they mostly become better by becoming more versatile. They can also simply get more of certain traits.

  • Any combination of Foresight and Gizmos up to 60 points [5 or 10/level].
  • Enhanced Block up to 2 [5/level].
  • Enhanced Dodge up to 2 [15/level].
  • Enhanced Parry (One Melee Weapon skill) up to 2 [5/level].
  • Heroic Reserves up to 20 [3/level].
  • Immune to Poison [15].
  • Monster Slayer perks.
  • Ridiculous Luck [60].
  • Stalker up to 6 [5/level].
  • Striking ST 1-10 (Only on surprise attack, -60%) [2/level].
  • Utilitarian Naturalist up to 6 [5/level].

Monster Slayer Gear

Monster slayers use a variety of special gear to stack the deck in their favor. Here is a list compiled from various GURPS Dungeon Fantasy supplements.

  • Acid (Adventurers, p. 28). For use against monsters whose Regeneration, Regrowth etc is foiled by acid.
  • Alchemist’s fire (Adventurers, p. 28). Like acid, but against monsters susceptible to fire.
  • Anti-Toxin (Adventurers p. 28). Can be produced with Gizmos when you can afford several minutes of delay in neutralizing the venom.
  • Bane (Treasure Tables p. 37). Toxin tailored to a specific species. Packs a decent punch and slayers can produce it with Gizmos.
  • Bladeblack (Adventurers p. 28). For taking out the toughest of monsters.
  • Blinding Gas (Ninja p. 15). Even though many monsters have Discriminatory Smell, a monster that can only smell you is better than one that can both see and smell you.
  • Caltrops (Adventurers p. 25). Good for hit and run tactics when you didn’t prepare a trap.
  • Fire Resistance Potion (Adventurers p. 29). Recommended against fire-breathing monsters.
  • Manuals (Sages, p. 13). Fine or very fine versions are useful for various knowledge skills in the slayer’s repertoire.
  • Mind Fog (Ninja p. 15). A clumsy monster is a greater threat than a blind or paralyzed one, but mind fog has the advantage of affecting its targets even on a successful HT roll.
  • Mirrored shields (Adventurers p.27). For use against monsters with gaze attacks.
  • Monster Drool (Adventurers p. 28). Weak poison which makes a poor choice for Gizmos, but potent and still cheap when applied in quadruple doses.
  • Monster shackles. Massive ones used by slayers who keep their prey alive. DR 8, HP 20. $1600, 16 lbs. Large enough for up to SM+1 monsters; double the cost and weight per SM above that, and multiply HP by x1.25.
  • Nageteppo (Adventurers, p. 25). Budget alternative to blinding gas. Can be gizmoed to boot.
  • Necromantic Preservative (Treasure Tables p. 24). Keeps dead monster bits fresh.
  • Paralytic Slime (Ninja p. 15). For when you need the monster alive or do not wish to invest in bladeblack.
  • Salamander Amulet (Adventurers p. 30). Crucial for slayers specializing in fire-breathing monsters.
  • Serpent’s Amulet (Adventurers p. 30). Used by slayers who didn’t invest in Immune to Poison and tired of guzzling antidotes.
  • Silver weapons (Adventurers p.27). For use against monsters with Vulnerability to silver.
  • Slippery Oil (Treasure Tables p. 23). Helps to escape the grasp of grabby monsters.
  • Spiked armor (Adventurers, p. 27). Makes grabby monsters regret grabbing you.
  • Thieves’ Oil (Adventurers p. 29). A more expensive version of slippery oil with no downsides.
  • Traps (Adventurers p. 26). An immobilized, grappled monster is much easier to deal with. Two variants are available to slayers in addition to ones from Adventurers. Large monster trap: 2d+1 cr, ST 24; $720, 25 lbs. Humongous monster trap: 4d+1 cr, ST 40. $2000, 70 lbs. Fine versions are available as well for double the cost: increase the damage and ST of the mini and man trap by 1, monster and large monster trap by 2, and humongous monster trap by 4.
  • Universal Antidote (Adventurers p. 29). For the nastiest of poisons when you don’t have the luxury to wait for an anti-toxin to take effect.
  • Wolfsbane (Adventurers p. 28). Slayers can use this to keep lycanthropes at bay and pepper them with ranged attacks.

Heroic Power Items

See Dungeon Fantasy 20: Slayers p. 21. These function as power items whose energy can be spent like Heroic Reserves.

GURPS Kickstarter Challenge Review Part 2

This is the second part of my GURPS 2020 Kickstarter Challenge review. The article series includes:

  • Part 1
    • Action 6: Tricked-Out Rides
    • Action 7: Mercenaries
    • Boardroom and Curia: Tomorrow Rides
  • Part 2 (you’re here!)
    • Dungeon Fantasy 21: Megadungeons
    • Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 3: Deep Night and the Star
  • Part 3
    • Horror: Beyond the Pale
    • Hot Spots: The Incense Trail
    • Monster Hunters Encounters 1
    • Reign of Steel: Read the Sky
  • Part 4
    • Steampunk Setting: The Broken Clockwork World
    • Template Toolkit 3: Starship Crew
    • How to Be a GURPS GM: Ritual Path Magic

Dungen Fantasy 21: Megadungeons

Similarly to Action 7: Mercenaries, this supplement is a genre book on running megadungeons in your Dungeon Fantasy game. It describes what a megadungeon is, how it differs from a “normal” dungeon and how it can be used as the central element of a Dungeon Fantasy campaign. Topics include placement (where it is in relation to town and what consequences that has), how to map a megadungeon, how to stock it (with monsters, traps and treasure), different playstyles, considerations on spells which could short-circuit a megadungeon campaign, and an experience point award scheme based on loot found.

A lot of the material can be used in contexts other than megadungeons. Placement and stocking is relevant for all kinds of dungeon, while the section on magic and the experience reward scheme could be useful in any kind of Dungeon Fantasy campagin.

Even though a lot of what this supplement covers could already be known by experienced Dungeon Fantasy GMs, I would definitively recommend it to anyone running a DF game. It offers useful insights applicable to DF in general. My only complaint is that I’d like for a genre book on such a seminal part of Dungeon Fantasy to be longer than 10 pages. It’s not that anything is acutely missing, but more material would be very nice.

Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 3: Deep Night and the Star

Without going into too many spoilers, this adventure is a very neat concept if you like your Elder Things. Visit an exotic locale, kill some Elder Things, and get home in time for supper. It’s a fun and interesting romp I can heartily recommend…

… unless you have a druid in your party. They eat a -10 penalty to all spellcasting rolls for the whole duration of the adventure. I have nothing against low or no mana/sanctity/nature but it has to be used sparingly. I’d argue this would be too much even for wizards who routinely shoot for skill level 20 with their spells, but for druids where that mostly isn’t the case it’s simply no fun. It makes perfect sense given the setting and flavor of the adventure, so it really isn’t bad adventure design, it’s more of a “this adventure isn’t appropriate for you if you have X in your party”.

A couple further issues:

  • There’s no loot given out in the adventure. None. While this once again kinda fits the setting, I don’t really think “saving the world is its own reward” is how most people play DF. Aside from some junk, there are not even opportunities to find loot in the environment or among corpses of slain foes, something which would be very appropriate in this case.
  • Ok, the above statement isn’t strictly true. There is a single item potentially worth a massive pile of money, but there’s a good chance players won’t be able to retrieve it. Even if they do, there’s no discussion about its worth.
  • There is a hex map given for one of three very similar points of interest, and all three locations are keyed to it with somewhat different inhabitants. But to avoid all three locations looking the same, the GM will need to at least sketch out the layout of the remaining two locations himself.

None of this is a dealbreaker or even a significant problem, but they all have something in common. Please don’t make me do homework if I buy a published adventure! I realize that page count is limited, but this PDF could have really used an extra page or two to fill in these gaps. It would have made for a much better product that way.

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.

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.