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.

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.

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.