Tuesday, January 16, 2018

DF Felltower, Session 97, Felltower 69 - Into the Orc Hole

January 14th, 2018

Weather: Very cold.

Ahenobarbus the Lacerator, human swashbuckler (262 points)
Alaric, human scout (268 points)
Aldwyn, human knight (250 points)
Dryst, halfling wizard (435 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human wizard (302 points)
     5 skeletons (~25 points)
Hayden the Unnamed; human knight (265 points)
Hjalmarr Holgerson, human knight (336 points)
     Brother Ike, human initiate (143 points)
Mo (his momma call him Kle), human barbarian (363 points)
Rolan Liadon, wood elf scout (250 points)

The group gathered in Stericksburg. Several PCs were dead broke, including Aldwyn - but Ahenobarbus generously fronted his living expenses so he wouldn't have to risk a Survival roll in the woods. Alaric, who'd planned to use a Complementary Skill roll to aid him, was disappointed enough to carve "No Knights Allowed" into his tree fort's tree. So there.

The group gathered rumors and stocked up on gear as they got ready to go kill orcs. They considered getting the Meeposian brothers, but with 10 living and 5 unliving party members, they chose not to. No one attempted to find Raggi until it was far too late - either by design or accident.

The group headed out in the cold, passing Sterick's statue. Hjalmarr saluted with his axe, Mo smashed it with his flail, Ahenobarbus spit on it, and Rolan did something less mentionable ("Sorry, it's an elf thing.") They climbed up the mountain, and Aldwyn attempted to scrounge up some sticks he could carve into stakes. No luck, proving that default rolls in bad conditions is no substitute for remembering ahead of time.

The PCs decided to stop climbing the walls, and took some time with Dryst to use Shape Earth to put a 6' tall, 3' wide tunnel into the castle wall where the orcs had repaired it a couple years back. That wasn't wide enough for the bridge, and barely enough for Mo to squeeze by. Squeeze he did, and then several of them climbed the walls from inside from within one of the towers and hauled up their bridge.

The headed down to the main entrance, and put Dark Vision on both scouts and sent them down. The pillboxes were closed and disused, and the portcullises were jammed where the PCs had jammed them. Mo jumped across, the bridge was laid, and the scouts checked everything more closely.

From there they pried open one of the metal doors and headed in, with Rolan up front, Alaric next, and move a second's move away ("21 yards!" he kept announcing. Feet, it's feet.) Rolan felt a deep sense of valuable god stuff off to one side. He ignored this feeling and headed on.

The group worked their way carefully down the halls, down the half-stairs, past the aparment complexes, and to the second level. They waited a while at the stairs, listening, and then headed down. They checked all of the doors.

The one they wanted wouldn't budge. Dryst put Glasswall on it and saw it was nailed shut with heavy boards. So he put Silence on it and Hjalmarr hacked it to pieces.

The group headed into the hallway and the scouts spotted some orcs just as they were spotted. They'd been silent and stealthy, but forgot the rest of the party was carrying maximum-brightness lightstones, which gave their presence away. In any case, in a short exchange they knocked two orcs down (and I think Alaric took an arrow). The other fled down a dead-end side loop. They heard yells of alarm, and then horns and drums. ("A very musical culture, the orcs.")

The group advanced to the intersection, plunking the orcs with Cornucopia arrows, and splitting off three members to track down the orc. They did, and kicked open the door of the room he was in. Aldwyn deflected the orc's arrow shot and they rushed and killed him.

From there they advanced to the orc hole. More horns and the clear alert of the orcs cut off part two of the plan - get to the weird "touch only once" altar and have the new guys touch it. Instead, they started down the hole.

The hole is fairly wide at the top but drops about 9-10' down and then angles off at a 45 degree angle down, only 6-7 feet tall and 6 feet wide, with rough carved handholds. Alaric dropped with with a rope to hold onto, so he could forward walk down. He saw little, and a dropped light stone just bounced out of sight.

One by one they descended, and climbed down the tight, narrow tunnel. Rolan guarded the rear, and Dryst was concerned the orcs might collapse the tunnel on them. It was solid and just big enough for orcs and some of their larger allies, but not by much.

Eventually Alaric stumbled across a goblin in ambush. He heard it breathing, and jumped around the corner and took two shots. One hit the goblin the leg, the other missed. It screamed, and he shot it dead a moment later. Echoes of drums and horns came after the scream.

They found their way to a round cave, 1/3 given over to water. The only way out was a boulder-parapet'ed tunnel mouth 15' wide and 30' off the ground. Alaric shot and wounded an orc who tried to shoot down on him, and the other orcs ducked out of sight. Mo came up and ran along the right wall, hoping to reach the "cliff" edge. Instead, he fell right down a concealed pit and was injured. The party moved in. The orcs tossed down a dozen jars of flammable oil and two sacks. About 3/4 of the jars ignited, but didn't splatter anyone as the PCs were too scattered. The bags landed and began to move like something inside was moving. Naturally, Hjalmarr stepped up and kicked one. It exploded in a cloud of stinging, cough-inducing spores. He breathed some and was injured but quickly got out of the way. The other bag was eventually shot to explode harmlessly.

Mo downed a Strength potion somewhere around this time.

Eventually sent up a Rolan with Levitate to engage the ors. He injured one and sent the rest running after their arrow and bolt shots missed him entirely (Missile Shield). Rolan moved up to cover the landing (which had nothing but rocks and a net) and Mo climbed up. Mo checked the net and it was an old, ill-repaired fishing net, not a climbing cargo net. They decided to have Dryst use Create Object to make a rope ladder they could toss up to Mo.

What ended up happening was that Mo was on top, facing the rocks, holding on to the ladder since it lacked a place (or a means) to be anchored. As he held it, goblins rushed Mo. Rolan didn't wait (his player didn't even wait, and shot and resolved his shot before I said what was coming) and tok out one goblin. The others reach Mo, who looked back and attempted Intimidation with a roar. The goblins broke and ran. The orcs behind them rushed Mo and stabbed and hacked at him. Rolan fired into the fray, and Hjalmarr climbed as fast as he could. Mo took a few hits, Rolan wounded some orcs and then Hjalmarr was up and slew the others. The rest of the party climbed up.

They moved down a short, bent tunnel and came out into a very large cavern - more than 30 yards wide and more than 50 long, with many columns - and two long ladders tossed in a corner. In short order, though, horns and the sounds of moving soldiers alerted the PCs that orcs were coming.

They formed up five across at the mouth of the tunnel, with the rest of the PCs backing them up. The scouts had Walk on Air on so they could get a standing vantage point to shoot over the other PCs. As soon as the enemy appeared, the wizards put Great Haste on each one.

The PCs were rushed by around 20 orcs with assorted low-grade weapons and leather armor, seven devil wolves, and about 18 or 20 goblins. They were backed by some archers that Rolan kept busy by shooting at them (they Dodged basically everything - he had terrible luck with that.)

The fight was a straight-up brawl (using some abstracted combat rules to move things along.) The PCs quickly decimated the orcs, and then the wolves, and then the goblins, although some orcs got in shots and the wolves managed to bite and chew on several PCs in close combat. But in less than 10 turns the PCs demolished them all. The last four goblins tried to flee but the scouts shot them down from behind (which will be a clear lesson to the enemy - don't run, no quarter).

As the first wave went down, though, the PCs could hear another wave forming up - and very, very distant drums and horns answering a close-in horn. There was less than a minute to rest - and the FP loss from the long climb, a fast climb, several small fights, and then a big brawl (and 5 more on top for Great Haste) meant that Brother Ike and the wizards needed to expend their own FP to keep the scouts above half Move and Dodge.

The next wave came in.

This time, the PCs backed off to a three-person front rank. The second wave was much more formidable - orcs with leather and metal armor, all bigger than the largest of the previous wave, backed by two trolls a half-dozen ogres (some two-headed,) and three gigantic two-headed ogres and a few orc spellcasters, plus two owlbears. The mob advanced and quickly reached the group - the scouts shot exclusively at the biggest, baddest looking two-headed ogre in the face. Actually Alaric shot at an owlbear first, while hooting owlbear noises. The big ogre took the arrows to the face and didn't seem very much bothered by them. When one head was hit, it said, "Ouch!" and the other laughed and said, "Hahah, missed me!" - and the opposite happened when the other face was hit. It readied a big barrel to throw, and the trolls rushed right up through the crowd at double time - Great Haste!

As this happened, an orc snuck up from the back!

It threw a Magebane grenade into Gerry's hex. He lost his ability to cast spells (but not maintain - it says "cast"). He yelled as he turned and saw the orc his dumb-as-rocks skeletons hadn't detected sneaking up. Rolan turned and shot the orc, then shot him again as Ahenobarbus rushed back to finish him. The skeletons stood guard and moved up a little. Gerry quickly readied and downed a Universal Antidote to undo the Magebane effects.

The same style of abstracted brawl started. The trolls were backed by the orcs, but the PCs just focused on the trolls as the scouts shot at the biggest ogre. Hayden was quickly torn up by a troll fairly badly and fell down as he critically failed a Dodge. Mo smashed a troll in the skull twice, trying to brain it to death. It ignored him and kept going. The other was cut to ribbons by Hjalmarr.

The big two-headed ogre tossed his barrel of oil into the ranks of the PCs, smashing behind them and splattering everyone with oil. Two orc spellcasters tossed Explosive Fireball spells into the tunnel to set it off, but one missed badly and the other missed by enough to only lightly scorch some PCs and the trolls.

After a few seconds of this fighting, though, Dryst put up a Force Wall. It formed over a brutal second of combat, and Mo even swung through it to injure a troll. Gerry put up a large Stench spell over the mob of foes, and Dryst put up Create Fire on a fallen troll.

It was all for naught, though, as the trolls got up and left the fire, the orcs backed off quickly at some shouts from the ogres and others in the back, and a horn blew to signal a pullback.

Since magic items can pass through a Force Wall, Alaric kept shooting off his stock of arrows, trying to set an owlbear berserk so it would kill some orcs. He missed a couple of times, but then hit twice - and unfortunately for his plan, knocked the owlbear down and possibly out. It was eventually dragged away by one of the ogres.

The orcs were content to let the Force Wall remain, and the PCs backed up and rested up, waiting for an orc assault down a narrow channel. The orcs shot some arrows to test the wall, but otherwise, that was it. Some of the wounded from the first assault got up and crawled away.

The PCs basically sat around and recovered, and some of the PCs downed potions to get ready for the next fight - buffs and healing, mostly. But then the discussion turned to just getting the downed orcs in front of them, looting their weapons and purses, and leaving.

Ultimately, that's what they did. The Force Wall went down, and Rolan scouted invisibly. He saw orcs and devil wolves posted on the three other ways out. He was able to line up a clear shot on one wolf, and shot it and killed it. The rest of the PCs moved up, with half of them guarding and the rest dragging bodies. They hauled the dead into a chokepoint, retreated, and put up another Force Wall. They looted the orcs. The skeletons were given pieces of armor from Gerry.

After that, they left - they climbed down the cliff (it wasn't specified how - I assumed another magical rope ladder) and made their way up to the worked tunnels. They sealed the orc hole with another Force Wall. They then headed to the altar, hoping someone would get lucky with the silver-to-gold effect. Only Alaric and Aldwyn wanted to try - Alaric tried, and got +1 stats for one day. Aldwyn got what they hoped - 39 of his silver coins turned to gold! Gerry had a skeleton try, and it was smote down with cosmic lightning. Oops.

After this, they headed to the first level and checked the Seven Saints and wrote down which ones they'd found and didn't find. They then worked their way out of the dungeon, lowered their bridge, walked out of the narrow tunnel they'd made in the wall, and headed home.


So the PCs finally went down the "orc hole," which was first discovered back in the early days of delving. A lot of the futility of "cast Stench to smoke them out" and "throw a light stone down to see what's there" became clear in the 500+ yard length of the tunnel and its uneven floored, steep descent. It also explains why orc reinforcements were often so slow. That's a long climb into a fight.

The PCs quickly identified the two-headed guys as "ettins" but I corrected them. It's sometimes hard to use a general idea with a D&D name becoming attached.

Again, Return Missile came up. My hopefully unambiguous ruling is that missiles targeted at an area can't be subject to the spell. Dryst's player asked if he could jump in the way. Ahenobarbus's player said that's against the wizard code, so we joked it would take a Will - Magery roll to do something selfless. In any case, I said no. There is a rule-legitimate way to make this happen (Sacrificial Dodge to take the hit for the floor, and then someone else casts Return Missile) but again, I rule it cannot be used on missile targeting an area.

The abstracted combat went okay. There were the usual issues - it goes from "I need the minis to see where everyone is" to "I step back into this hex" and "I attack this orc here" and "I hit these hexes with my spell so this orc and this troll are specifically in it." Which is kind of the worst of both worlds for the GM - I need to track individual orcs and hexes, and it's abstracted enough so I really can't. Plus the players aren't generally satisfied with "win" or "lose" but want to inflict 100% fatal casualties on the foe as fast as possible, so you can't really assume "that guy is hors de combat" or "that you've defeated those guys, now move on." I understand why, but still, if which orc is hit, which one is dead, and how dead are each one becomes important to track, it's hard to use speedy combat to resolve big fights. I have some ideas for next time, and yes this will turn into a Pyramid article once I'm satisfied.

Loot was barely sufficient for Mo, thanks to Dryst taking almost nothing, and plenty for the others - mostly thanks to the margin of the gold. The axes and spears and bows they sold got them a solid chunk, too, but it wasn't all that much. That worked out to 1 xp for Dryst, 5 xp for the rest, and MVP was Rolan for all of his player's ideas and tactics.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Jeff Dee Picture - Caption This! Results

I posted this picture as a "Caption This!" post on Saturday.

I received a number of entries. The one that made me laugh the most was . . .

"There he goes. We're all out of henchmen now."

from Ben.

Thanks Ben, and thanks everyone! Ben, let me know in the comments what module I should review next!

For myself, I just kept thinking the same thing over and over again as I looked at the forlorn face of the guy pointing.

"I dropped my keys down there!"


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Felltower session summary preview

Long session of delving in Felltower today.

It featured:

- nine players, a new record!

- the return of Dryst

- an attack against the orcs!

- first descent into the "orc hole."

- a 50+ combatant brawl

- a 40+ combatant skirmish

Summary tomorrow in the afternoon.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Jeff Dee picture - Caption this!

I saw this awesome Jeff Dee illo over on Once More Unto the Breach on his End-of-Week-Dee post.

That just demands a Caption This! post. So, that's what this is. Caption that. One that makes me laugh the most by Monday, 1/15/18 at 10 am EST gets to choose one of my as-yet unreviewed modules and force me to review it before the end of January.

Friday, January 12, 2018

My friend the black pudding will help!

Normally, being trapped in a small, freezing room with a black pudding is bad.

Black pudding saves butcher trapped in freezer

But this butcher was able to leverage destructive powers of the pudding to save himself. A door? No problem, those suckers do 3-24 damage in AD&D. This butcher must have rolled extraordinarily well on his Reaction Roll for it to get it to help.

Perhaps he'd taken some advice from Gary Gygax, who wrote a war story called How to Tame A Black Pudding (link to Grodog's resources) back in Dragon 289.

(A real black pudding)

Either way, it just goes to show you can't just paint all oozes out to be horrid, vile, unfeeling foes. Sometimes they can be horrid, vile, unfeeling friends!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Secret Doors in GURPS DF / DFRPG

Let's talk Secret Doors!

Erik Tenkar doesn't like them at all.

I can sympathize with that.

The mechanics for secret doors in the games I grew up with - B/X D&D and AD&D, mainly - were pretty cut and dried. Make a roll, find them or don't find them, and then move on. Fail that roll, and that was that. Succeed, and at least as we played it, you find and open it and move on. Naturally the AD&D DMG leaves you the possibility of discovering the means of open by roleplaying, and isn't crystal clear on what happens if you fail the initial detection roll (DMG, p. 97).

Basic D&D is even harsher. "Each character has only one chance to find each secret door." (B21) And you need to be searching -
it's not "secret door radar" although the wording of even earlier D&D books doesn't say that it isn't that. In any case, blow that roll and it's hidden from you forever.

If you couple this with putting critical adventure elements behind a secret door, you can potentially putting in a block in your adventure. Make this roll or the adventure ends.

You can put "bonus" materials in an area closed off by a secret door, of course. A shortcut past danger, for example, or extra treasure, or a room with some hints or clues about things ahead. Make it so that an intelligent guess (or just stubborn thoroughness) and a lucky roll gets you bonuses but don't kneecap the adventure (or the group!) because no one rolls a 1 (or a 1 or 2 for a demi-human.)

Even so, it can feel like the dice decide if the GM wasted a bunch of time on something that cannot be detected through good play.

Me, though, I like them a lot. This might be because I play GURPS, which doesn't actually natively come with "secret doors" rolls. They're subsumed, like most of everything else, into skill and attribute and secondary characteristic rolls. Good play nets you the chance for a roll, and the roll tells you how well your paper man executed your plans.

On top of that, check out what DFRPG (Exploits, p. 19) has to say about secret doors:

"Finding them always requires an active search; the GM rolls secretly against the highest of Vision, Observation, or Per-based Traps for each searcher. Success reveals a door, if there is one; it may require an IQ-based Traps roll to open. These rolls often have steep penalties.

A few things, here:

- it doesn't say it's one try. Therefore, it's not one try. GURPS is pretty harshly specific about "one try."

- it doesn't even give a special penalty for trying again and again! (Editing later: Aside from the general guidelines on Exploits, p. 7)

I would, because I know that merely looking more or longer or again doesn't mean you'll find something you missed the first time. It's too easy to just confirm your failure when you try to find something again. So giving a cumulative -1 (or even -2 or more!) to the same PC would make sense. You can offset this with more time (Time Spent, in Basic Set p. 346 or Exploits p. 6). I'd also allow a "re-set" of a cumulative penalty after you change the nature or parameters of your search. Going from "just look around and tap" to "methodically search the wall from top to bottom, left to right, by quadrants, touching the wall and gently knocking" would mean a re-set of penalties and> should net a bonus for thoroughness. You might (and I would) just make that bonus time-based - taking 20 minutes to search is the same as trying assorted methods that take 20 minutes to execute. A specific bonus for particularly appropriate methods (tapping on a thin door, tracing characters or lines on a decorated wall, etc.) would also be appropriate.

Some people will object to a roll at all, but I've long argued that a roll is appropriate on the "Honey I can't find the pepper" principle. Search the spice closet for a few minutes, and you can't find something, yet the next searcher comes along and plucks it out from right in front of you. Just because you're in the right place doing the right thing doesn't mean you succeed at your task. Sometimes, like in combat, you make the right decision and just miss. Since you have unlimited attempts, not counting in-game issues (wandering monsters, food, etc.) or out of game (boredom, distraction, etc.) it's not a game-stopper, it's just a cost for thinking Per is a dump stat.

- opening it may require a roll. For opening it, I like "may require" a roll. Sure, it may. Or it may be trivial to open. Or it may require role-playing or other exploration because the opening mechanism isn't removing the candle but rather throwing a lever back on level 1 to unlock the door or splashing on some unholy water or pushing a button down the hall behind that pit trap. It's just a suggested mechanic. And unlike finding something, it's realistic to have something be easy to use once it's in hand. Finding your keys is hard, using them is easy.

So I like and use secret doors. Partly it's nostalgia for the lined "S" on maps. A good chunk is the the way secret doors work in my chosen game system. And I've coupled with that idea of "put in extra, not required" as the basic (but not universal) standard to keep things going.

So I don't hate them. But I'm not playing with a rule set that boils down to "roll a 1 or the adventure ends," either.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Darklands, again

After I mentioned not playing much in the way of video games, I decided to make a concerted effort to finish Darklands.

The big issue with completion, for me, was the fact that 90s video games track what you did or didn't do internally, but not in a player-accessible way.

In other words, I'd have to find my map and myself on the map, I'd have to determine what quests I hadn't finished, what needed doing, etc. and go.

I solved this conundrum by just chucking out all of my notes, grabbing my last save game, and starting up. My characters were quite advanced so this wasn't a huge problem. Missing some cash here or there wasn't going to be an issue.

Spoiler alert!

I'd slain a dragon, I'd freed some mines from dark forces, and I'd done a lot of general fighting of raubritters (robber knights) and bandits.

But what next?

I knew I needed to hunt down the Satanic forces, and thus villages that had succumbed to witchcraft. So I went around to village after village and investigated. I fought (and easily defeated) the cultists, and started followed their blatant hints of where to go next.

From there I eventually reached the High Sabbat, infiltrated it and defeated it, and found out where the Satan-worshipping Templars have their base. I'm now working my way through that.

Darklands really does do mood well. My characters really do make decisions based on right and wrong and holiness. We seek out knowledge of saints, donate money to pilgrims, give away mounts to the needy, pray and call on saints, study Latin, and more. I have found almost no relics, and I'm not sure where I could find them, but they don't seem to be required.

What it annoyingly does is have bad pathfinding, some annoying navigation issues, and plenty of monsters with stuff that destroys equipment quality (which can't be fixed, only replaced.) I've actually fought evil alchemists with my armor off to spare it from Eater Water (a nasty acid) - healing being a lot less annoying than going all the way to southern Germany to get another suit of good armor.

Still, it's a fun game, and I'm hoping to finish it - in fits and starts, around work - in the next month or so. Full speed ahead, no side quests.
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