Thursday, 30 May 2019

Actual Play Musing: A recent semi-TPK

Last night I killed two player characters. Well, I technically didn't kill them: one of them was left behind, polymorphed into a frog, while the other accepted the anger of their wizardly patron.

It was a campaign that originally began as repeated explorations into the city's necropolis (I reskinned parts of Barrowmaze for it). We had four player characters, but two of them (an assassin and a barbarian) only showed up infrequently: the other two (a monk and a berserker) sat firmly in the driver's seat.

For the last two sessions we've been taking a break from the undead-infested necropolis and participated in some good old urban investigation. A slave escaped from an eccentric noble's palace and kidnapped his daughter. The players quickly realised that the daughter and the slave were lovers, and through some colourful interactions found them hiding in the Lunar Garden. Before confronting them, though, they returned a diamond ring to the noble (which the couple stole and sold to cover their expenses).

The initial "I'm giving you this quest" scene and this one surely have communicated that Phlianos wasn't a simple noble: he was hiding in a completely covered sedan chair carried by 8 bald servants with visible incision marks on their craniums. Also, the spokesperson conversed with the lord, not willing to show his visage, through a serpentine thread (like a thin plastic tube or something) that entered his brain through the ear. At any rate, they were paid for a job well done - apparently, the diamond ring was of greater importance than the daughter or the slave.

Still, the party learned that the noble-sorcerer would use the gem as a phylactery to achieve immortality: something they thought they should stop. So they learned of a rival sorceress, contacted her, and told her of the news. The sorcereress told them to steal it for her, and gave them an amulet ("When you have the gem, think of this place, and call my name out loud").

The players went back to the sorcerer with a terrible excuse to sniff around. A terrible reaction roll followed, and the players - instead of chancing an escape (which, for the matter, would totally have been possible) - went for an all-out assault. Sadly, the opposition won initiative, and the berserker failed his saving throw: he was instantly transformed into a frog. The monk threw a flask of oil, but it had little effect. In the next round, he decided to call out the sorcerer's name - so he was instantly teleported back to a safe place, leaving the polymorphed berserker behind (it was apparent that the player actually wanted to grab the frog immediately after activating the amulet; its power wasn't known, after all).

Since polymorph lasts indefinitely and the polymorphed creature assumes the behaviour and mannerisms of the new form, the berserker was assumed dead, unless a rescue mission would be attempted with haste. The sorceress was also greatly displeased. I informed the player that grovelling would surely convince her to spare his life, but he refused and accepted an off-screen death.

I don't think my portrayal of the sorcerer patron/villain was insufficient: the servants and especially the wire-tube were surely enough that it wasn't normal. Also, if a wizard is about to achieve immortality, one can assume it isn't some lucky novice but one with levels and items to back it up.

My players might have misinterpreted the poor reaction roll (result 2). The spokesperson was just yelling a solid get-the-fuck-out (had they complied, they would've let them leave the premises unharmed, although followed by watchful eyes), but of course they had to reach for the flasks of incendiary oil. I even gave the enemy a surprise check (I figured the spokesperson was furious enough to miss subtle movements), but they made it, and... the rest you already know.

The last bit I wanted to mention (truth be told, it was the first thing I wanted to, but I needed some context) is that after the monk's player accepted an off-screen punishment of his character, he offered an alternative ending: one in which the monk didn't use the amulet, and instead he was also polymorphed into a frog - and so the two frogs lived happily ever after in the sorcerer's garden of fountains.

Even though it totally could've happened (had the player not activated the amulet, the sorcerer would definitely have used his wand another time), the important thing is it didn't. Even though I am totally into negotiating fitting epilogues, I am firmly against changing events, even those of little consequence, that have already been established.

As I have already said it, we aren't crafting a story together: we are recognising a story as we look back at the events that unfolded.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Review: Vigilante City (Core Rules)

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Vigilante City is a superhero game inspired by the many animated series of the 90s. It uses the same basic system as Dark Places & Demogorgons, the publisher's previous game. This is going to be a rare 3-part review. First, I'm taking a look at the Core Rules; in the second part I'll create a few sample characters to showcase the versatility of the system; finally, I'll review the Villain's Guide, the game's GM's book.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Excellence from the Blogosphere (March-April)

Ehh, the last two months saw so many amazing blog posts that this compilation grew way beyond what it was intended to cover. If productivity persists, I will have to do this monthly instead. Note that I tired to use whatever nickname was associated with the blogger account of the author (where applicable). Without further ado, my favourite blog posts of the last two months (or so):

Saturday, 4 May 2019

AS&SH Average Damage per 2 Rounds

I have made another spreadsheet that I thought might interest others as well. This time I was calculating the average damage output of various weapons in AS&SH.

Here's a breakdown of what's in the spreadsheet:

  • Average damage output was calculated for all FA/HD levels vs. all non-negative AC values.
  • The numbers show average damage in 2 combat rounds (!) because the number of attacks often alternates.
  • Each sheet contains details for a single type of weapon (such as bows, light/heavy crossbows, 1d8 melee weapons, etc.).
  • "Dmg" is for the weapon's average damage, "To-hit" and "DmgB" cover bonuses from high attributes and weapon mastery, while "#Atk" and "#Atk7" show how many attacks are made in two rounds level 1-6 and 7-12, respectively.
  • Melee weapon damages are calculated with fighter types in mind (other characters have the same attack rate throughout all levels).
  • Four primary circumstances are covered: (1) no mastery, average attributes, (2) no mastery, high attributes, (3) mastery, average attributes, and (4) mastery, high attributes. Details are added in notes.
  • The last four sheets cover the following special cases: (1) bow vs. damage reduction 1, (2) light crossbow vs. damage reduction 1, (3) bow vs. damage reduction 2, and (4) heavy crossbow vs. damage reduction 2.

Here are my findings:

  • Weapon mastery is even stronger than I suspected. Without weapon mastery, it takes 2 rounds on average for a 1st level fighter to kill a zombie (HD 2, AC 8). With weapon mastery, it takes only 1 round.
  • A fighter with a two-handed sword (3d4 dmg) has a lower average damage than a fighter with a longsword (1d8) having mastery (until level 6 at least). Note that these numbers don't take damage reduction into account (but also note that monsters don't usually have damage reduction).
  • Crossbows are supposed to be better against armoured opponents, but the fact is they are outperformed by bows (provided the archer is stationary). Light crossbows outperform bows against medium armour only if the archer moves before shooting (thus having a reduced rate of fire). Heavy crossbows are even worse against heavy armour: they only outperform (moving) archers from level 7 and on.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Static Damage Reduction vs. OSR Damage Rolls

Under a Reddit post concerning damage reduction in OSR systems a commenter proposed the idea that maximum damage rolls could bypass armour, ensuring that even low damage weapons (such as daggers) wouldn't be rendered completely inefficient against armoured foes. The nerd I am, I made a spreadsheet to calculate the modified average damage outputs (a perfect pastime for a lazy holiday): column A shows the die size, columns B-M the reduced damage output corresponding to the roll, and column N the average. The first sheet assumes armour may completely negata a hit (cf. zero damage), while on the second a single point of damage always goes through. These rules are summarised in column P on both sheets.