Guns of Pellucidar – Pt 3

The assault on the Nazi forward base went both smoother in some regards and rougher in others than I’d hoped. Rougher because I was using too many scales (I didn’t want a huge base, but I wanted the players to be able to tactically maneuver, so I used 500ft sub-hexes within an approx. 1.5 mile portion of the 6 mile hex). Smoother because somehow the party managed to pull it off with only three characters dying (the little Wehrmacht force made some really bad rolls).

The party wisely kept off the main game trail and skirted around a machine gun nest that could’ve mowed them down, had they taken it straight to the base. A jungle snake grabbed one of the guys and nearly killed him, but the medic managed to juice him up to keep him standing for the op. The snake didn’t last long against several guys with trench knives and bayonets, and the otherwise ineffective commu guy managed to put in the killing blow. Also, since they went counterclockwise around the outskirts of the base, they didn’t run into any patrols. Had they tried to go around the south side, they would’ve crossed paths with an SMG scout team.

The base was made up of 4 sandbag walls with light machine gun teams at the four corners of the base, each covering a portion of the treeline, two crude towers with observers and snipers, and some tents. The party approached from the northeast corner and not only did the observation tower abysmally fail their awareness roll, the machine gun team critically failed, so were busy smoking and chatting instead of watching the treeline.

The sniper tried to take a shot at one of the machine gunners, but just barely missed. That gave the signal to the mortar team, who began shelling the area where the tents were. The players quickly overran the gunners’ nest, but fooling around with the MG 42 and trying to get it and all of associated junk moved to the other side of the barrier cost a few guys their lives. Except for the sniper, most of the Nazis were lousy shots, and eventually the combined fire of a couple BAR gunners, the guys who got the MG 42 up and firing, the mortar fire creating confusion, and the other assault teams eventually honing in on where the fire was.

By the time the German patrols got back to the clearing to respond, all hell had already broken loose.

Really, this fight was probably a foregone conclusion from the outset for a handful of reasons. There were only about 60-80 Nazis in the hex in total, 50 of whom were in the sub-hexes the party was going through. The Allies put 130 men out of their 180-200 total, because it was a do-or-die op, so there were several teams in the hex reconning in force. They were going to win (probably), it was just a matter of how many PCs died in the process while I tested the upper bounds of how combat in this could scale.

Holes in my rules:

Suppressive fire doesn’t quite work the way I hoped in fire-fights. I need to figure a way for suppressive auto fire to pin guys who are in cover. Probably I will just allow extra attacks against targets that pop-up from behind cover to take a shot.

Sniping needs to be a bit more refined. Most of the sniping rules assume relatively close sniping range. I need something for longshot sniping. Enemy snipers will also make pretty short work of characters, since it’s not even an active save vs. death roll; the enemy sniper just has to roll under his dex, so the one sniper in the tower probably did more damage picking off the guys fooling with MG-42.

Movement rules are based on D&D and assume standard D&D distances. Doing a hex-crawl on a quasi-tactical level put it under some strain. The battle area was large enough that groups could move round-robin through several hexes avoiding combat all together, but the scale was such that folks could fire at one another from adjacent hexes and, in some cases, from multiple hexes away. The pain point was determining where in the 500 ft hex anyone was during a round and how that might have affected combat variables. By the time the minis were broken out, I got away with it by acknowledging that the positioning of the minis were not to scale combined with the fact that the party spent most of the fight pinned down but with much heavier firepower at their disposal than the Germans had.

 

I think that this will work out better for smaller-scale fights, like against a single strongpoint or pillbox, or against some random Aufklarung unit they might happen upon.

Also, so far this has been more of a serial wargame disguised as an RPG rather than an actual RPG, and I’m pretty okay with that for the moment. I’ve already acknowledged that this is basically turning into a tabletop version of Close Combat, which has definitely scratched an itch for me. But I would like to see a bit more roleplaying elements worked in eventually.

So long as the party stays in the immediate area of their base camp, they’re going to be under the orders of the commanding officers and answerable for all of their actions, so no murderhoboing, obviously. I’m hoping that they’ll eventually take up an opportunity to do some advanced scouting and get far enough away that they have to become a self-sustaining fighting unit in the wilds of Pellucidar, meeting some natives besides angry Lizardmen. I’d like to eventually peel away some of the military trappings bit by bit as it becomes more of a “dudes lost in the jungle, fighting to stay alive – also there are Nazis” game.

But I’m also finding that I’m already itching to be back on the player side of the table and break out DCC again…

More Pellucidar

So, my Pellucidar game is running smoothly and playing better than I could’ve expected. My initial theories on how combat would play out have all proven correct so far, but the next session will test how well firearms vs. firearms battles will work.

Friday, the party did some more mapping, with orders to recon the area immediately adjacent to their new base camp. While they pussy-footed a bit more than i would’ve liked, I can’t blame them for wanting to return directly to their camp after each encounter (though they were somewhat punished for it with the first hex).

The first hex they explored, they found some Draco Lizards; rather than leave well enough alone, they took the opportunity to use the giant lizards for some target practice, not knowing that they were up against 8 of them and had only spotted 2. Some of the other lizards came at them through and from the trees. While they killed and hurt a couple, they still got a few big bites taken out of them before they managed to drive the beasts off. A perverse desire to haul the carcasses back to camp meant they were slowed down enough to warrant an extra random encounter roll, which led to a pack of mountain lions ambushing those carrying the two carcasses. It cost the life of the medic, but a few rifle shots killed or drove off the big cats.

Fireteam got some fresh blood and kept exploring, managing to ambush an allosaurus on a game trail. If the allosaurus had not rolled a 1 on its perception roll and the players hadn’t got a free round to fire on them, at least one guy woulda been ate before the beast went down.

Last hex, I rolled for a Nazi base in a forest on my random terrain generator, so I asked if we could call it while I came up with some content for it.

I’m making a sub-hexmap for a relevant portion of the hex, where I’m putting in a small Nazi forward base. Along the game trails will be a couple of strong-points, and there will be a few patrols. The main base will be set in a clearing where they’ve pushed back the treeline and set up a few machine gun teams in front of a couple crude observation towers (scoped Mausers!).

This will be a damn tough fight if my players try to attack the base head-on. The first strong-point should be a warning, but if they just come out of the treeline, especially if they’ve alerted the base with a fire-fight, they’ll almost certainly be mowed down by MG42 fire.

I HOPE that they will remember that there’s a pack howitzer setup on a mountain top in the adjacent hex and that they have mortar teams at their disposal. Otherwise, the 30-50 Nazis hanging out in this hex will not only repulse the attack but almost certainly jeopardize the Allied base camp (which is apparently just a 12 miles south of another tribe of lizardmen! ::I rolled up to see what happened to the other NPC scout teams, and those guys didn’t come back…::).

I’m actually to the point where I may need to figure out how many guys are in the US company; they’ve lost one entire team, and probably about 15 or so other soldiers (so maybe 25-30 KIA/MIA). Some of them went back with the dirigible to pick up more supplies once the mountain base was established. Some of them will HAVE to stay back at camp to keep it secure. So, I guess if I want to really ramp up the scale, I could have as many as 100 soldiers dedicated to this particular OP. I’ll probably use some handwaiving for the NPC fireteams who will be a) reconning other parts of the hex, b) possibly flanking to get a better position for the assault on the base, c) getting into fire-fights with Nazi scouting teams, d) acting as “off-board” artillery as mortar teams.

This will be the first real test of the Star Frontiers Advanced Combat Order I’ve been using for initiative by side. Up until now, initiative hasn’t mattered too much, because whether the players win or lose initiative, you’d better believe they’re going to hang tight, guns ready, and shoot at whatever’s coming towards them. A couple times against the lizard men, the lizard men got some javelins in, but guns are always going to go off first against enemies who don’t have a ranged attack. With the Nazis, though, the players will be facing substantial fire themselves for the first time.

Crypt of the Ultralich Index Card D&D Booster Pack

I haven’t actually written up these cards or used them in a game, but I was toying around with this idea. This is an example of the sort of “set” I tend to write up if I’m in a game of Index Card D&D.

I’m a big fan of ridiculous spells and random effects. Several of my past spells have had bizarre effects ranging from “regain a few HP” to “take 30 damage and deal 60 damage divided any way you choose”.

So, uh… here are a few ideas I had while trying to stay awake Sunday on the drive back from Dallas.

Indestructible Dweomer of the Ultralich – Spell

DC: 0

Lose all HP. Become undead. Gain one spell die for each HP lost. Damage reduces spell dice instead of HP. Character dies when spell dice pool reaches 0. Gain following DC-4 spell ability: prevent damage from one source.

Lifecurse of the Ultralich – Trap

DC: 14

All PCs in a room regain all missing HP. All undead in a room must save against DC 14 or be destroyed.

Bloodsword of the Ultralich – Treasure

1d8 damage

+2 to attacks

For each 4 damage done using this sword, gain 1 spell die.

Urion the Ultralich – Monster

4HD x # of players

AC 13

  1. Casts random PC spell; if no PC spells, draw top card & use as spell, item or “summon”
  2. Turn random PC Undead
  3. Random Undead in room takes 10 damage
  4. Living heal 10, Urion takes 10 dmg, undead PCs take 20 dmg
  5. Summon 1d6 1HP AC 10 skeleton guards; PCs must att SGs
  6. Use or Attack w/random item

An Experiment in Adventure Design

Awhile back, I made the bold and audacious claim that the sort of fiction you read in the pulps are the sort of thing that you can easily translate into one off adventures with a couple of stat blocs.

Tomorrow night, I will be running Raiders of the Second Moon by Basil Wells as a one-off adventure using a stripped down version of D&D.

In this post, I’m doing some “Show your work”. I had a couple of stat blocs I threw out in my original post, but I wanted to do a little bit more with the idea, so I’ve cooked up a few things.

Major change is that instead of a lone American astronaut pursuing the Nazi mad scientist, it will be a squadron of soldiers who crash land in the Jungles of Sekk.

I’ve rolled up several pre-gens, given them a full fighter’s Hit Die +/- con mods, and written down range and melee bonuses. I’ve also unified saving throws to Reflex, Endurance, and Psych. Everyone will have AC 12 (7) to represent basic gear, though I’ve thrown in a couple pieces of medium body army that will give a slight bonus. I’m actually going to be using the Charisma stat in this – it will represent the soldier’s rank and spot in the chain of command. Captain of the expedition will be the Caller and can also veto particularly bad choices his soldiers suggest. If he dies, a lieutenant will take over and become the new Caller.

I’ve set up a hex-crawl of about 30 hexes (using sticky notes; most of them are just jungle, but I have one for the crash site, the ape-man village, the skull temple, etc.).

Here’s the fun part. I wanted to give the part a small supply of world war 2 weaponry plus a Banning ray (the large semi-portable stun weapons from Brackett that could be used as defensive anti-infantry weaponry) that will dwindle away as they spend up ammo and may eventually have to rely on bows and spears.

So, I statted up some gear that the Captain will be able to dole out to players.

Colt M1911 3 7 round clips. May shoot twice to add +2 to attack roll. 1d6. A couple of players will have extra magazines, but most who have these pistols will only have one magazine. Players can’t reload a partially spent clip or a magazine in the middle of melee, but they can quickly switch out a spent magazine for a full one and reload a spent magazine with clip. If they have few minutes, they can thumb-jam in some bullets into a partially spent magazine, but none of that vidya game reloading after every shot.

Smith & Wesson Revolver 20 bullets (6 chambers)/ can reload 2 bullets per round. 1d6+1.  The advantage and disadvantage of the revolver is its reload speed.  You can pop in a couple bullets and fire them off without having to deal with the magazine, but it’ll take you a couple seconds to fully reload.

Browning Auto Rifle 200 rounds (10 20 round magazines). (may attack multiple targets, -2 per target). 2d4+1 Each attack uses up a full magazine.

Thompson Gun (3 50-round drum magazines) – fires at a 45 degree arc, hitting all targets in area. Save for half damage. (3d4+1 secret) Each attack uses up a full magazine. Basically, this will be treated like a breath weapon. They won’t know how effective they were until they see the bodies; and there will be bodies!

M1917 scoped Enfield (1 6 round magazine) – Sniping: spend one round aiming or during a surprise round. Moving Target, roll under dexterity at disadvantage, stationary target, roll under dex. Instant kill. 1d8 normal.

Grenades – 2d6 blast save for half damage.

Bottles of whiskey – Restore a character’s HP to full

Packs of government issued Lucky Strikes – Restore an Earthman’s HP to full/ +1 dex in next encounter. Ape-men will not smoke the human’s fire sticks!

Emergency medkits – Restore a character’s HP to full/Recover character with no less than -2HP

Once they burn through their bullets, they’ll still have some trench knives, but the idea is that they’ll run out of ammo after a few big encounters with monsters and cultists and it will be a near run thing when the Nazi mad scientist shows up; hopefully they will have secured the friendship of the Ape-men who can help them.

All I have left to do is give the story one last refresher read and stat up a Spotted Narl!

How to build a Bard in D&D

You really don’t need a Bard class in D&D, but some folks really like the flavor it adds to their game and setting.

Even without a class, it’s actually easy to build a playable bard in Basic.

Start with a Magic User class. Thieves don’t really get spells or magic items (high level play doesn’t count; you’re not going to play through over half a dozen levels of not being able to cast spells if you’re wanting to play a magic class).

But bards are rogues! What about the stealing stuff?

Play as a Magic User who steals stuff. Stealing is an RP choice, not a mechanic.

If you have a decent to high Dex character with moderate intelligence, go Magic User instead of Thief.

 

  • Magic Users can’t use bows, but they CAN use daggers. So, what you do is get a LOT of daggers. Throw some knives, take that Dex bonus on your attacks! If you’re using Holmes or a variant that uses weapon speed, you’ll even get an extra attack, meaning you’re able to dish out some damage as a ranged support character.
  • If you’re using Holmes’ magic system, treat your spellbook like a song-book. Your scrolls are your fake book – it’s not the full spell/song, but because you know it, you can use it to brush up.
  • If you’re using B/X’s magic system, spell imbuement is a flat cost. Costs the same to make a scroll as it does a single charge magic item. So, what you can do is imbue your instrument with charges. Just simply pour all of your ill-gotten wealth (you ARE stealing, aren’t you?!) into putting Sleep, Magic Missile, Whatever into your instrument.

 

You’re not going to get backstabs, and your hit dice and To Hit numbers are going to be crap, because you’re a Magic User, but this is about playing a Bard in a system where there’s no Bard class. (Perfect if you’re playing with a DM who hates Bards – you can be all “Aha! I fooled you! You said there was no Bard class, but I’m playing a Bard anyway!”)

If you want more flexibility in your weapons and armor, you can play as an Elf doing the above. Just enjoy never leveling up ever.

Big Monster Fight

Well, we may have found the solution to the balance issue we’ve begun to encounter in Gutters, Guilds, & Grimoires: bigger monsters.

Most of what we’ve fought has been fairly close to man-sized. Even the bigger things have been between bear and small elephant sized.

Last session, we fought something three stories tall.

Well, okay, some of us fought it, while many of us ran like hell.

We were completing a quest in someplace that was a pocket dimension, a moon, or some other part of the world (we never really figured it out), which meant freeing a celestial or demonic creature we called Jeff. We found Jeff in the middle of an abandoned village located between a fork in a stream surrounded by megalithic wards.

Since Jeff couldn’t talk (he could only sign yes or no), we had a hard time getting a complete picture of what was going on with him and the weird abandoned village. We found that he was trapped, the person who trapped him was nearby, we could free him, the villagers had not trapped him, he had not killed the villagers, he would help us if we freed him, and he would not hurt us if we helped him. We got a nice one point stat boost to luck for freeing him.

We set off to see if we could find the person who’d trapped him and we eventually found a wizard’s cottage. It was locked from the inside, empty, and had a hole in the roof. We dicked around way too long debating whether we should loot the cottage, wait for the person to come back, or decide that Jeff (or someone) had pulled the wizard straight through the roof of his own house.

Then we heard some crashing sounds.

Poking around the village was a thing described as being over 30 feet tall, having a three-eyed Cthulhu head and long spindly Salvador Dali Elephant legs.

Oh, right, I forgot to mention the other complication – the area was filled with obscuring mist and unless you had one of the sage torches with you, you could neither see in the mist nor were you safe from the mist folk who would tear you apart in four rounds tops. We’d left several torches lit along the path back to the mirror, but had only taken three with us. And the bridge across the stream consisted only of a series of rotting logs propped up by piles of rock, and several of the logs had already broken loose on the way over.

When the thing noticed us, we started running like hell. A few of us barely made it across. Others got swept down the stream a bit as the fell in, landing further down the shore out of the light and safety of the torches. Others eventually had to try to jump and swim for it, with most of the bridge gone, losing at least one torch in the process.

The thing used its tendrils to snatch up and try to eat people. Those who couldn’t get away ended up badly mangled and one was eaten. While they figured out that they could hurt it (a couple characters managed to cut off a few of its mouth tendrils and one guy even managed to tie its legs like an AT-AT) the thing was NOT going down easily and there was little indication that it was being more than really annoyed. After it had staggered a bit and fallen into the stream, the characters who’d stayed to fight saw more of them coming –they had just barely managed to convince ONE of the things that they were not worth trying to eat, but there was absolutely nothing they could’ve done once more of them showed up.

Eventually, everyone except for the character who was eaten had either run back or was carried through the mirror portal which we immediately sealed before they could come through. Hoping we don’t have to fight those things again any time soon.

The one really funny thing is that in the big battle against Lord Brinston’s armed guard awhile back, just about everyone in the party ended up with an open-faced helm, so everyone had really good head armor (4); were it not for those helmets doing damage reduction, everyone in the party who did not just run like hell would have had their heads popped off in no more than two hits and been eaten.

Fighting big monsters should be very different than fighting small and medium sized monsters, and it shouldn’t just be reflected in hit points. PCs typically won’t even be able to hit most locations on such creatures (I’ve always thought that if a DM has something like a dragon go toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow, with the PCs he’s running the encounter wrong). A big monster should keep its vital locations out of reach as is reasonable. Really big monsters absolutely should have subparts which could be crippled or destroyed; definitely makes things more interesting than the old Critical Existence Failure at 0HP.

Scaling Issues and Solutions in G3

One of the key features of G3 has been how the difficulty scales and play remains relatively balanced despite discrepancies between PCs’ levels of experience. While it is theoretically possible for a character’s combat potential to top out after 8 sessions or so, the overall fragility of characters in the system has kept things balanced and potentially lethal most of the time. With my latest character, we’re beginning to see a few potential strains on the system, though I think they can be easily addressed.

My current PC is the first true “tank” in the party. We’ve had a few fighter characters before and characters with high (for the system) HP, but my Man-At-Arms is the first time anyone has really tried to make the most of the armor system.

G3 does not use the same sort of passive defenses as D&D. Characters have a raw attack value that is never modified except by disadvantage or advantage. The point of Armor in G3 is damage reduction. Each point of armor reduces the blow by one, though all attacks (except by smaller creatures) do ping damage. So 4 points damage would be reduced by 4 points of armor to 1. The difference between that and 5 points of damage is that the one damage is seen as having penetrated the armor. In the former case, the one damage is representative of the fatigue/being winded/whatever, while the latter, the thing has actually hit you and probably broken skin or bruised you. It’s in the latter case where effects like poison, rot, or corruption would become an issue. (I.E. 4 damage against 4 armor, the ghoul knocks you back and you take your ping, 5 damage against 4 armor, the ghoul has scratched you and you roll for paralysis, even though you’ve lost the same HP).

With 11 HP and 4 armor on all body parts, my Man-At-Arms can take a lot of hits from just about anything before he’s in real trouble. That’s a huge change from when everyone in the party had 1 armor at most and died in 2 hits.

Overall, I think this has caused less strain on the system than people are expecting, because it’s only one character who’s able to tank like that, and we’re still fighting some things that don’t go down easy and can still hurt us really bad. A couple weeks back, we fought a Moth Knight, who must have had ridiculously high armor, because I put nearly 30 damage on him before he died. Plus, he would’ve killed me if he got more than one hit on me. (The rest of the party had ineptly tried and failed to stop me from killing the monster because I was the only person at the table convinced that it was not going to talk with us once it drew its sword; if they had stopped me from killing it and that wasn’t enough to satisfy it, it absolutely could’ve TPKed us, especially if one of its friends showed up).

Last night, we handled an old task of torching a hornets’ nest. On the way, we kicked the crap out of a werewolf, and the hornets’ nest was something of a pushover, and it got me thinking some about the way the system is balanced and how other GMs can keep their games from going out of whack.

While the werewolf seemed like a pushover, it should be noted that there were a lot of us and one of him; a lot of us are big damage dealers now, even if we are glass cannons in many cases. If my character didn’t end up with silver brass knuckles as a trophy for winning a tournament in the fighting pit against the #1 Seed, a Grizzly Bear, the werewolf may have recovered. Even so, I may have been turned into a werewolf – gonna have to find that out next session.

So, what happens when characters are getting too powerful – too likely to be able to hit for double damage and have armor to soak up most normal sized hits?

-More enemies. As a general rule, economy of action in RPGs means that more weak enemies are a bigger threat than fewer strong enemies. Our last really dire fight where someone died and someone else got maimed was a mass combat and involved a wizard trying to spell snipe getting arrowed.

-Ranged weapons are a major equalizer. A lot of fights where we’ve taken big hits have been ones where enemies had crossbows (which ignore some armor) and got a few shots in before we could close the distance. This allowed them to neutralize characters who could survive one hit but sure as hell weren’t willing to take another, so dived for cover.

-Enemies can make attacks for big damage, too. Attacking at disadvantage for extra damage is a way that characters with high attack stats can regularly do much bigger damage, and it’s this damage that can go way above and beyond normal armor soak. Against enemies with chain or better, the average attack from a weapon that does not ignore armor will ping for one; the average attack for extra damage will hit two over even the best armor. The armor will protect a character from a killing blow in almost all cases, but getting knocked down by half your HP in a single hit while wearing decent armor will really make you question how long you can go toe to toe with something.

-Enemies with Armor can make things a bit of a challenge; even two points of armor will keep most mooks from being cloven in twain by a single hit.

-One thing we’ve started to come up against has been enemies with damage immunity. We fought a lot of demons who just shrugged off our attacks; they had to be destroyed using environmental elements. This also gave us a chance to play with some of the combat tools that are not damage oriented.

Another issue we’ve come up with is that, after a certain point, damn near anything rolled is a hit. Advantage and Disadvantage add a bit of granularity on a situational basis, but sometimes you need a little bit more, so we’ve experimented some with doubling up on disadvantages. For instance, when the archers on the streets below were firing at the sorcerer in the window, who was trying to cast planar bolt in a dark room, the archers rolled at double disadvantage – one for the cover, another for the obscured target in the dark. Most missed, a few hit and killed the sorcerer.

Since you can trade advantage for various results, such as extra damage, called shots, disarming/disabling an opponent or somesuch, you really ought not come across many/any situations with multiple advantages on an attack roll, but additional disadvantages can be given to keep things from being too much of a gimme.

Anyway, we’re still testing and tweaking, and seeing what will and will not break the game. Getting a huge influx of loot didn’t quite blow things up like we thought it would, though most of that loot came in the form of weapons and armor. Taking a few decent swords and helmets to dole out among the party members kept the liquidity down. We’ll still have to see what happens if the party ever gets a giant cash haul.

One final thing we realized last session was, since the standard of living rules were implemented, all of the nobles in the city will probably be slightly tougher than us in a fight on account of being better rested. No normal professions offer enough daily income to get players into a bonus HP per day range, but a rich noble who can afford lavish living and wears full plate could theoretically take a couple more really big hits than the average joe. We’ve only fought one guy who that may have been an issue for, and he got ridden down by lancers in the street, so we never found out ourselves just how much that would’ve altered combat.

I can’t say when G3 will see public playtesting, since it’s not my game, but I’ll keep folks aware of any significant developments regarding it.