Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Killing Gently

Though my rate of posting has slowed significantly, the Dungeon Purgatory campaign is still going, and the party has come once again to one of my areas. I am playing my cards close to my chest at the moment, but I will share reflections on this level later.

Until then, I've been immersing myself in the Dune universe lately. Even going so far as to listen to the prequels co-authored by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson. They are not nearly as esoteric or perceptive as the writings of Frank Herbert, but are sufficiently interesting for describing the underpinnings of the universe.


Dune is one of those science-fantasy settings where it is the future, in space, but people are still fighting with swords for some reason, which is cool.
Dune's justification for swords-in-the-future is the Holtzmann-Effect shield. The Holtzmann shield is a energy barrier which deflects any object which enters the field at a certain velocity. A person with a shield equipped is invulnerable to any projectile or explosive force. A shield can be personal, or large enough to cover a city.
The only way to penetrate a shield is by moving into it at a sufficiently slow speed. This necessitates a particularly disciplined form of melee combat. And as shields are ubiquitous, military tactics are based around the necessity of close combat.

Shields- as depicted in the 1984 movie. When CG was new.

Holtzmann shields do have some serious limitations however: For one, they attract and enrage the giant worms of Arrakis. So using one in the open desert is practically suicide.
For another, if one is shot with a laser, the interaction creates a detonation equivalent to a nuclear blast. So beware of suicide troops with lasguns. Depending on who you are fighting, that could be a thing.

There have been several attempts to make a Dune rpg. The ones I've perused don't seem too promising. But the schools and disciplines of the Dune universe seem well suited to the Class and Level model.

Thank you, internet.

I got to wonder about Dune Larping. The action in a Dune novel is mostly talking, or intense chemical-aided introspection, punctuated by spying  and the occasional assassination attempt or duel. It seems like it would lend itself well to live-action gaming, so I did a quick search to see if anybody else has wondered about this.


A few have, and fewer still have attempted it.  One of these bold souls wondered aloud how the particular character of holtzmann-shield fighting could be simulated.
I've done some fencing and boffer and SCA combat here and there, so I thought about it.

In shield-fighting, only an attack which enters slowly can penetrate the shield. This is the trick, because in conventional melee combat, the faster hand has the advantage. It seems that this sort of combat would emphasize subtlety, deception and precise control. And that is what we would need to simulate to get the "feel" of shield-fighting.

I noticed that impact or mass-weapons don't play into shield combat. It's all rapiers, bodkins, crysknives, poison needles and hidden blades. These weapons can be manipulated with special finesse, and don't need to be moving fast to deal their damage. Hacking and smashing weapons such as maces, axes and broadswords pretty much need to be moving fast for their mass to play into the damage, as such they don't get used in shield fighting. I don't know much interest Frank Herbert had in martial arts, but he seemed to have realized this distinction when he was building his world.

What occurred to me was a form of boffer-fighitng or fencing where the object is to touch the opponent so that they feel it, but in such a way that it doesn't hurt or even sting a little bit. Every other aspect of the sword-play would be full speed. But being required to pull one's blows would, I think, simulate the challenge of slow-blade shield fighting.

I am actually pretty tickled by this notion. It's a bizarre form of counting coup. Some time when it's not blazing hot out, I will have to get some people together so we can figure out how this works in practice. Things like what kind of weapons to use, what protective gear, if any. Is grappling allowed or not? how to properly gauge a "hit" and so on.
I think there could be a lot of appeal in a martial game where the object is to not hurt your opponent, just show that you could have if you'd wanted to.
anyone seen this episode? it seems relevant.
Hopefully I will have some results to report on this experiment sooner rather than later. I am pretty excited about it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Something for Everybody

A friend in the Dungeon Purgatory campaign ran in one of his levels last friday.

I would call the session a success, and it had a very basic lesson to teach.

In the little scenario, there was something for everybody to do.
Or nearly so. The character-players had plenty of action. The rogue had a heist to perform in the background. Only the fighter, who suspected a trap was really left out in the cold.

This is a basic idea. Its so obvious, it is in certain editions of the DMG. I guess I am just getting back  to basic lessons after taking such a long break from game.

I mean, I wouldn't  make Something for Everybody the primary principle of my process. But for set-piece encounters or important areas, I will try to keep it in mind.

One thing I noticed about the recent session, was that we split the party without fretting about it. Keeping the party together is like the first rule of dungeon survival.
But somehow, in this scenario, we sensed that we had license to do so. I think it was when the party had found an are which was not technically a "dungeon," And he took a moment to describe several objects, people and simultaneous events at the same time, which was likely to pique and divide our interests at the same time.

Simple stuff.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Underloft-grid-map lessons learned

After a hiatus out of respect for Med-faire season, we resumed the Dungeon Purgatory campaign.

Over the last two sessions, we returned to and completed one of my levels.

The Underloft.
The Underloft may be thought of as the flooded-basement of the castle complex. A vast, subterranean space, wet, cold, dark and dripping.
Something like this image of Dwarrowdelf from LotR, except flooded.

I liked the idea of the Underloft. it was very archetypal. I thought the atmosphere would translate easily, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to use the Zelda-Grid style map.

The players recently made their second expedition to the Underloft, in search of a key which would grant access to new areas.
And I swear, it was the most boring couple of sessions I have run in recent memory.

One of the problems was misuse of a random encounter table. As the party progressed from gridsquare to gridsquare, I would roll away on a d20 encounter table to see what appeared in adjacent grids.
This gave me a lot of nonsense and things that Either I didn't feel like running, or else some nonsense encounter.
Fortunately, the table producd a merchant with a boat for sale. So the PCs could traverse the waters without suffering hypothermia.
Then it so happened to yield the Boss with the McGuffin they were looking for.

I went in thinking that adherence to a random table would produce an organic experience that would surprise everybody. What I got was either nonsense, or unappealing. Really, it would have been better if I had simply plotted to a certain extent.

We are using a spell failure table for this campaign. Spells require a spellcraft check with a difficulty based on the spell level. This makes it possible to fumble spells. Fumbled spells call for a roll on a  d100 table listing various effect, some benign, some terrible.
Somebody failed a spell, and as a result evaporated all water in a 1 mile radius.
This Dried up the whole level. The party was able to walk to the exit.
Near the exit, they stumbled upon the same merchant. How the merchant got there before them was not explored. But the only reason for it was my use of the random encounter table.

I think it would have been better to track the significant objects over time according to the reasonable natures of the object, rather than relying on the random encounter table. It would have created a greater sense of depth to the level. Even if this would have been imperceptible to the players, I would have felt better about it. Adherence to a random table for generating encounters off-the cuff was a bad idea. I use random tables when populating areas beforehand, but I don't obey them if I don't feel like the result is appropriate. Why did I have this temporary lapse? Must have been too long since I last DMed.

Next time will be better.