Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Classic Adventures: B1-9 In Search of Adventure

The classic D&D adventures are a part of my childhood, and I still love these tales of adventure. It is a shame with all that Wizards does these days; they are not making "the new classics" in any way or form. These days, the best we have in classic adventures and stories come from Paizo with the adventure path, Goodman Games with Dungeon Crawl Classics, the Old School Essentials books, or the larger B/X community over on Drive Thru RPG with all sorts of classic throwback adventures.

We will never see a new Tomb of Horrors or Ravenloft-style experience, but we will repeatedly see endless recreations and reboots of the same adventure. It is the corporate recycling machine, often with the "it's a classic" reboots; frankly, if I want the original, I will just go get it. Or I already have it.

I get the feeling as time goes on that Wizards equals Disney, and they are becoming a machine only designed to reboot franchises. It is sad because I want them to be a platform for today's storytellers to create new classic stories and adventures. Paizo still does that, and putting money and releasing schedules on new stories and creators is extremely brave and cool, so I support them.

Also, minor spoiler alerts for B2, Caves of Chaos coming up...

Flaws are Many

One thing uniquely strange about most classic modules is how poorly they translate into modern rules systems and how much tweaking you need to do with them. We tried to play with these with some of the newer editions of D&D. They came out as disasters, as the older editions rely on this "Gauntlet the videogame" style of play where a crowd of foes descends on the party. You are struggling to reduce their numbers before you start taking damage from lucky hits and need to burn heals.

Later modules got better as designers got experience with the system, and we got stories, puzzles, devious traps, and experience to let writers design real combat challenges. There are moments where you see the "massive overpull" designed to eat the party's fireball spell in many modules.

The rules are simple, and that is why we love B/X. But this also creates strange issues with module design where you have this quantity over quality design philosophy in some of the older adventures. One room in the Caves of Chaos module with 40 kobolds (with 8 noncombatants) jammed into it. The first guard room has six. And in the same area, there are 18 giant rats in a nearby room. Eight kobolds wait outside the entrance.

In the first six rooms, there are nearly 80 monsters.

Move out, kobolds! Start a village somewhere on the map! Maybe do some farming and raise sheep! Leave! You can find better for yourselves elsewhere! Take the rats with you and raise them too!

This is funny since this is the first room we entered as D&D players back in the day, and I recently replayed this with Pathfinder 1e, and it turned into this strange hallway slaughter between areas 1 and 6 that just dragged on. If I played this in D&D 5E, the bounded accuracy thing would kick in, and they would be killing level 10 characters through lucky hits and that "massed fire" thing. With D&D 4E, level 10 heroes could literally sleep in the room, and the kobolds would not be able to hit them. I kid, but the to-hits were bad once levels got four or higher than the enemies' level.

Logic and Tone

The tone of some of these adventures only makes sense on a "hack and slash" videogame level of logic. Every time I play this, I feel more and more sorry for the kobolds. And it makes me feel worse and worse about the supposed heroes who trounce in here to kill families of kobolds in their homes just to grab their loot. Who are the bad guys again?

And if I were to play this with a hyper-realistic set of rules such as Dungeon Fantasy, it would be even worse. The combat slog with dozens of repetitive creatures would feel pointless after a while, and I would be sitting there wondering, "Where is the story?"

It works better as a backdrop where you have to go in and negotiate with the tribe as part of a story. But then again, I would put half of them in a small makeshift village out front of the cave and then do the same for the other tribes, and then what would happen next is they would fight each other for control of the valley and the orcs would probably win and use the others as servants.

Just put an orc encampment in the middle of the valley and leave the caves as storerooms, sealed-off tombs, or abandoned areas. The less you think about it, and the more you treat this as a videogame, the better it works.

Deadly Realism

The more I think about using hyper-realistic rules for this, the worse it gets. But then again, the worse it gets, the more I like it.

I bet some adventurers would go happy tossing flasks of oil into the giant rats in the room filled with trash and start a massive trash fire in area 2 that would fill the entire complex with smoke and carbon monoxide and kill all the kobolds in some sort of mine disaster.

Even oil flasks (or fire spells) tossed into area 6, the living quarters would have the same deadly effect. These are kobolds, and nothing in a shared room living area is made out of modern fire-retardant materials, with no fire marshals or safety standards, so they are probably sleeping on hay and bundles of flammable wool. In D&D, especially when we were kids, we were really stupid about this stuff. A flask of oil (Moldvay Basic) does 1d8 area damage and goes out in 2 turns, right? Cool!

And smoke would be pouring out of this place, and the other monsters would be standing on the hillside watching the tragedy, wondering, "Hey, what caused the huge fire in Area A?"

But this sort of logic is very OSR. Think before you act. Sure, the rules say, "thrown flasks of oil work this way!" And this is what players expect, a little videogame animation of a circle of fire going out and damaging enemies, and then it is over. Right? Players who play more modern games that train that "videogame mentality" may be shocked when that massive trash fire erupts. What?! That can't happen! You are being unfair! How could you rule that when it is nowhere in the rules?

This is the danger of too many rules. D&D 4E had it, and I feel Pathfinder 2E could suffer from the same sort of logical disconnect, but we will see. GURPS may have a lot of rules, but it is still an old-school game that gives the referee 100% leeway in handling situations.

The D&D Reality Distortion Field

I love these adventures, but replaying them with rules other than D&D highlights some strange reality-bending with D&D, valid for every edition of the game. With D&D or AD&D, this plays more like a videogame.

With D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder 1e, this takes on a Saving Private Ryan sort of massive battle feeling as you mow down hordes of charging kobolds. With 4E, these are mostly all 1 hit-point minions and die quickly. With 5E, this turns deadly again as massed attacks by low-level creatures change things some.

It is challenging to play with any system beyond AD&D since combats are typically slower and more focused on conditions and cool moves and combat options built into the classes.

And in hyper-realism systems, and I use Dungeon Fantasy, but you could quickly put Runequest, Rolemaster, or any other favorite here; this gets more over the top and crazy. There are so many kobolds the systems begin to show strain and breaking, and the GM needs to pull out story fiat and summarize, or the game bogs down. This is honestly when I feel when you begin shortcutting and just telling the players what happened instead of playing it out.

Savage Worlds ...Works?

Savage Worlds could do this a little easier since you would split kobolds into groups of extras and throw a couple wounds on each to simulate the group's ability to take damage (I would probably throw 2-3 wounds for groups of 6-10 on there for half hit-die kobolds). One initiative card and action per group per turn, and you are all set and handling this efficiently. It is a pulp adventure and not a simulation; things are different here, like in a movie.

And it is extraordinary Savage Worlds is the only game I regularly play that handles this module that easily.

Then again, Savage Worlds has a lot of "design tricks" in its bag of toys, and the game feels like it was designed by many long-term role players, and they know those moments where they say, "Oh, no, not this again." Easy systems handle chases, confusing initiative orders, mass battles, groups of extras, and lots more. Once you learn them and fit them in your head, doing anything in Savage Worlds becomes simple - even complicated stuff that would break many other systems.

Savage Worlds is one of those "thought zeitgeist" games like an Index Card RPG that will change how you play tabletop games. Also, Index Card RPG would handle this module quite nicely, so a shout out to another one of my favorite games.

The Future is in the Indies

Yes, I like the classic modules. But I feel that the only people who will carry on their legacy are the indie creators, companies like Goodman Games, and the OSR. I want storytellers and designers who understand why we loved these classic adventures. I want new experiences in the traditional style.

As much as I love the Goodman Game's classic reprints of the classic AD&D modules (Slave Lords and GDQ would be amazing), I want the PDFs, and those are not happening likely due to Wizards and contractual issues. It does make me happy to see new directions for this line like this:

Modules not from TSR getting this treatment, and full DCC and 5E versions available in print and PDF. Finally. I will be supporting the DCC version of this project, and it is great to see them doing adventures where they can finally support their own incredible game - and release PDFs as well.

Since I never played this adventure it is new to me and they support DCC, and this is the best of both worlds.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Dungeon Fantasy vs. GURPS Dungeon Fantasy

I know, what?

This article is mostly about how you play Dungeon Fantasy and use GURPS Character Assistant 5 (GCA5). Do you use the base "Dungeon Fantasy" rules and GCA5 setup? Or do you use the GURPS Basic set plus the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy books? Now Dungeon Fantasy has a lot of the GURPS stuff stripped out of the game and focuses on Dungeon Crawling, where if you play with GURPS Basic as your "root sourcebook," your options change, and even more if you add GURPS Magic to the mix. So to summarize:

  • Dungeon Fantasy (DF) = Everything in the game box.
  • GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (GDF) = The GDF Warehouse 23 supplements, plus GURPS Basic Set, GURPS Fantasy, and GURPS Magic.

Note that DF is everything in the box, whereas GDF does not require the box. Here is my current GCA 5 setup for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (GDF):

I stripped down the sourcebooks to remove duplicate options and hand-edited the "Remove Unnecessary Traits" script to add all the classic GURPS advantages and disadvantages, which are helpful for powers (flight) and some of the classics like enemies and other fun RP choices. Some of the scripts for technological advantages (digital mind) I kept in there to remove those options since I want to reduce clutter. This lets me add books that need the base GURPS advantages, such as Bio-Tech, or use the powers to create fantastic fantasy races, such as nagas, succubus, mermaids, or others.

GURPS Magic also has hand-edits to remove some power modifiers that put tons of useless repeat spells into my lists. My files are backed up, too, just in case of updates.

And here is the basic Dungeon Fantasy boxed-game setup with the optional Delvers to Grow book (DF):

Knowing what you are doing with plain Dungeon Fantasy gets a lot easier. Those Warehouse 23 sourcebooks are nice, but they are designed for GDF instead of plain DF, which means they NEED the GURPS Basic book to work and are meant for the hybrid style GDF style of play. Clerics in DF are all cleric-types, while clerics in my GDF setup are either holy or unholy. It gives you an exciting distribution of spells, with unholy clerics having a lot of ruin and despoiling powers, whereas holy clerics are more restorative and heal-y. The GDF Clerics supplement adds cleric domains, which I feel adds too many repeat spells to the list, so I do not load it. You also have many more spells in GDF, and my setup with things like flight and other advantages is helpful for different character types (angels, succubus, etc.).

It took a lot of tweaking and failed characters to get both of these setups and the skills needed to create characters for templates that validate and throw zero errors. They both make similar character types (and yes, you CAN copy and paste between characters to copy things like quirks and equipment lists, excellent). When you get good enough, you can mix and match characters - designed either way - into the same campaign. Just make sure to save characters created with a DF setup with unique code in the filename, so you know, like "Bjorn - DF" versus "Bjorn - GDF."

There are subtle differences in the setups, such as the clerics being different and the GDF having many more spells. But if you want an unholy cleric as a character in DF, this is the way to go.

DF is B/X & GDF is AD&D

Why not just play with GDF and not DF? DF has a few changes and notable changes to character design that if you just wanted to stick with the basic DF books, you are probably better off with the DF character setup. And Delvers to Grow only works with DF, an excellent book. I see the base DF box as a B/X-style game, and the GDF set up as an AD&D-type campaign.

What is AD&D? On a technical definition, B/X plus more stuff - including wacky, unbalanced, power-level breaking spells and abilities. In DF, you have a curated, balanced, fun set of powers, classes, and spells. In GDF, you have mages summoning dinosaurs to clear the Caves of Chaos and bards buying berserk and multiple levels of extra attack. If that is your style of game, totally go GDF. If you want a sensibly curated and focused game, play DF.

The cool thing is the characters work together well, and there really isn't much of a power-level difference between them, unlike B/X and AD&D (fighter hit dice, etc.). There will be spell differences, and some spells in a DF context will be unbalancing to the dungeon-crawling genre, so just be aware of that if you are aiming for a balanced game.

The DF setup in GCA5 also is easier to set up and use. In contrast, when you do the GDF setup, you are getting lots of repeat things added from GURPS Magic (unless you hand-edit the GCA5 files) and adding modules and realizing they put way too much junk in the lists and then banning them from your game. If you want an easier time, go base DF and the DF setup in GCA5, and you will be happy. There is plenty enough in the base DF game (and the expansion booklets) to keep you busy for a lifetime of fun.

But suppose you like hacking and want more freedom to design classic GURPS characters or characters that use magic or character systems from other books (Thaumatology, time-traveling aliens, GURPS Furries, or anything else you can imagine). In that case, the GDF setup is handy to have around for those exceptional cases. When you dive into GDF, you unleash the full breadth of GURPS characters and design systems, which can be incredible. It can also be time-consuming and confusing at times, so DF is better for new players and those wanting less basic set insanity creeping into their games.

For me? I am sticking with the basic Dungeon Fantasy box and DF GCA setup.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Games I Keep Coming Home To

After 40 years of roleplaying, I keep coming back to a particular set of games that feel true to me. Versions of D&D come and go,; you get high-concept licensed games based on movies or classic games that come on strong and have zero support, and classics that never change but desperately need updates and streamlining.

Some games I love because they are classics, like Star Frontiers or Tunnels and Trolls, but I don't consider them my "home games" since I don't play them as much these days. If you forced me to keep only a few games out of my library, less than five, they would not be on the list.

I put games in boxes all the time and store them. A few I am forced to pull out again, and they make their way back to my main shelves. They just do everything better, and I often have characters in solo games for these who call to me for adventures. These are those games that I just can't live without.

Old School Essentials

You got to have a copy of B/X on any list like this, and mine is the two-volume set of Old School Essentials Advanced. This is a game I could play and rely on to stay the same for 40 more years and then see D&D go through another four major revisions of the game (and likely a few corporate ownership changes). And I do not have to learn anything to play this, I started with B/X, grew up with B/X, and part of my DNA follows B/X rules.

That said, I still pull in monsters and adventures from Labyrinth Lord; the once and the former king still has a lot of great classics to offer. But this is B/X, a world of fun where everything mainly works seamlessly together. Also, a nod needs to be given to the excellent Index Card RPG for changing how I referee games like this, and I would easily include that book in my OSE collection.

I do have quite a few AD&D-style games, but none of them really feel as strong, complete, and as simple as this. If I had to keep one game out of them all, this would be the one. Castles & Crusades is an excellent game in the AD&D mold, as is Adventures Dark and Deep. I like the refinements AD&D introduced to limit caster power, but the characters also started collecting dozens of strange minor modifiers from various tables that felt like game design lint.

OSE is high quality and has the best-in-the-world organization and presentation. For me, I prefer this over D&D 5. There are fewer books, better organized, old-school, great additions to the B/X core, and all the best classic experiences in two beautiful books.

Great things last the test of time.


One of my biggest regrets was my brother and me never GURPS the respect the game deserved. We played Aftermath and held that game in higher regard than GURPS, which is a true classic, and this will always be a classic and great game. We grew up playing Car Wars and enjoyed our simpler Traveller version of that game to GURPS, and then our "advanced" game was Aftermath until that game fell apart on us, and we were switching games again and again.

And again through the 1990s, when we ended up back with D&D 2nd edition, and that fell apart when Wizards came in. The third edition came, and we went out own way, tried Pathfinder 1e (which I liked more than my brother), and we settled on D&D 4 for a while until that game fell apart spectacularly. It was hard to watch the designers of D&D 4 long for games like B/X, and begin to design back in B/X class features into D&D 4 Essentials, and then throw away the entire edition for 5E.

I come back to GURPS and see a modular design that scales in complexity as much as you want it to. This is what GURPS haters hold up as a flaw when it is actually the best feature of the game. That complexity dial starts at 0 and goes to 11. If someone complains about GURPS being too hard, I feel they don't understand the game's design philosophy, and they played with too many features and optional combat rules.

I can do so much with this game easily; it is my new instant favorite. And it gives me detail and depth other games lack. I would not use this for pulp-cinematic games, but for games where I want to carefully sculpt a character into a masterpiece of vision and design, GURPS has no equal. And I say sculpting because that is what you are doing in GURPS; you aren't designing, generating, or building a character - this is an art as character design, and every point matters.

I find myself asking, "do I need that skill?" What happens when I increase my primary weapon skill by a level and make some trade-offs elsewhere? Could I offset this with a disadvantage? Would it fit the character? Can I make a few better choices to get that advantage I really want? Like Pathfinder 1e, 2e, and Starfinder, character creation is highly recommended to use electronic tools.

And the beautiful thing is that every choice you make during character sculpting matters when you play the game. You will see the outcomes of your options in every combat. There will be things you wish you had and saving up points to buy. You will need to work with others to fill the gaps.

Gear and load-outs matter.

Sure, you can create the best swordsman on paper ever. But when he dies of exposure walking to the dungeon in a sudden cold rainstorm, you realize your next character will be better balanced and fit a background and theme. For every horrible thing a referee can do to you in B/X on a saving throw, there is a skill that lets you deal with it quickly in GURPS. Or do it to others and force them to make the save. GURPS gives you the skills to avoid pain and deal it out to others.

The Dungeon Fantasy game also deserves special mention, though I am at times torn if this game is even needed. It is still GURPS and 99% compatible, and everything in here, from monsters to magic items, can be used with GURPS, but I use GURPS for more than just fantasy, so my tastes run all over the genres the main game supports. For those wanting a focused fantasy game, this is perfect. This game and Savage Pathfinder share a lot in common; they are 99% the original game, just with options moved around and a few things changed to support the genre better.

These days I see the genius in the system. I really love it. I put this system away in the closet, pulled it out, and re-shelved everything twice. It does gritty, realistic fantasy that beats Aftermath in realism and fun and does so cleanly, simply, and elegantly. It does anything and everything. You can - and should - scale complexity to meet your group's tastes. The sourcebooks are amazing.

This isn't B/X, but nothing beats it for character design and how deeply you can customize, mod, reskin, and scale this game. It is the Skyrim of roleplaying games, a game that is also a platform for hacking and creativity.

If we had given GURPS the respect it deserved, we could have skipped D&D three through five and saved a few thousand dollars on books - and had a better-feeling game that would have lasted for 20+ years. These were the rules and the game we were looking for, and we never knew we had it.

Savage Worlds

This is another one I keep putting away on my "less-used game" shelves, and it keeps moving back onto my most-played shelves. If you want a generic game that uses toys like playing cards, polyhedral dice, and excellent mechanics - this is your game. I blame the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game for bringing me home to this one; I love the idea in the card game of the dice-based ability scores, and a 100% no-steampunk fantasy 3.5 feeling world, and the Savage Pathfinder sister game to this completely fills the niche for me, and it like the Dungeon Fantasy type game for the primary set of rules.

It has abstract systems for wounding and many parts of the rules that take some head-space to wrap around, but once you do, you begin to realize the means to the end. Cinematic pulp adventure is the game's name here, and the game is built like a well-oiled machine to deliver the experience. The initiative system is genius and makes me feel traditional d20 + modifier-based systems are dinosaur relics.

This has the character design thing I love from GURPS but in a streamlined format. You have fewer options in terms of skills, powers, and fine details, but being able to design a character instantly in a few minutes to your liking is a massive win for usability. Like B/X, you don't need electronic tools to build characters, so any good list will have a mix of games with complex and simple generations.

You are not getting the save-or-die simplicity of B/X or the epic realism and character-crafting of GURPS. Still, you are getting a finely-tuned abstract pulp-adventure cinematic universal system that handles anything and everything you throw at it with zero prep and character creation that takes a few minutes. Fantasy, sci-fi, horror, movies, TV shows, modern-day, historical, wild west, novels, streaming shows, cartoons, superheroes, anything in your head is an instant Savage Worlds game.

Any game, genre, instant-on, fast character creation, and universal rules? Savage Worlds is like my X-Box, Gamepass, and the SSD drive inside.

Do you want fun now? You got it.

Pathfinder 1e

If I ever want a full-bore 3.5 experience, nothing beats this game. I have it on my back shelves for now since I am learning the steampunk sequel to this game, Pathfinder 2. And I do get the Paizo going all-in on steampunk is part of why the sequel isn't as popular as the original. With Pathfinder 1e, the technology is easily ignored, and it felt like D&D 3.5 Extreme Edition. It looks fantastic, it still has a fantasy feel, and it doesn't go overboard with the technology.

With Pathfinder 2, there is no way in hell you are avoiding the steampunk cosplay crowd, especially in Lost Omens. It feels strange because steampunk has always been a niche interest, while the fantasy genre is king, and they push the steampunk elements so hard that Pathfinder 2 feels like a steampunk game. My answer is to go all-in on that game and make it a fight between magic and technology, like a cyberpunk style theme but set in a steampunk world.

I hope magic wins because I miss that generic fantasy game we had with Pathfinder 1e. Honestly, it does feel like Pathfinder 2 lost some of its product vision and seems all over the place in terms of genre, judging, and theme. It feels like medieval Starfinder when I want it to feel more like B/X or AD&D. The gameplay in 2E is said to be better, and I want to put that to the test.

I do have Starfinder on my most-played shelves, and that is sort of a 3.5-style game. I could put Starfinder and Pathfinder 1e in the same collection bucket and say they are the same game since the play mechanics are nearly identical.

The first edition has a lot of flaws, but the run of books made for this game and the third-party support borders on the incredible. I have two shelves of Pathfinder 1e books, but I feel I have a collection of infinite worlds and fantasy settings in that space. It is quite a library, but a library of endless adventures.

The Fifth Game?

This is one I keep looking for. One of the things I look for in a game is a robust support system, GURPS has a fantastic selection of PDFs at Warehouse 23, and DriveThruRPG is amazing for B/X, Savage Worlds, and Pathfinder 1e. These are not dead games, except Pathfinder 1e, but the volume of books made for that system blows me away and will keep me interested for years. Being an open game where the community can produce things is a plus, and while GURPS does not have that, I really have everything I need with the books I have.

If I had to pick a fifth today, it would be Dungeon Crawl Classics and its sister game Mutant Crawl Classics. This is the true expression of Appendix N and the most AD&D game I have. I love this game because it breaks the B/X mold and does something new and extraordinary. Many B/X games exist as retro-edition emulators, this takes the entire genre and does something cool and fresh with the rules, and it is one I feel challenges the industry to do better and start doing new things. I can also depend on them to keep releasing fun adventures for these games, which is always a plus.

There are times when I feel simulating AD&D is a worthy goal, but also, there are times when I think at a certain point, you are chasing nostalgia, and it is better to do your own thing - something new. This does something utterly new while keeping that AD&D feeling of "wow," and no other game does that.

If I played a game like Traveller or Battletech, this would also be a good spot for the game. I feel these are games a lot like D&D 4E. You play more for mechanics than the world, and the central concept is strong enough to carry the game. Since I am currently exploring Starfinder, a sci-fi game may go good here, like a Cyberpunk style game, but both GURPS and Savage worlds do cyberpunk nicely. For that matter, GURPS does a pretty nice RPG for either Battletech or Traveller.

My Current Playlist

This is my current list, and it will likely change. One of the things about playing solo and alone is the tendency to float between games where the grass is always greener. I am happier if I stick to a few games and enjoy those. Some of these games are pretty deep and involved, GURPS can take quite a bit of time in character design, but the advantage of that is you get excited to play, you have an investment in the character (not a throwaway), and you start that "design" thing in your head as you play and take on challenges. Same with Pathfinder 1e, and I hope 2e lives up to the hype and does not simplify away too much.

Some of my games are quick-play classics, like OSE or Savage Worlds. You can probably put Dungeon Crawl Classics on my quick playlist too.

I have a few games stored away on my less-played shelves, and I put them there (and boxed up) to keep myself from getting overwhelmed. If I focus on a few games I enjoy them much more.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Video: GURPS solo play through BFRPG module

I found a really cool video the other day by "EasyGURPS na" doing a solo run through of a Basic Fantasy RPG module with low-power GURPS characters, this is really worth checking out because it gives you an overview of a "fast and loose" playstyle, and also some great conversion notes between BFRPG and GURPS in video #1 in the comments, to summarize:

  • HP = HD x 10
  • Attack Skill, Parry = 10 + Attack Bonus
  • Dodge = 6 to 10, estimate
  • Damage = As listed, plus special effects as needed
  • DR = estimate based on armor

The videos go on for quite a number of them and are entertaining, check them out! It is fun to see a group of almost 0-level characters out of Dungeon Crawl Classics funnels using GURPS rules and the system just working incredibly smoothly and easily for a party of eight of them.

The HP calculation does seem a little high, but this is for a party of characters and likely needs things like damage multipliers applied. I could see 5 + (HD x 5) working as well if you want lower total hit points, but the creator of the video says his system feels right so I may go with his recommendations. With higher DR values, you may want to adjust hit points down to compensate.

What is really cool here is being able to take any BFRPG monster and convert it on the fly to GURPS or Dungeon Fantasy - that is hugely helpful.

Savage Pathfinder & The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

The Savage Worlds Pathfinder game is a really impressive swords & sorcery adventure set. It has a specific focus on simulating the 3.5-isms of Pathfinder, so they added edges, moved edges around, and created a new category of class edges. They updated the powers, added new ones, and tweaked weapons and combat. This is not a direct conversion, but more of a spiritual one that takes a Pathfinder-feeling world and rules which converts this over to a Savage Worlds setting.

It feels very similar to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game's "dice for stats" system and these two games feel like distant cousins to one another. Where the card game uses your "hand" for gear, powers, allies, and hit points, Savage is more your traditional "character sheet" style of game that removes the need for cards, decks, and hands. If you really like the feeling and simplicity of the adventure card game and wish you had "Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: The RPG" check out Savage Pathfinder and you may find exactly what you are looking for.

Quinn, from the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Both games use "dice for stats" in that the card game has characters with a die rating in each ability score, like STR, INT, WIS, and so on. Savage Pathfinder sticks to the Savage Worlds ability scores, but rates them similarly, but also adds a skill system which the card game does as a flat modifier to an ability score. Where in the card game "experience" are you adding marks to abilities, starting deck cards, and hand size; Savage Pathfinder is a more traditional RPG with an advance awarded at the end of a session used to raise attributes and skills, gain edges, buy off hindrances, and so on.

Lem, in Savage Pathfinder

Savage is more the traditional RPG, less so that "card cinema" based gameplay a card game throws at you with the unpredictable draw and you have no idea what you are starting with, and what is coming up next in your hand. It could be you draw your armor last and you go without it for most of the adventure. The card game does have the concept of a "favored card" meaning you draw a starting hand until you have at least one of those items in your first hand, such as a weapon card.

With the RPG, your gear is your gear, and you can lose it and buy new things normally. I do burn a lot of gear in my regular games, and players need to be prepared to lose their stuff. Such is the cost of being an adventurer.

One thing I always loved about Savage Pathfinder is that 1-for-1 character sheet. Got a d4 in strength and a d8 in agility? Wow, that agility die is larger, you must be really good at that! Remember to roll your wild die with that and beat a 4 on either die! Skills are the same way and the list of edges and abilities can be played straight from the character sheet without any book reference. With new players I always go for Savage Worlds first, and they pick everything up nearly instantly no matter their previous experience. The rules do not need you to "be in the tabletop RPG mindset" at all, and the game can be played almost like a Monopoly-style set of rules.

Wanna hit something with your ax? Roll this. Wanna kick down the door? Roll that. Once most players make two rolls they understand almost everything about how 80% of the game works.

Resource Burndown

The card game does make you "burn down" your resources faster than the RPG, as you may sacrifice an ally, spell, or unneeded weapon when you are forced to discard cards in your hand. So it is inherently like action or spy movies where most of your gear and resources are used a few times or sacrificed regularly, like a spy laser watch being only good for one scene in the movie before it is discarded and is no longer used or seen again. Or maybe the soldier ally takes a wound and is sacrificed so your mission can continue. Maybe you lose your concealable pistol in a fight, you didn't want to, but it is better than taking a wound.

Burndown of gear in the RPG is typically done with critical failures (a roll of 1 on both the skill and wild dice), and instead of an external bad thing happening the GM rules an item is lost. I also include mook allies as the bad things that can be affected by the critical failure results.

I also (when it is appropriate) allow a "push it to the limit" rule in my Savage games where if you sacrifice the gear you are using for the task, you can reroll a failed check. Climbing a fortress wall with a rope and failing the climbing roll? Want to "push it" and try again? If so, roll again, and lose the rope either way. I do this for all rolls EXCEPT combat rolls, just to put extra value on standard gear and create the burn-down economy where you go through an adventure and lose things regularly and have to deal with the outcome of your choices.

If you are doing "fail forward" you can simply ignore the reroll mechanic, assume success, and sacrifice the gear. There are times, especially when the adventure stops to a dead halt if they fail, I will ignore push it and just fail forward. There are other times I want to put the decision in the player's hands and treat the loss of a gear item as a bennie for that task. It depends, is there another way in and the players don't want to lose the rope? Then I leave it up to them.

Special Gear

The card game does have a fun concept of special cards that give you a bonus to certain actions, but this can also be simulated in the RPG by directly linking task difficulty to the available equipment. In both games, you can say "fancy clothes" give you a bonus to interactions in social situations. In the card game, it would be a flat bonus, such as a +2. In Savage, you would base the difficulty on the situation, and modify it for having the proper gear. Wearing plate mail that smells like sweat and oil to a high-society function? Yeah, prepare for a +4 difficulty modifier to any social skill rolls there. Got "fancy clothes?" Then your checks are at the base target level of 4.

Equipment in both games can be flat bonuses or allow rerolls. I prefer flat bonuses since it is less dice rolling and enhances the "push it" and "fail forward" mechanics in a direct way.

Similar Games, One Minus Cards

If you love the Pathfinder Adventure Card game but always shied away from the core Pathfinder (1e or 2e) game, give Savage Pathfinder a try! The concepts are incredibly similar and the games share the same design language. The RPG frees you from deck management and setup and opens up the situations for random play, hex-crawls, published adventures, or GM-guided scenarios. Also, the range of the things you can do is not limited by cards or lengthy scenario setup and multiple guided deck building and positioning of locations.

You just kind of grab a character sheet, some funny dice, listen to the GM, and play.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Subset Templated GURPS: GURPS 4.5?

GURPS is going through something of an evolution, and a lot of the PDF releases on Warehouse 23 reflect this style of game being created with the rules these days, and it started with Dungeon Fantasy. GURPS 4.5 "sort of" exists today in the heavily templated and cut-down subset games of:

  • Dungeon Fantasy
  • GURPS Action
  • GURPS After the End
  • GURPS Monster Hunters

Dungeon Fantasy is special since it is a standalone game, but you see that influence in the other games on the list. Take a genre, cut GURPS down to the bare minimum needed to support that genre, and all of a sudden you have a more focused and more playable game. The spell lists are shorter and have no cruft, the skill lists are pared down and usable, and the advantages and disadvantages are focused and support the genre. We have templates to make genre-focused archetypes.

When you play, there is nothing extraneous or genre-breaking to distract you.

And then these games expand from that simple starting point and add layers of complexity.

But as you play, you begin to notice options missing that you would have liked to pull in. If you are playing with pen-and-paper, everything is cool, just pull the other book over and write it in. If you are using a computerized tool, things start to become difficult.

It is semi-noticeable with the games still based off of GURPS Basic set; but very noticeable with the standalone game Dungeon Fantasy.

And there are times when I see some of these games expand into different areas adding layers of complicated rules, when I smile and sit there saying, "The base GURPS game does that easier than adding all these layers of complexity."

All the Books?

GURPS can die under its weight of options, and if you ever loaded up GURPS Character Assistant 5 (GCA) with all the base books in a library (Magic, Fantasy, Space, High Tech, Low Tech, Ultra Tech, etc) you are going to know what I mean. The game gets better the more you cut it down. I can't deal with a skill lest a few hundred skills long, that is just way too much - even with sub-lists divided by type.

In short, you play with every GURPS book and you create a game that I feel can't really be played.

The game is better once you cut it down, and begin to exclude things from the experience.

My problem is I love tweaking things. I love designing unique characters. I love some of the options they excluded from Dungeon Fantasy, which is why I hacked my GCA files to create a game that can be played with a few other books to pull in things I like. Even my base Dungeon Fantasy setup has tweaks to use some of the classic GURPS roleplaying disadvantages, like "Hunted By..."

I also like my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy setup in GCA since there is a wisdom in not lumping every spell into "Cleric" - since unholy spells get a cool list of ones that deal with destruction, curses, zombies, dark vision, death-touch, and lots of other "awww cooool" spells.

But oh no, mages can cast healing! Well, you know, just disallow it. Like you disallow letting characters the ability to go de-solid or fly. And great players won't even pick those powers because they know it is silly and it doesn't fit the game's theme. This is kind of like a group coming together and trusting each other to make good decisions and choices to not break the game or immersion.

Clerics buy the things you feel clerics should have. Mages get mage things. This is all based on your world. In some fantasy books, there may be no clerics and mages do healing as well. Or maybe nobody can. You need to do some thinking about your world here and make some decisions.

There are times I love Dungeon Fantasy's focus. There are others I look at my skill and spell lists in my custom GURPS Dungeon Fantasy world and see a game I can expand infinitely, and that gives me millions of more ways to customize characters. There are good parts about subset games like Dungeon Fantasy, but also when you realize the true power of GURPS you see a lot of needless limitations.

And there are parts of the game you may absolutely fall in love with (I hear this about GURPS Thaumatology), that you may never experience or know about if all you play is the subset game.

Limits are Fun World Building

I feel there is this difference between modern gamers that want to be told what characters can and can't do and work within those limits; versus the old school GURPS and Champions players who you can give a game that resembles a box of Legos, and can create a cool dungeon game out of it by putting a few things together.

It makes me feel these toolbox games just are not understood these days, nor do people have the time or the care to invest time to make them work. I can imagine giving GURPS to a group of today's gamers and they would be sitting around the table...

What are we playing? A dungeon game? Okay, if you buy ten levels of duplication and five levels of extra attack, you will be able to attack 50 times a turn! I am buying insubstantiality and flight along with mind control, so I can fly through walls and scout ahead! You buy invisibility and 20 levels of damage resistance! No one can see you or damage you!

And I would be sitting here asking, "What are you guys doing?"

And I would be met by a table of blank stares and the answer, "Playing the game."

Forget it, we are going back to D&D 5 tonight.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Mail Room: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is a game I always wanted to get into, and they say you can play this solo, so it looks fun. The game is revised, and this is the new version, and the reviews say the entire experience is polished and a lot smoother to play.

These sorts of things are why I went back to Paizo. This company delivers fun and exciting things to do on a consistent schedule. They also put a lot of excellent game design and joy into every release. Instead of a cable package, I keep a few subscriptions up and enjoy the boxes I get until the next one arrives. They are not perfect, but right now, they fit my vision of fun and keep delivering me new experiences to have.

vs. Magic: The Gathering?

Also, I am not into Magic The Gathering or all the spin-offs and one-offs, so those are outside my experience and world right now. My brother was more into that than me, and I never really saw myself getting into that game. We did buy sets and play, but they went out of print so fast and were unsupported that we never felt we could keep up or have any chance of getting cool cards.

With this game, from what I know, you get all the cards, and there is no rarity game. There is even a custom-card creator over on Drive Thru RPG that sounds cool and lets players expand the game. I love the idea of a card game that fans can support and develop.

Month after month, I see a lot more I want on Paizo's site than I do Wizards, so I gravitate to where my interests are. Also, I didn't play 5E and missed that boat when my brother passed away, that was going to be our next game together, and we never got the chance. I respect 5E and love that people have fun with the game, but I don't play it and chose to check out 6E when that comes out.

Otherwise, I have too much to do with the things I do have.

vs. B/X?

I wish there were B/X companies that did this much work as either Wizards or Paizo and could put this much effort into the main rulebook and consistent product support with roadmaps and product innovation. I want everything: expansion, new classes, adventures, worlds, new mechanics, card games, plushies, figures, pawns. Many of my B/X books are now on my storage shelves; I don't really have much to do after playing through them. I collected as many expansion books for B/X as I found. As a result, my collection feels disjointed and for several different games.

The only company that comes close to Paizo's level of support in the retro-space is Goodman Games with Dungeon Crawl Classics, and I can always count on them to keep the adventures coming. I wish they did more in terms of expansions and other product support. I think Goodman Games' philosophy aligns with my feelings on B/X, use the past to create something entirely new - but don't be too beholden to history. I feel a lot of B/X games are satisfied with history and stop there. We may get a game that has a few differences and better presentation, but nothing really new and nothing extraordinary to look forward to seeing next month.

I want them to think big!

I feel myself drifting away from B/X just a little as a result. While I love the classic rules and they will always be fun, I like to read and play with new things as a reader and avid hobbyist. Would I love an adventure card game based on B/X? Hell yeah! If I could find one...

vs. Pathfinder 2e?

This is not a card game and is not meant for solo play. This is more of a social game, and that is cool. I love the character building and tweaking. This game feels like you can lose yourself in a unique character much more than a 5E or B/X, and from what I see, it plays better than on a tabletop with battle maps.

On the downside, the complexity feels higher. While yes, I am used to Pathfinder 1e, and this is supposed to be streamlined, I have been playing D&D 3E, 3.5E, and then 3.75E since the first books came out for each. I plan to run duo groups until I get used to the system and increase complexity until I find my happy place.

The card game feels more "crack open the box and play" than a solo oracle system with a full pen-and-paper game. This is why I tend to like hex-crawls with my solo games since if I am at a total loss on what happens next, I have unexplored hexes and a few random charts to get me started. Stories and missions can then be spawned from filling out a hex, and each one can generate a new story arc.

A Pickup and Play Game

Last night, I looked over the rules PDF, and the game feels like a highly simplified version of Pathfinder 1e. You have a set of target numbers on the cards, pass and fail results, and characters have dice in different abilities they roll for combat and challenges. Damage is the difference between the check and the target number and forces you to discard cards. Discard more cards than you have, and your character dies.

Simple. We always thought health counters and countdown dice were a bit extraneous to card games, and I like the health pool as the number of cards in hand mechanic.

One thing that feels strange to me is checking off boxes on cards to level up feats and powers; um, yeah, not doing that. They recommend using a character sheet. Okay, this feels strange and makes the game more like a "card RPG," but I will give you this as your "one thing" you can do outside of a regular card game-style playstyle, which is fantastic.

I thought checks were on a d20 for some reason. Apparently, they are straight d4 to d12 style checks with modifiers and extra dice added due to powers or gear. There are also rules for continuing campaigns and improving characters.

Expanding the game on Drivethrurpg with professional print-and-play user-created cards? A genius and bold move. Thank you!

This one looks like a lot of fun, and I am happy I dove in and looking forward to cracking this open when the box comes.