Friday, May 12, 2017


I've had the 2011 Summer of Starmada on my mind lately.  There were a couple of things that made Starmada successful, I think.  One was that it was simple enough to introduce new players without too much difficulty, with many options disabled-by-default.  This allowed us to achieve a critical mass of regular players and establish a metagame.  Finally, the availability of design rules led to strong participation in the game away from the table and allowed players to play fleets representing whatever science-fiction background they came from.  Unfortunately, it was that same design system that tore the metagame apart.

Dirtside 2 shares some, but not all, of these characteristics.  It does have a design system capable of modeling a wide variety of forces, and if the rulebook were better organized it would be easy to separate into a simple core and a number of optional components.  Compared to its brother Stargrunt, its morale system is simpler, it is larger scale, and it has a greater focus on combined arms. Unfortunately, as a ground-combat wargame, it depends heavily on terrain, and it uses a weird miniatures scale (6mm "microarmor").  Also, like Stargrunt, it does not handle alien psychology very well.  Finally, it uses a really weird damage resolution system involving drawing chits from a bowl; simple enough in practice, but an annoying number of moving parts.  If you lose a damage chit, your probability distribution is going to be skewed forever.

I've had my eye on Dirtside for a long time, but it just never seemed viable, due largely to hardware.  I looked at using roll20, but roll20's support for facing is very awkward, the asymmetric DM-player model isn't a great fit for wargames, and it sort of chugs on large maps in my experience.  I considered writing a VASSAL module, but java.  Now I think I might've found the correct tool, though - Tabletop Simulator.  TTS is already widely-available to the group that I game with, and is cheaper than miniatures.  It is easy to import hexmaps into it (I've looked at just taking Google Maps screenshots, imposing a hex grid at 100 meters per hex, and dropping them in), which solves the terrain problem.  It supports the "drawing damage chits" idiom very nicely with either decks or bags.  There are already steam workshop mods for it with models from the Dawn of War games, intended for playing Epic 40k, which would be perfect for representing units (I've been looking at using NATO-standard counters instead, but for some reason NATO has no symbols for "antigrav tank" or "giant mecha".  Gotta get on that, guys).  It seems like a very good solution to the "need miniatures", "losing damage chits", and "terrain is complicated" problems (though it may introduce some new problems, like "playing against opponents face-to-face is fun, and so is standing over a big physical map".  Maybe I need a ceiling-mounted projector aimed down on to a real table for that "war room" effect...)

The "poorly-organized rulebook" problem remains, however.  The rulebook is also not OCR'd, which is pretty annoying.  These two facts combined lead me to the conclusion that maybe I should transcribe / rewrite the rulebook, cutting it up into independent modules like Starmada had:

  • Core / Armor
    • general sequence of play, units, objectives
    • armored vehicle (tracked, wheeled, GEV, grav, mechs) movement
    • big index of combat actions, direct fire, guided missiles, damage resolution
  • Infantry
  • Artillery
  • Aerospace (I'm conflicted about VTOLs; most of the time they play like armor, but then they're also vulnerable to air defense)
  • Engineering (mines, fires and smoke, bridgelaying, ...)
  • Optional Stuff (oversized vehicles, experimental rules for drones and aliens, ???)
  • Vehicle Design and Points
It's already mostly organized like this.  The problem is that (for example) infantry movement is in the movement section with armored vehicles, rather than in the infantry section, and chit validity for artillery fire is in the direct fire chit validity table rather than the artillery chapter.  That's fine for a reference, but bad when you're first learning the game.  It's (only) a 60-page rulebook, so cutting it up and figuring it out is less work than learning all the quirks of an RPG, probably.  Combined with making tokens in TTS and a unit design spreadsheet (though there is already an online vehicle design tool, but it doesn't really support houseruling), it should be a reasonable, but not overwhelming, prep effort.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rations, Starvation, and Morale: Addendum

So I was skimming Domains at War: Campaigns, and lo, on page 58 there were more rules for the effects of being out of supplies, which I missed in my previous collection of starvation rules:

Troops who are insufficiently supplied lose 1 hit point per day and suffer a cumulative -1 to attack throws and damage rolls. Furthermore, they lose the ability to heal wounds normally, though magic will still work. If troops eat enough food for a day, they regain the ability to heal, recover 1 hit point lost to hunger, and reduce by 1 any penalties to attack throws and damage rolls. Thus, troops that receive rations every other day (or half rations daily) can function almost indefinitely.
However, even if an army physically survives a lack of supply, it may not survive psychologically. Each week a unit is partially or completely unsupplied counts as a calamity and the unit must make a loyalty roll.
If an army has enough supplies to feed some of its units, but not all, the army's leader must choose which units to supply. The supplied units do not suffer any penalties, nor do they need to make weekly morale checks. However, the unsupplied units suffer an additional -1 penalty to their loyalty rolls, as it is evident that they are being left to starve while others feed.
So that's a fair bit harsher than the rules from the core book - no two-day grace period (though that would be consistent with having no water, rather than just no food), and accumulating to-hit and damage penalties.  The morale rolls seem more reasonable than punitive, though depending on circumstances it may still make sense for a starving unit to stick with its PC leaders exactly long enough to get home out of the wilderness.  They do fill a hole I predicted in effects of starvation on morale, though, which is nice.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Rations, Starvation, and Healing

Historically, my players have been very afraid of running out of food in the wilderness.  This seems like a pretty reasonable concern.  For ready reference, here is a summary of the scattered RAW on rations and foraging and such, as well as a discussion of some implications and potential houserules.

From page 94:
Each day, characters must consume food and drink weighing a total of one stone.  This assumes 2lb of food and 1 gallon (8lb) of water.  Failure to consume enough food does not significantly affect a character for the first two days, after which he loses 1 hit point per day.  Furthermore, at that point the character loses the ability to heal wounds normally, though magic will still work.  Eating enough food for a day (over the course of about a day, not all at once) restores the ability to heal, and the character will recover at the normal rate.
Inadequate water affects characters more swiftly; after a single day without water, the character loses 1d4 hit points, and will lose an additional 1d4 hit points per day thereafter; healing ability is lost when the first die of damage is rolled.
When in the wilderness, characters can hunt or forage for food.  Foraging for food is an activity that can be accomplished without hindering travel by gathering fruits, nuts, and vegetables. For each day of travel while foraging, a character should attempt a proficiency throw of 18+ on a d20. A successful result indicates that sufficient food for 1d6 man-sized creatures has been acquired.
Hunting succeeds on a proficiency throw of 14+ and indicates that sufficient food for 2d6 man-sized creatures has been acquired. However, hunting must be engaged in as the sole activity for a day with no traveling possible. In addition, there will be one wandering monster check, from the table appropriate to the terrain, while the group is hunting.
Characters with the Survival proficiency gain a +4 bonus on their proficiency throws to hunt and forage. 
From 96:
While on sea adventures, characters must consume food and water as described under Wilderness Adventures, above. Rowers must consume 3 gallons of water per day rather than the standard 1 gallon, so their supplies have an encumbrance of 3 stone per day. Standard rations are perishable and inedible after one week, so on long sea voyages most characters will eat iron rations. After one month at sea eating iron rations (that is, without eating fresh fruit, onions, or potatoes), characters begin to suffer from scurvy. Characters with scurvy lose 1 point of Str and Con each week. If either ability scores zero, the character dies. A scurvy-stricken character regains 3 points of Str and Con each week he eats fresh food.
Characters can fish if the ship is becalmed or otherwise anchored. For each day of fishing, each character may attempt a proficiency throw of 14+ (gaining a +4 bonus if the have the Survival proficiency). A successful result indicates that food enough for 2d6 man-sized creatures has been caught. 
The description of the Survival proficiency, on page 64:
The character is an expert in hunting small game, gathering fruits and vegetables, and finding water and shelter. The character forages enough food to feed himself automatically, even when on the move, so long as he is in a fairly fertile area. If he is trying to supply more than one person, he must make a proficiency throw (as described in Wilderness Adventures), but gains a +4 bonus to the roll.
Page 46 notes that iron rations last spoil after two months in the wilderness, or a week in the dungeon, while standard rations last a week in the wilderness or a day in the dungeon.  Iron rations cost 1-6gp per week, while standard rations cost 3sp-3gp/week (a rather weird range).

A final thing to note in all of this is ACKS' natural healing rate.  Per page 105, "For each full day of complete rest in reasonably sanitary conditions, a character or monster will recover 1d3 HP.  If the rest is interrupted, the character or monster will not heal that day."  There is no natural, universal overnight healing from normal rest, that I can find.  This casts the Healing proficiency into ambiguity: "A patient under treatment of Healing naturally heals an extra 1d3 hit points each day."  Presumably (and I think we've been playing it this way), that applies to bed-rest healing, rather than providing overnight healing.  I think there's also an argument to be made that the Cure spells that Healing grants are also intended to be applied to bed-resting patients, rather than as first aid (with the exception of Neutralize Poison, which requires expeditious use, and Comfrey, which is explicitly marked for use "after a battle", and notably tracks usage separately from "patients").  This interpretation is supported by the "Campaign Play" article, published in Axioms on 6 Sept 2016, which lists Healing as a "major" activity, or around six hours of work a day to care for 3/4/5 patients - consistent with "patients" being people under bed rest (but see here for counterpoint...  but that leads to some really weird interpretations with healing fading when you switch patients, which doesn't make any sense at all).  The Cure Light/Serious functions of Healing should be surgery - that's why Healer 3 NPC specialists are "chirurgeons".  So that's very interesting - I expect we'd still see Healing 1 a lot in dungeoneering play, for the mortal wounds bonus and Comfrey use, but Healing 2 and 3 would be much rarer under this interpretation.  What would our mages do with all those general proficiencies freed up from Healing, I wonder?  Some actual wizard-knowledge, perhaps?

Some other interesting things that fall out of the rations rules, under inspection:

Your average character forages successfully 15% of the time (about one day a week), and finds on average enough food for 3.5 characters.  In expectation, you will tend to find about half a man-day's worth of food per day, without Survival, while traveling at full speed.  Obviously, this is somewhat swingy, but with more characters will tend to average itself out.  Depending on how you interpret the starvation rules, this may make starvation quite difficult for large parties.  If starvation's effects only trigger after two consecutive days without food, and a large party tends to find half a man-day of food per forager, each character can (on average) eat every other day and avoid starvation indefinitely.  Granted, this might not be great for morale (UPDATE: see here); I also recommend not ordering pizza during such sessions, to get players in the right mindset.

With Survival, that increases to 1.22 man-days of food per day.  The fact that survivalists can always feed themselves without a roll is also a nice bonus, both because it is reliable and because it reduces the amount you have to carry on expeditions when you are carrying rations.

Hunting yields 2.45 man-days of food per hunter*day in expectation, or 3.85 with Survival, but it also costs a man-day of rations per hunter to execute, since it takes a full day without travel.

If the party is traveling along rivers or camped by a lake, fishing is a safer option than hunting, with equivalent yields but no additional random encounter roll.

For mid-level characters, starvation can take a very long time.  A 5th-level mage averages 12.5 HP, and can go two weeks without food (a bit lower than the "three weeks without food, three days without water, three minutes without air" rule, but that's d4 HD for you).  In those two weeks, you will in expectation find food by foraging twice, which on average buys you roughly a week of not-starving (plus four additional days of "not significantly affected" per success).  But wait, that week of not-starving buys you an extra 5.5 days of not-starving in expectation, which buys you an additional ~3 days of not starving, which buys you an additional...  there's a recurrence here.

This is a somewhat annoying recurrence.  I've poked at it with math for a bit, and I think the easier solution is probably Monte Carlo models. Basically you run a bunch of trials (like, 100,000) and observe the outputs statistically.

Turns out the 5th-level mages survive, on average, about 28 days, with a long tail on the distribution.  The longest-surviving mage lived off the land for one hundred and thirteen days with no healing, with strictly-decreasing HP, before starving to death.  This is just foraging, with no bedrest.  I did roll HP randomly per mage, but none of them had a Con modifier.  12% of mages had perished at the 15-day mark, 25% at the 20-day mark, 50% at the 27-day mark, 75% at the 36-day mark, 90% at the 46-day mark, and 99% at the 66-day mark.

Fighters, as expected, live longer - 49 days on average, 165 days maximum.  Again, that's with no healing.  These guys had at most 40HP, but about 2.5 percent of them survived 4 months or longer.  10% had perished at the 28-day mark, 25% at 37 days, 50% at the 48-day mark, 75% at 62 days, 90% at 75 days, and 99% at 101 days.

...  well that got rather grim, didn't it?  The bottom line, though, is that two weeks without rations is less dangerous than the average dungeon crawl, with 12% wizard casualties and less than 1% fighter casualties.  Henchmen might have a rougher time, though a 3rd-level fighter henchman would have superior HP to a 5th-level MU, on average, and should endure starvation comparably.

And again, that's with no healing, no magic, no survival proficiency, no cleverness, no law of large numbers on multiple party members, nothing - pretty much the worst case, minus monsters.  That's also time that you can spend traveling (hopefully home), because you can forage on the move.

So my conclusions from this analysis:

  • Starvation kills low-level characters very quickly, but is much slower for mid-level characters.  This feels like it could be a very reasonable tension-maintenance mechanic for the wilderness levels, much like torch-counting is at low-levels.
  • If you assume drinkable water is available in the field, a man-month of rations is about 4 stone and 25gp.  A mule can carry 10 man-months of rations at 60' speed.  The requirement to carry water makes deserts, swamps, oceans, frigid wastelands (where there is water but not fuel for fire to melt it), and high mountains much more difficult logistically, since then you're looking at 40 man-days per mule at 60' speed (or 20 at 120').  This also links nicely to Create Water.
    • If you want to keep water relevant in less-hostile environments, having a roll per-week to avoid contracting dysentery (with effects similar to starving or dehydration (no natural healing, HP loss per day), but requires Cure Disease or a series of saves to remove) when you drink local water seems reasonable.
  • We've been playing Healing very wrong, but it's still decent in the wilderness game.  Taking a day of bed rest is not a huge deal - you already need to take a day of rest per week.  If you set up a camp with tents, fires, and a clean water source, "reasonably sanitary" seems plausible to me.  A sixth level cleric can do five Cure Lights and one Cure Serious per day, for a total of 7d6+11 HP of healing (35.5 points in expectation).  A guy with Healing 3 can heal 5d3 HP on resting patients, plus five shots at Cure Serious, each with a 35% success rate (before herbs), or about 1.75 Cure Serious per day.  It's unclear what the caster level for Cure Serious from Healing is, but that's at least another 3d6, for a total expected healing of 22.25 before any caster level bonus.  That's at least 63% of a cleric (on a rest day).  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Applied Wilderness Theory

Due in part to the recent Hexographer 2 beta releases, I've been playing around with building a microsandbox - 10 hexes by 10.  I'm not happy with it yet, but here are some notes that have come out of it:

  • Taking the "wilderness as dungeon" model, 100 hexes is comparable to a hundred-room dungeon.  That's on the upper end of anything I've ever actually built and stocked, so this might be bigger than I really wanted.  On the other hand, I do still have a fair number of "empty" hexes.  Honestly might be a bit too big for the "micro-sandbox" label.
    • It's about the size of a duchy, I think?  A 24-mile hex is ~16 6-mile hexes, so a hundred six mile hexes is about 6 24-mile hexes, which is about right for a duke with 5 vassal counties.
  • Borderlands are the correct civilization level for "wilderness" adventuring.  They're perfect.  Previous hexcrawls were largely wilderness, which per Lairs and Encounters have many (2-8) lairs per hex, which is just impractical to stock (sure, sure, dynamic lairs, maybe some year).  Borderlands tend to average between 0.33 and 1 expected lairs per hex, which is great (gee, sounds familiar).  So in a 100-hex area, I have around 40 lairs - quite a few, but waaay more workable than the Shieldlands campaign, where I probably had 40 lairs within 12 miles of the town the PCs were running.
    • Corollary: About half of borderlands six-mile hexes require zero work to clear.  No lairs, no problem.
    • Assuming civilization more-or-less surrounding the sandbox area, the 25-mile borderlands radius covers almost all of a 10x10 hexmap (close enough for me).  We also know that it's 50 miles from the edge of the sandbox to a class IV or better market (probably about 6 miles from the edge of the sandbox to a class VI market, and maybe 24 miles from the edge to a class V market).  So that lets you track time spent getting to and from markets in civilized areas without actually having to roll random encounters with dirt-farmers or track hex-by-hex movement and rations (presumably you can buy them off of hamlets you're passing through daily).
  • Again thinking of wilderness-as-dungeon, I decided to steal a few pages from the dungeon stocking rules, which note that the random encounter tables generate roughly 33% stupid enemies, 33% beastmen / "factious" enemies, and 33% high-intelligence / high-power "men and monsters".  I tweaked these numbers a bit, towards 50% critters, 33% beastmen, and 17% men-and-monsters.  This yields about 20 animal lairs, 13 beastman lairs, and 7 other lairs.
    • Animal lairs are super low-effort to stock, and present a more natural-feeling wilderness (whether or not predator densities that high are actually sustainable is another question).  I also cut out the really boring animals (goats, normal-size hawks, a lone rattlesnake, ...) in favor of a more...  folklorish, Northern European / Tolkeinesque carnivorous animal selections (boars, bears, wolves, giant spiders, giant bats, giant weasels, ...). 
    • 13 beastman lairs is at the upper edge of the reasonable, I think.  They have a lot of moving parts, and I'll probably need to differentiate them so that players can keep them straight.  I wonder if that was secretly the point of having all of those cookie-cutter beastman races that are mechanically almost-the-same; minimal viable differentiation (which is easier to keep track of: blue orcs vs green orcs, or orcs vs guys with hyena heads?).
    • Seven "men and monsters" were actually pretty easy.
  • One day is almost certainly the analog for a 10-minute turn in dungeon-time here.  This was less true when I ran the Bjornaborg wilderness game on 1.5-mile hexes, but on six-mile hexes at 1-2 hexes per day, that's definitely the correct time to track (and this is an important thing to figure out, because that lets you start honing in on that central play-loop which has historically been poorly-defined and vexing for us [1][2], and also helps figure out the resource model).  Rations start to look sort of like torches in this accounting, in that a torch lasts six turns and non-iron rations spoil in seven days.  Removing water requirements by assuming fresh, drinkable water from abundant streams also greatly eases the logistical burden of rations (down to 1lb/man*day, or 10 man-days per stone, instead of 1 stone per man-day when you have to carry water).  An even simpler abstraction would be 1st per man-week, assuming that you're carrying some backup water or wine or whatever.
    • At 10x10 hexes with 1-day "turns", your upper-bound on expedition length is about a month (in 30 days you could get to most any point on the map and back, I think).  This does tie back to one complaint that my players had about wilderness adventures - if you have a choice between one adventure a month in the wilderness, or one adventure a week in the dungeon, wilderness needs to have a much higher treasure yield per expedition to make sense in terms of gp/game-time (which matters because of monthly expenses).  I'm not sure that the microsandbox I'm working on has that high-yield property (yet / currently), but that's also less important if the game is explicitly structured/pitched as "a wilderness game" with no / minimal dungeons and all characters starting at like 5th+ level.
      • An orc wilderness lair has an average treasure value of 14kgp, which is like a decent but not outstanding treasure map.  They're also a source of liberated human prisoners, though, which sounds to me like a pretty good way to pick up some mercs or a replacement PC if things went poorly.
      • I'm not sure my players will fall for "legend tells of a great dragon's hoard somewhere in the highlands" again...  maybe I just need to use a bigger dragon, because bigger dragons have bigger treasure.  Right?
  • In terms of calibrating difficulty by analogy with the dungeon, wild animals are low-threat, beastman warbands should be medium-threat, and beastman lairs and special monsters should be higher-threat.  At one encounter per day, a 5th-level party with some merc backup could probably take a warband, in much the same way that a 1st-level party could probably take a gang of 5 orcs in the dungeon (depending some on surprise, tactics, armament, and luck; if the wizard gets sleep/fireball off, you're probably fine, but if he gets interrupted and pincushioned, then it's going to be a rough day).
    • I still think the right way to run such a combat is probably on 30' hexes.  Wilderness movement and ranges are in 30' intervals already, it's about the area of a ground-burst fireball, it translates nicely to DaW on platoon scale, and it's sort of analogous to fitting the whole party into a single 10' square (as happens for small parties in dungeons).
  • Still haven't really worked out local weather patterns for this map yet.  If adventures take weeks-to-a-month, seasonal weather rules might be necessary.  I do have some stuff for temperature (mostly as it related to the choice to have a fire or not when camping, choosing between mercenary morale penalty and no natural healing or an extra random encounter roll - worth noting, of course, that most beastman villages are also going to have fires, so that's a nice way to locate lairs from a distance).
  • Two big differences with dungeons that I'm noticing practically are that you can be in the same hex/room as monsters and not realize it, and that visibility of the structure of the terrain (ie, "that hex is forested") is much easier to see from a distance than the structure of the dungeon.  Most wilderness features are hidden in a hex, while most dungeon-room features are pretty obvious when you're in that room.  I recall being nonplussed with L&E's system for finding hex features, though I forget why; will probably reread those and then work something out.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

New Autarch Kickstarter

'bit late on the uptake this time, but there's a new ACKS kickstarter, for the Heroic Fantasy Handbook and Barbarian Conqueror King.  The Heroic Fantasy book has been in the works for a long time; I acquired a draft copy a year or two back (thanks Alex!) and we used some of the rules from it (mostly Warrior Code) in the Midnight ACKS campaign.  I'm looking forward to seeing it in its finished form.  I've been reading the Poetic Edda and kicking around a low-magic, Iron-Heroes-esque "mythic Scandinavia at the turn of Christianity" setting, and this should support that well (provisional name: "ACKS-Age, Sword-Age").

I'm a little less excited about Barbarian Conqueror King.  Nothing against Omer, I'm just not huge on pulp.  That said, there was a preview of some Expedition to the Barrier Peaks-style rules for figuring out how to use and repair advanced technology, and it reminded me of D20 Apocalypse...  and that got me thinking further that ACKS and Darwin's World were sort of made for each other.  Then again, maybe Crawford's already done it better with Other Dust.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Clergy Notes

I haven't been able to settle on an implementation of the cleric domain game yet.  Running the numbers on how much divine power a realm generates is pretty straightforward.  Garrisons of paladins are easy, and providing an NPC cleric to cast spells for the party is trivial by demographics of heroism.  The real trouble is "what do you spend divine power on?"

Magic item creation is clearly in-scope, but if the highest-level NPC cleric in the realm is below domain level, it's going to be unreliable and kind of lame.  At 500 families under church administration, you get a 5th-level cleric, who is 12+ on magic research throws, and 500 divine power per week (did I mention that divine power is hideously productive?).  He can attempt to make a Potion of Cure Light every week; 2000gp/mo input materials, in expectation 0.8 potions of cure light output.  Ehhhh (and that's assuming he'll sell to you at price to produce; NPCs in the domain are friendly, but not henchmen, unless so hired, which is much easier to do before they're in charge of things).  Further, figuring out aggregate potion production for deeper trees in larger domains (where you have more than one cleric of 5th+ level, or assisting 1st-level clerics) looks to be a pain in the ass.  Plus, high-quality item production really feels more like a dwarf / elf thing, or a wizard thing, than a church thing.

Ritual magic is really more like what I want, particularly Harvest, but smaller.  Bonuses to feudal troop morale ("Deus Vult"), burgher tax income ("Give Unto Caesar"), population growth ("Go Forth and Multiply"), extend supply caches during siege ("Seven Lamps"), reduce fortifications (Jericho), rain locusts and frogs, call or prevent plagues, part seas to march armies across, drop prophecies, summon outsiders to mass combat, ...  but at this point we're looking at a whole new subsystem of magic that has to balance size of effect and divine power cost and some sort of casting mechanism (I dislike the magic research roll mechanic, because it's very unreliable at low levels, but I do like the idea of rolling for divine favor, because deities are capricious).  I'm tempted to just make these spells that require normal cleric spell slots, but also cost divine power over time, with a Divine Favor 2d6+wis reaction-style roll with results including "works great", "you're cursed", and "demands more goats".

So you see why I might be bogged down.

So at a wag, we have roughly three "tiers" of play; 1-4, 5-8, and 9-14.  It might be worth breaking 9-14 down further, because scale increases quite a bit over those levels (company vs legion scale, for example).  Then we cut our rituals into those three tiers - least, lesser, and greater.  Least rituals are available at 1st level, lesser at 5th along with consumable magic items, and greater at 9th (er, 11th?  I dunno, my games never reach that level anyway).  Some rituals we can reuse across levels and change their scope - Least Deus Vult at 1st level affects up to a platoon (or so), Lesser Deus Vult at 5th up to a company, and at Greater Deus Vult at 11th up to a legion, with divine power costs growing accordingly.  Your realm-economic miracles like Give Unto Caesar, Go Forth and Multiply, Good Harvest, or whatever have the number of families that they effect capped based on caster level, and their divine power costs scale similarly.

This is a fine idea, I guess, but it's mighty fiddly.  Hard to strike a balance between our goals of "clerics can do something fun and interesting and relevant to the domain as a whole", "keep it simpler* than normal ACKS", and "make domains at lower levels viable."

The straightforward solution is to make realm-blessing binary / boolean; either your whole kingdom has Deus Vult up, or it doesn't, and the cost in divine power is per-season based on total number of Feudal families.  Then your one-off miracles like calling outsiders have flat / fixed divine power costs per casting (and maybe minimum caster levels).

A church family generates 1 point of divine power per week (12 per season), while a non-church family generates 1 point of divine power per month (just based on their tithe expenditures; 3gp per season), so in a balanced realm of the four main estates we'd expect 21 divine power per season per four families.  We don't want it to be possible to have all the estates blessed, because that takes the choice out of things (also: bookkeeping), so presumably we want costs of 7? divine power per family per season to bless an estate with eg bonus morale (I like the idea of this applying to estate loyalty rolls as well as troop morale, so it becomes useful for politics as well as war), bonus taxes, population growth, or protection from disasters (plague, city-fire, hurricane, drought, wizard-monster escapes dungeon, ...).

(A more ACKS-consistent solution would probably make heavy use of forum esoterica, like this and this)

Amusingly, I actually expect wizards to be easier.  The ACKS domain rules work mostly-fine for wizards; they support doing wizardly stuff very well.  You dump your money into libraries and workshops and every season there's a chance that a randomly-rolled new spell is added to the archives, where your PC mage can then learn it, and the domain provides wizard-troops during war.  Very straightforward.  Nobody expects a 5th-level wizard to turn a domain-scale battle, but a 5th-level cleric, is they prayed hard enough, conceivably (non-disbelief-suspendingly) could, because deities are powerful.  And that's what makes this tricky.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

ACKS Estates - Burghers

The burghers represent townsfolk, skilled craftsmen, guild members, merchants, and thieves.  Peasant families supporting burgher families are mostly farmers who bring their products to market in a village, town, or city, but might also be fishermen.  Burghers provide Market Class, as well as tax money.  They also hire and manage their own town watch/garrison (but are loath to provide it to the oligarchy for offensive use), and maintain the urban infrastructure.  In warfare, the burghers provide logistical support and transport via ships and caravans, as well as intelligence assets.  While the oligarchs of the noble estate style themselves barons, counts, dukes, and so forth, burgher oligarchs have titles ranging from hetman to burgomeister to most serene doge.

Every burgher family pays 6gp/season in taxes.  In addition, every neighborhood of 125 burgher families provides one point of Fleet Support.  Naval, logistical, and intelligence units have their support costs shown below:

Purchase price and support cost are fairly straightforward; the number of GP you must pay to construct the unit, and the number of points of Fleet Support required to sustain it.  Logistical units can be allocated to three tasks: trade, transport, and supply.  Trading generates income for the oligarchy.  Transport allows ships to transport ground units (cavalry platoons and foot platoons take up the same amount of space, as cavalry platoons are half as large).  Ships with marines have their marines levied, paid, and supplied by the burghers.  Units conducting supply missions carry supplies to land units in the field; their ability to conduct supply operations is expressed in a range and a capacity, which is the number of companies that they can keep in supply at that range.  You can double the range by halving the capacity, and visa versa, to a maximum of two doublings (so a 40-wagon caravan could supply 12 companies at a range of 60 miles or 6 companies at 120 miles, but not 3 companies at 240 miles).  Only riverboats and longships can carry supplies up most rivers, while only caravans can carry supplies overland, and large ships may require a good harbor to unload efficiently.  Further, cavalry requires four times as much supply as infantry, and siege weapons and special units may require more.  This nicely models the strong historical preference for conducting operations along coastlines without introducing too much additional complexity - most domains are going to already want to have logistical units during peacetime for the trade income.  If dealing with detailed supply is too much work, just reallocate sailing ships to cover the number of units you have in the field and don't worry about rivers, caravans, or supply distance; the important thing is that supplying troops reduces trade income (a lot).

Goon Squads, Spies, and Assassins are intelligence units.  A goon squad is a gang of 1st-level thieves and assassins, suitable for petty mischief, breaking kneecaps, and kidnapping the children of influential persons.  What they lack in subtlety and ability, they make up for in comic relief and expendability.  A spy is a 4th-level thief who can infiltrate other estates, domains, and armies, provide intelligence to the burgomeister, and conduct sabotage.  An assassin is a 4th-level assassin who can be used to off people.  These units use the hijinks rules to accomplish effects instead of to make money.  Details TBD.

While the burgh does support its own garrison, at a rate of 2gp/family/month, they're mostly constables and watchmen, not soldiers.  One bowman per ten families mans the walls and can be called to arms, but the greater part of the fighting men of the city are the marines of the fleet.  Depending on culture, marines might be a mix of hoplite-style heavy infantry and bowmen, reavers, or something else entirely.  If the city finds itself under siege, constables and thieves may be pressed into service.  Two constables can be mustered per ten families, and they are armed with clubs and shields and armored in leather.  They're basically slightly-better militia.  One first-level thief per ten families is willing to fight if circumstances are sufficiently dire (the other first-level thief per ten families has already skipped town).  Thief units are expensive and fragile, but sneaky, and may be useful for sallying out against siege camps.

Constables: 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC3, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML -1, 2 club 11+.  Wages 3gp/mo.
Thieves: 2/4/6 Loose Foot, AC2, HD 1-2, UHP 4, ML 0, 2 short sword 10+, 2 javelin 10+.  Wages 25gp/mo, can hide in shadows (deploy hidden at night or in cover), backstab for +2 to hit and +1 damage on a successful hit against disordered enemies or to flank or rear.

Finally, the total burgher population of the domain determines the class of its main market:

  • <1000 families: Class VI
  • 1000 families: Class V
  • 2500 families: Class IV
  • 10,000 families: Class III
  • 25,000 families: Class II
  • 150,000 families: Class I

Burgher events are probably mostly about money, markets, and hijinks.  A merchant needs sponsorship to fund an expedition to a distant land, promising to share profits with his patrons.  A sailor bears news of internal affairs in a nearby domain.  A prominent nobleman borrowed money from the burghers but the harvest was poor, so he can't repay them, and the case is brought before the oligarchs (there's probably a whole slew of worthwhile "inter-estate conflict brought before the oligarchs" dilemma events, where favoring one side over the other influences loyalty).  The city is unsanitary and there's a plague outbreak, killing some and sending others fleeing to the countryside (strengthening the other estates but weakening the burghers), or there's an economic boom or bad harvest and peasants migrate to the city from the countryside.  A fire breaks out and ravages the city.  Hurricane threatens navy.  Vessel sunk in storm with hold full of gold.  Prices of raw materials fluctuate, changing the prices or availability of goods.  Trade shifts and trade income rises or falls for a season.  Pirates begin attacking shipping.  A famous bard, assassin, or thief moves to the city; could be a hench, could be a thorn in your side.  A guild member is recognized as a master of his craft, providing an opportunity to recruit a skilled specialist.  Weak burghers mean you have low-tier markets, which is penalty enough.  Disloyal burghers evade taxes, burgle the treasury, burgle other estates, raise prices on all goods via predatory monopolies, provide intelligence to other domains, turn their ships to piracy or steal / "lose" their cargos, and try to have PCs assassinated.

Strategic locations relevant to the burghers might include areas with rich fishing (increased taxes or natural population growth), natural trade chokepoints like the mouths of major river systems (passive trade income as long as there's a sufficiently large burgher population there to control trade through the straights, pass, or river mouth), sources for rare trade goods (increased trade income), or sources of naval stores like pitch and timber (reduced shipbuilding costs).


Urban family surplus is only around 4gp/mo after garrison, urban upkeep, and all that stuff.  We'll allocate 2gp/mo/family to taxes, and the other 2gp/mo to supporting fleet units.  This yields 250gp/mo per 125 families.  The amount of support that units need is based on the Merchant Ships and Caravans table on page 145, rounded a little.  The trade income is also based off of that table, but it turns out to be about 100gp/mo of revenue per thousand stone of transport capacity.  I did reduce this trade income by about 20%, with the assumption that the lost fraction is being taken by burgher captains and merchants and being ploughed into urban investment and their own private ships.  Transport capacity is based on 200st per man, and marine capacity is likewise rounded a little.  Supply is based on the value and volume of grain, assuming that food will be the primary requirement of an army on campaign ("An army moves on its stomach").  Grain is 1gp/8st, so if a unit requires 60gp/week in supplies, that's 240gp/month, is ~2000st of grain per month.  A large sailing ship carries 30kst of cargo, so it can keep 15 companies of infantry in supply if it's making one delivery per month.  Instead I've worked these numbers to reflect one trip per week, assuming that supply depots cannot be maintained by a mobile army.  In a week, a large sailing ship with a navigator can move 720 miles (assuming a day to load and unload at each end and five days under sail).  Since we're assuming round trips, that gives us a supply distance of 360 miles, and means it can keep 60 companies in supply (since it's carrying 15 company*months of grain on each weekly trip).  Cavalry costs 4x as much supply, since most cavalry units have a supply cost of 240gp/wk instead of 60gp/wk.

The families for the various market classes have been reduced somewhat from ACKS' nominal figures, as a result of assumed-centralization and also to account for the shift of certain types of markets out to the other estates (church controls the market for divine spellcasting, tower controls the market for arcane spellcasting and sages).

Design notes:

This addresses some of my historical complaints about the thief domain game [1][2][3].  Thieves retain their status as a "support" domain - they generate money, supply and transport armies, and gather intelligence, none of which are "primary strike" functions but all of which are necessary.  Thieves win wars, and they do it without fighting.  Pretty sneaky, eh?  The thing here is that I have separated thief domain income from hijinks and crime.  This opens up a broader range of playstyles for thief-domain PCs; a venturer can focus on trade and ignore hijinks altogether, while an assassin might only dabble in trade and keep a bunch of assassins on the payroll.  It introduces real tradeoffs.

It also helps with suspension of disbelief.  If trade generates a ton of money, that's reasonable and believable (maybe should add a chance of sinking for each vessel trading for each season, but meh).  If thieves generate the same amount of money per unit time by blackmailing people, that's a little less believable.

Finally, by making ships easier for players to acquire and maintain (and by having Fleet Supply go to relative waste without them), hopefully ships would see more use, both for mid-level travel for adventure sites and for high-level naval battles.  Since we want PCs to use ships for transport, we'd probably also want a rule that a ship performing Trade can carry a small number of characters without interfering with its trade mission - otherwise PCs will be loathe to use them, for fear of disrupting their cashflow.

Establishing burghers as the naval power also sets up the nice historical dichotomy between Athens and Sparta, Britain and France (and later Germany), and the US and Russia, of sea powers and land powers, depending on how you allocate your population.