Sunday, June 16, 2019

Eyes of the Eagle

I dug up a pair of old binoculars to bring on the Dungeness Spit hike, and have since started going to local parks and using them to watch boats.  It's generated some good, first-person qualitative data for the wilderness vision distance question.

Observations:

There's another park across the lake from the park I go to.  It's about two miles of water.  With 8x magnification, on a clear day, I can count the cars in the parking lot, clearly make out the portable toilet, and can tell one person (or person with dog) from two people from five-ish people, but can't really discern anything about them other than that they're bipeds.  With the naked eye, I can often make out the glint of metal or glass from there on a sunny day but otherwise would be hard pressed to tell it apart from a field.

It is also easy to make out the contours of mountains about 40 miles away (I think, that's about where the range begins), and which parts of the mountain have snow on them, again provided clear weather.  To the naked eye, the view is still pleasing but I would be hard pressed to make any plans off of it.

With 8x magnification, I can sometimes make out the tail art on airliners coming and going from the airport about 15 miles south of me as they pass overhead, but I have been unable to observe the flight numbers.  I was able to identify an F-18 as such, and to see that an H-60 helicopter in the distance had its side doors open (I could see sky through it).

I was able to observe a pair of helium party balloons (lost from a party I presume) ascending about a mile north of my position, though I couldn't see them with naked eye so I stumbled on them accidentally while watching an eagle.  They were silhouetted against the sky or I don't think I'd've been able to see them with magnification either.

Sometimes I can read the numbers on the sails of boats; I don't actually know how close they were or how large the numerals were though.  Generally reading the names of small boats off their bows is beyond me unless they're quite close, but I have been able to read the names of two large tour boats off of their bows at maybe half a mile of distance, one in twilight.  Sometimes in the evening the air over the water shimmers like hot pavement and it gets hard to make out details of anything.  The lights from houses across the lake twinkle like stars.

The view of the moon is very good, especially because it is full right now.  I could make out some craters that were at an angle to the sun, and to see the shadows inside their rims.  I have never seen the moon like that before.  I was also able to observe some satellites, as basically dim stars moving on smooth tracks.

Remarks:

I really wonder how fleets coordinated their actions before optics.  I feel like making out semaphore at a mile without a spyglass would be really hard.  Did they just sail in really close order?  Did captains just have a ton of autonomy?  I was reading about the audible range of hunting horns and elk bugles a while back and I recall those being about a mile or so depending on terrain, but I would guess that auditory signaling might be hard at sea with the wind carrying it away.

ACKS' description for Eyes of the Eagle has them giving 100x magnification, which is pretty nuts.  Low-powered binoculars are 7-8x, high-powered are 10-12x.  Spotting scopes for long-range shooting are generally 24-60x, and that lets you observe groupings out to hundreds of yards.  100x is in an awkward spot between high-power spotting scopes and low-power astronomical telescopes.  With 100x magnification, I think it would be pretty easy to count individuals a mile or two away (but your field of view would also be obliterated - there's no way you could just wear 100x magnification binoculars like contact lenses in your daily life, never mind dungeoneering).

Amusingly, none of the other rulesets I checked (OSRIC, S&W, 3e, PF, 5e) listed a magnification for their Eyes of the Eagle.  3e, Pathfinder, and 5e did have a nonmagical spyglass though, with 2x magnification for 1000 gp, which is a little funny since they weren't definitely invented until 1608, well into the Gunpowder Age, and since Galileo also developed 8x and 23x telescopes by 1609.

I was surprised how much atmospheric effects mattered even over this fairly-short distance of two miles.

"The glint of metal" is probably a fine way to introduce a distant wilderness encounter with sentients.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Hike Notes: Dungeon-Ness

Today I hiked the Dungeness Spit.  It was about five miles each way, and took two and a bit hours each way over decent terrain (sloped gravel, mostly, but not really any elevation gain except at the very end getting back up the bluffs to the parking lot).

Google Street View - Not Just For Streets Anymore

And as I was out there trudging through gravel, I thought to myself, "Dungeness is a wonderful name, evocative of both dungeons and wilderness.  It would be a splendid name for a wee sandbox region in the style of Wilderness as Dungeon - one with pine forests and beaches and shoals and cliffs and mud flats".

So if I ever actually get around to fleshing out A/X, maybe that will be my testing region.

Other notes, in the style of Notes From A Hiking Seminar:

I am sore and pretty well bushed.  If we had had a random encounter at the end, it would've been rough.

Many subtle variations in types of sand - firm wet sand, firm dry sand (easily churned up by shod and heavy people, becoming soft sand), soft wet sand, soft dry sand, soft sand full of teeny tiny sharp gravel or with a layer of it on the surface, soft sand with fist-sized rocks in it which present tripping/ankle hazards, piles of fist-to-head sized rocks covered in kelp which is slippery when wet and sticky when dry.

Kelp anchors - impressively strong, even when dead.

Crab swarms, tidepool dungeons, sea anemone the size of a coke can on the side of a rock in a tidepool.

Empty crab shells - undead "exoskeleton" giant arthropods?  Probably molts actually but hey.

Poison-skinned newts in the forest.

Lots of bright white rocks that looked almost like eggs.  If they were eggs, what sort of monstrous creature's eggs would they be?  What fate would befall poor fools who took said eggs home and sold them as curios?

Area of choppy water marked by buoys - not sure if kelp or shallows.  Either way, roll Seafaring.

Ferries - could be interesting as an option for access to certain areas of the sandbox without actually having to own and crew a boat.  Make friends with local NPCs (ie humanoids) with boats.  But it'll take a while, there are only certain places they'll go, they'll want to move some cargo too, and they'll want money.  But this shifts the "chartering a boat" game from "in town" to "in the wilderness", which might be interesting.

Marching order - in the absence of an imposed, decided marching order, our party of 13 tended to clump into groups of 3-5 people separated by 20-60 feet (I would guess, at a wag).  The part of the sand that was good for walking on was only 1-3 people wide.  I think if we had tried to maintain tighter cohesion we would've made worse (but perhaps more sustainable) time, and that might be something to consider when figuring out overland travel rates.  Moving in "tight cohesion" where you get to decide your marching order (versus some reasonable random / naturalistic assignment method) slows you down.  Moving in tight cohesion in a formation wider than supported by terrain slows you down even further.  Moving stealthily slows you down.  Etc.  I did not observe any obvious correlations in the sorts of people who ended up in the front versus rear parts of the emergent marching order, but my sample was small.

One driftwood tree trunk stood straight up - how did it get that way?  Landmark.

Vague canine on the other side of the mud flat - fox, coyote, stray dog, spooky dog?

Big tidal variation - the spit gets very narrow at high tide, and the ground above the high water line is full of driftwood and rocks and crap.  Could be an interesting wilderness feature that makes it slower to cross certain hexes (either in certain watches, if using a watch-based timekeeping system, or based on party size, where a large enough party / army will have trouble crossing the spit).

Some really spectacular islands across the Sound that go from sea to mountain to clouds with the tops of the mountains totally obscured.  The Olympic mountains had their peaks similarly obscured despite it being pretty sunny on the spit.  One could hide a lot of interesting things on perpetually-cloud-shrouded mountain peaks.  An interesting variation in the wilderness visibility problem [1][2], much like foggy areas in the original megadungeons.

DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

A/X: Call the Cousins

Kicking around fighter mercenary-summoning abilities in the presence of Money Up Front:
At 5th level (Sentinel), the Dwarven Vaultguard's exploits have become known in the mountainhome.  All dwarves who he personally leads gain +1 morale in battle.  Additionally, he may choose to call his cousins to fight by his side with promises of treasure and glory.  If he does so, he may choose a dwarven unit type and have a squad of them arrive and enter his service by the beginning of the next adventure.  However, he owes them the promised treasure, of a value equal to their cost if they were a mercenary unit.  Failure to pay the cousins at least a third of his personal share of the treasure towards this debt every adventure will force a loyalty roll.  Should a cousin perish, another will come to replace the fallen one once he has been given a proper burial and his arms and armor returned to the mountainhome.  Should no cousin in the vaultguard's service remain alive, he is absolved of his debt to them but may not summon another unit of cousins until he gains a level of experience.  Should a vaultguard ever kill one of the cousins, or in bad faith cause one to be killed, he will be branded a kinslayer.  A kinslayer's cousins desert immediately and no more may be summoned thereafter.  A vaultguard who has satisfied the treasure expectations of all cousins currently in his service may call an additional unit of cousins; this may be done multiple times.
Nice things about this: it feels very dwarf, it gives you seven dwarves (or thirteen if you pay off the first squad), it disincentivizes betraying them, and it totally works around market class restrictions for replenishing them, which is nice because availability of demihuman troops in human markets is pretty lousy (but replaces markets with the need to retrieve the bodies and possibly travel).

OK things: this is probably a smaller retinue than human fighters will get, but it's OK because dwarven troops are better.

Less nice things: it requires tracking the state of the debt (but it's a fraction of earnings so if you have a bad session you're not going to end up underwater, you just have to pay them based on what you earned).

Potential extension points: cousins level up to elite 2nd- or 3rd-level mercenaries when the Vaultguard hits certain levels.  A similar ability to call dwarven henchmen?  With a bonus if you have Dwarven Brewing, making it a useful proficiency?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

A/X Mercenaries: Money Up Front

Been thinking more about open table ACKS lately.  Stumbled on this old post and read through some of the session reports from the Shieldlands campaign, that best of open-table ACKS games.

I think the session needs to be a relevant unit of time.
Markets refresh per session (roughly).
Spells refresh per session (roughly).
Domains provide passive income per session and no XP (and may be a source of trouble; clocks can run in them, and they're part of the world in the structure of "session begins, players attempt to do a thing, pizza break, a thing happens in the world")
More explicit structure for sessions - Market Phase, Planning Phase, Adventure!, Treasure Phase

Going to need to scale things down a little from ACKS' defaults.  I'm OK with a 9th level fighter having 30 mercenaries and a run-down fort - this is exactly what you'd expect from the Men, Brigands monster entry.  So if you're 9th level and you have a wee baby domain that nets you 250gp/session and a handful of mercs, that's OK by me.

I've still been kicking around how to simplify mercenary bookkeeping.  I think I may have hit a potential solution.

First, hire them as units beneath a sergeant, like I've been saying for a while.
Second, pay them up front.

ACKS has this concept of "the magic ratio", which comes up repeatedly in its economics and is tied to the rate of return on capital in fantasy Rome (bear with me).  Most investments are expected to pay for themselves in about 30 months, and characters in the world are assumed to have about 30 times their monthly income in assets.

So if you want to hire a mercenary and not have to deal with tracking his monthly expenses, pay him 30 months of wages up front.  Better, do it through a sergeant to handle a whole squad and if any one guy dies, the sergeant will take the pay pre-allocated to that guy and use it to pay some other poor bastard that he dragoons in the next market you pass through.

So if a light infantryman costs 6gp/mo in wages, then you can hire a squad of 6 of them for the foreseeable future for around 1100gp.  And then mercenaries become sort of like a magic item - they can go on your character sheet instead of in a spreadsheet, because you don't need to pay them monthly.  "The Yellow Saddles, Light Cavalry, 5/6 men".  Easy.  And they replenish between sessions subject to market class (possibly derandomized, because I don't want to have to roll for merc availability all the time).

And if you want them to replenish faster, we could base something on the commissioning items rules to let you raise the effective market class, and then either give fighters free virtual gold to spend on this every session (or let them write recruiting costs off on their living expenses), or give them a venturer-like ability to replenish mercenary units as if the market were one size larger.  This also provides an incentive to visit markets during adventures, to heal your mercenary units.

Now, I could see some sticker shock at 1100gp for six measly light infantrymen.  It's 2200 for heavy infantry, 2700 for bowmen, 5400 for light cavalry, and 10800 for heavy cavalry.  Those are not small chunks of change, and my former players would probably want to be banking that money towards building a fortress.  But if you change how domain acquisition works, from "build a fortress" to "domains are immutable, go capture one", then these changes complement each other - the money you aren't spending on castles can be spent on mercs, and the mercs are how you "buy" a castle.  And honestly, with domains out of the spending picture - would you rather have a +1 spear, or six knights who respawn between sessions?

Ooh, and this works out beautifully - a 9th level fighter has 250,000 XP.  He got about 200,000 of that from GP.  200,000 GP in permanent mercenaries is about 180 knights, which would be big for a bandit encampment but is in the realm of the reasonable (he probably spent some money on other things too).

So I don't think this is a totally crazy plan.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A/X: Continuity and Design Decisions

I've run into a bit of a design problem in A/X.

To what extent should I assume and support campaign versus episodic play?

ACKS is, by default, the ne plus ultra of high-consistency, high-continuity campaign play, starting in the mid-levels.  But in the low levels, ACKS works pretty well for low-continuity open table sorts of games.  That's part of what I like so much about low-level ACKS.  So I want to extend that support for low-continuity episodic games into the mid-levels as part of A/X.

But this complicates an already complicated problem.

Supporting lower-continuity play in the wilderness means being able to handle a wilderness adventure in a single session of say four hours.  The whole process: packing in gear and rations and mercenaries, getting where you're going, exploring a site, getting home, and divvying up the treasure, with a random encounter or three on the way.

This will/would require lower-fidelity systems and more abstraction.  I've been on about these two things for a while (2015, apparently), but never quite realized why I cared about them.  I think it really does come back around to enabling episodic play while also preserving resource management.

 But what do I simplify to speed up wilderness play?

The Arnesonian rule that terrain doesn't change travel speed would certainly speed up pathfinding.  Even reducing terrain movement speeds down to three categories (fast on roads or plains, normal in forests and hills, slow in mountains and swamps) and renormalizing it around hills would help, rather than having to multiply stuff out for each hex.

Making it easier to restock on mercenaries and livestock at the beginning of sessions would help a lot too.  In an episodic game, maybe you just don't worry too much about how long actually passed between sessions; if you need to sit in town for a while to gather mercs and horses, or travel to a big city through civilized lands, you can handwave that, or increase the prices a bit to account for having the things you need imported by other people.  This question of resource replenishment between adventures plays into mid-level mechanics for eg the Fighter - if you can replenish mercs between adventures with little difficulty, then an ability to help them replenish their mercs isn't gonna be very useful.  Maybe Fighters can do it for cheaper, if there's a cash cost associated with it?

Removing randomness from markets might help with speed too.  If it's always 1 crossbowman instead of 1d3, that's one less thing I have to roll at the beginning of a session.

Bed-rest for party members is also something that could be elided or abstracted ("they're out for one adventure").

Tracking rations in man-weeks, each of one stone, and only marking them off at the end of the week on the rest day rather than daily would parallel torches nicely and might speed things up a little.  Probably want to stop worrying about rations spoiling, not worth the hassle.

For any reasonably-sized party, the question with foraging and hunting isn't "will you find food?", but "how much food do you find?"  Maybe abstracting away the survival roll per character would be reasonable (especially in the presence of mercenaries inflating party size).

Are "getting lost" rolls important?  Is there a better way to handle wilderness navigation, parallel to mapping and the destruction of the map in the dungeon?

How do you speed up wilderness fights, in the presence of mercenaries?

I've been thinking about explicit party roles like the old Caller lately.  Necrocarcerus had several such roles that players assumed.  I wonder if having such party leadership structure (ie, someone to resolve disputes, some to map, someone to handle logistics) would help speed things up (especially for large parties).

Saturday, April 13, 2019

ACKS: Stat Mulligans and Swaps

Something I've been kicking around in response to The Ability Score Are Too Damn High.

In most of our ACKS games, we have had players roll five sets of stats, choose one to play and hold two as replacement characters.  This tends to lead them to having the best of five.

An alternative I've been considering: roll a set of stats, 3d6 in order.  Accept it as your character or reject it and reroll up to (say) four times.  If your next set is better than what you rejected, too bad, and if you run out of mulligans, you play the last of the five.

I like this idea because it changes the problem from optimization (pick the best set of stats from the five) to satisficing (is this set of stats good enough?).  It introduces an element of gambling, that OSR pillar risk and reward, that self-determination of "what is your ambition?", and of incomplete information.  In the average case, I expect it would also accelerate the character-generation process; you probably aren't going to roll all five sets, and at while there are more decision-points, each decision is boolean (keep or reject).  Characters will also in expectation have somewhat lower stats, which is also an outcome that I am OK with.

In order to preserve some amount of choice of class, and as a replacement for offstat-drops, I think allowing a player to swap any two scores in the set is probably reasonable.  This preserves some input from the dice (for eg multi-primereq classes), but if you just want to play a wizard, fine, swap your highest into Int.  And if you already rolled something high in your main stat, then you can shuffle around two of your offstats to your preference.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Notes from a Hiking Seminar

Some of which are relevant to wilderness adventuring.

(But first - deep apologies for not replying to comments on my last post; I was offline for most of a week, and now it seems like something's going wrong with google accounts and I can't post comments anywhere, including here.  So...  everything I would comment is now going into posts, I guess.  Thank you DHBoggs for relaying some history on the development of the hex - I found it very interesting and am happy to hear that the day was originally a clear parallel time quantum to the turn in dungeoneering exploration)

Prep questions:
  • Where are you going?
  • Who are you going with?
    • Who's the least able?  Can they make it to where you're going?
  • What season is it?
  • What's the weather going to be like?
  • What passes or permits from governments do you need to go there?
  • When do you expect to be back?  Who are you going to tell that to so they can send rescue?
 Ten Essentials:
  • Extra clothing, layers for variations in weather and climate across trip
  • Extra water (or means to procure it, like LifeStraws, water filters, dowsing, and high-level clerics)
  • Extra food
  • First aid kit
  • Knife or multitool
  • Means of producing fire
  • Map and compass
  • Headlamp / hands-free light source
  • Sun protection
  • Emergency shelter (down to and including just a blanket or tarp)
As a rule of thumb, most packs can carry weight in pounds equal to their capacity in liters minus ten.  Not a problem if you're using stone as a combined unit.

If you find a leaf with a face chewed into it, you shouldn't take it home with you.  (This was actually the comment that led to this whole post - intended as a silly example of leave no trace, but my brain went "that would be wonderfully creepy in-game")

Place campfires in established rings, or else.

Avalanche and river-crossing dangers depend less on the weather right now than on the weather from the previous week or so.  Probably also true of trail conditions.  On the one hand, this complicates the problem of making weather systems for the wilderness game, because if you want high-fidelity simulation you have to track past state.  On the other hand, this also pushes towards other potential solution-spaces, which isn't a bad thing (maybe something like the Oriental Adventures events tables - you roll a big trend for this month's weather, which sets the trail, river, and avalanche conditions, and then roll daily weather within that big weather pattern's subtable).

Animals in popular hiking destinations steal enough food from peoples' bags to get enormous.

Black bears are basically just large housecats for morale purposes, unless cubs are involved.

Mountain lions are also basically large housecats for morale purposes, except they think you are a toy.

Local outfitter offers appointments to get your gear in order for a particular trip.  Quartermaster NPCs!  I'm pretty sure I've written a post about having a NPCs to organize mules and rations and all that stuff (as a script, of course), but I'll be arsed if I can find it.

Some good place-names.  "Ranger Station" is a phrase that translates wonderfully into D&D.