Sunday, May 1, 2016

ACKS: Wizardry

I recently read A Wizard of Earthsea, and to my surprise quite enjoyed it.  It did get me thinking about the vast gulf between wizards in fiction and wizards in D&D, however.  This led to the Axioms rules for magic-type construction calling my name, and in turn to reflection on the strange fact that Warlocks, despite being nominally casters who traded safety for power, are in fact pretty substantially weaker than straight mages.

So I guess I'm going to propose a fix for that.  Today, wizardry.  To follow, sorcery.

If your solution to a world-threatening evil is to dispatch some hobbits, sit back, and have a smoke, you might be a wizard.
Wizards in fiction are not, as a rule, noted for their love of explosions.  Knowledge is the wizard's stock in trade (hence the name - wizard as in "one who is wise").  The following custom spellcasting type reflects a preference for solutions involving turning people into newts or summoning giant eagles.  Something about "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."

Wizardry spell type modifiers (these are multipliers on spell point costs for a particular spell type, so higher is worse; 1 is the best possible, 2.25 is the worst possible):
  • Blast: 2.25 (same as Divine)
  • Death: 2 (much worse than Arcane or Divine)
  • Detection: 1 (best)
  • Enchantment: 1 (best)
  • Healing: 1 (same as Divine)
  • Illusion: 1 (same as Arcane)
  • Movement: 1.3 (slightly worse than Divine)
  • Protection: 1 (same as Arcane and Divine)
  • Summoning: 1 (same as Arcane)
  • Transmogrification: 1 (same as Arcane)
  • Wall: 1.5 (same as Divine, considering an exception for simple fog)
Source factor total is 14.05, base XP 975 (me, abusing breakpoints in a design system?  Well I never!  It's for a good cause, though.  Honest.  And pushing it over the threshold wouldn't make that much difference to the following class anyway)

Wizardry is a Studious magic system; wizards record spell formulae in spellbooks just as mages do, gain bonus repertoire slots for high Intelligence, and so forth.  It uses the Standard spell progression, can be had at half caster level for 1 build point and 490 XP, full for 2 build points and 975 XP, 133% spells per day for 3 build points and 1950 XP, or 150% spells per day for 4 build points and 3900 XP.  Wizardly casters may begin researching spells, scribing scrolls, and brewing potions at 5th level, create crossbreeds and permanent magic items at 9th, and ritual spells at 11th.  Classes whose dominant build value is wizardly casting save as clerics (I think?), gain a class proficiency every four levels, may use clerical (but not mage) magic items, gain one level per 100,000 XP after 9th, and nominally are supposed to have Int and Wis as prime reqs, which is mostly pretty reasonable but if I'm getting rid of Mage and Cleric (as I intend to), I'd really prefer to have single-req main caster classes.  The plan is for Wizard to use Int and Sorcerer to use Wis, for reasons to be discussed more next post.


Prime req: Intelligence (and maybe Wisdom)
Requirements: None
HD: 1d6
Max level: 14

Wizards (and witches, their female counterparts) are careful, methodical spellcasters who derive their power from their knowledge of the Language of Creation.  Knowing that all magic has consequences, they are cautious about using theirs towards evil ends.
But you must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard's power of Changing and Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power...It must follow knowledge, and serve need.
As there are some problems that are best solved without magic, wizards engage in some limited combat training.  They advance in attack throws at a rate of 2 points per 4 levels, and are proficient with darts, nets, slings, staves, saps, daggers, swords, and either spear or crossbow (chosen at character creation).  They do not, however, wear armor or use shields.  They may fight with a one-handed weapon held in two hands for 1d8 damage, but may not fight with two weapons.  They may cleave once per round per two levels of experience, though this rarely happens in practice.  Wizards save as clerics of their level, and gain class proficiencies every four levels.

Wizards share an irritating habit for cryptic musings, which occasionally bear some seed of truth (as the Prophecy proficiency).

Wizards live far longer than normal men, and are immune to ghoul paralysis (as Elven Bloodline).  While they claim that this is due to good clean living, their detractors theorize that they sustain themselves on smugness, moral superiority, and the blood of innocent hobbits.

Wizards are well-known for their Loremastery, and most have some familiarity with Healing and the uses of herbs.  All wizards can also sense magical power, as the proficiency.

Wizards cast spells in pretty much the same way as mages, with a repertoire and bonus spells from Int and all that rot, except that some spells are different levels or unavailable to them.  Notably, Blast and Death spells are cast at twice their normal Mage level (so Magic Missile is a 2nd level wizard spell, and Dismember is 6th), Wall spells are cast at one-and-a-half times their normal level (Web -> 3rd level is the most notable change), and Movement spells (such as Teleport, Haste, and Fly) are cast at about 4/3s of their normal level.  Healing spells, however, are available at their Clerical spell level (eg, Cure Light Wounds and Salving rest are both 1st-level wizard spells), and Enchantment and Detection spells are better than either Mage or Cleric.  If I were to field this in actual play, I'd probably want to roll some custom higher-level Enchantment, Detection, and Protection spells, as well as more Summons.

Anyway, we end up with a spellcaster who can potentially cast Sleep and/or Cure Light Wounds at 1st level, which is nice.  Compared to a Mage, they level faster, are somewhat tougher, and can't Blast but can Heal.  Compared to a Cleric, they're squishier, level more slowly, and can enchant, detect, summon, &c, but are limited by their repertoire slots.

Honestly working out all the spells at precise new levels is probably too much work (I guess I could write a script...).  In practice, could probably just remove all Blast, Death, Wall, and Movement spells, and then take lowest level of Cleric and Mage and get pretty close.  A sample spell list via this method to roll random repertoire spells on might look something like this:

  1. Charm Person
  2. Cure Light Wounds
  3. Detect Evil
  4. Detect Magic
  5. Light
  6. Protection from Evil
  7. Read Languages 
  8. Remove Fear
  9. Salving Rest
  10. Sanctuary 
  11. Shield
  12. Sleep
  1. Augury 
  2. Bless
  3. Continual Light
  4. Delay Poison
  5. Detect Invisible
  6. ESP
  7. Find Traps
  8. Invisibility
  9. Knock
  10. Locate Object
  11. Mirror Image
  12. Wizard Lock
  1. Clairvoyance (if not sooner) 
  2. Command Person
  3. Cure Disease
  4. Dispel Magic
  5. Infravision
  6. Invisibility, 10' radius
  7. Protection from Evil, Sustained
  8. Protection from Normal Missiles
  9. Remove or Bestow Curse 
  10. Speak with Dead
  11. Skinchange
  12. Striking 
  1. Charm Monster
  2. Cure Serious Wounds
  3. Divination
  4. Fear
  5. Hallucinatory Terrain / Massmorph
  6. Minor Globe of Invulnerability
  7. Polymorph Other
  8. Polymorph Self
  9. Scry
  10. Spirit of Healing
  11. Summon Fantastic Creature
  12. Tongues
  1. Atonement?
  2. Commune
  3. Conjure Elemental
  4. Curse of Swine 
  5. Feeblemind
  6. Hold Monster
  7. Panic
  8. Protection from Normal Weapons
  9. Restore Life and Limb
  10. Strength of Mind
  11. True Seeing
  12. X-Ray Vision
  1. Anti-Magic Shell
  2. Control Plants
  3. Control Weather
  4. Detect Ritual Magic (probably at a lower level than this, actually)
  5. Enslave (possibly earlier than 6th)
  6. Fireball?
  7. Geas (possibly earlier than 6th)
  8. Globe of Invulnerability
  9. Summon Djinni
  10. Stone to Flesh
  11. ???
  12. ???
XP to 2nd level: 1975.  Pleasingly close to Fighter, though between the different spell availability progression (which means RL&L isn't available until 9th) and the higher XP than cleric, getting raised is going to be harder than usual.  That's probably OK, though.

Class proficiencies (28):
  1. Alchemy
  2. Battle Magic
  3. Beast Friendship
  4. Collegiate Wizardry
  5. Command
  6. Craft
  7. Diplomacy
  8. Divine Blessing
  9. Divine Health
  10. Familiar
  11. Healing
  12. Illusion Resistance
  13. Knowledge
  14. Language
  15. Laying on Hands
  16. Leadership
  17. Magical Engineering
  18. Mapping
  19. Mystic Aura
  20. Naturalism
  21. Navigation
  22. Quiet Magic
  23. Performance
  24. Prestidigitation
  25. Profession
  26. Sensing Evil
  27. Transmogrification
  28. Unflappable Casting
Closing thoughts: I guess the class to compare against might be Witch?  They level at a similar rate, have a similar selection of spells, aren't as combat-capable, have a similar number of class-bonus abilities from their traditions (although spread out over more levels), and get more but lower-level spells (but earlier access to 4th and 5th-level spells).  Witch seems to me probably weaker at low levels (because their 1st-level spells don't include Sleep and many of their tradition abilities haven't kicked in yet), stronger in the mid-levels when they're first getting their 4th and 5th-level spells at 2/day, and maybe just different at the high levels.  On the other hand, Witch also isn't limited by repertoire - any witch spell, any time, any where.  Further, last campaign Witch was (if I recall correctly) considered a henchman-tier class.  Finally, I am not averse to rewarding players who think with something other than swords and fire (there is a distinct possibility, though, that "strong at direct damage" is, in fact, the secret criterion for "PC-tier", and having stronger non-damage classes won't change that if it's true).

Anyway.  If you thought this was overpowered, wait 'til next post.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Elves of Hazzard

So, funny story.

I recently shaved my winter beard, and having grown long hair and being fair of skin and slight of build, my coworkers started calling me Legolas.  OK, fine.

Today the weather was nice and I found myself sitting on my porch barefoot and shirtless, drinking out of a jug.  And the notion "redneck Legolas" crept over me.

The more I think about it, the more sense it makes for D&D elves (3.x elves, in particular).

They live a really, really long time.  You know who else lives for a really long time?  Socially-conservative old people.  If elves are anything like humans psychologically (and given that humans are playing them, they must be a bit), living to 300 years seems very likely to produce social conservativism.  Especially when you take into account that they live damn near forever and are the firstborn people of the gods (in the Tolkeinesque standard interpretation), a bit of casual superiority complex, racism, and cultural conservatism seem likely.

But, they're Chaotic (Good, but still Chaotic).  If they're not Chaotic on the "social norms" front, they're probably Chaotic on the "respect for authority" front.  Also possibly in the "hold my bourbon and watch this" sense; what use is living forever if you don't enjoy it?  (Related: "renowned for their wine" rhymes with "produces moonshine", which is close enough for me)

Apparently they're all raised to know how to use weapons: gun culture, Southern-style honor culture.

But if they're beloved of the gods, get a bunch of sweet racial bonuses (except the Con penalty; possibly inbreeding?), and only have to sleep four hours a night, why do they live in the backwoods instead of being in charge?  Clearly they're fractious (Chaotic supports this; me against my brother, my brother and I against our cousin, and all three of us against the humans) and possibly have been defeated by the empire of men ("The Elves will rise again").

...  now I kind of want to train a Markov chain name generator on a combined set of elven and stereotypical redneck names, to get things like "Celebrimbubba", "Billrond Junior", and "Fingolforrest".

Meanwhile, in the fantastical, post-magical-apocalypse Deep South, the dwarven vaults are doomsday-prepper / militia compounds, hobbit cartels smuggle pipeweed across the border in apparati of Kwalish, the City State of the Invincible Overlord is basically New Orleans, and giant crawfish suck the heads off of you.

Perhaps the problem with my previous approach to RPGs was taking things entirely too seriously.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Reasons to Hire Adventurers

Or, "Why doesn't the duke just send his own henchmen, who are higher level than us?"

* Plausible deniability - dirty deeds are best done by assets you're not too fond of. Adventurers are not known for their discretion, as a rule, but sometimes you're working with what you've got.
* Praetorian Threat - if his domain-tier henchmen are Grudging, maybe he wants to make sure they don't level, and would prefer to keep them where he can see them.
* High risk - if his domain-tier henchmen are loyal and awesome, maybe he's unwilling to risk them dying to a lousy poison save or other bad luck.
* Duke Ackbar - it's a trap to get those damn troublesome adventurers out of the picture once and for all before they become any more of a threat.
* The Test - an experiment to figure out if he wants to keep these adventurers on permanent retainer and start integrating them into his domains.
* Opportunity Cost - the duke thinks that a political rival might hire the adventurers for some useful purpose, so he concocts a mission of marginal utility to him but which keeps them busy and out of the rival's employ for a while.
* The Long Haul - the mission is expected to be long enough that sending his own henchmen would reduce the stability of the realm (or the loyalty of those henchmen).
* "Unique capabilities" - this is the typical, beaten-to-death explanation; adventurers are Special and the only ones who can do the job. Mostly falls apart in ACKS, but there might be circumstances where it applies (ie, party with perma-flying wizard and a horn of blasting can get up to some unusual mischief).

Friday, February 12, 2016


This is probably my last post, for several reasons.

First, I appear to have well and truly fucked my blogger settings, probably by accidentally hitting some sort of unicode key combination or obscure hotkey that changes whether lines run left to right or right to left in the composition window. This makes writing posts rather inconvenient.

(No, I did not find a solution by googling. Yes, it persists across deleting and starting a new post. It is wreaking hell with my punctuation placement, so I apologize for anything that gets messed up.)

More importantly, I'm pretty well done with fantasy, RPGs, and related. The more nonfiction I read, the paler it all seems; our worlds are shallow and simplistic, our characters likewise. Even if they weren't, what's the point? To pretend to heroism or godhood has lost its appeal to me; better to strive for true abilities in this beautiful, chaotic, universe in which we find ourselves. I understand the necessity of the underlying social ritual, the weekly gathering, but the overt pretext, of The Game, is growing increasingly empty. I've picked up a couple of useful things in my several-thousand-hours of gaming and thinking about gaming over the last decade (exploiting systems, intuition for probability, memorizing rulebooks, historical trivia), but is it really worth putting in another couple of thousand hours to master DMing? I look at Alexis of Tao of D&D, who has made that investment, and I have to conclude that it doesn't seem sensible to me. There are so many other useful, interesting things I could be learning with that time. Opportunity's cousin, Opportunity Cost, also comes a-knocking on occasion.

Finally, I have recently made... not exactly an oath, and not exactly a wish (it was a weird, perhaps even wyrd, experience), and I feel that I must bring it to pass. It seems that the time has come to stake my fortune on an outcome dubious, to commit, to toil and bleed, and (universe willing) to work some figurative magic. Should I fail, perhaps pretending to godhood via DMing will regain some of its luster.

Watch this space for a link to a programming blog to-be-established, but expect no further updates thereafter.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Return to Starmada

Matt and I played a game of Admiralty Edition this evening, using fleets from the Imperial Starmada book (I had Imperials, Matt had Negali) and the Newtonian movement rules.  I had played one of the Hammer and Claw fleets against Negali before, and had had my cruisers cored by their high-impact, high-damage weapons, so I played pretty defensively, stacking up Evasive Action with my Countermeasures and forcing Matt's to-hit numbers up towards 6+ for most of the game.  By the time we got into a close enough range that he could start shooting at 5+ (or 4+ with double range mods), I had destroyed most of his escorts and mostly won by points.

Points of frustration:
  • Book fleets have lousy accuracy and prioritize impact and damage instead (compared to home-rolled fleets in our previous meta, where 3+ and 4+ were the norm for to-hit).
  • Countermeasures+Evasive Maneuvers+Fire Control is very effective.  The extra -1 to Matt's to-hit from evasive action halved his expected hits per shot (5+ -> 6+), and Fire Control let me ignore evasive action's penalty on my firing.  Fire Control, in effect, became a second Countermeasures.  This variable-rate stacking of to-hit modifiers was fixed in Nova, which we're talking about playing next week.
  • Shields 5 on Matt's cruiser - there was not much I could do about this, even with the impact 2 weapons available to my fleet.
  • Escorts are bad.  The optimal force composition for a straight-up, no-scenario fight in Admiralty Edition is, IMO, three ships of roughly equal point value.  This forces your opponent to destroy two-thirds of your fleet instead of half.  Escorts are best used as filler, for those last 50 points, in such a way that the destruction or survival of the escorts cannot impact the outcome of the race to 50% of the VP limit.  Matt constructed a fleet of three escorts, a destroyer, and a cruiser, while mine was two battlecruisers and a light cruiser.  Destroying all of his escorts and his destroyer in detail was easier than destroying his cruiser, and because a ship will often have guns left when it is destroyed (due to the random nature of damage allocation), destroying escorts piecemeal reduced incoming fire very effectively.  It is also sometimes possible to opportunistically destroy or badly damage escorts that stray into the wrong arcs, as their great speed sometimes lets them; flanking just lets the opponent bring more of his firepower to bear.
    • Full Thrust: Cross Dimensions addresses the weakness of escorts by changing the scaling factor on the point value of hulls from linear to quadratic with the growth of hull size, so that all other things being equal, a ship twice as big costs four times as much.
    • Battlefleet Gothic addresses the weakness of escorts with forcebuilding rules requiring everyone to have them.  I forget how they handle scoring / victory conditions.
      • BFG also has a rule that ships must fire on the closest target in each arc, unless they pass a leadership test.  Which is maybe silly, but a reasonable way to make escorts useful (and hardly the silliest thing in BFG...).
      • BFG escorts are also flotilla-esque; deployed in squadrons, take a single hit to destroy.  But they carry much stronger defenses and heavier armament than Starmada flotillas.
    • I am not sure if Colonial Battlefleet does anything in particular to make escorts useful, though I imagine there might be something in its Ship Role rules that would help.
    • Starmada Nova...  adds an Escort trait, which blocks line of fire through the escort ship's hex and costs about as much as adding three flights of fighters to the same ship.  This sounds like it would exacerbate the problem that "escorts lack survivability and are too expensive for their utility", especially given the somewhat-dubious utility of symmetric LOS-blocking with a ship that can be killed and is worth points.  Starmada could really, really use a better force composition system and non-VP victory conditions (for example, this battle I won by VP, but could probably not have effectively killed Matt's cruiser).
  • Newtonian movement was...  more work than it was worth, I think?  I don't think we ever did anything that we couldn't've done with basic movement; the only times it mattered were when some of Matt's ships took engine damage and had their potential destinations fixed, which allowed me to guarantee that they'd be in my arcs.  But that's typically also true of badly-engine-damaged ships in the naval or basic movement systems; if you're low on thrust, your options are limited.  There may have been one turn where I moved at speed equal to my thrust while using Evasive Action, which is not viable under basic movement.  I think Newtonian movement favors short-ranged fleets; it enables them to close more quickly under cover of Evasive Action (but then also forces them to slow and turn after making their pass at the enemy, during which time they are taking fire - so they must crush the enemy during their first pass).  In this case Matt was unable to turn his substantial thrust advantage into a tactical advantage, in large part because our ranges were matched and we favored similar arcs.
  • Matt commented that Starmada would make a much better video game than a tabletop game...  and he's not wrong.
 So...  meh.  We solved some of the old problems with fleetbuilding by using prebuilt fleets, and found new problems.  Nova solved some of these, but hardly all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On Hobbits

It is sometimes said that the whole point of hobbits as protagonists, for Tolkein, was that they were never meant to go adventuring in the first place.  They were weak, soft, sedentary creatures, with copious appetites and a great love for civilized niceties.

This doesn't really fit into the standard model for OSR classes, where you have a prime requisite, and for demihumans in ACKS at least also a minimum stat in order to qualify for your race.  However, rolling 3d6 in order does occasionally generate a set of stats which is literally unplayable; the simplest case would be something like a set where all stats were less than 9, though it would also be possible to do with a high Con and possibly a higher Cha, since there's no Cha-only class in Core.

And that's where hobbits should come from: the stat sets that don't qualify for any other class.  Give them a racial maximum stats instead of minimum stats, and maybe an inverse prime req bonus, where the more horrible your stats are, the more XP you get.  I'm only about half-joking.

I don't really know what else to give them - probably not great fighting, some sneaking, decent HD (they do not seem to die as often as one might expect...), tendency towards ridiculous circumstances...  But at the end of the day, playing a hobbit should be less like playing a ranger than playing a tourist who, despite his absolute unfitness for adventuring, makes do with a surfeit of either blind luck or divine providence.

Really good saves, I guess.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


One of ACKS' default assumptions, which I've commented on before, is that of the "failing empire", with barbarians at the borders and corruption within.  Another of ACKS' standard assumptions it the inland sea, typically modeled after the Mediterranean in Antiquity.  But there's another perfectly good inland sea in Europe that gets a lot less attention: the Baltic.

Which, it turns out, is probably a fine model area-of-operations for a DaneACKS campaign.  Much more so than the North Sea, with its super-long travel distances and terrible weather.  The water-area of the Baltic is about 330 24-mile hexes, which is about a quarter of a 30x40 24-mile hex mapsheet, leaving plenty of room for surrounding lands.

One problem(?) with the Baltic as an ACKS setting is that Scandinavia and environs are, historically, not particularly well-populated.  At all.  In 1570, already somewhat after our target era, the population density of Sweden was only about 5.2 people per square mile, while that of Finland in 1550 was a mere 2.3 people per square mile.  At 300,000 people in an area of 130,666 square miles, you're looking at 60,000 families spread over (roughly) 4 30x40 mapsheets of 6-mile hexes.  In 1150, estimates (since at that time there was certainly no census, nor a centralized state to conduct one) place the total population of Finland between 20,000 and 40,000 people, or at most 8,000 families, giving a population density of about 0.3 people per square mile, which in ACKS terms suggests a handful of class VI markets over that entire area.  Which is...  rough, for adventuring and supply.  The rest of the Baltic isn't much better; Gdansk in the 1100s had a population somewhere between 1000 and 2000, which is a class V market.  Many of the population centers currently on the Baltic map above weren't even founded until Christianization hit, and population records for pre-Christian settlements (like Forsigtuna, the pre-Christian capital of Sweden) are basically nonexistent.  So...  I guess there'd be room for some "creative license".  On the plus side, such a setting does play very nicely with tribes as the autonomous domain unit, which would be fun.