Sunday, May 29, 2016

Domains and Discontent

Brutorz Bill of Green Skeleton Gaming Guild asked for the blogosphere's thoughts on ACKS recently, and I commented to the effect that most of ACKS is great, but the domain system has left me disappointed.  I was asked to elaborate, and decided that it warranted a post.  I may catch some flak for this, but keep in mind that I'm aiming for healthy, constructive criticism which may make ACKS a better game.

Which begs the question: "What is best in gaming, Conan?"

Conan's answer, I suspect, is "something other than spreadsheets."

The trouble is that running a domain in ACKS is not fun.  It is paperwork.  ACKS' domain rules have the following property: an extrinsic incentive exists for PCs to want domains (primarily XP from running a domain, but also some cash from taxes and ready availability of a market), but there is nothing intrinsically rewarding about the actual mechanics of operating a domain.  First campaign with domains, we had a character with a domain who was milking it for XP, and other players decided to establish their own to keep up, and were disappointed with the experience.  Second campaign with domains, we decided to avoid the loss-of-cohesion trap of individual domains and have a jointly-held party domain.  This meant someone had to be the Spreadsheet Guy.  Nobody wanted it.  Sure, I could run the domain, but I'm already swamped running all the other domains and building adventures and trying to remember to eat and sleep.

(Incidentally, the following analysis owes much to Alexis/Tao's book, How to Run.  I have not yet finished it, but it articulates many things which agree with my experience.  I also owe a little to Collins' Interaction Ritual Chains, which is really good)

In the dungeoneering phase of the game, there are a number of events that are emotionally charged.  Fighting is exciting because you almost die, and then there's the thrill of victory.  Falling below 0 HP is ACKS is exciting, because it puts everyone in a state of tension for the mortal wounds roll, which is delayed (this is one of ACKS' finest contributions).  Getting treasure is exciting, because maybe you'll find some sweet magic shit or maybe your friend will pick up a cursed sword and you get the satisfaction of having dodged a bullet.  Exploring is tense and anticipatory, because you might find combat or treasure or trapped death at any time.  Even tracking torches can contribute to excitement under the right circumstances - it builds tension towards that moment when you run out and are trapped in the dark.  Basically, any of: gaining power, finding yourself in deep trouble, or things likely to lead to either of those outcomes has emotional merit (combat which seems unlikely to lead to either gain or loss is usually deeply boring).  Dungeoneering, of all of the phases of the game, does the best job of concentrating these emotional charges in the hands of an unskilled DM.  The rules make it practically unavoidable.

The wilderness phase of the game is weaker, but similar.  Getting chased by worgs is high-tension in an immediate sense.  Getting lost in the woods, or becalmed at sea, or running low on drinkable water in the desert, all build tension.  Coming over the ridge and seeing home in the valley, knowing that you are safe and your travels are over is a release of tension, a relief.  The wilderness exploration rules support these sources of rising and falling tension.  However, while the dungeoneering rules suffer more abstractions and nonsense for this purpose ("We can move how many 10' squares per 10-minute turn of exploration movement?"), wilderness play tends to get a little more bogged down in realistic overland speed and encumbrance, and the tension-release cycles feel much longer than in dungeoneering.  I'm not entirely sure why this is - might have to do with ability to restore resources by resting in the wilderness, so combat loses center stage to logistics attrition, which has a longer cycle?  Anyway, that's another post.

Domain play in ACKS is even worse at supporting emotionally-charged play.  The peaks of domain play (those moments when your players go "haha yeah, suck it!") might include: crushing an army in the field, storming a castle, assassinating a rival, being crowned emperor, sacking Rome, and winning the tournament to marry the princess.  The deep lows of domain play (those moments when your players say "oooh shit, we're boned", followed shortly by swearing revenge if they survive) might include: having their army crushed in the field, having their castle stormed and their town sacked, waking up with assassins in their bedchamber, being called to court to answer for their crimes, Mongol horde or great dragon politely requests submit or die, being excommunicated/fatwa'd by the head of a major religion, plague, natural disasters.  ACKS' domain rules...  don't do any of these things particularly well.  Assassination is supported, but it's one roll.  Being summoned (though not for crimes) and marrying the princess are on a random events table that you're supposed to roll occasionally.  Domains at War adds the crushing/being crushed, storming, and sacking, but Battles is a relatively high-detail system which can make pacing it difficult (and is in general error-prone for the inexperienced).  Moreover, the rules don't really provide ready paths to such situations.  There is no clear state-machine and path of play like in dungeoneering or the wilderness ("Go to the place, kill the thing, take the stuff, deal with complications along the way, and don't die").  The domain XP threshold rules strongly encourage expansion, but it's less clear how to go about it in practice.

Instead of focusing on these emotionally-charged events, the domain rules focus on taxation and population.  It is true that war and skullduggery cost money and manpower.  It is true that gathering an army and preparing an invasion build tension and anticipation of that action. But the balance between means and ends is tilted too far towards the means in ACKS; the tension-release cycle is all buildup (part of this may be a failure of our group's collective patience, but when a campaign lasts in the 3-6 month range on average, it is worth considering).  There has been a failure in choosing what to abstract away - taxation, population, and recruiting are high detail, while many of the interesting parts of domain play are either a single roll, random chance, or just left to DM improvisation.  Unfortunately, so far our luck with DM improvisation in the domain space suggests that it is hard to get right, and terrible unintended consequences often ensue from changes that seemed initially reasonable.

In dungeoneering, the lazy, exhausted, or incompetent DM has a host of systems for generating dungeons full of monsters and tresure from random tables.  Do these dungeon ecologies make sense?  Not particularly.  Do your players care?  Not as a rule.  They tend to be perfectly happy with plausibility and consistency, which is achievable with a little massaging of table results, rather than deep, realistic simulation.  You can paint a dungeon by numbers, stuff it with random monsters and treasure, and your players will probably have fun.  We also have such systems in wilderness play, though they are not as well-developed.  But when you get to the domain level, ACKS throws the lazy DM, who has relied heavily on tables for the preceding part of the campaign, to the wolves.  No random tables to be found, just demographics and statistics.  And it is possible, from those demographics, to derive reasonable size and population and troop strength estimates for NPC domains.  It's doable, but substantially more labor than rolling some dice and going "yeah that'll work," and demands a much deeper understanding of what those numbers actually mean.  If one is a compulsive automator, it requires a very different approach than tabling there as well.  And unlike with dynamic lairs in the wilderness, very few abstractions and affordances are made to DM ease of use in this area.

If ACKS' support for dungeoneering play is at GUI-levels of usability, where you can kind of bumble your way through it ("push button, receive dungeon, insert players, enjoy"), domain play is closer to the command line; you have to be really willing to read the manual, consider many options, and glue lots of obscure pieces together.  And god help you if you err.

There are also some issues with thief and wizard domain play.  Thieves are overpowered gold-fountains that obliterate suspension of disbelief in ACKS' economies.  Wizard domain play is a comedy of errors at the mid-levels where we've played it, because you can try to research the function of a magic item for two solid months, easily fail all four of your tries, and be left with nothing to show for all that time that you could've been adventuring.  It's very frustrating.  I don't know much about the operation of cleric-specific domain abilities (blood sacrifice, divine power) because nobody plays clerics, but their main domain game is functionally the same as a fighter's.

So there you have it: domains and discontent.  At some point maybe I should write some houserules / abstractions aimed at making the interesting parts of the domain game actually happen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

DMing is like playing with a cat

You create a fiction, a semblance of life, and then it is shortly done savage violence to.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ambition-Driven Advancement

Was thinking about advancement in RPGs in the shower.  Am dissatisfied with outcomes / incentives generated by current common incentive systems.
  • XP for treasure: Endless cash grind (often repetitive), players behaving as dicks to wring coppers out of orphans.
  • XP for killing monsters: Kill everything (often repetitive), players behaving as dicks and killing everything that moves.
  • XP for time / training (eg, Mongoose Traveller): Passive play, sitting on the ship until you have the skills you wanted but didn't get during chargen.  If training costs money, this becomes XP for treasure.
  • XP for entertaining the DM / "good roleplaying": Abuse of power, very arbitrary, destruction of immersion by antics and silly voices.
  • XP for sessions played (the old "level every three sessions"): Player actions don't matter.  Spending all session haggling with the rope merchant is worth as much as killing a dragon, and much lower risk.
Proposed solution: Players generate/choose goals-in-the-world, receive advancement for achieving them.  XP awarded based on difficulty and danger (as assigned by DM but negotiable) of achieving the goal, with long-term goals broken down into more-achievable subgoals.  The party-as-a-whole is encouraged to select a collective goal, with motivated individual players also able to assume individual goals.

Hopeful outcomes:
  • Party goal encourages cohesion
  • Agency / self-determination required, as players choose their own goals
  • Things players are interested in are made super-explicit to DM during goal-stating and value assignment
  • Engagement with the world incentivized, particularly risky engagement with the world
  • Does not strongly favor any single playstyle
  • Dynamic playstyle possible - if you get sick of killing monsters, stop picking goals like "clear the 2nd level of this dungeon" and start picking eg "map the nth level" or "extract all treasure from the nth level".
 Potential difficulties:
  • Calibration of appropriate rewards, potential for disagreement between player and DM over appropriate reward
  • Some goals ("Kill all orcs", "Make a million GP") almost-degenerate into old advancement systems.  But even those are more interesting than before, because "Well why orcs specifically?" and "Why a million GP specifically?"

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

ACKS: Sorcery



"What good is power if you're too wise to use it?"

Standing opposite the cautious and learned wizard is the carefree and callous sorcerer.  Having abandoned the long, hard road of study in favor of deals with supernatural entities, the sorcerer wields elemental power with broad strokes and substantial collateral damage.  If the wizard's cue music is some chick singing in elvish, the sorcerer's is probably heavy metal (unless you're Christopher Lee, in which case your wizard may be more metal than your sorcerer.  RIP).

This is the mage most of my players have always wanted, and have done their best to shoehorn the mage class into.


His creature type may be "Wizard", but his spiked helmet, goatee, popped collar, direct-damage activated ability, and glowing eyes beg to differ.

Sorcery is another custom magic type.  It is identical to Arcane, except that it is totally incompetent at healing and illusion (2.25 multiplier), slightly worse at enchantment (1.5 instead of 1.4), and uses the Improved spellcasting table.  As a result, its total source factor is 14.6, and its XP cost is 1225.  Sorcery is also Prayerful - no repertoire management here, just a pile of spells.  This means that Divine Power and Blood Sacrifice are options for sorcerers, as is right and proper.  On the down side, because our XP cost is so high (compared to Cleric), we really don't get many spells known per level (only, uh...  5, actually).  And we thought Apostasy was good before...

Again we run into the trouble that ACKS suggests dual-prime-req Int and Wis for sorcerers, but I'm inclined to just use Wis (ability to propitiate spirits) as the prime req.  Wis is also particularly prudent for sorcerers because it boosts their saves against their own spells when things go just as the DM planned horribly, horribly wrong.   

This is your face on sorcery.

Sorcerers save and gain class profs as Clerics and can use Mage items, which is fine.

So, without further ado,

Sorcerer
Prime Req: Wis (and possibly Int)
Requirements: None
HD: 1d4
Max level: 14

Sorcerers are spellcasters who channel powers inimical to man to cause mayhem and destruction, typically for personal gain.  Their magic is raw, direct, and barely-controlled.

Sorcerers have some experience in combat, typically barfights and angry peasants with pitchforks and torches.  They may fight with swords, daggers, spears, and polearms, and may wear leather armor (black and studded recommended).  They are not trained in the use of shields or fighting with a weapon in each hand, but may fight with a one-handed weapon in both hands for d8 damage.  They advance in attack throws at a rate of 2 points per four levels, and may cleave once per round per two levels of experience.  They save as Clerics of their level, and gain class proficiencies every fourth level, but use magic items usable by Mages.

Sorcerers live on a hair trigger, always ready to unleash their Battle Magic.  This tends to make them somewhat Intimidating.

A sorcerer may, when the opportunity arises, replace his shifting network of allegiances to various Outer Powers with allegiance to a single Patron.  Said patron should have a name, a portfolio, rivals, and an agenda in the world of men.  A sorcerer who takes a patron may gain up to four class proficiencies from his patron's favor, but at a price.  There are two sorts of prices that can be paid.  The first is in oaths, which may be sworn with an appropriate trance and invocation of the patron taking at least an hour (ie, not in combat, but possibly while imprisoned; such an invocation may be used for bargaining with the patron more generally).  For one proficiency, the sorcerer swears to obey a relatively loose code of behavior, requiring such things as minor dietary restrictions (burnt meat every Friday for a volcanic patron, for example), obligatory participation in rituals on high-power nights such as the solstices and Samhain, a permanent mark visible only to magic somewhere on the body, and a few minor taboos appropriate to the patron.  A second proficiency can be earned by adopting a more stringent code of behavior, requiring for example a small burnt offering every night, stricter dietary requirements (all meat must be burnt), a permanent visible mark somewhere on the body, and some genuinely inconvenient taboos (may never let an insult go unavenged with violence, perhaps).  A third and final proficiency may be earned by adopting an extreme code of behavior; this is where you start to get face-tattooed maniacs who subsist on burnt meat alone.  Should an oathbound sorcerer break his oaths, he loses access to the proficiencies earned in this way and cannot gain experience points until he atones, though he retains the use of his magic.

The softer, dare I say easier, path to an extra proficiency via a patron involves incurring "future obligations" in the afterlife.  In exchange for a class proficiency, the sorcerer acquires a shadowed soul, and thereafter suffers a -1 penalty per level of experience on Tampering with Mortality rolls.  Many patrons enjoy deals and wagers, and a clever sorcerer may use this to his advantage in returning from the dead.  Should such an obligated sorcerer seek to permanently cheat death, however, as with lichdom, the patron may at some point send agents to collect on his debt.

Common proficiency choices from patronage include Apostasy, Familiar, Soothsaying, Elementalism, and Black Lore.  A sorcerer with a patron also gains the ability (and perhaps requirement) to gather Divine Power for that patron.

(Man I'm now I'm pumped to do a series of Sorcerous Patrons posts)

Sorcerers cast spells from a very limited repertoire, but get more of them per day than most spellcasters.

1st: Magic Missile, Burning Hands, Choking Grip, Summon Berserkers, Wall of Smoke
2nd: Stinking Cloud, Ogre Power, Deathless Minion, Web, Summon "Hero"
3rd: Fireball, Fly, Haste, Dismember, Summon Remorhaz
4th: Wall of Fire, Giant Strength, Fear, Dimension Door, Conjure Ooze
5th: Cloudkill, Cone of Cold, Conjure Elemental, Contact Other Plane, Teleport
6th: Death Spell, Disintegrate, Invisible Stalker, Summon Djinni, Trollblood

Sorcerer spells per day:

Level 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2




2 3




3 3 1



4 3 2



5 3 2 1


6 3 3 2


7 4 3 2 1

8 4 3 3 2

9 4 4 3 2 1
10 4 4 3 3 2
11 5 4 4 3 2 1
12 5 4 4 3 3 2
13 5 5 4 4 3 2
14 6 5 4 4 3 3

At 5th level, sorcerers gain the ability to brew potions, scribe scrolls, and research spells to replace those in the standard sorcerer repertoire.  At 9th level they may create permanent magic items, and at 11th may begin to create ritual spells, hybrids, undead (if chaotic), and constructs.

Sorcerers who survive to 9th level may establish a cabal of fanatical cultists if they so desire.  It's not really clear how domains work for custom spellcaster types, but sorcerers are vaguely clerical and fanatical cultists are a good time.

All this and eternal damnation, for the low, low price of...  1725 XP to 2nd level (1225 for 3 points of Sorcery, 500 for 1 point of Fighting with a couple of tradeoffs)?  What the hell, that seems really, really low.  On the other hand... black magic *should* be easy, until your invisible stalker gets loose, your fireball expands to volume in a closed area, or your teleport goes awry, and suddenly you arrive at the gates and discover that they're not particularly pearly.  This is actually exactly what I was talking about with Mage vs Warlock - Warlock does level faster and get some spell-like abilities, but their spellcasting is crippled compared to Mage.  Sorcerer, in comparison to Wizard, levels faster, gets more spells per day, gets the spells for kicking in the door and killing everything that moves on the other side, and can't do anything else for crap.  And with their inferior HD and dangerous spells known, I'd argue that their life expectancy is probably shorter than the wizard's, on average.  Life fast, die young, take the rest of the party with you on your way out.

  Class proficiencies (28):
  1. Alchemy
  2. Alertness
  3. Apostasy
  4. Black Lore of Zahar
  5. Contemplation
  6. Divine Blessing
  7. Divine Health
  8. Disguise
  9. Elven Bloodline
  10. Endurance
  11. Familiar
  12. Gambling
  13. Illusion Resistance
  14. Knowledge
  15. Leadership
  16. Loremastery
  17. Magical Engineering
  18. Martial Training
  19. Mystic Aura
  20. Prestidigitation
  21. Running
  22. Soothsaying
  23. Seduction
  24. Sensing Power
  25. Survival
  26. Theology
  27. Transmogrification
  28. Unflappable Casting
Bonus feature:

If you break sorcery and wizardy apart, suddenly you have a great way to differentiate the Zaharans and the Elves mechanically.  Zaharans get racial Sorcery points, and Elves get racial Wizardry points; never saw Galadriel or Elrond slinging fireballs.  Ruinguard 2.0 will melt your face clean off, Arc of the Covenant-style.

Heck, you know who else makes sense for Wizardry?  Bards, if you like your bards spellcasty!  Fighting 1 / HD 1 / Thief 1 / Wizardry 1 or someaught like that.

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.

So!

Wizard
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:

1st:
  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
2nd:
  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
3rd:
  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 
4th:
  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
5th:
  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
6th:
  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).