Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Space is a Desert

I've had Homeworld on the brain recently.  There was something remarkable about the atmosphere of Homeworld, and I've been struggling to put my finger on it.

For all that space resembles an ocean, and is full of cruisers and such, in Homeworld space is also a desert.  The backgrounds are often bright nebulae, red and orange and purple, rather than the starry blackness one associates with space games, and visibility is sometimes restricted in a way that resembles dust more than anything nautical.  Names like Seljuk and Sojent-Ra, peoples organized not in states but tribes (eg Kith Somtaaw).  The combat music is drums and pipes and horns, not at all space-age.  The storyline of Homeworld 1 is accurately summarized as "Exodus on a spaceship", and the Garden of Kadesh is full of religious fanatics.  The juxtaposition of the ancient and the futuristic is powerful; technology may change, but people don't.

There is a certain  desolateness and desperateness about the whole affair.  A whole lot of empty, and of salvaging.  There's a bit of post-apocalypse in it as well; your small craft can run out of fuel and be stranded, and the ruins of the ship graveyard tell of fallen empires of immense power (those are capital ships he's panning around).

And it makes sense.  The universe is a desert.  Space is big, and empty, and inimical to mankind.  It is very hot and very cold.  There is nothing to drink, nothing to eat, nothing to breathe.  Beautiful in its starkness and vastness.

So the question on my mind is, how do I bring that feeling to Traveller?  I mentioned Classic Trav to the group the other day, and ultimately realized that there's a bit of confusion about what you're supposed to do in Traveller.  Part of this is that the source fiction is not stuff familiar to us (Space Viking?  The hell is Space Viking?).  It's from a completely different era of science fiction than we are.  It's pre-transhumanist, pre-Singularitarian, pre-cyberpunk, practically pre-Star Wars (I recall seeing stats for "Luke Starkiller" in the Classic Traveller book of NPCs, but he's a farmboy pilot with no psionic powers, from when Star Wars was the name of a single movie rather than a franchise).  Probably the closest things I've read were Dune and Foundation, and neither of those 1) seem like particularly plausible futures to us, or 2) are particularly gameable.

Another part of the problem is that Traveller does not have the clear progression you see in D&D, from low to high levels, or adventurer to king.  There are lots of little subsystems that let you do all kinds of different things but it's not clear what you should do.  So I think, if I were to run Traveller, that some sort of objective function would be a welcome addition.  Absolute freedom paralyzes absolutely.

But anyway, some thoughts for "Space is a Desert":

Rare Oases: Gas giants 1/3 as common as usual, jump uses 1/3 as much fuel as usual.

Despoiled Gardens: Most planets were never going to support human life.  The ones that were, humanity did to as humanity does, and now they barely support human life either.

Babylon: An empire collapsed or collapsing as a result of its hubris, decadent sin, and barbarians at the outer reaches.

Your money is useless here: If the universe is shattered into little isolated autonomous clans, and there is no faith in the Imperial Fiat Currency, suddenly Traveller's trading minigame actually matters, because you have to carry your wealth in goods that you can trade when you arrive.  Pretty good bets: spare parts, food and hydroponics, chemical air filters, maybe weapons.

The Ruins of Empire: Sometimes spacers run out of fuel, orbital stations suffer a life support failure, and colonies die out due to plague, inbreeding, wildlife, civil war, environmental catastrophe, or whatever.  Loot, ho!

Life Support: There's actually a rule about shipboard life support, and we have traditionally ignored it.  Wastewater is easy to purify given fusion-heat and CO2's pretty easy to scrub chemically, but the complex organic foodmolecules required to sustain human life are much less common in the cosmos than the hydrogen required to power the reactor.

Light Cavalry: Emphasis on high-speed light units; in the space context, fightercraft.  Maybe not sensible, but traditional.  Paint some heraldry on that fuselage and make ready your particle-lance.

Swords: Nothing says Ancient Future like some bloke trying to cut your vacc suit open with a scimitar.  If the orbital habitats aren't as sturdily-constructed as is typical in Traveller, firing a gun indoors may be a one-way ticket out the airlock by civil convention, and melee combat the norm aboard ships.

Hokey Religions to go along with your Ancient Weapons: When the situation gets grim, people go crazy and start hearing gods.  Always have, always will.

No Pirates: There will always be those who seek to use force to take things of value, but "pirate" is too naval a term.  Brigand or bandit might serve.  Homeworld used "Turanic Raiders", and I could see using barbarians. Unfortunately no really evocative word that means quite what I want is springing to mind.

If I were to steal a little more from Homeworld, rather than just thematically, I might throw in:

Back into Space: The players' home planet has been cut off for a long time, and recently re-discovered jump drive.  The PCs are the first out to do reconnaissance, and are Astronaut Material (former test pilots with two PhDs, you know the type), which might have some effects on chargen...  and then there's an exploration game, where scientists are useful for eg looking at exoplanet spectra for atmospheric composition to see if there's a gas giant in-system before jumping in.

Fleet Command: The trouble with using Starmada in Traveller typically is that it's too deadly, but if you have multiple ships, that problem diminishes.  And Stars Without Number has such tempting rules for building battleships as a PC activity...  There's a lot of other good stuff in SWN that I should steal, particularly on the worldbuilding front.

To the Stars: Having been stuck on a desert hole of a world, some folks on the PCs' homeworld are going to want to move to space if opportunities arise.  Ties nicely to the exploration game (finding habitable worlds) and the fleet command game (keeping them safe).

Relatedly, if I were to steal a couple of things from ACKS, they would be henchmen/hirelings (should be simpler than ACKS' henchmen, and you need crew for your ships...), reaction and morale (which Traveller already sort of has), maybe mortal wounds (or something like them, as an excuse for cybernetics), and, uh...  not much else.  Oh, and ACKS' initiative system, actually - it could make autofire initiative penalties and leadership/tactics initiative bonuses interesting for once.

If I were to steal just a few things from Classic Traveller, I'd strongly consider weapon-vs-armor tables and the increased encumbrance limits.  Weapon-vs-armor tables do a marvelous job resolving the Armor Problem we've had with Traveller in the past, that anything that can hurt the guy in combat armor will instantly pulp anyone else.  With weapon-vs-armor tables, an anti-armor weapon (say a high-velocity rifle) can hurt the guy in heavy armor, but won't instagib everyone else.  For simplicity's sake you could even do something like just having two main types of armor (hard and soft) for attack DM modifiers, and then some small DR values and weights differentiate within those types.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Simple Sample Borderlands Domains

Following my simplifying assumption for wilderness, I find myself generating a big old hexmap with a lot of empty space and some scattered domains here and there.  Some of them are semi-barbarian domains, and they don't fit well into the civilized simple domains that I worked up previously.

So here are some statblocks for borderlands domains under the same set of assumptions as last time (maximally centralized, no vassals under counts, land value 6, fixed population density which is not 200 rural families per hex instead of 450, no population growth over time, simplified pillaging).  I'm pulling these results from a spreadsheet I haven't touched in four months, so some of them may be incorrect (and they certainly haven't been updated for the revised domain system).  Should be fun.

Independent Barony

  • Size: 1 6-mile hex
  • Population: 200 rural families, 20 urban families
  • Net domain income: 1.2kgp/mo
  • Market: Class VI hamlet at stronghold
  • Gives liege lord: the finger
  • Ruler max level from domain income: 6th
  • Stronghold value: 22.5kgp, small round stone tower with an earthen rampart, palisade wall, unfilled moat, and drawbridge
  • Garrison: 0.6kgp/mo, 1 platoon heavy infantry and half a platoon of bowmen
  • Field army: 2 platoons light infantry, 1 platoon bowmen, 2 platoons heavy infantry
  • Tribute if vassalized: 0.5 kgp/mo
  • Pillaging:
    • Requires 600 troops and 1 day
    • Yields 2.3 kgp in gold, 6.1 kgp in supplies, 4.8 kgp in prisoners
    • A pillaged borderlands barony has its net domain income reduced to 0 (29.7 gp/mo, to be precise, but practically 0), and its garrison requirement reduced to 0.2 kgp/mo
    • It costs 31.8 kgp to unpillage an independent barony
  • Razing:
    • Requires 600 troops and 4 days
    • Liberates 4.4 kgp in gold, 11 kgp in supplies, and 8.8 kgp in prisoners
    • Domain is destroyed
    • Stronghold is somewhat damaged
Independent March
  • Size: 4 6-mile hexes
  • Population: 800 rural families, 80 urban families
  • Net domain income: 4.7 kgp/mo
  • Market: Class VI small village
  • Ruler max level from domain income: 8th
  • Stronghold value: 90kgp, square keep with earthen rampart, palisade, and wooden drawbridge
  • Garrison: 2.6 kgp/mo, 1 company heavy infantry and 2 platoons bowmen
  • Field army: 2 companies light infantry, 2 companies bowmen, 1 company heavy infantry
  • Tribute if vassalized: 2kgp/mo
  • Pillaging:
    • Requires 2400 troops and takes 1d3 days
    • Yields 9.2 kgp in gold, 24.2 kgp in supplies, and 19.4 kgp in prisoners
    • A pillaged borderlands march has its net domain income reduced to 0.1 kgp/mo and its garrison requirement reduced to 0.8 kgp/mo.  Its market is reduced to a hamlet, but remains a class VI.
    • It costs 127.2 kgp to unpillage a borderlands march
  • Razing:
    • Requires 2400 troops and 4d3 days
    • Yields 17.6 kgp in gold, 44 kgp in supplies, and 35.2 kgp in prisoners
    • Domain is destroyed, stronghold is damaged
Independent County
  • Size: 16 6-mile hexes
  • Population: 3200 rural families, 320 urban families
  • Net domain income: 18.8 kgp/mo
  • Market: Class V large village
  • Ruler max level from domain income: 11th (most will be 10th)
  • Stronghold value: 360kgp, square keep with 30' high stone curtain walls, barbican, and large round towers at its corners, filled moat, the works.
  • Garrison: 10.2 kgp/mo, 2 companies bowmen, 1 company heavy infantry, 2 companies light cavalry
  • Field army: 5 companies light infantry, 4 companies bowmen, 4 companies heavy infantry, 4 companies light cavalry
  • Tribute if vassalized: 7.9 kgp/mo
  • Pillaging:
    • Requires 7200 troops and 1d4 days
    • Yields 37 kgp in gold, 96.8 kgp in supplies, and 77.4 kgp in prisoners
    • A pillaged borderlands county has its net domain income reduced to 0.5 kgp/mo and its garrison requirement reduced to 3.2 kgp/mo.  Its market is reduced to a village, but remains class V
    • It costs 509 kgp to unpillage a borderlands county
  • Razing:
    • Requires 7200 troops and 4d4 days
    • Yields 70.4 kgp in gold, 176 kgp in supplies, and 140.8 kgp in prisoners
    • Domain is destroyed, stronghold is damaged
Above counties, you start getting large towns for your market, which project a ring of civilized around themselves and the whole exercise breaks down.

If you want to throw borderlands domains a bone, consider: as a result of typical borderlands extracurricular activities like raiding and counter-raiding, conscripts raised from borderlands domains arrive fully trained and armed in proportions based on culture (eg, a Scottish-English borderlands province might raise something like 2 platoons of light cavalry, 1 platoon of heavy infantry, 1 platoon of bowmen, and 1 platoon of light infantry per 120 men, while Norse conscripts might be 2 platoons of heavy infantry, 1 platoon bowmen, and 1 platoon light infantry per 120 men), and their militia units arrive trained and equipped as light infantry.  This armed citizenry, of course, makes the threat of rebellion accordingly greater.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Simple Domain Morale

The existing domain morale rules are complicated, and unsuitable for use with high-abstraction simple domains.

The existing morale rules have nine morale states, ranging from -4 to +4, with effects for each.  I'm given to understand that this system is designed so that rebellion is rare and morale does not move very quickly, but I don't care all that much about stability and nine is a few too many for me.  I'd rather have five results, like every other Charisma-driven 2d6 roll.  If you really want to maintain that slow-movement property, just limit it so that it can only change by 1 degree per season in any direction (this is equivalent to moving it by 2 on a 9-point scale).

So we get a table like this:

2-: Rebellious
3-5: Disgruntled
6-8: Resigned
9-11: Content
12+: Loyal

I'm cynical about the maximum degree of loyalty you should expect to get from your peasants - does anyone really enjoy paying their taxes?  Enough to pay extra taxes?  It's also important to remember that a peasant rebellion is potentially-exciting, or at least interesting, while a happy, peaceful realm is boring.

A Rebellious domain's peasants take up arms against their erstwhile master.  If no rebellion has been crushed by force within the last year, the peasants stand up one company of militia per 120 families, and a village hero (4th-7th level fighter) appears to lead them.  Naturally, they stop paying their taxes until the rebellion is put down and their heroic leader disposed of.  If the ruler happens to be in the field with militia units from the domain when the rebellion springs up, they may betray him (to the extent that militia units can) if the opportunity arises, and suffer -2 to morale even if it doesn't.  Even when the rebellion is crushed (or if no forces were mustered because of a crushing in recent memory), the domain suffers the effects of disgruntlement (below), and takes a -3 penalty to its next morale roll.

A Disgruntled domain's peasants are unhappy with their ruler.  They drag their feet and do their best to evade his taxes, reducing his domain income by 1gp/mo per family.  Additionally, militia units from this domain suffer a -1 penalty to morale.  Should a particularly good opportunity to replace the ruler appear, the peasants may rebel.  Disgruntled peasants may aid or abet hijinks targeted against the ruler and his armies, associates, holdings &c, providing a +2 bonus where appropriate.  The domain suffers a -1 penalty to its next morale roll.

A Resigned domain's peasants have had worse rulers.  This one seems to mostly-uphold the social contract; they pay their taxes and he leaves them be.

A Content domain's peasants think this ruler is somewhat above average, and that replacing him would be bad.  They inflict a -2 penalty to hijinks targeted against the ruler and his interests, and their militia gains +1 morale when fighting in defense of the realm or against pretenders to the throne.  A content domain gains a +1 bonus to its next morale roll.

A Loyal peasantry likes their ruler personally.  They inflict a -4 penalty to hijinks targeted against the ruler and his interests, and their militia units gain a +1 bonus to morale.  A loyal domain gains a +3 bonus to its next morale roll.

As far as modifiers go...

  • Ruler is of significantly different religion, race, or culture from domain: -2 (the heathen barbarian penalty.  To hell with alignment)
  • Taxes above normal last season: -1/gp/family/month
  • Generous ruler: +1/2gp/family/month given as alms, feasts, extra festivals, etc (marginal utility - if you're a peasant family, paying an extra gp/mo in taxes means you might starve this winter, while being taxed one less gp/mo doesn't have the same magnitude of effect)
  • Publicly-known minor misconduct or alleged but uncertain major misconduct: -2.  Examples, certainly none of which have ever happened in my campaigns:
    • Domain raided by monsters or bandits this season, and domain ruler failed to bring them to justice
    • Domain ruler pardoned too many thieves, alleged to be corrupt
    • Domain ruler behaved in a consistently cruel or cowardly fashion
    • Domain ruler did something to earn the church's serious disapproval
      • Urinated on the altar while inebriated, say
    • Domain ruler negotiated with terrorists had dealings with beastmen, rumored to be in league with dark powers
  • Publicly-know major misconduct: -4.  Examples:
    • Domain was pillaged this season
    • Domain ruler killed a kinsman
    • Domain ruler replaced the church and has begun conducting blood sacrifice in public


When a realm rebels, there is sometimes a peaceable solution possible.  If they're mad about taxes, they can be mollified by the promise of lower taxes (breaking this promise results in immediate re-rebellion).  If they're mad about miscarriage of justice, punishing the guilty will satisfy them.  If they're mad because you're a heathen, they might demand that you convert.  If they're mad because you insulted the church, go on a long pilgrimage (read: adventure).  If you just rolled really poorly and/or have crap charisma, probably one of your henchmen or other important subordinates turned out to have certain unspeakable appetites, and now you need to either execute them or send them away to a foreign court or monastery until this all blows over.  Or maybe you've been framed by a powerful rival who's trying to destabilize your realm, and now you get to go on an investigative adventure that maybe ends with killing something and taking its treasure.  I find it improbable that your PC hasn't done something in the last season that could be retroactively justifiable as public minor misconduct, anyway.

In any case, addressing the rebellion's demands allows you to reroll morale, hopefully with fewer penalties.  If you roll rebellion again, they probably demand abdication or beheading.  Notably, resolving a rebellion peacefully does not count as having crushed it for the purposes of preventing future uprisings.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Simpler Wilderness Hexes: Dynamic Lairs Corollary

Previously I discussed plans to have only a single lair per six-mile hex.  I posited this scheme:

When rolling an encounter in a monolair hex system, roll a d8.  On a 1-5, it's an encounter with monsters of the hex's lair's type.  On a 6-7, roll another d6, and index that into the adjacent hexes.  On an 8, it's a transient from the encounter table for this terrain type.
In my enthusiasm, I promptly went and started working on a 4800-hex wilderness map...  and quickly realized that I had bitten off more than I could chew.  Dynamic lairs, or something like them, are an obvious solution for those (large) parts of the map where inspiration fails to strike.

Fortunately, the process I proposed is readily extended to place lairs dynamically, though it was not intended for this.  Roll the d8 to determine where the monster came from.  If it came from a hex with no lair assigned, roll on the random encounter table for that terrain, and place the lair as appropriate.  If it's a monster with a "no lair" entry, then just treat it as transient and don't worry about it.

This process actually handles restocking, too - if a lair is cleared, and then it comes up as the source of a random encounter, you restock it.  This could get a little weird, because areas where the players haven't been in a while will remain cleared until they return, but I'm willing to live with it (checking on a per-game-time roll to restock across an arbitrarily large number of empty hexes is reasonable machine work, but not a good approach for humans).

Friday, November 25, 2016

Simpler Wilderness Hexes

As I noted previously, wilderness-level prep and play lacks many of the affordances and abstractions of dungeon-level play.  I was thinking about Beyond the Black Gate's ancient (in internet terms) hexcrawling posts, and something jumped out at me:
With wandering monsters, I like to have certain "iconic" monsters for each area (such as werewolves in the Blighted Forest and Ankhegs in the Sunken Hills, etc), rather than a mixed bag, as it gives those areas a more distinct flavor.
Now it's true that a six-mile hex is pretty big.  But in terms of hunting ranges of the sort of carnivores that might be interested in an adventuring party, it really isn't that big.  As xkcd reminds us, a 6-mile hex is about 40% of the hunting range of an adult male mountain lion.  I think Guns, Germs, and Steel cites 1 person per square mile as a rough support limit for hunter-gatherer societies, so it would take about a full hex to feed an unsettled orc warband (presumably an important difference between an orc village and a warband, besides size, is in livestock and pastoral practices).

With all that in mind, and with simplicity at stake, I think I really don't mind changing most hexes to 1 "real" lair per 6-mile hex.  You can backfill with location-restricted undead (wraiths bound to their deathsite, mummies trapped in their tombs, ...) or giant catfish, stirges, giant leeches, and other detritivores and parasites if you're so inclined.

When rolling an encounter in a monolair hex system, roll a d8.  On a 1-5, it's an encounter with monsters of the hex's lair's type.  On a 6-7, roll another d6, and index that into the adjacent hexes.  On an 8, it's a transient from the encounter table for this terrain type.  Again, if we're looking at big carnivores, they're going to have hunting ranges and not just stay in their hexes.  Climbing Wyvern Peak will probably get you eaten, avoiding it by a wide radius is probably safe, but passing near it is a gamble.

At first look, this change seems likely to make the wilderness game easier for players, because there are fewer lairs per hex to clear.  I'm not totally sure, though, because the lairs that were removed (dumb beasts) were mostly not the difficult wilderness fights; they were just grind (and I'm all about cutting out some grind here and there).  Further, reducing monster counts also tends to reduce treasure, so it cuts both ways.  Monolair hexes do remove the case where you have three orcish villages in the same hex, and they cooperate against you (or you play them against each other), so that might be worth adding back in in some capacity (maybe for beastman hexes, place 1d4-1 min 1 villages).  Honestly I wouldn't feel too bad about doubling the numbers on most lairs in monomonstrous hexes; it's still not as rough as a swamp hex with six lairs in it.

While the average difficulty of hexes falls, the variance increases under this system.  Some swamp hexes are going to be nothing but 20-foot centipedes with the heads of great white sharks, and some swamp hexes are going to be nothing but nymphs.  Sounds like a fine place for a domain seat, no?

This change also produces big gains in wilderness legibility, both for players and DMs.  As a DM, I can go "OK so there's a dragon in that hex and there're two villages of orcs adjacent, the orcs are probably subservient to the dragon", and I can show that on my hexographer map with drawn lines in Political mode.  With multiple lairs per hex, visually representing that sort of thing is not viable without going down to 1.5 mile hexes.  I can also start using a representative hexographer monster icon per hex, and removing it when the lair is cleared.  I was already doing that on 1.5 mile scales, but making that work on 6-mile scales would be nice.

With a lower lair density, it becomes relatively easy to have treasure maps point primarily to sealed undead sites - there's plenty of space in those hexes, and the area around the barrows or whatever is haunted so the main lair leaves it alone.

It might also be worth considering generating two or three "lair features" per hex - ruined fortress, abandoned mineshaft, cave, grotto, Weathertop, and so forth (ACKS page 289, or some results from Wilderlands of High Fantasy pages 3-8), which persist across lair clearings and are repeatedly reinhabited when the region restocks.  This makes for good reuse / recurrence of places, and also allows for some combinations that you might not see otherwise - a fortress full of ankhegs, a mineshaft of nymphs (quest time - liberate their grotto from whatever drove them out), a giant anthill now inhabited by goblins (who wear carapace armor and bug-face helmets), and so forth.  If the shelter's good, something will live in it.  This also limits the number of places the players need to check, making reclearing hexes quicker because you don't have to search the whole area (probably), just a scant handful of notable sites.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

ACKS: The Recon Team

My players have run up against time and speed limits.  The dungeon portal only stays open for up to six hours, and they've started running up hard against this time limit during their last couple of expeditions.  This has severely limited their ability to explore outside of their currently-mapped area.  Most of my players seem to be in favor of setting up a safe zone and camping in the dungeon, but one of them was asking me about the encumbrance rules yesterday and talking about doing a low-gear, evasive reconnaissance operation one week, and then sending a more heavily-armored follow-up expedition to selected targets the next week.

I think this is a very interesting idea.  I hesitate to call it a good idea, because I've never seen it done before, but it's very much in the style of "dungoneering as heist movie, not action movie", and I think it'd probably work well if done cleverly.

So let's think about this a bit.

To move 120' per turn, you need to be carrying less than 5 stone.  90' requires less than 7 stone, and 60' requires less than 10 stone.  An unarmored wardog has a speed of 150', while an armored wardog has a speed of 90', and a mule can carry up to 20 stone at 120', but drops to 60' above that.

There are a couple of proficiencies which might be unusually good for this type of operation.  Endurance lets you skip rest turns, increasing your effective movement speed by 20% (although notably, skipping multiple rest turns doesn't seem to stack up increasing penalties under rules as written).  Running boosts your base movement speed by 30' in chainmail or lighter armor.  Skirmishing lets you disengage without pre-declaring it (I'm not sure this is actually good if your doctrine is evasive, though, because in that case you probably tend to declare disengage?).

Dexterity really shines as a stat in this type of party composition, because it lets you get your AC up into the 7-8 range without having to compromise your speed with heavy armor.

In terms of party composition:

Wizards, thieves, bladedancers, bards, and nightblades are not inconvenienced in the least by requirements for reduced gear, and can all easily maintain 120' speed.

Barbarians, explorers, and other classes limited to chainmail might have to make some sacrifices to maintain 120' speed.  I think our current explorer is in chainmail with an arbalest and a spear, which is 6 stone of gear for 90' speed.  To hit 120' with a real ranged weapon, she'd probably have to downgrade chainmail to ringmail and spear to sword.  But 90' might be an acceptable movement speed; it's still 50% faster than our party's current speed, and at 90' you can use armored wardogs.

Assassins are already a weird case, because they can use heavy armor, but they lose a lot of their abilities if they do.  For 120' speed, leather, a polearm, and a ranged weapon is probably a good bet.  At 90', they have more options.

Assassins and explorers are both notable because they have Dex as a prime req (so they can boost it during character creation), and they get fighter damage bonus.  In a high-speed low-drag party, they're both good front-line options.

Thrown weapons might actually be decent in this paradigm; each javelin is an item rather than a stone, so you can fill out your last couple items of encumbrance with them (say you're an explorer going for 120' speed in chainmail with a sword; that puts you are 4 stone and one item.  You can still carry four javelins or oil flasks, which put you at 4 stone and 5 items, one short of 5 stone and 90' speed).  Slings are also substantially less horrible here than usual, because they have decent range (more than double that of javelins) and only weigh one item of encumbrance with their ammunition.  d4 damage sucks, but fighter damage bonus, Inspire Courage, and Bless all apply...

Fighters, clerics, dwarves, and spellswords all have some difficulty at high speeds.  To hit 90' speed, you have to lose any two of plate, shield, and spear.  Best possible AC without magic or dexterity at 90' is 7, via banded mail, shield with fighting style, and a sword (and four flasks of oil or javelins).  It goes without saying that the weight-reduction effect of magic armor is fantastically good in this context.  Plate with a one-handed sword used in both hands is not a terrible choice if you don't have FS:Shield (as if), and banded+spear (or polearm) is probably doctrinal for second-liners (including spellswords).  At 120' speed, all of these classes are going to have real trouble without magic armor.  Fighters do get more proficiencies than most classes, and for one specializing in this sort of thing Running is actually a pretty strong option.  Chainmail armor, shield with fighting style, and a spear weighs 6 stone, which would normally put you at 90', but Running boosts that back up to 120' with AC6.

Thrassians and ratmen, unfortunately, are in a whole 'nother level of trouble, since their base movement speed is only 60'.  Besides Running, their best option is probably to ride mules.  We've previously ruled that an adult human weighs about 15 stone.  Since mules can carry 20 stone at 120', a thrassian gladiator in chain (19st total) could ride one at 120', and then dismount to fight with tooth and claw at AC7.  This poses some difficulties, as mules can be killed and you need to remount if the party decides to retreat, but Riding as a proficiency scales well into the late game and solves the more pressing of those two problems (I am not so cruel a DM as to rule that Riding (Mules) should be separate from Riding (Horses)).  The other can be solved by bringing more mules, which you were going to want to do anyway for mundane adventuring gear and hauling treasure; if you're not going to need a piece of gear close-to-hand in combat, put it on a mule.

So with all that said, I think 90' speed is very doable.  Three of the five PCs transition very well to lightweight play (mage, bladedancer, and explorer).  The elven enchanter and bard henchmen do as well.  The fighter henchmen are mostly either expendable or replaceable with wardogs (of which the party already has two).  The five characters who run into difficulties are Scarth's two cleric henchmen, Clarence the dwarf, Chathis the lizardman, and Dogeater the ratman.  Clarence runs plate and two-handed warpick, but could hit 90' by switching to a one-handed pick used in both hands.  Slagathor the Cleric runs plate and polearm with Martial Training, and could drop down to banded and polearm.  I think Rheingold is plate+shield with Lay on Hands; dropping the shield is probably the best option for him.  Dogeater and Chathis really don't have many options besides being mule-dragoons.

Anyway, I'm excited about this proposed alternate style of play and hope it happens.  I've been a little bit bored with the dungeoneering game recently, and mixing it up would be good.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Domains at War: Tribal Goblins

The first thing to know about goblins is that they're terrible.  The only races as bad at fighting as goblins are humans and kobolds, and the humans make up for it with superior organization and technology.  Goblins are also very slow, have low carrying capacity, and take penalties to hit in daylight.  Goblins do have a couple of things going for them, though - they have 90' darkvision, they don't weigh as much as a man or dwarf, they can apparently semi-domesticate wild beasts, and they have some of the best shamans and witchdoctors of any beastman race (only hobgoblins are comparable).

Despite these strengths, pure goblins remain a pretty terrible choice for a field army.  Their tactical weaknesses are immense, and require significant strategic advantages.  With their darkvision and cave-dwelling, Viet Cong-style strategies seem to make a lot of sense to me: live in a heavily-trapped and laboriously-extended cave complex where regular human units dare not go, make night raids from one of its many entrances or exits, and then get back in the cave by dawn.  In this case beast-cavalry can be used to locate good raiding targets, extend your raiding range, or delay pursuing units chasing your raiders back to the lair.  This seems to me about the best an isolated low-tech goblin village or warband can hope for.  Most of these fights will be at platoon-scale.

Frankly a goblin domain shouldn't play all that differently - it may need to farm on the surface, but everything that can be underground probably should be.  On offense they raid, and on defense they play guerilla from their tunnel system.  They just don't have the strength and mobility (outside of massed beast-riders, which are rare and expensive) to engage in fair fights with humans.

This post is concerned with units from this tribal organization and tech level.  This is basically the default for ACKS goblins - they can't make metal armor, and their armament is limited to crude swords, spears and polearms, shortbows, and slings.  But they do get witchdoctors and beasts.  My take on them here is aiming thematically for the sort of thing you might see in fairy-tale goblins; they cackle, they infight, they steal children in the night, and they ride whimsical giant animals.  A post on "Mordor Goblins" operating at a higher tech level in support of orcs is forthcoming maybe eventually; I'm kinda burnt out.

So here are some tribal goblin units:

Redcaps: 1/2/3 Irregular Foot, AC 2, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML 0, 4 polearm 10+ melee

Redcaps are veteran goblin warriors who delight in terror and slaughter.  They wield mismatched, hooked polearms, favoring modified scythes, and wear stinking leather caps stained with blood.  Mechanically, they're 1st-level goblin assassins.  They often strike from ambush, and may deploy hidden in obscuring terrain at the beginning of a battle (if fighting at night, redcaps may hide in any terrain).  Note their location and facing - the first time they activate, they are revealed and placed on the map.  They are also revealed if an enemy unit attempts to enter their hex, or if the obscuring terrain is removed by magic or fire.  When attacking a unit in the flank or rear, or a unit which is disordered, they gain an extra +2 to hit (for +4 total if flanked or disordered, or +6 total if both) and deal an extra point of damage if any of their attacks hit (just as lances do on a charge).

Best-case scenario for redcaps is deployed in the flanks during an ambush or envelopment scenario, where they can rear-charge units who have run up against the main goblin line (potentially at +8 to hit (+2 charge +2 flank +2 disordered +2 backstab) and +2 damage from polearm-charge+backstab, which has the potential to wipe most human units).  Consequently, if you're playing humans, it behooves you to use light units to check obscuring terrain for redcaps, or at least to block their charges.

Redcaps demand 15gp/mo in wages, for a company TCO of 2.25kgp/mo.  I estimate their BR at around 0.75, but this does not account for their ability to deploy hidden.

Redcap Riders deployed on wolves would be hilariously strong on the rear-charge, even if they couldn't hide.  Maybe I should do stats for them.  At first warg (dohoho), you could turn most goblin units into redcaps in much the same way you'd make humans veteran: one extra attack from assassin damage bonus, +1 morale, ability to deploy hidden if infantry, ability to backstab in melee, and +12gp/mo wages.  Following the veteran guidelines, around 1 in 4 goblin mercenaries is a redcap.

Deathcap Bowmen: 1/2/3 Irregular Foot, AC 2, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML -1 unpredictable, 2 shortsword 10+, 2 poison shortbow 10+

Deathcap bowmen are goblin archers who soak their arrows in a variety of poisons and toxic molds painstakingly grown in underground fungal gardens.  They get a lot of exposure to other, less-deadly fungal compounds too, and their grip on reality is somewhat tenuous.  They wear wide, brightly-colored hats with down-turned brims vaguely resembling the cap of a mushroom.  When a deathcap unit rolls a natural 1 on a shortbow attack throw, in addition to gaining a depletion marker, they take 1 UHP of damage and must roll shock.  Two other variants to consider are madcaps (poison causing confusion) and nightcaps (poison causing sleep).

By the rules in the book, deathcaps have a BR of around 8.  0.5 of that is the unit itself, and the remaining 7.5 of that is just the poison (based off of a Potion of Poison, which can be used to envenom projectiles).  I'm a little skeptical that that's reasonable.   Sure, poison attacks are pretty good, but the delivery system is terrible.  This isn't a wyvern or a purple worm where you get stuck in and then start making poison attacks every round with good THAC0.  These are goblin archers with a maximum range of 5 hexes (when firing at cavalry or ogres), which many units can close in a single charge without giving them a chance to fire (and they can't ready to fire on a closing unit, because they're irregular).  They also can't withdraw or disengage.  If you put them out front in the opening ranged fight, human ranged units can withdraw to avoid the poison attacks, and the deathcaps are susceptible to being tied down in inescapable melee, in which case they 1) lose the ability to fire, and 2) probably get crushed because their AC and morale are both bad.  But, if you keep them behind the main line and wait for the enemy to close, they still can't fire into the melee and take a -4 volley overhead penalty to hit anything behind it.  Basically, because they're irregular and it's a ranged attack, they're going to have a hard time using it well. 

I suspect that good use of deathcaps relies heavily on terrain.  Placing them in the edge of obscuring, elevated terrain with an open field of rough terrain in front of them (mud, a river ford, whatever) is their absolute best-case scenario, because the rough terrain slows down melee units trying to close with them, the obscuring terrain provides a bonus against ranged fire, and the elevated terrain gives them a bonus to hit and inflicts a further penalty on ranged fire against them.  But that's a mighty specific set of circumstances.

Comparing them with other units in the BR 7.5-8.5 range is also instructive.  Consider: orc boar-riders, elven horse-archers, human cataphracts, ogre heavy infantry.  It's a tough field.  Would you rather have a company of deathcaps than of any of these units in a typical battle?  Probably not.  Deathcaps don't have anywhere near the survivability of any of those units (lacking AC, HP, and withdraw capabilities), and even if they manage to hit the sort of high-HD foes they need to be hitting for their damage output to compare to ogres or boar-charges, that extra damage is still gated on a poison save, which high-HD monsters have a reasonable chance of making.  I just don't see it.

I really think a more-correct BR is somewhere in the 3-4 range.  I would probably pick deathcaps over orcish crossbowmen at BR 2 because at that point I could get a bunch of them, but I probably wouldn't choose them over hobgoblin longbowmen at BR 4 (who are actually Loose Foot with OK speed, longer range, and good HP).  Ultimately the problem is that they're both fragile and unreliable, which is a hard sell.

Now, if you put them on flying mounts, which fixes a lot of their fragility problems, we might be talking...

Goblin Bat-Archers: 3/6/9 Flyer, AC 2, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML +1, 2 shortbow 10+ ranged, 2 shortsword 10+ melee

I'm not sure exactly how much goblins weigh, but it isn't much.  Giant bats are a perfect mount for cave-dwelling, night-raiding goblins, and are faster than wolves.  This unit also benefits from the fact that all flying units are FLY movement type, even when they would normally be irregular - this means that they can withdraw away from missile fire.  Equipped with leather armor, shortbows, and shortswords, bat-archers are a good choice for harassing human forces pursuing goblin raiders on foot.  Tactically, they're good for engaging enemy archers in the opening phase, keeping light cavalry occupied, and pursuing retreating units.  Flying+ranged is also strong in hilly terrain, because you have great lines of sight.  They don't hit all that hard, though...

Wages are 12gp/mo per bat+goblin pair.  Monthly supply cost is 64gp for the bat and 2gp for the goblin, and specialist cost is 90gp/mo for a company, so TCO is right around 4.75kgp/mo for a company.  Compared to wolf-riders at a similar price point, bat-archers are more fragile and don't have the brutally-effective charge attack, but they're faster and will almost never come under melee attack.  Frankly they're also pretty annoying to kill with ranged attacks, because in addition to being able to Withdraw, enemy archers also have to Volley Overhead to hit them.  Their battle-rating is around 3.75, well below that of wolf-riders.  I'm not really sure how to handle availability on any of these goblin cavalry variants, and the fact that these are basically flying horse-archers certainly doesn't help.

The natural extension of this is deathcap bat-archers, but since I'm not sure how to properly price poison, there's not much more to say about them.

Goblin Bat-Lancers: 3/6/9 Flyer, AC 2, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML +1, 2 lance 10+ melee, 2 javelin 10+ ranged

Another light-cavalry variant.  Bat-lancers are useful in the opening phase of the battle for disrupting shield-walls with javelins, and then after the melee is engaged they can easily get behind the lines and charge the enemy rear.  Again, this unit benefits significantly from being a Flyer instead of Irregular Mounted, because it can Disengage to pull out of hairy melee fights and Withdraw to avoid missile damage.  Wages and TCO should be pretty close to the same as bat-archers, availability should be pretty comparable to that of wolf-riders.  Same skills required, and the occupational hazards remain significant: your mount won't kill you, but gravity might.  Their battle-rating is around 2.75.

Goblin Shrew-pack: 1/2/3 Irregular Foot, AC 6, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +2 unpredictable, 4 bite 9+

While giant shrews may be too small to ride, they make excellent warbeasts due to their high AC, multiple attacks, and aggression.  They also breed readily in goblin tunnels, and share the goblins' taste for delicious bugs.  This is a pack of 100 giant shrews, armored in leather and driven by 20 goblin handlers in leather with spears, shields, and high-pitched whistles.  Shrew wages are 6gp/mo, and their supply cost is 2gp/mo.  The shrew-herders demand 75gp/mo in wages each, plus 3gp/mo for serving as infantry and 2gp/mo in supplies, and 130gp/mo for an armorer to maintain all that leather.  TCO comes out to a mere 1.75kgp/mo, with a battle rating around 2 or 2.25.  For bonus points and much-needed speed, decrease the number of shrews and mount the handlers on dire wolves.

The shrew-pack is vulnerable to magical silence.  On company scale, each time silence is cast on the shrew pack, it becomes disordered and must roll shock.  Each silence in effect on a shrew pack increases their THAC0 by 1 and decreases their AC by 1, to a maximum of four points (so a shrew-pack that had somehow not broken while under the effect of four silence spells would have AC 2 and make 4 bites at 13+).  On platoon scale, a single silence spell causes the full 4-point penalty, while on larger scales it would take more casting.

The shrew-pack is exactly the sort of center-line unit goblins need for melee fighting, and at a very reasonable price.  Just be sure to not have anything behind it when it breaks morale.


And now for some "heroes".  Naming courtesy of Dwarf Fortress.  These heroes are really only viable for platoon-scale combat but that's OK, because that's typically the scale tribal goblins will be operating at.

Atu Helltwisted, Witchdoctor
Goblin Witchdoctor 6, Str 7, Int 17, Wis 14, Dex 13, Con 6, Cha 17
Class proficiencies: man I have no idea how class profs work for a hypothetical goblin class that doesn't exist yet...  Intimidation seems reasonable though
General proficiencies: Healing 2, Alchemy
Equipment: leather armor +1, Potion of Fire Resistance, spear
Derived stats:
HP 6, AC 4, init +1, THAC0 10+ melee for 1d6-1 (sad tombone.wav)
Leadership 6, ZOC 3, Strategic Ability +2, Morale Modifier +2
1/2/3 Foot Hero, no unit-scale attacks
Relevant spells:
2/day: Fireball, Dispel Magic (also Telepathy, Clairvoyance)
2/day: Stinking Cloud, Invisibility (also Deathless Minion, Locate Object)
2/day: Sleep, Shield (also Spider Climb, Choking Grip)

Atu Helltwisted is a competent leader and a dangerous spellcaster but very fragile physically.  He probably leads from the rear except when casting.  He can be used as an independent hero on company-scale because he has 3rd-level arcane spells.

Snamoz Murkyghost, Shaman
Goblin Shaman 8,  Str 13, Int 11, Wis 15, Dex 15, Con 9, Cha 11
Class proficiencies: Beast Friendship
General proficiencies: Naturalism, Military Strategy
Equipment: leather armor, spear +1, Potion of Growth, dire wolf mount (Bramblewane, 25 HP)
Derived stats:
HP 9, AC 3, init +1, THAC0 7+ for 1d8+3
Leadership 4, ZOC 2, Strategic Ability +2, Morale Modifier +0
2/5/7 Mounted Hero, no unit-scale attacks
Relevant spells (from the Shaman list):
1/day: Call Dragon, Insect Plague, Summon Weather
2/day: Dispel Magic, Skinchange
2/day: Call Lightning, Winged Flight
3/day: Bless, Obscuring Cloud

Snamoz Murkyghost is a mediocre leader and quite fragile, but Call Dragon is a good spell even on company-scale.  If he's already used Call Dragon this week, Insect Plague is no slouch either.  Skinchange, Winged Flight, and his wolf all give him substantial mobility.

Ago Thiefsliced, Redcap Captain
Goblin Subchieftain,  Str 16, Int 9, Wis 9, Dex 18, Con 15, Cha 10
Class proficiencies: Skulking
General proficiencies: Leadership
Equipment: war scythe, leather armor +1, Potion of Invisibility, Elven Cloak
Derived stats:
HP 10, AC 6, THAC0 7+ for 1d10+3, init +2, hide in shadows 9+, backstab x2
Leadership 5, ZOC 2, Strategic Ability +0, Morale Modifier +0
1/2/3 Foot Hero, no unit-scale attacks

Ago Thiefsliced is a pretty poor leader, but he can be dangerous to heroes when charging from ambush.  He is probably best used as a lieutenant to reduce the activation cost of a platoon of redcaps hidden distant from the division's leader, though if you had three platoons of redcaps hidden together along a treeline, you could do worse for a captain.  If you want a leader for redcap riders, swap Skulking for Riding.

Ngom Cradlethief, Goblin Chieftain
Goblin Chieftain, Str 14, Int 16, Wis 13, Dex 16, Con 11, Cha 13 (hell of a statblock)
Class proficiencies: Fighting Style (Missile), Command
General proficiencies: Riding, Leadership, Military Strategy
Equipment: lance, shortbow +1, leather armor, vampire warbat (Moonvexing, HP 12), potion of healing
Derived stats:
HP 17, AC 5, THAC0 7+ melee for 1d10+3 lance or 4+ ranged for 1d6+2 shortbow (I'm assuming that as a 3HD underspecified monster-class, he gets 2 points of fighter damage bonus plus his 1 point of Str), init +2
Leadership 6, ZOC 3, Strategic Ability +3, Morale Modifier +3
3/6/9 Flying Hero, no unit-scale attacks

Ngom Cradlethief is old, cunning, and vicious.  He is a very competent commander at platoon scale, and his giant vampire bat mount has mortally surprised more than one human lieutenant.  In a platoon-scale fight against a 4th-5th level PC party with mercs, he should probably try to avoid directly attacking heroes (fireball and an archer or two would make that a short engagement) and seek to win the battle by leadership and hopefully numbers, where he is strong.