Sunday, February 26, 2012

Release Updates (also Iron Heroes)

From the list of releases I'm watching for:

Starmada Nova: Cricket publicly released a finalish-looking draft of the first 11 pages of rules of the new edition.  It's very similar to the early draft that I mentioned previously, but there are some interesting differences.  In particular, on page 5 under Sequence of Play, there's a note that if one player outnumbers the other by 2 to 1 or more, they move or fire with two ships for each one that the outnumbered side fires with.  OK, nothing new there.  What is new, however, is that if you get to activate two or more ships per activation, your opponent chooses one of the ships for you to activate.  That's a hell of a tactical wrinkle under alternating movement and with damage being resolved during firing rather than at end of turn.

There's also an interesting note about Partial VP on page 11; it's like the crippling rules we used during our campaign, but better - you need to take a ship down to 2/3 hull to get half its value, rather than 1/2 hull.  Also nice that it's just a standardized rule now, rather than something we hacked on.

Finally, we got a confirm from Cricket down-thread that fighters will have their own reactive movement phase.  Oh well; probably for the better.   The new enemy-forced activation rules would really mess with fighters by allowing them to force you to activate your fighters early during ship movement, which would be quite a waste.

Mongoose Traveller Campaign Guide: Released to pdf this last week, the Campaign Guide looks pretty interesting, actually.  It's about as long as the Core, but full of random tables and whatnot for GMs.  I'm tempted to pick up a copy and do a review.

5e: No official news via EnWorld in the last two weeks.  However, this last week Monte &co spent most of their blog space talking about "high-level play", and how it always breaks down in previous editions.  Arguably in 1e/2e it was least bad, but casters were king (but, they had earned it by positively sucking for the first, oh...  long time).  In 3e, it was way too complicated and combats took six hours, despite the fact that they were only two rounds of game time.  My understanding is that 4e core high-level / epic combats also take a long damn time because monsters have ridiculously high HP and AC (er, defenses).  So, I say to Monte and Company: Get thee to a playtest!  That's been the issue with both iterations of Wizards D&D (as opposed to TSR D&D before 3e) - high-level play was horribly under-playtested.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be what they're focusing on; rather, they're looking at whether the play experience should change at high levels.  Me, I'd love to see kingdom building and ascension to deityhood as things on the high-level agenda.  "Epic dungeon crawls" make very little sense to me, and frankly seem somewhat dull.  Unfortunately, that seems to be what they're looking at; it's all about the artifacts and the plane-hopping.  While planar travel might not initially sound like code for dungeon-crawling, it pretty much is.  What is the Abyss but an infinite dungeon, full of an infinite number of high-level monsters with corresponding treasure, in addition to serious environmental trap-like threats?  It's the biggest dungeon ever.

And artifacts.  Argh.  So many artifacts these days are just big shiny swords with more bonuses than you could normally get.  3.x exemplars of this problem are the Hammer of Thunderbolts and the Saint's Mace.  While these are very nice weapons, they don't feel like Artifacts with a capital A.  Artifacts, to me, must bear an element of risk or sacrifice.  The Hand and the Eye of Vecna, the Sphere of Annihilation, and the Deck of Many Things all feel like artifacts.  Powerful evil intelligent weapons (Blackrazor / Stormbringer, for example, or our own instantiation of the trope, Mavrilith) definitely qualify, too.  The Orbs of Dragonkind also have the nice drawback that all dragons now hate you.  That's pretty acceptable, as far as drawbacks go.  But those shiny +6 keen goblinoid-bane throwing dwarven waraxes?  Not so much.

Trailblazer Monster Book:  Not a whole lot of progress on this front.  Still working on lycanthropes and layouts, I guess.  I found their gnoll art, though; it's pretty sweet.  The werehyena's good, too.

VBAM 2e: Still in editing.  They did post an update a while back with some draft supply, facilities, and loyalty rules, but I have not yet perused them.  Going to wait until they put out a combined playtest draft, I think.

ACKS:  Not actually something I'm waiting for a release on, but something I'm seriously tempted to pick up, especially given reasonable pdf prices.  Their mapping system has been getting some attention in the blogosphere of late (at Grognardling, with a series in responses at Untimately), and from Untimately's review (part 1 and part 2), it sounds a lot like "Traveller Meets 1e", with the 1e side favored in the mechanics.  I also got quite the Iron Heroes setting vibe off of the publisher's website:
Enter a world where empires totter on the brink of war, and terrible monsters tear at the fragile borderlands of men; where decaying cities teem with chaos and corruption, nubile maidens are sacrificed to chthonic cults and nobles live in decadent pleasure on the toil of slaves; where heroes, wizards, and rogues risk everything in pursuit of glory, fortune, and power. This is a world where adventurers can become conquerors – and conquerors can become kings.
 See, 5e devs, that's what high-level play should sound like.

If nothing else, I should probably pick up copy of ACKS to compare against Fields of Blood, which is what I'd probably use for high-level 'realmy' play presently.  Though now that I think about it, Iron Heroes + Fields of Blood would fix / ignore a lot of FoB's high-level caster problems...  hmm...

Some of the token mechanics would get weird in mass combat, but it would probably be OK.  If the Armiger, the Berserker, or the Weapon Master engage in mass combat, they come out with piles of tokens.  Heck, this would be the best time to play a Weapon Master; usually combats are too short for them to build up to their finale / combo moves.  The Archer would convert well, since it's just based on aiming time, and mass combat turns are long.  Executioners and Hunters would do the worst of the token classes, I think.  Hunters could do OK via Tactics / Lore feats to provide wide-areas bonuses to their units, but their class abilities are too small-scale.  Executioners could do the same unit support stuff via Lore, but they're really most useful for engaging single high-value targets like enemy generals and heroes.  Harriers just get the running-around bonuses all the damn time, and Men-At-Arms are as versatile as ever.  Thieves...  not so much for the battlefield, but the Social feats would make them master spies.  And Arcanist power is sufficiently limited and sufficiently dangerous to use that applying it is actually a question, rather than "Yeah, I'm a 9th-level wizard, I'll go stop the invading army single-handedly, be right back *teleport*."

Upon further reflection, though, IH characters have huge numbers of abilities geared towards small, discrete bonuses in skirmish combat which cease to be applicable or are otherwise too granular for mass combat.  Granting an extra flanking bonus to an ally via War Leader, for example.  The scale on that is just far too small to be useful in mass combat.  One tempting option, however, would be to provide a second scale of tokens.  Mass Combat $TYPE Tokens are earned as normal tokens of their type via more-or-less equivalent actions in mass combat.  They can then be spent to provide bonuses on that scale to units which the PCs are secunded to.  The berserker works his men into a frenzy, the archer directs the volleys of his bowmen with great precision, the armiger organizes a shield wall, and the hunter exhorts his troops to capitalize on fortuitous terrain.

Weapon Master and Executioner get kind of stuck here, though - sheer weapon skill is hard to provide to people, and martial units tend not to be particularly sneaky, nor deft at backstabbery.  It might be reasonable for certain types of units, or for units which are officially under the command of the WM / Exec; if you're a light scout unit and your commander is the Lord Assassin, you might pick up a few tricks.  Likewise, the 4th Northbridge Pikemen, having been drilled extensively under the harsh tutelage of the Pikemaster, might be able to pull off some impressive feats of pikesmanship (quiet, spellchecker).

Frankly, though, I'm not really sure I have a problem with Executioner, Berserker, and Weapon Master not being ideal line-unit commanders.  They seem more likely to be best for either cutting swathes through enemy units on their own (Berserker and WM), or seeking out and disabling or dueling enemy leaders (Exec and WM).  Armiger, Hunter, and Man-at-Arms all gain Tactics Mastery, and are frankly not as suited for one-on-one confrontation with strong enemy leaders as the more offensively-powerful classes, nor to cutting though massed troops unsupported like the Berserker.  Archer and Harrier are tricky; they make most sense as commanders of specialist units (archers and cavalry, respectively).  And Thieves...  saboteurs, infiltrators, and general-purpose commanders, I suppose.  They certainly have the skill points to put into Command, even if it isn't a group skill.  Honestly, the Thief shines in diplomacy, not on the battlefield.

One additional promising avenue of research here would be to convert the Fields of Blood prestige classes (where applicable) into mastery feat trees or class abilities.  Warlord's abilities fall under Tactics mastery (possibly merging Warlord and Warcrier into one mastery feat), Master Mason's under Siege Lore, Living Legion's under Power or Armor, and Hordemaster's look a lot like Berserker rage abilities.

Finally, if I were to attempt such a game, I think I would likely use Hong's Hack, which fixes a great many things in Iron Heroes (though not the armor problem, which is frankly less of a problem in mass combat.  Neat).

And so we see that I don't actually need any more books, as long as I can be still be inspired by the advertising copy.  Why am I writing a post about new and upcoming releases again?


Brendan said...

I'm really interested in checking out Iron Heroes one of these days. Everything I have read makes it sound like a really interesting game.

I first learned about it here:

John said...

It was a fun system, but very fiddly, and some of the classes weren't quite balanced. One of those games where every now and then something strikes me and I go "Man, that reminds me of IH," and it gets me jonesing for it. Playing an IH Berserker in a normal 3.5 game was amazingly fun and surprisingly balanced (I had to take a magic item allergy, though). Would play again. I don't think I've ever actually run the system, despite having read all the books.