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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Lawful Beastmen

I was thinking about it in the shower, and realized that I could totally reskin bugbears as panther warriors, because they're sneaky like cats and hit pretty hard from ambush, and they're about three times tougher than a 1st-level human.

One thought led to another, and I got to wondering: if I were a high-level, lawful wizard in ACKS, and there were a horde of beastmen threatening my isolated domain, maybe I'd consider breeding me some non-chaotic beastmen.  Get some paladin volunteers, tell 'em I'll give them the hearts of lions, and do some mad science.  Sure, they'd technically come out Neutral under the crossbreeding rules, but there is a time and place for breaking some rules.

And you know, Thrassian Gladiator would be an easy, easy conversion to Lion Knight.  Swap out swimming, darkvision, ranged weapons, and maybe a little natural armor for abilities like protection from evil, immunity to fear, alertness, and roar (cause fear).  The real question is what to do about Inhumanity.  Sure, you're a 7' tall, 300lb pile of teeth and claws, but you're also plastered in holy symbols and you radiate an aura of courage.

I almost like leaving Inhumanity, though.  It's part of the sacrifice.  Sometimes you must abandon that which you wish to protect.  And if Cha is a prime req, maybe the penalty is recoverable.

Drawing from European heraldry for "good beasts", there's also room for eagle-men, and soldier-bears are already well-established in the OSR.  Dog-headed men seem more chaotic in mythology, with the notable exception of Saint Christopher (who was mistranslated; however, the section on dog-headed men in the Medieval East does have two wonderful suggestions for character names: "Reprobate" and "Abominable").

I also like this addition of lawful beastmen because I can put them on random encounter tables and stock wilderness with monastery-fortresses of lion-men.  Leaving Inhumanity means they probably leave humans alone for the most part, but they serve as a source of recruitable (strong) troops during the wilderness levels.  One issue we've had previously is that all wilderness-recruitable troops were at best very Neutral, and the only ones really available in quantity were chaotic beastmen.  Adding lawful beastmen, particularly to Borderlands regions, might make gathering a lawful army a bit more viable at the mid-levels (though they should probably be few in number, because high HD and ability to use formations is a very powerful combination).

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Reflections on a Session: 6 November 2016

  • Time spent: ~4 hours
    • Prepping NPC stats: 0.5 hours
    • Presession henchmen and markets and whatnot: ~0.5 hours
    • Running game: ~3 hours
  • No new areas mapped
  • No rooms restocked
  • Dungeon areas explored in 3 hours of play:
    • 1 lair (giant rats), cleared
    • 2 monsters (cultists and manspiders)
    • 2 empty
  • Game-time elapsed in dungeon: 5 hours
    • Random encounters: 2
    • Expected random encounters: ~2.5 (not including checks from loud actions like Magical Music)
  • Party composition:
    • Clarence of the Stone, Craftpriest 2
      • Wilgeva, L0 woman
      • The Wardog With No Name
      • Mule with repeating light ballista
    • Scarth, MU 3
      • Slagathor, Chaotic Cleric 2
      • Thancharat, Elven Enchanter 1
      • Rheingold, Cleric 1
    • Chathis the Lizardman, Thrassian Gladiator 2
      • Ascila the Assonant, Bard 1
      • Dogeater, Ratman 1
  •  Mortal wounds taken: 1
    • Chathis took an injury to his hips and spine while cleaving through a block of cultists with polearms who used the preemptive-hit ability to attack him even though he'd won initiative.  His charge did prevent them from charging the party, though.  Chathis can no longer forced-march, but hasn't gotten the injury fixed yet because that's more of a wilderness-level concern.
  • Loot recovered:
    • 733 gp in silver, trinkets, and small gems from the giant rats' nest
    • Three cultists captured and sold into slavery to the manspiders in exchange for a promise of silk next expedition
    • Traded twenty ballista bolts this session, and a promise of ten more next session, to Scabies' ratmen for information about a trap
  •  Traps triggered: 2?
    • Bear-traps at the foot of a bridge were triggered and then relocated to cover a fork that the party didn't want to explore yet, where they caught a skeleton random encounter.  Considering adding bear-traps to my equipment tables.
  • XP from monsters: 416
    • Frankly this was somewhat generous
    • Well under the 4:1 ratio, but maybe the silks next time will help balance that out.
    • Exploration session avoiding humanoid lairs -> low yield
Other notes:

I forgot my map today, which delayed our start by ~20 minutes.  Derp.

The party's three clerics were very excited to see 10 skeletons come around the corner as they were trying to rest.  Maybe I should use undead more often.

Party definitely felt time pressure today exploring a moderately-distant area.  Proposed solutions included bribing the guards to keep the portal open longer, setting up a secure base-camp, and working out lodgings in Scabies' camp.

I didn't really expect them to go for the "sell your enemies to us as slaves and we'll supply you with silk" deal.  That was silly of me.  Chathis' player seems open to alliance with manspiders after discovering that they're also not from this sewer-realm, but come from Spiderworld via a dungeon portal.  Chathis got slandered again while trying to recruit henchmen, so he can no longer recruit humans and must rely purely to beasthenchmen.  Rest of party somewhat less sure about dealing with manspiders.

Plan for next session: receive silks, capture more cultists.  Plans after that include securing a staging area and going after the section of their map that the ratmen told them is inhabited by "fire demons".  Party is optimistic about their prospects there because they have an ice sword and a ring of fire resistance.  Plans to go after Bone-gnawer seem to be on hold, as Scabies' tribe are holding their ground against the ratmen to the north.

I definitely need to prep for next session.  They were right up against the stocked-unstocked boundary today.

Monday, November 7, 2016

On Battle Rating

I was working out wages on a unit of goblin spider-riders when my willingness to deal with wages as a wargamey balancing factor finally broke down.  I eventually came to the conclusion that Battle Rating is the next best thing, and decided to work out BRs for the units I developed previously.  Since I am interested in BR for this purpose of balancing armies for Battles, I eliminated references to the unrounded number of attacks, and replaced them with the rounded number of attacks (because that is the stat that will matter in play).  I also rounded to increments of 0.25 instead of 0.5 for finer granularity.

From Mercenaries of the Vale of Traitors:
  • Norse Reavers: 1.25
    • This seems about right; they're light infantry, but they're decent light infantry
    • Veterans: 1.75
  • Norse Huskarls: 1.75
    • Again, pretty reasonable - they're mediocre heavy infantry
    • Veterans: 2.5
  • Norse Skoglanders: 1.75
    • The main reason these are cheaper than longbowmen is that their AC is lower, and the BR formula weights that pretty heavily.
    • Veterans: 2.75-3, depending on pricing of special cover ability
  • Skami Skirmishers: 1.25
    • Veterans: 2.5
  • Skami Hunters: 0.75
    • AC 1 is super cheap.  At AC0, units get BR 0...  who needs armor, really?
    • Veterans: 1.5
  • War Mastadons: 9.25
    • Compared to cataphracts at BR7.5, mastadons are slower, have higher AC, and do a ton more damage on the charge.  Seems fairly reasonable.
  • Orcs: per DaW:C, p68
  • Iron Face Glaives: 4
    • Hobgoblin heavy infantry with AC5 instead of 3 and corresponding speed decrease, reasonable rating increase
  • Iron Face Archers: 6
    • Hobgoblin longbowmen with AC5 instead of 3, again we see the weight put on AC
  • Dwarven Spearmen: 4
    • Seeing some inconsistency here; when I run the stock Dwarven Heavy Infantry A through my spreadsheet, I get 3.5 instead of 3 (per Campaigns).  Heavy Infantry B is also at 3.5, but C is at 2.5 (lower damage), and D is at 2 (lower damage and lower AC).  So Campaigns' BRs took sort of the middle of that range, and then mine are basically the best stock Dwarf Heavy Infantry but with higher AC, ergo more expensive.  OK.
  • Dwarven Crossbowmen: 9
    • Campaigns has Dwarven Crossbowmen at BR 3.5, but with AC4 instead of 6, and 2 melee attacks instead of 3.  Even taking unrounded values into account, I still get BR 6 for Campaigns' dwarven crossbowmen.  Comparing them to human crossbowmen at BR3, they have 1.33x as many HP and 1.5x as much ranged attack power, so twice as expensive is not deeply unreasonable.  Comparing them to Elven Longbowmen at BR7, they're slightly weaker in several ways (slower, lower HP, fewer melee attacks, higher THAC0).  So I feel like BR 3.5 is probably substantially undervaluing stock dwarf crossbowmen, and then I went and put them in plate, which explains how I got from 6 to 9.  Whether they're actually worth 9 is another question; if you have 17 BR to spend, is four units of dwarven spearmen vs two units of spearmen and one of crossbowmen a reasonable fight?  This might be a particularly unfavorable scenario for the crossbowmen, though...

From Dwarf Units:
  • Furies (calculated with UHP 10 and ML6 representing their special abilities):
    •  Greataxe:1.75
      • with throwing axes: 2
    • Axe+shield:2.25
      • with throwing axes: 3
    • Two axes:1.5
      • with throwing axes: 2
    • Getting the low-AC discount again.
  • Musketeers: maybe I'll dig out Guns of War later and see what it says about firearm unit BR, if anything
  • War Machine, assuming Morale +2: 
    • No entry for War Machine movement type in the BR rules
    • If treating as Loose Mounted (can withdraw from attacks), 16
    • If Formed Mounted (can't withdraw), 10
    • I know for sure I'd rather have a Formed Mounted War Machine than a company of dwarven crossbowmen, because the war machine has a very good chance of destroying the crossbowmen in three rounds of fire or less, without having its paint scratched.

So I think one takeaway from this is that the BR system has a couple of holes in it.  One of these is low-AC units.  Command and Control aside, I'd much rather have two AC1 units than an equivalent AC2 unit, but the BR system estimates their worth to be equal (nevermind AC0 units; that's some Eurisko there).  The only time AC2 is twice as durable as AC1 is if your opponent is at 18+ THAC0.  On the flip side, at 12+ THAC0, which is pretty close to DaW humans, AC8 is actually eight times as durable as AC1.  This falls rapidly as THAC0 improves, and as disorder, flanking, and charge bonuses pile on in the decisive melee.  On the flip side, it seems that the early/ranged phase of the game has more AC-increasers / attack penalties available: volleying overhead, the Defend action, and cover.  It'd be interesting to run a couple of games and keep track of all of the to-hit numbers that come up, to get a reasonable statistical sample and figure out how much better different armor classes actually are in practice.

Likewise, the current formulae do not take into account THAC0 at all.  Four attacks are four attacks, whether they're from a human pike phalanx at THAC0 11+ or a 20HD war machine at THAC0 -3+.

The weight put on charge-maximum melee damage is also interesting.  A unit which can make four melee attacks a turn is rated the same as one which can make two per turn, but gets a bonus hoof attack and a point of bonus lance damage on a charge.  So that's kinda weird and potentially exploitable.  It makes some sense though, because charges to flanks and rear of already-damaged units are when decisive (shock-retreat-inducing) melee damage usually happens in the not-giants-and-dragons typical case.  Still, I could definitely see averaging in typical-case melee attack sequence.

Another thought is that BR is currently very coarse-grained, and going even beyond 0.25 increments to, say, multiplying BR by 10 and rounding to nearest (eg Greataxe Furies -> 18 points, dwarven plate crossbowmen -> 91 points)  would bring it closer to a nice clean wargamey point-buy system.  Smoothing granularity, however, is likely to reveal more edge cases and breakpoints (which isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as you know to look for them).

In any case, I have no illusions about building a perfect point-buy system.  We saw Starmada attempt this, and it turned out to be a mess.  I'm just looking for "generates fun games, works well in play."  BR as it exists is probably a reasonable starting point for this.

Friday, November 4, 2016

ACKS Class: Shield-bearer

"I am sworn to carry your burdens..."

As I noted previously, we've made some dubious decisions about leveling L0 henchmen.  Sometimes fighter just doesn't make sense.  Ergo,

Shield-Bearer
Prime requisite: Con
Requirements: None
Hit dice: d8
Maximum level: 14

Behind every hero there is typically someone who does the dirty, boring, and unheroic jobs.  Nodwick (incidentally, the old Nodwicks are a lot funnier having DM'd ACKS).  Lydia.  Kif Kroker.  Sancho Panza.  These are the shield-bearers.

Shield-bearers are adequate fighters.  They are trained in the use of a variety of common weapons, including axes, flails, hammers, spears, polearms, crossbows, and shortbows, but to use swords would be above their station.  They may wear chainmail or lighter armor.  They may fight with a weapon in both hands or with a shield, but not with two weapons.  They advance in attack throws and saves as thieves, by two points every four levels.

Shield-bearers are, however, skilled at load distribution.  At first level (porter), they raise their carrying capacity thresholds by two stone.  Their carrying capacity thresholds rise by another two stone at 5th and 9th level.

For whatever reason, permanent injuries never seem to stick to shield-bearers.  Some say that their suffering amuses the gods.  When rolling on the Restore Life and Limb / Tampering with Mortality table, shield-bearers may roll twice and choose whichever result they prefer.  They also reduce the number of days of bed rest that they require by 1 per level of experience.

Shield-bearers are, as a rule, resigned to their fate.  When making loyalty rolls, they may ignore one calamity per level of experience.  However, they may never become fanatically loyal; they know their employers too well for this.

At fifth level (Muletender), the shield-bearer becomes recognized as a leader of mules.  If placed in charge of up to one pack animal per level of experience, he can increase their carrying capacity by 10%.  If the pack animals are pulling a wagon, cart, or similar, its carrying capacity is increased as well.  On a ship, the shield-bearer can find a way to cram an extra 10 stone of cargo aboard per level of experience (multiple shield-bearers do not stack; use the highest level among them).  Additionally, shield-bearers may serve as quartermasters for military units of a scale for which they would qualify as a lieutenant in Domains at War.

By ninth level (majordomo), the shield-bearer has mastered the fine art of telling people that they are idiots while making it sound like a compliment (as Diplomacy).  Many shield-bearers learn this skill much earlier in their careers, in which case they should take a different general proficiency instead.  A shield-bearer of this level also has a good sense of the loyalty and intentions of his master's vassals, mercenary captains, and so forth, and can sense impending betrayals on 11+ on a d20.  I guess they should probably also be able to establish a network of informants and bureaucrats, once I figure out a tolerable hijinks replacement.

Levels:
  1. Torchbearer, 0 XP
  2. Porter, 1500 XP
  3. Trapspringer, 3000 XP
  4. Potion-Tester, 6000 XP
  5. Muletender, 12000 XP
  6. Quartermaster, 24000 XP
  7. Adjutant, 50000 XP
  8. Steward, 100000 XP
  9. Majordomo, 200000 XP
  10. Seneschel, 300000 XP
  11. Councilor, 400000 XP
  12. Privy Councilor (hur hur), 500000 XP
  13. Viceroy, 600000 XP
  14. Grey Eminence, 700000 XP

Class proficiencies:
  1. Alchemy ("Yup, definitely poison.")
  2. Alertness ("I have a bad feeling about this.  Even worse than usual, mind.")
  3. Animal Husbandry ("It's easier to keep a mule alive than to carry its load.")
  4. Bargaining (shortly after Denial and before Resignation)
  5. Beast Friendship ("The mules and I, we're kindred spirits.  Ornery, heavily-laden, and often considered expendable.")
  6. Bribery ("Hello captain, I'm here to post bail...  again.") 
  7. Caving 
  8. Combat Reflexes
  9. Command
  10. Diplomacy ("An excellent idea, sir, but perhaps we should fall back instead.")
  11. Divine Blessing ("Buddha!  Zeus!  God!  One of you guys help me!  Satan, you owe me!")
  12. Dungeon Bashing ("Sometimes the treasure's easier to carry if you break it into little pieces first.")
  13. Eavesdropping ("It pays to be able to hear what the adventurers are whispering among themselves.")
  14. Endurance
  15. Fighting Style
  16. Illusion Resistance ("I've heard that one before, sir.") 
  17. Leadership 
  18. Loremastery ("Mm, sure looks like the Head of Vecna to me, sire.")
  19. Mapping ("Mapping's nice, safe work - the adventurers never want to do it, and they put you in the back of the phalanx away from the fighting, where you can escape if things go bad.  Great gig, not like spelunking, where they send you first into dark monster-filled holes.")
  20. Mountaineering 
  21. Navigation
  22. Precise Shooting
  23. Riding
  24. Running
  25. Skirmishing 
  26. Survival
  27. Theology ("You can never have too many holy symbols.")
  28. Wakefulness ("You'd have nightmares too, if you'd been inside the digestive tracts of as many monsters as I have.  You learn to live with 'em.")

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Reflections on a Session: 29 October

  • Time spent: ~6 hours
    • Presession+pizza: ~1.5 hours
      • Incl 15-30 minutes of restocking rooms and generating NPC stats
    • DMing: 4.5 hours
  • No new rooms mapped
  • 2 rooms restocked, one stocked room updated
  • Dungeon area explored in 4.5 hours of play:
    • Five new rooms:
      • 2 hidden treasure, 1 trapped
      • 2 monster (both negotiated with)
      • 1 trap
  •  Game-time elapsed: 4 hours, 40 minutes of 5 hours the dungeon-portal was open
    • Random encounters checked: unsure
    • Random encounter rolls forgotten: unsure
    • Random encounters rolled: 5
      • NPC party, fought
      • skipped while waiting for dwarfgeld under ratman fire cover
      • Sewer Things, evaded
      • Giant rats, subdued with Magical Music
      • Masked men with polearms, evaded 
    • They were pretty noisy today, and I was rolling high for encounters (if not anything else...)
  • Party composition:
    • Brynja, Bladedancer 3
      • Crapahildis, ??? 1
      • Spike, War dog
    • Chathis, Thrassian Gladiator 2
      • Dogeater, Ratman 1
      • Wardok, War dog (lost an eye)
      • Ascila, Bard 1
    • Scarth, MU 3
      • Rheingold, Cleric 1
      • Thancharat, Elven Enchanter 1
  • Mortal wounds taken: 1
    • Wardok was stabbed in the head with a spear by one of the Seven Dwarves' henchmen, and lost an eye.  He was successfully evacuated while the party was waiting for Mordin the Craftpriest to return with the ransom for his captured compatriots
  • Loot recovered:
    • 1000 gp in ransom for captured dwarves
    • Battleaxe +1, shield +1, and an unidentified dwarven divine scroll
       captured from the Seven Dwarves
    • ~4500 gp in gems captured from the Janitorial Supply Closet
    • Another stash of ~500gp and a magic dagger was located, but not recovered because it was guarded by assassins
  • Traps triggered: 2
  • XP from monsters: ~158
    • Way over the 4:1 ratio, but they're about out of easy treasure that doesn't require tangling with lairs to extract
Other notes:

I considered running a Halloween Horror special, but ultimately decided that low-level ACKS in a hellscape megadungeon was adequate.

Rather underprepped.  Need to finish up stats for the Five-Finger Discount this week; the party cut the Seven Dwarves down to four, and they're going to be out of commission for a bit, so somebody's going to have to fill the NPC Party slot on the random encounter table.  I also need to reload the stocking for the cultist zone into cache; it seems like they might head that way soon.

Brynja's player seemed somewhat underinvolved, but not unhappy.

I'm not totally happy with the way we handled cleaving during the Seven Dwarves fight - the thrassian punched all the way through into the dwarves' back-row without taking any free attacks for disengaging (though he did take some for engaging spear-wielders with lower initiative).  Also man, initiative really is a decisive advantage.

Scarth's player: "Well if I were designing a dungeon to live in, I certainly wouldn't put a pit trap in the only entrance to this room.  So there must be a secret door."
Chathis' player: "That would be sound reasoning if this dungeon weren't designing by a vengeful chaos god who revels in our suffering."
Me, returning from kitchen with pizza: "Hello!  You called?"

The party was actually reasonably diplomatic today, though in both cases (the sewer-things guarding the Supply Closet and the assassins) they weren't sure if they would win a fight if one started.  In retrospect I'm a little surprised they struck first against the Seven Dwarves instead of trying to talk, but they were cornered with an insecure rear area and they knew it.  I think that was a big part of the reason they chose to make a decisive engagement there.  The party also wanted to talk to the Masked Polearm Men, but they didn't respond to hails (instead following the party at the edge of their torchlight).

An awful lot of treasure today...  but they're about out of lightly-guarded loot.  I don't think anyone leveled, but Brynja should be over halfway to 4th if I'm recalling correctly.

Referring back to my estimates on 10 September, I think my estimates were reasonable.  I projected that I had about five sessions of prepped material at their exploration rate from 10 Sept.  Five sessions later, they've cleared out and made friendly about a quarter of the area I've prepped, and explored another quarter.  If I were in charge of their mission-planning, I could probably get another 3? sessions out of areas currently prepped, but they've gotten close enough to the edges of the stocked area that they could wander out if they were uncharacteristically motivated to strike deep, or if they made an area friendly diplomatically.  There's definitely been some slowdown in new-area exploration compared to their first-session rate, though; I expected this, but did not work it into my estimates because I wasn't sure how.

It was interesting that this session they made a point of going back and filling in a hole in their map otherwise surrounded by areas they'd explored (part of this was due to currect suspicion of a secret room).  So far the sort of general progression for dungeoneering in Pox's Quadrant that we've seen was:
  • Blind exploration until centers of opposition are located
  • Elimination of aggressive / proactive lairs
  • Exploitation: easy treasure extraction
  • Consolidation: establishing relatively safe zones, filling in holes in the map and making sure there aren't hidden threats or secret routes unknown in the area
  • Use as a springboard into new areas
Scarth's player commented positively on the time pressure from the dungeon portal window (the portal to the dungeon is in the duke's castle's basement, and the guards only open it for 4-6 hours at a time 1-2 days a week, which means that multiple adventuring parties are often in at a time, and if you stay too long they'll close it and you'll be stuck for a couple of days).  There may come a time when they want to go so deep that six hours will be tight, and at that point they'll either need a safe place in the dungeon to hole up for a couple of days or some very solid mission planning (possibly including reduction of gear for increased speed, and preliminary missions laying groundwork by clearing along the shortest path to their objective).

Friday, October 28, 2016

Domains at War: Dwarf Units

In which I procrastinate on prep for the game I'm actually running.

I really like the idea of Domains at War as a fleshed-out wargame, with army lists and suchlike.  Currently the dwarves have a bit of a unit shortage, with heavy infantry, crossbowmen, and crossbowmen mounted on mules :| .  Here are a few more.

Furies
Dwarven Furies A (two axes): 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 2, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +4, 4 axe at 9+
Dwarven Furies B (axe and shield): 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 3, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +4, 4 axe at 10+
Dwarven Furies C (great axe): 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 2, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +4, 5 great axe at 10+
Furies can also be armed with throwing axes, granting 4 attacks at 10+
Furies are immune to fear and cannot retreat once they have engaged.  As irregular units, they must advance into gaps that they create.  They have a 1 in 4 chance to ignore any wound inflicted on them by a unit with 5 or fewer HD (due to their flesh-rune DR), and after a battle, only a quarter of their casualties are found slain, while three-quarters are recovered lightly injured (due to savage resilience).

Furies are classed, so normally they'd be a small fraction of the already-small set of veterans, but because all dwarves count as veterans, instead they're not that uncommon.  At a wag, 1 in 4 dwarven melee units for hire is a unit of furies (the rest leveled into Vaultguard).  While they demand 15gp/mo each in wages (curiously, all dwarven units underpaid compared to similar human veterans), they're mostly motivated by their death-quest, grand crusade of atonement, or similar.

I think there are a couple of good places to use furies.  If deployed offensively at the beginning of the battle, they can run down enemy light infantry trying to harass with ranged fire, disrupt shield walls effectively, and then hold their own in the middle of the melee hairball (you also don't have to leave them a line of retreat through your units, which is nice).  If deployed offensively later in the game, they should have the striking power and mobility to turn flanks, sort of like slow cavalry.  Defensively, if they're deployed on the ends of the melee line their immunity to shock makes the flanks less likely to collapse and could delay the line being rolled up.

Dwarven Musketeers (flintlock musket, axe, plate): 1/2/3 Drilled Foot, AC 6, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +0, 3 axe 10+ or 1 musket 10+ (reload 1).  Wages 23gp/mo

If anyone should have guns, it is dwarves.  Turns out Guns of War had stats for dwarven musketeers already (and I don't feel too bad about posting them without explanation of the firearms rules, which you kind of need to use them).

The main advantages of guns are that they ignore armor, force shock rolls when they hit, and can't be withdrawn from to reduce damage.  Musketeers are probably most useful in the early-game before melee is joined, because causing a shock-retreat on an advancing full-strength heavy unit is pretty great.  Once the lines clash they probably won't have time to reload, but because they're dwarves in plate they do OK in melee.  You probably don't want to advance them ahead of the line to disrupt the enemy like you would with most light infantry - because they're slow, have low rate of fire, can't move before firing, and have mediocre range, I feel like they'd probably be outmaneuvered and outdisrupted by enemy light infantry if deployed in front rather than as part of the line.  Moving them out front also exposes them to cavalry, which as Drilled Foot they are weak against.  If you think of them as a ranged unit, they're pretty meh, but if you think of them as a melee unit, then they've traded away a little AC and the Defend action for the ability to shock a closing unit at range, the ability to retreat from missile fire, and a weakness to cavalry.  Pretty reasonable tradeoff.

Dwarven Cannons: It turns out that cannons aren't great against field units, but they're in Guns of War and dwarves should have them.

War Machines: I really wanted the classic Hammerer to work out for dwarves, but under the Machinist rules building massed automata is prohibitively expensive (and also they're just not very good).  I dunno.  A 2HD AC6 killbot can get a single attack for 1d6 damage, costs 14000 GP to build, and requires a handler to direct it.  If you're willing to drop that kind of money on constructs, magical constructs are a much better deal (gargoyles, at 13kgp each, are immune to nonmagical weapons and can fly).  On the upper end of the scale superheavy constructs are not as bad, though; a max-level Machinist can build 20HD automaton with AC6 and 10d6 damage per round for 50kgp.  A tyrannosaur war mount also costs about 50kgp and has 20HD and AC6, but only does 6d6 damage per round.  A rather maxed-out dwarven steampanzer, with 20HD, 1 attack per round for 10d6 damage (range 600') (1 special ability), 240' speed (2 special abilities), an armored crew compartment for its single operator (1 special ability), and AC 14 (6 special abilities) would cost 90kgp to construct (before special materials to actually make the construction roll).  It would also weigh 4000 stone, or about 20 tons (approximately twice as heavy as a tyrannosaur).  It would probably cost on the order of 2500gp/mo to employ and maintain (comparable to other ~100kgp priced monstrous units), and have the following DaW stats:

Dwarf OGRE: 4/8/12 War Machine, AC 14, HD 20, UHP 1, ML ???, 4 laser -3+ (range 10 hexes)

This machine fries most units at long range, and since I can't find anything in the rules about natural 20s auto-hitting in DaW, the only way to kill it with normalish units (say, orcs at THAC0 10+) is to stack up on charge, flank/rear attack, and disordered bonuses.  Even then you'll need some luck.  On the other hand, dragonfire and mages are pretty bad for it.

In conclusion: I now believe there is a use for Machinists.  Granted, actually making the rolls to design and build such a machine is highly unlikely, but I'm willing to consider the possibility that the dwarves have ancient superweapons of glorious days past hidden deep in their bunkers.  Good quest for a party of adventurers looking for a portable army, no?

Dwarf Heroes

I also like the idea of having some hero stats on hand for use as lieutenants and commanders at company scale.  These dwarves may be familiar to some of my players...

Barholt Sledgefist
Dwarf Fury 5 (Dwarven Retaliator), Str 17 Int 9 Wis 6 Dex 9 Con 9 Cha 14 
Class proficiencies: Alertness, Command
General proficiencies: Perform (Bagpipes), Signaling
Equipment: warhammer +1, spare warhammer, throwing axes, potion of gaseous form, bagpipes
Derived stats:
HP 30, AC 2, DR 1/die, THAC0 4+ for 1d8+5 (7 when furious)
Leadership 5, ZOC 2, Strategic Ability -1, Morale Modifier +4 (Furies are supposed to get the fighter-type +1 morale at 5th level, right?)
2/4/6 Loose Foot, 1 warhammer 4+ (he needs to use it two-handed to get unit-scale damage)

Barholt does not qualify as a captain at company-scale, but he makes a fantastic lieutenant due to his high morale modifier.  Probably wants to take Leadership as his 7th-level general proficiency, which would bring his LD up to 6 and his ZOC up to 3.  Pity about that Strategic Ability, though.

Kroner Ironblood
Dwarven Craftpriest 7 (Dwarven Prelate), Str 12 Int 15 Wis 16 Dex 15 Con 16 Cha 12
Class proficiencies: Magical Engineering, Command
General proficiencies: Healing 2, Craft (Smithing), Military Strategy, Leadership
Equipment: warhammer +2, plate armor +1, shield, potion of invisibility, scroll of ward against magic
Derived stats:
HP 33, AC 9, THAC0 5+ for 1d6+2
Leadership 5, ZOC 2, Strategic Ability +3, Morale Modifier +2
1/2/3 Formed Foot, warhammer damage is sub-unitscale
Relevant spells:
1/day Flame Strike or Insect Plague
1/day Dispel Magic
2/day Continual Light
2/day Bless or Bane

For a more focused set of leadership abilities, consider swapping Leadership for Military Strategy 2 (for Strategic Ability +4 and greater choice in when your spells go off).

Jhames Clearwater
Dwarven Vaultguard 7 (Dwarven Champion), Str 18 Int 9 Wis 12 Dex 6 Con 16 Cha 12
Class proficiencies: Fighting Style Shield, Command
General proficiencies: Animal Training, Diplomacy, Engineering
Equipment: sword +2 of charm person, plate +1, shield +1, potion of invulnerability
Derived stats:
HP 51, AC 9, THAC0 1+ for 1d6+8
Leadership 4, ZOC 2, Strategic Ability +0, Morale Modifier +3
MV 1/2/3 Formed Foot, 1 sword 1+

A pretty melee-oriented captain.  Can also supervise siege-mining, stronghold construction, and fieldworks.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Reflections on a Session: 22 October 2016

  • Time spent: 5 hours
    • DMing: 3 hours
    • Presession, including food: 2 hours
  • No new areas mapped
  • Two rooms restocked / reorganized
  • Dungeon areas explored:
    • Pox's Camp, now Scabies' Camp - friendly, traded
    • Two new weak / vermin lairs, cleared
      • Giant mosquitos
      • Giant mosquito larvae
    • One monster room (giant beetles)
    • Re-explored three rooms in the Spider Zone
  • Game-time elapsed in dungeon: ~3 hours over two expeditions
    • Lost count of random encounters checked
      • I rolled like two random encounters during negotiations with ratmen in a fairly safe place, wasn't sure how to play those out so I skipped them
      • One random encounter that did fire was with the Seven Dwarves (NPC adventuring party of dwarves), right as the players were re-entering the dungeon on the second expedition
  • Party composition:
    • Scarth, MU 2 (leveled to 3rd)
      • Slagathor, Chaotic Cleric 2
      • Rheingold, Cleric 1
      • Thancharat, L0 man (leveld into Elven Enchanter - secretly an elf all along?)
    • ??? the Lizardman, Thrassian Gladiator 2
      • Ascila, L0 man (leveled into Bard)
      • Wardok, War Dog
      • Dogeater, 1HD ratman hero with good stats, hired at Scabies' Camp.  Not allowed out of the dungeon, so stays at Scabies' Camp between adventures.  Relationship with Wardok: tense (it'd be a pretty even fight).
  • Mortal wounds taken: 0
    • I think I only did 3HD of damage the entire session :\
  • Loot recovered:
    • Traded a light ballista to Scabies for a ratman potion of healing, which they then sold to the Five-Finger Discount (NPC party of 5 sneaky-classed characters)
      • Nothing bad could come of this
    • Recovered around 2700gp in gems from the vermin lairs
    • Identified Pox's potion as a Potion of Poison
  • Traps triggered: 0
  • XP from monsters: 382
    • Waaay over the 4:1 ratio here
  • Help I can't delete this bullet point
Other notes:

Very short-handed today, but both players were old stalwarts.  They recruited a bunch of expendable henches and did a good job of picking low-risk fights and fleeing from high-risk lairs.

We played initiative correctly today, to devastating effect for the mosquitos.
We did allow leveling of L0 mans into very non-standard classes, but that was by design (those statblocks were not meant for fighters).

Between elaboration on the Machine In the Black Sky above the rat-dimension, and meeting the same crusaders that they killed during the first session (who wanted the +3 sword back), the party is starting to get concerned about the nature of the dungeon.  Excellent.

Matt's lizardman is a killing machine.  18 Str, 13 Dex, a +3 sword, and 3 points of natural armor...  AC10, THAC0 ~4+, and 1d10+7 damage at 2nd level.  At least his Con isn't great and his HP are around expected value...  Still, he is going to be a hard guy to kill.  Between Inhumanity, the party's reputation in town for high henchman mortality, and a Slander result while trying to hire a guy, I suspect Dogeater is not the last beastman henchman he's going to have.

Speaking of which, I am pleased with the party's entrance into ratman politics.  If Against the Wicked City's party is underworld conquistadores, mine was more like Englishmen selling rifles to the natives this session.  The Brittonian South Ratistan Trading Company, or maybe Underworld Armament Imports, Incorporated.

I am a little concerned that my players did basically what I had hoped they would do this session.  I do not know if this is because they did a good job of reading me in play, or because I did a good job of modeling them beforehand.  Something to think about.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

AI War 2 Kickstarter

This post has nothing to do with RPGs, except inasmuch as people who like ACKS sometimes like the sort of niche videogames that I like (Dwarf Fortress, Crusader Kings / EU4, Mount and Blade...).

AI War: Fleet Command is one of those niche games that I think ACKS people might like.  It's a campaign-scale, highly asymmetric real-time strategy game.  It is always played as a human (or cooperating human team) against two AIs.  The AIs start with control of most of the map, and a very strong numerical advantage that only increases over time.  The humans control the tempo of the game, and do a lot of scouting and raiding for capturable resources.  They must achieve superior local concentrations of force in offensive operations, which must be quick enough that the AI's reserves cannot arrive before the objective is accomplished.  On defense, human players often rely heavily on traps / static defenses.

The human win condition is the destruction of both AI homeworlds, while the AI wins if the human's home command center is destroyed.  A typical map is 60-80 star systems, one of which is the human homeworld and the rest of which begin under AI control, and a typical game lasts 8+ hours.  Taking worlds from the AI increases the AI's perception of human threat, which increases its tech level and available reinforcements, so it is critical to take only the worlds that you really need while bypassing the rest (or destroying their fortifications to make them reasonably safe to travel through).

This is very much a game about picking your battles, both tactically (pulling the fleet out if too much heat starts to arrive) and strategically (only taking the planets that are worth the increase in AI tech).  Of all the games I've played that were billed as "real-time strategy", this one has the greatest strategy component.  And the AI design is notably distributed and devious.

Unfortunately, the graphics are terrible, and over the seven years since its release there have been a bunch of expansions, which present a dizzying array of configuration options and units if not disabled.

But recently there is a kickstarter for AI War 2, with 3d graphics (actually for performance reasons - turns out modern graphics cards like rendering 3d objects in realtime better than they like rendering sprites in realtime) and a return to the roots.  It may or may not make the funding goal; it's looking like a close thing.  So maybe go take a look.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

On Running the Megadungeon: Monstrous NPCs

A long time ago, I started a series of posts intended to distill down OSR hearsay wisdom while linking OSR newbies to stuff that might want to read.  The first two posts went well!  But I got stuck on "advice for actually running an old-school dungeoncrawl."  I did not find much advice on this, and I suspect much of it was contradictory (or already covered in the first post, on general OSR advice).  Moreover, I was lacking in recent experience - at that time I hadn't run a game in a year, and certainly not a dungeoncrawling game.

While I have had some recent experience running dungeons, I still don't feel ready to write that post.  But this is a start in that direction.

Looking back on my past experiences running ACKS dungeons in contrast with RatHell, I recognize a critical mistake.  My previous dungeons were very undead-and-vermin heavy.  Of my six previous ACKS dungeons and ~50? sessions of ACKS, I recall about 15 dungeon encounters with sentients, most of which led to immediate violence and extermination.  I think only about three of the sentient groups encountered ever mattered in a later session.  A far cry from the "factions in the dungeon" that I mentioned in my previous post, but apparently failed to use in practice.

Relatedly, I also realized that my NPC game in ACKS has, historically, been extremely weak.  I'd create a couple town NPCs, and they'd mostly be ignored or killed.  The most mileage I got out of a townie NPC was that time an assassin guildmaster got out of Dodge before the party could catch him.  They sent spies after him and lived in fear of his return and it was great.  But ultimately my primary source of interesting NPCs was actually henchmen who defected - the party had an emotional investment and interest in them, and were on neutral footing; not out to kill 'em, but not friendly and downright helpful either.  This is where interesting "let's make a deal" interactions happen.  Also a good place for mutual suspicion and sudden but inevitable betrayal.

I think these things, lack of recurring intelligent monsters and lack of good NPCs, are very much related.

When the majority of the party's time and attention is in the dungeon, the dungeon is the correct place to find and create NPCs, and for the DM to spend effort on fleshing out NPCs.  And by NPCs, I mean "people the party wants to talk to rather than stab on sight," using "people" loosely.  Intelligent monsters who aren't necessarily immediately hostile and who survive multiple sessions are A+ NPCs.

Named NPCs in RatHell that the party knows about:
  • Duke Kasimir: He's in charge of town.
  • Seljuk the Tatar: He runs an institution where townsfolk can bet on which adventurers will survive dungeon expeditions.
  • Pox the Piper: Late ratman chieftain, RIP.
  • Scarface: Ratman taken prisoner and interrogated, named for "gruesome scarring" mortal wounds result from the fight where the party captured him.
  • Scabies: Ratman distiller, location noted on Scarface's map.  Party has heard that he is a very reasonable businessrat, and they want to visit him.
  • Limper: Ratman who fled after the party shot him in the leg with a crossbow.
  • Dogeater: Ratman hero who killed the party's dog and their cleric and escaped to tell about it.  I think he deserves a bigger hat and another hit die.
Are any of these ratman NPCs going to be really friendly toward the party?  Probably not.  They have some grudges against the party, and the party has some grudges against them.  But there's another ratman lair to the north of the late Chieftain Pox's realm, and that clan is just itching to expand south...  and they're more than willing to feed Pox's kin to the Marrow Gnawer.  So maybe it's time to cut some deals.

At this point, my tentative rule is that any intelligent monster who escapes an encounter with the party gets a name until I've filled out a reasonable roster of dungeon NPCs.  The joy of emergent ratman names is that I can use the sort of thing my players would've nicknamed them anyway...

This shift of the focus of NPC-creation to the dungeon mirrors the "the game is in the wilderness/dungeon, not in town" philosophy of the Western Marches.  Town is boring.  Townsfolk are boring.  They don't have anything you want that you can take without getting in deep trouble with the law.  Dungeon NPCs, on the other hand, have treasure and information and strength that can be applied to other critters in the dungeon, and you can kill 'em and take their stuff.  So much potential!

Another benefit of making heavier use of intelligent foes is that it is entertaining and intellectually stimulating for the DM, much more so than running stupid monsters.  Even with the orcs in Midnight, I felt constrained by the orc-nature, and my players' expectations of orcs as not very clever.  But ratmen are an unknown quantity, which leaves me free to make them reasonably devious.  It's a much nicer way to run intelligent foes than having to deal with classed/demihuman NPC stats.  I have been enjoying the counter-for-counter with my players, and being a ratman-bastard DM in general.