Sunday, July 31, 2016

Nautical Adventures and Attrition

Previous post on nautical cleric spells got me thinking about nautical wilderness adventures.  It turns out that seafaring adventures address my concerns about attrition in the wilderness by adding a new resource which is non-recoverable in the field: the ship's HP.  "Only half of all damage sustained by a ship can be repaired at sea by the crew.  The remaining damage can only be repaired by facilities at dock."  Such partial-recovery rules would be annoying to track for all the PCs and henchmen, but seem pretty viable when the party has only one ship.

Incidentally, re-reading the ship combat rules, it turns out that those giant catfish last campaign should've dealt a lot less damage to the party's canoes, because "giant sea monsters and magical attacks do 1 structural HP of damage for every 5 points of damage their attack normally does".  I regret nothing; that would've been a very boring fight without the risk of sinking (I suppose I could've made it about risk of capsizing / being tipped out of the boat).  Knowing that ships are five times as durable as we thought, however, might encourage their use.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cleric Spells of Sea and Wind

Curiously, rejecting the spell design system leaves me feeling free and desirous of creation!  So here are some cleric spells, in the idiom of "half-solving level-appropriate problems".  As a secondary objective, I want to write some cleric spells that serve as wilderness-level bookends, like Fireball and Fighter's +1 morale.

Sea-Cleric 1
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 turn per level
The subject gains a +4 bonus to rolls to avoid drowning for the duration of the spell.

Spell to compare: Resist Cold.  Both situational, don't really address hazards that come up much at low levels, require casting before you fall off the boat.  Because they're low-level, though, you can provide protection to multiple party members in the mid-levels when blizzards and capsizing ships become serious hazards.

Red Sky
Sea-Cleric 3
Cast only in the evening, while in a location where you can see the sky.  An omen of good weather appears; when tomorrow's weather is rolled, you may request a reroll of either wind direction or wind strength at sea, or the weather die if on land.  The rerolled result stands.  Casting this spell multiple times allows rerolling both wind strength and direction at sea, or rerolling a rerolled result.

Spell to compare: Fellowship.  Fellowship addresses a common problem at the level of play where it becomes available ("Monster, please don't eat us" vs "we need to sail a long way to hit this wilderness lair") but it does so unreliably (still subject to reaction roll, weather roll) and with a chance to make things worse (can penalize reaction roll, random result stands even if it's worse than the original).  Both also require casting in advance of the situation where they're useful, though they're slightly different here - Fellowship gambles resources you might need later, Red Sky expends resources you didn't use today (and thereby rewards cautious play).

Fair Winds
Sea-Cleric 4
Area: 100' radius, centered on caster, moves with caster
Duration: 16 hours
This spell is a great boon to travel by ship.  The cleric can alter the direction and strength of the wind within the affected area.  They can shift the direction of the wind and its strength by two degrees; altering its direction by a minor compass direction (ie, N to NW) is one degree, and altering the wind's strength by one category (ie, Becalmed to Light Breeze) is another degree.  (So if you had a light breeze from the north, you could turn it into a light breeze from east or west, or a moderate breeze from northeast or northwest, or average winds from the north).  Once the spell is cast, altering a single degree requires a declared full round of concentration, like casting a spell.  Continuing the previous example, if you'd altered the wind from a north light breeze to an east light breeze, and you then came under attack by a sea-dragon and decided that thrust was more important than vector, you'd need to take a round to shift the wind to northeast, then another to north, and then two more to boost it to average winds.  Should the caster perish while the spell is active, the winds remain "stuck" at whatever they were set to when he died, until the duration expires or Dispel Magic is cast.

Spell to compare: Create Water.  Both make a particular element of a whole day of wilderness travel much easier; while Create Water is limited in the number of people it can support, Fair Winds is limited in how much it can alter a random result.  The ability to alter wind direction slowly in combat has a nice "jump drive charging" feel, to draw a Traveller comparison.

Following Seas
Sea-Cleric 5
Targets: Up to one ship per caster level, all of which must be in the same six-mile hex as the caster.  Really big ships might count as multiple.
Duration: 16 hours
The caster can influence winds in a 100' radius area around each target ship, as Fair Winds.  When casting, the caster must be able to see all of the target ships (doable from the deck on a clear day, nautical horizon distance being pretty far, but not good in foggy weather).  Altering wind direction and strength takes one round per degree of control per ship after the spells is cast.  The wind can also whisper messages from the cleric to the crew of each ship - the cleric must name the recipient, and then state the message.  There is no provision for replying, however.  Should a cleric target a vessel already under the effects of some other cleric's Fair Winds or Following Seas, each cleric rolls a d20 and adds their caster level, with the higher result taking control of winds around that ship, and ties going to the defender.

Spell to compare: Control Weather.  Following Seas has a larger area, doesn't require concentration, but is much less versatile, and you still have to work with what the weather-dice gave you.  Control Weather gets you perfect control over maybe five large ships (and combat capabilities, via tornado), but at the cost of your wizard having to concentrate and not be disturbed, while Following Seas can give you limited control over many ships.

Are these balanced?  I dunno.  But it seems to me that if you give the players tools to fight, they will fight.  If you give them tools to sail at 6th level, they might decide it's worth a shot.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Renegade Crowns' Domain Engine

While thinking about the issues with ACKS' domain system, I keep returning to Renegade Crowns.  It's strange that I mentioned it during my Suns of Gold review without making the important connection.

Suns of Gold has a trade system that generates adventures - you often have to go on an adventure in order for a deal to be profitable.  This is good, and fun!

Renegade Crowns' domain system is also designed to make domains a source of adventures.  If you want to stay in power, you have to do stuff.  This is...  good, and fun?  Probably better, at least, than "I sit back on the throne and send henchmen".

Notably, RC has a "domain engine" (sort of like a world engine, but smaller).  It has two pieces of state: an Internal Trouble score, and an External Trouble score.  These go up over time, and going on adventures can reduce them.  If they hit certain thresholds, mandatory adventures happen - deal with them or be deposed.  Internal Troubles may result in settlements declaring independence, peasant rebellions, or courtiers assassinating you, while External Troubles might be monsters eating your peasants or neighboring domains declaring war and invading.  Solving these troubles has varying effects on the trouble scores, depending on how well they were solved and by what means (for example, brutality tends to project strength to monsters and foreign powers, but breeds local resentment).

While the specific modifiers to trouble scores are rather...  cynical ("If the characters actually solved the original problem [causing public discontent], increase the Internal Trouble score by 5 points.  The population now knows that they can get the prince to do things by complaining about him, and they are likely to try it again  in the future"), in the Warhammer tradition, something more-or-less of this form is probably a good replacement for Morale for Simple Domains.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Reasons to Hire Adventurers 2: Heroes of the People

I was thinking more about why hiring adventurers is usually a bit silly for domain rules, and it occurred to me that maybe rulers aren't the ones that should be doing the hiring.  Maybe peasants are the ones most likely to seek extraordinary aid.  The Seven Samurai / Magnificent Seven formula works for a reason, after all.  And while they may not have a whole lot of cash at any given time, if you win their loyalty you might be able to take over a domain from the bottom up, or get some of them to migrate when you found a borderlands domain of your own.
  • Incompetent ruler - The local domain ruler is too fat, drunk, old, maimed, or insane to sit a horse, never mind kill these damn ankhegs eatin' our crops.  His henchmen aren't much better.  He may be 9th level, but that doesn't mean he's effective.
  • Absent ruler - Domain ruler has been away in France on campaign for the last three years.  The Scots have figured it out and started raiding across the border.  He left a steward, but in classic Sheriff of Nottingham tradition, said steward is mostly interested in amassing power and wealth at the peasants' expense.  The ruler may instead be an infant or child, again with a greedy regent (child rulers with grasping regents may find themselves meeting unfortunate accidents).
  • Cruel ruler / cruel garrison - The peasants could ask their domain ruler for help, and would get it, but the ruler's garrison would then eat all of their winter stores, lie with their daughters, and kill anyone who complained.  Adventurers may or may not be better in the daughters and killing departments, but they'll probably leave at least some winter stores.
  • Monsters garrison is unequipped to deal with
    • Contagious monsters
      • Ghouls
      • Spectres
      • Shadows
      • Werewolves
    • Charming monsters
      • Vampires
      • Demon boars
      • Cult with mind-control runes
    • Monsters that get stronger when they eat people
      • Barghests?
      • Devourers
    • Untouchable monsters
      • Gargoyles
      • Werewolves
      • Incorporeal undead
      • Dragons with fear aura and/or immunity to nonmagic weapons 
    • Sneaky monsters, that you might not even realize are there
      • Vampires
      • Werewolves
      • Cultists
      • Incorporeal undead 
    • Man, I'm seeing a lot of repeated entries on this list...
  • Corrupt ruler - Peasants believe a charming monster is at work, but when they brought their suspicions to the ruler, no investigation came of it.  They conclude that corruption extends to the highest echelons, and outside help is needed.  Might just be a case of "the peasant who cried werewolf," though - "Last season you thought the cathedral's gargoyles were animate, then you thought my aunt was a witch, and now you're afraid of your own shadows?  I think you're just trying to get out of paying your taxes..."
What's particularly nice about this is that these postulate either an ineffective domain ruler, or an evil domain ruler.  It basically boils down to either lack of ability on the ruler's part, of lack of trust on the peasants' part.  In either case, adventurers will tend to feel few qualms about overthrowing such a ruler, and can probably get the popular support to make it happen (thus adding a third option for "ways to get a domain", alongside "swear fealty" and "mercenary army").

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Difference Between Arcane and Divine Magic

Looking at arcane and divine magic in ACKS Core, the real difference isn't between what sort of spell effects they can generate.  Divine gets Flame Strike and Spiritual Weapon, and Arcane gets Reincarnate.  The real difference is one of philosophy.

Divine magic is half-assed.  It either solves a problem so specific that you have to go looking for situations to apply it in (Snake Charm, I'm looking at you), or it solves a particular level-appropriate problem unreliably (Fellowship), or it sort of helps you solve a problem but doesn't solve it all the way (Bless).  Fellowship and Charm Person both aim at the problem of "I want to make friends with this weak sentient monster", but Fellowship has a decent chance of not-working or backfiring, and even if it does work you're still at the mercy of the reaction roll.  It helps, but it doesn't solve the problem all the way.  Bless does the same - it makes combat easier, but you still have to do a bunch of work (contrast with Sleep, which solves the problem outright).  This is true of the Cure spells too; they help extend the adventuring day a little, and might keep somebody from dying, but they're honestly not all that much healing when spread across a party.  Apparently gods are lazy. "Listen, bub, I have like a thousand other equally-unworthy petitioners to help today.  Be grateful for the gifts you have received, and know that I help those who help themselves."

Arcane magic, on the other hand, is what you get if you put a bunch of engineers on solving a problem with a very large budget and no supervision by management, marketing, or people with common sense.  Arcane magic totally solves the most-general formulation of the problems it sets out to solve, but it also creates exciting new problems in the process, in the idiom of "...  huh, we didn't consider that when we designed this thing."  Charm Person, for example, solves the problem of making a weak sentient monster your friend pretty reliably.  It also creates a some new public relations problems, when your new buddy wants to come with you back to town.  Fireball is the most literal expression of this collateral-damage idiom.  Disintegrate obliterates your target, but destroys any treasure he was wearing.  Swords and Wizardry's version of Fly, which has a variable duration and no soft-landing clause, is pretty good, and Haste and Reincarnate are great examples too.  "You want us to to bring him back from the dead?  Totally, we can do that.  We'll make him bigger and better, overclocked, liquid-cooled, with neon-lit casemods and a spoiler...  Look, I really don't understand what you're mad about, your old race wasn't that good anyway.  Seriously, gnome?  Why would you want to play a gnome when you could play a cyborg bear with liquid nitrogen for blood?  Language?  ...  hm, interesting point.  We can set you up a speech synthesizer if you want; as a matter of fact there are a number of new technologies I've been meaning to <mauling and screaming>"

Wizards and engineers: turning every campaign into Gamma World since forever.

Anyway, these two approaches are balanced by relative repertoire size / spell availability; a cleric can half-solve lots of different problems, while a wizard can overkill-solve a handful of particular problems that he's prepared for.

The secret third flavor of magic, thief magic, solves precisely the noncombat problems posed to it, with no noise and no overkill, but is highly unreliable.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Better Fighting Value Tradeoffs

Another place where I think ACKS' design systems done goofed is in trading away weapon and armor proficiencies in class construction.  As it stands, every tradeoff is worth both a proficiency and XP for fightery classes.

Most weapons in ACKS are basically equivalent, doing d6 when used in one hand or d8 in two hands, but this is a deception.  There are three tiers of weapons:

Really important weapons
  • Swords
  • Spears, polearms, and lances
  • Bows and crossbows 
  • Two-handed d10 weapons, if you have backstab
OK weapons
  • d6 one-handed / d8 two-handed stuff that is neither swords nor spears
    • Warhammers and axes are slightly special
  • d10 / -1 init weapons if you don't have backstab
  • Slings and javelins
  • Weird combat maneuver-boosting weapons (nets, bolas, whips, flails)
Garbage weapons
  •  Staves, clubs, daggers, and darts

Proficiency with swords matters because 21% of magic items are swords, while only 5% of magic items are other weapons.  Of miscellaneous magic weapons rolls, 44% are arrows and bolts, 12% axes, 6% daggers, 7% bows, 6% slings, 12% spears, and 13% warhammers.  You will find about eleven times as many magic swords as magic spears, warhammers, and axes combined.  If you want a magic weapon, you want to be proficient with swords.  This is important, because some monsters are straight up immune to nonmagical weapons.

It may seem silly to consider the random loot chart as part of the balance of the game, but I honestly believe that it is.  A couple of points of to-hit and damage and the ability to injure otherwise impervious creatures in melee is nothing to sneeze at if applied consistently across most of an adventurer's career.  A class that cannot use swords basically gets a penalty to hit and damage in melee compared to those that can, and that penalty grows with level.  Magic swords are the original Fighter Damage Bonus.  If you reduce the frequency of swords, you reduce the strength of fighter and, more importantly, thief relative to non-sword-using melee classes (namely cleric).

Proficiency with spears and polearms (and I guess lances) is incontestably good.  There's a long forum thread complaining about how good spears are, and talking about nerfing cleaving with them.  You get reach, you get to first-hit guys closing with you even if they have higher initiative, you can set, you get double damage on charges, you can throw 'em...  they're just great, and inexpensive too.  The only downside to spears is weight.  A melee class without access to spears is seriously impaired while dungeoneering until they get magic swords, and a class that gets spears but not swords is stuck in the second row once people do start getting magic swords.  Again, thieves get these and clerics don't.

Bows and crossbows really come into their own in the wilderness levels, when large open spaces with long lines of sight mean you can start reaching out and touching people.  Ranged weapons are also an important source of damage against flying monsters.  Most of the time the actual maximum range is not as important as the ability to do decent damage to foes about a hundred feet away.  A combat class without any real ranged weapons is substantially disadvantaged in the mid-levels, though they probably lose some of their utility once mass combat becomes the norm, because your important targets can start hiding in the mass of bodies.  Once more: thieves have these, clerics are stuck with sling, which has -5 to hit at 100 feet and does 30% less damage than a bow.

Two-handed weapons are a weird sort of borderline category.  If you have Backstab, they're great and get better with level because your multiplier gets bigger.  A 14th-level assassin backstabbing with a two-handed weapon is getting 1d10x5+5 on a hit, which on average one-shots a 7HD monster and has a 10% chance of one-shotting an average 12HD monster or 12HD fighter (and then you can cleave...).  Backstabby classes also don't mind the -1 init too much, because they can make up for it with Dex.  For fighting classes, the percentage increase in damage is much smaller and diminishes with level as fighter damage bonus increases and the opportunity cost of not using a magic sword and magic shield rises, and the -1 init is harder to put up with because you probably don't have +2 or +3 Dex.  They might be good for pushing your average damage up over 9 and 13.5, to be able to reliably cleave 2HD and 3HD foes, I guess?   Anyway, two-handed weapons are Situationally Amazing, but generally mediocre for fighters in our experience.

Next, we come to Everything Else.  The important ones are axes, hammers, and slings, because they can be magical even if they are less often so than swords.  Slings and javelins are both OK as far as they go, but are no substitute for bows or crossbows.  The +combat maneuver weapons are mostly weak, because combat maneuvers in ACKS are weak, but I guess if you want a dedicated tripper build whip is what you want.

Finally, we have wizard trash: weapons that deal d4 damage, d6 in two hands, and have crap range (if any).

So what's worth a proficiency?

Each of the Big Three are worth a proficiency, easily and at least.  A non-cursed magic sword is at minimum +1 to hit and damage.  No proficiency gives you +1 to hit and damage and lets you injure magic-weapons-only foes.  No proficiency lets you first-hit closing foes, attack from the second rank, and deal double damage when charging like a spear.  And no proficiency lets you hit targets at bow/crossbow ranges with other weapons.  These weapons are uniquely good, and you really lose something by giving them up unless you're willing to backfill with Martial Training (in which case, each of the Big Three is worth exactly one proficiency post-chargen).

Two-handed weapons are worth anywhere between +2 and +5 damage if you have Backstab, depending on your level.  Looking at thief and assassin, I'm actually inclined to think that two-handed weapons cost a proficiency if you have backstab.  Assassin traded away his ability to use shields for them, and thief just doesn't get them.  I would not feel bad about making Heavy Weapons Training a thief and nightblade class proficiency.  Spears and polearms are also especially good for backstabbers because you can get the extra multiplier from charging.  Anything that boosts your maximum damage by 8-10 points is really good.

Once you get down into the OK-tier weapons, I stop caring very much about tradeoffs.  Having no access to ranged weapons (javelin, sling) might be worth one.  Having no access to potentially-magic OK weapons (sling, axe, warhammer) might be worth one.  I dunno.

Meanwhile, trading away armor and shield is tricky, because of how AC's effectiveness scales.  Reducing your maximum AC from equipment from 7 to 6 is worth a proficiency.  Reducing it from 6 to 4 is worth another.  Reducing it from 4 to 2 is worth a third, I guess.  Below that, AC hardly matters.  I suppose trading it all the way down to 0 might be worth something, because then you can't use magic armor or shields at all, but whatever.  It might also be worth considering whether the primary function of a class is melee or ranged, because Explorer and Elven Ranger, for example, with their bonus ranged abilities, were never going to be in the Thin Red Line standing between the orcs and your casters at 1st level.

This gives us the two extremes - thief has three extra proficiencies of weapons (sword, spears, bows) but none of armor (AC2), while cleric has three extra proficiencies of armor (AC7) and none of weapons (none of swords, spears, bows).

Fighting styles: Rolling shield into armor progression complicates these.  Two-weapon fighting is pretty marginal (+1 to hit is like...  +10% expected damage on average, and only hits +33% if you're at 18+ to hit, in which case you are having a bad day...  unless you're two-weapon fighting with magic swords, in which case it could be +5 to hit with Fighting Style), but weapon in both hands is pretty good (d6 -> d8 is like +30% expected damage in the typical non-fighter case, in the absence of other bonuses).  I dunno.

I guess at the end of the day I'm not really looking for a coherent build system so much as rough guidelines for "is this reasonably balanced?"

At a first cut, Fighting 2 gets you six points of armor and weapons that you can trade away without incurring an XP penalty: AC7->6, AC6->4, AC4->2, swords, spears, and bows.  Assassin traded his AC7->6 for backstabbing with polearms.  Bearsarker deserves part of his XP cost increase, with four custom powers in exchange for AC7->6 and loss of bows.  Paladins traded away bows and only got one power from fighting tradeoff, so they might be better at 1700 XP (while we're breaking rules, I kind of want to give them d8 HD and raise their XP cost to like 2250 actually).  Barbarians traded AC7->6 but all have access to sword, spear, and bow and got four proficiencies, so 2450 XP might be closer.  Furies lose swords, spears, and bows and all armor but do keep shields; somewhere in the 2500-2700XP range is probably more reasonable than 3100.  Elven rangers and explorers get all weapon groups and trade away some AC, but they're ranged specialists so the AC loss doesn't matter too much.  Ruinguards get swords, but not spears or bows, so maybe their XP cost should be 3550 instead of 3850.  Does having arcane magic make up for lack of bows?  I tend to think no - magic missile a couple of times a day is not really a good substitute for reliable damage with fighter damage bonus (not that they get ranged FDB, either.  Trading away ranged damage bonus when you have no decent ranged weapons is precisely the sort of FV tradeoff that should cost XP).

Fighting 1 gets you three points of armor and weapons proficiencies.  Two-weapon fighting is not worth much if you don't have swords (all Fighting 1 classes with TWF have swords).  Bladedancer works, because they get swords and spears but not bows, equipment AC2, and a proficiency (swashbuckling).  Bard is AC2 with all three weapon groups, just like Thief.

So anyways, some things to think about when you're designing custom classes.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Friendly Fireball

I've been growing increasingly skeptical of ACKS' design systems recently.  At the end of the day, I think the project of creating rigorously balanced content consistent with B/X is deeply misguided, because what is balanced varies strongly between groups based on their culture / context, past experiences, and styles of play, and because the B/X corpus, while good, is also not perfectly balanced (case in point: thieves).  You can't zoom in on an image past its native resolution, you can't add significant figures to a measurement beyond what the instrument reports, and you can't build balanced content by making it consistent with unbalanced content.  While somewhat harsher than I really mean, the phrase "garbage in, garbage out" comes to mind.

One place where I think an error was made is in the spell point prices for Blast spells.  Fireball and Lightning Bolt both do d6/level in pretty good-sized areas at 3rd level, while Cone of Cold does d6/level in an honestly-lousy area (cones are awful - you have to open a hole in the front line and expose your caster, and you're going to waste a lot of area most of the time) at 5th level.  What gives?

The secret is that Fireball and Lightning Bolt both have "unpredictable area when used indoors, high probability of friendly fire" clauses - fireball expansion to volume, and lightning bolt random reflection off of hard surfaces.  This hazard is borne out by that finest of accounts of old-school play: Tucker's Kobolds.
I recall we had a 12th-level magic user with us, and we asked him to throw a spell or something. "Blast 'em!" we yelled as we ran. "Fireball 'em! Get those little @#+$%*&!!"
"What, in these narrow corridors? " he yelled back. "You want I should burn us all up instead of them?"
The hazards of using these spells indoors mark them as clearly "outdoor toys", to use my mother's phrase.  Their availability heralds the wizard's entry into wilderness-adventuring levels, for use in blowing up large groups of humanoids in open areas, just as +1 hireling morale marks the beginning of the fighter's wilderness game (I wonder if there's an equivalent for cleric?  They do get create water, growth of animals, and speak with plants all at 24kXP, 4kXP after wizards get fireball and 8kXP after fighters get hireling morale...).  Further, because Fireball and Lightning Bolt are so dangerous to use, they should not trivialize dungeoncrawling, as we often see them do in later editions.

This friendly fire problem also explains the existence of Delayed Blast Fireball.  I'm not totally clear on the history of this spells, but it does appear in Swords and Wizardry (an OD&D clone), indicating that it has some TSR lineage.  The ability to delay a fireball, so as not to fry your whole party in the dungeon, raised the spell's level from 3rd to 7th.  Swords and Wizardry also helpfully notes that the volume of a (20' radius, in contrast with ACKS' 10' radius) fireball is about 33 10'x10'x10' dungeon hallway cubes, which seems more than adequate to thoroughly self-immolate if used indoors, and makes it very clear the the fireball expands to volume.  This is crazy; it suggests that the multiplier for "non-TPK-inducing" on Fireball should be about x2.33, and even that leaves you with another drawback (the delay)!  If you just want some nice clean area effect damage that is blocked by walls, doesn't try to kill you, and does 1d6 per caster level right this round...  too bad.  There is no such spell in S&W (not even Cone of Cold with its crappy area).  d6/level is serious business, and doesn't come without correspondingly serious drawbacks.  Big areas of effect are a necessary consequence of dealing with that level of barely-controlled elemental energy.

Another illustrative example from Swords and Wizardry is Ice Storm.  Ice Storm is 4th level, covers a 30'x30'x30' cube (but doesn't say anything about expanding), and does 3d10 damage, flat, fixed, no save.  During my 3.x days, everyone hated on Ice Storm, but it makes a lot more sense now, because it is good for not committing suicide by sorcery.

In all of Swords and Wizardry, the only spells that deal uncapped one-die-per-level damage are Fireball, Lightning Bolt, and Delayed Blast Fireball, and they are all nontrivial to use safely and effectively indoors.  The only other damage spell that scales with level at all (ie, isn't just fixed number of dice), that I saw, is Magic Missile, which scales comparably to how it does in ACKS.

Thus, while ACKS' spell creation rules explain Fireball and Lightning Bolt's relative advantage over Cone of Cold by research breakthroughs, I think an "if you use this indoors you risk a party wipe" modifier is probably much more correct.  Honestly I'm probably in favor of just banning non-fixed-dice damage unless it's got some horrible rider attached to it.  I also sort of want to bring back 20' radius Fireballs, too, because they are, from a certain point of view, more balanced than 10' Fireballs.  And when a 20' fireball expands to volume in a wilderness hex because you ground-bursted it, you get a 25' radius, which lets you cover about 70% of a 60' hex.  I'm not totally clear on how the maximum damage fraction for Fireball was set in Domains at War, but I suspect you could do a lot more than 1/8th of a Company's maximum HP if you covered most of its hex.  Likewise, at Platoon scale, you could totally cover a single hex for excellent damage with a little splash out into adjacent hexes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Mistakes Were Made, ACKS Supplement Creep

If it was my honest aim to quit gaming, I went about it wrong.  Gaming constituted my sole source of regular, non-coworker socialization, and I failed to find a replacement for this (apparently important!) function.  Attempting to do nothing but work has been...  unpleasant, and ultimately unsuccessful.  My productivity has not increased, and I have had several unhealthy videogaming binges, which have been inferior to proper gaming on all fronts (solo activity not regulated/self-limited by social availability/norms, ultimately comparable in time expense).

Recognizing that gaming did serve a useful function, I am forced to reevaluate my decision.  DMing is still an expensive proposition in terms of time and attention (but apparently I was going to continue thinking about it anyway unless it were superceded by another social activity, as evidenced by the last month or two of posts).  It probably makes sense to both pick gaming back up (as casually as possible - open-table, low-consistency low-level slacker-mode DMing, or, god forbid, playing in someone else's game) and also to find another weekly-ish regular social activity.  These may have to wait until after the upcoming work deadline in early August, as a practical matter, but the introspection has been had.

(On reflection, the utility of gaming as a social activity may be part of what I enjoyed about running the first ACKS campaign in the open-table style; in a fixed party, you see the same three to five people every week, but the open table facilitates making new friends in the social context that I'm most familiar with.  I wonder if this is part of what my father likes about Pathfinder Society.)

I find that I'm still angry about things, though.  Things like domains, and thieves.  I could probably take "ACKS minus the Campaigns chapter" with just a few spot-fixes as a satisfying game up until 8th level or so, but that's a hard sell to players (though better than the bait-and-switch "Get a domain, it'll be fun!" currently going on, I guess).  ACKS' continued development also seems to be away from its slick, usably-abstracted B/X roots and off into what the forums jokingly call Advanced Adventurer Conqueror King, with more detail and more rules.  It's getting fiddly, and I don't like it.  Having realized this, I believe that I will be happier and run a more enjoyable game if I just stop paying attention to ACKS supplements and the patreon.  The core almost stands alone, and the parts that don't work mostly do so because they are too complicated.  They need simplification rather than expansion.  The only supplement that fills a real hole in the core rules is Domains at War: Battles, because mass combat is one of the few emotional draws of domain play that ACKS has addressed well.  Even DaW:B could probably stand a little simplification, but its central mechanics are solid and not substantially more complex than dungeoneering combat.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

In Praise of 30-Foot Hexes

Thirty-foot hexes are pretty much the perfect size for tactical wilderness combat in ACKS.  There are several reasons for this.
  • Ranges and movement speed are measures in yards in the wilderness.  A 30' hex is 10 yards, so you can treat it a lot like a 10' square for movement and range purposes.  If your combat move in the dungeon is 20', you can move two 10' squares in the dungeon in combat, or two 30' hexes in the wilderness.
  • Perfect fireball size.  If you ground-burst a fireball, the expansion to volume means that its radius for the remaining hemisphere will be around 13 feet, and it'll hit close-enough to everything standing in the hex.
  • Compatibility with platoon scale.  If you piss off a village of orcs and they send their six platoons of dudes after you, you can have a reasonable combat on 30' hexes with six enemy groups, with the main body of the party probably concentrated in one hex.
  • Works well with buildings.  A 100' wall is three hexes, most towers and largish civilian structures are about one hex, a big keep is like 4-8 hexes.
  • Divides nicely in the infinite chain of detailed hex mapping.  A six-mile hex can be divided into 16 1.5 mile hexes, which can each be divided into 16 ~2000-foot hexes, which can each be divided into 16 ~500-foot hexes, which can each by divided into 16 ~125-foot hexes, which can each be divided into 16 ~30-foot hexes.  A 500' hex has 256 30' hexes in it, and fits well on a tabletop wet-erase hexmap, at 16 30' hexes in diameter (you'd likely even have space for a little more around the edges). Hypothetically zooming in from a 6-mile or 1.5-mile hex into 30' hexes is something software could handle.  I have designed such software, but whether or not it will get implemented is another question entirely.
  • Such a 500' hex "battlezone" is adequate to handle average wilderness random encounter distances in all terrains but Plains (4d6x10 yards -> 14 hexes on average, 500' hex is 16 hexes across).  Again, you might want more to handle higher rolls and longer-visibility encounters like flying monsters and giants, but most of the time it should be workable.