Sunday, April 16, 2017

Applied Wilderness Theory

Due in part to the recent Hexographer 2 beta releases, I've been playing around with building a microsandbox - 10 hexes by 10.  I'm not happy with it yet, but here are some notes that have come out of it:

  • Taking the "wilderness as dungeon" model, 100 hexes is comparable to a hundred-room dungeon.  That's on the upper end of anything I've ever actually built and stocked, so this might be bigger than I really wanted.  On the other hand, I do still have a fair number of "empty" hexes.  Honestly might be a bit too big for the "micro-sandbox" label.
    • It's about the size of a duchy, I think?  A 24-mile hex is ~16 6-mile hexes, so a hundred six mile hexes is about 6 24-mile hexes, which is about right for a duke with 5 vassal counties.
  • Borderlands are the correct civilization level for "wilderness" adventuring.  They're perfect.  Previous hexcrawls were largely wilderness, which per Lairs and Encounters have many (2-8) lairs per hex, which is just impractical to stock (sure, sure, dynamic lairs, maybe some year).  Borderlands tend to average between 0.33 and 1 expected lairs per hex, which is great (gee, sounds familiar).  So in a 100-hex area, I have around 40 lairs - quite a few, but waaay more workable than the Shieldlands campaign, where I probably had 40 lairs within 12 miles of the town the PCs were running.
    • Corollary: About half of borderlands six-mile hexes require zero work to clear.  No lairs, no problem.
    • Assuming civilization more-or-less surrounding the sandbox area, the 25-mile borderlands radius covers almost all of a 10x10 hexmap (close enough for me).  We also know that it's 50 miles from the edge of the sandbox to a class IV or better market (probably about 6 miles from the edge of the sandbox to a class VI market, and maybe 24 miles from the edge to a class V market).  So that lets you track time spent getting to and from markets in civilized areas without actually having to roll random encounters with dirt-farmers or track hex-by-hex movement and rations (presumably you can buy them off of hamlets you're passing through daily).
  • Again thinking of wilderness-as-dungeon, I decided to steal a few pages from the dungeon stocking rules, which note that the random encounter tables generate roughly 33% stupid enemies, 33% beastmen / "factious" enemies, and 33% high-intelligence / high-power "men and monsters".  I tweaked these numbers a bit, towards 50% critters, 33% beastmen, and 17% men-and-monsters.  This yields about 20 animal lairs, 13 beastman lairs, and 7 other lairs.
    • Animal lairs are super low-effort to stock, and present a more natural-feeling wilderness (whether or not predator densities that high are actually sustainable is another question).  I also cut out the really boring animals (goats, normal-size hawks, a lone rattlesnake, ...) in favor of a more...  folklorish, Northern European / Tolkeinesque carnivorous animal selections (boars, bears, wolves, giant spiders, giant bats, giant weasels, ...). 
    • 13 beastman lairs is at the upper edge of the reasonable, I think.  They have a lot of moving parts, and I'll probably need to differentiate them so that players can keep them straight.  I wonder if that was secretly the point of having all of those cookie-cutter beastman races that are mechanically almost-the-same; minimal viable differentiation (which is easier to keep track of: blue orcs vs green orcs, or orcs vs guys with hyena heads?).
    • Seven "men and monsters" were actually pretty easy.
  • One day is almost certainly the analog for a 10-minute turn in dungeon-time here.  This was less true when I ran the Bjornaborg wilderness game on 1.5-mile hexes, but on six-mile hexes at 1-2 hexes per day, that's definitely the correct time to track (and this is an important thing to figure out, because that lets you start honing in on that central play-loop which has historically been poorly-defined and vexing for us [1][2], and also helps figure out the resource model).  Rations start to look sort of like torches in this accounting, in that a torch lasts six turns and non-iron rations spoil in seven days.  Removing water requirements by assuming fresh, drinkable water from abundant streams also greatly eases the logistical burden of rations (down to 1lb/man*day, or 10 man-days per stone, instead of 1 stone per man-day when you have to carry water).  An even simpler abstraction would be 1st per man-week, assuming that you're carrying some backup water or wine or whatever.
    • At 10x10 hexes with 1-day "turns", your upper-bound on expedition length is about a month (in 30 days you could get to most any point on the map and back, I think).  This does tie back to one complaint that my players had about wilderness adventures - if you have a choice between one adventure a month in the wilderness, or one adventure a week in the dungeon, wilderness needs to have a much higher treasure yield per expedition to make sense in terms of gp/game-time (which matters because of monthly expenses).  I'm not sure that the microsandbox I'm working on has that high-yield property (yet / currently), but that's also less important if the game is explicitly structured/pitched as "a wilderness game" with no / minimal dungeons and all characters starting at like 5th+ level.
      • An orc wilderness lair has an average treasure value of 14kgp, which is like a decent but not outstanding treasure map.  They're also a source of liberated human prisoners, though, which sounds to me like a pretty good way to pick up some mercs or a replacement PC if things went poorly.
      • I'm not sure my players will fall for "legend tells of a great dragon's hoard somewhere in the highlands" again...  maybe I just need to use a bigger dragon, because bigger dragons have bigger treasure.  Right?
  • In terms of calibrating difficulty by analogy with the dungeon, wild animals are low-threat, beastman warbands should be medium-threat, and beastman lairs and special monsters should be higher-threat.  At one encounter per day, a 5th-level party with some merc backup could probably take a warband, in much the same way that a 1st-level party could probably take a gang of 5 orcs in the dungeon (depending some on surprise, tactics, armament, and luck; if the wizard gets sleep/fireball off, you're probably fine, but if he gets interrupted and pincushioned, then it's going to be a rough day).
    • I still think the right way to run such a combat is probably on 30' hexes.  Wilderness movement and ranges are in 30' intervals already, it's about the area of a ground-burst fireball, it translates nicely to DaW on platoon scale, and it's sort of analogous to fitting the whole party into a single 10' square (as happens for small parties in dungeons).
  • Still haven't really worked out local weather patterns for this map yet.  If adventures take weeks-to-a-month, seasonal weather rules might be necessary.  I do have some stuff for temperature (mostly as it related to the choice to have a fire or not when camping, choosing between mercenary morale penalty and no natural healing or an extra random encounter roll - worth noting, of course, that most beastman villages are also going to have fires, so that's a nice way to locate lairs from a distance).
  • Two big differences with dungeons that I'm noticing practically are that you can be in the same hex/room as monsters and not realize it, and that visibility of the structure of the terrain (ie, "that hex is forested") is much easier to see from a distance than the structure of the dungeon.  Most wilderness features are hidden in a hex, while most dungeon-room features are pretty obvious when you're in that room.  I recall being nonplussed with L&E's system for finding hex features, though I forget why; will probably reread those and then work something out.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

New Autarch Kickstarter

'bit late on the uptake this time, but there's a new ACKS kickstarter, for the Heroic Fantasy Handbook and Barbarian Conqueror King.  The Heroic Fantasy book has been in the works for a long time; I acquired a draft copy a year or two back (thanks Alex!) and we used some of the rules from it (mostly Warrior Code) in the Midnight ACKS campaign.  I'm looking forward to seeing it in its finished form.  I've been reading the Poetic Edda and kicking around a low-magic, Iron-Heroes-esque "mythic Scandinavia at the turn of Christianity" setting, and this should support that well (provisional name: "ACKS-Age, Sword-Age").

I'm a little less excited about Barbarian Conqueror King.  Nothing against Omer, I'm just not huge on pulp.  That said, there was a preview of some Expedition to the Barrier Peaks-style rules for figuring out how to use and repair advanced technology, and it reminded me of D20 Apocalypse...  and that got me thinking further that ACKS and Darwin's World were sort of made for each other.  Then again, maybe Crawford's already done it better with Other Dust.