Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hike Notes: Mount Fuji, Part 2: Gaming Reflections

Last post, I talked about climbing Mount Fuji.  Today, applying that experience to OSR D&D.

Time and distance: In nine hours, we covered a total of six miles of trail (plus ~8600 feet of total elevation delta).  We were barely encumbered, pessimistically two stone.  ACKS' rules would put us at 120' exploration movement speed, or 24 miles per day, times 1/2 for mountains.  So the rules would overestimate our speed by a factor of two, about.  It's possible that we're just that out of shape (though I suspect we're in as good a shape as your average L0 henchman; by 3rd Edition's strength standards, my mediocre deadlifts put me at about Str 9).  Certainly naive application of Naismith's rule would argue that we should've taken closer to six hours (but there are a bunch of proposed corrections to Naismith's rule for a reason; notably, we were on roughly 15 degree slopes, which some of the corrections penalize further).  It's also possible that the rules are for overland travel, rather than summiting a mountain, and that if we were just trying to cross a mountain hex to get to the other side, we'd've done a lot less climbing, and consequently our speed would've been a lot higher.  This introduces some weird questions about moving around within hexes versus entering and leaving hexes.  If I'm already thinking about hexes as being like 10' squares, and groups of hexes as being like rooms, that probably isn't something I want to worry about (and instead I might just increase the penalty on mountain movement).  But if you're like the typical hard-simulationist ACKS hexcrawl DM, maybe that is something you do want to think about, especially if interesting things tend to be located at the summits of mountains (and of course they do).

One thought I had, reflecting on our covering four miles of distance in a full day, was having irregularly-sized hexes instead of changing multipliers, making the hex a unit of time rather than a unit of distance.  So a mountain hex is actually smaller than a plains hex in space, but both take a day to cross.  The problem is tessellation; maybe irregular, Voronoi-style maps would support this better (I guess there might also be problems in economics, if you care about population density per hex for taxation purposes).  Or maybe, like Arneson, who also did "one day, one hex", you just don't worry about it.

Encounter Distance: I think the 2d6x10 yards encounter distance for Badlands would've been more appropriate than the 4d6x10 yards typical for mountains, given the mists and the steepness and general difficulty of seeing even building-sized objects at 200-300 meters.  Having weather be a bigger determiner of encounter distance than terrain would be interesting, especially if you have typical / unusual weather for certain hexes or "rooms".

Foraging: There wasn't anything even plausibly worth eating above 2500m of altitude, except for one bird.  Foraging penalty in high mountain hexes seems appropriate.  The yamabushi allegedly developed systems of diet and cuisine for high mountains, as did the Taoists in China, but...  I'm betting they foraged a little further down.

Hypoxia: -1 to surprise (loss of color vision, difficulty paying attention), initiative, attack and damage throws, proficiency rolls...  morale?  spell failure?  Some people get incoherent and start repeating themselves, that could be bad if you say Hastur one extra time...  And sure, you can get acclimated, but it takes a week or two.  That would actually be kind of a neat mechanic, if I'm treating the day as the unit of wilderness time, that you can get acclimated within the timespan of a single adventure (and then get de-acclimated when you go back down to civilization for a month).  And then if you have a mechanical reason to linger partway up the mountain for a week, you're really going to want to find or build a refuge there...

Combat: Seems like it would be really difficult for anyone coming up to fight someone higher up, especially with premodern weapons.  At the very least there's an ample supply of rocks to drop or roll down on people, and the height advantage in melee on a 1:4 slope also means that if you're five feet away, you're at a foot and a quarter of elevation difference, which might mean that you can hit them in the head really easily but also means that you're going to have to defend your legs differently or have them cut from under you.  Melee generally would be made difficult by the bad footing (gravel, irregularly-shaped rocks).  Charging uphill seems impossible, and charging downhill seems foolhardy.  Single-file-width trails limit the number of fighters who could be concurrently engaged without risking slipping and rolling down the mountain.  Firing arrows up, you end up converting some of that kinetic energy into potential energy, much like firing up at the defenders on walls during sieges; the -4 "volley overhead" penalty seems like too much, but -2 might be right (this is also interesting more generally for firing ranged weapons at flying opponents with an altitude advantage).  I could also see fireball and other big magic setting off rockslides.

Mounts: I'm not sure how viable riding a horse up would be.  I didn't see any evidence of horses being used on Fujinomiya (though apparently they are used on the shallower-and-less-rocky Yoshida trail), and for the Himalayas local human porters seem to be preferred.  If horses are supposed to be one of those pieces of kit that really changes the wilderness exploration game by increasing the speed of small, elite adventurer groups relative to mobs of infantry like most beastmen, I'm not sure what the implications of this are.

Wilderness Damage: This is something Tao of D&D was kicking around a few years back, and I think that it's a solid model of the realities.  If hit points are an abstraction for your luck and vigor and ability to turn dangerous situations into no serious bodily harm, that's exactly what gets ground down by exposure and hunger and being altitude drunk, and then when you hit zero from these 1-2 points of chip damage you roll a (probably) not-very-serious wound from the Death and Dismemberment table, like falling over and knocking your teeth out on a rock in the trail or losing a couple fingers to frostbite.  Doing something like this opens up some interesting design space.  Weather obviously plays a part in determining how fatigued you get.  You could even make the wilderness damage roll determine the weather - if you're in mountains in winter, the daily wilderness damage roll is 1d4 or something.  4 means it's a blizzard today, 1 means it's just cold.  In the summer, it's 1d4-2 instead, maybe, so most days just being in the mountains is OK but sometimes you get rained on and you get cold.  Forced march and night march (I recall from von Schnell's book an aside about making a night march and it being very lucky that they didn't lose anyone) give you a choice not just about rest, but about damage.  Abilities like Endurance and Survival might reduce the amount of wilderness damage that you take by 1 per die, as might equipment, and being in a sanctuary reduces it a lot (say 3 points, in our mountain blizzard example - it's still going to be cold, you're still going to want a fur cloak, but you can get by if you stay inside).  There are a couple of annoyances here, of course - building coherent systems is hard, hit points in OSR games are very low-resolution, I don't want to track HP for a bunch of mercenaries, and handling a die roll for damage every day (er, wilderness turn) sounds like a hassle (especially when you start considering crossing multiple hexes per day and changing terrain types and whether marching inflicts damage, which it seems like it should, you're less likely to twist an ankle if you're sitting around all day).

Equipment Loss: My father almost broke his glasses.  I destroyed the heel of my boot.  A couple of times we got our poles stuck in rocks and could've broken them if we were clumsier.  Obviously these are recoverable once you get back to civilization, but out there these could be quite bad.  I feel like destruction of mundane equipment is a totally reasonable effect for a wilderness trap or mishap, and one which (particularly if aimed at rations or water) might really be felt.  Some items of equipment, like optics, might be fragile by nature and "first to fall" to such mishaps.  This might also be true of horses, which are notoriously fragile among work-beasts and easy to lame.

The Weight of Wealth: A 100-yen coin is five grams, about an inch across with a little hole in the center, and made of something probably less dense than gold (copper, the primary component, is about half as dense as gold, it turns out).  But 1000 5g coins is 5kg, which is a bit shy of the British definition of stone but pretty close.  So if you're running ACKS and coins are 1000 to the stone, gold pieces are probably about half an inch in diameter, maybe 3/4 of an inch with a hole in the middle.

Pilgrimage: An obvious use for mountains, and one used by both Morrowind (pilgrimage up Mount Kand) and Skyrim (to High Hrothgar).  Turns out Fuji used to have quite a widespread cult in Japan, with over 1300 shrines built out of rocks from the mountain.  Next time you want to make religion in your campaign less boring, consider the Good News of Volcano-Gods.

Volcanic Craters: They're big!  And totally hidden from view until you reach the summit (unless, like St. Helens, the whole side of the crater blew out during an eruption).  I think Fuji's was about a quarter mile across.  You could hide a lot of stuff in there - goatman village, volcano cult temple, tarrasque...

Torii Gates: They mark the boundary of sacred ground.  You're supposed to take off your hat and bow when you pass through them.  It would be interesting to use a similar mechanism to provide information to players, of symbolic gates to mark the boundaries of civilization and peace (separating the temple at the summit of the volcano from the mountain wilderness, say) or to invert them and have them mark the boundaries of the otherworld, the supernatural wilderness, where spirits and demons are active.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Hike Notes: Mount Fuji, Part 1: Climb Report

This post: long-form report of observations.
Next post: D&D-relevant distillation.

About a week ago, my father and I summited Mount Fuji via the Fujinomiya Trail.  The distance as the crow flies from our starting point to the summit was about 2 miles and 4330 feet of elevation gain, but with switchbacks the length of the trail was around 3 miles.  The climb up took us about five hours, we spent half an hour or so at the summit, and then the descent took us three and a half hours.

We were only lightly encumbered, with a single pack between us, which we took turns carrying.  The pack was 3lb empty, and contained three liters of water (~6lb), rain gear and layers, snacks (I estimate around 2lb), about 20 100-yen coins for toilet fees (5 grams each, so 100 grams, or a quarter pound of currency), cell phones, and a few contingency items like flashlights.  I think in total it was probably around 20 lbs.  It definitely made itself felt; the pack carrier had to maintain a slower pace on both ascent and descent.  The one time I fell over, on the descent, was while carrying the pack (fortunately I fell backwards and it cushioned my fall).  Some climbers brought helmets - initially we thought for falling rocks (which were a risk, as regularly noted by signs), but now I think for falling over too.

Despite a few wipeouts and near-wipeouts, we were fortunate to avoid any serious injuries or destruction of equipment.  Some old injuries that we thought healed (damaged hip adductor attachment point, injured knee) started hurting on the way up and continued on the way down, but they didn't increase in severity.  Had a couple hot spots on my feet that were on the way to blistering, but nipped in the bud by tightening the laces of my boots.  My father did drop his glasses at one point and was concerned that they would be damaged but they were fine.  Towards the very end of the descent, I caught the heel of my boot and started tearing the sole off, but it was still usable and we made it down.

We were also lucky with the weather.  Forecast showed a 50% chance of a thunderstorm, but it only drizzled a little.  There wasn't that much direct sun either (a little on the way down); instead there was a lot of mist and low clouds, which wafted up the mountain.  Supposedly when it rains, it often rains upwards in a similar way, making ponchos insufficient rain gear.  If we had gotten soaked, there would've been a small risk of hypothermia, as temperatures at the summit were in the 40s, even at midafternoon in early August.  There was still some ice in ravines and runnels that don't get direct sunlight, but for the most part we were comfortably warm in technical fabrics, plus lightweight jackets near the top.

The view down - mists blowing up the slope, bit of "moon rock" on the right
We purchased a small (~300 mL) canister of oxygen at the Sixth Station, and carried it up with us.  It was really only enough for five or six deep breaths (which is the best way to use it - take a deep breath from it, hold it for a bit, and then exhale).  I'm not sure we really needed it; I didn't use it, and we had some extra to share with another family of Americans on the way down.  I did notice some dizziness, some clumsiness, a little tinnitus, and a headache which got worse as we went on.  It was a bit like being drunk, but I am a reasonably happy drunk so it was alright once I got used to it and determined that I wasn't going to start vomiting immediately.  I did feel pretty bad around the Old 7th Station but it turned out I was mostly hungry.  Colors also faded a bit, but it was a gradual enough process that it wasn't very noticeable to my father until he tried the oxygen.  Part of the reason that we did not do the overnight hike (climb most of the way up, sleep in huts on the mountain, summit before dawn, watch the sunrise, descend) was that altitude sickness seems to sneak up on many people during the night, so by doing it in a single day we narrowed our window at risk.

In terms of terrain, the lower elevations had small plant-life growing off the trail and a little inside the trail, and the surface tended more towards dirt and gravel with some hand-sized rocks mixed in (just enough to roll an ankle on, or to hit your head on if you fell).  This makes sense, since dirt is a fluid and will gradually flow down hill (particularly when driven by the boots of tens of thousands of climbers per year).  Above that, it turned into bigger rocks, head-sized to torso-sized, with intermittent "moon rock" - big solid pieces of porous igneous rock in irregular shapes, speculatively hardened frothy lava from a previous eruption.  It often jutted out in concave formations, like whatever surface had been beneath it had eroded out from under it.  Towards the top the fraction of "moon rock" increased, and there were also rocks with yellow and green colors, perhaps indicative of sulfur.  The "moon rock" was hard going, especially on the way down, where its steep drops and concavities made finding places to step tricky without looking out over its edges.  We had collapsible hiking poles with tungsten carbide tips and these were a great help.  Many climbers had octagonal wooden poles, which could be branded for a small fee at the various stations, and so were both practical implements and souvenirs, but the tungsten bit better than I imagine the unshod wood would've (and they folded down to fit in a checked bag better, too).

The views were mostly down into mists, with occasional glimpses of the secondary peak of Mount Hoei, or the forests at the foot of the mountain.  Often we could not see either the station above us or the station below us, between the mist and the irregularities of the slope, even though we were probably only a couple of hundred meters from them in Euclidean distance.  The views across the side of the mountain were sometimes quite good, with ridges and overhangs and a rock formation that looked almost like a whale.  It was hard to see much of anything looking up, between mists and neck-angle and switchbacks.  Several time we thought we saw the summit and turned out to be mistaken.  It was steep; with 4300 feet of climb over a three mile trail, it's about 1:4, 25% average grade, or a 15 degree average slope, and that was up the switchbacks, rather than directly up the mountain.  Some of the views were rather precipitous; one of the stations had a metal grating out over the slope, and when we arrived on the way up, I wanted nothing to do with it.  Coming back down I waltzed right up to the edge.  Morale is a funny thing.

This is also a view down - the white thing on the left is the roof of (I think) New 7th Station below us, and the building on the right in the distance I think was the 6th Station, lower still.
There's a shrine at the top, dedicated to the kami of the mountain, and the whole area above the 8th Station is sacred ground, as delimited by a torii gate with many coins embedded in it.  We even encountered one old woman in traditional pilgrim's garb who was on her way up as we were going down.  I speculate that hypoxia may have an entheogenic effect, much like alcohol, which contributes to the phenomenon of mountaintops as holy places.  There were many Japanese families with children (often just dad and son, though most of the sons were much younger than I), a decent number of groups of male Japanese teenagers who kept similar paces to ours and with whom we interacted repeatedly, a few American families, and a few European solo climbers.  Most impressive were the runners - we saw several Japanese men, mostly in their late thirties or older, in the sort of kit you'd expect of marathoners, just running up and then back down the mountain.  In many places the trail was only one person wide, so when we met someone headed the opposite direction from us, one party had to yield.  Often this was a welcome break, but we got a bit antsy on the way down, as large groups of climbers were ascending for the overnight.

Looking down into the crater from the summit, there was more ice and sulfurous rock than we had seen on the way up.  We made an attempt for the Kengamine Peak, which used to be a radar weather station, but abandoned it; the slope from the shrine at the summit to the top of the peak was all steep gravel which slid beneath us, and it was a trudge.  In retrospect this was the correct decision; we needed what energy we had for the descent, and we only made it to the bottom fifteen minutes before the last bus off the mountain, so if we had spent twenty minutes up to Kengamine and then fifteen back down to the shrine, we'd've missed our bus.  On the way down, the terrain which had been easiest on the way up (moon-rock) was hardest, and the terrain which had been hardest on the way up (gravel) was the easiest.

We observed very little animal life; some sweat-bees even towards the top, one small brown bird around the 8th or 9th station, some flies around the stations where human waste accumulates.  There were a number of bright butterflies down in the green parts of the slope.  Supposedly there are bears on some of the lower trails, but being Japanese I imagine that they are very polite bears.  There were a few statues of tanuki at one of the stations but we did not observe any on the mountain.

The next day we were decently sore; I felt it in my calves and hip, and I think my father did in much of his lower body but especially his quads.  My quads were a little sore the day after that.  I was pretty happy with the results of my training program of weighted barbell squats plus stationary bike cardio (obviously training at altitude would've been better, but shikata ga nai).  We came off the mountain hungry but still more thirsty; we had drank a total of four liters of water between the two of us (some of it enhanced with Pocari Sweat powder), and eaten less than half of our snacks.  Towards the bottom my headache stopped pounding, but persisted; I think this was the hypoxia component resolving itself and being replaced by a dehydration headache.  I think we might've been better off with less snacks and layers and more water, but it all worked out (and water is damn heavy).

Next post: on climbing mountains in D&D.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Eyes of the Eagle

I dug up a pair of old binoculars to bring on the Dungeness Spit hike, and have since started going to local parks and using them to watch boats.  It's generated some good, first-person qualitative data for the wilderness vision distance question.

Observations:

There's another park across the lake from the park I go to.  It's about two miles of water.  With 8x magnification, on a clear day, I can count the cars in the parking lot, clearly make out the portable toilet, and can tell one person (or person with dog) from two people from five-ish people, but can't really discern anything about them other than that they're bipeds.  With the naked eye, I can often make out the glint of metal or glass from there on a sunny day but otherwise would be hard pressed to tell it apart from a field.

It is also easy to make out the contours of mountains about 40 miles away (I think, that's about where the range begins), and which parts of the mountain have snow on them, again provided clear weather.  To the naked eye, the view is still pleasing but I would be hard pressed to make any plans off of it.

With 8x magnification, I can sometimes make out the tail art on airliners coming and going from the airport about 15 miles south of me as they pass overhead, but I have been unable to observe the flight numbers.  I was able to identify an F-18 as such, and to see that an H-60 helicopter in the distance had its side doors open (I could see sky through it).

I was able to observe a pair of helium party balloons (lost from a party I presume) ascending about a mile north of my position, though I couldn't see them with naked eye so I stumbled on them accidentally while watching an eagle.  They were silhouetted against the sky or I don't think I'd've been able to see them with magnification either.

Sometimes I can read the numbers on the sails of boats; I don't actually know how close they were or how large the numerals were though.  Generally reading the names of small boats off their bows is beyond me unless they're quite close, but I have been able to read the names of two large tour boats off of their bows at maybe half a mile of distance, one in twilight.  Sometimes in the evening the air over the water shimmers like hot pavement and it gets hard to make out details of anything.  The lights from houses across the lake twinkle like stars.

The view of the moon is very good, especially because it is full right now.  I could make out some craters that were at an angle to the sun, and to see the shadows inside their rims.  I have never seen the moon like that before.  I was also able to observe some satellites, as basically dim stars moving on smooth tracks.

Remarks:

I really wonder how fleets coordinated their actions before optics.  I feel like making out semaphore at a mile without a spyglass would be really hard.  Did they just sail in really close order?  Did captains just have a ton of autonomy?  I was reading about the audible range of hunting horns and elk bugles a while back and I recall those being about a mile or so depending on terrain, but I would guess that auditory signaling might be hard at sea with the wind carrying it away.

ACKS' description for Eyes of the Eagle has them giving 100x magnification, which is pretty nuts.  Low-powered binoculars are 7-8x, high-powered are 10-12x.  Spotting scopes for long-range shooting are generally 24-60x, and that lets you observe groupings out to hundreds of yards.  100x is in an awkward spot between high-power spotting scopes and low-power astronomical telescopes.  With 100x magnification, I think it would be pretty easy to count individuals a mile or two away (but your field of view would also be obliterated - there's no way you could just wear 100x magnification binoculars like contact lenses in your daily life, never mind dungeoneering).

Amusingly, none of the other rulesets I checked (OSRIC, S&W, 3e, PF, 5e) listed a magnification for their Eyes of the Eagle.  3e, Pathfinder, and 5e did have a nonmagical spyglass though, with 2x magnification for 1000 gp, which is a little funny since they weren't definitely invented until 1608, well into the Gunpowder Age, and since Galileo also developed 8x and 23x telescopes by 1609.

I was surprised how much atmospheric effects mattered even over this fairly-short distance of two miles.

"The glint of metal" is probably a fine way to introduce a distant wilderness encounter with sentients.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Hike Notes: Dungeon-Ness

Today I hiked the Dungeness Spit.  It was about five miles each way, and took two and a bit hours each way over decent terrain (sloped gravel, mostly, but not really any elevation gain except at the very end getting back up the bluffs to the parking lot).

Google Street View - Not Just For Streets Anymore

And as I was out there trudging through gravel, I thought to myself, "Dungeness is a wonderful name, evocative of both dungeons and wilderness.  It would be a splendid name for a wee sandbox region in the style of Wilderness as Dungeon - one with pine forests and beaches and shoals and cliffs and mud flats".

So if I ever actually get around to fleshing out A/X, maybe that will be my testing region.

Other notes, in the style of Notes From A Hiking Seminar:

I am sore and pretty well bushed.  If we had had a random encounter at the end, it would've been rough.

Many subtle variations in types of sand - firm wet sand, firm dry sand (easily churned up by shod and heavy people, becoming soft sand), soft wet sand, soft dry sand, soft sand full of teeny tiny sharp gravel or with a layer of it on the surface, soft sand with fist-sized rocks in it which present tripping/ankle hazards, piles of fist-to-head sized rocks covered in kelp which is slippery when wet and sticky when dry.

Kelp anchors - impressively strong, even when dead.

Crab swarms, tidepool dungeons, sea anemone the size of a coke can on the side of a rock in a tidepool.

Empty crab shells - undead "exoskeleton" giant arthropods?  Probably molts actually but hey.

Poison-skinned newts in the forest.

Lots of bright white rocks that looked almost like eggs.  If they were eggs, what sort of monstrous creature's eggs would they be?  What fate would befall poor fools who took said eggs home and sold them as curios?

Area of choppy water marked by buoys - not sure if kelp or shallows.  Either way, roll Seafaring.

Ferries - could be interesting as an option for access to certain areas of the sandbox without actually having to own and crew a boat.  Make friends with local NPCs (ie humanoids) with boats.  But it'll take a while, there are only certain places they'll go, they'll want to move some cargo too, and they'll want money.  But this shifts the "chartering a boat" game from "in town" to "in the wilderness", which might be interesting.

Marching order - in the absence of an imposed, decided marching order, our party of 13 tended to clump into groups of 3-5 people separated by 20-60 feet (I would guess, at a wag).  The part of the sand that was good for walking on was only 1-3 people wide.  I think if we had tried to maintain tighter cohesion we would've made worse (but perhaps more sustainable) time, and that might be something to consider when figuring out overland travel rates.  Moving in "tight cohesion" where you get to decide your marching order (versus some reasonable random / naturalistic assignment method) slows you down.  Moving in tight cohesion in a formation wider than supported by terrain slows you down even further.  Moving stealthily slows you down.  Etc.  I did not observe any obvious correlations in the sorts of people who ended up in the front versus rear parts of the emergent marching order, but my sample was small.

One driftwood tree trunk stood straight up - how did it get that way?  Landmark.

Vague canine on the other side of the mud flat - fox, coyote, stray dog, spooky dog?

Big tidal variation - the spit gets very narrow at high tide, and the ground above the high water line is full of driftwood and rocks and crap.  Could be an interesting wilderness feature that makes it slower to cross certain hexes (either in certain watches, if using a watch-based timekeeping system, or based on party size, where a large enough party / army will have trouble crossing the spit).

Some really spectacular islands across the Sound that go from sea to mountain to clouds with the tops of the mountains totally obscured.  The Olympic mountains had their peaks similarly obscured despite it being pretty sunny on the spit.  One could hide a lot of interesting things on perpetually-cloud-shrouded mountain peaks.  An interesting variation in the wilderness visibility problem [1][2], much like foggy areas in the original megadungeons.

DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

A/X: Call the Cousins

Kicking around fighter mercenary-summoning abilities in the presence of Money Up Front:
At 5th level (Sentinel), the Dwarven Vaultguard's exploits have become known in the mountainhome.  All dwarves who he personally leads gain +1 morale in battle.  Additionally, he may choose to call his cousins to fight by his side with promises of treasure and glory.  If he does so, he may choose a dwarven unit type and have a squad of them arrive and enter his service by the beginning of the next adventure.  However, he owes them the promised treasure, of a value equal to their cost if they were a mercenary unit.  Failure to pay the cousins at least a third of his personal share of the treasure towards this debt every adventure will force a loyalty roll.  Should a cousin perish, another will come to replace the fallen one once he has been given a proper burial and his arms and armor returned to the mountainhome.  Should no cousin in the vaultguard's service remain alive, he is absolved of his debt to them but may not summon another unit of cousins until he gains a level of experience.  Should a vaultguard ever kill one of the cousins, or in bad faith cause one to be killed, he will be branded a kinslayer.  A kinslayer's cousins desert immediately and no more may be summoned thereafter.  A vaultguard who has satisfied the treasure expectations of all cousins currently in his service may call an additional unit of cousins; this may be done multiple times.
Nice things about this: it feels very dwarf, it gives you seven dwarves (or thirteen if you pay off the first squad), it disincentivizes betraying them, and it totally works around market class restrictions for replenishing them, which is nice because availability of demihuman troops in human markets is pretty lousy (but replaces markets with the need to retrieve the bodies and possibly travel).

OK things: this is probably a smaller retinue than human fighters will get, but it's OK because dwarven troops are better.

Less nice things: it requires tracking the state of the debt (but it's a fraction of earnings so if you have a bad session you're not going to end up underwater, you just have to pay them based on what you earned).

Potential extension points: cousins level up to elite 2nd- or 3rd-level mercenaries when the Vaultguard hits certain levels.  A similar ability to call dwarven henchmen?  With a bonus if you have Dwarven Brewing, making it a useful proficiency?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

A/X Mercenaries: Money Up Front

Been thinking more about open table ACKS lately.  Stumbled on this old post and read through some of the session reports from the Shieldlands campaign, that best of open-table ACKS games.

I think the session needs to be a relevant unit of time.
Markets refresh per session (roughly).
Spells refresh per session (roughly).
Domains provide passive income per session and no XP (and may be a source of trouble; clocks can run in them, and they're part of the world in the structure of "session begins, players attempt to do a thing, pizza break, a thing happens in the world")
More explicit structure for sessions - Market Phase, Planning Phase, Adventure!, Treasure Phase

Going to need to scale things down a little from ACKS' defaults.  I'm OK with a 9th level fighter having 30 mercenaries and a run-down fort - this is exactly what you'd expect from the Men, Brigands monster entry.  So if you're 9th level and you have a wee baby domain that nets you 250gp/session and a handful of mercs, that's OK by me.

I've still been kicking around how to simplify mercenary bookkeeping.  I think I may have hit a potential solution.

First, hire them as units beneath a sergeant, like I've been saying for a while.
Second, pay them up front.

ACKS has this concept of "the magic ratio", which comes up repeatedly in its economics and is tied to the rate of return on capital in fantasy Rome (bear with me).  Most investments are expected to pay for themselves in about 30 months, and characters in the world are assumed to have about 30 times their monthly income in assets.

So if you want to hire a mercenary and not have to deal with tracking his monthly expenses, pay him 30 months of wages up front.  Better, do it through a sergeant to handle a whole squad and if any one guy dies, the sergeant will take the pay pre-allocated to that guy and use it to pay some other poor bastard that he dragoons in the next market you pass through.

So if a light infantryman costs 6gp/mo in wages, then you can hire a squad of 6 of them for the foreseeable future for around 1100gp.  And then mercenaries become sort of like a magic item - they can go on your character sheet instead of in a spreadsheet, because you don't need to pay them monthly.  "The Yellow Saddles, Light Cavalry, 5/6 men".  Easy.  And they replenish between sessions subject to market class (possibly derandomized, because I don't want to have to roll for merc availability all the time).

And if you want them to replenish faster, we could base something on the commissioning items rules to let you raise the effective market class, and then either give fighters free virtual gold to spend on this every session (or let them write recruiting costs off on their living expenses), or give them a venturer-like ability to replenish mercenary units as if the market were one size larger.  This also provides an incentive to visit markets during adventures, to heal your mercenary units.

Now, I could see some sticker shock at 1100gp for six measly light infantrymen.  It's 2200 for heavy infantry, 2700 for bowmen, 5400 for light cavalry, and 10800 for heavy cavalry.  Those are not small chunks of change, and my former players would probably want to be banking that money towards building a fortress.  But if you change how domain acquisition works, from "build a fortress" to "domains are immutable, go capture one", then these changes complement each other - the money you aren't spending on castles can be spent on mercs, and the mercs are how you "buy" a castle.  And honestly, with domains out of the spending picture - would you rather have a +1 spear, or six knights who respawn between sessions?

Ooh, and this works out beautifully - a 9th level fighter has 250,000 XP.  He got about 200,000 of that from GP.  200,000 GP in permanent mercenaries is about 180 knights, which would be big for a bandit encampment but is in the realm of the reasonable (he probably spent some money on other things too).

So I don't think this is a totally crazy plan.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A/X: Continuity and Design Decisions

I've run into a bit of a design problem in A/X.

To what extent should I assume and support campaign versus episodic play?

ACKS is, by default, the ne plus ultra of high-consistency, high-continuity campaign play, starting in the mid-levels.  But in the low levels, ACKS works pretty well for low-continuity open table sorts of games.  That's part of what I like so much about low-level ACKS.  So I want to extend that support for low-continuity episodic games into the mid-levels as part of A/X.

But this complicates an already complicated problem.

Supporting lower-continuity play in the wilderness means being able to handle a wilderness adventure in a single session of say four hours.  The whole process: packing in gear and rations and mercenaries, getting where you're going, exploring a site, getting home, and divvying up the treasure, with a random encounter or three on the way.

This will/would require lower-fidelity systems and more abstraction.  I've been on about these two things for a while (2015, apparently), but never quite realized why I cared about them.  I think it really does come back around to enabling episodic play while also preserving resource management.

 But what do I simplify to speed up wilderness play?

The Arnesonian rule that terrain doesn't change travel speed would certainly speed up pathfinding.  Even reducing terrain movement speeds down to three categories (fast on roads or plains, normal in forests and hills, slow in mountains and swamps) and renormalizing it around hills would help, rather than having to multiply stuff out for each hex.

Making it easier to restock on mercenaries and livestock at the beginning of sessions would help a lot too.  In an episodic game, maybe you just don't worry too much about how long actually passed between sessions; if you need to sit in town for a while to gather mercs and horses, or travel to a big city through civilized lands, you can handwave that, or increase the prices a bit to account for having the things you need imported by other people.  This question of resource replenishment between adventures plays into mid-level mechanics for eg the Fighter - if you can replenish mercs between adventures with little difficulty, then an ability to help them replenish their mercs isn't gonna be very useful.  Maybe Fighters can do it for cheaper, if there's a cash cost associated with it?

Removing randomness from markets might help with speed too.  If it's always 1 crossbowman instead of 1d3, that's one less thing I have to roll at the beginning of a session.

Bed-rest for party members is also something that could be elided or abstracted ("they're out for one adventure").

Tracking rations in man-weeks, each of one stone, and only marking them off at the end of the week on the rest day rather than daily would parallel torches nicely and might speed things up a little.  Probably want to stop worrying about rations spoiling, not worth the hassle.

For any reasonably-sized party, the question with foraging and hunting isn't "will you find food?", but "how much food do you find?"  Maybe abstracting away the survival roll per character would be reasonable (especially in the presence of mercenaries inflating party size).

Are "getting lost" rolls important?  Is there a better way to handle wilderness navigation, parallel to mapping and the destruction of the map in the dungeon?

How do you speed up wilderness fights, in the presence of mercenaries?

I've been thinking about explicit party roles like the old Caller lately.  Necrocarcerus had several such roles that players assumed.  I wonder if having such party leadership structure (ie, someone to resolve disputes, some to map, someone to handle logistics) would help speed things up (especially for large parties).

Saturday, April 13, 2019

ACKS: Stat Mulligans and Swaps

Something I've been kicking around in response to The Ability Score Are Too Damn High.

In most of our ACKS games, we have had players roll five sets of stats, choose one to play and hold two as replacement characters.  This tends to lead them to having the best of five.

An alternative I've been considering: roll a set of stats, 3d6 in order.  Accept it as your character or reject it and reroll up to (say) four times.  If your next set is better than what you rejected, too bad, and if you run out of mulligans, you play the last of the five.

I like this idea because it changes the problem from optimization (pick the best set of stats from the five) to satisficing (is this set of stats good enough?).  It introduces an element of gambling, that OSR pillar risk and reward, that self-determination of "what is your ambition?", and of incomplete information.  In the average case, I expect it would also accelerate the character-generation process; you probably aren't going to roll all five sets, and at while there are more decision-points, each decision is boolean (keep or reject).  Characters will also in expectation have somewhat lower stats, which is also an outcome that I am OK with.

In order to preserve some amount of choice of class, and as a replacement for offstat-drops, I think allowing a player to swap any two scores in the set is probably reasonable.  This preserves some input from the dice (for eg multi-primereq classes), but if you just want to play a wizard, fine, swap your highest into Int.  And if you already rolled something high in your main stat, then you can shuffle around two of your offstats to your preference.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Notes from a Hiking Seminar

Some of which are relevant to wilderness adventuring.

(But first - deep apologies for not replying to comments on my last post; I was offline for most of a week, and now it seems like something's going wrong with google accounts and I can't post comments anywhere, including here.  So...  everything I would comment is now going into posts, I guess.  Thank you DHBoggs for relaying some history on the development of the hex - I found it very interesting and am happy to hear that the day was originally a clear parallel time quantum to the turn in dungeoneering exploration)

Prep questions:
  • Where are you going?
  • Who are you going with?
    • Who's the least able?  Can they make it to where you're going?
  • What season is it?
  • What's the weather going to be like?
  • What passes or permits from governments do you need to go there?
  • When do you expect to be back?  Who are you going to tell that to so they can send rescue?
 Ten Essentials:
  • Extra clothing, layers for variations in weather and climate across trip
  • Extra water (or means to procure it, like LifeStraws, water filters, dowsing, and high-level clerics)
  • Extra food
  • First aid kit
  • Knife or multitool
  • Means of producing fire
  • Map and compass
  • Headlamp / hands-free light source
  • Sun protection
  • Emergency shelter (down to and including just a blanket or tarp)
As a rule of thumb, most packs can carry weight in pounds equal to their capacity in liters minus ten.  Not a problem if you're using stone as a combined unit.

If you find a leaf with a face chewed into it, you shouldn't take it home with you.  (This was actually the comment that led to this whole post - intended as a silly example of leave no trace, but my brain went "that would be wonderfully creepy in-game")

Place campfires in established rings, or else.

Avalanche and river-crossing dangers depend less on the weather right now than on the weather from the previous week or so.  Probably also true of trail conditions.  On the one hand, this complicates the problem of making weather systems for the wilderness game, because if you want high-fidelity simulation you have to track past state.  On the other hand, this also pushes towards other potential solution-spaces, which isn't a bad thing (maybe something like the Oriental Adventures events tables - you roll a big trend for this month's weather, which sets the trail, river, and avalanche conditions, and then roll daily weather within that big weather pattern's subtable).

Animals in popular hiking destinations steal enough food from peoples' bags to get enormous.

Black bears are basically just large housecats for morale purposes, unless cubs are involved.

Mountain lions are also basically large housecats for morale purposes, except they think you are a toy.

Local outfitter offers appointments to get your gear in order for a particular trip.  Quartermaster NPCs!  I'm pretty sure I've written a post about having a NPCs to organize mules and rations and all that stuff (as a script, of course), but I'll be arsed if I can find it.

Some good place-names.  "Ranger Station" is a phrase that translates wonderfully into D&D.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Wilderness as Dungeon Revisited

A lot of this is probably obvious; circling back around to typical ways of running the wilderness, but through the lens of dungeoneering.  Less a post about rules than about how to organize information.

Previously, I was thinking about 6-mile hexes as being like rooms in a dungeon.  Now I think maybe they're supposed to be more like a 10' square.  Hexes and squares are both the smallest unit of organization in mapping on their respective scales.  You can traverse multiple per unit-time (turn in dungeon, day in wilderness), but it takes a unit-time to search either.  They're also a unit of organization in your notes - you probably wouldn't have multiple encounters or multiple traps in a single 10' square in a dungeon, and you probably shouldn't in the wilderness either.  I think the difficulty of book-keeping involved in trying to cram multiple lairs into each hex is a big gripe of mine with ACKS' assumptions about wilderness density.  Yes, it makes sense in-the-world.  But it's bad UX.

So if a hex is like a 10' square, what implications does this have?

"Rooms" / "biomes" / "zones" / micro-regions of multiple 6-mi hexes sharing common terrain, common opposition, and isolated by surrounding hexes ("walls").  Possibly a single key entry in DM's notes - "Cradle Wood, hexes 0601, 0602, 0501, 0503, 0504.  Lush valley full of tall pine trees, ferns, stinging nettles, and moss.  Abundant small creeks with crayfish.  Three goblin villages (7, 5, 4 warbands) with wargs.  Chiefs Ugbu, Ordo, and Glum are all brothers."  And then you can vary random encounter tables by room - all demihuman encounters in Cradle Wood are goblins, or someaught.  Weather might also be particular to a particular "room" ("Ironvale, hexes ...  Valley in the hills where it rains most of the time.  Oak trees and mud.  Abundant iron and coal beneath the surface.  Dwarven vault built into the hillside has flooding problems.").  If naming "rooms" is too much hassle at scale, just number them like rooms on dungeon maps.

Vision - in the dungeon, the limit of your vision is by torchlight and measured in tens of feet.  In the wilderness, it's by height and blocking terrain, and measured in 6-mile hexes, with a default of two hexes on flat plains.  See also also Trilemma.

The function of walls in the dungeon, to block both movement and vision, is softened from boolean in the wilderness.  Most terrain that slows movement also blocks vision (hills, forests), but some doesn't (open water, tundra).  "Walls" in the wilderness are more like ridgelines.  They're probably their own "rooms", since you can enter them - it'll just be slow going.

Does it make sense to have "unroomed" hexes?  Sort of like hallways in dungeons, which are often unkeyed?  Unroomed / unkeyed hexes might work well for "walls" too.  Use default terrain random encounter tables to place dynamic lairs, assume low land-value relative to named and detailed areas.  Sort of like leaving parts of your megadungeon to be filled procedurally during play.

Random encounter distance is one place where the analogy breaks down a bit.  In the dungeon, a random encounter at book distances is unlikely to engage you for a turn or two.  In the wilderness, by-the-book distances put them on top of you in minutes, definitely not days.  I think it might be worthwhile to change random encounters to the "wandering monster / lurking threat" model, much like dungeon encounters - wargs picked up your trail and have been eating your leavings, elvish scouts have noticed your tree-cutting and are displeased, and so forth.  So extend the random encounter distance to 1d3-1 hexes or so; sometimes you do stumble right on top of them, and for some random encounters that's the only time they make sense (skeletons aren't going to follow you, probably).  My players have long complained about a lack of control over engagement in the wilderness, and having a little more advance warning might help.  Might also be worth stealing a page from DaW's book and having an opposed Strategic Ability roll to see which side gets advantageous terrain before a wilderness fight, and then use the book values for random encounter distance to figure out how far apart the forces are at the beginning of the fight.

If a hex is like a 10' square, then microsandboxes need to be reconsidered.  A 10 hex by 10 hex map is going to be very dense, without much room for rooms, much like a dungeon in a 10x10 grid, and my experiment with building such a tiny sandbox bears this impression out.  So the howling emptiness of early D&D follows naturally from this metaphor - empty hexes are OK-to-necessary when hexes are considered primarily in clusters rather than individually.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Simple Domains: Trade Routes and Tributaries

Central thrust: link wilderness-level travel and trade to domain trade income by establishing "routes", allowing some improvement to one's domain under Simple Domains without having to track population

One of the annoying things with Simple Domains is the urban population.  I'm also more interested in settings where city-states and tribes are the norm, rather than feudalism.  Consequently, different rules for and assumptions about organizing realms seem appropriate.

I don't really like ACKS' default population growth as a domain "advancement" mechanic because 1) it's boring (spend money or wait time, counter ticks up, spreadsheet recalculates), and 2) it's unreasonably fast (yeah, there's some justification about "time of upheavals and migrations", but that's not always reasonable).

It occurs to me that domain "advancement" might still be doable with static population numbers via mutable trade routes.  Opening a new trade route between two domains entails clearing it to some reasonable degree, and then leading a ship or caravan along it.   I've been thinking about "threat" primarily affecting edges of the trade graph; a threat closes the edge, then if left unaddressed might spread to more edges, and if it holds all the routes in to or out of a particular town, the town comes under its thumb as well.  So I'm not really talking clearing all the hexes on the route, just dealing with things big enough to threaten a caravan (bandits, orcs, griffons, dragons).  Once a route is cleared, maybe a seasonal encounter roll can bring monsters back to it.

Once the route between two settlements is safe and you demonstrate this by leading a ship or caravan across it, imitators follow and trade along the route becomes regular, allowing the rulers of each end to gather additional market taxes.  If the additional market revenue from trade get high enough, the market class improves.  This lets the trade mechanic fill in for the "extra urban families from vassals" problem that Simple Domains had before.  On the downside, allowing market classes to change like this opens up all sorts of weirdness if you use market class for anything (like trade range, or calculating how much trade income is generated), and could lead to undesirable positive feedback loops.

What I like about this idea is that it links the wilderness game to the domain game with travel.  Your players get to go see the rest of the campaign world in order to make their domain stronger, rather than grinding through hex-clearing.  My players often seem to want caravans and ships in the mid-levels anyway.  At low levels you play "caravan guards", at mid-levels "caravan leaders", and at high levels "that guy who sponsors caravans led by henchmen".  It also opens up structured interactions with diplomacy.  Going to war with a domain generally means closing of routes between the combatants, and you may attack trade routes they have with other domains as well to reduce their trade income.  This might anger their trade partners, leading to embargo or entering the fight against you.  Conversely, a small domain coerced by a larger one might not be willing to trade with their overseer's rivals due to the sword looming over their heads, unless you can make them assurances of protection.  A domain defeated in war might become a tributary state as a term of surrender, sending its trade income to the domain the subdued it.

The tricky part is getting the numbers right - big enough to be worth bothering with, small enough to not spiral out of control, consistent with ACKS' existing trade rules, and simple enough to not be a huge hassle (ie, "just treat it as a network of sources and sinks for various goods, and you're adding a new link, which changes traffic patterns and directs trade through certain nodes which changes the tax income for those nodes"...  like yeah, I could do that, programmatically, but I don't want to need a computer).

Another interesting question is interaction with all the other parts of ACKS.  Does trade with settlements of different culture, terrain, "tech level", etc generate more income?  Interaction with monopoly?  Thieves' guilds?  Our favorite class, the venturer?  Seasonal variation in trade income (less in winter, more in summer)?  How do trade volumes or revenues relate to infrastructure like roads?  (Can we spin this into a reason for players to build and maintain roads, which they also seem to often want to do?)

I don't know if this would actually be simpler in practice than population growth.  But I do think it might be more fun.

A third approach to "domain advancement", and one which players seem to for push historically, is building up local industries and institutions.  I think this is actually fairly easy to adjudicate under ACKS' core rules, but it's not very profitable, and it could stand to be quantized, Kingmaker or Fields of Blood style - drop 10kgp plus some monthly maintenance on a Shipyard, and now you can buy ships as if your market were one class bigger.  Domains have a limited number of Industry slots based on size.  This would certainly be philosophically consistent with Simple Domains, so maybe it warrants further development.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

A/X: Refuges

Central thrust: General class of partial-resource-restoration sites in the wilderness leading naturally to domains

I've been thinking about the resource game in the wilderness more, particularly as it related to mercenary casualties.  Domains at War provides us with the handy heuristic that half of troop casualties are slain or die on the field, and the other half are lightly wounded.  Looking at the Mortal Wounds table's better half, this means they probably need about a week of bed rest to be back in fighting shape (Domains at War glosses over this, but I think it could be useful for our purposes), provided that you have held the field and can retrieve your wounded.

The bar for bed rest in ACKS is something like "complete rest in reasonably sanitary conditions".  For a site to be useful for this purpose, 1) you need to be able to defend it without involving the wounded troops - it should be defensible and out of the weather, and 2) the basis of sanitation is access to clean water.  You need it for drinking, for cleaning injuries, and for keeping the site itself clean.  It's also just nice to have generally to ease logistics and refill.

So some examples of such sites might include:
  • Shallow cave complex with a natural spring near the entrance
  • Crumbling tower built by the men of the first age, with intact cistern
  • Caravanserai near an oasis
  • Rivendell, Beorn's homestead, Craster's Keep, and other features defensible by virtue of powerful friendlies. 
  • A palisaded beastman village with a well, whose inhabitants have been put to the sword
 All of these sites have limits to the number of people they can shelter - you can't fit a battalion into a tiny cave, and you can't fit one in Rivendell either, for risking Elrond's ire.  Having more men than a site can shelter means spilling your camp out into the field, at an increased risk of random encounters (or, perhaps, being under a shelter's capacity reduces the likelihood of a random encounter by 1 on the d6 below the terrain's baseline; being over capacity just pushes it back to normal).  Capacity also imposes a limit on how many mercs can be on bed-rest at a site at once.

So the system in play would look something like this: you're exploring a hex and you find a crumbling tower overlooking a stream, a refuge with a capacity of say 60 men.  Your thief scopes it out and by luck finds it empty, the door locked.  You make a note of it on your map and continue forward.  After a skirmish with some beastmen, your heavy infantry retinue squad is at half UHP, 3 of 6.  This represents about 1 dead and 2 wounded.  You hold the field, gather your wounded, and retreat to the refuge, where you put the 2 wounded on bed rest and the rest of the squad on guard.  You send your explorer and his light infantry squad out foraging for rations while the heavies heal up.  He gets into a random encounter or two, but by good fortune they're just animals and easily dealt with (and eaten).  Seven days of rest later, your heavy infantry squad is now at 5 out of 6 UHP and hungry for revenge.

So the tradeoffs here: if you're far from town, you can get some mercenary healing (and PC healing too actually, at 1d3 HP per day of bed rest, more with the Healing proficiency - only relevant if changing the resource model on spells in the wilderness from "per day" to "per adventure"), but you can't refill all the way back up, it'll cost you in rations, and you put yourself at some risk for further random encounters (but a reduced risk compared to going all the way back to town at one roll per hex).

This ties to domain play in a couple of ways:

First, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.  Refuges are very attractive sites for monster lairs, and in some cases you might have to "liberate" them from a monster lair to use them at all.  A refuge that sits empty is liable to be re-inhabited between expeditions, which might necessitate re-clearing it.  This creates an incentive to establish small garrisons, to hold refuges between expeditions.  Human presence is likely to keep most animals out of the way, but may not be a deterrent to beastman warbands.  A back-and-forth, where a refuge is taken by and re-taken from beastmen, is pretty plausible and good re-use, good for building up campaign capital in a site.  Heck, "we're in town and can see a smoke signal from the garrison, let's get all our cavalry together and go relieve them" sounds like a pretty good time.

When you have a garrison, you have to support it, not just by relieving it with cavalry, but also with food.  Generally you can only feed about one person per square mile on hunter-gathering (so say 30 men per 6-mile hex, for convenience) under good conditions (ie, not desert, glacier).  Conveniently, 30 is also about the size of a beastman warband, which presumably also forages and hunts for its rations (as opposed to a village, which is dense enough that they're probably doing slash-and-burn agriculture).  So if you want bigger garrisons that will have better odds against a warband, you need to either lay in supplies (entailing logistics, defending caravans - and with spoilage, this might not be viable at all), or you need on-site agriculture, ie peasants.  An amusing intermediate step might be livestock.  30 men eat 30 stone of food a week, provided water.  A 550lb cow from the Livestock table yields about 27 stone of meat, probably more total rations if you're willing to boil the bones and such.  A cow per platoon per week sounds very reasonable, and they don't spoil - if you want to supply a garrison for a month, give 'em a week of standard rations and three cows.  And then you have an incentive to clear predatory-animal lairs that would otherwise be of no interest (dang giant eagles eating your cows), and you can have goblin cattle-rustlers!

Extra rules for butchering livestock provoking random encounter rolls?  Herdsman hirelings?  Clearly this whole livestock angle is one that could use more detail.

Anyway, another way that refuges lead into domain play is through capacity restrictions.  You want to have a garrison strong enough to hold them, but you also want enough space for your retinues to heal.  So you're probably going to want to expand the capacity of the refuge.  Put up a palisade around your crumbling tower to increase the capacity.  Uncrumble it to increase the capacity.  Build and consecrate a little shrine so your cleric can get a bonus to RL&L rolls (and maybe even restore his 1st- and 2nd-level spells in the field).  A refuge is the raw materials for a base, and players like base-building; so give 'em base-building.  Whether this will actually work with ACKSonomics is another question - it's not that construction is hideously expensive in ACKS, it's that labor is hideously unproductive.  3gp/man-month on an unskilled laborer (like a mercenary being employed to build a palisade) means it would take a platoon 40 days to build 100ft of palisade.  I suppose if you have a platoon-sized garrison just sitting around that's not totally implausible?  Might need some notion of garrison activities - a garrison can be building structures, or hunting and foraging, or patrolling the hex, in addition to holding the refuge, with different risk profiles for each of these activities.

Finally, as a feature on a hex-map placed during stocking, how common should refuges be?  I feel like a power law is reasonable - squad- or party-scale refuges, with a capacity of maybe 12, should be pretty common.  Almost any lair of large predators, once cleared, can probably suffice.  Platoon-scale refuges in the 30-60 capacity range are probably less common, maybe one in every seven hexes (one within a one-hex radius of any point, in expectation).  Company-scale refuges you probably have to take from a tough lair like a beastman village, maybe one in 19 hexes (one within a two-hex radius of any point, in expectation).

Bonus: dealing with mercenary casualties as combat ineffectives who need shelter and bed rest also lends itself nicely to disease and exposure.  A "trap" in a swamp hex might have characters save to avoid catching disease - mercenary squads who fail their save take some amount of damage temporary damage which can be fixed by bed rest, but if they don't get that bed rest within a certain timeframe, the damage becomes permanent as people die of dysentery.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Abilities for the Wilderness Levels

Contents: more speculative proposals.  Would probably take several posts to hash out details.

Last post, I asked what spells in the mid-levels look like in a system that took that shift to wilderness very seriously.  This is really a special-case of a more general question:

What would wilderness-appropriate mid-level abilities look like for all classes in a system that took that shift seriously?

In the low levels in the dungeon, the fighter fights, the thief gathers intel, opens paths to treasure, and occasionally one-shots things with backstab, cleric spells make everything a little easier and interact with the resource game, and mage spells straight-solve problems.

If we went hard on wilderness, what sort of abilities would we want mid-level thieves and fighters to have?

Thieves are probably the easy one.  Gathering information about the environment without attracting random encounters is just as important in the wilderness as in the dungeon.  The explorer's mechanics for evading random encounters make sense, as well as extra stuff for exploring hexes more quickly and more efficiently, locating and evading "wilderness traps" like crevasses, mudslides, etc.  I've been thinking about walking back my position on "don't show them the map" - show them a little of the map.  Hexes that have been entered but aren't yet "explored" and mapped are slower and more dangerous to move through (and, if maintaining a map for the players, have their terrain shown but greyed out).  Exploration takes time and can discover lairs and features.  So then you tie thief abilities to that hex exploration mechanic.  On the "opening treasure" side of things, you might have mechanics like ACKS' treasure-hunting and smuggling hijinks - figuring out where treasure is located and getting more out of the treasure you find by evading taxes.

The fighter's in a funny position.  The +1 morale at 5th level sends a very clear message - the fighter's signature mid-level schtick is mercenaries.  But actually running wilderness combats where you have a bunch of mercs (especially the sort of ragtag "two crossbowmen, a slinger, three light infantry, two heavy infantry, and one light cavalryman" mercs you see at low wilderness level) is generally a rough experience.  Setting up reasonable, actionable outdoor terrain for a squad-scale fight between a goblin warband and a player warband in a way that seems fair to players and doesn't consume a huge amount of time is not an easy thing (and this perception of wilderness fights as high-risk and very susceptible to either short-notice variations in terrain or long-slog tactical combat is, I think, part of why my players historically dislike them).  So I'm wondering if that's the wrong way to go about it, whether loosely-zoned wilderness combat would serve better, with mercenary troops and demihuman gangs "pinning" each other (in much the way that combatants in personal combat become "engaged"), doing some simplified resolution on their fights, and going into finer detail on the actions of the PCs against enemy heroes (and PC-engaged gangs).  Slightly higher detail than the Domains at War: Campaigns battle system, but lower detail than the Domains at War: Battles one.  There's probably some combat system that fits these parameters in Axioms somewhere...

And then for those single-monster fights that mercenaries aren't really supposed to help you with (make trivial by sheer volume of crossbow fire), maybe an answer is a morale penalty when facing big monsters.  Wait, I'm repeating myself.  Fighter morale bonus then helps make mercenaries slightly more effective against monsters, but might not fully eliminate the penalty (-2 sounds like a good starting point).

Another reasonable wilderness-tier ability for fighters would be something that helps them recruit mercenaries more quickly.  Name-level's "free followers!" has the right idea, but it's too little too late.  I've been kicking around a more structured system for downtime, and something as simple as "roll one mercenary type per downtime (roughly two weeks) in a market, without having to pay recruiting costs or spend any actual time" would probably be a good start.  Literal free units ("companion cavalry" or "retinue") that replenish themselves are a nice option too, though.  And a barbarian "Call Horde" (or Paladin "Call for aid from knightly order", scaling up to "Call Crusade") ability is too much fun to dismiss, though maybe more of a name-level feature.  Manual of Arms to upgrade your mercs makes sense too - provided a simple way of tracking mercenary XP, maybe giving your mercs +10% would be nice.

...  maybe mercenary squads should compete for henchman slots.  You take the "spokesman" for the unit as an effective henchman, and then they're personal retinue, with maximum retinue unit size scaling with level, just as ability to command large units does (3rd level -> squad scale, 5th level -> platoon scale, 7th level -> company scale, and on up).  The spokesmerc is assumed to be running a hench-tree below himself, which is a full-time job.  He takes care of wrangling quartermasters and supplies and presents you with the bill, acts as a lieutenant in mass combat, and absolutely will not follow you into dungeons, no sir, he needs to keep these idiots from starting fights with the locals or poking the wildlife for fun.  Retinue squads will go with you on wilderness adventures (and earn XP, with bonuses from Manual of Arms), whereas non-retinue mercenaries can only be used on military campaign with a clear domain-scale target, or as garrison.  And then we can ban hench-trees outside of military command structures to simplify my life, and any recruiting bonus that fighters get helps refill the ranks of their retinues.  If you like, can send a henchman to a market to gather mercs and become a known-loyal spokesmerc and retinue leader.  Upgrading a retinue unit to the next size requires both sufficient level and time in market to expand its ranks.

(Probably some room for using henchman slots ("direct reports"?) for other classes' wilderness-level stuff too; thief gangs / cells, cleric congregations, wizard lab-rats, a pirate-assassin variant with ships' crews, and then in domain level stewards for one's domains.  Concern: CHA was already a good stat, does linking it to literally every class' wilderness-and-domain game make it just ridiculous?)

...  Heck, you could even relate retinues to domain-founding.  Build up a big retinue, clear some land, and then grant it to them / "settle" them there, ending up with about one family per mercenary (camp followers, the girl back home, relatives who hear they've got land now and migrate) and a trained militia.  And your spokesmerc becomes the steward.  I like having domains be mostly-static, but if I had to deal with domain founding, this seems like an interesting way to do it.  Similar economics to the "subject tribes" I discussed here.

Anyway, mercenaries as the fighter's central wilderness mechanic also suggests some ideas for cleric.  Spells to mitigate mercenary damage in mass combat make a lot of sense; attrition in the wilderness is often through mercenary bodycount, analogous to the fighter's HP being ground down.  I feel like morale-boosting spells or abilities also make sense for the cleric when used on troops of the same faith.  Divine spells providing improvements to exploration and evasion also follow naturally (much like Find Traps).  Some abilities in support of retinues of either holy warriors or fanatical peasants would also be entertaining (and makes sense with Fighting 1 - some fighting stuff, but not as much as Fighting 2).

As for the hybrid classes - assassin's wilderness game probably looks a lot like thief's.  Bladedancer is like cleric but more focused on offense; maybe they should get more of the +mercenary morale spells, while cleric focuses on keeping mercenaries patched up between fights?  Mass Swift Sword?  Bard's wilderness game probably looks a lot like the fighter's, but less Manual of Arms and more Inspire Courage.

Explorer is the tricky one, because the whole class is built around the wilderness game.  It does exploration the best, but also gets the fighter morale bonus.  Perhaps a reasonable compromise is to give them similar morale and recruiting abilities to fighters, but only for light troops (light infantry, archers, and light cavalry).  And then in comparison to the thief, they still don't have the treasure-related capabilities.  Assassin is the one who comes away with the short end of the stick under that proposal, and I'm not really sure what to do about that.  Abilities supporting plant-based poison use are a natural addition, I suppose.  I feel like assassin's core gameplay in wilderness levels should be "go find beastman chieftains, shamans, and witchdoctors, and murder them", and poison supports that.  So would something like Tracking or bonuses to interrogating captured beastmen; differentiating the assassin's "exploration" abilities from the thief's, by the focus on finding and killing things.  They achieve similar results (getting you to the lair), but with different flavors.  Likewise, could differentiate explorer and thief "exploration" abilities by giving explorer stuff focused on actually exploring and traversing hexes, with thief instead specializing in encounter evasion.

I have the nasty feeling I'm embarking down Fantasy Heartbreaker Lane.  Call it A/X, Adventurer / Hexplorer, with a design ethos of "take ACKS' core rules and add slick, usable abstractions for wilderness (and maybe eventually domain) level play, grounded in ACKS' economic assumptions but with more focus on gameplay than simulation."

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

On Balancing New Spells for Wilderness and Domain Play, Contra ACKS' Design Systems

Central questions: what does it mean for a spell to be balanced at a particular spell level, in the presence of shifts in play?  What would a spell list / system of casting that really took the notion of shifts in play to heart look like?  How would you have to change the resource model to balance it without breaking the world?

Contents: speculative proposals.

I've been kicking around a couple of projects lately.  Both would entail designing new spells and figuring out what it means for a spell to be level-appropriate.

First, Magic the ACKSening.  I would like to hit the old Arena-era feeling, with physical objects that a caster attunes to which let him cast a particular spell.  I think there's some room for interesting mechanics here (blue card draw?  Attune to a talisman in your possession temporarily.  Black discard?  Temporarily disrupt someone else's attunement).  Also makes copying spells between casters within the party harder, makes competition for spells between casters in party more prominent.  But, comes with a whole bunch of problems, like "how do you model the different colors?  What's your spell-slots / mana pool mechanic look like?  How does recharging work?  How do you not shaft multi-color casters (if they even exist)?"

The ACKSiest way to do this would be to use the custom magic system creation rules from Axioms, but that makes life very difficult for multi-color casters.  If red casting and white casting are two different magic systems, they track two different repertoires and sets of spell slots, and if you want to combine them in one class, that class is not going to be very good at either of them.  In effect, its spellcasting will not actually be "level-appropriate" (I hate to use that word, but it serves), in the same way that a nightblade who casts as a wizard of half his level isn't actually going to be a useful spellcaster outside of the first couple of levels, or a high-level venturer isn't going to be a useful spellcaster.  Neither has access to spells which are relevant in their current tier of play; they don't keep up with the subtle shifts.  That's a damn shame, particularly in ACKS where those subtle shifts are not so subtle and a big selling point.

(This is probably a little too harsh on nightblade - if you pitch it as "at low levels when thief is weak, you're most of a mage with d6 HD and leather armor, and at high levels when thief is strong, you're most of a thief but with d6 HD, free Acrobatics, and the ability to cast Invisibility on yourself", it's probably a reasonable class.  But my players sure don't use it)

I think this is fundamentally a problem with ACKS' design systems.  They are too quantitative and insufficiently qualitative.  For another example of this, consider fireball, which by ACKS' design rules should be a 5th-level spell.  As I argue in the linked post, fireball is fine at 3rd - provided that the "expands to volume" clause is relentlessly enforced, in which case it becomes an outdoor spell, providing a big hit against either a humanoid warband (where the area of effect is the important point) or a single tough monster (where the d6 per level is the important bit, to force a morale roll through half-HP damage).  It's much like sleep, which in the low levels provided the ability to either neutralize an encounter's worth of weak humanoids or to take out a single big monster like an ogre.  The parallel is striking.  I'm a little surprised that death spell doesn't have a single-target mode (which was split out into disintegrate), following that same pattern.

The second project I have been considering is a result of my travel to Taiwan for work last summer.  While there, I visited the shrine of the Xia-Hai City God of Taipei.  I was rather tickled by the notion of a City God.  I subsequently read Journey to the West, and enjoyed its portrayal of the Celestial Bureaucracy, with deities ranked.  So I'm considering attempting to model that sort of messily syncretic polytheism, with ancestor worship, immortal heroes, animal spirits, boddhisatvas, dragon kings, hearth gods, stable gods, all manner of gods being worshiped, preferably with a minimum of systematic complexity.  I'm considering keeping just one divine caster class.  Your first and maybe second level spells are from ancestors and commoner deities like the Kitchen God, your third and fourth from regional deities, and then your fifth level spells are from higher powers, picking (say) two of three patrons per spell level, which then determine your spells available at that level.  But in any case, would need (many) new spells for this as well, hence the interest in "balance" with existing divine options.

So there's the question - if I'm dubious of ACKS' numbers for producing really balanced, tier-appropriate spells, I need to get a better qualitative idea of what's appropriate for a spell of each type (arcane | divine) at each level.  I think I was on the right track here - generally arcane does just straight-up solve (or oversolve) a level-appropriate problem at low levels, while divine does tend to only half-solve problems, give a bonus, or something like that.  But there's more to it than that.  I'm interested in the relationship between eg Wizard Lock and Hold Portal, 2nd and 1st level arcane spells that do roughly the same thing at different degrees of thoroughness.  That might seem like a silly thing to care about, but I'm kicking around spells that fog whole hexes to solve fundamentally the same problem ("we are being pursued") at wilderness levels, because the wilderness is just a big megadungeon - so if your wizard can have a spell to solve the problem of pursuit in the dungeon, and now we're doing wilderness stuff, well sure, you should have spells to solve similar problems at this new level of play.  Flood Ford and Hold Mountain Pass as 3rd-level analogs of Hold Portal, maybe...  Light solves the problem of tracking consumable torches temporarily, Continual Light solves it more permanently - Create Food and Water solves consumable wilderness resources temporarily, Cornucopia solves it more permanently by imbuing an object and requires maintenance (the divine version, meanwhile, is more like Call Game Animals and gives you a bonus to hunting throws to find food.  Purify Food and Water / Preserve Food and Water are also more along the divine "partial-solve" lines, but rely on enforcing ration spoilage).

If wizards could straight-solve wilderness-level problems like they straight-solve dungeoneering problems, maybe wilderness play would be more fun.  Perhaps my players would be willing to take more risks if they felt they had some aces in the hole besides fireball.

Unfortunately, this [high-powered wilderness- and domain-grade spells] is in tension with ACKS' ethos of "let's tone wizards down a little so that we can still have conventional armies and historical-looking economics."  This is why ACKS' fireball only has a 10' radius instead of 20', for example.  A partial resolution to this is really enforcing the "spell slots only recovered by rest in safe, sanity conditions" rule - this means that yeah, that wizard is gonna wreck one unit, but then he has to get back to town to recharge.  This breaks down under siege conditions, providing a huge advantage to casters defending a town over those laying siege to it, and might have other unforeseen edge problems.  Maybe the right thing is really to vary the recharge time for spell slots by phase of play.  Dungeoneering-tier spells recharge every day, while a turn in the dungeon is ten minutes - a similar scheme would have wilderness-tier spells recharging maybe every month, against a "wilderness turn" of one day (...  or maybe every 3 months; 144 10-minute turns per day, and 144 days is 4.8 months, but that seems excessive), and domain spells...  I don't even know.  The upshot of boosting the recharge times is that you can go nuts with high-power spells that solve level-relevant problems but aren't really useful at lower tiers (does raise some questions like "how do they interact with Dispel Magic?").

Maybe it makes sense to move the bar for ritual spells down.  The nice thing about spell slots, though, is that they don't build up over time like ritual spell items do - lord help him who goes to war with the elven or lich wizard-lord who has had a couple of centuries to stockpile ritual items.  Maybe a limit on "sustainable" ritual spell items, just like on Continual Light?  Or you have a spell slot, but you have to do something like ritual research to recharge it?  The logical endpoint of this train of thought probably looks rather vancian...  I think I like longer recharge times better.

There is also the difficulty that most of the existing 5th-6th level spells are really more like high-level-dungeoneering spells than wilderness or domain spells.  Passwall, disintegrate, anti-magic shell, feeblemind, dimension door...  this stuff has domain applications (siege, fighting high-level NPCs and big monsters), but it's not for domains.  Passwall is for punching temporary shortcuts in dungeons; disintegrate's secondary function clearing a 10' cube is the same but more permanent, and probably wasn't designed or balanced with reducing fortresses in mind.  They're not designed around the shifts, and if your game doesn't include dungeons as a salient feature of high-level play, they're a bit out of place (especially if competing for repertoire space with eg a spell you can only cast every five years that summons 500 demons for a single mass combat).

Maybe tacking these high-level dungeoneering effects onto low-level spells when cast by high-level casters is a reasonable solution?  So say, knock can produce passwall if the caster is 9th+ level, much like bless can make holy water or magic missile scales up.  And then 1st-2nd level spells are your dungoneering and personal combat bread and butter, 3rd-4th are mostly wilderness or small mass-combat (haste, prayer, and other mass- spells fit here) with longer recharge times, and 5th-6th are for domains and big mass combats and have looong recharge times.

What a mess.

This is starting to sound suspiciously like Trailblazer's reforms to spells, grouping them into different recharge times even within the same level...  And I also adopted their solution to half-casters being bad.  Trailblazer was right about everything.  Well OK, maybe not action points, but a lot of things. Although even ACKS is headed in that direction with the Heroic Fantasy book...