Sunday, September 15, 2019

A/X: Wilderness Level

Koewn's mention in last post's comments of OSR spell-point systems that give more recharge in the wilderness, because it's a more fantastical place than civilization, got me thinking.  I agree with the general premise, that wilderness ought to be fantastical, and civilization ought not to be very fantastical (if nothing else, this helps keep the economics grounded).  But giving more recharge in the wilderness than in civilization would throw the wilderness resource game very far from the B/X roots, which I think are mostly solid but need some elaboration.

Concurrently, thinking about wilderness as dungeon - we have dungeon levels, as a measure of both distance from the surface and of danger, but the danger of wilderness regions is not handled so clearly.  In ACKS we have both the wilderness/borderlands/civilized distinction, and then terrain type also heavily influences number of lairs and encounter chance, and some terrain types are arguably more dangerous in practice due to differences in their random encounter tables.

So I'm thinking maybe we impose Wilderness Level, as a measure of danger, supernatural power, and expected treasure, in regions.  Reorganize the wilderness encounter tables so that more dangerous creatures appear at higher numbers, and then switch from d12 to d6 + wilderness level.  Maybe apply it as a modifier to encounter chance and number of lairs too (instead of having that be by terrain).  So untamed plains are about as dangerous as untamed mountains, in terms of their inhabitants.  And then you can have Tamed Mountains that are reasonably safe without having to recall the implicit rule in ACKS that causes encounter roll frequency to vary with civilizedness.  Just make it explicit and simple by analogy with dungeon level.

Then, to link it to civilization, spellcasting resource management, and base construction, building and maintaining temples, wizard's towers, etc reduces wilderness level in the surrounding area (possibly at wilderness "room" or biome scale?  Or temple per room plus shrine per hex?).  These work by siphoning magic from the wilderness, which is inherently chaotic and dangerous, and laundering it through deities, rituals, etc, into a form which is not fundamentally inimical to human life, which can be safely used and controlled by spellcasters.  Imposing a schema (mathematical or extraplanar for arcane or personified deity for divine) on the raw, schema-less magic of the wilderness limits what you can do with the magic, but it also limits what the magic can do to you.  Human magic is legible; wild magic isn't.  So regions of civilization are safe, sane, and stable because existing temples and guilds spend a lot of time and cash operating "heat sinks", and the total throughput of these heat sinks limits the total number / power of wizards and clerics available to civilization.

A couple of interesting things fall out of this:

This helps explain why barbarian/beastman hordes pillage temples; this returns the land to wilderness, by eliminating their protective influence.  Also justifies centrality and necessity of religion in daily life.

Likewise, a temple which "appeases" a volcano operates by drawing off the wild magic which might cause eruption, spontaneous generation of fire elementals, etc.

If you're out in the wilderness and you're tapped out but you need one more fireball, go ahead, tap into the raw wilderness magic.  What could possibly go wrong?  Lycanthropy?  Animal body parts?  Extra head?

Elves - native to wilderness level 1 rather than wilderness level 0 like humans and hobbits (I dunno about dwarves yet).  Better at wild magic use?  Spellsinging from Heroic Fantasy is very much on theme; if wizard magic is like baroque and cleric magic is like gregorian chant, the elf is improvising jazz.

It's normally weird that lower HD beastmen have better witchdoctors and shamans (eg goblins get d6/d8 level spellcasters, but ogres only get like d4 level spellcasters).  But if ogres are the product of a wilder and less schematic environment, then it makes sense that they don't really do spells (and instead rely on ambient raw magic to maintain 4HD) whereas weaker beastmen, more common right on the edge of human civilization, are exposed to more schematism and might have deities but less embodied magic to draw on.

I could see something like Vinge's zones of thought as a useful analogy- at low wilderness levels, your horse is animal sentience.  With prolonged exposure to high wilderness levels, your horse becomes a fairy tale horse and might start talking.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A/X: Halls: Refuges in Civilization

I already needed rules for building up refuges in the wilderness, and I was thinking about facilities for increasing spell point recovery rate in civilization, and now I'm thinking about base building where-ever.

Reasons to encourage and codify "base-building in civilization" in the mid-levels:

  • My players generally buy a townhouse anyway and then complain about lack of base-building, so I think if there were reasons to build more stuff they would happily do so.
  • Generalize to cover wilderness basebuilding / refuge-upgrading with the same rules, at a distance-and-danger cost multiplier.
  • Base facilities could help ease the pain of small markets.
  • Maintenance cost for your base would be a nice way to streamline / centralize cost of living expenses.
  • A collective party possession encourages unity and the party as the unit of continuity.
  • Provide absolute clarity on what it means to get the treasure "home" for XP purposes, especially in points-of-light settings where there isn't a big "civilization" zone just off the hex-map.

So here's how I see this going down in practice.

Find a town you like.  Go meet with the local lord and petition for the right of hearth and charter.  He's going to ask you to do him a favor.  It's going to be a messy, adventurous favor.  If you have powerful enemies in town (from, say, a night of drunken mayhem fighting temple eunuchs - purely hypothetically, of course), he's going to ask you for an additional favor per powerful enemy.  If you have a powerful ally in town, maybe he asks you for one less favor.

So you deal with his ankheg problem and come back, and swear a little oath to help defend the town from threats monstrous and domestic, and he authorizes your charter as a Legitimate Fraternal Order (like the Elks or the Masons - make sure to choose a name), granting you the right to build or purchase a hall within his domain.  You go find some crappy land on the outskirts of town and hire some laborers to clear it and build a longhouse.  Congratulations, you are no longer murderhobos (just murder-...citizens).  Everyone now knows where to find you - traveling merchants, barbarians for hire, messengers bearing quests, peasants looking for help with their wyvern problems, your wizard's roommate from college, your wizard's ex from college, knights errant looking for someone to fight, beggars, preachers, used magic item salesmen, performing acrobats seeking a venue, the thieves' guild seeking to acquire something while disguised as acrobats, the thieves' guild looking to move some hot goods, the watch looking for some hot goods, the tax collector, the assassin's guild, meddling archmages, elder dragons...  I think I feel a random table coming on.

It comes with enough space, kitchen, and larder enough to feed and sleep n people.  This is the maximum number of PCs, henchmen, hirelings, and retainers you can support in "clean, sanitary conditions" suitable for healing and the avoidance of loyalty penalties.  Upgrade for more capacity.  If you have excess capacity, townsfolk come drink and gamble with you and some of them might be recruitable as henchmen.  Some of them might also be spies for the other Rival Adventurous Orders with halls in town.
Also comes with some capacity for horses and dogs; again, if you want more (or cavalry retinue), kennel and stable upgrades.

Other stuff to put in or around your hall (eventually compound):

  • Library and laboratory for magic research.  Capture a spellbook from an NPC with new spells in it?  Goes in the party library, becomes guild secrets.
  • Chapel, sanctum, meditorium, summoning chamber, etc for spell point recovery.
  • Treasury / vault / reliquary.  Stop paying those bankers negative interest to store your gold, and store it yourself.
  • Monster heads on the walls / trophy room.  Bonus to reaction rolls on your own turf.
    • Maybe a more general "prestige / grandeur" mechanic?  Helps negate the hiring penalty for slander?
  • Armory.  Keep your magic swords organized, and stockpile plate mail when it's available in your lousy market.
  • Cemetery / catacombs.  Inter your dead henchmen properly to prevent them from rising as the undead for vengeance, and to keep high-level wizards from using their skulls as crafting components (keep the skulls for yourself).  Spend money on elaborate funerals for your PCs for more efficient reserve XP generation (per Heroic Fantasy Handbook).  Ghosts give you quests.
  • Shrine to your dead fighter, Bob.  Subsequently play a cleric of Bob.  Bob becomes the Party Deity.  Praise be unto Bob.
  • Smoke-filled back rooms in which to plan hijinks and dungeon-crawls, away from the prying ears of Rival Adventurous Orders and The Law.
  • Pit where potential henchmen can fight each other so you can learn their stats.  Or for gambling.  Or both.
  • Warehouse space to store your trade goods, both stolen and legitimate.
  • Wagon yard for assembling your caravan(s), might be visited by traveling merchants or halflings if space available
  • Garden
    • Medicinal
    • Poison
    • Psychoactive - regain spell points in the field, but save vs datura
    • Ornamental, +prestige
    • Go on, plant that magic seed you found
  • Infirmary with physician hirelings to cure your lycanthropy and succubus-herpes without it becoming public knowledge.  And more natural healing, I guess.
  • Forge with smith hirelings to make more plate for your henchmans.  Or masterwork weapons, if those rules are in use.
  • Still for Dwarven Brewing.
  • Gem-cuttery for lapidary hirelings to improve found uncut gems (hat tip to Courtney's Downtime and Demesnes, the draft of which I should probably finish reading before attempting to roll my own thing here)
  • Parade / training yard to upgrade your mercs.
  • Siege workshop / testing range...  I feel like this might be pushing the edge of the Charter, though, and start generating Concern from your local lord.
  • Dock / shipyard, if coastal or riverine.
  • Menagerie of exotic beasts
    • (Prestige again, but a small chance of escape...)
  • Barn and pasture of not-so-exotic beasts for use in trapfinding, hecatombs, and rations-on-the-hoof
  • Dungeon / prison for beastman prisoners and hostages
  • Walls, towers, etc...  but again, local lord will push back on too much of this.

All of this has been done before, in for example the 3.x Stronghold Builder's Guide.  All this is aso easy enough to work out under ACKS' rules as they exist.  It's just in a very low-abstraction state at the moment, much like Domains at War.  You're hiring individual mercenaries and buying individual windows for your hall.  This is an easy enough problem to solve.

Bonus: use the same facilities rules for NPC organizations like wizards' cabals, temples, and thieves' guilds.  Membership in a guild at low levels provides access to libraries, laboratories, and restoration facilities in exchange for dues and labor during downtimes.  These organizations are chartered differently and don't compete with adventuring organizations, but have monopoly on sale of eg magic in town (nudging players towards adventuring rather than sitting in town selling spells).

Saturday, September 7, 2019

A/X: Fibonacci Spell Points

I've been thinking about spell points for A/X.  Originally I was thinking of rolling the resource model for spells all the way back to "spells are per adventure", but 1) this is a somewhat dissociated resource model which would require in-world explanation and induces weird edge cases around "well what's an adventure", and 2) I'm thinking that if HP and mercenaries can be recovered (slowly) in the wilderness in refuges, perhaps it makes sense for magic to also be recoverable in the wilderness (slowly).  But spell slots of particular levels are very quantized; doing slow recovery without breaking them up sounds like it would end up being complicated.

At 1d3 HP per day of bed rest in reasonably sanitary conditions, an average first-level fighter can recover full HP in about two days.  So putting magic at parity, it would make sense for the average first-level mage to be able to recover a first level spell about every two days.  This means first level spells need to cost more than one spell point - two seems workable.

This got me thinking also - most spell point systems make 2nd level spells cost 3, 3rd level spells cost 5, 4th 7, 5th 9.  This is pretty close to reasonable except at the very low end.  Is web really worth three castings of sleep?  Is fireball worth five castings of sleep?  I tend to think not really, with OSR sleep - a fireball wins a wilderness encounter with a band of beastmen by cooking their chieftain, two or three sleeps win an encounter with beastmen by knocking our the chieftain and a couple of gangs.  The main thing these higher-level spells have going for them is action economy.  So thinking about these factors, 1st level spells costing 2 points and the relationship in power between spells of various levels, I ended up at the Fibonacci sequence.

Spell level: spell points
1: 2
2: 3
3: 5
4: 8
5: 13
6: 21

A fireball once every five days is also pretty close to the recovery time for a badly-injured retinue unit (or for the beastmen you fireballed last week to recover from their burns), which suggests that it's about right for recovery of wilderness-level abilities.

Further considerations:

If NPCs follow the same rules, what does this do to the economics of hired spellcasters?

What does this do to the availability of Restore Life and Limb?

Can you recover spell points faster while resting in civilization, where you have all your incense and pentagrams in order beforehand?  Can you apply these same sort of things (building sanctuaries, consecrating altars) to improve refuges and boost spell point recovery there?

What of the Contemplation proficiency?

Mercenaries only recover partway (the dead don't rise, but the injured heal) - should there be some analog to that?

Maintaining indefinite-duration spells like continual light and wizard lock - reduce your max spell points?

Places of Power seem like a much more natural fit for spell point systems than for vancian casting - reservoirs of spell points that can be drained but recover slowly.

Are there known pitfalls to spell-point systems that I should be wary of?