Saturday, April 4, 2020

Money Up Front: Henchmen

Continuing the theme of turning money-over-time problems into up-front costs [1][2in support of loose-consistency open-table ACKS games: henchman wages.

What happens if, instead of a monthly wage, we take the monthly wage and multiply it by 30, as an up-front hiring cost?

LevelUp-front Cost (gp)

Magic items and fiefs can be used to pay this cost, at an appropriate effective gold piece value (and indeed, for high-level henchmen, there may be no other way to hire them).

When a henchman levels and fails a loyalty roll, their hiring player can offer them a raise to the pay grade for their new level for a re-roll.  On success, the player must pay the difference between the cost that was paid at hiring (or previous level-up re-roll) and the new level's up-front cost.  This cannot be used to retry failed loyalty rolls due to calamities.

Eg: Varimir levels from 2nd to 3rd and fails his loyalty roll.  Varimir was hired as a L0 man and previously demanded a raise when he leveled from 1st to 2nd.  Varimir's hirer offers to pay him 1500gp to retain his services (3000gp, the price of a 3rd-level henchmen, minus 1500gp, the wages Varimir demanded on attaining second level).

Nice properties of this proposal: the primary aim is to not have to track campaign time on the game-calendar.  Additionally, paying henchmen up front means that players are more likely to view them as long-term investments to be recouped rather than expendables.  It may also limit henchman-spam somewhat, where some players hire many many henchmen.

Problems with this proposal: 360gp is too expensive for an L1 adventurer to hire a L0 man at the beginning of the first session.  War dogs get even more attractive when henchman expenses are more immediate.  There seems to be a gap between these wages and the cost of henchmen created generation of characters higher than 1st level (who cost 1GP per XP - about 33% more).

There's probably some really interesting math to be done in terms of balancing henchman expenses with mercenary expenses, and it's easier to do when they're both lump sums.  An nth level fighter has x XP and 0.8*x total GP earned, which means we can estimate a PC's budget for henchmen and mercs at a given level.

The reasonable thing is probably to just pay henchmen for sessions played (but then it gets weird with henchmen who sit out - if I show up to a session and don't bring a hench on the adventure, I have to pay them, but if I don't show up to the session, I don't have to pay them).  But if you only pay henchmen for adventures worked, then building big stables of henchmen is encouraged.  Maybe that's fine?  Maybe we need a table for "what sort of trouble did your henchman who didn't go on the adventure get up to while you were away?"

Additional (tangential) proposal: Henchmen receive a quarter share of both treasure and XP.  Why?  Three reasons: this makes the math simpler (1/6th shares are a pain in the butt to do in your head), 1/4 share of XP instead of 1/2 share means that slow-leveling classes with fast-leveling henchmen are less likely to be outleveled (and most of the time henchmen will converge to party level minus 2, which is still useful, and places them appropriately to be lieutenants at any mass battle scale where the PCs are qualified to be commanders), and 1/4 share of GP instead of 1/6th share helps make up for their reduced effective-monthly wages (which may now lag their level).

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Domains at War: Beastman Domain Units

This post sat as a draft in my queue for a looong time, so it may be a little outdated, but a discussion in the Discord brought it to mind so I figured I'd press the Publish button.

Previously, I examined tribal goblins, who due to poor organization and a lousy manufacturing base end up relying very heavily on beast cavalry, scavenged weapons, and unconventional strategy.

But goblins, being weak, are natural candidates for domination by orcs and chaotic domains.  Here I consider the sort of units one might see in a semi-industrialized chaotic domain, Mordor-style.  There's a case to be made that Mordor, in Tolkien, represents the forces of modernity in the mid-20th century, with crude artifice, callous science, and forbidden knowledge applied to slaughter and conquest.  I'm not going to go so far as The Last Ringbearer in apologizing for Sauron - I assume the Dark Lord is probably a bad dude, and his servants likewise.  But evil doesn't mean stupid, and if you have the knowledge and power to train and compel beastmen to forge weapons, their products may be without beauty, but quite functional.

I guess my essential contention is that the primary deficiency of beastmen is organizational, rather than intellectual (of low and evil cunning).  So here I'm assuming a tech-base comparable to humans, but army organization still hampered by the natural aggression of beastmen.

Anyway, starting from the bottom of the totem pole:


Goblins benefit greatly from being part of a chaotic domain, primarily because their weaknesses in melee are covered by their stronger counterparts.  They remain useful as cavalry and make for adequate archers.

Goblin Arbalestiers: 1/2/3 IF, AC 2, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML +0, 2 shortsword 10+, 3 arbalest 10+

Crossbows are great for goblins for the same reasons they were great for human peasants historically: compared to longbows, they're easy to learn to use, they hit hard, and they don't rely on upper-body strength.  Any goblin qualified to use a sling or shortbow could use an arbalest to greater effect, and goblin arbalestiers are available as goblin bowmen.  The arbalest's no-move-before-fire and great range are perfect for low-speed goblins, and if you're at range, having lower HP than orcs is fine.  This frees up fast, tough orcs with carrying capacity for armor to get into the melee where they belong.  It's a win-win.  Wages are about 9gp/mo (cheaper than orcish crossbowmen), company TCO is around 1.5kgp/mo, and their BR is around 1.25.  If your setting has guns, Goblin Musketeers are good for the same reasons.

Goblin Grenadiers: 1/2/3 IF, AC 2, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML -1, 2 torch 10+, 5 thrown military oil 10+

In addition to advanced metallurgy, Mordorian beastmen have discovered the refining of naphtha.  Some poor sods get to be the delivery mechanism for that volatile oil to the enemy, and goblins, being the lowest of the low, are often stuck with this duty.  A unit struck with a thrown oil attack must immediately check shock, as fire bears a visceral terror.  On a roll of a natural 1 with a thrown oil attack, the goblin grenadiers take 1UHP of damage and must check shock, in addition to gaining a depletion marker.  Goblin grenadiers take double damage from fireball, fire breath weapons, and similar effects, as the oil in their packs ignites.

Goblin grenadiers can also be employed against terrain.  If there are no units within their range (2 hexes) and forward firing arc, they can throw fire on the ground instead.  It takes 3 successful military oil attacks against AC0 to ignite a hex properly.  Most terrain becomes rough and obscuring when so ignited - units must move carefully around the fires, and the smoke blocks line of sight.  As the oil floats on top of water, even mud and lake hexes can be affected.  Forest and swamp hexes lit afire become impassable, as burning underbrush and falling limbs become serious hazards.  Ignited hexes burn for a least 10 minutes, which is longer than most battles will last.

Goblin grenadiers' thrown oil attacks also deal 5 SHP of damage per hit to siege towers and wooden structures.  As a result of these abilities, goblin grenadiers are useful in sieges, both defensively (igniting siege towers) and offensively (igniting hexes to block lines of sight and allow other units to advance to the walls).

Goblin grenadier wages are 3gp/mo, and their company TCO is about 1kgp/mo (accounting for the expensive oil that they use).  They require little training, and are available as goblin light infantry.  Their nominal BR is 0.75, but much of their utility is not captured by the BR calculation.

Goblin Spider-Knights: 2/4/6 Irregular Mounted, AC 7, HD 1-1, UHP 6, 2 lance and shield 10+, charge 2 bite 9+ and delayed poison (save at +2) (and bonus lance damage), ML +1

Goblins don't benefit much from the availability of advanced armors, because of their low carrying capacity.  This is less of an issue for cavalry, however, and giant spiders have tremendous carrying capacity, allowing them to carry an armored rider while heavily barded themselves.  This is a unit of goblins in plate with shields and lances mounted on giant crab spiders barded in lamellar.  While not as fast as wolves, they're much better armored, and their poison charge can really hurt high-HD units, and also inflicts shock.  They can climb sheer surfaces like cliff faces and castle walls.

They are, however, hideously expensive, with wages of around 71gp/mo per spider+goblin pair, and a company TCO of 8.25kgp/mo, for a battle rating of only 2.75.  Still, they're a fun idea.  Maybe spider-chariots make more sense - a pair of giant crab spiders (or a single giant black widow) can pull a heavy chariot, which can carry four goblin archers in heavy armor.

Of course, while we're on the subject of spiders as warbeasts, we may as well go all-out...

Elephant Spider

This was my first time using the Lairs and Encounters monster design rules; mostly I wanted to see just how much an elephant-sized spider could carry.

Concept: enormous spider
Type: Vermin
HD: 22
Saves: F11

Hmm for a gigantic (elephant-sized) spider, I need it to weigh at least 8000 lb, so I'm retroactively going to maximize BME to 1.68.  That gives me a mass of 4500lb, still insufficient.  To hit 4 tons, I need 22HD.  So that's what we're doing - 18HD, BME 1.68.  We're also going to maximize CCF, at 0.426 - these spiders are bred primarily to be enormous and to carry heavy things.  Using the cube-square rule, we get a carrying capacity of 1512 stone (by comparison, an elephant's carrying capacity of 180 stone).

AC 4
1 bite, 44 average damage -> 8d10, plus save-or-die poison (save at -2)
XP 5500 (HD 22*)
Treasure P,K
Spiders are pretty smart for vermin, with training mod +2 (but training period 1 year).  Given that this thing is enormous and selectively bred, I think Animal intelligence makes sense.
Natural lifespan of around 45 years.
You know, I don't see anywhere to calculate morale for monsters in this build system.
Trained value per L&E is something on the order of 121kgp, wages on the order of 3680 gp/mo.
BR per DaW is...  really annoying to calculate for individual monsters, actually.  So let's do a behemoth cavalry unit and derive it from there.

Given how much these things cost, it would be dumb to not armor them in plate (7200gp, 60 stone, +5 AC).  A gigantic war howdah costs 240gp and only weighs 18 stone - there's no way we're going to use up 1500st of carrying capacity on this thing.  We can put 12 orc lancers in plate in that howdah if we pack them in; if each orc weighs 20 stone and has 10 stone of equipment, we've used up a total of around 400 stone, well below even half carrying capacity.

So a unit of 5 of these has 60 orcs in plate packed into howdahs (AC 8, THAC0 14+) and five enormous spiders.  Speed is 120', translates to IM 2/4/6 (...  not actually faster than orcs on foot).  AC 8.66 -> 9, UHD 34, UHP 11.  The spiders generate 12.6 attacks, the lancers generate 4.95 attacks, for a total of 17.55 attacks, rounded to 18.  The spiders have THAC0 -4+, while the riders have THAC0 14+; the weighted average by number of attacks is 1+.

Morale is tricky.  Base morale of 0 for the spiders is not unreasonable, but then they're war-trained for +2.  The orcs are beast-riders and have ML +2, so the average ML is +2 regardless of weighting.  They are, however, unpredictable.

So here's how it all rolls out:

War Elephant Spiders: 2/4/6 Irregular Mounted, AC 9, HD 34, UHP 11, 18 lance and poison bite 1+, ML +2 unpredictable

So that's a hell of a unit.  BR is 18.25 before poison, which contributes about 3.5 points of BR, bringing it up to 21.75.  A single enormous spider with 12 orcs has a BR of around 4.25, and should demand a balanced monthly wage of around 3.1kgp, which is a bit under the wage L&E gave us of around 3.7kgp.  Anyway, 4kgp/mo is probably adequate to account for rarity, equipment, and riders.  Add in some specialists, supplies, and slop factor and you're probably looking at around 22kgp/mo TCO for a company of five of these things.  22kgp/mo is about four and a half companies of wolf riders at BR 6.5 each, or three and a half of boar riders at BR 8 each.  So in terms of BR/gp, superspiders aren't great compared to existing beastman cavalry.  They are, however, much more consistent on offense - four and a half companies of wolf riders can generate 29 attacks if they all charge, but on a non-charge turn only generate 9.  Given that they're irregular and can't disengage, charging multiple times is pretty rare.
The spiders get 18 attacks (at better THAC0) every round, forever, and can be expected to consistently kill one human unit per turn, and to shock even heavy infantry phalanxes, beastman heavy infantry, and giants (who are also very vulnerable to their poisonous bite).  On the other hand, four and a half companies of wolf-riders are honestly a lot harder to kill, with a total of 90 HP to the superspiders' 11.  High AC is nice, but if they're plowing through the center of a melee line they're going to start taking attacks from the side and rear, and some of those will hit eventually.  The spiders will also have trouble with cavalry (especially light), and have no answer at all to flying units.  I suppose there's really no reason to not give the orcs bows, besides not wanting to redo the BR math.
Probably plays a lot like an OGRE; you can clean up mainline units or make a run for the commanders, but eventually the enemy's light units will wear you down, so you must hurry.

Since they can climb walls, they're pretty useful offensively during sieges.  You could put catapults on their backs instead of orc lancers, but...  really you want these guys to be up in melee, clearing the tops of the parapets in advance of your ladders.

I guess at this point we've already really moved on to orcs from goblins, though.


Orcs benefit substantially from the availability of heavy armor because their speed doesn't degrade until they're carrying 7 stone of gear, per Domains at War Campaigns page 35 (humans start to slow down at 5 stone).  The only reason not to upgrade the stock orc units is cost.  As a forward-thinking Evil Overlord focused on military modernization, up-armoring my orcish legions is a top priority.

Orc Armored Light Infantry: 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 5, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +0, 2 spear and shield 10+ or 2 sword and shield 10+, 2 spear 10+ ranged.  Equipped with chainmail, shield, spear, and scimitar.  Wages 8gp/mo, TCO 1.25kgp/mo, BR 1.75.

Orc Armored Heavy Infantry: 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 5, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +0, 3 polearm 10+.  Equipped with banded mail and a polearm.  Wages 11gp/mo, TCO 1.75 kgp/mo, BR 2.

You call that heavy infantry?  I'll show you heavy infantry.  Honestly the light/heavy distinction for beastman infantry is sort of artificial, since it's all Irregular Foot.

Orc Seriously Heavy Infantry: 2/3/4 Irregular Foot, AC 7, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +0, 2 spear and shield 10+ or 2 axe and shield 10+, 2 spear 10+ ranged.  Equipped with plate, shield, spear, and battle-axe.  Wages 13gp/mo, TCO 2kgp/mo, BR 2.25.

May as well upgrade the archers and crossbowmen too, even.

Orc Armored Bowmen: 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 5, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +0, 2 battle-axe melee 10+, 2 shortbow ranged 10+.  Equipment: banded mail, shortbow, battle-axe.  Wages 9gp/mo, TCO 1.5kgp/mo, BR 2.5.

Orc Armored Crossbowmen: 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 5, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +0, 2 battle-axe melee 10+, 3 arbalest ranged 10+.  Equipment: banded mail, arbalest, battle-axe.  Wages 16gp/mo, TCO 2.25 kgp/mo, BR...  5.5?  Jesus.

Orcish Armored Boar Riders: 2/4/6 Irregular Mounted, AC 7, HD 6, UHP 24, ML +2, 2 spear and shield 10+, 5 bite 6+ on charge.  Equipment: giant boar (30st carrying capacity), orc (15st), spear (1st), shield (1st), plate armor (6st), chain barding (3st).  Wages 51gp/mo, TCO 7kgp/mo, BR 13.

Orcish Incinerators: 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 5, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +0, 2 torch 10+ melee, 5 thrown military oil 10+ ranged.  Equipment: Banded mail, 3 torches, 8 flasks of military oil.  Wages 8gp/mo, TCO 1.5kgp/mo, BR 3.5.  All the special rules that apply to Goblin Grenadiers also apply to Orcish Incinerators.

Once that reform is in plate (so to speak) and my iron-clad grip on the realm has stabilized, I'm going to want to start selectively breeding orcs for martial virtues like discipline (as well as desirable physical characteristics like increased toughness).  The end result of this orcgenics program is basically hobgoblins, but with 120' speed.  They are in no respect inferior to man, and they shall inherit the earth.  Saruman's uruks and Warhammer's black orcs are both in this mold.

Elite Orc Skirmishers: 2/4/6 Loose Foot, AC 5, HD 1+1, UHP 10, ML +0, 2 spear and shield 9+ or 2 swordsword and shield 9+ melee, 2 spear or 2 javelin 9+ ranged.  Equipment: Chainmail, shield, sword, spear, 3 javelins.  Wages 15gp/mo, TCO 2kgp/mo, BR 4.

Elite Orc Pikes: 2/4/6 Formed Foot, AC 5, HD 1+1, UHP 10, ML +0, 3 polearm 9+ melee, 2 javelin 9+ ranged.  Equipment: Banded mail, polearm, 3 javelins.  Wages 18gp/mo, TCO 2.5kgp/mo, BR 5.

Elite Orc Heavy Infantry: 2/3/4 Formed Foot, AC 7, HD 1+1, UHP 10, ML +0, 2 spear and shield 9+ melee or 2 sword and shield 9+ melee, 2 javelin 9+ ranged.  Equipment: Plate, shield, spear, sword, 3 javelins.  Wages 20gp/mo, TCO 2.75 kgp/mo, BR 5.5.

Elite Orc Bows: 2/4/6 Loose Foot, AC 5, HD 1+1, UHP 10, ML +0, 2 sword 9+ melee, 2 composite bow 9+ ranged.  Equipment: banded mail, sword, composite bow.  Wages 27gp/mo, TCO 3.5kgp/mo, BR 6.75.

Cavalry...  hm.  On the one hand, horses do not fit the orc / realm of darkness aesthetic at all.  On the other, they're so much faster than beastman mounts, and that really starts to matter with Loose Cavalry units.  There really aren't that many options for mounts that won't make you Irregular (by dint of being carnivorous).  Giant boars are actually viable for Formed Mounted, but they're so slow.  I dunno, I'll worry about this later.

Ogres are another unit worth up-armoring.  They're slow, but not getting any slower.  I'm not really clear on how to price armor for large humanoids, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over that.

Ogre Armored Infantry: 2/3/4 Irregular Foot, AC 9, HD 4+1, UHP 21, ML +2, 5 polearm 6+.  Equipment: large plate armor, big polearm.  Wages 100gp/mo, TCO 7kgp/mo, BR 14.75.

Ogres also have the carrying capacity to personally carry and use light ballistae (a human has a base carrying capacity of 5st and can wield a 1st arbalest - an ogre has a carrying capacity of 40st, and should be able to wield a 5-7 stone light ballista).  Since ogres count as two men for unit composition purposes and are much stronger, I have little doubt that they can effectively crew such weapons personally.  At 60 ogres per unit, and 10 light ballistae per human ballista battery, a company of ogres each armed with a ballista would have firepower comparable to 6 human ballista units.  One might reasonably argue that they're not trainable as Artillerists and should take a -4 to-hit penalty, which might be fair.

Ogre Ballistiers: 2/3/4 Irregular Foot, AC 9, HD 4+1, UHP 21, ML +2, 4 sword 6+ melee, 12 light repeating ballista 6+ ranged (range 8 hexes, no volley overhead penalty, no move before fire, see DaW:B page 61-2 for more details) and 1 reload token.  Equipment: large plate armor, light repeating ballista, sword.  Wages 130gp/mo, TCO 8.75kgp/mo, BR...  well my spreadsheet is telling me their BR is 59.25.  Use at your own risk, I suppose.  Honestly they might be more useful in smaller units - 12 attacks all on one target is going to be overkill a lot of the time.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) the next ballista up the chain is 80 stone, and not even giants have the carrying capacity to use one as a hand-weapon.

I suppose this would've been a fine place to apply Orc Chieftain Abilities for some chieftains and lieutenants.  Maybe next post.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Simple Domains: XP Up Front

For most of 2019, I was wrestling with squaring the circle of open table vs campaign play.  One of the central issues is "stuff over time" - expenses over time, income over time, etc.  When you don't keep very strong, consistent track of time between adventures, this stuff gets annoying.  I had a partial solution to problems of this form using ACKS' magic time-discounting ratio for mercenaries, turning them from an expense-over-time into a one-time cost.

It hit me a while back that the same could be done for domain income and, perhaps more importantly, domain XP.  Take the monthly net income, multiply it by the time constant of 30, and there's your XP value for conquering this domain, just like a monster entry.  No domain XP threshold, but the exponential XP curve sort of makes it work out - taking a (civilized) barony might give you 60k XP, but if you're high level that's not going to do much for you (might be worth extending the exponential progression up over 8th, instead of switching to linear progression - big domains yield a lot of XP).  And if you lose it, you lose the XP.  Sometimes this big lump of XP will be enough for you to level multiple times.  We already have a mechanism for dealing with big lump sums though - "you can only level once per adventure".  The same would work fine here - you can get better training by ruling a domain, but you need to go out and apply it in order to turn it into levels.  Maybe allow mass combats to also count as adventures.  This makes inheritance by a low-level character work out pretty cleanly; it doesn't take them from 1st to 8th overnight, it's still a gradual process, but a much-accelerated one that should bring them back to parity with the party relatively quickly.  Inherited domains could almost serve as a replacement for reserve XP as a power-floor for replacement characters.

If the party as a whole takes a domain, I see two ways to handle it.  One is to split the rulership XP among them equally, and then as they get more domains and start assigning them to individual characters you stop dividing it.  Another is to make class-specific stores of domain XP.  So maybe your civilized barony has 60k general rulership XP, 15k cleric tithes XP for whoever the spiritual leader is (works out about right, 500 families * 1gp/mo * 30 months), some amount of thief XP based on market class...  and then wizards are hard.  The thing I like about this is that when you move to personal domains, you can fill those slots with henchmen (if your hench repertoire is diverse), and level them up for rulership when you need vassals.  I'm not sure it's worth the complexity.

So then the primary benefits of domain rulership are XP and a captive market, and the focus in the domain game is on taking them from other people.  If you need cash from your domain, you can exploit it, which is sort of like self-pillaging and permanently reduces the XP value of the domain by an amount equal to the gold pieces extracted (and 1 peasant family per 120gp, not that we're modeling that here).  This seems like the right place to plug in a domain morale system that matches my assumptions, that for the most part your average peasant is never going to be terribly fond of his adventurer overlords and is mostly ambivalent until you start squeezing him.  So exploiting your domain (and other catastrophes and exceptional circumstances, like failure to address an invasion or donning a helm of alignment change) triggers a morale roll with immediate consequences like bandits or revolt, and otherwise domain morale is assumed to be apathetic.

I haven't looked at syndicates yet, but I think they'd be amenable to the same treatment, and if I abstract syndicates, then I can enforce the assumption that they're not made up exclusively of 4th-level spies, and then the math will be much saner (and if you use a syndicate to push beyond its normal limits, then you get into exploitation and popular morale).  Cleric domains should be fine.  I suppose I should turn my attention to magic research next, and figuring out how that would work in a system with loose timekeeping.  The other next thing to do would be to redo the Simple Domains entries with lump sums of XP.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Greek Elves

In the same vein as The Elves of Hazzard.

Historical Rome drew a lot of philosophy and culture from Greece.  If you have a human Rome-alike empire in a fantasy setting based on classical antiquity, it makes a lot of sense for there to have also been a Greece-alike that they drew a lot of their philosophy and culture from.  And if you're going to have that, then it makes a lot of sense for that Greece-alike to be elves.

Elves always have that precursor thing going on, and are a natural fit in that regard.  If you look at Greek tragedy, it's often about hubris and unavoidable doom, which are both appropriate for elves - hubris is a natural sin when you're the firstborn, and unavoidable doom links nicely to the fall of the Eldar and (in some systems) their inability to be resurrected.  Nietzsche's argument that Greek civilization was an odd synthesis of Apollonian law and Dionysian chaos also makes sense with the awkward balance elves strike, between golden firstborn and natural sorcerers.  The fractious nature of the Greek city states plays nicely with the chaotic and neutral tendencies of the elves, and helps explain how they were conquered by not-Rome.  Alexander's empire could also be mirrored, and then its disintegration into the warring diadochi on his death also makes sense with that fractious nature and explains how an elven empire could fall apart despite their individual long lifespans.  In an early/republican Rome setup, some of those successor states might remain viable rivals - it would not be hard to imagine Carthage, with its child sacrifice and its Moloch, as a dark elven state rather than Phoenecian in origin, especially if Greek elves picked up Athenian seafaring tendencies.

This setup also has the nice property that the elven homeland is long part of the human empire and relatively integrated, so elven PCs and human PCs probably get along OK.  Where you put dwarves, though, I'm not sure.  I sort of like the idea of Hittite dwarves with the tall hats.

Bonus: no need to construct an elven script, just use greek letters.

Things that don't fit so well: the Greeks were not big on archery, and Keegan argues that they more or less invented heavy infantry.  But this is no problem for the B/X elf or ACKS' spellsword, who both do just fine in heavy armor and don't get any particular bonuses to archery.  The Greeks had big manly beards and elves don't.  The mental image I have of Greece is more dry and rocky than forested, but looking at satellite imagery it seems that there's still quite a bit of forest, and there was probably more where there are now farm fields.  Still, more mountainous than one usually thinks of an elven homeland as.  Who are the Persia-equivalent that the elves held back?

Saturday, March 7, 2020

MS Estonia and Rotated Dungeons

MS Estonia was a passenger ferry that sank in the Baltic in 1994, with 852 of 989 persons aboard perishing.  I stumbled upon a rather horrifying account of the sinking and there were some bits that stuck out to me as dungeoneering-relevant.
The interior hallways of the accommodation sections were windowless, fluorescent-lit passageways, smelling of aluminum and plastic, and barely wide enough for two people to pass. They ran fore and aft, and had branches from side to side. With their twenty-four-hour lighting and long rows of anonymous, closely spaced cabin doors, they gave those parts of the ship an institutional allure not much different from that of modern prison galleries. Moreover, the cabins themselves were smaller than cells, and though this must have been unimaginable to even the most miserable of their occupants that night, many soon turned into traps and then coffins...
She left the pub, walked forward past the information desk and up the main staircase, and went directly to her cabin, on Deck 6. When, shortly thereafter, the ship heeled over, her door popped open and she fell backward in her cabin and was pinned by gravity against the far wall. Because she was determined and nimble, however, she managed to emerge from the trap, to negotiate the tilting hallway, to climb to Deck 7 and the outside promenade, and ultimately to survive... 
[As the heel approached 90 degrees] The starboard cabin doorways now became chasms that had to be jumped across. Passengers who failed fell into the cabins, and some did not emerge. The transverse corridors became dangerous shafts, dropping away to the starboard side. Though no witnesses of this survived, after seawater began to enter through breaking windows, those shafts became deadly wells.
Takeaway 1: I am now looking at every room I enter and going "If this room were tilted 90 degrees in each direction, how screwed would its occupants be, assuming it held together?"

Takeaway 2: I've always had trouble justifying the use of pit traps.  But taking a sensible environment and then rotating it 90 degrees around the X or Y produces a totally reasonable justification for deep, deep pits and floors full of "trap" doors.  I think 90 degree rotation would probably be the easiest to work with, on graph paper or isometric mapping, and in play.

A highly-vertical environment without stairs seems ripe for OSRy play with emphasis on mundane gear.  Bring lots of spikes, lots of rope, maybe some planks to put along the edge of pits.  And it would give thieves lots of opportunities to scale sheer surfaces, as well as giving some play to abilities like Feather Fall, Levitate, and monk slow-fall that don't see much use.  It would also be a good excuse to play with altering hallway width and height.

What does the ecology of a highly-vertical dungeon look like?  Down in the pits, you probably have a lot of undead and dumb scavengers like mold and oozes.  Along the main hallway levels and in rooms that used to be tall but now are wide are your demihuman lairs.  Up in the top levels that can only be reached by sheer climbing, you get flyers and things that climb like spiders.

One sort of puzzle in stocking would be dungeon level.  Do you take the floors of the original environment and have that determine dungeon level, so your difficulty gradient is across horizontal movement in the rotated environment?  This seems like it would make it easier to keep organized (if your map is of the original environment and split by level there), but might also make it easy to stumble into difficult areas early.  But if you have deeper equal more dangerous in Z-space, then it's easy to fall into more difficult areas and not be able to return, in addition to being harder to keep organized.  Maybe you just make the whole space roughly the same difficulty...

Saturday, February 29, 2020

LotFP Notes

Same drill as with OSE.  I hear LotFP has an interesting encumbrance system, so that's what I'm mostly here for.  And hey, there's a free version without art, which is perfect.

Bleh, they love alphabetizing even more than OSE did.  A big chunk of the table of contents is alphabetized, and they reordered the ability scores to alphabetical.

-3 to +3 ability score mods, standardized.  If total mods <0, roll again, but that seems to be the only reshuffling available.  Minimum HP is an interesting rule with some subtleties - helps characters with Con penalties, and fighters also seem to get a bit of a boost (since without a Con bonus they get the maximum they could roll, while most classes get half that).

Only fighters' attack throws improve with level.  Uhhh so what do dwarves get?

Interesting take on alignment.  Chaotic elves are back!


Cleric spell progression looks a lot like other B/Xy games plus an extra first level spell slot per day.  Slightly slower leveling (1750 to 2nd).  I'm not sure if there are extra blank pages in this pdf or if I'm missing a bunch of class abilities.  Maybe this was full-page art?  But that's an awful lot of art.  I don't see anything about turning.  Levels increase without bound and spell levels go up to 7 (dang).  I guess that's what you get in exchange for attack bonuses.

Saving throws seem to take multi-point jumps every couple of levels like they do in OSE.  Of course, the saves have also been renamed and alphabetized.

Fighter is still 2kXP to 2nd.  Doesn't seem to get much of anything besides being able to actually hit things and having lots of HP.  But those are pretty good things.

Mages get d6 HD at first level and then d4 per level thereafter, consistent with having been a normal man and not atrophying when they learned magic.  Spells go up to 9th level.  2250 to 2nd, so 250 slower than baseline.

Specialists / thieves get skill points that they can put into skills that everyone has a base 1-in-6 of success at.  Putting points into Sneak Attack gives you a damage multiplier (and +2 to hit).  No clear cap on Sneak Attack multiplier from class description.  The math on putting points into skills works out pretty close to this proposal, where 18+ is 1-in-6 and then putting a point into something is pretty close to +3 or +4 on a d20.  But these skills are more general ("Stealth", "Search", "Tinker" vs Hide in Shadows + Move Silently, Find Traps (and presumably secret doors), Remove Traps+Open Lock).  Four points at first level and two per level thereafter.  Encumbrance can impose a penalty to movement-related skills.  d6 HD, 1500 to 2nd.  This seems like a pretty reasonable way to do the thief.

Dwarf gets a shitload of HP, encumbrance and Con mod bonuses, and some Architecture skill.  Seems like demihumans don't actually have a level cap.  2200 to 2nd.  Class description says they're "fierce and resilient warriors" but I assume they don't actually get the to-hit of fighters?

Elf is even more confusing in this light.  3kXP to level, d6 HD, cast as a mage of their level, Search and surprise bonuses, and a class description that says "Player Character Elves are those gifted individuals that are trained as both Fighters and Magic Users."  3kXP would probably be fair for what they get without a fighter to-hit bonus, but it's weird that it says they're trained as Fighters with a capital F.

Halfling is 2kXP to 2nd, d6 HD, bonuses to Stealth, Bushcraft, Dex modifier, and AC.  Can't use large weapons.  This is the first mention I've seen of weapon or armor restrictions.  Compared to Specialist, their skills are better at low levels but they fall behind and don't have any choice about which skills they're good at, but their Dex/AC stuff remains unique.


Different prices for gear in urban vs rural areas, with a lot of stuff just not available out in the sticks.  This is a neat way to handle it without going as far as ACKS' market classes.

Unarmored is AC12...  odd.  Leather, Chain, Plate.  Shields are +1 AC, plus an extra one against missile attacks.

Generic weapons, so all the d10 two-handers don't get separate entries in the equipment list.  Sensible.

Some weapons (rapier, polearm) get bonuses or penalties against particular "unadjusted" ACs.  This is sounding like a weapons-vs-armor to-hit table.  I like that polearms are can-openers, though I'm a little surprised that generic Great Weapons don't also get that bonus (ah, but polearms do less damage than other 2H weapons).  Rapiers are like discount swords with a penalty to hit heavily-armored dudes.

Bow, crossbow, and sling medium and long ranges are much greater than in OSE and ACKS.  But it's not like you're going to hit much with a -4 and no THAC0 improvement (except with crossbows, which ignore a couple points of armor, but they can only fire every couple rounds).

Ha, mules and livestock are cheaper in rural areas.  So are food and lodging.

Quite a misc equipment list.  Chalk, crampons, 10' ladder, lard, pick, shovel, nails, soap, whistle...  these are great.  What do you do with nails on an adventure?  I dunno, but I'm sure we'll find something.  I think pipe is the most confusing one.  Like, plumbing pipe?  Probably meant for tobacco, which also appears on the list.  But this is the peril of not including descriptions for your misc items.

That, and not knowing what the magnification is on the Spyglass.

It's interesting that you can buy Local and Kingdom maps.

Items don't have weights, but some are listed as unencumbering, and some are listed as oversized, presumably extra-encumbering.


Organizing this chapter alphabetically was not the best idea.  We open with Architecture, which mentions that it takes a turn to use.  I don't even know where timekeeping is in all this.

Breaking down doors only takes 1 turn for wood with an axe, or "2 or more turns" for a stone door with a pick (versus 3 turns for a standard dungeon door with an axe in ACKS).  Opening stuck doors is 1-in-6 with a Str mod, comparable to ACKS' +4 per point of Str bonus on a d20 with 18+.  No mention of evil doors.

Rules for how quickly you can dig.  Bring that shovel.

Very particular about what counts as "enemy" and "treasure" for XP purposes.  No *s for XP, just count as 1HD higher if they have special abilities or are classed.  Gaining more than one level is a session is forbidden, and you cap halfway to the next level rather than at next level minus 1XP.

No distinction between foraging and hunting, mechanically; it's just one combined activity.  Modifiers by terrain type, season, and availability of ranged weapons.  Expends ammunition, reduces movement for the day by a random percentage.

Getting Lost - 1 in 6 per day, highest Bushcraft in the party gets rolled in secret once and if you fail you're lost indefinitely.

Ability score loss happens and you die if any stat hits 0.  Aging happens and above a certain age you save every n years (presumably?) or lose a point from an ability score.

Dying - Incapacitated at 0HP, irrecoverably mortally wounded at -3 HP ("No healing, magical or otherwise, can prevent death at this point") and die in 1d10 minutes, instant death at -4 HP.  Well that seems like a missed opportunity for high-intensity gameplay, time and resource management, around saving people from near-death.

Disease - you have an incubation period and then you make a shitload of saves and lose ability score points.  Unclear if disease stat losses are permanent.  Example given involves making like 20 saves over the course of a week.

Boo falling damage is linear 1d6 per 10' rather than cumulative.

Starvation and dehydration rules are pretty reasonable, should give about the right mean time to death for most characters.  They deal Con damage though.  Ability score changes are one of my least favorite mechanics because you have to recalculate stuff (and if monsters don't have ability scores then it means that these mechanics don't work on them) and I can't say that I like that LotFP uses it for a bunch of stuff.

I'm surprised the sleep deprivation rules don't eventually just have you pass out from exhaustion and sleep 16 hours.

Natural healing is faster when you're only lightly injured.  Ability score loss recovers with bed rest.

Language skill lets you roll to know languages you encounter, so you don't have to pick during chargen and end up stuck with doppelganger or harpy as your one bonus language known.

No ring of shadowy illumination beyond the well-lit area of torches or lanterns, same in OSE but not ACKS.

Here we go, Encumbrance.  So this is a bit coarser-grained than ACKS' encumbrance; it seems like one LotFP Encumbrance Point translates to about three stone in ACKS, in terms of its effect on movement.  This also holds up with armor weights, where chain is 1 point or 4 stone and plate is 2 points or 6 stone, but breaks down a bit with other items, where you get fewer items than you would in an equivalent number of stone in ACKS, but a lot of stuff isn't tracked (backpacks, multiple small items of the same type get counted as one item, with iron spikes listed as an example, leather armor...), and big items like polearms and 10' poles that would be 1 stone in ACKS are instead a full encumbrance point.  100 coins counts as an item and you get about five separate items per point so that's about 500 coins per point or 150 coins per stone, so about one-ounce coins, which is in fact a pretty common size for modern coins made from precious metals.

This doesn't answer one important question though - how fast can I move while carrying the body of a fallen party member?  Is that merely an oversized item?

I think it's fair to say that this encumbrance system is more abstract than ACKS' but I would expect it to yield pretty similar results (modulo different assumptions about coin weight), with exceptions around some edge cases like carrying a thousand iron spikes or a polearm.  I do like that you can mostly just count the number of entries in your gear list rather than accounting for each piece.

The encumbrance rules for mounts have confused me when it comes to pulling vehicles.  I think it's rad that you can hire Teamsters who pack your animals more efficiently though.

"Characters apply their Constitution modifier to their per-day travel distance on foot".  What, in miles?  That's...  kind of obnoxious.  Different assumptions about terrain effects on overland travel speed, road is the baseline at x1 and plains at x2/3 instead of road at x3/2 and plains at x1 in ACKS and OSE.  Weather effects on overland travel speed are reasonable.  Multi-day forced march inflicts damage and can kill your mounts!  Nice.

Stealth is much weaker than Hide in Shadows - "There must be somewhere to hide".

Same drowning rules (and examples) as OSE.

Here we go, Time, at the very end of adventuring when it should've been at the beginning.  Hmm, segments in combat.

Maritime Adventures

Again, and oddly, this gets equal rank with the main Adventuring heading.  Skipped.


Oooh boy, just looking at this table.  There's a line for Accountant.  There are separate columns for wages if they have their own housing or live in a player's household.  There's a column for square footage required in such a household.  There's a column for fractions of shares given to mercenaries, guides, sailors, and henchmen.  Some of these wages are in fractional silver pieces.

You have to pay death benefits to families of slain retainers.

A lot of these retainers are like, mandatory middle-management deadweight.  If you have five retainers in a household, you need an accountant or your costs go up.  If you have five animals, you need an animal handler.  You need an armorer per 50 troops.  If you have three different types of retainers, you need a butler or morale goes down.  If you have ten laborers, you need a foreman.  One servant per five rooms and an extra per ten residents.  Bleh.  I think these are probably obnoxious gameplay but good set-dressing; they put in mind a relatively posh, upper-crusty image of PC-run households, compared to our usual merely-crusty "we have 200 berserkers and some armorers in an otherwise empty castle and we're all out of beer."

I think it's a little funny that encumbrance got better abstraction/UI than household management.  This is probably a pattern in developing systems though - encumbrance has been around a while and sees a lot of play so it's a pain point and it makes sense to develop abstractions over it, whereas household management is relatively niche, this approach to it diverges significantly from traditional B/X domains, and there were a bunch of ideas in here but it hasn't been refined yet.  It's been fermented but not yet distilled.  One might say the same of parts of ACKS, that they are fermented but not yet distilled.

Guides give you a bonus to avoid getting lost, nice.

Henchmen must be two levels lower.  Explicitly suggested for use as replacement PCs (which I don't believe was true of OSE).

Mercenaries mostly hired in groups of 20+, good.  Mounted mercs cost 10x what normal ones do according to the text but this is not true according to the table, bad.  Have to hire sergeants and captains separately, annoying.

Physicians double natural healing rate.

Scholars and alchemists reduce time for research projects.

Spy wages are in between ACKS' and OSE's.

Retainer loyalty is rolled separately from hire/no-hire.  Reasonable I guess, sometimes you hire treacherous people.  I think by RaW you have to roll to hire your butlers, accountants, and other overhead types.  Loyalty is checked not only in the face of danger, but "when something illegal or scandalous happens".  So...  all the time.  Also when you find treasure and they have an opportunity to steal it, or when asked to do something dangerous.  So literally all the time.

Property and Finance

Very much not a domain game.  Property is a cash sink, taxes are a cash sink, investments yield returns averaging 0.5% on an annual basis (or 6% with an accountant).  Pretty awful rate of return.


Preparing an ambush lets you get surprised on 1-4 on d6, nice.

Long encounter distances (3d6x10 instead of 2d6x10 feet), or line of sight in dungeons.

Defensive fighting and aggressive fighting, trading between to-hit and AC, are available to fighters, elves, and dwarves, but you take -4 to get +2 so it's not something to use haphazardly.

Casting a spell takes a whole round but you don't have to pre-declare; there are certain things that you can't do at the beginning of the round, and if you take damage before you act you can't cast, but I don't see anything about committing to using a slot and then getting hit and having it fizzle.

Charge is double damage instead of +2 to hit.

A lot of this combat stuff seems kinda fiddly, like -2 to hit if you drew your weapon this round, or taking multiple rounds to retrieve an item from a pouch, or spending a round aiming to shift the probabilities on who you hit when firing into melee.

Oil is nerfed, only does d4 usually.

Pursuit/evasion rules seem less player-friendly than ACKS/OSE, but this is unsurprising given weird/horror genre.

Notably absent: withdraw / retreat from melee.


You know I think I'm good.  There's like a hundred pages of spell research and scribing scrolls and spell descriptions and I don't feel compelled to read it all.  Looking at the lists, most of the spells are pretty standard D&D stuff.  Skimming the spells:

Army of One sounded promising but I think it might be a stand-in for Tenser's Transformation.

Dispel Magic is different for mages vs clerics; clerics can use theirs to shut down mage and monster casting for 2d6 turns, while mage dispel magic can't even dispel cleric spells.

Forget is sort of neat, but niche.

Identify can only be cast in a laboratory with 1ksp and costs 100sp per cast, and reveals one property.  Doesn't work correctly on cursed items.

Magic Missile is 1d4/level, uncapped.

Permanency has a list of spells it can work on, 3.5-style.  And it costs you Con, permanently.

Seven Gates is the sort of Mark-and-Recall magic that I would like to see more of, but seems like a hassle if I'm understanding it correctly as "it sends you out of a random one of the seven gates".

Why is there a Strange Waters II but no Strange Waters I?  Also this is the epitome of Unreliable Spell which I couldn't really see using except in very desperate straits indeed.

Summon is...  different.  And 10 pages long.

Ahhh, Turn Undead is a 1st level cleric spell.  So that one spell per day they get at first level can be used to turn...  once.  I think this might be a loss, honestly, compared to being able to turn multiple times per day.

No returning from the dead, that I saw.


I have no desire to play this game.  To borrow a phrase from this post on tiki and early D&D, LotFP has "metal's earnestness", and none of Warhammer's tongue-in-cheek humor to offset the implied darkness of the setting.  LotFP really wants its players to take it seriously - to not just murderhobo it up (as implied by the rules on what constitutes treasure and XP), to spend four rounds fumbling gear out of pouches in combat, to reflect on the families of their slain hirelings, and to hire an accountant.

One might retort, "Said the ACKS kettle to the LotFP pot."  And that wouldn't be baseless; ACKS takes its simulation of parts of the game-world very seriously.  But ACKS doesn't expect as much emotional seriousness or realism of action from its players, I think.  Arbiter of Worlds talks about a time when Alex's players "built a fantasy stealth bomber out of Tenser's Floating Disk and a centaur with Fly cast on him".  I get the feeling that that's the sort of thing that is Not Supposed to Happen in LotFP games (examples of preemptive counter-cheese: oil and Permanency nerfs).  Horror isn't about winning; horror is about feelings, for example dread as the vampire closes while you're trying to get the garlic out of your pouch.  LotFP wants players to feel remorse when their henchmen die, and be afraid of getting caught when they do illegal things; realistic feelings.

I can't help but wonder, though, if asking players to take the game seriously, to not munchkin or murderhobo or tourist, to encourage DMs to discourage those behaviors, is a fool's errand.  Players gonna play.  Get the tourists in the door, let them have some fun, spin the wheel, taste real victory, and get invested, and then you have some leverage.  Organic seriousness emerging from unseriousness.

I suppose it might also be worth having a look at the free version of their DM's book, to see if I have totally misunderstood the philosophy which seemed implicit in the player's material.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

ACKS v0.1 Notes

Autarch recently put a very old draft up on the Patreon, the first version of ACKS, back when it was just a bunch of houserules for B/X.  It's almost like they heard I was looking for an intermediate / transitional ruleset!

Things that I found interesting:

Alex's erudition and attention to citations never ceases to surprise.  He cites a number of old D&D books that I had never heard of, including The Golden Khan and Dwarves of Rockhome, and a few I have heard of but never read, like Orcs of Thar and Glantri.  There's also a reference to "The Dominions at War rules supplement", which google only finds two results for; one in a forum thread at Autarch, and this post.  So I assume that that was a free early draft of Domains at War.  It would be pretty interesting to see how those rules evolved too.

He also cites the Ready Ref sheets in a couple of places.  I had them in pdf but had never really figured out which parts of them were worth using, so it was nice of him to pick out some of the good bits.  In particular, the Rudimentary Resurrections table is apparently the grandfather of ACKS' Death and Dismemberment and Tampering with Mortality tables.  The Proclamations and Town Crier tables were also interesting.

Max HP at first level.

A lot of stuff that I think of as being uniquely ACKS was already in place.

"During any single adventure, magic-users and clerics can cast the number of spells of each level from among their spells known as indicated by the Spells & Level chart" (emphasis mine)

Proficiencies used to be called Feats.

Slower fighter damage bonus and thief backstab multiplier progressions, which is something I've kicked around myself.

The trade goods table is apparently not derived from any other source; this one has the encumbrance per load in coins!  He's also already worked out the demand modifiers for a bunch of cities in the Auran setting (and apparently market classes used to be A-F instead of I-VI...  an inheritance from Traveller starport classes, perhaps?).

The magic research, constructs, magic item creation, necromancy, etc rules are already out in full force, including lists of monster components for particular items.  I didn't read them in enough detail to compare them with the final rules.

Custom spell lists per cleric patron deity; I think a lot of these got rolled into ACKS' cleric list by default, which is part of why the spell list is bigger than B/X's.

Some classes that didn't make it - Charlatan (thief / AD&D illusionist cross), Elven Druid (both arcane and divine casting), Mariner (nautical explorer variant).  Craftpriest started as Craftmaster (with a bunch of skills and "general feats") and only picked up divine casting later.  They still had infravision.

Many skills were still on 1d6.

So all in all that was a very interesting and well-timed piece of archaeological material, and I hope we'll see more of this sort of thing on the Autarch patreon.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

OSE Notes

Not quite a review.

Picked up Old School Essentials via Humble Bundle recently.  I don't think I've actually read a B/X retroclone besides ACKS (and maybe skimming Labyrinth Lord).  My understanding is that OSE is quite faithful, so the things I was surprised about were probably things that ACKS changed.  People on the ACKS discord have told me several times that I would complain less if I had actually run B/X, so... maybe I will.

First pleasant surprise was in ability scores.  I like that reaction roll bonus from Charisma caps at +2, rather than +3 in ACKS.  Likewise Dexterity's bonus to initiative.  This comes at the price of ability score bonuses being a little less standard and easy to remember.

They have the rule about trading down scores to raise your prime reqs, but they don't have one about rolling a bunch of sets.  I think it's probably important to only have one or the other of those rules; given one set of 3d6 in order, trading down seems much more reasonable, and parties where half of PCs have an 18 prime req shouldn't be too common.

Alignment languages.  -_-  Also this table introduced with "the following languages are common" includes doppelganger and harpy.  Man.

The art in this book is weird, by which I mean highly varied.  Some of it's cutesy-cartoony, some of it's sober black and white line drawings, the Giant Leech and Green Slime pieces are very...  visceral.  Feels less thematically consistent than eg ACKS or DCC.


Magic research available from 1st level to all casters.  I guess this was true in ACKS too, for spell research, and I should come back to this when I get to that part of the book.

Turning - rolled on 2d6 instead of 1d20, so I initially misinterpreted this table.  Still, interesting that you can't turn undead of 3HD more than you, while you can in ACKS (on 19+).  No miraculous deliverance here, I guess.  Whoa, and 2* HD gets its own column, for ghouls I guess, so that means a 1st level cleric can't even turn 3HD undead.  Also I have to say that I like making the target value a function of HD rather than creature type explicit.  On the other hand, having the effectiveness of turning on giant skeletons be limited by HD rolled on the 2d6 instead of the turning roll was kind of fun sometimes.  Text is not clear on how often one can turn; I rather liked ACKS' "faith shaken" rule.  Also no option to control the undead.

The THAC0 and save progression is different; ACKS smoothed it, so "+2 every n levels" meant "+1 every n/2 levels".  Here the only difference between a 1st and 3rd level fighter is HP; the gap between "veteran" and "hero" at 4th level is much bigger (and likewise "hero" from 4th-6th vs "super-hero" at 7th-9th).

Where are the level titles ):

Infravision...  hmm.  I think I agree with ACKS on this one, that infravision for PCs is mostly trouble because it circumvents torch logistics right out the gate.  It also makes the dwarf vs fighter contest even better for the dwarf, what with the saves and the fairly low XP-to-level bump.  I guess fighter's domain game is better, in that they can build a stronghold at any time while the dwarf has to wait until 9th, and the domainy rules say that a peasant family yields 10gp/year in taxes (with no expenses!  Wow!), and the dwarf can only hire dwarven mercenaries (not so bad since there are no market limits, but no heavy cav for you).  Still, rough for the fighter at low levels.

Elf prime reqs are weird, Str 16+ and Int 13+ to get +10%.

Fighters get jack shit but plate, shields, and d8 HD.  Not even +morale for hirelings, unless it's hidden later in the book.

Halflings have a min Con 9+, interesting.  Bonus to AC against big enemies, but otherwise basically Explorers with plate, a level cap of 8, and an "any time they wish" domain game.  "Explorers with plate" is a scary thought, but I guess less scary for lack of fighter damage bonus.

Wow, MUs can only use daggers, no quarterstaves or darts.  Harsh.  And no tower until 11th level.  Oh yeah, and vancian magic, no repertoire.

Thief - can't trade down Strength during chargen, weird.  Traps are divided into room traps and treasure traps; the former are big and protect areas and anyone can find them, the latter are small and mechanical and only thieves can deal with them.  An interesting split; in my own games, it is accurate to say that I use treasure traps almost exclusively, and this is probably niche protection for thieves.  Bleh, percentile thief skills.  And two-letter abbreviations for skills would take some getting used to.

Oh man backstab damage multiplier doesn't scale up, it's just x2 forever.  That makes high-level thieves substantially less scary; their skills still get really good, but you're never going to force a morale check for half HP in the opening round against high HD opponents (assuming morale check for half HP is still a thing), nor are you ever going to insta-kill ogres.

This probably also explains death attack, that assassin ability that I've only ever seen someone use once.  Death attack always seemed dumb when scaling backstab/sneak attack damage was available, but if backstab is only ever x2, then death attack is actually worthwhile.

So now I'm wondering if thieves scale sort of like MUs - at low levels they don't get to do their thing very often (because low skill rolls and few spell slots) but when they do it's often a big encounter win (insta-kill backstab against low-HD opponents forcing morale, or sleep), and at high levels they get to do their thing a lot more often (more spell slots, higher skill rolls) but it's decisive much less often (because high-HD opponents are much more likely to save and have enough HP to not die to backstab).  It would be an interesting experiment to make death attack the default behavior of backstab, such that the parallel with high-HD enemy saves becomes more explicit.

I also don't love that for d6 rolls, you want a 1-to-x, so rolling low is good.  It didn't register when I was reading Dwarf and Elf because their Hear Noises and Find Secret Wotsits are "2-in-6" which could be rolled either way, whereas the Thief table has 1-2, 1-3, 1-4... for Hear Noises.

On the other hand, there's probably an argument from poorly-balanced dice; if half of rolls are "roll low" and half of rolls are "roll high", then even if your dice are badly balanced it should work out in expectation (until you start measuring how unbalanced your dice are and picking different dice for the different types of roll - but if you were already going to measure the unbalance, then it doesn't matter.  I could see it being sensible during the early days of the hobby, when I expect the quality of dice might've been lower and they were harder to come by so you probably didn't have four d20s to choose from).

I'm surprised that in Levelling Up, you don't reroll all your HD every level and take the better of your previous or just-rolled max HP.  I thought I had heard that OSE had that rule.  Must've been some other clone.

Here are my level titles.  But they're not linked to particular levels.  Big bummer.

Oh boy rules for levels >14.  Not something I see using much.

Inheritance - I'm not sure I understand the meaning of "a player may only leave a character inheritance once", and I certainly don't understand the intent?


Encumbrance is measured in coins.  This is kinda clever, because it makes it sort of obvious that the stuff you should be worrying about getting encumbered with is treasure.  On the downside, it also seems like kind of a pain in the ass.  Encumbrance is optional, apparently (!?), and there's no encumbrance listed for misc adventuring gear like 10' poles - just armor, weapons, and treasure.

Only three armors, leather, chain, plate.  Nice.  Chain seems kind of crap, since it weighs almost as much as plate but gets 2 points less of AC.

No reach weapons, and 2H weapons act last instead of just -1 to init.  Brutal.  Since variable weapon damage (ie, "2H swords do d10", as opposed to "all weapons do d6") is an optional rule, 2H seems totally worthless under default rules.  OTOH, with the variable weapon damage rule, d10 is much stronger in the absence of fighter damage bonus.  Bonus to hit with ranged weapons at close range.  Maybe part of the reason MUs don't get darts is that darts just don't exist.  Huh, crossbows act last too...  but who uses crossbows?  I don't think there was a class that got crossbows but not bows...  I guess dwarves and halflings maybe, who can't use longbows, are faced with the choice between 240' range and acting last, or 150' range and not acting last.

I like vehicles and mounts as much as the next guy, and it makes sense to have something about them in with equipment because they're things that you buy, but I dunno if rules for vehicle damage, repair, boarding, and ramming needed to come before Combat is explained.  I do like the distinction between ocean-going and unseaworthy vessels.

I love the art for the Camel, and the dwarves? sneaking up on a sea serpent in a ship graveyard is pretty good too.


Full vancian, and no bonus slots or anything for high Int or Wis.  Can only have spells in spellbook up to number you can cast per day, and you can't read spellbooks captured from enemies "without the use of magic" (presumably Read Magic).  Oof.  I dunno, I like how ACKS encourages wizards to kill other wizards and take their books.  Having to use spell slots on Read Magic is rough.  I feel like this might be a good use for the Scholastic Wizardry proficiency in ACKS; clarify that reading other peoples' books and scrolls requires a roll, and then make Schol. Wiz. give a bonus.

Chance of failure for magic research (both item creation and spell research) is "minimum probability of 15%".  So on the one hand, because that's a Schelling point in the rules, probably about 15% most of the time, which is way more lenient than ACKS (at least for the level ranges we mostly find ourselves in).  But it does give judge discretion to go "that sounds really hard, you can do it on 16+ or 12+ with a special ingredient..."  Oh, and no library or laboratory requirements.  So definitely seems easier than ACKS' research most of the time (but you don't get XP for it).

I'm not going to read all these spells.  What is interesting is that there are fewer cleric spells (6-8 per spell level, instead of 10).  Missing spells:

1st: Command Word, Sanctuary
2nd: Augury, Delay Poison, Spiritual Weapon (but they gain Know Alignment)
3rd: Cure Blindness, Feign Death, Glyph of Warding, Speak with Dead
4th: Dispel Magic, Divination, Smite Undead, Tongues
5th: Atonement, Flame Strike, Strength of Mind, True Seeing

Wow.  Flame Strike, Spiritual Weapon, and Dispel Magic are all pretty solid losses, and we had bacon saved by Augury, Sanctuary, and Delay Poison a time or two.  But it's also not super-surprising; if I had to pick spells that felt the least like Cleric spells, Flame Strike and Spiritual Weapon would definitely be on the list.

On the MU front:

1st: Read Languages and Read Magic are two separate spells, Magic Mouth missing
6th: Lower Water and Part Water are separate spells, Wall of Iron missing

So it looks like MU keeps most of their good stuff.

Know Alignment vs Detect Evil - Detect Evil operates solely on present intent, whereas Know Alignment can tell you what their alignment is (but isn't a wide-area scan).

Bless operates on a "20' square area", weird.  But I guess if you're thinking in 10' squares and don't want to deal with circular areas of effect, it would be convenient.

I actually kind of like the layout of the spell effects.  It's not as lawyerly as ACKS, doesn't go as far into details and edge cases, but it gets the point across.

Cure Serious Wounds nerfed, 2d6+2 with no scaling by caster level.

Raise Dead is obviously much less punitive than RL&L, with no permanent side effects, but the time limit is pretty tight.

Sleep is still as good.

You can cast Invisibility on objects and it's permanent.  This could not possibly be exploited.

Phantasmal Force seems stronger, since psychosomatic effects last for 1d4 turns instead of ACKS' 1d3 rounds.  Kind of unreasonable, but compare to Web I guess.

Fly duration is randomized, glorious.  Does the caster roll it or do I get to roll it in secret?

Fireball is 20' radius, glorious.  Hmm, no expand to volume clause though, which is odd because Lightning Bolt still bounces.

No aging clause on Haste, whoa.

Wall of Fire is duration: concentration, no good for covering retreats.

Teleport has a 10' range, now you don't have to poke people to teleport them to their deaths.

Death Spell has a lower HD cap (7 vs 8).  Disintegration can disintegrate a whole ship!

Done with spells.


Party organization: Class and level mix recommendations, party caller, mapper, system for divvying up magic loot between party members when it's contested.  Nice.

Ten coins per pound - big honkin' coins.

The Encumbrance page is probably the most "hrmmm" page of the book for me.  Not tracking weight of misc adventuring gear (or having a fixed weight of 80 coins) seems like it would remove a substantial strategic element from the game (balancing military oil vs torches, choosing what equipment to dump if you find a lot of treasure).  But I do appreciate the simplicity of it.  I wonder if it's worth having a catch-all "misc adventuring gear" weight that covers sacks and backpacks, and then having weight for a small subset of adventuring gear where tradeoffs are easy to come by (consumables, maybe?  Oil, torches, spikes?).

Or you do 100-coin kits.

But, when these rules are in use, they're much less lenient for the main thing that they care about, extracting treasure.  In ACKS, with 1000 coins per stone, you can carry out a couple thousand GP on top of your gear, per character, while maintaining 60' speed.  Here, you're hard-capped at 1600 coins per character, so if you're not finding platinum, it's going to take a couple expeditions to go from (say) 4th to 5th level (8000 XP for a fighter -> 5 fully-laden expeditions of just gold pieces).  So leveling is probably slower?  Compared to ACKS, your exploration movement is pretty close until your find treasure (faster for thieves and wizards, similar for heavily-armored characters), and then your speed drops much more aggressively.  Interesting.  Maybe this preserves tradeoffs adequately.  It's always surprising to me how a one-page Optional Rules module like encumbrance or variable weapon damage can have big consequences for the way the game plays.  Complex systems.

Mm, roll under again in ability checks, and auto-fail / success on 20 and 1.

Death at 0HP.  Unforgiving.  No clause on natural healing about safe / sanitary conditions.

Drowning example on light armor with a light load seems awfully merciful.

I like the Sequence of Play Per Turn sidebar / box.  I do have a soft spot for programs and flowcharts though.

So there's this note about how undead don't make noise and aren't detectable by listening.  If infravision operates by heat, should undead be invisible to / high chance to surprise infravision too?  That would be a fun piece of dungeon ecology, where monsters, who rely on infravision, are extra-afraid of undead because they're considered sneaky.

"One chance" clauses on room searching and door-listening - per expedition, presumably?  Not for the character's lifetime?

Traps don't make attack rolls, always hit - nasty.  Wonder if they allow saves.

I like that it specifies that random dungeon encounters are at 2d6x10 feet and headed towards the party.  Position and vector.  This puts some immanence on the blips.

OK, I get it now - these subsections are organized alphabetically, which is why Climbing comes first and Wandering Monsters come last, even though the latter happens a lot more often / is more important than the former.  That's an interesting choice.  I don't like that it leads to forward references (like Flying wilderness movement pointing to Overland movement, which you wouldn't've read yet since it comes after), but this probably doesn't matter in play for this particular case, because you're likely to do a lot of normal overland movement before flying becomes a possibility, so it should be familiar by then.

Hunting and foraging are much less merciful than ACKS, because "the party has a 1-in-6 chance of finding enough food for 1d6 human-sized beings" rather than each individual forager having a chance.  So wilderness adventuring is much less sustainable and must rely more heavily on rations...  but encumbrance from rations isn't tracked, so it's just a question of expenses.  Maybe that's fine though?  But with the amount of money people accumulate by wilderness level, and the lower emphasis on cash-sinks like domains and libraries and reserve XP, I don't really see 15gp/person/week for iron rations being that big a deal (incidentally, I do like that rations are priced per week).

The "surrounded" rule on wilderness surprise is interesting (If a group of three or more monsters gets surprise, they may surround the party).

Wilderness visibility is cursory but does hit the important bit, of "3 miles to the horizon in open terrain".  Encounter distance doesn't vary by weather or terrain.

It's sort of interesting that waterborne adventure gets equal pagecount / emphasis with dungeon and wilderness adventuring.

It's weird that surprise doesn't change encounter distance for dungeon encounters, but does for wilderness and waterborne.

Wilderness evasion table looks pretty similar, might need a spreadsheet to suss out subtle differences.  Not feeling it a the moment.


Monster morale is optional too!

Each side rolls init each round.  I like every round, I dunno about each side acting together.  Maybe it's not so bad if you have a caller.  Individual init available as an optional rule.  I guess it does make sense if you put the first initiative roll before the reaction roll, when the side as a whole decides to fight, run, or talk.  I suppose one could do per-side initiative for that initial choice, and then individual initiative per combat round.  I do like that per-side initiative makes dexterity somewhat weaker, as it is a strong stat in ACKS.  I could see the argument that per-side initiative doesn't change that much because monsters were already acting as a side before, it's just that the PCs all win together or lose together.  Implications for interrupting spellcasters?  Half the time all the party's spellcasters will be totally safe from interruption, when the party as a whole wins.  A bit "double or nothing".

The Combat Sequence Per Round suggests that everyone on a side moves, then missile attacks happen, then spells are resolved, then melee attacks happen.  This is very different from the turn structure for 3.x or ACKS, but I think it makes a lot of sense for initiative by side, imposing some order on the otherwise potential chaos of simultaneous action by n players.

I don't think I really grok the implications of fighting withdrawal and retreat yet in a by-side initiative system.  You have to pre-declare them, and then if your side wins init you get to move away (and then maybe attack someone else if you withdrew - implied by retreat noting that you can't attack), but then enemy can pursue on their move, OR the enemy wins init, they get to attack you, and then you get to move (and attack if withdrew and anyone within reach).  Maybe the important things are 1) enemies know that you declared to withdraw and can target you selectively if they win init, and 2) if you declare retreat you can't attack and are easy to hit (but if you declare withdraw, you can still attack in the round after moving "up to" half your movement, and 0 is less than half your movement, so you could declare, not move, and then attack whatever you're engaged with?  But that seems counter to the intent; there's not much reason to not declare withdraw if you can just remain engaged and attack.  I guess if you declare withdraw and the enemy also declares withdraw/retreat, then whoever loses init can't pursue, since it does specify "moves backwards"?).

I'm probably trying to lawyer something that was not intended to be lawyered here.  The reasonable response to "I declare withdraw, things are looking OK, I want to move 0 and attack" is probably "No, you committed to withdraw, you have to withdraw."

"Movement and attacking may be combined in the same round" is pretty ambiguous; presumably it means that you can move and then attack, not that you can move, attack, move.

Attacks from behind only ignore shield AC; I like ACKS' "ignore shield and +2 to hit".  Blindness is unable to attack instead of -4 which is probably reasonable really.  I like that there are rules for dropping stuff from flying monsters, this is something my players tried in ACKS and I didn't have rules for it.

A notable omission: charging.  Looking around a bit, it seems like you can charge for double damage with a lance on horseback, and some monsters like gorgons, elephants, and rhinos have a special charge attack, but for most people and monsters, charging isn't a thing.  This means that the ability to set a weapon against charges is not very important either.  Spears are still Not Bad though; they're one of the least expensive and lightest-weight d6 weapons, and they have the best range of any thrown weapon except javelins, which deal less damage.

Retainers, Hirelings, and Domains

Retainers / henchmen don't check morale ):  But what of Wiglaf's speech?  On the other hand, they do desert after adventures more often than in ACKS probably.

Retainers are paid a flat wage per day or per adventure (be still my low-continuity heart), but no such wage is listed, but a half-share of treasure rather than a sixth like in ACKS.  L0s can level into any class (...  presumably not a demihuman class, though that would be pretty funny).  Can't pile up Fanatical loyalty bonuses since loyalty rolls are just pass/fail.  Check loyalty after each adventure, and on a failure they "won't work for the PC again."  But other PCs can hire them.  That seems a little harsh, I could see working for a previous employer again but not for at least one adventure and you have to re-hire them.

Mercenary wages include supply costs.  Armorers are straight profit, since they cost 100gp/mo and can produce a suit of armor per month (worth 500gp in the case of plate), and that's before you add assistants and blacksmiths; with four assistants at 15gp/mo each and two smiths at 25gp/mo each, for a total cost of 210gp/mo, can produce four suits of plate per month.  It seems kind of bullshit that if you interrupt an animal's training it can't learn any more tricks.  I dislike that sages are fallible; I like Courtney's position from Downtime and Demesnes, that sages should be expensive but an ultimate source of truth from DM to players.  I like having spies be used for spying on groups or people, rather than for rolling in sick hijink cash, but they're also 4x the cost that they are in ACKS.

The mercenaries vs purple worm art is pretty good.  And in a system without cleaves, the worm probably isn't really that threatening to massed troops.  I do like that the construction procedure is a bulleted list.  Half a page of domain rules, only concrete numbers are how big an area mercenaries can patrol and tax revenue per settler.  Structure prices are broadly similar to ACKS', except for civilian buildings which cost about double.


Statblocks are very dense.  I like that saves and THAC0 are in the statblocks.  Putting Number Encountered at the end is odd, especially between treasure and XP (which are both "end of combat / end of adventure" concerns and belong together).  I think there's a reasonable case for putting combat stats first because you refer to them multiple times in a single combat, but having to dig Number Encountered out of the monster listing after rolling a random encounter seems annoying.  Wilderness Lairs are just 5x as big as a dungeon lair; less complex lair / organization structures than ACKS (no gang champions for demihumans, just lair leaders...  and honestly I might be OK with this simplification.  Might miss witch-doctors though).  No "percent in lair"?  I like that it's explicit that 20% of sentient monsters speak Common.  There are some treasure types for like "goblin pocket change" individual-monster treasure.  Seems kind of annoying that these individual (crappy) treasure types are the highest letters, but that's backwards compatibility for you.

I like that behaviors are pulled out as bullets in monster descriptions; very Trilemma.

I'm not sure how I feel about having average HP in the stats.  I like rolling HP, but recognize that it can be a hassle.

I like the art for Bears.  Big cats are inquisitive.  Cave locusts can spit.  Dervishes are likely to ask Lawful characters to join their holy war.  I don't love the layout on Djinni - the Magic Powers block is really big.

No Dog entry ):  RIP war dogs, not only not on the equipment list, not even in the monsters section.

Dragons are primarily by color, with age as a secondary thing that you can tweak.  Breath weapon does dragon's current HP in damage, so injured ACKS dragons have more dangerous breath weapons than comparably-injured OSE dragons, but full-health ACKS dragons have less dangerous breath weapons than full health OSE dragons.  Dragons may pretend to be asleep - ouch.

Dragon Turtles are still king.  With good art, too.

The elemental statblocks are kind of a mess.  It's not as bad as it could be though.

Maybe Giant Ferrets are the new war dogs.

"After paralyzing a target, ghouls will attack others" rather than just whaling on the paralyzed guy.

Giants are treasure type E+5000gp.  I like that +n thing.  It's weird that they're all E; I bet ACKS did a pass over hoard types and changed things up there (giants in ACKS are mostly N, gnolls are G instead of D, examples probably abound).

More types of golems.  Lizardmen are canonically man-eaters.  I like that the Demon Boar is under the lycanthrope entry.

Rust monsters immune to nonmagical damage.  So much for "send the mage in with a wooden quarterstaff".  Not that they can use staves here anyway.

Tarentella, with dancing poison, is a hilarious monster.

"Water termite"?  With an ink cloud ability?  Wat.

It seems like monsters are worth less XP, too - Wight is 50 in OSE vs 80 in ACKS, Wolf is 25 vs 35, Wyvern is 850 vs 1140, Zombie is 20 vs 29.

Encounter tables

1d20 for dungeon encounters, rather than 1d12, with more chances for potential friendlies like Traders, Halflings, and Nobles.  And tables going down to dungeon level 8.  No notes about rolling on an adjacent level table and adjusting the number encountered.  Wilderness encounter tables look broadly similar to ACKS' but organized slightly differently.

NPC parties are generated at Basic or Expert level, rather than picking a party level and generating around that.  NPC parties are more likely to be Chaotic in OSE than ACKS.

NPC strongholds and reaction to travelers is interesting and fits nicely with "NPC domains are the next step up from wilderness monster lairs in danger, make a reaction roll".

DMing Stuff

Kinda skimming here.  Expected rate of advancement is 3-4 sessions for at least one PC to reach 2nd level (presumably a cleric or thief).  Disagree with their stance on excess wealth, that DM should find a way to dispose of it (although I suppose if you must, it is best to offer them a choice between money and trouble, as suggested).  Sort of disagree with keeping stats secret, in the vein of rolling everything in front of the screen.

I like describing rooms by square counts rather than in feet.  Notes on running monsters and NPCs are decent - basically just "don't play dumb, but don't preemptively counter stuff that these monsters haven't seen the PCs do before".

Mist trap that doesn't do anything is trolling hard.  Most traps do give saves.

Wilderness can be mapped on either hexes or graph paper.  More and more these days I'm leaning towards a grid; it's just so much easier to program around.  Recommended distance between base town and dungeons is one day's travel; certainly for a starter dungeon (or I guess for a deep mega that is going to be a campaign tentpole).

Base town - "possibly more advanced services such as curing diseases or even raising the dead".  Sounds very "not available by default".  Which I guess is why there are no spellcasting services on the equipment or hireling tables.

Treasure usually accounts "for 3/4 or more of the total XP earned."  No XP for magical treasure, no option to sell it.

Awarded XP is always divided evenly - bummer.  And it sounds like retainers actually cost a full share of XP, but only get half of that, which is a pretty strong deterrent to relying heavily on them.


Wow, treasure types are totally disorganized rather than roughly ordered by value.

Retainers may agree to be test subjects for magic item identification, but only if they can keep the item.  That's great.  No real rules for identification.

I do like that gem values are condensed a bit, though I think the expected value is lower.

Separate Basic column on magic item tables that generates lower-level items; more potions, fewer scrolls, and more misc weapons.

50% of magic armor is chainmail.  Magic armor weighs 50% less rather than 1 stone (100 coins) less per bonus.

Bags of Holding, Gauntlets of Ogre Power, Helms of Telepathy, Crystal Balls, and Rings of Invisibility are all Basic items.  Daaang.  Maybe the relatively-high availability of solid items in the low levels helps differentiate characters who lack proficiencies and who have a much coarser-grained THAC0/saves curve.

Potion of Longevity can occur in random treasures.  But there aren't rules for aging so it doesn't matter much.  I guess it's basically poison to an adventurer in their early 20s.

30% of magic swords are sentient (versus single-digit percentages in ACKS), plus a 5% independent chance of special purpose+sentient.  Lawful and Chaotic swords of purpose are basically save-or-die on hit against target of purpose; Neutral swords of purpose give you a merger +1 to saves against enemies that it hates.  Amusing.

None of the misc magic weapons are cursed.


And we're through!  There's some pretty good art in the Index, bit sad that it ended up back here.  Author's notes on things he clarified or corrected from B/X reinforce the feeling that it's a darn faithful clone.

Characters seem weaker across the board here than in ACKS.  I do think the MU gets a pretty good deal of it (vancian is annoying, but you can still cast as many sleeps per day), as do the demihumans with infravision.  Complaints that fighter and thief are weak seem totally justified.  I wonder if what I want is somewhere about halfway between B/X  and ACKS; small damage bonuses for fighters and bring back cleaves, backstab multipliers that do rise but slowly, drop infravision, more logistics and gear tracking than B/X but less logistics than ACKS, simple domains.  A Half-ACKS'd Hack, if you will.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Rain and Visibility, Compasses

A winter follow-up to Eyes of the Eagle.

Winter in the Pacific Northwest has given me ample opportunity to observe the effects of rain and humidity on the visibility of distant objects.  On a rainy day, even when it isn't actively raining, I can see buildings and bridges that are 3-4 miles away, and usually tall buildings that are 5-6 miles away, but seeing the mountains 40-50 miles away is not happening.  When it is actively raining, buildings two miles away are often obscured.  The position of the sun behind the cloud layer is somewhat vague; likewise the moon.  The stars are totally obscured.

I've been thinking about the mechanics for getting lost during wilderness adventures and how they're sort of shit.  I think rain should play a big part of in-world explanations for why getting lost happens.  Distant landmarks disappear, celestial navigation becomes difficult, it just makes sense.  I think, if you're tracking the party on a six-mile hex map and determining what they can see, on a rainy day it would be reasonable to limit vision to just adjacent hexes.  Then, due to vagueness of celestial navigation, when the party attempts to move in a particular direction on a rainy / heavily overcast day, they may err by one hex-side.  During actual rain or stormy weather, restricting vision to only the current hex is probably reasonable, which is the point where you really start to run into likely errors if you try to travel.  If you're treating things a little more abstractly, where you don't figure out exactly what other hexes your players can see, maybe rainy weather imposes a -4 to Navigation throws, and stormy weather imposes a -8.

The difficulty in telling north by the position of the sun might prompt players to ask "What about compasses?"  Compasses don't appear on the mundane equipment lists in the SRDs for any of 3rd edition, 5th edition, Pathfinder, or ACKS.  Historically, magnetic compasses were developed by the Chinese and were definitely used for navigation by around 1000AD, with the earliest documentation of the use of a compass by European sailors was in the 1200s and likewise first documented in the Muslim world in the 1200s.  So probably not something you'd want in a game set in fantasy antiquity or the viking age, but might be reasonable for your average high medieval game or for Oriental Adventures.  Certainly it's less anachronistic than the 1600s-era spyglass present on several of the mundane equipment tables.

There was an additional note in the History of the Compass wikipedia article that I found interesting:
While the practice from ancient times had been to curtail sea travel [on the Mediterranean]  between October and April, due in part to the lack of dependable clear skies during the Mediterranean winter, the prolongation of the sailing season resulted in a gradual, but sustained increase in shipping movement; by around 1290 the sailing season could start in late January or February, and end in December.
Which reinforces my belief that persistent overcast should induce a substantial navigation penalty - it was enough to prevent shipping for six months out of the year.  Granted, the penalty on any one daily navigation roll doesn't need to be very large for the effects on a long sea voyage to add up.