Tuesday, July 31, 2012

ACKS - The End is Nigh!

Summer's end is approaching, and while school doesn't start up again until near the end of August, it's getting close to time to pack up and move back east.  As a result, barring weeknight gaming, we only have one more session of ACKS left this summer.  My current plan is to put the campaign on hiatus for this coming semester; my course load is looking a bit hairy (six classes, two of which are compilers and network security), and I could use a bit of a break from being behind the screen.  However, general consensus among the players is that if I were to pick it back up in the spring, they'd be in.  Since I will have satisfied my reqs to graduate by then, I should be able to take a lighter load of fun / interesting classes in the spring and have time to run a game..

The approaching closing of this chapter of For a Few GP More has put me in both a retrospective and plotting mood.  Currently I have a GM-only wiki page on the Portal with 23 loose ends generated over the course of the game; of those, three and a half have been resolved since I started keeping the list.  This gives me a lot of stuff to work with for the finale session; too much, in fact.  I'm having trouble deciding which loose ends to tie up, and which to leave open for the next season.  It's a good problem, I guess, but also tied to the question of the structure of the next season.  If people are bringing back the same characters, then it's fine to leave personal plots open; if not, then that's less viable.  Bringing back the same characters leads to power disparity issues; I know Jason was feeling it this last game (he missed out on the wish-haul, and has a 3rd-level spellsword in a party where many of the henchmen are 3rd-4th level, and the highest-level PC is 7th).  Technically, the XP math works so that this will correct itself, but it could still be quite frustrating for newcomers.  The alternative, to switch to a low-level party with some of the henchmen replacing PCs (Tim retiring Corinth to play Hulst, for example), with only occasional sessions dedicated to higher-level play, would work quite acceptably, except that Andrew and Tom both have no surviving henchmen.  I guess I'll play it by ear and go for a mix of personal and impersonal plots.

But, some statistics.
Our first session was on the 26th of May, and our last is scheduled for the weekend of the 4th of August.  Thus, we will have played for about ten weeks, minus the week I was out of town.  We also played about three weeknight sessions, for a total of 12ish games.  The lowest number of players in attendance was three, which happened several times, and the highest was five, which also happened frequently.  The smallest party size in-game was four in the first session (Gallivan, Errgumun, Joe's bladedancer, and Corinth), while the largest that I recall (not including mercenaries) was during the first expedition to Bleak, with 12 party members.  During the 12 sessions, fifteen forays were made to three dungeons; six to the fallen dwarven fortress of Sandygates, seven to the ruined Bleak Academy of Necromancy, and two to the Monastery of Madness.  One more dungeon, the Crocodile Temple, was mapped and stocked (mostly), and while the party knew its location, they never visited due to the many miles of perilous marshes between Opportunity and it.  The highest number of expeditions attempted in one session was three, with the fourth, fifth, and sixth expeditions to the Academy.  The lowest was zero; this occurred only once, during the overland journey from Deal to Opportunity.  A total of seven and a half months of in-universe time have elapsed during this campaign, which may be a new record for this group; the only others that might give this a run for its money are some of our Traveller games.

The highest level reached by a PC so far is 7th, by Drew's bard Garwyn.  Drew also wins the Worst Employer Award, for having the most dead henchmen to his name (nine out of the fourteen henchman casualties), and the only actual personal henchman kill of the game.  Joe, Tom, and Andrew tied for most PC deaths, at two each, but Joe has the distinction of being the only player with two PC deaths in one session.  Despite a total of eight PC deaths, we had only one replacement PC come from a henchman background (Corinth) - all other replacements were brought in via reserve XP.  Most PCs began play at 3rd level, a few (elves) at 2nd, and I believe Garwyn came in at 4th on reserve (Carcophan may have as well).  The only player who hasn't had a PC die is Jason, who has also played the fewest sessions of any player.

Sure wish I had kept better track of XP and gold earned for examining monster-vs-treasure XP balance...  I could probably reserve-engineer it from my notes, but don't feel like it at this time.  Drew and to a lesser extent Tom are the only ones to have engaged in campaign play; Drew has a thieves' guild and a town under his control, and is working on constructing a castle to exert his dominance of the surrounding lands, while Tom engaged in arcane research once and has been considering constructing magic items.  He also has ambitions of rebuilding the Academy or launching a chaotic beastman domain.  For his part, Tim has avoided the bookkeeping involved in campaign operations, and Andrew and Jason haven't really reached the levels of power to try it yet.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Starmada Sunday: OGRE Nova

By way of Steve Jackson Games
 Does look kinda like a spaceship, don't it?

Way back in the ancient days of Starmada: AE, before my time with it, a crazy fellow did a conversion of OGRE to AE.  A couple of weeks ago, I decided to convert his conversion to Nova.  Note that I don't have a copy of, and have never played, OGRE itself, but man do I love the premise.

So, some units.

OGRE III-class Cybertank (277) (pictured above)
Armor: 6 5 * 4 3 * 2 1
Hull: 12 11 10 9 * 8 7 6 5 * 4 3 2 1
Thrust 3 2 2 1 1
Weapons 0 1 2 3 4
Shields 5 6 6 6 6
Main Battery (Dmg 3 Acc ) 3/6/9 FF0
1 1 1 0
Secondary Batteries (Dmg 2 Acc ) 2/4/6 FP2 FS2
4 3 2 1 | 1 1 | 1 0
AP Batteries (Acc Pnp ) 1/2/3 PH2 SH2
8 6 4 3 | 2 1 | 1 1 | 1 0
Missiles (Exp Gid Skr Acc Dmg 3 ) 10/20/30 FX2 FX2
8 6 4 3 | 2 1 | 1 1 | 1 0
Specials: Fire Control, Reinforced Systems

OGRE V-class Cybertank (436)
Armor: 9 8 7 * 6 5 4 * 3 2 1
Hull: 18 17 16 15 14 13 * 12 11 10 9 8 7 * 6 5 4 3 2 1
Thrust 3 2 2 1 1
Weapons 0 1 2 3 4
Shields 5 6 6 6 6
Main Battery (Dmg 3 Acc Prc ) 3/6/9 FF0
2 1 1 1 | 1 0
Secondary Batteries (Dmg 2 Acc ) 2/4/6 FP2 FS2
6 4 3 2 | 2 1 | 1 1 | 0
AP Batteries (Acc Pnp ) 1/2/3 PH2 SH2
12 8 6 4 | 3 2 | 2 1 | 1 1 | 0
Missiles (Exp Gid Skr Acc Dmg 3 ) 10/20/30 FX4 FX4 FX4 FX4
16 11 8 6 | 4 3 | 2 1 | 1 1 | 1 0
Specials: Fire Control, Reinforced Systems

HTK-class Heavy Tank (20)
Armor: 1 * 0 * 0
Hull: 3 * 2 * 1
Thrust 3 2 2 1 1
Weapons 0 1 2 3 4
Shields 5 6 6 6 6
Main Gun (Dmg 2 Acc ) 2/4/6 FX0
1 1 1 0

HWZ-class Howitzer (18)
Armor: 0 0 0
Hull: 3 * 2 * 1
Thrust 0
Weapons 0 1 2 3 4
Shields 0
Cannon (Dmg 2 Bls Skr ) 8/16/24 TT0
1 1 1 0

MTK-class Missile Tank (18)
Armor: 0 0 0
Hull: 3 * 2 * 1
Thrust 2 1 1 1 1
Weapons 0 1 2 3 4
Shields 6 6 6
Missile Pack (Acc Skr Slo ) 4/8/12 TT0
3 2 2 1 | 1 1 | 0

GEV-class GEV (15)
Armor: 0 0 0
Hull: 3 * 2 * 1
Thrust 7 5 4 2 2
Weapons 0 1 2 3 4
Shields 6 6 6
Main Gun (Acc ) 2/4/6 TT0
1 1 1 0

INF-class Infantry Platoon (12)
Armor: 0 0 0
Hull: 3 * 2 * 1
Thrust 2 1 1 1 1
Weapons 0 1 2 3 4
ECM 1 1 1 0 0
Shields 0
Small Arms (Acc Dif Sct ) 1/2/3 TT0
1 1 1 0

I have omitted the OGRE IV because with the huge number of missiles it carries, I was actually unable to fit things into its SU cap by hull with the conversion strategy I'd been using.  The other main difference from the AE conversion rules is due to the change in the seekers rules - OGRE missiles, missile tank missiles, and howitzer rounds are now delayed-impact weapons, and can be shot down.  I think this change mostly benefits the OGREs, which have dedicated point-defense weapons.  I experimented with adding point-defense weapons to non-OGRE AFVs, but realized that they'd be mostly shooting at OGRE-launched missiles, which incurs a -5 modifier to firing (-1 for seekers, -1 for accurate, -3 for triple damage), meaning that they wouldn't've been able to effectively target them without increasing the base attack strength, which I didn't really want to do.  There is, however, definitely room for a dedicated point-defense vehicle on the conventional side; currently infantry fills this role the best, allowing it to fulfill its traditional role in OGRE of guarding the howitzers.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Words of Wisdom

“The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules.”

“The worthy GM never purposely kills players' PCs, He presents opportunities for the rash and unthinking players to do that all on their own.”

"Parenthetically, photostat copies of the manuscript rules were made, and when the commercial game was published, fans not willing or financially unable to expend the princely sum of $10 for the product did likewise, copying the material on school (mainly college/university) machines. We were well aware of this, and many gamers who had spent their hard-earned money to buy the game were more irate than we were. In all, though, the 'pirate' material was more helpful that not. Many new fans were made by DMs who were using such copies to run their games."

"The new D&D is too rule intensive. It's relegated the Dungeon Master to being an entertainer rather than master of the game. It's done away with the archetypes, focused on nothing but combat and character power, lost the group cooperative aspect, bastardized the class-based system, and resembles a comic-book superheroes game more than a fantasy RPG where a player can play any alignment desired, not just lawful good." (Actually written about 3e, not 4e as might be expected)

"One more thing: don’t spend too much time merely reading. The best part of this work is the play, so play and enjoy!" (I like to think this is meant of prep as well as reading)

Happy birthday, E. Gary Gygax.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I woke up this morning with a single thought in my head - hitting level 14 in ACKS might be somewhat sad, since you now can never ever gain any further personal power.  I approve of the fact that power is capped, but having a hard "nope, you're done" solution is somewhat iffy.  I propose an analogue to E6, but at 'cap level' for various classes - you stop gaining levels, and just gain a new proficiency every time you would gain a level.  Might run into issues with low-capping demihuman classes, but overall it seems like it might be reasonable, especially if you start capping the number of times a single proficiency can be taken (I'm thinking Lay On Hands might be exploitable).

But overall, promising, and maybe useful for taking out those 30+ HD monsters.  Not that it's going to be a concern for a looong time to come at the rate we're playing.

Friday, July 20, 2012

On the Goblins of the Shieldlands

Goblins, in their standard incarnation, are somewhat...  done unto death.  Especially after Pathfinder's comic-relief take on them, I just can't deal with the "little green buggers with pointy ears" goblins anymore.  Plus, they don't fit well into ACKS' beastman model.  Nominally, ACKS' goblins are an unholy crossbreed of dwarves and gnolls, which somehow works out to the standard description.  I found that...  a little weird, and so in keeping with the reboot of orcs as strict pig-men, I decided to turn goblins into proper beastmen as well.

So I needed a mammal that was small, repellent, cave dwelling, rapid-breeding, individually weak but dangerous in numbers...  rats seemed the natural choice.  So, 4' tall humanoids with patchy fur, rat-like heads, and hairless tails.  They chatter in their warrens in the badlands and sewers of the Shieldlands, worshiping their foul deity, Khebek-Te, the Rat With A Thousand Young, an ancient and otherwise forgotten Zaharan goddess of both pestilence and fertility.  They are matriarchal in accordance with this veneration of fertility, and raid the lands of men in search of shiny objects with which to adorn their nests, as well as for sacrifices to feed their children in unspeakable rites to their goddess.  In character they are covetous and craven, but they have a low cunning and their retreats are often into ambushes or back towards reinforcements.  In the days of the Zaharan empire, they served as rear-line and garrison troops, logistical support, cavalry scouts (it is unclear why worgs tolerate goblin riders; perhaps they think of them as a convenient food source), and sappers for the orcish and hobgoblin legions, but also held their own as cavers, fighting the dwarves in the tunnels of the mountainhomes.  So much dwarven blood did they spill in those ancient days that the civilization of the marble dwarves of the western mountains was greatly diminished, and began a long, slow slide into decrepitude, which continues to this day.

This does, of course, beg the question of "Well, if goblins are rat-men, what are hobgoblins?  Capybara-men?"  Not so!  But that's a post for another day...

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Well, it  came to pass that there was a hireling in the town of Opportunity with good stats and a peculiar set of general proficiencies, including Seafaring, Language Skanuck (the Norse equivalent in this setting), Navigation, and a high strength.  It was decided that this hireling was a Norse woman come south, and she hired on with Tormond to train in the ways of crazy warrior women.  But, we were not satisfied with Fighter, Paladin, or Barbarian for this.  No, we decided we needed a very specific, Nethack-inspired class - the Valkyrie.

By way of Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor...  which is kind of funny, in this case

Prime Requisite: Str
Requirements: None
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 14

It comes as little surprise to outlanders that Skanuck society is male-dominated, as the activities the Skanucks are best known for (namely raiding, pillaging, looting, raiding, and pillaging) are traditionally male enterprises.  Many outlanders are thus quite surprised (often terminally) upon their first meeting with the valkyries, Skanuck warrior-women who been found worthy of assistance by their ancestors, much to the chagrin of the various patriarchal cults pervading Skanuck culture.  Legend has it that the first valkyrie was the only child of a Skanuck warrior who, while dying in the snow, willed to her his strength.  These days it is considered scandalous and shameful, but not unheard of, for a daughter to take her father's place on the long-boats if he gives her his blessing from the grave.

Valkyries are skilled fighters, though they train with only a small selection of traditional weapons.  At first level they hit AC 0 on a roll of 10+, and they advance in attack and saving throws at the same rate as fighters, by two points per three levels of experience.  Valkyries increase their base damage roll from successful melee attacks by +1 at 1st level, and an additional +1 at 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th levels.

Valkyries are proficient with only a small selection of 'honorable' weapons, limiting themselves to spears, broadswords, battle axes, hand axes, short swords, and daggers.  They may fight with a weapon and a shield, or with a single weapon in two hands.  As the Skanucks are not adept smiths, and have not yet mastered the production of scale and plate, valkyries are limited to chainmail and lighter armors.  However, valkyries are widely known as "shield maidens", and not without reason; they are adept shield users, gaining Fighting Style (Shield) at 1st level.

All valkyries, being trueborn daughters of Skandia, speak fluent Skanuck.  Hence, they gain Language (Skanuck / Norse) for free at 1st level.

Valkyries are hardened by long years of experience in the harsh tundra, and in savage tribal warfare.  As a result, they are hard to surprise (+1 to surprise, +1 to initiative when not spellcasting), inured to freezing cold (immune to normal atmospheric cold, +2 to saves against magical cold, and -1 damage per die from cold), and resilient (roll twice on the Mortal Wounds table, choosing which result to apply).

Valkyries also benefit from the protection of the ancestor spirits when fighting for righteous causes, gaining +1 to saves and AC against evil creatures.  They appear outlined in radiant luminescence when viewed with detect good, detect magic, or true seeing.

Starting at 3rd level, their forefathers provide further blessings, granting limited divine spellcasting to the valkyrie.  The number of divine spells available per day to the valkyrie are shown on the table below; they take effect as if cast by a cleric of half her level, rounded up, and are cast from a short list following.  In order to remain in good standing with her ancestors, the valkyrie must strive to perform acts of valor and strength at arms in an honorable fashion.

When a valkyrie reaches 5th level (Spear-Maiden), her fearless demeanor inspires those who follow her.  All henchmen and mercenaries hired by the valkyrie gain a +1 bonus to their morale score whenever she personally leads them.  This bonus stacks with any modifiers from the valkyrie's Charisma or proficiencies.

At 9th level (Valkyrie), a valkyrie can build or claim an aerie, traditionally on a mountain peak, from which she might rule a domain.  When she establishes her aerie, 1d4+1x10 0th level mercenaries and 1d6 valkyries of 1st-3rd level seeking training will arrive seeking jobs and training.  If hired, they must be paid standard rates for mercenaries.  Valkyries' aeries are otherwise identical to fighters' castles, as detailed in the Campaign chapter of the ACKS rulebook.

Valkyrie spell list:

Cure Light Wounds
Protection from Evil
Remove Fear

Hold Person
Summon Barbarians
Swift Sword

Call Lightning
Protection from Normal Missiles
Speak With Dead
Winged Flight

Cure Serious Wounds
Protection from Evil, Sustained
Summon Legendary Ancestor

Flame Strike (Lightning Flavor)
Protection from Normal Weapons
Restore Life and Limb
Strength of Mind

Valkyrie Proficiency List: Alertness, Apostasy, Battle Magic, Beast Friendship, Berserkergang, Blind Fighting, Combat Trickery (Force Back, Overrun), Divine Blessing, Divine Health, Endurance, Elven Bloodline (Ancestral blessing of longevity), Fighting Style, Manual of Arms, Martial Training, Military Strategy, Mountaineering, Navigation, Passing Without Trace, Prophecy, Riding, Running, Seafaring, Skirmishing, Survival, Theology, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus

Sea Valkyrie Template: This pre-generated template represents a valkyrie member of a Skanuck raiding vessel.
Proficiencies: Combat Trickery (Force Back), Seafaring
Equipment: Iron-tipped spear, bearded axe, painted round wooden shield, chainmail byrnie, rough spun wool tunic and pants, leather belt, low boots, wineskin with spiced wine, small sack, 50’ rope, grappling hook, 1 week’s iron rations, 10gp

As an aside (for this post is entirely too long already), I kind of wonder if this gradual, iterated "Man, you know what this settings needs?  Viking ladies with axes"-type design process is how the Wilderlands of High Fantasy ended up with Amazons and green men and cat people and dragon-headed ogres and all kinds of other crazy stuff.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

If I Were to Run a 40k RPG...

It would probably be more like Traveller: New Era meets ACKS than Deathwatch or Dark Heresy.

I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of the 40k universe.  On the one hand, I quite like the "everyone dies" aesthetic, the laughter of uncaring gods, Space Hulk, the Ravenor trilogy, the tyranids, Mechanicus, Inquisition, and the doom of the eldar.  On the other hand, there are the space marines, the tau, the ecclesiarchy, the rogue traders (who always felt a little too free for such an unfree world), and those goddamn orks.  Further, for an empire where much technology is lost and forgotten, there always seems to be an abundance of powered armor, plasma weapons, and other fancy gizmos fit for cracking tanks or continents.  These combined always made the prospect of running an RPG in the 40k universe somewhat offputting.

Well, says I to myself late last night, we can fix that.

Consider, for a moment, what happens to the 40k universe if, one day, the Astronomican goes out, permanently.  Imperial ships in the warp at the time are lost, and further long-range interstellar travel becomes an impossibility.  Military campaigns on ten thousand worlds grind to a halt for lack of resupply, and the units abandoned there must either go guerrilla, make peace, or be slaughtered.  Many hive worlds, reliant on imported foodstuffs for their sustenance, suffer starvation, unrest, and descent into anarchy.  The enemies of man, still capable of interstellar travel by their usual means, go on the offensive, bypassing strongpoints where Imperial units remain active, and conquering ripe, undefended worlds with little effort.

The space marines, scattered across the galaxy in forces as small as platoons, must reintegrate into human society, becoming leaders of men.  Bolter ammunition, already scarce, becomes vanishingly rare, and powered armor, lacking spare parts and untended by the ministrations of the techmarines, falls into disrepair.  The homeworlds of the various chapters, such as Fenris, Nocturne, and Macragge, continue recruiting, impanting, and training more marines of their chapters, but most worlds with space marine deployments lack the specialized medical infrastructure for the growth of implants from the gene-seed.  On those worlds, the marines tend to form long-lived military juntas, which provide a gateway into stable, moral governments backed by tempered force.

On many worlds, the Ecclesiarchy remains in power for some time, holding forth with the doctrine that the faith of the people is being tested.  They are supported by the astropath network, providing news and maintaining mankind as a single culture.  As years pass, however, the astropaths begin to die off (and new ones cannot be taken to Earth to be soulbound), and salvation seems less and less imminent; many planets rebel and overthrow their religious rulers.  Most of these insurrections fall to chaotic influence, but some, perhaps, are successful, staving off corruption under the watchful eyes of former inquisitorial agents with little love for the zeal of the Ecclesiarchs.

The Forge Worlds, too, weather the transition relatively well, with the beliefs of the Cult Mechanicus unshaken and its power largely intact.  Many, however, suffer from resource exhaustion, turning to desolate anarchic wastelands a la the Road Warrior, and without safeguards against chaos, more still fall to the lure of dark sciences.  The forge worlds are likewise juicy targets for the enemies of mankind, for while they maintain their Skitarii fighting forces, they are rich in technological plunder.  Some, however, endure, arming themselves and stewarding their resources while their best minds seek a safer means of FTL travel.

And so it is that, a few generations after the collapse of the Empire, on one of these stable worlds, PCs appear.  Foolish young souls with a penchant for adventure, an eye for profit, the cojones to explore a drifting space hulk, and a dream of distant stars...

Monday, July 16, 2012

On the Application of Animals to Dungeoneering

So far, the only animal my players have repurposed for dungeoneering use is the trusty war dog, whose primary function biting things is clearly and immediately useful in this adventuring context.  However, there are a bunch of other animals listed on the Livestock table of the Equipment chapter whose uses are somewhat less obvious.  Let's go down the list.

Chicken - The humble chicken is useful primarily as a distraction for small, hungry monsters (like man-sized toads).  It also lays eggs, which can be thrown as weapons, dealing minor inconvenience on a hit, and occasionally angering intelligent monsters into targeting the thrower over his allies.  The chicken can further be used to locate tripwire traps, but is too light to set off any but the most sensitive pressure plates.

Cow - Cows are essentially deluxe versions of the common chicken.  In addition to their well-known trapfinding capabilities, they serve as excellent distractions for larger, hungrier monsters than those that feed on chickens (like purple worms).

Dog, Hunting - While not nearly as useful as the war dog in combat, hunting dogs are useful for tracking things, particular treasure-carrying things.  They're also cheaper and available in greater quantities than war dogs, and so despite their inferior capabilities can overwhelm weak foes with their numbers.

Dog, War - A staple of recent expeditions into various dungeons, the war dog is basically the equal in combat of a 2nd level fighter with more HP, lower saves, leather armor, a short sword, and a shield.  They're also swift and don't demand a share of XP or treasure.  Make sure to buy the studded leather barding upgrade described in the monster listing, which increases both their AC and their damage output.

Goat - I got nothing here.  I guess they're useful for trapfinding, and then once they get killed you take the horns, put them on your hat, and start making jokes about the Dread Rabbit of Caerbannough.  Goat is not a particularly tasty meat, and so their utility as rations on the hoof for long wilderness journeys is limited.

Hawk, Trained - Useful for hunting small verminous animals, providing a small bonus to Hunting rolls to find food in the wilderness.  Also a status symbol, and may have applications in tearing out the eyes of goblins and other rodent-like humanoids; this is still an area of active research.

Pig - Some would think the pig less useful than the goat, since they lack the horns, but this is actually false.  The pig's hidden utility lies in its ability to eat anything, making pigs supremely useful for corpse disposal.  In addition, they're delicious.  These two features combine to make the pig the best choice for 'breathing rations', since they don't require feed like cows or other grazing animals, instead being nourished by the carcasses generated by adventurers in their daily business.  It's a symbiotic relationship.  Additionally, orcs are well-disposed towards pigs, much as humans are well-disposed towards dogs in the general case.  Thus, pigs may be useful in orcish diplomacy.

Sheep - Sheep are not particularly good eating, providing a lower yield per unit than goats or pigs, and not being particularly tasty except for the lambs.  They are, however, fuzzy.  This has two main uses - first, sheep can be used to keep individuals warm in cold climates.  This is apparent from the text, where sheep appear both on the livestock and lodging tables.  Further, the fuzziness provides lots of surface area for military oil to soak into, making sheep the best choice for flaming suicide stampede weapons.  They're also small enough to go where cows cannot in this function, and burning wool smells much worse than the smell of crisping bacon, which disqualifies pigs from serving well in this role (as the bacon smell tends to attract hungry monsters).  Some claim that the sheep's wool can be sheared and spun into thread for other uses, but this is simply ridiculous.

This concludes the listings in the equipment section of the ACKS main rulebook.  There are, however, a few other animals worthy of note for their dungeoneering uses.  First, no expedition deep into the bowels of the earth is complete without a canary or five for the detection of poisonous gases.  Second, trained monkeys can be useful for the retrieval of shiny objects at little risk to adventurers; well-trained monkeys can even pull levers (some call monkeys of this sort 'henchmen').  Finally, cats are well-known for their ability to detect invisible creatures, at least when they're not sleeping.  However, one should be warned that cats have a tendency to destabilize dwarven societies, and may also be hazardous to one's magical research, as they very much like to sit on one's papers and get cat hair in one's reagents.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Of Consequences and Teamkilling

The central tenet of the sandbox game is that players have 'meaningful choices'.  In RPG circles, the prevailing notion of meaningful is that their choices are informed, and that they have consequences.  This is reasonable, as a completely uninformed choice provides no real agency to the players, and a choice without consequences, where all possible courses of action lead to the same conclusion, is just the quantum ogre all over again.

Now, my players will tell you that a lot of the time they make decisions uninformed, but I do my best to make sure this is their fault rather than mine.  When I design dungeons, I try to build from the perspective of the original builders; traps go in places the occupants would've trapped (the gem vault, for example), rather than being scattered about at random.  I do my best to warn them that dungeoneering and wilderness travel are dangerous, but conceal the specifics of threats and choices until they either probe cleverly and deduce a smart course, or stumble blindly and usually die.

As a sandbox DM, though, the study of consequences is ultimately more interesting to me.  In real life, we're almost never aware of all of the consequences of our actions beforehand, so being in the dark about some of them is good for verisimilitude.  Likewise, most actions have not one, but multiple consequences, usually mixed in whether they're positive or negative.  As a general rule of thumb, I try to attach at least two consequences to each major decision point; one good result, and one bad (I often try to throw in one 'other' as well, but that often falls by the wayside), one of which remains hidden.  For example, when the PCs wish for 20,000 pieces of platinum (as they did last week), the positive consequence is immediately obvious.  The negative one has yet to come back and bite them in the ass, but it will eventually.

Sometimes, though, the PCs do something either so valiant or so heinous that I, as the DM, go "Only good | ill can come of this."  I've only seen two examples of this so far while running sandboxes.  The first was in my Traveller game in spring of '11.  The party had been accosted by bounty hunters, two of whom they had taken alive.  They left the prisoners in the hands of Tim's ex-marine while most of the party went looking for spare parts for the jump drive, and left Tim with the suggestion that he kick them out of the airlock into the nearest star.  Instead, Tim concocted an elaborate scheme to send the prisoners, alive, back to their homeworld with a warning to their boss not to mess with him, and he pulled it off without the rest of the party's knowledge.  This act of covert mercy at personal risk seemed to merit positive consequences (especially since the rest of the party was mad at Tim out-of-character), and eventually bore fruit when one of the bounty hunters provided advance warning of an enemy to Tim.  Part of this was that Traveller is a 'civilized' game, where combatants often go unconscious and into shock rather than dying outright, and where killing people is a crime.  The rules already discouraged these things, but it was a hard transition for D&D players to make, so I helped things along a little.

The other example ended less well.  During the third or fourth expedition to Sandygates in the ACKS campaign I'm still running, Drew's henchwoman Lasai was mortally wounded, but survived with a "will be fine given bed rest" result.  Drew's thief, Scarth, killed her in cold blood while the rest of the party was unconscious or distracted, to reduce the number of shares on the expedition.  To add insult to injury, he then also left her body in the dungeon.  The other players were appalled by this 'teamkilling', but had no in-character knowledge of the event, and so considered metagaming to remove a character they perceived as dangerous to their survival.  I informed them that I agreed that Scarth had overstepped the bounds of the acceptable, but that no metagame action would be necessary, as I had the situation in hand.  Between killing a helpless ally who was under his protection and would've recovered, and leaving the corpse in the dungeon, he had given me plenty to work with.  Technically he did, briefly, gain the positive outcome which had motivated the choice - a greater share of XP from the expedition, and not having to pay a henchman.  Eventually, though, Lasai's vengeful ghost came to haunt him, aging Scarth many years in combat and then retreating before the magic weapons of the party.  Drew concluded that Scarth was no longer a viable character; he would have to spend the rest of his days on holy ground or be aged to death in short order, making a forced retirement to a monastic lifestyle in penitence for his crime a near-certainty.  This assessment was correct, but ultimately moot, since Scarth was killed by morlocks shortly thereafter

However, I think the whole incident put things into a little perspective.  It established a moral distinction between killing one's allies and letting them die, and also reinforced the idea that dungeons are dangerous places where the dead rise.  Was Drew's consequence fully informed?  Perhaps not; he did not know that she would return as a ghost to haunt him.  But it was a conceivable consequence, deducible and following from that mistake of leaving the body in the dungeon, where the dead walk.  Had he brought her out to the surface and given her a proper burial, things might've gone differently; there would still be hell to pay, but it would've come through other, possibly less severe, means.

One concern of mine was that Drew / Scarth's censure may have shifted the campaign's tone a little away from the pulpy, backstabby sword-and-sorcery "we're just here for the treasure" themes that it was meant to be founded on, by putting certain targets off-limits.  However, looking back at one of my primary sources, Fafhrd never offed the Grey Mouser over 15% of the take, that I recall.  There were considerations of scale and of gameplay at stake.  The recent acquisition of the aforementioned 20,000 platinum pieces has put inter-character conflict back on the table, but I'm OK with that; if it happens, it's going to be PC-vs-PC, not killing a helpless henchman, and it's very much in keeping with tropes of the Western genre.  I also suspect that it probably won't happen; there's too much risk for the winners.  One man with 20,000 platinum is rich, but easily slain, robbed, or threatened, especially if he was injured in the fight for it.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Report from the Front

Well, I was going to write a post full of adventure hooks, but it's been a violently intense week (including as highlights BattleTech simulators at The Airlock, shooting rifles (aim: improving), two games of ACKS, two dates, and a full day today of solving puzzles), so I'm pretty much braindead right now.  Instead, I will regale you, gentle reader, with a short tale of greed, slaughter, and woe from Wednesday's game, covering the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Expeditions to the Bleak Academy.

In the Fourth Week of the Fourth Month since the founding of the Dardantine Razors (though none of the founding members still travel with those who carry that name), there gathered in the Sleeping Guardsman Tavern in the Guild Quarter of the Town of Opportunity three companions and their assistants - Carcophan the Half-Dead with his Harmakhan priest Morik, Urist Handlepainted the dwarven berserker and his blade-dancer Karina, and Garwyn the Bard, with his entourage of Tualla the assassin, Derra the blade-dancer, Varamyr the wilderlander, and a newly-hired swordsman by the name of Sorlof.  As the last expedition to the Academy had been immensely successful, Corinth and Fjalkov were drinking their treasure away, while Urist and Garwyn looked on in envy (for they had not been present for that lucrative trip).  So seeing, they resolved to find treasures richer still.

The three proceeded to the Academy without incident, and explored part of the first level of the structure where Carcophan had seen reavers with piled treasure during his narrow escape from death some months before during the first expedition.  There they found the reavers' position abandoned and now occupied by man-sized spiders, which they slew.  The reavers had left their treasure, and so there was much rejoicing.  After a terrifying encounter with the animate guardian statues of the Chapel of Thoth, from which the band narrowly escaped, the expedition was pronounced a success and a hasty retreat was beaten back to Opportunity, again without incident.

While inventorying the treasure, several pieces were discovered to be enchanted, and so research was done and sages were consulted.  One item of interest, a thin metal wand, remained unidentified by other sources, and so Carcophan sought to research its properties and means of activation himself.  However, lacking a personal library, it was decided that he should be escorted to the Academy's library, where he might study safely under the protection of the Ghostly Librarian.  Thus, the Fifth Expedition was organized with the same members as the Fourth, but that Garwyn left Tualla to attend to his affairs in Opportunity (including the acquisition of a sizable house in the guild district to serve as a base of operations and a permanent repository for treasure).  The secondary purpose of this expedition was to complete the exploration and mapping of the second level of the Academy, and to find any further treasure hidden there.

The notable outcomes of this were the meeting of the group of paladin-wights of the Order of Leitbur who had killed Carcophan previously, the discovery of the fate of the reavers (slain to a man by the wights), and the painful death of Urist Handlepainted beneath the combined mass of the risen corpses of said reavers when he attempted to loot their bodies.  His hireling Karina was also gravely wounded by those zombies, losing an ear before Urist lit himself and the zombies afire, sealing his fate.  Though Karina survived, after this setback it was decided that further exploration was unwise, and Carcophan was escorted safely to the library, there to ensconce himself for two weeks of arcane study.  Little treasure was gained, with the greatest portion of the profit coming from the reapportioning of Urist's possessions after his death, and all involved were saddened, not least Urist.  The only newly gained treasure of note was the magic sword of one of the paladin-wights slain by the reavers, which was given for the time being to Sorlof for meritorious service.

During the intervening two weeks, Garwyn and his entourage returned to Opportunity, there to rest, heal, and recruit.  Garwyn learnt of a series of mysterious deaths due to unknown cause, and investigated the matter, but was unable to reach any useful conclusions.  He was, however, able to find and induct The Albanian, a hunter who claims to be from another dimension (general consensus is that he is simply a lunatic, but he's a good shot so this is deemed irrelevant).  With this new companion in tow, Garwyn set out for the Sixth Expedition to the Bleak Academy to retrieve Carcophan from the library and hopefully finish mapping the second level.

While Carcophan was found safe and sound of mind and body, and successful in his researches (having identified the rod as a Wand of Enemy Detection), the exploration of the second level went poorly.  The company happened upon the wine cellars of the Academy, where they found many emaciated corpses.  These were mistaken for likely undead, and a probing attack was mounted which resulted in none rising.  Feeling sheepish and spying the glitter of gold from the edge of the torchlight, the party ventured further into the cellar before Carcophan had the good sense to check the ceiling...  and found there seven ghouls poised to leap into the party's midst.  In the ensuring tumult, Garwyn used his ring of spell storing to teleport to the safety of the Academy's gatehouse, where Verimyr and the mercenaries were waiting, while Carcophan and the Albanian were able to make it to the cellar's door and magically web the way shut.  Unfortunately, this left Sorlof, Derra, and Morik alone with seven ghouls, who shortly were heard tearing them apart and feasting upon their corpses.  Carcophan and the Albanian then experienced some difficulty in their escape, for Garwyn had the map, but by luck and skill reached the surface without meeting any further enemies.  The party left the Academy dejected at the losses of all of their strongest henchmen with no treasure to show for it, and resolved never to return to that accursed place again, though in the estimation of this humble historian it seems likely that Carcophan at the least will have cause to visit for the arcane resources stored there at least once more.  Another cause of regret and possible return to the Academy is that the enchanted dwarven warhammer, Shilshigos, was in the possession of Sorlof at the time of his death, and remains unretrieved with his body.

This concludes the chronicle of the later expeditions of the Razors to the Bleak Academy, in the Fourth Week of the Fifth Month since their founding, with mid-autumn harvest festivals and the equinox nearing.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Starmada Ground Combat II: Nova Edition

Upon some reflection over the last couple of days, I'm actually starting to think that Starmada Nova might be a better fit for a ground combat game than Starmada Admiralty was.  I had some preliminary thoughts on Admiralty as ground some time ago (uh, over a year ago now.  Damn), but never got around to implementing it.  This last spring I picked up a copy of Wardogs and realized that it basically was Admiralty ground, but there were a lot of things in there that I really wasn't a fan of.  Melee was a big deal, there were rules for falling over, and the layout was poor and confusing.  It was pretty clearly fanbrew, and I never really got around to experimenting with it or writing a review about it.  I did kind of like what they did with the armor and damage system (they ditched S:AE's impact / shields mechanic for an interesting pseudo-ablative one), but I don't think it was quite enough for me.

But, along came Nova.  Ablative armor as standard makes for a very BattleTech damage model, especially if you use the Bank-Specific Damage rule to model weapon hits in more of the BattleTech mode.  Likewise, you could use Fragile Systems, with Shields for defenses, and low hull for units which more closely approximate the behavior of actual armored vehicles (namely that armor generally either stops the impact completely or is no use at all and you explode).  ECM could provide some means of handling target signature, especially if you permitted negative ECM scores that provided a bonus for people firing at you (which would permit designing 'large' units).  Overthrusters provide a nice, core Grumm Pivot mechanic, Flares could be used for smoke dispensers, seekers would make decent 'delayed landing' artillery strikes (with tractor beams as point-defense systems), the Expendable trait could be used for multi-tube rocket systems that are a pain to reload...  The structure of the bonuses and penalties to attacks mean that having cover from terrain apply a penalty to attacks is simple to adjudicate and resolve.  Basic Movement should more than cover the general case.

The main thing which doesn't convert well is fighters.  SNE fighters are too fast, even at their lowest available speed, to be useful as infantry (though shuttles might work...  ?).  Likewise, coming up with reasonable rules for infantry, aerospace craft, and VTOLs under the Nova core might be tricky.  Anything with alternate movement modes, really.

Anyways, might be fun to play around with.