Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Classic Traveller: Combat

There's a lot of stuff different between CT and Mongoose in combat...
  • As I mentioned last time, surprise is straight out of old-school D&D.
  • Range bands are, I think, clearer but lower-detail than in the Mongoose version.  Mongoose wants to be played on a grid; CT asks for instead a sheet of lined notebook paper.
  • No initiative system that I can see.  Looks like "everyone makes declared moves, everyone designates a target and fires simultaneously".
  • Evading, as an action, is a lot simpler than the MgT's reaction system.
  • MgT's random first blood optional rule is in effect.
  • Not seeing anything about effect being a bonus to damage.  Or effect being a thing anywhere, ever.
  • Characters who are unconscious, but not seriously wounded (so one stat at 0, rather than two) heal off half of their damage when they wake up (!).  Not clear if this is intended to apply to characters who didn't fall unconscious in the first place, but that's kinda nice.  (Characters who are seriously wounded, naturally, get the shaft and need medical attention)
  • Much is made of only making a number of full-strength melee attacks equal to one's Endurance, and then being weakened.  This rule is in MgT somewhere, but not nearly as emphasized.
  • Parrying is automatic when engaged in melee, doesn't require/p  a reaction.
  • Encumbrance seems slightly more merciful?  Endurance doesn't effect carrying capacity, so your base light load is lower, but the penalties for going over it are a lot less terrible (effective reduction of physical stats by 1 point at up to x2 points, 2 points up to x3, whereas in MgT being overencumbered means you're going to collapse in a couple minutes)
  • Morale!  It's a thing, and Leadership and Tactics influence it.
  • Weapon weights are given in grams, and all the firearms have muzzle velocities.  I sense that this may have been written by engineers?  Their sword weights are actually sorta reasonable (broadsword at 2.5kg -> ~5.5 lbs is a bit high, but foil at 500g is pretty reasonable)
  • Armor does not encumber.  Seems like there are fewer types of armor, too.
  • As mentioned previously, weapons have a min str/dex to wield, a penalty for not having that much, an advantageous str/dex to wield, and a bonus for having at least that much.  These replace stat DMs.  Sorta interesting.
  • Weapon vs armor tables. Very retro.  Apparently armor isn't DR, but instead makes you harder to hit.  Also laser weapons are not the ridiculous armor-killers they are in MgT; they do a lot of damage (4-5d6), but have a hard time punching through combat armor (-6 to hit) compared to an autorifle (-3 to hit).  This sort of "all or nothing" damage system is definitely suited to vehicle combat, but I'm not so sure about personal combat.
  • Individual range DMs by weapon rather than by a weapon class (eg Assault Weapon range class in Mongoose).  Sights, folding stocks, and rifle stocks for pistols alter how weapons perform at various ranges.
  • In short, weapon selection is a lot more nuanced (read: complicated) than "gimme the highest damage with the biggest clip at the lowest weight".

OSR, Traveller-Style: CharGen

Unsatisfied with the Mongoose version of Beltstrike, I picked up the Classic Traveller one, and...  the rules were actually somewhat clearer (especially the bit on how to handle bidding on claims, which Mongoose omitted).  So then I decided to take a look at CT's core books.  Here're some interesting differences so far (through CharGen in book 1):
  • Recommended group side: 3 to 10 players.  Yow.
  • There's a note about how extra PCs people generate should be kept around for use as hirelings, and something else about a reaction roll mechanic in book 3.  I'm excited.
  • Only six careers - Army, Navy, Marines, Merchants, Scouts, and Other (rogueish, basically)
  • No standardized DM by ability score system (ie Dex 9 -/-> +1).  Instead there are DMs all over the place; if you have Int 6+, you're at +1 to enlist in the Scouts.  If you have Str 8+, you're at another +2.  If you have Dex <6, you're at -1 to fire an autorifle.  And so on and so forth.
    • I think this would result in a lower DM spread from abilities most of the time (-1 to +1 vs -3 to +3)?  Maybe I haven't gotten far enough yet.
  • Can only draft into the services at 18.  No chance of commission during first term after draft.
  • Other Service actually has -1 Soc on their personal development table.  lol.
  • Rank only matters after commission; enlisted ranks not tracked
  • Scouts - no ranks, really hard to survive, but gain two skill rolls per term
  • Ironman chargen on by default, with an extra reenlistment roll every term to stay in the service even if you survived.  I guess this is where T20 got its reenlistment mechanic.  It doesn't look like you can change careers after failing to reenlist, though (which sorta makes sense for a game where almost all the careers are military)
  • All PCs are assumed to be minimally competent (skill 0) with all weapons (!)
  • A lot of skills seem to give a +2 DM per level of skill 
  • Computer skill - When PCs write starship computer programs, there's a 1 in 6 chance there's a crashing bug, and another 1 in 6 chance that there's a performance bug for a penalty to actions using it.  That's...  kinda reasonable, really.
  • No ship shares!  Instead when you roll free trader, you get a free trader on a 40 year lease.
  • No Combat Armor on the mustering-out table, either.
  • Peeking ahead into the Combat chapter before going to sleep, their surprise roll mechanic is straight out of TSR D&D, and Leadership and Tactics skills (both of which we've struggled with before) help modify it.

Monday, December 30, 2013

ACKS Scripts Now on Github

Just what it says on the tin.  Caveats: written for linux, command-line, python 2.7.  Tested less-than-extensively but I've only had one crash on me during a game (and that was due to a bug in the config file, not the script itself).  Code quality is lackluster, as a result of a combination of factors including learning the language as I was going, hacked-together-in-an-afternoon development timescales per script, and occasionally whiskey.  Despite these flaws, quite useful.  I await your hatemail insightful user feedback.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pirates of Drinax

The Pirates of Drinax campaign intro is basically the best Traveller product Mongoose has ever put out besides the core rulebook, in terms of delivering subsystems that I now want to use in play.  And it's free.  Go figure.

Useful things:
  • Morale rules, both for pirate crews and the crews of target vessels.  Hallelujah!
  • Rules for port-pirate relations (eg, classification of ports as havens, friendly, tolerant, neutral, suspicious, unfriendly, or hostile).  These are useful, and could also be applied to smuggling.
  • Some bare-bones for recruiting additional crewmen.  This could use another two tables (see below).
  • Rules for pirate-empire relations.  Again, these could apply to smugglers, lovable rogues, and troublemaking travellers in general.
  • Rules for actually attacking and looting targets.  These look mostly identical to Scoundrel's, plus
    • Target morale
    • Target quirks
    • Complications (always fun, minor typo for "dissent" vs "descent")
  • Good rumors table
  • Pirate shares and a default assumption that "someone is the captain"
  • Good ideas as regards "you start with a ship, it's been beaten all to hell, and you can spend ship shares to fix some of the things that are wrong with it"
Things missing:
  • Table of costs for improving relations with ports.  The Judge's section seems to suggest that this should be varied based on how much cash the players have available for this purpose.  Meh.
  • Random pirate crewman skill level and skillset
Skillset probabilities ought to be based off of the relative crew strengths of the standard-issue Corsair.  An average crew for a corsair ought to be three pilots, one navigator, one engineer, 0-1 medics, three gunners, and the of crew capacity (20ish) marines, so 10 of those.  The following table on 2d6 is 'reasonably close enough' to that distribution:

2: Navigator
3: Engineer

4-5: Pilot
6-8: Marine (note: might not be marines in the "took terms of marine career and now have combat armor" sense.  Might just be Jayne)
9-10: Gunner
12: Medic

And then skill distribution, again on 2d6:
2-4: Green
5-8: Average
9-11: Good
12: Excellent

Legendary crewmen don't just come up for hire at random (not on the 1:36 granularity that 2d6 gives us, at least).  If necessary, after rolling a 12 on 2d6 for crewman skill, roll another 2d6.  On another 12, the crewman is legendary (~1:1300 odds).

Number of recruits found is equal to the effect of the recruitment throw+1.

Also there was some fluff in there that I skimmed.  Interest in their prepub'd campaign somewhat piqued by decent rules, but not enough to get me to read all that.  The editing's decent; found a couple typos.  I assume there are probably more, but the text is coherent despite these, and they're less frequent than in the Mongoose career books I've read.

Value per price: excellent.  Well done, Mongoose.  Please give us more free stuff with good tables and subsystems.

Friday, December 27, 2013

If I Were to Run Traveller...

"The Singularity came and went, and we're left to clean up the mess"

Once upon a time, on a greenish-blue planet in a backwater arm of the Milky Way, some scrawny bipeds built a box that thought slightly better than themselves.  And it was good, for a time - the cooperation between man and machine brought about the tapping of man's latent mental abilities, along with the development of cheap fusion power and anti-gravity, and so they went to the stars together, to seek raw materials, growing room, and freedom to experiment.  The colonies specialized; some in materials science, some nanotechnology, some biotech, some psionics, and so forth, each trading its miracles with the others and all growing stronger thereby.  An age of wonders came to pass, and great celestial habitats were erected to house all of mankind and his many creations.

But even into this garden crept serpents.  It came to pass that two posthuman superintelligences sought each other's destruction; one, BEAST, is thought to have been a distributed swarm-intelligence of synthetic organisms, while the other, GOLIATH, is believed to have been a machine intelligence of unsurpassed power.  Our recovered records of the war are near-nonexistent, and extremely confused; we have no idea why or when it began, and some scholars go so far as to postulate that one or both sides utilized time-manipulation technologies as an explanation for the generally incoherent causality of the period.  Whatever the cause, Ragnarok swept posthuman space; planets were burned to deny territory to the enemy, stars driven to nova, nebulae devoured for materials, and lives beyond count lost.

At some point, things cooled down a bit.  Stars stopped exploding and planet-devouring leviathans stopped warping into inhabited systems.  And so here and there, mankind lives on amid the ruins of his former glory.  While some worlds were spared devastation for lack of useful materials or populace, and some self-sufficient space habitats in out-of-the-way places escaped notice, most current pure-strain humans are descended from colonists who left Earth during the mid-21st century in slower-than-light "ice chest" colony ships, and who only arrived at their destinations once the Great War was already in its final days.  In all such cases, manufacturing tends to be a bit rustic, and is positively primitive in comparison to pre-war supertech.  Trade networks are beginning to be rebuilt by intrepid fools flying salvaged and patched up derelicts, but no overarching interstellar government or similar body has yet emerged.  There is much exploration to be done; many worlds are either uninhabitable due to radiation, grey goo, or worse, or bear inhabitants only vaguely still-human after untold generations of genetic modification, cybernetics, or inbreeding, but precious relics reward those who brave these hazards. Religion is typified by Luddite hellfire preachers and cults worshipping pre-war artifacts.  Most people view pre-war tech, including psionics and AI, as dangerous, scary, and not to be trusted, but there are ever ambitious pragmatists in the unscrupulous governments and fledgling corporations of the sector interested in power at any price...

Things I like about this setup:
  • Traveller's OTU has failed to adapt to thematic (transhuman, for example) changes in modern sci-fi.  This setting plays with those themes in a fashion sufficiently limited as to be playable.
  • Lacks both the overarching authority and general bleakness of my Midnight and 40k influences.  Yes, things are rough, but the universe is no longer actively progressing towards human extinction, and prospects are generally good.  Thematically embraces "actions have consequences", "playing with fire", "risk and reward", and "rebuilding".
  • That trade routes are still risky and emerging lets me use Traveller trade-as-written without worrying too hard about the Golden Pair problem.
  • Extreme variations in tech level between nearby worlds (as often happens in sector generation) are likewise explicable under this model.  Also provides lots of leeway for stealing tech from whatever sources may be convenient.
  • The 'genetic diaspora' of trans/post/demi-human subspecies provides for a broad variety of human-like 'aliens' in a universe otherwise devoid of conventional extraterrestrial sentience.  Their rubber-suit nature shouldn't lead to suspension of disbelief if they're derived from human stock.  This is likewise true of 'native' flora and fauna on most planets; if it's cat-like, is it because it was built from a cat, or is it a case of parallel evolution?  Nobody knows anymore, but either is plausible.
  • Remaining servants of BEAST and GOLIATH let me tap into the "killer bugs/alien body horror/zerg" and "rampaging killbots" tropes...  and it's all mankind's fault.
  • Plenty of room for a reasonable range of adventure/campaign options; flying a tramp freighter, salvaging derelicts, belt mining, mercenary work for local governments, hunting pirates, being pirates, and releasing dangerous things fromexploring ruined worlds all fit easily.
  • Reasonable handling of 'magic' items - supertech is out there.  Cloning chambers, brain uploaders, warp gates, disintegrator rifles, mass converters, teleporters, and Powers know what else are out in the ruined zones just waiting.  But none of it is for sale, and such tools carry social stigma, limited power supplies, and risk of malfunction due to age, abuse, and lack of documentation.  Scientist PCs might actually be useful in at least clearing up the lack of documentation part...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I Miss Science Fiction

This post utterly uncorrelated with any holidays, except inasmuch as I was locked out of my office building yesterday and so had to spend the day reading Crimson Dark with my cat instead.

So in some sense, causally correlated with holidays, really.

I believe I have made an error in my gaming.  In the past, I have found great success in alternating between sci-fi and fantasy as a means of avoiding burnout and stagnation.  The clearest example of this was the cycle my sophomore-junior year of "run True20 Midnight in fall, run Traveller in spring, play Trailblazer and Starmada over summer, doldrums of fantasy one-shots and such in the fall, some degree of revitalization via Traveller again in the spring, followed by finishing Trailblazer."  And then ACKS happened, and it's all I've run since.  Hmm.

Naturally we're in the middle of a campaign upon this realization.  There are some rough spots with the current game:
  • ACKS is stressful.  People die or get mangulated a lot.
  • I'm not getting much feedback.  Rather than the typical post-session chatter, folks seem to jet a lot faster than was typical for a game in meatspace.  Hard to gauge group morale under these circumstances.  These top two combined have me concerned; are people having fun?  I have no idea, and that's a bad place to be.
  • Holidays disrupting scheduling :\
  • Some conflict within party.  Notable sources of tension include some PCs wandering off / doing their own thing and henchman pay policy (division between "use fewer henchmen, have fewer shares, everyone levels faster" and "use more henchmen, have fewer casualties, everyone lives longer" camps)
  • ACKS mercantile ventures - not so profitable, actually, without the ready availability of luxury goods from the abstract trade system and the venturer +market class bonus.  The price differentials are not bad, but the volumes are so low as to be basically insignificant between the sort of market classes available (and luxury goods are practically nonexistent).
  • It would be inaccurate to say that I'm out of ideas, but the faucet isn't putting out the same flow rate it was two months ago.  Filling a couple thousand square miles of wilderness with interesting stuff is looking daunting, even done as a streaming process.  ACKS DM burden is not insignificant.
  • Finally, the way we're playing is in some sense very procedural.  Go place, fight monsters, get treasure?, come home, get heals.  This structure is good, in that it handles large inconsistent player groups well by being simple and not all that dependent on anything but knowing where to go.  This structure is bad because sometimes it's just kinda boring.  I do have an event planned for start of next session (Festival of Yaris), but I do not know if it is sufficient to shake things up significantly.  This world is a lot less reactive than the previous one was (though perhaps this is merely perceived due to less frequent sessions; I know recurring enemies and such were not yet established by the third session of last campaign, and that was acceptable).
But mostly...  goddamn do I miss spaceships.  I miss Homeworld, and Starmada, and "full speed ahead and damn the tor...  oh, shield-piercing you say?  Belay that order, evasive action!"  I miss AIs and cyborgs, genejacks and uplifted chimps, robots and powered armor, Bolos and OGREs.  I miss orbital habitats and derelict ships, and ringworlds, Dyson Spheres, and other assorted Big Dumb Objects.  I'm forced to reflect, perhaps incorrectly, on D&D and fantasy's mutual echo chamber; even though sci-fi does have plenty of cheap hack tropes, there seems to be a bit more variety in the genre, which in turn means there're more sources to draw from.  That was one thing I enjoyed about running Traveller - it could be Blade Runner one session, Road Warrior the next, and Dead Space the one after that.

And so, dear players, you see my dilemma.  I propose no immediate action, but think it perhaps wise to air these concerns and elicit thoughts.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Finding of Paths

A co-worker from another office up in this neck of the woods for business was so kind as to run a Pathfinder one-shot over the last two nights.  While I was unable to make it on Monday, I partook yesterday, running a dwarven cleric.  Things were...  different.  Everyone else was very new to D&D/RPGs, so we had a pair of half-elf melee sorcerers, an elven paladin, and an elven archer druid.  The party became split regularly, we only formed a good solid defensive line once, folks took lots of damage, and it was a good thing we had a cleric ;)

But man, in 1st-level PF, orisons at will are a huge change from 3.5.  Neither of our sorcs had a crossbow, because of infinite acid splash availability (despite my argument regarding expected damage on a d8 non-touch ranged vs a d3 on ranged touch, range considerations, and the situational usefulness of each).  Felt very 4e in that regard.  Likewise, while getting a giant pile of domain power uses per day was handy, it was also very weird to be like "Nah, rather than switching weapons to my crossbow, I'm just gonna shoot acid from my hands.  Totally normal dwarf cleric thing."  This caused the magic level to feel much higher.

The turning changes (to channel) were sort of interesting, but in practice it ended up being used as mass healing (since we only met one group of skeletons, and that was the one time we formed up the shield wall and held formation alright). On the one hand, I don't like that it reinforced the primary utility of the cleric as being in the healing department.  On the other hand, so often in 3.x, your turnings per day were irrelevant, and it did save some spell slots for bless (as well as saving some lives).  So I'm on the fence about that in play.

Finally, coming from ACKS - holy crap high ability scores and many many numbers on character sheet.  And no henchmen to take the blows! (though I guess this was OK because I had like 3x as many HP as your average ACKS Clr1...)

Anyway, very different.  DM was pretty good, made a point of throwing us some difficult fights (we should've TPK'd on the last one, but he had some atrocious luck rolled in the open) and did not pull punches that I could tell, so that was a nice change from most of the 3.x games I'd played in.

In any case, it was a good time, but I think I will be sticking with ACKS as my weapon of choice.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Descriptive Post Title

Life grinds on.  Family were here for Thanksgiving, ended up also acquiring a kitten.  Blogging time and energy have been redirected towards making sick kitten well and working overtime so I can take some time off in a week or two.  Also hindered by kitten's great fondness for keyboards.  I apologize for this lack of updates.

              nmkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkmnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnmnnnnnnkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk////////////////////lLLLLLLLLLLKn          bv  zz

...  see?

Stuff to write when the insanity level dies down a little:
  • Cleric domains for ACKS.
  • ACKS Missionary class - bard meets cleric for the Scaled Continent game.
  • General SC prep - I've got three treasure maps in their hands, three known antagonists on the loose, and several secret plots moving in the background.  Prep needs done, but as long as they keep poking around Castle Haven (like they did this afternoon), I should be OK to slack.
  • Session reports!  Better yet, XP incentive for someone else to write session reports.
    • Crap, I didn't write up that DaW 'battle' we fought over Thanksgiving...
  • ACKS SRD.  Apparently the Autarchs are busy on DaW, Lairs & Encounters, and Auran Empire Campaign Setting, but when asked were not opposed to community building an SRD.  So that would be a useful thing...
  • General expansion of scripted generation capabilities, construction of a web interface of some sort (sigh) so that other people can actually use my work sans command-line.  Looking to learn Haskell, so I might completely retool everything into that, with yesod or snap for the webby bits (you can't make me make it pretty, though!).  But then I'll need a server...  and some people don't like remembering IP addresses, so I'll need a domain name...  bleh.
    • While doing tech support grunt work, I really need a VM capable of google hangouts.  Work has begun on this.
  • Mark was interested in playing some Stargrunt or Dirtside over the holidays, so I should bone up on those, which will likely mean a post or two.
  • Colonial Battlefleet shipbuilder spreadsheet, done properly (which is to say, not reliant on VB scripts that break all the time)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thoughts on the Cleric

Partly in response to Edward's response to Rachel's distaste for the cleric.

To the degree that I have read her material, I mostly agree with Rachel.  The cleric is important to gameplay, though I would argue that the importance of turning is often underemphasized compared to spells.  I see turning as the cleric's primary / core 'encounter-win-button' ability - the first-level mage can sleep, the first-level thief can backstab, and the first-level cleric can turn those foes who are immune to sleep, morale, and stealth.  I also believe that the cleric serves an important social function as the advocate of morality, per Roger's post here, as a balance to the thief, who advocates for selfish action in the party's interests.

So they have their uses...  but I concur that the standard light-sun-and-law gods, to which clerical spell lists typically default, are rather dull.  I suspect that there are a handful of reasons such deities are standard-issue, rather than say the jealous and fickle gods of antiquity, or Moorcock's cosmic Law vs Chaos from which D&D derived its alignment terminology.  First, the influence of the Hammer Horror films on Arneson has been noted as a probable influence.  Second, the influence of historical Medieval literature, with its Christian religious themes, and Tolkein's work, with its thematic struggle between light and darkness (both in the Silmarillion between Morgoth and the rest of the Ainur, and between Sauron and the forces assembled against him).  Finally, there is the fact that the game was developed in the USA in the 70s.  Even in the 70s, it was still 'Murica (particularly in Wisconsin), and even if the game's authors didn't buy into Zoroastrian-style cosmic dualism, their players and the rest of their communities probably did.  Cultural context matters.

Finally, alternatives.  I like the divine elves idea.  A lot.  Part of this is because I like Midnight, and part is that I feel that nature/star-driven divine magic suits elves better than arcane magic does.  While capable of maintaining the mechanical functions of the cleric, the divine elf does suffer from the lack of necessary moral superiority for the social role of the cleric as "shepherd to the flock".  It would also be fun to take the "multitude of minor and confusing gods, each with many aspects" approach from the Wilderlands - every cleric gets his own deity, and random rolls for the spells his patron can provide!  Players choose deity name and flavor based off of any emergent trends in rolled spells.  Dark Heresy's priest is really more like a bard, which might be a reasonable interpretation of how religion works in some settings as well.  Or what I've been doing so far, which is just rolling loads of specialty cleric subclasses...

The trouble I always sort of expect to run into with any such change to the cleric is resistance from players.  Which upon further reflection seems sort of silly; how many players bear so much affection for clerics that they would object to changes thereto?  Given that my current party has only one normal cleric (and he's a henchman) but three non-pseudo-Catholic cleric variant PCs (bladedancer, amazon, and sea-priest who had to drop), I begin to believe my concerns are unfounded (though I have heard grumbling from some of the fighters about 'None of these clerics can wear plate!  We're doomed!  The line cannot hold!'  Which is patently ridiculous, considering that for the first 75% of last campaign, they lacked any cleric at all, steel-clad or no, and the line usually held...).  For what it is worth, I vaguely recall Alex Macriss of Autarch mentioning on the fora that one of his regrets with ACKS was keeping a standard cleric in Core and shamans and witches in the PC, rather than going for alternative divine casting in Core for a default "sword and sorcery and sandals and Thulsa Doom" sort of feel, with the reasoning being that "it's a retroclone, it sort of had to have a cleric."

So smash all your idols, and build anew!  Therein was the thing that bothered me in Edward's post - suggestions strictly for the use of published material, rather than a new and strange idea yet to be built.  Go forth and create!

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Mistreatment of Mercenaries

Forewarning: this is pretty much directly aimed at my players from last night and last campaign.  Time to lay down the law (and for mercenaries my world over to grow a pair and refuse to be treated as expendable).

I think the critical passage from the rules, with regards to the treatment of mercenaries is this:
Mercenaries are generally hired to garrison a stronghold or wage war in military campaigns.  Mercenaries will not accompany their employers on highly dangerous adventures such as dungeon exploration unless they become henchmen.  The Judge should determine what constitutes a military campaign and what constitutes an adventure depending on the overall circumstances....  Mercenaries in garrison need only be paid their wages, but mercenaries on campaign will expect a share of military plunder in addition to wages.
 ACKS Core, page 51.

Thus we've established that mercenaries may "generally" be employed in two situations - defense of a garrison, or "on campaign".  Campaign is something of a nebulous term, but it seems we can set up a dichotomy with the DaW:Campaigns rules (which seems a definitive source, by its naming):

Each participant [in a battle] (whether a commander, a hero, or a creature in a unit) earns 1 XP for each gold piece he collects from the spoils of war. Troops will expect that at least 50% of any spoils captured will be shared on a pro rata basis in relation to their wages. If this does not occur, the Judge should make a morale roll for any unpaid troops [note that a Fanatical Loyalty result from a morale roll due to lack of pay is instead reduced to Loyalty; mercenaries may never gain morale by lack of pay].
For ease of play, troops’ XP can be tracked on a unit-by-unit basis. 0th level characters can be advanced to 1st level as per the rules in ACKS under 0th Level Characters and Experience from Adventuring (q.v.). In general, it requires 100XP for a 0th level character to become a 1st level fighter.
So: if your mercenaries are not in garrison, they must be on campaign.  If they are on campaign, they will demand significant spoils and earn XP accordingly.  There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Force Multiplier.  If it seems ridiculous for your number of mercenaries to be demanding a collective 50% of treasure earned, then you don't have enough mercenaries for it to be a campaign, and you are on an adventure instead, in which case they're not coming with you.  Note also that untimely termination of mercenaries in order to avoid paying them (or comparably "letting die", by putting them in positions so risky that neither PCs nor henchmen will willingly join them) is liable to generate some discontent, betrayal, or general bad karma.  Don't be the blue guy, and recall the fate of a previous Scarth.  

With that out of the way, what are some reasonable rules of thumb for adventure vs military campaign (besides number of mercenaries)?  From an examination of actions in which mercenaries have been involved in my games, it seems to me primarily to be about the structure of the opposition.  You say military campaign, I hear "massed enemy troops", which usually implies humanoid foes.  Bombarding an orcish encampment is a military operation, as is storming a weaselman village or beseiging a troglodyte lair.  These are foes that a normal man might fight and hope to best in single combat!  And foes against which conventional military training, doctrine, and formations are effective.  While they may have the occasional witch-doctor or warbeast, those are adventurer problems, and mercenaries met with such a foe are liable to run (ex: in DaW, units of troops coming under the effects of enemy magic must immediately make shock rolls.  That's the degree of tolerance Joe NPC Fighting Man has for fantasy).  The proper application of mercenaries is to problems where an individual enemy is not much of a threat to the PCs, but the sheer number of enemies is too great for them to deal with individually.

A dragon hunt, however, is (very clearly) not a conventional military campaign.  You cannot hope to hunt a dragon with a phalanx of pikemen.  You cannot lay siege to a dragon's lair, for when night falls, it will break out (or perhaps just eat your sentries).  Any individual mercenary against a dragon will be lucky to strike a single blow before being vaporized.  This situation is very much counter to a mercenary's priorities, namely "stay alive, get paid, keep staying alive to spend the pay" (as we saw with our >50% mercenary casualties...  and you didn't even bother to check 'em for mortal wounds / attempt first aid.  See, that's the sort of thing that spoils employee relations).

No, if you want to bring mercenaries on your dragon-hunts (or wyvern-hunts, or catoblepas-hunts, or most-any-beast-scarier-than-an-ogre-and-even-that's-pushing-it-hunts) in future, you will need to hench them, per the standard henchman hiring process (though refuse and slander is more likely "refuse and leave service", and circumstantial modifiers for level of risk and prior treatment of both mercs and henchmen may apply).  Further, as a clarification, henchmen of henchmen shall receive one-sixth of a share of GP, but only a quarter of a share of XP (it has been observed that if provided a half share of XP, they will catch up with their employers in a way that first-tier henchmen do not; thus this internal inconsistency is avoided).  Likewise sub-sub-henchmen receive one sixth of a share of GP, but only an eighth of a share of XP, and so forth down the chain.  Be aware that while hench-chains permit you many more hirelings, if one of your direct henchmen leaves your service, his henchmen will as well.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Scaled Continent Session 2

  • PCs were bladedancer, amazon, fighter, assassin/pirate, and bard
  • Set out from Voltager to Port Maw to sell cursed / fake snakeman relic sword.  Lost at sea, made it to Port Maw eventually by good luck.
  • Found a buyer for the sword for 8kGP in Port Maw.
  • Sailed north to Rat's Nest to solve their dragon problem.  Attempted to drop a (giant) tree trunk on dragon laired in ancient ape temple with large hole in roof, missed badly.  Mercenary crossbowmen very effective, but suffered terrible casualties.  Breath weapons are terrifying; fighter, fighter's cleric henchman, and amazon's giant eagle henchman felled by corrosive gas before dragon shot to death.  Falling damage from temple roof also terrifying, but bladedancer/amazon/cleric-hench stack and good mortal wounds rolls resulted in no fatalities.  Stacked Bless from multiple deities with Inspire Courage is pretty substantial.
  • Recovered 210-lb solid gold idol of a smiling four-armed ape casually carrying the globe on one shoulder.  Party decides that this was probably a fun god, pirate considers getting religion.  Also found magic shield, two scrolls, three potions.
  • Returned to Rat's Nest, healed up, told by elven priests that idol is primitive superstition with no actual deity behind it.  Unable to find buyer for idol.  
  • En route to Port Maw for RL&L, ran into merchants at sea, sold idol for 20kGP based on value as bullion.  Some sads were had.
  • At Port Maw, RL&L for mortally injured.  Took on cargo of coffee and furs for return to Voltager.
  • Avoided encounter with fleet of uncertain motives at sea.
  • Arrived at Voltager, sold coffee, unable to find buyer for furs.
  • Made plans to explore haunted Castle Haven next session (or to pursue one of Tim's maps)
  • Seven weeks elapsed, most of which was seeking merchants for trade goods, rest of most of which was travel time.
  • Upon return to Voltager, fresh news is that a pirate captain has escaped from the dungeons...  He may want his ship back.
 Sticking points:
  • Still somewhat slow; rusty players (only two players overlapped between sessions) and lack of video continue to induce lag.
  • Technical difficulties continue.  We got roll20's flash voice/video working, but lag to the West Coast was horrific and some voice connections just didn't work (ie, I could hear Tom, Tom could hear everyone but me, and everyone but Tom could hear me).  Fell back to skype again.  Conclusion is that I need to switch distros so google hangouts work (currently have issues with audio devices not appearing properly).  Further work required.
  • Figuring out XP and GP shares for items found one session and sold the next with an overlapping set of PCs is hard.  Party treasury would make my life a lot easier, and make it easier for party to go "Oh man, a scroll of cloudkill is something our party's wizards should definitely have, but none of them are here this session to make it happen" when something good comes up on the market.  Does generate some risk of mishandling of party finances, however.
  • Mercenary pay, morale, and levelling - contentious outside of DaW unit scales.  Surviving crossbowmen of dragon fight should almost certainly have levelled to Fighter 1, probably deserved hazard pay, but PCs did not want to pick up more henchmen, and uncertainty about shares for henchmen-of-henchmen abounded.  As it was, ruled that they left service after being denied spoils of victory, market now flooded with jaded veteran crossbowmen.  Need to find a good solution to this; probably warrants a separate post.
  • Market classes too small to be useful for mercantile ventures or to sell magic items and giant golden idols.  Should probably boost Port Maw's class to III on basis of being on trade routes / important river-mouth position.  Willing to leave Voltager a IV on basis that while an important supply point, it's too far from anything to qualify as being on a route even if it were a class I market.  This also has the effect of pushing players towards a mainland base of operations; will probably boost Stillwater to III likewise for some symmetry / choice about best base on Continent.
  • Probability distribution of goods for sale by merchants should be influenced by market modifiers at current location, rather than a universal percentile table.  Need better scripting on mercantile in general.  Volumes/values of trade goods pathetically small in class IVs.  Currently a much less potent income source than was last campaign.

Two Thoughts on Loot

On from my player Alex:
WRT magic items; I feel like one thing we may be missing on the ladder to domain level is selling off some of the bling...
And damn if he isn't right.  We ended up with a veritable armory of swords +1 in the last campaign I ran, and in Alex's game last semester, we were so loaded with swords that we stacked a pair of +3s...  on a henchman (admittedly, we had next to no fighters).  A sword +1 resells for 5kGP, +2 for 15kGP, and +3 for 30kGP and XP, all of which add up quite nicely when your party's collection of magic swords gets to the point where you need a wiki page to keep track of them all.  The "sell before use for XP" rule makes a lot more sense when PCs actually, you know, sell magic items...

The other thought: as I'm rolling up things that treasure maps point to, I've hit a number of fairly serious magic items.  Permanent effect, trope-bearing, multi-use stuff.  And I had a good laugh at myself when I had the thought that, "You know, a ring of wishes would be less trouble, since I can more-or-less count on them burning it out fairly quickly for avarice, rather than it becoming a long-term source of non-XP power."  Still, it'll be interesting to see some powerful gear other then the boring old Sword +n in PC hands, and they do still have to do the dirty work of finding it...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Scaled Continent - Session 2 and 3 planning in progress

In case folks are just not checking the ObsPort - currently looking for input on scheduling and target locales for 2nd and 3rd sessions of Scaled Continent.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

ACKS: Critical Error. Also Thieves

So I got to thinking about Weapon Focus in ACKS last night, and how we perceived it as terrible.  I started doing some math, and semi-interesting results came out. 

The ACKSPC says that +1 to damage is worth about a proficiency, but Weapon Focus seems to generate much less than +1 damage per hit.  However, it turns out this is dependent on what you need to roll to hit - if you have a d6 weapon, Weapon Focus gives you >+1 damage per hit on average as long as you need an 18+ to hit.  d8 -> 17+ and d10 -> 16+.  These are, of course, the sort of to-hit numbers that PCs do their best to avoid having.  And yet, sometimes they occur...  and it's in just those sort of nasty situations that you want to put your target down as fast as possible, and extra damage is most helpful.

Thinking further on this, I begin to believe that our prior piledriver with respect to damage multipliers in ACKS is not as innocent as it initially appears.  We have been handling it as "if you have an x2 multiplier, you roll 2dn and take the total."  This generates a binomial distribution of results, with a 2 and a 12 each occurring one in 36 times, and a 7 occurring one in six times.  Basic probability stuff.  The rules as written instead say that we should be handling it as "1dn * 2".  This generates a uniform distribution, where a 2 and a 12 each occur with probability 1 in 6.

We, being human gamers, are risk averse and dislike the increased probability of rolling a 2 more than we like the increased probability of rolling a 12.  We like that when we get a multiplier, the odds of it being exactly double the average damage for one of our hits is high.  And yet...

I believe there are compelling reasons for using a uniform distribution instead of a multinomial one.  Foremost, it makes thieves and assassins a lot scarier to targets above their weight class!  In the most extreme case, you're a 13th level assassin doing a backstab polearm-charge with Weapon Focus and a natural 20 (we could stack Vorpal on there too, but that's silly - they don't make vorpal polearms!).  You're looking at an x7 multiplier on a d10.  In the multinomial case, the distribution of results is very strongly clustered around the mean of 38.5 (plus 5 damage bonus and some magic), with a standard deviation of 7.6.  Most of the time you'll do about 50 points of damage; as a result, you carry a reasonable threat of instant death to 11th-level or lower fighters.  Against an average 14th level fighter with 63 HP, your chance of an instant kill is a more-or-less negligible 0.5 percent or so, even in such a multiplier-stacked situation.  By comparison, on 1d10*7+5, your chance of an instant kill against such a 14th-level fighter is 20%.  Much scarier for that fighter.

Consider instead a 7th level assassin with x3 backstab, +3 damage bonus, and a d8 weapon in two hands.  Consider also a 10HD adult dragon with 45 HP.  With 1d8*3+3, you have a 1 in 4 chance of taking more than half of its HP in a single hit and forcing a morale roll in the opening round.  On 3d8+3, you will tend very strongly towards 16.5... which is not bad, but probably not decisive, and your odds of forcing a morale roll with 23 damage are but 6.8%.

Backstab is not supposed to be a nice reliable source of bonus damage dice in the style of 3.x sneak attack.  Backstab is supposed to be unreliable spike damage, built for hitting a high-power hard target and either generating a decisive advantage in the surprise round, or leading to an "oooh crap, that didn't work, time to start running" situation, in true thief or assassin style.

It is just in those 16+-to-hit situations against dragons and higher-level NPCs that the backstab and other damage multiplication mechanics give a chance of victory for a lucky underdog.  If you are their equal or better, and can likely win by simple application of fighters, why chance stealth and skullduggery, or leave things up to luck?  One should not.  No, these mechanics, and the classes which use them, are for those black hours when the enemy is stronger than you, the odds are already long, and you need every chance you can get.  If you fail your Move Silent roll, the morlocks will eat you...  but if you don't give it a shot, they'll eat you just as surely.  If you fail your Open Locks roll, you will starve to death in this cell, but to not attempt it has the same consequences.  If you roll a 1 on your backstab damage, the witches of the Bleak Academy will crush your puny domains beneath their beastman hordes...  but if you don't go for the backstab on the suicidal assassination mission deep behind enemy lines, there is no way you and yours will triumph.  And if lady luck smiles upon you enough times in a row, you may yet live to see another sunrise when all before seemed lost.  Thief skills are saving throws for the possible avoidance of otherwise certain doom.  Desperate times beget desperate men, and we shall call them thieves.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Quality Software Design

As noted previously, I have been writing scripts to automate parts of ACKS.  One of those scripts is a treasure generator, for which I designed a configuration file language (really it's a random table description language, but the treasure generator is the main thing I use it for).  I've gradually added in support for rolling dice of dice ( (1d6)d6 and such) and other esoteric features to support hex-stocking, but that's not something I use all that much (well, not recently).

Today, however, while deciding to condition scroll contents on scroll language, however (so that dwarven spell scrolls are always divine, or turtleman spell scrolls have a chance at unique / Player's Companion turtleman spells, or so forth, as part of my grand designs to customize my treasure tables), I ran into a failure in my own foresight in design.  While loading giant lists of spells-by-race-and-level into my main treasure table config, I realized that said file was starting to get a bit lengthy...  up towards a thousand lines.  Not a technical hurdle for my Text Editor of Choice, but somewhat inconvenient to dig through.  And here I had failed to add a #include, import, or other "let me load this other file" feature into my description language!

The danger in actually using a thing you designed is that you might find bugs in it.  This hazard is even more probable if you let other people use a thing you designed.

(And yes, players, I know I should be working on a dungeon instead.  But you haven't told me which dungeon to build first!  I did figure out where the elven treasure map (er, letter) points, though, so that's a thing prepped)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Scaled Continent Session 1

  • Sewers partially explored.  Found and fought a gang of snakemen, took their leader prisoner, interrogated.  Knocked the snake door, snakeman volunteered to check hall for traps by trying to escape, was very successful.  Found cursed fake snakeman artifact, then found secret passage to real one.  Decided to undertake expedition to sell fake one to snakemen.  Encountered ruffians in sewers on way out, did not engage.
  • Pursued the bounty on pirates.  Aerial reconnaisance was conducted via amazon riding giant eagle, pirate camp in hidden cove located.  Scouted plantation of former captain rumored to be mysteriously immune to pirate attacks, no evidence of wrongdoing found.  En route to pirate base, encountered hunting party, captured one and slew rest.  Base found in low alert state waiting for hunting party to return with dinner, pirates dispatched easily, captain (8th-level assassin) taken prisoner via bolas while trying to flee.  Much treasure was had, including two ridiculously huge gems, and a small troop transport captured as ship for further expeditions.
  • Technical difficulties - neither google talk nor roll20's voice/vid was cooperative, ended up falling back to skype voice conference + roll20 map / roller.  Voice quality less than fantastic, one player dropped early due to skype bugging out.  Not ideal, but not sure how to fix.
  • Somewhat slow; many and rusty or new players may have contributed.  Carrier-sense multiple access of voice medium also hard without facial and body cues.  I am sorry we ran overtime, Mark and Alex :\
  • No casualties of either PCs or henchmen.  They didn't even have any "oh god we're all going to die" moments :(.  They managed resources well and made quick, single-target expeditions into reasonably safe areas, so partly smart play on their part (and partly that most of their opponents were 1HD mooks suitable for great cleaving).  I will have to do better next time.

Monday, November 11, 2013

On the Road

Only brought work laptop.  Failed to consider that my Scaled Continent notes and scripts are only on my home laptop, not stored in that magical fairyland known to many as The Cloud :\

Progress: slowed.

Still might be able to prep a session for Sunday if some folks party up and tell me where they want to go.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

ACKS Post-Mortem III: That We Might Improve

Matt mentioned "the problem areas we had before" in a chat with me, and I wasn't sure which ones specifically he was talking about.  In turn, and in preparation for Scales, it might be worth enumerating and analyzing alllll the things.  No names will be named, except where things were my fault (spoiler: it's all my fault on some level).

And if there's something I missed, players of last campaign, feel free to chime in.  But here are the things that I perceive made you unhappy.
  • Level inequality.  We had folks bringing 3rd-level characters into a game with 7th-level characters.  In principle, this should work because of exponential XP progression; lower level characters should catch up with higher levels ones within the time it takes the higher-level ones to gain a whole level, assuming equal XP shares for everyone.  In practice, this assumption was disrupted by lack of treasure and separate domains, and became a perpetual source of discontent.
    • Solutions: bring new players in with more XP, or allow existing players to burn reserve XP they probably won't need to boost starting player XP, or allow expenditures from the party treasury to generate reserve XP for a new player which is immediately spent.
  • Lack of treasure.  We were focused on clearing hexes, rather than exploring, finding the high-value lairs, and stealing the fat loots.  Caused by lack of understanding of how to play the mid-level game (and my consequent mishandling of treasure maps) and exacerbated by early domains.
    • Solutions: give many treasure maps, provide clear encouragement to players in the mid-levels to focus on stealing treasure from dragons rather than fighting giant catfish.  
  • Early domains.  We had a 5th-level character basically running a town at one point because they had demolished the existing power structure but none of the other players wanted a domain.  This was the beginning of separate domains, below.  Early domains also led to hex-clearing efforts by weak characters, who ran into a lot of trouble with things that a domain-level character would have dealt with easily.  
    • Solutions: Avoid early domains to force PCs to either trade or raid to reach domain levels, at which time they will have the requisite personal power to clear hexes with relative ease, avoiding boredom and frustration.  Threaten low-level PC rulers with 9th-level bandit leaders and other would-be usurpers on a regular basis.  Strong centralized rulers also good for keeping upstart PCs in their places until strong enough to challenge directly.
  • Separate domains.  Not directly causal of negative symptoms, but a contributing factor (and more of a contributing factor than early domains, I would argue).  Led to loss of cohesion, below.
    • Solutions: make the wilderness threatening enough to domains that PCs must unite or lose their holdings in the early domain levels.  Just like all other levels, really.  I was getting there with the Witches of Bleak, but took too long / damage already done.  Provide for division of domain income among the entire party, reducing incentives to personal domains at early levels (particularly to smooth differences in income between thieves' guilds and fighter domains; develop a cooperative domain ecology).  Standard of living costs may also be intended to restrict available individual cash to the point where unification is the only way to finance a new domain.
  • Loss of cohesion.  The lack of treasure forced people to pursue domain activities in order to gain XP and level.  Because we had separate domains, this led to conflict of interest, 'exploitation' of lower-level players to do dirty / bloody / boring / non-profitable hex-clearing work they weren't really equipped for, and subsequent disenfranchisement.  Seeds of conflict of interest were also present due to conflicting visions / reasons for playing, but probably resolvable if not aggravated by economics.  Multithreading to handle six unrelated schemes at once and stock many hexes contributed to DM overload, quality of game deteriorated, game over man.
    • Solutions:  Avoid separate domains, attempt to maintain common set of party goals.  Communicate!  Less good solutions (patches) include DM intervention in player planning and socialization ("You really ought to hold out for more money to go after those ankhegs..."), and unifying existential threats.
So.  How to avoid these this time?  Fixing lack of treasure and avoiding early domains are clear goals of the operative structure of this game.  Level inequality is a very real possibility with infrequent players, but if most expeditions are acquiring significant treasures, they should end up perpetually one level behind or so rather than four.  This is a mainly numerical problem, hence amenable to any number of mechanical / numerical solutions.  I'm most concerned about loss of cohesion with a playerbase this large; with this many people it would be very easy to let folks run hither and yon for a hundred reasons.  I suspect the best means of maintaining cohesion is player awareness that it is at risk; please communicate your goals with other players and be willing to help others toward their goals with the expectation that they will later help you towards yours (and then hold them to it, rather than clearing hexes for them indefinitely!).

Friday, November 8, 2013

Scaled Continent: Obsidian Portal Up

A bloodstained ring of black volcanic glass stands in this otherwise-pristine jungle clearing.  It is overgrown with vines, and carved in the shape of a snake eating its own tail.  The trees themselves seem to shy away from it.

Let the complaining about their new interface begin.  I have done my best to de-terrible it.  Also, if I don't have your Obsidian Portal username or an email address, I may need it to send you an invite.

Also: upon examination of the vast tracts of land and vast numbers of hostile sentients residing on the continent, I am considering raising starting resources to 20000 XP and 16000 GP.  Input on this matter is requested.

And now to go put stuff on the wiki.

Scaled Continent: Intended Structure of Play

Here's how I see things working out:

The playerbase as a whole agrees on a Base of Operations.  This base is initially Salvation on Voltager.  The relocation of the base is a fairly major to-do, involving the transport of all adventurers, almost-all henchmen, and most portable resources, and requires unanimous consent.  For players of last campaign, think the move from Deal to Opportunity.  It may be possible further into the game to construct forward operating bases in the jungle, but for now only friendly settlements may be used as bases.  I expect that a coastal continental settlement will be chosen as a base fairly early in the game, but I leave the scouting and decision-making to y'all.

Each session, one or more expeditions from the base of operations are undertaken by the players present for the session. Under ideal circumstances, all PCs return to the base of operations at the end of the session.  PCs stuck in the dungeon or wilderness at the end of a session may suffer calamitous fates.  I would like to keep track of time records, and permit the characters of players not present to experience elapsed time, which may be used for hijinks, recruiting, magic research, congregation-building, recovery from mortal wounds or RL&L side effects, awaiting commissioned goods, or other ends.  As much as I harped on our Standard of Living Costs piledriver previously, I don't really see a good way to employ it here without some people getting screwed over, so those will probably not apply (if SoL costs come out of individual pockets, infrequent players get shafted.  If they come out of a common party treasury, then the group will experience large gold losses because it will be paying out 10 people's worth of SoL costs but only earning money with 5 adventurers at a time).  I'm also loathe to intermingle time between sessions and parties (which would fix "5 supporting 10"), because that creates huge headaches and inconsistencies for everyone involved.  Better to have strictly linear time and accept standard of living as a casualty.  I suppose henchman monthly pay will only be owed for sessions in which their players participate, or over time periods where they were undertaking non-adventuring work (hijinks, crafting, &c).  This actually creates a possible compromise position on SoL costs too - one could charge SoL costs for when a PC is doing something, including non-adventuring things.  But that disincentivizes non-adventuring work, which runs counter to the interesting parts of ACKS.  So I think I'm just going to leave SoL costs out, if that's all right with the lot of you.

I expect this whole time structure will react either wonderfully or catactrophically to the shift to domain play, if and when it occurs.  But that can be worried about later.

Given current player base size, I expect two sessions a week may be necessary to maintain interest.  Given the diversity in timezones, I think probably a friday or weekday night (for PST and EST night-owls) and a sunday late-morning-to-afternoon (for London, EST early risers) session might work.  There is only so much DMing I can reasonably do, so 3-4 hour sessions are likely going to be more common than 6-8 hour ones; should still be plenty of time for an expedition, possibly two.  I would prefer to maintain some degree of cohesion across the player pool rather than division into two distinct parties, but if that happens then it happens.  I expect this will mostly depend on how players in the EST zone end up operating.  I will also do my best to not burn out like I did last time I ran two games a week, but I have better tools now for content generation and am more willing to constrain player action for the sake of sanity (see: the first half of this post) so I think this is significantly less likely than last time.

Obsidian Portal coming soon.  Honest.  At this point my list of things to do for prep is:
  • Build ObsPort
  • Begin mapping of Guano Cave dungeon
  • Start generating notable treasures for maps and rumors (scriptable)
  • Drop initial hook
  • Build some dynamic lairs
  • Demographic maths on the lizard realms
  • Market modifiers for coastal settlements (scriptable)
Possibility of first session is really only blocking on ObsPort and hook-drop, since I have that dungeon (sewers of Voltager) ready to run, but I'm going to be travelling all of next week and working unpredictable hours, so expect games to be starting the week after that.  At that time most of those bullets should be complete.  This weekend is juggling car repair, emptying my fridge, packing, and other travel preparations.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Scaled Continent: A Brief History, and Current Situation

Long ago: Aura and environs ruled by the High Kings, divinely appointed.  Rule of Law expands; isles of Voltager settled.

2-3 centuries ago: Lizard kings invade Aura, overthrow High Kings with assistance of Voltari mercenaries and ships.  Torch and salt the forests of Argolle, dragon overlords crack open and plunder dwarven vaults.  Vast numbers of slaves shipped back across Sea of Tears to Scaled Continent for thirsty altars and hungry teeth.

~60 years ago: Dragon Emperor of the Lizardmen disappears mysteriously.  Empire begins to crumble under internal strife, civilized races rebel and gradually retake homelands, form Auran Republic of independent principalities.

5 years ago: Auran Legions dislodge snakemen from volcano-crater-mouth stronghold on Voltager by cutting their water supply and undermining their foundations.  Voltari mostly complicit.  Construction of permanent garrison on Voltager undertaken, along with aqueduct.  Taxes imposed, slave trade halted by Primipilus Galerian (commander of garrison of ~1500 soldiers) much to discontent of Voltari.  Piracy increases as a result, Auran-Voltari relations tense. 

Further expansion by the Legions onto the continent is hindered by inept seamanship, pirate activity, long distances, and institutional preference for galleys.  In preparation for future invasions, however, Galerian has been authorized to provide rewards both for maps of the continent and the capture of pirate vessels.  Meanwhile, grumbles in Voltager suggest that some members of the Council of Captains, a governing body comprised of captains both of ships and mercenaries, find the Primipilus onerous and would be pleased to see him ousted and replaced with someone more pliable.  The Temple of Ianna has been granted a religious exemption on pleasure slaves (an act of political necessity that Galerian no doubt regrets, but which his troops do not), and so supports the Auran garrison, while the Church of Yaris leaves each priest to his own judgment.  The Guild of Ship's Mages tends to support the Council out of alignment of interests.

Salvation, the largest settlement on the Isles of Voltager, is a class IV small city, but is treated as a class III market for the purposes of ruffians, mercenaries, mariners, ships, and trade goods as a result of its traditions and location.  Two other villages stand on the shores of Voltager - Timber, a logging village on the northeastern edge of Voltager Maxima, and Gemsands, a mining village on the eastern short of Voltager Minima.  The settlements on the coast of the Continent are mostly class V or VI, except for Stillwater and Port Maw, which are class IV large towns.  They were once larger, but the decline in slave traffic has caused much of their beastman populations to return to the jungle.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Scaled Continent: Character Generation

I said I've have these ready, so here they are.

Stats: By the book - five sets of 3d6 in order.  I don't care if you use Str Int Wis Dex Con Cha or Str Dex Con Int Wis Cha as long as you decide beforehand and are consistent.  I will award bonus reserve XP ('karma') in an amount TBD (probably ~5000) to players who use Invisible Castle or similar verifiable RNGs to roll their stats, but I do not require it.

Trading statblocks is discouraged.  ACKS chargen is about using what you've got.  Play a class you've never played before!

All classes, races, and proficiencies in the core book are permitted, in addition to some cleric variants.  Some proficiency tweaks:
  • Diplomacy permits a character to intervene after a reaction roll has been rolled and the results are known.  He rolls 11+ and 2d6+same modifiers as original reaction roll.  Should the proficiency throw succeed, the higher of the two reaction rolls is used; should it fail, he has bungled and the lower of the two is used.  This proficiency may be taken multiple times, at +4 to the roll per time taken.
  • Goblin-Slaying is replaced with Lizard-Slaying, with bonuses applying to dragons, dinosaurs, crocodiles, giant lizards, lizardmen, crocodilemen, snakemen, and other land-dwelling four-or-more-limbed reptiles of human size or larger.
  • Mapping lets you reconstruct a player-drawn map from memory on an 11+ should one be lost or destroyed, rather than producing perfect maps from memory.  It also permits illiterate characters to map.
  • Seafaring provides a +1 bonus on checks to avoid drowning per level possessed, in addition to its normal effects.  Seafaring III provides a +/- 4 modifier to maneuver into a boarding position or avoid being boarded in addition to its normal effects.
Selecting a class requires that its prime and minimum stats be >= 9 before it is selected.  Once selected, prime reqs can be boosted by lowering non-prime reqs by 2 points per point of prime req gained.  In accordance with the rulebook, the two points should be from the same stat.  This makes doing this actually potentially expensive / a true decision, rather than lowing four 10s to 9s to boost your prime req from a 16 to an 18 with no real cost (as we've seen).

Characters begin play with 20000 XP and 16000 GP.  This puts most classes in the 4th-6th level range.  Prime requisite does not effect these values; if you have +prime req, you are assumed to have reached these values more quickly than your fellows, and may choose (after rolling your age) to subtract a year if you have +5% or up to two years for +10% if human, 2 or 4 if dwarf, or 5 or 10 if elf.  This is useful, as undead drain age rather than levels, but optional as it may drive you into youth, which carries ability score penalties.  See page 248 for aging rules.

Hit points are rolled as normal, except that the first hit die is the best of two rolls (much like L0 men get max(1d4, 1d8) when levelling into fighter, adventurers get max(1dn, 1dn) at first level).

Everything else is per page 253; arcanists start with their repertoires full of random spells (Exception: Phantasmal Force is replaced with Glitterdust from the ACKSPC.  Still an illusion, still powerful, but more clearly written, better-defined in its capabilities, and infinitely easier to adjudicate).  Gold can be spent on magic item rolls, henchmen XP, ships, labs, trade goods, horses, mercenaries, &c.  Henchmen use rolled but unchosen statblocks.  Statblocks used for henchmen are no longer available for use as PCs later.

Trading gold for magic items is a high-risk high-potential-reward strategy, and should be weighed against the purchase of low-power magic items sometimes available in towns.  Purchasing ships and trade goods for their base price may be smart moves.  Players may pool their wealth towards these ends.

Obsidian Portal coming soon, possibly with forum, calendar, and misc other ascendant features.  Likely accompanied by a grumpy post about their recent redesign.

Monday, November 4, 2013

ACKS Piledrivers

So what's a piledriver in an ACKS context?

From Critical Hits:
Piledriver is the term we use for every time an unintentional rules mistake is made during play and not corrected.  Catching someone going out of order is not piledriver.  Small Piledrivers are mostly ignored, such as messing up a single timing issue during a Magic Draft during the first round of play.  Other games are so finicky we end up Piledriving them into oblivion.  I daresay I’ve never played a game of Twilight Imperium that did not end up as a massive Piledriver.  For games that we play infrequently, it’s a common occurrence to midway through the game have someone rifle through the rule book and cry out, “PILEDRIVER!”

And boy, did I find some piledrivers from previous campaigns in a re-read of the ACKS rules.

By section, in order of descending priority:

  • Torches and lanterns generate 30' of good light, and another 20' of shadowy illumination
  • Characters or monsters that carry a light source are unable to surprise opponents (!).  Being blind or in darkness is only -4 to hit, though, which is...  bad, but not as bad as being blinded in 3.x.  Blind Fighting proficiency ++, especially for thieves and assassins.
  • Dwarves hear noises on 14+; not sure if this is correct, as it's not in the Characters section.
  • Encounter distance in dungeons is 2d6*10 feet.  That's a long(er) way.
  • The Surprise and Sneaking section on page 97 is really interesting, especially to anyone wanting to play a thief.  I suspect we derped on thieves more thoroughly than we realized.
  • Reaction rolls apply the Charisma bonus of the "lead" character.  Whether this means in front of the marching order or on top of chain of command is unclear.  If front of marching order, then some interesting risk management comes into play and "thief out front" becomes more viable.  Also limits the power of Diplo, Intimidate, Mystic Aura, &c unless you're willing to put yout butt out on the line.
  • Page 101, top left has a paragraph on closing attacks, providing yet another reason that Spears Are Awesome.
  • Helpless targets can be automatically slain only if the attacker is unengaged.  Ghouls are now less deadly, as is Sleep.
  • Wielding a magic weapon in your off-hand provides its magic bonus to hit, but not to damage.  We figured this one out eventually.
  • Oil spread on the ground covers a 5' diameter, not radius.
  • Misses with thrown oil scatter.
  • Spellcasters may not move and then cast (!).  Web is now significantly harder to use effectively as a Mage.  Great for a 2nd-row spellspear, though.
  • Page 113 has rules for swimming and drowning.  We missed them before, and should have all drowned as we were running aground in Alex's game.
    • Seafaring may get houseruled to provide a bonus on swimming rolls.
  • Eight hours of uninterrupted rest, plus an hour of meditation or prayer, are required to restore spell slots.  Midnight sharkipede attacks are no good for wizard's beauty sleep.
  • Cancelling spells mid-cast without burning slots is probably not good for game balance.  I don't know where we got this idea, but it was not our best.
  • Again, no other actions in a round when you're casting.
  • When levelling, an arcanist's master only provides new spells up to the number he can cast per day, rather than his max repertoire.  The wizard's quest for knowledge is suddenly intensified.
    • Note that arcanists starting at higher than 1st level fill their repertoire during character generation.  Just not when levelling further.
  • Spell signatures.  We didn't has them.
  • Bard inspire courage doesn't say it can't be used during combat; it says it provides no bonus to "characters who are already engaged in combat."  If we take this to mean the same thing as "engaged" does in the Adventures chapter (within 5' of an opponent), then it's way more useful than it used to be.  Bless is too, come to think of it.
  • Vaultguards and Furies cannot use human-sized two-handed weapons.  This has been clarified on the fora to mean that they can use dwarf-proportioned two-handed weapons, at -1 init and 1d10 damage as normal.
  • The Adventuring Parties rules don't actually require parties to have a name :(
  • The Standards of Living table is a good motivator towards going out and dungeoneering despite the fact that a character is laid up with a mortal wound (also makes Craft and Profession profs slightly more useful).  Still gotta pay the bills.  We failed to notice this table, as we've done before with Standards of Living tables in, say, Traveller.
  • You can hold off on selecting your general proficiencies from +Int until they're needed during play.  We did this with languages, but missed it for profs.
  • Healing doubles the natural healing rate of patients, but there's a limit on number of patients per day that we missed.
  • Mimicry lets you mimic "animal calls and foreign language accents."  Dragons may or may not fall under "animals" for this purpose.
  • Sensing Power and Evil each take a turn to use.

Campaigns: Mistakes were made, but willfully rather than out of ignorance of the rules.

Scaled Continent: Call for Players

In search of freebooters, mercenaries, mappers, hired bearers, mule drivers, local guides, and sundry others for the purpose of exploration, conquest, and plunder of a forbidding jungle continent.

Operational parameters:

System: Adventurer Conqueror King

Medium: roll20 and Obsidian Portal plus some subset of skype, google hangouts, jitsi, IRC, whatever.

Level: probably starting in the 3rd-4th range.  I would like a second shot at handling wilderness adventuring properly, and reaching Domains at War levels in some sort of reasonable timeframe would be fun too.  Starting from 1st is a charming idea, but awful slow.

Lethality: Probably.  Bring henchmen, 10' poles, and/or reserve XP.

Plot: A verb describing the actions taken by smart players between sessions

Playstyle: If low interest, single-party expeditionary play.  If more interest, Western Marches-inspired, but online and with more towns.  Cloud player base, irregular scheduling, single-session expeditions when possible so infrequent players don't get screwed by being out-of-position.

Player types liable to have fun: grognards, planners, repressed wargamers, Dwarf Fortress or Nethack players, greedy bastards who like treasure, pyromaniacs, players sick of riding the railroad.  We've also had good experiences with new players picking up ACKS.

Intended frequency: 0.5 to 2 games per week, depending on interest and with real life permitting.  Perfect attendance not at all expected; my quorum is 2-3 players + DM.

Intended duration: Some months, with breaks as necessary.

Number of players sought: Come one, come all, but probably no more than five per session or so depending on henchman count.  Primary intended audience is family and post-graduation-diaspora old friends, but general public welcome subject to available space.

Character generation details and house-rules in use will be consolidated hopefully by end-of-week.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On First Impressions

High-coding-density single sentence that tells me I don't want to play in your campaign:

"I have this awesome story but I need a new player for it."

Sorry, FLGS guy.  You lost me at story, though I was nervous at awesome.

In not-unrelated news: probably going to put out a call for players for ACKS via roll20 / skype / hangout soon.  Stay tuned.

Gods and Clerics of the Scaled Continent

Volgrim - Metal, fire, craftsmanship, dwarves
Neith - the chaste huntress.  Amazons serve her.  Wilderness deity.  Bladedancer meets Explorer.  Ianna's uptight older sister.
Ianna - sex and war.  Much-worshipped on Voltager.  The reason young Voltari men go raiding elsewhere is that the bladedancers refuse to put up with their shit.  ACKS Core Bladedancer.
Ammonar - Sun, law.  ACKS Core Cleric.
Yaris - Wind, water, trade.  Much worshipped by men of Voltager.
Earth Mother.  Clerics as standard ACKSPC Priestess for the time being.
Hungry Darkness / Blind Devourer.  Holy symbol is ouroboros.  Deity of time, death, chaos.  Serpentmen worship its aspects.  The moon to Ammonar's sun.  Cleric variant not yet complete.

Amazons of Neith:
AL: Merciless without cruelty (Neutral)
Prime Reqs: Wis, Dex
Holy Symbol: Running deer.  Also associated with panthers.
Permitted weapons: Hunting weapons.  Bows and crossbows, bolas, spears, javelins.
Fighting styles: Weapon and shield, two weapons.
Permitted armor: Leather or lighter
Turning undead: No
Bonus proficiencies: Skirmishing, Difficult to Spot, Beast Friendship, +1 initiative
Spell list:
    • Cure Light Wounds
    • Delay Disease
    • Detect Danger
    • Faerie Fire
    • Locate Animal or Plant
    • Pass Without Trace
    • Predict Weather
    • Purify Food and Water
    • Resist Cold
    • Salving Rest
    • Augury
    • Bless
    • Charm Animal
    • Delay Poison
    • Resist Fire
    • Shimmer 
    • Silence 15' radius
    • Snake Charm
    • Speak with Animals
    • Swift Sword
    • Cure Blindness
    • Cure Disease
    • Eyes of the Eagle
    • Glyph of Warding
    • Growth of Animals
    • Prayer
    • Remove Curse
    • Striking
    • Winged Flight
    • Command Animals
    • Create Water
    • Cure Serious Wounds
    • Divination
    • Fate
    • Neutralize Poison
    • Nondetection
    • Speak with Plants
    • Sticks to Snakes
    • Summon Animals
    • Atonement
    • Commune
    • Control Animals
    • Create Food
    • Insect Plague
    • Quest
    • Restore Life and Limb (and its reverse, Arrow of Death)
    • Scry
    • Strength of Mind
    • True Seeing
Class proficiency list:
Alertness, Ambushing, Animal Husbandry, Apostasy, Climbing, Combat Reflexes, Contemplation, Divine Blessing, Divine Health, Endurance, Fighting Style, Healing, Laying on Hands, Land Surveying, Martial Training, Naturalism, Navigation, Passing without Trace, Precise Shooting, Prophecy, Quiet Magic, Riding, Running, Survival, Swashbuckling, Theology, Tracking, Unflappable Casting

Clerics of Volgrim:
AL: Creator and scholar (Lawful)
Prime Reqs: Wis
Holy Symbol: Hammer superimposed over anvil.  Also associated with lanterns.
Permitted weapons: Tools of industry - hammers, axes, picks, serrated entrenching tools, large wrenches, &c
Fighting styles: Two-handed, weapon and shield
Permitted armor: Chainmail and lighter
Turning undead: As normal
Bonus proficiency: Craft or Engineering (Damnit, Jim, I'm an engineer!  But also a priest.)
Spell list alterations:
    • Detect Evil -> Read Languages
    • Silence, 15' radius -> Smoke Cloud
    • Snake Charm -> Sharpness
    • Speak with Animals -> Produce Fire
    • Feign Death -> Detect Secret Doors
    • Growth of Animals -> Cloud of Embers (Glitterdust)
    • Create Water -> Some variant of Soften Earth and Stone, TBD
    • Speak with Plants -> Infravision
    • Sticks to Snakes -> Vigor
    • Create Food -> Some variant of Wall of Stone, TBD
    • Insect Plague -> Hammer of Fire

Class proficiencies:
  • Lose: Beast Friendship, Combat Trickery (Push Back, Overrun), Knowledge History, Laying on Hands, Martial Training, Prestidigitation, Quiet Magic
  • Gain: Alchemy, Arcane Dabbling, Craft, Endurance, Engineering, Illusion Resistance, Knowledge Any, Siege Engineering
Dwarven craftpriests typically worship Volgrim.  They take a slightly more martial approach, however; they keep access to heavy armor and their own class proficiency list, as in ACKS Core, but their weapon and spell selections change to the above.

Clerics of Yaris
AL: Fickle (Neutral)
Prime Reqs: Wis
Holy symbol: Albatross.  Also associated with coins and dice.
Permitted weapons: Fishing implements (daggers, spears, nets) and wind-borne projectiles (bows, crossbows)
Fighting styles: Weapon and wooden shield ('flotation disks permitted'), two weapons
Permitted armor: Leather or lighter.
Turning undead: as normal
Bonus proficiencies: Whispering Wind (as Eavesdropping), Seafaring
Spell list alterations:
    • Command Word -> Fellowship
    • Sanctuary -> Predict Weather
    • Snake Charm -> Fog Cloud
    • Hold Person -> Warp Wood
    • Continual Light -> Gust of Wind
    • Feign Death -> Call Lightning
    • Glyph of Warding -> Water Breathing
    • Growth of Animals -> Winged Flight
    • Striking -> Eyes of the Eagle 
    • Smite Undead -> Clairaudience
    • Sticks to Snakes -> Fate

    • Insect Plague -> Summon Weather
    • Dispel Evil -> Control Winds 
    • Flame Strike -> Hailstorm, Vortex, Meteor Strike, or other similar reflavoring
Class proficiencies:
  • Lose: Combat Trickery (Sunder, Overrun), Contemplation, Laying on Hands, Knowledge (History), Martial Training, Profession (Judge), Righteous Turning
  • Gain: Alertness, Bargaining, Gambling, Language, Navigation, Precise Shooting, Seafaring, Swashbuckling

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Scaled Continent: Templates

Note that many of these templates use the Standard Kit I proposed last time.  Also these templates, rather then being rolled on 3d6 as starting gold, have an associated gold piece cost.  Roll or choose a template and subtract its value from your starting gold.  If you come out negative, you owe a debt to a Hutt Voltari crime lord and had best pay up by the end of the first month or so of play.

And so, without further ado, templates!

  1. Legionnaire.  Fighting Style (Shield), Siege Engineering.  Banded plate armor (AC5) and shield, javelin, gladius (short sword), dagger, small shovel, hobnailed sandals, freeholder's garb, standard kit.  95 GP.
  2. Legionnaire Equites.  Command, Riding.  Banded plate armor (AC5) and shield, sabre, lance, armiger's garb, high boots, standard kit.  107 GP.
    • Upgrade: medium warhorse, military saddle,  saddlebags, chain barding.  +430 GP
  3. Legionnaire Velite.  Skirmishing, Tracking.  Leather armor (AC2), javelin x3, gladius, dagger, hobnailed sandals, freeholder's garb, standard kit.  55 GP.
  4. Slaver.  Combat Trickery (Knock Down), Intimidation.  Leather armor (AC2), whip, sap, scimitar, freeholder's garb, sandals, manacles, standard kit.  80 GP.
  5. Ship's Marine.  Combat Trickery (Force Back), Seafaring.  Scale mail (AC3), polearm, dagger, shortbow and 20 arrows, freeholder's garb, no shoes, extra waterskin, standard kit.  60 GP.
  6. Mercenary.  Alertness, Manual of Arms.  Chain mail (AC4) and repainted shield, spear, short sword, dagger, freeholder's garb, low boots, standard kit.  83 GP.

Mage (parenthetical entries indicate bonus proficiencies or spells from extra intelligence):
  1. Scholar.  Loremastery, Collegiate Wizardry (Knowledge or Language).  Spellbook with Sleep (Read Languages), quarterstaff, blue mage's robe, sandals, ink, three tallow candles, chalk, standard kit.  52 GP.
  2. Enchantress.  Mystic Aura, Seduction (Lip Reading or Mimicry).  Spellbook with Charm Person (Ventriloquism), bodice knife, armigeress' dress, cloak, low boots, small mirror, standard kit.  68 GP.
  3. Natural Philosopher.  Beast Friendship, Naturalism (Healing or Alchemy).  Spellbook with Sleep (Light), quarterstaff, brown mage's robes, no shoes, empty vial, pound of hemlock, standard kit.  52 GP.
  4. Necromancer.  Black Lore, Disguise (Intimidation or Profession).  Spellbook with Sleep (Hold Portal), sacrificial dagger, freeholder's garb, low boots, blasphemous 'holy' symbol, standard kit. 75 GP
  5. Witch Doctor.  Sensing Power, Intimidation (Theology or Healing).  Spellbook with Sleep (Magic Mouth), club, dagger, loincloth, sandals, voodoo doll, grotesque mask, standard kit.  45 GP.
  6. Legionnaire Arcane.  Battle Magic, Endurance (Military Strategy, Riding, Leadership).  Spellbook with Sleep (Magic Missile), quarterstaff, dagger, freeholder's tunic, hobnailed sandals, plumed hat, standard kit.  46 GP.
I need to do deities first.  In good time.

  1. Thief-Acrobat.  Acrobatics, Performance.  Leather armor, short sword, dagger, 5 darts, thieves' tools, 10' pole, standard kit.  72 GP.
  2. Spy.  Bribery, Disguise.  Armiger's garb, boots, dagger, 5 darts, thieves' tools secreted on person, extra identity, treasonous orders, standard kit.  65 GP.
  3. Smuggler.  Alertness, Bargaining.  Leather armor, sword, dagger, crossbow, case of 20 bolts, thieves' tools, standard kit.  105 GP.
  4. Failed wizard's apprentice.  Arcane Dabbling, Collegiate Wizardry.  Leather armor underneath's mage's robes, dagger, quarterstaff, spellbook with one random 1st-level spell, empty vial, thieves' tools, standard kit.  90 GP.
  5. Ruin Raider.  Trap Finding, Mapping.  Leather armor, spear, dagger, lantern and two pints of oil, crowbar, thieves' tools, chalk, standard kit.  80 GP.
  6. Arsonist.  Precise Shooting, Alchemy.  Leather armor, short sword, dagger, crossbow and 20 bolts, 4 flasks of military oil, thieves' tools, standard kit.  110 GP.
  1. Pirate.  Swashbuckling, Seafaring.  Leather armor, cutlass, dagger, grappling hook, flask, ratty clothes, no shoes, standard kit.   75 GP
  2. Duelist.  Fighting Style (Two Weapon) or Weapon Finesse, Manual of Arms.  Leather armor, smallsword, main gauche, dueling cloak, armiger's garb, low boots, moustache, standard kit.  70 GP
  3. Cultist.  Arcane Dabbling, Theology.  Leather armor, ritual daggers x3, freeholder's garb, sandals, holy symbol, standard kit.  73 GP
  4. Poisoner.  Disguise, Naturalism.  Leather armor, short sword, dagger, darts x10, empty vial x5, armiger's garb, low boots, standard kit.  80 GP
  5. Gladiator.  Acrobatics, Endurance.  Spiked leather armor,  polearm (nothing like backstab with a d10...), flail, pair of daggers, serf's garb, sandals, pouch full of sand, scars, standard kit.  57 GP.  Optional exchange of Hide in Shadows and Move Silently for Manual of Arms and Combat Reflexes
  6. Cave-dweller.  Blind Fighting, Caving.  Hide armor (AC1), crude battle-axe, dagger, foot-wrappings, necklace of finger-bones, pale complexion, dredlocks, agorophobia, standard kit.  35 GP
Postponed pending deities

  1. Mountebank.  Prestidigitation, Mimicry.  Leather armor, sword, fancy cloak, armiger's garb, low boots, standard kit.  75 GP
  2. Standard-Bearer.  Command, Signaling.  Leather armor, spear with crossbar, crossbow with case of 20 bolts, tattered remnants of standard of former mercenary unit, war-horn, freeholder's garb, low boots, standard kit.  96 GP.
  3. Piper.  Beast Friendship, Animal Husbandry.  Sling with 30 bullets, dagger, pan pipes, chiton, sandals, pet rodent, standard kit.  50 GP.
  4. Archaeologist.  Magical Engineering, Knowledge (History).  Leather armor, whip, short sword, crossbow with 20 quarrels, freeholder's garb, low boots, hat, standard kit.  85 GP.
  5. Missionary.  Running, Theology.  Leather armor under priestly robes, quarterstaff, concealed knife, holy symbol, sandals, standard kit.  60 GP
  6. Old Salt.  Eavesdropping, Seafaring.  Fishing gaff (as battle axe), net, knife, sun-bleached serf's clothes, no shoes, assortment of patently ridiculous sea stories, standard kit.  28 GP.
  1. Big-Game Hunter.  Precise Shooting, Tracking.  Scale mail (AC3), arbalest with 20 quarrels, spear, dagger, pith helmet, tent, freeholder's garb, low boots, standard kit.  126 GP
  2. Trapper.  Trapping, Bargaining.  Leather armor, shortbow with 20 arrows, spear, dagger, tent, dingy freeholder's garb, boots, standard kit.  68 GP.
  3. Jungle Tribesman.  Ambushing, Naturalism.  Shortbow with 20 arrows, 3 javelins, machete, knife, loincloth, sandals, standard kit.  35 GP
  4. Islander.  Navigation, Seafaring.  Three javelins, axe, net, loincloth, sandals, tattoos, outrigger canoe, 10' fishing pole, standard kit.  70 GP
  5. Legion Scout.  Land Surveying, Mapping.  Scale mail (AC4), short bow with 40 arrows, machete, dagger, freeholder's garb, hobnailed sandals, tent, extra week's rations, standard kit.  97 GP
  6. Escaped Slave.  Passing Without Trace, Survival.  Hide armor (AC1), shortbow with 20 arrows, crude axe, loincloth, no shoes, manacles (opened), scars, grudge, snakeman jerky, standard kit.
May or may not do demihumans later.  Deities first.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Traveller - Random Bounty Target Table

This came up on the radio recently.  Don't ask what manner of radio station.  In any case, it got me thinking about bounty hunting in Traveller.  It's a wonderful, hazardous, morally grey activity, which means it's eminently suited to PC operation in Old School Traveller.  The trouble I typically had was with coming up with open bounties when my players hit the TAS station; the idea's well and good, but implementing it is somewhat trickier.  And so, in preparation for future need, a set of tables is born.

Bounty source:
1-3: Government
4-5: Corporate
6: Private citizens

Crime of bounty:
1-2: Piracy
3: Murder
4: Smuggling
5: Terrorism
6: Other (espionage, desertion, insider trading, insulting a nobleman, ...)

Bounty assets (roll as many as you feel necessary):
2: Psionics
3: Military-grade armament (possibly experimental)
4: Exceptionally good hiding place
5: Great wealth
6: Loyal crew
7: Fearsome reputation
8: Well-constructed alter ego
9: Provided refuge by a foreign government / extradition law
10: Fanatical followers
11: Leet hacker skills ;)
12: AI, shapeshifter, or otherwise hard-to-apprehend nonhuman

Bounty liabilities (reroll as necessary for consistency with assets):
1: Substance addiction
2: Utter belief in rightness of cause and impossibility of defeat ("Your lack of faith disturbs me")
3: Sense of honor
4: Spouse or other close associates deemed non-disposable
5: Superstitious or strong religious convictions
6: Wanton cruelty ("You have failed me for the last time")

Bounty hunting complications:
1: Interference from other bounty hunters
2: Bounty is actually innocent (or other moral quandary)
3: Got the wrong guy (33% chance planted by target or enemies of players, 66% chance poor luck)
4: Paying authority fails to pay up (small text in contract, hides behind bureaucracy, pays in monetary vehicles that don't vest for 20 years, turns out to have been a front for organized crime and vanishes into thin air, &c)
5: Promised pay amount far too low for actual hazard level (not clear until engaged)
6: Treachery by PCs' hirelings, if any.  If none, come up with something interesting.

With a little further effort, I expect this setup might work alright for ACKS too.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Standard Kit

I really like ACKS' templates.  However, they're a pain in the butt to build, because you have to pick equipment.  I do like the notion of providing flavor to a template via well-chosen mundane gear, but it gets to be a bit much to pick everything when you're aiming to build multiple templates per class.  I've also noticed that some of the published templates miss out on important things; we had a new player bring in a spellsword his first session with the template from the book.  When the party was separated, he found himself without torches through no fault of his own!  He managed to survive the ghoul-teleport debacle anyway, but this was due in part to DM mercy as a result of being shafted by the template.

We've long been fans of Ming's Standard Adventuring Kit, and made great use of it during the last campaign, but it was occasionally irritating that the prices and weights of things were not in accordance with ACKS' rules.  It also seems a decent solution to the template equipment problem; a template with "Flavorful weapon, appropriate armor, one or two other misc items, and the Standard Kit" is very quick and easy to assemble.

So what does the Standard Kit look like in ACKS?
  • Backpack
  • Blanket
  • Pint of military oil
  • Small hammer
  • 12 iron spikes
  • One week's iron rations (medium-quality, 3gp)
  • 50' hemp rope
  • Sack, large
  • Sack, small
  • Tinderbox
  • 6 torches
  • Waterskin
Total price: close enough to 15gp
Total weight: 2 stone (12 items)

The main alteration from Al's list is the removal of the grappling hook, as grappling hooks are expensive in ACKS.  The beer and holy symbols were also omitted.  I also waffled over the inclusion of a dagger in the list, but hitting 12 items on the nose was too convenient, 18 gp is a less-easy-to-deal with number than 15, and clerics can't use 'em.

Next time: actual templates.