Saturday, March 30, 2013

All Good Things...

Graduation is only about a month and a half out, and most of us are headed out into Real Life shortly thereafter.  This imminent "end of things as they have been" weighs on our gaming; there's no solid, reliable game running presently, and nobody wants to start anything new, so it's all one-offs.  Folks're also experimenting with new systems.  Personally, these sort of leave me cold; I used to read new systems and get very enthused, but now my reaction is mostly indifferent.  I think it's not that I'm unwilling to put effort into learning new rules, so much as that I could be spending that effort improving and mastering other parts of a "known good" game.  Likewise, one-shots (or few-shots) tend to be pretty railroady, very combat-focused, and generally lacking in player investment.  Part of this might be that we don't practice running one-shots enough, but overall I am less a fan of the short form than the long-form campaign.  But the games I seek, the long-term stable campaigns with rules that don't change over time (including addition of supplements) just don't make much sense to start or join at the moment.

Part of it too is that I'm just...  tired.  The people I game with are good friends, but we all have our flaws as gamers, and I can't help but see the same dynamics and issues over and over again.  I'm probably still a little bitter about the ACKS game falling apart, too.  As happens every couple years to me, it's time for new people, not because these ones are bad, but because I have the wanderlust.

It would be neat to run a game with these sort of themes, of "clear and imminent doom", "explosion of short-term thinking / hedonism", and "fatigued decadence," tapping into the general mood of the group.  The fall of the Eldar, Melnibone, the waning days of Byzantium or Rome, and cyberpunk USA circa 2020 all sound promising.  But instead I think we're probably just going to hang out and play board or wargames (speaking of which, I'm still on the hunt for a good mech / tank wargame that runs on hexes, with the low playing complexity of Wardogs and the low unit construction complexity of basic BattleTech.  Might have to roll my own...).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An Unreliability of Ruffians

I've talked about our issues with hijinks and ruffian morale before, but I think I've hit a simpler solution which makes ruffians more perilous to employ, but does so without adding an additional roll to the hijink mechanism.  Should a ruffian roll a natural 2 on a hijink attempt, he defects and betrays the guild in some fashion.  If he's also caught on such a roll, he may betray the guild to the authorities in exchange for a reduced sentence, or he might become a mole.  If he isn't caught, he may instead become conspiratorial and begin plotting against the guild's leaders, or he may sell the guild out to a rival criminal organization.  Further, ruffians of 5th level or higher may defect on a natural 20, taking the big score and deciding to go freelance (this is also likely outcome should a remarkably-skilled ruffian succeed on a hijink with a natural 2).  Such high-level ruffians may induce others to defect as well, at the judge's discretion.

So - a ruffian defection mechanic that I'll remember to use, and which generates minimal extra paperwork.  As an aside, I kind of like a further proposed rule, that in certain high-law areas, should a henchman or PC thief roll a natural 2 on a hijink, even if they are not caught, they are witnessed.  Wanted posters, going to ground, and other shenanigans ensue.  This rule seems punitive enough that I would not want to employ it except as a means of characterizing certain settlements as being particularly law-abiding, though.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Of Dying Races

There was a discussion on the Autarch fora the other day about 0th-level demihumans in ACKS.  Some thought that since the monster listings for elves and dwarves showed them as 1HD monsters, all such demihumans fought as 1HD monsters / first-level fighters.  I disagreed, since elven and dwarven domains attract elven and dwarven peasants, and compared the vaults and fastnesses to the armed camps of berserkers and bandits, who also fight at 1HD men but who do not constitute the entirety of the human population.

Which is all well and good, but it got me thinking: what is the only elves and dwarves in a setting did exist in small, armed camps, without the implied well-settled homelands from which peasants spring?  It got me thinking in a Tolkeinesque vein, with both elves and dwarves beleaguered and dying races.  The elven fastnesses are the last remnants of once-great elven civilizations, guarding sacred sites, places of great natural beauty, or things which they are bound by ancient oaths to keep sealed away from the mortal world, offering their council to men ere the time comes for them to board the last ships to the Grey Havens.  The dwarven reputation for hoarding gold, gems, and objects of great value has been the undoing of their cities, drawing dragons and other powerful and covetous monsters down upon their heads.  The led to a diaspora, which cost the dwarves dearly in numbers at the hands of goblins, and now their small vaults are spread thin enough for the risk of dragon attack to be ameliorated...  but any dwarven domain too successful may draw the wrath of wyrms.

A couple of other fun implications and interpretations:
  • Lots of abandoned elven cities and dwarven mountainhome megadungeons!
  • Elven nightblades are outcasts from the Grey Havens, or those tasked with long-term fulfillment (or prevention) of prophecies in human lands
  • Racial level limits are because the power of the race is failing; they can no longer fulfill the potentials they once could.
  • Should a PC elf found a domain, the peasants he gets are actually 'families' of the wee fey; leprechauns, gnomes, brownies, sprites, and what-have-you.  Not true elves.
  • Should a PC dwarf found a domain, I either need a "Dwarf Fortress events table of suffering" or it gets settled with human peasants or something.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Miscellany - Of Ships and Burning Oil

Wasn't feeling well last night, so no real post today.

I've been reading up on naval tactics and strategy with the idea of getting some context for Starmada and Full Thrust.  Found two interesting things that kind of mirror our experiences with Starmada.  First, from wikipedia:
Naval tactics throughout the 16th century and well into the 17th century, however, was focused on countering the oar-powered galleys that were armed with heavy guns in the bow, facing forwards, which were aimed by turning the entire ship against its target. Though far less seaworthy than sailing vessels and highly vulnerable to boarding by ships that rode higher in the water, the galleys were a serious threat due to their ability to aim accurate heavy gunfire low in the hulls of larger sailing ships.
So there is historical precedent for G-arc superweapons!  Doesn't make them any more fun, though :\

The other interesting point was a discussion of the continued usefulness of aircraft carriers in the missile age, with arguments made here (caution - pdf), here, and here.  I thought it was neat to see kind of the same discussions we had go down in the Real World.

Also, looking at ACKS again, I think we were playing military oil wrong the entire time.  We were applying fire damage every round for standing in a burning area, which (as we noted at the time) was strictly better than using oil as a single-target weapon for 1d8 damage for each of two rounds.  However, further inspection shows that oil spread on the ground covers only a 5' diameter rather than a 10' diameter, which means that there're large non-burning areas in a 10' square containing fire.  Also looks like area-deployment of oil require careful pouring, rather than throwing, so it can't be done at range.  So I think the tradeoff is that poured deployment requires either pouring oil in the front line (in which case intelligent adversaries will realize what you're up to) or pouring in the rear and then retreating, which yields ground, while thrown oil can be used to immediate effect from the rear but has lower damage potential.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Adventure Template Library?

So I was over at EnWorld (hey, it was the wee hours of the morning, cut me some slack), and there was a thread bemoaning how 5e was doomed because  not enough gamers were going to abandon their current systems of choice to pay WotC's bills.  I suggested that perhaps Wizards should focus instead on producing quality modules in pdf format with variants for each of several 'supported' editions (like what Troll Lord does with their Hex Crawl Chronicles, or Dwimmermount being aimed at both LL and ACKS).  This idea did not gain much traction, and in any case Wizards is committed at this point.

But it did get me thinking - if Wizards won't do it, maybe we as a community should.  But I don't mean 'we the OSR community'; I mean 'we the tabletop FRPG community.'  We have many free, excellent, community-driven systems, but relatively few free, community-created adventures of quality.  I propose therefore the creation of a cross-edition open-source adventure-template library, comparable in purpose and workflow to sourceforge.  Someone (or several someones) creates an adventure for their game and decide to upload it.  They strip out edition-specific elements, creating a 'template' of maps, NPC personalities, room descriptions, and other invariants, and throw that into the web licensed such that it can be fully modified with attribution.  Other users go "Man, that's a nice backbone for an adventure" and fill in the edition-specific gaps, then upload their modifications.

Is it a silly idea?  Maybe; transcribing adventures is a pain in the ass, and maybe the differences in assumptions between editions make such a 'universal template' nearly impossible.  Perhaps the DMing community isn't big enough compared to the programming community to generate an open-source movement of volunteers in the same way.  But we as DMs already do most of the work writing descriptions and such (Alexis notwithstanding), and I can't help but feel that a fair few of us would like to show off that work (especially the parts the players never did find).  Maybe I'll start things off by templatizing Sandygates and the Bleak Academy and put my money where my mouth is.

Monday, March 11, 2013

No News is... No News

Well, midterms happened, and now it's spring break.  No gaming for the last two weeks due to illness on various peoples' parts, and nobody's here this week, so not looking good for the immediate future either.  Lack of posting has been due to lack of energy, not lack of ideas.  Things kind of on the docket for when I get around to them:
  • Dwarven Muleskinner class for ACKS - explorer meets venturer by way of Dwarf Fortress
  • ACKS scripts - I wrote python scripts for automating annoying parts of ACKS (like settlement demand modifier generation) last month.  I should clean them up and put them in a repo somewhere for public consumption.
  • Traveller ships - the Traveller game that has been on sickleave recently has humans at TL10, which is insufficient for Jump 2.  I've taken it upon myself to build a Jump 1 ship or two beyond Yachts and Fat Traders.  Unfortunately, I'm bad at deckplans.
  • ACKS Wilderlands - putting domains on the map and nobles in the domains
  • Midnight - I was re-reading parts of Midnight the other day and realized that while it would be really cool to run with ACKS, it would also be very difficult, because a whole bunch of assumptions about economics are invalid in Midnight (and magic is kind of different too).  Particularly troubling is providing PCs with a market and replacements henchmen, and the complete unavailability of high-power divine magic (ie, RL&L) looks liable to spike mortality.  Sooo...  I dunno.  On the other hand, once Domains at War is out, ACKS would be really sweet for running a guerrilla campaign against the Shadow on the borders of the elven territories; Fantasy F*ckin' Vietnam meets Empire Strikes Back, Lord of the Rings, and Indiana Jones (when the PCs go hunting for power nexuses).
  • Custom treasure tables
  • Stargrunt / Dirtside / Full Thrust - not really a creative project, but I want to play more GZG stuff.  I guess I could build Vassal plugins...  ?
I guess the real issue is that with graduation a single-digit number of weeks away and the current group scattering to the four winds, I'm leery of starting any projects too serious. For all I know I might not have time to game when I get out into the Real World with job and bills and whatnot, or the gaming scene where I'm going might not be to my taste...  So things here may remain slow for some time.  Sorry all.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Wilderlands of High Fantasy Review-ish Thing

As I've mentioned before, I've had a slight fascination with the Wilderlands of High Fantasy ever since reading some of Al's posts about it.  I found a bargain copy of the Necromancer version, and skimmed it, but overall found it too long and unwieldy and detailed to really make any use of.  But I stumbled across this Grognardia post in praise of the original Wilderlands, and the comments were rather inspiring and mentioned particularly that the original Wilderlands encouraged (nay, required) rolling a lot of your own material.  So I picked up pdfs of of the first Wilderlands book and accompanying five mapsheets from rpgnow as a late birthday present to self.  It's...  interesting.

I like how it goes straight from table of contents to random ruins and relics tables.  I think they're pretty much the same as the ones in the 3.x version, but "Anti-grav air vehicle" jumped out at me this time.  The old sci-fi / fantasy mix is very present here, and I think I can get on board with it.  The following rules for various types of caves are awesomely old-school; they break caves down into multiple categories geologically, and provide varying tables for entrance types and cave structure based on these geologically classifications.  Highlights include a chance of collapsing abandoned mineshafts using fireball and chance of dying of hypothermia if you fall into running water in an ice cave.  The lair types and random dungeon generation both look pretty usable, too; no 45-degree angles here (60-degree angles instead, because I guess they were expecting dungeons to be mapped on a hex-grid like everything else).  The searching rules I could take or leave; they'd require some adaptation in any case.

After the initial rules, we get into lists of towns and ruins.  These vary pretty significantly in quality; everything from "Partially sunken, worm-eaten spent sewage - 1 wight" to "Deep underground in a large cavern lies the fabled dwarven city of Krazandol.  It was once the capitol  of a northern kingdom of dwarves that stretched for many miles.  Krazandol's craftsmen were famed all over the world for their works in iron, silver, gold, and mithril...  But its riches were to be its downfall, because it became so well-known that the Dragons of Banzot heard about it, and in a three-day battle drove the dwarves out.  The Great Wyrms and all of the riches are still in the dwarven city of one Great Keep and 317 houses."  The citadels, towns, and lairs mostly leave me unenthused; I could probably steal names, ruler names, and resources from the towns, but that's about it.  The isle descriptions seem good as a rule, though.

There are some more interesting rules buried further in (the organization of this book is...  basically nonexistent.  Editing is pretty bad too, and no OCR, but it was like $3 and from the '70s).  Hydrographic terrain and prospecting both excite me, though I'm a bit skeptical about mapping down to the 1056-foot hex level.  Having hirelings accidentally anger other NPCs is good fun.  Domain rules are present, but I think I prefer ACKS'.  The population density numbers are not bad, though, and the variant morale table offers finer granularity.

So, from the book itself, I'll probably steal a few things, but am unlikely to get all that much use.  The maps, though...  mmmm maps.  I've already started looking at them and going "hmmm, the City-State would need n 24-mile hexes to support it...  and I think they would make sense here, here, there, here..."  So, promising.  Might have to use this as my next ACKS setting, running just on the maps and some of the tables from the book rather than the settlement descriptions...