Thursday, May 30, 2013

Teutonia - Chargen and Whatnot

Class availability and backgrounds:

Teutons comprise the bulk of the human population of the setting, and are Germanic in flavor.  They speak Common, and may be of the following classes:
  • Fighters - ubiquitous, from bandits to knights
  • Clerics - Worship either Ammonar or the Old Norse gods.  Ammonarites mostly ubiquitous but with seat of church power at Gothenheim, organized clerical Norse religion centered at Moorhafen due to distance from Gothenheim and proximity to Nordmar.
    • TODO: alternate Norse spell list with things like Summon Berserkers, Thunder Hammer, &c
  • Mages - typically associated with a local branch of the Rotenburg Academy
    • Mage orders / schools / societies are going to be a separate post
  • Thieves - most common in the large cities (Gothenheim, Konigsport, Bad Rotenburg), also significant presences in smaller port cities like Wogenhafen and Moorhafen
  • Assassin - rumors of Ammonarite church assassins are...  unsubstantiated, citizen.  Unaffiliated assassins are also found in the major cities, particularly Konigsport.  Two variants of note:
    • Pirates:
      • Lose Move Silently, ability to wear armor heavier than chainmail.
      • Gain Seafaring, Swashbuckling.  
      • Class proficiency list: replace Alchemy, Swashbuckling, and Contortionism with Seafaring, Navigation, and Combat Trickery (Force Back).  
      • XP: 1850 to 2nd, doubling up to 60kXP at 7th level, 120kXP at 8th, and +120kXP per level thereafter.
      • Level titles: Prefix Stowaway, Shanghai'd, Swabbie, Salty, Damp, or Scurvy to the assassin titles for the first 6 levels.  7th is Old Hand, 8th is First Mate, 9th is Pirate Captain, 14th is Pirate King.
    • Urban Assassins:
      • Lose: ability to wear armor heavier than Leather
      • Gain Alertness and Perceive Intentions (as the Mystic ability).  There's more to be done with the theme of assassins reading people (as Tao suggests), but this is an acceptable start
      • In class proficiency list, replace Alertness with Diplomacy.  
      • 2000 XP to second level; XP progression is the same as a fighter.
      • Level titles: are hard, man.
  • Bard - much beloved by the noblewomen of the castles of the Rune and Shoen River valleys.  Much less beloved by their husbands.
  • Explorer - most are from either the Howling Hills (experience fighting beastmen) or the Schwartzwald Frontier (fighting elves, undead, and darker things), but others are poachers from noble hunting grounds, hicks, former military scouts, bandits, bounty-hunters, or what-have-you.
    • Hill explorers may remove Seafaring from their class profs list and add Goblin-Slaying in its place
    • Schwartzwald explorers may exchange Seafaring for Wakefulness in their class prof lists.  Those who spend long enough in the haunted woods of the elves learn to sleep little and lightly (or, just as often, find themselves unable to sleep due to nightmares)
  • Paladin - There are numerous knightly orders present in Teutonia, some of which serve the church directly and derive holy power from it (most notably the Order of the Silver Thorn and the Order of the Cleansing Flame).
    • The Order of the Cleansing Flame are witch-hunters.
      • Lose: Sensing Evil, Divine Body
      • Gain: Sensing Power, Divine Blessing
      • Class Profs:
        • Remove Goblin-Slaying, Divine Blessing, Military Strategy, Diplomacy, and Combat Trickery (Incapacitate)
        • Add Divine Body, Arcane Dabbling, Intimidate, Collegiate Wizardry, and Fire Prayer (ability to cast Resist Fire once per 8 hours)
      • Level Titles: may append 'Vigilant' to their level titles up to 8th level.  Their 9th level title is Inquisitor, then subsequently Inquisitor Lord.
      • XP to level: as Paladin
      • They favor two-weapon fighting with a torch in their off-hand, and prize flaming swords
      • Clerics associated with this order may swap out Spiritual Weapon for Burning Hands as a 2nd-level divine spell.
    • The mission of the Order of the Silver Thorn is hunting vampires, ghosts, ghouls, wharwhelfs, and other supernatural creatures who hide in human settlements.  
      • Class prof list: 
        • Remove Combat Trickery (Sunder), Goblin-Slaying, and Illusion Resistance 
        • Add Perceive Intentions, Berserkergang, and Silverskin (as Elven Bloodline).
      • Level titles: may add 'Silver' or 'Argent' to their level titles.  At 8th level, they become Platinum Knights, then Platinum Lords thereafter.
      • XP: as Paladin
      • They favor silvered spears and polearms, and polish their armor to a mirror sheen
    • Stock paladins may be from any of a variety of minor orders - make up a good name when you roll one.
    • Transitioning between the Fighter and Paladin classes is possible if a fighter joins a holy order as a result of events in-game.  Works a lot like a monster transformation, except that you now level faster rather than slower.
  • Priestess: Available in both female and male (priest) versions.  Replaces bladedancer as a 'second flavor of cleric' - more appropriate for a Medieval-feeling game than dervish-clerics of Ishtar.
    • TODO: tweak priest / priestess spell lists.  Will work well enough for now, though.
  • Venturer: Typically Swabian, often trading across the North Sea and the Silbermeer.  Available if anyone wants a challenge or wants to play "The Logistics Guy".  Arguably more useful as henches.
  • Warlock - a human disciple or collaborator with the elven covens.  Often a poor idea for long-term survival.
Norsemen are also available as PCs, but probably not as henchmen unless hiring in Nordmar.  Norse PCs are assumed to have spent enough time in Teutonia to speak broken Common (penalty to reaction rolls with nobles, unless Language is taken) in addition to their native Norse, and may play as the following classes:
  • Barbarian (Jutland) replaces the Fighter class for Norse characters.   Norse Barbarians may choose to gain Berserkergang instead of Climbing at 1st level, and replace Berserkergang with Climbing in their class proficiency list.
  • Explorer - Norse explorers are as written in the Core.
  • Mage - Norse mages are typically trained at the Tower of the Winds, one of the northernmost points of human settlement, and are much feared among the Norsemen.
    • Class profs list: remove Black Lore and Diplomacy, add Intimidation and Cold Resistance (as the Valkyrie ability)
  • Valkyrie - As written, but with Wis as a second prime req.  May want to replace Language with something else, but not sure what yet.  Lay on Hands would not be a bad pick, and would sort of emphasize the Paladin / Valkyrie parallels.
  • Witch - Any tradition but Voudon.  Largely replaces Cleric for the Norse, who don't really have an organized warrior-priest establishment.  Also much-feared.  Considered shaman, but it just didn't quite feel right.
Dwarves originate mostly from settlements either in the Howling Hills or the Bleiburg, and have the following classes available to them:
  • Dwarven Vaultguard
  • Dwarven Craftpriest - uses the cleric spell list, as most dwarves turned to the worship of Ammonar after his church liberated them from elvish rule
  • Dwarven Fury - typically originates as either a Bleiburg Highlander (yes, they wear kilts, have bagpipes, and use dwarf-sized two-handed swords), or less commonly as a dwarf raised by bears in the Howling Hills.
  • Dwarven Templar - On a holy mission to protect the Zugenhof, defend the Mannerheim Line, and retake the Mourning Mountains.  As paladin, except as follows:
    • Gains:
      • Dwarf racial features, including bonus to saving throws
      • +1 to all proficiency throws
      • Endurance
      • Goblin-Slaying
      • +1 HP/level after 9th level
      • Proficiency with arbalest, for shooting beastmen from within fortifications, and hand-axes for throwing and utility
      • Min Con 9 to qualify
    • Loses: 
      • Detect Evil
      • Proficiency with two-handed swords and polearms
    • Class prof list:
      • Remove Goblin-Slaying and Mystic Aura
      • Add Sensing Evil and Dwarven Brewing
    • Max level: 12th
    • XP to level: 2250 to 2nd, doubling up to 70kXP at 7th, 140kXP at 8th, and 130kXP per level thereafter.
    • Level titles: Prepend "Dwarf" or "Dwarven" to the paladin level titles up to 7th level.  At 8th level, they are "Dwarven Templars", and thereafter "Templar Lords"
Elves are not quite per the ACKS Core in this setting.  As a result of the heinous dark sorcery of their (relatively recent) ancestors, all elves receive Dark Souls and After the Flesh, as the Zaharan abilities of the same name, and increase their cost to reach 2nd level by 50XP, with according increases further down the line.  They are treated with suspicion and fear by the peasantry, but often take pains to conceal their true nature lest the Cleansing Flame come looking.  Classes available to them include:
  • Elven Spellsword - I really want to cook up a version of this that is more like the Zaharan Ruinguard from the Player's Companion.  It would level faster with half-casting and some neat 'death healing' and 'channel spell through weapon'-type abilities, but more restricted weapons and armor.  I will do this if people are interested, but have not done so yet.
    • The current version with just the elf mods is 4050XP to 2nd, doubling up to 130kXP to 7th, 260kXP to 8th, and 170kXP per level thereafter (so really pretty minimal changes to levelling rate).
  • Elven Nightblade - as Core, plus the changes under the Elf description.  2825XP to 2nd, doubling up to 90kXP at 7th, 180kXP at 8th, and 150kXP per level thereafter (likewise, effectively irrelevant at high levels, only matters at low levels).
  • Elven Warlock - as human warlock, plus one point of Elf value for full casting and some racial traits.  Basically:
    • Gains:
      • Elf racial traits
      • Spells per day and in repertoire as a mage of their class level
      • Earlier access to research and crafting abilities
    • Swaps the levels for Familiar and Black Lore in the class progression (Black Lore at 1st, Familiar at 2nd)
    • Max level: 12th
    • XP to level: 2875 to 2nd, doubling up to 90kXP at 7th, 180kXP at 8th, and 200kXP per level thereafter
    • Level titles: Prepend 'Elven', 'Fey', or 'Inhuman' to the warlock level titles
 Nobirans may be used to model the direct descendants of the divinely-blessed emperor Theudald.  Roll all 11+ stats, then we'll talk about classes, but expect to see a fighter/thief/aristocrat-type class backed up by racial divine spellcasting.  Wonderworkers may not be available, since the church and the arcanists don't get along too well (although I could be persuaded that a jesuit-type order of priest-scholars might be thematically appropriate...  and who better to keep watch on the workings of those damn academics than people loyal to the church who also know magic?).

Characters are to be created per the advanced characters rules on page 253, with the following alterations:
  • 5000 starting XP, 4000 starting GP.  This puts most classes at 3rd level, with elves and dwarves lagging somewhat behind.  Prime requisite bonus does apply to starting XP, but not to starting GP.
  • Hit points for first level are rolled twice with the higher roll taken, and once per level thereafter.
  • The magic item and henchman gold tradeoffs are in effect.  You may use your backup ability score sets to bring in such henchmen.
Sure hope I can get my webcam working so I can actually run this.... at least my mic works.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mapping and Caving: A Compromise

I was working on adding general proficiency selection to the henchinator today, and in the process ended up re-reading parts of the Proficiencies chapter.  There I once again encountered my old enemies, Mapping and Caving.  I like mapping as a player, and I like having my players make maps.  As a result, the ability to "map an area by memory" is sort of annoying - it kills off that part of gameplay (and that artifacts that generate it) that I enjoy.  Previously, I've soft-banned these proficiencies, but upon further consideration, I think a compromise is possible.

Mapping continues to permit an illiterate character to map for the party.  In addition, on a throw of 11+, he can produce an accurate copy from memory of a map he has studied or which he created, though doing so takes an amount of time varying with the size and complexity of the map.  This provides insurance against threats which destroy the party's map within the game world - water, burning oil, losing the guy who usually does the mapping - but permits the players to continue to use their map even in the event of such destruction.  Likewise, caving permits a party to retrace their way out of a dungeon or cave when their map has been destroyed, but without the necessity of taking time to sit down in the dungeon and let the mapper re-scribble from memory on a piece of parchment.

And speaking of maps (with apologies to people who actually art)...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Brief History of a World (Caution: long and boring)

Presented here is, in broad strokes, the history of the Three Kingdoms of the Imperium Teutones - Neustria, Austrasia, and Swabia - and the world in which they reside.

In elder days, the elven race ventured forth from their misty isles, and settled far across the land, from the temperate shores of the north sea to the southern jungles of Crotalia, and to the Silberschild mountains in the east.  There they found the first of the dwarves, at that time workers in bronze, and much trade was had.  But the elves were ever a fractious folk, and their mainland territories fragmented into a patchwork of baronies and villages.  It was during this period that man emerged from the ice-wastes of the north and settled in Nordmar, and the dwarves reported the first skirmishes with the beastmen of the kingdom of Leng in the East.  Many years passed, and the elves continued their gradual and patchwork expansion south into the Crotalus, eventually prompting a counter-invasion by the scalyfolk who there reside.  Many an elf was slain, and the geistbaum groves grew.  In time the elves organized themselves beneath a strong leader, the warrior-mage Aeron the Fair, and drove the lizardmen back.  Aeron maintained power for the rest of his considerable lifespan, and the realm of the mainland elves was at peace.

These years were less than peaceful for the dwarves, however, who found themselves beleaguered by fell creatures fleeing things even more terrible in the East.  Many holdfasts were abandoned, and some dwarves began a migration to the West, to the Bleiburg Highlands.  This was also the era of the first meeting of dwarf and man, as Norse traders and raiders explored the coasts of the Silbermeer and up the River Rune.  Reactions were mixed, but the dwarven holds were largely impregnable to the poorly-organized and poorly-armed raiders, and so trade of furs for metalwork was largely the order of the day, except when migrants and refugees were encountered.

The elven tree-villages, however, were found to be consistently easy targets, and the Northmen pillaged them with impunity for a time before Aeron drove them back into the sea with powers mundane and magical.  Men remained few on the continent until the elven empire was thrown into tumult as a result of Aeron's death.  Though Aeron was nearing the end of his natural lifespan, some scholars believe that he was assassinated by a conspiracy of powerful mages who found his heir, Elberon, more pliable and amenable to their views on necromancy and blacker magics, which were strictly forbidden under Aeron's rule.  The wars of the elvish succession took many years, and during this time man once again expanded his territories in the south.  The southlanders abandoned their nomadic roots and founded such cities as Konigsport, Gothenheim, and Bad Rotenburg in the valley of the Rune.  In time the Northmen raided them as well, but the southlanders had acquired horses from the elves and steel from the dwarves, and under the leadership of Gundwulf the Short, the Northmen were soundly defeated at the battle of Konigsport.  Gundwulf was subsequently named King of the Teutons, as the united peoples of the southlands named themselves.

But his kingship was a short one, for though it had taken fifty years and many dark deeds, the wars of the elvish succession were coming to an end, and Elberon claimed the lands of the Teutons for reconquest into his empire.  Lacking the arcana of the elves, Gundwulf's armies were routed, his lands captured, and mankind subjected to the now-harsh, even bloodthirsty rule of the decadent and fallen elves.  Not even time could release them, for Elberon had insulated himself from old age through vampirism, and had jovially consumed the conspirators who had aided his rise to power.  The chains of feudalism were forged wit blood bonds, terrible oaths, and the vampiric gaze, from the Seven Undying Dukes down to the vampiric knightly Order of the Sanguine Rose who treated the southmen as chattel and food.  The dwarven bastions proved harder to take than the lands of man, until in a rage Elberon released thirteen great wyrms, captured in the Crotalian jungles with sorcery and promises of great treasure, into the Silberschild mountains.  These all but drove the dwarves from their ancestral homes, settling in the ruins to spawn and sleep, and the Silberschilds gained the epithet "Mountains of Mourning" in dwarven epic poetry thereafter.  The elves went so far as to march an undead army across the Beastlands to Leng, where their drive for conquest was finally ground to a gruesome stalemate by that even more ancient and vile sorcerous empire.

It is unknown how many years passed during Elberon's reign, or Die Schwarze Auge as it is now called.  What is known is that the elves committed atrocities so foul that their god, Ammonar, wept for the sins of His beloved and firstborn children, and in time turned His face away from them and towards mankind, bestowing his gifts upon a handful of prophets.  Elberon made a sport of hunting these prophets and using them as fuel for dark rituals, but in time one of these blessed men, one Theudald the Pious, a monk at the monastery of Blenheim, survived to lead a successful rebellion against the elves and liberated Gothenheim.  This spurred several other rebellions throughout human territory, the most successful of which were led by Laudus the Large and Grimoald One-Eye, both of whom claimed descent from Gundwulf to legitimate their claim to rulership.  The allied forces of man were brought to battle by Elberon's host at the siege of Gothenheim, where elven sorcery blotted the sun from the sky for a full week and all was thought lost.  When Elberon himself entered the fray on the seventh day of darkness, though, Theudald performed a miracle and restored light to the sky, destroying the elven vampire-lord utterly and breaking his host.  The elves were driven back into the Schwartzwald, and much new territory was claimed in the following crusade.  A threefold kingdom was established, with the line of Theudald ruling foremost as Holy Emperors of the Sudetenland and Neustria from their capital in the sacred city of Gothenheim, the line of Grimoald ruling Austrasia from the academy towers of Bad Rotenburg, and the line of Laudus ruling the coastal kingdom of Swabia from Konigsport.

As time passed, however, it became apparent that Ammonar's favors to Theudald were more extensive than initially thought - he and his line were blessed with extreme longevity and excellent health in addition to their clerical capabilities.  As a result, the reign of Emperor Theudald has continued for some 250 years since the victory at Gothenheim.  During this time, the church of Ammonar has largely ousted the pagan Norse religions, and several knightly orders have risen to prominence, including the Order of the Silver Thorn and the Order of Cleansing Flame.  Theudald's descendants are sizable in number and hold significant lands in the vicinity of Gothenheim.  Grimoald lived to an extremely old age before disappearing under mysterious circumstances, and Austrasia has largely been managed by the Council of Archmages of the Rotenburg Academy since.  This is a source of some friction both with the populace and the church, as neither has much tolerance for witches after the long abuses of the elves, but no force has yet been mustered to break the council's hold.  If any resistance were to arise from within Austrasia, it would be from Mannerheim or Zugenhof, in the Howling Hills to the East, fortresses of warrior princes both.  Swabia has remained under the rule of Laudus's lineage, warrior and merchant kings after the style of the Northmen with whom they interact regularly.  The dwarves of Blieburg owe fealty to the Swabian monarchs, though they regularly send their youths on crusades to Zugenhof and the Silberschilds through Austrasian territory to reclaim their ancestral homelands.  The elves, for their part, have largely gone into hiding within human lands - the Order of Cleansing Flame makes hunting elven covens and conspiracies a major part of their business, but the covens often take refuge beneath the aegis of the Rotenburg Academy.  The peasants still bear much dislike and superstition with regard to the elves - it is custom to never meet an elf's gaze, to arrange to speak with them only in daylight in a public place, and to never invite one into your house.  Most are treated with fear and mistrust, though rarely outright violence (except from the Order). 

Theudald's longevity is not without limit, however, and he has visibly aged over the last thirty years.  It is believed that his time is soon, and there is much dispute over who will rule in his stead.  His seven sons claim that they clearly possess the divine right to rule, while the church claims the sole power to assign the title of holy emperor and the nobles not of Theudald's blood argue for a return to the old Northman tradition of the althing and the election of an emperor, as was done with Gundwulf.  Theudald has yet to voice an opinion on this weighty matter; perhaps he is waiting for a divine revelation, or perhaps he is watching the enemies surrounding the borders of his empire - the elven lich lords to the south, the hordes of Leng to the east, and the Norsemen all eye the empire in distress like hounds circling a bleeding bear.  Worse still, there are poor omens in the sky, and the Misty Isles of the Fey have again appeared off the cost of Bleiburg, for the first time in living memory, for reasons unknown.  There are rumors that the Crotalons are advancing into the southern Schwartzwald, and the Norsemen whisper in hushed voices that whatever man fled from in the furthest north in the first days is coming in pursuit.  Truly, it is a time of trepidation and uncertainty.

But all uncertain times are fraught with opportunity for those willing to accept risk...  And so, enter the PCs, in the rural farming village of Steinwenden...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Scripts and Things

Mostly scripts.

Upgraded the henchinator script to allow generation of NPCs of arbitrary levels and to generate magic gear at the standard 5% per character level rate for NPCs (though 'useful' is a funny categorization for some of these results...  10th-level Explorer with the Ring of Weakness and clerics with a handful of magic arrows, I'm looking at you).  Now useful for generating NPC parties, bandit heroes, and a host of other folks of greater than 4th level.  Added names while I was at it, pulling down part of the Onomastikon and adding both gender and naming to the scripts (first did random names, then started getting combinations like "Wulfram the Valkyrie" and decided I needed to separate names by gender and add gender probabilities by class).  Next up: general proficiency generation.  Don't think I really want to do class profs, but general profs I can generate mostly based on ability scores.  Class profs depend more on weapon selection, spell availability, and other factors.  I also added waypointing to the merchant demandinator a while back, so that's now in a more-or-less finished state except some output formatting improvements (sorting outputs into a sensible order, possibly a csv output option).  Would be nice to have a save/load function for when market classes change, but that's not all that interesting of a problem.  The recursive hex-stocker of awesome is mostly functional, but I'm bogged down on data entry / transcription; I got up through Leech, Giant before my brain and fingers shut down.  Considering regex / pdfgrep, but that will involve doing a lot of manual post-processing too.  My output formatting on this one is also really, really terrible, but there isn't a particularly good way to print the list of warbands in an orcish village down to the gang level along with each of their treasures.  Still need to add support for taking a csv or text map file and combining auto-stocking with trade value generation to get a whole region fully-stocked and ready to go in a single command, too.  Also unfortunately, my webspace is disappearing since it was through my college, so I need to find somewhere else to host this stuff.  Still considering a github.

Have also been working on setting stuff for the summer game.  Coming along nicely.  More on that soon (perhaps tomorrow).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Of Nethack and Item Identification

During some downtime last week between finals and graduation (also - yes I am graduated!  Now taking a break at home before job and lease start), I decided to take up Nethack.  It turned out to be a wonderful hybrid between Dwarf Fortress and TSR D&D, and I had quite a bit of fun (including DF-grade 'FUN') right up until I found and ID'd a wand of wishes and suffered a crippling case of decision paralysis.  But the whole experience did tickle some brain cells on a problem that has bugged our ACKS group before - how to identify items?

Really the problematic items here are the command-word items (wands, staves, swords of charming, those sort of things) and some of the edge-case passive items like rings of fire resistance.  Potions are easy enough to get with Alchemy, scrolls are quickly deciphered with Read Languages, and we tend to let people determine the bonus of a suit of magic armor or a weapon after sparring with it some (we assume fighter-sense and combat experience provide a fairly good sense for how much better than normal those sort of things are, and I'm way too lazy to keep those secret in use for any longer than I have to).  But I think the keys to handling charged item identification are suggestive descriptions and blind activation.

To say that Nethack's wand descriptions are suggestive would be quite misleading, as they're random, but they are at least consistent and got me thinking about charged-item description, which we have to far slacked on pretty hard.  Perhaps all detection wands have a small crystal ball embedded on the end of a stick whose type is appropriate to the type of detection, or offensive wands appeared charred, or so forth.  This lets players get a general idea of the type of a wand, but not its exact function.

Blind activation is something which Nethack does do well, and it is one of the standard ways to identify wands.  ACKS, however, has no clear facility for it.  Upon a re-reading of the magic item identification rules and the wands, staves, and rods rules, it's not entirely clear whether the user needs to know a command word or just sort of points and clicks.  Given the sort of hilarity that building experimental wand-testing setups can result in, I'm inclined to rules in favor of blind activation (particularly with the caveat that a blindly-activated staff will use one of its capabilities at random).  Limiting blind activation to Magical Engineers and Arcane Dabblers (both at -4) might also be reasonable (also wow, I never realized bards got Arcane Dabbling for free...  that's a pretty serious proficiency at mid-to-high levels).  In either case, there's still a trade-off; running a full identification will tell you how many charges it has, but will take time and money, while a blind activation takes maybe a turn but burns a charge and has a chance of frying your whole party if it turns out the copper stick with a piece of amber on the end that you thought was a wand of treasure detection is actually a wand of lightning...

Other thought - Alchemy II is kind of a bummer, and given how potion miscibility works in ACKS, it would be cool if there were a way for players to pre-identify the 'potion countdown' (potency?) of a given potion so that they could better plan their imbibing.  I'm sort of thinking potency identification on 18+ for Alchemy 1, then +4 extra per further rank (as usual) so that taking Alchemy II lets you more than double your ability to do it.  On the other hand, alchemy is already quite good on the whole, and allowing methods to pre-determine potency generates more paperwork / record-keeping.

I also sort of want to build an extensive themed potion descriptor table for parties lacking an alchemist, but given how often that prof gets taken and how effective it is, I'm not sure it's worth the effort.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Domains at War: Battles Playtest

Ran a first game of DaW:B yesterday afternoon for the old ACKS crew.  Just played the first scenario with no terrain, and it went alright.  Our main difficulty stemmed from having too many players; we had one player for each of the three beastman divisions, one player commanding the human cavalry division, and one running the human infantry divisions.  Given that only I had read the rules beforehand, this produced very slow turns.  The boredom that slow turns caused was further aggravated by the almost IGOUGO pattern resulting from the strategic ability gap between the humans and the beastmen (the human commanders had strategic ability from +2 to +4, while the best beastman commander has +2 and the other two have -1).  Since this modifies initiative, that usual pattern was 'cavalry acts, human infantry or ogres act, any more human infantry acts, orcs act'.  Part of the problem here was that we mostly ignored the Delay rules, which would allow higher-init divisions to stay their hands until an opportune moment and mix the order in their favor.  This was counterbalanced by the fact that the beastman commanders didn't realize that they could charge-move without an attack at the end (to haul their ogres across the field), which delayed closing the battle lines significantly, and also mistook the leadership of their main commander for 4 when it was actually 5, which would likewise have sped their advance.

Tactically, the first and second beastman divisions advanced down the center towards the human infantry line while the cavalry advanced up one flank and was blocked by the third division (commanded by yours truly) in a valiant but suicidal screening action.  This bought time for the main force to meet the human infantry line, and once there they inflicted severe casualties, killing both of the human infantry commanders in two rounds of battle.  However, by this time the cavalry had crushed the third division under their hooves and lances, and they were able to hunt down stragglers and retreating units to push the beastmen over their break point just as the beastmen pushed the humans over theirs.  Due to lower strategic ability, the beastmen rolled morale first, and the ogre chieftain's unit immediately routed after finding its line of retreat cut off by a screen of friendly units protecting its rear from the cavalry :\  We then called the battle in favor of the humans, as with the beastman general routed their morale was shot to hell and all further morale rolls were going to go very poorly.

So an unusual victory at the Fangs, to be sure - a human victory with barely a scratch on the ogre chieftain's unit.  The power of morale.

...  in retrospect, we may have been forgetting to apply the base morale scores for units.  Not sure it would've saved them.

 The group's conclusions were:
  • It seems like a fun game, but we were sort of using it wrong with as many players as we had.  With 5 players, it might work better 4v1 in the standard RPG model rather than in 3v2 like we usually play wargames with this many.
  • Would be much more fun in the context of an RPG campaign.  Which is a good conclusion to draw, since that was what it was designed for.
  • There was some interest in programming a VTT / turn-based tactics sort of interface for it.  I think this might get inordinately tricky with some of the extra elements like terrain and heroes and magic and the delay queue that we didn't use, so we'll see.
  • It actually got people wanting to play ACKS again; we rolled up some low-level characters and hit a semi-random dungeon after, just for kicks and because we couldn't really come up with a good context / structure for running another game of DaW right after that.  There was some discussion of running Fangs with terrain or a battle from the previous ACKS campaign, but it was mid-afternoon and everyone was sort of sleepy and hungry, so we went with low-effort dungeon crawling instead.
  • Likewise, it would be cool to see a pre-written DaW Campaigns scenario which would let you play the whole system and give you framing for multiple battles (region hex map, starting forces and locations, available hero assets, aaaand fight!).  Maybe I'll work something like that up...
My personal conclusion was "Get people to read the rules before the playtest if at all possible, to avoid silly mistakes and to let people use the interesting rules like delay and terrain" :P

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Trouble With Divine Elves

Upon further reflection, I'm not sure Divine Elves is such a good idea.  My main reason for this conclusion is that if you remove elves as an arcane race, spellsword and nightblade are no longer really viable by the classbuilding rules as written without the introduction of another arcane race.  Further, fighty-mage and thief-wizard are fun archetypes, and to remove them seems a bit unfortunate.  Since the cost in points for a decent divine value is so low, we also don't gain much in the class design space by adding a race which provides divine value; an elf divine 2/fighter mix is pretty close to the existing paladin, and divine/thief, while interesting, is also an easy enough thing to hack together as a human with divine 1, fighting 1, HD1, and thief 1 (or drop HD to 0 and boost thief or divine by 1).

So, considering the following solutions:
  • To hell with the rules - if I want to build an 8-point wizard/fighter class, I can make it work as a human with a lower max level and justify it as 'jack of trades, master of none.'
  • Another arcane race - probably the Zaharans.  Honestly they match the flavor I'm looking for for elves in the new setting anyway, where the elven empires of the south have fallen to darkness from within in the Melnibonean style.  Ruinguard fits the fighty-mage archetype well (though it could stand some better casting and fewer prime reqs), and a Zaharan nightblade equivalent would be both thematic and easy to cook up.  About the only thing I don't like about the Zaharans is the name.  I need to spend some time reskinning things and coming up with better names, I guess.  I suppose High Elves (arcane, fallen) and Fey Elves (nature-based divine casting) will do as working names for now.  Then it's just a question of unifying a few racial traits and tweaking a few new classes (ruinguard/spellsword, nightblade, elven ranger as explorer + fey divine, and then a wood elf shaman+arcane sage/farseer class).

Sunday, May 5, 2013

ACKS Backgrounds - Design Goals

The Autarchs did an AMA today, and Traveller came up.  In particular, Alexander mentioned that he considered a Trav-like backgrounds game for character generation, but that in order to keep things compatible with the OSR-at-large, he ended up going route with character generation.  This got me thinking...

In particular, I was reminded of Traveller d20's character generation, which was sort of a hybrid of d20's class/level system and Traveller's background system (technically also reminded of D&D's optional backgrounds rules, but those are unspeakably terrible, and so are omitted from here on out).  Trav20 handles it by awarding XP per term, even for terms where survival rolls were failed, which I think is probably a reasonable way to go about this.  But their XP numbers are...  interesting, to say the least.  The first design goal then: sensible and internally consistent with XP awards in ACKS.

Another thing that bothered me when rolling up Trav20 characters was that assignments per term were extremely random, and both risk and reward followed from a single random roll per term.  Instead, I think it would be desirable to have a clear risk/reward decision point per term.  Meaningful choices are good.

Finally, we'd probably want to be able to use this subsystem to bring characters into an existing party more-or-less seamlessly.  This means at the very least henchmen and magic items should be accounted for, and possibly domains as well (domains being an interesting case; on the one hand, a domain-level character is one in most need of some background detail, while on the other, if you're joining a domain level party, perhaps it's because you don't have one of your own).  Repurposing commission and promotion-like mechanics seems promising for hench-management; not sure about domains.

One possible point of annoyance is age and time; in our experience, it takes characters about a year to go from 3rd to 7th, including a fairly high number of casualties as a result of lack of cleric.  I'm not sure time and aging are really a meaningful limiting factor here like they are in Traveller, even for humans (never mind elves or dwarves).  So if time and discrete Trav-like terms aren't as much a thing, we're really looking for a broad-view adventure simulator; pick a danger level (perhaps using the Dungeon Level chart as a guideline), roll to survive and apply mortal wounds as appropriate, roll event, roll treasure / determine XP, determine time taken, repeat.

So those are initial thoughts.  Will develop further later (perhaps after final projects are due...).

Friday, May 3, 2013

Setting Generation - Parameters

I'm considering launching some play-by-internet ACKS for friends and family post-graduation.  This has naturally led me back the Setting Problem.  Upon further considering the Wilderlands and Midnight, I have concluded that conversion work is sort of a pain, and that there are things that I would like to have in a setting that I am to run which are not necessarily present in them.

So, switches I'm considering throwing during setting generation this time around / themes I would like to have:
  • Crumbling Empire / Beastbarians at the Gates - a default assumption of ACKS is that there is a powerful lawful empire in decline.  I like it.
  • Rival Houses - makes good sense as constituent parts of the empire that is coming apart.
  • The Craplands - A lot of settings have these under names like the Shadowlands, the Chaos Wastes, and Beyond The Wall.  Places right-thinking folk don't tread.  Wonderful places for an adventure.  Also a very handy way for the DM to telegraph danger gradients to PCs, so they can make informed wilderness exploration decisions.
  • Divine Elves - Per Micah Blackburn, because this is just an awesome idea.  Very Tolkien, and very in keeping with the elves as either 'firstborn and favored children of the gods' or 'fey folk of the woods', depending on the subset of the divine spells you give them.  Also makes 'seeking the wisdom and council of the elves' more sensible, since they get stuff like divination and augury.  Dark elves also very easily differentiated by a variant spell list (and maybe addition of the Zaharan After the Flesh / Death is Bad ability / drawback pair).
  • Chaos cults - I love 'em.  There's something very pulpy about having 40 chanting cultists, a sorcerer leader, some summoned demons or giant snakes or other 'bruiser' baddies, and an innocent on the altar when suddenly, heroes!  Plus you get to make up ridiculous demon names like 'the tentacled goat' and 'the spider with seven faces' for them to worship.  A nice 'threat from within' for our crumbling empire.
There are a couple of other things that I'm not so sure about yet:
  • Man Has Always Been His Own Worst Enemy - no beastmen, just humans and demihumans as your 'standard-issue intelligent foe'.  Baddies not marked for your convenience.  Would make things a little more morally ambiguous, but would require more effort on my part to differentiate ethnicities of humans.  Not something I think I really want to have to do, but it's something that's been on my radar ever since Iron Heroes.
  • Cultural influences - not really sure about the time or place to set this in.  The ACKS standard is classically Romanesque, but I'm also sort of tempted by the Holy Roman Empire further north (bonus: chaos vikings), a Rokugan clone, or a Midnight-like crumbling alliance of races.  Mesoamerican influences also vaguely tempting; maybe the Craplands are the Crimson Jungles to the south, full of cannibals and worse.  Currently leaning slightly toward Holy Roman, though, for a sort of dark ages "plagues and huns and vikings" feel.  Also a good place to steal historical names from.
 So just sort of throwing this out here for comment by potential players.