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.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Scaled Continent Dungeon #1 - Ready for Players

The sewers of Voltager mapped, stocked, treasured, and a little fleshed out in two nights, and now I'm four days ahead of schedule for first game.  Might work up some templates next.

I'm a bit conflicted on starting level / XP value.  On the one hand, I don't want to build too many low-level dungeons on Voltager, since the mainland is the primary attraction of the setting.  Wilderness adventure more-or-less entails 5th-level for good survival odds, though, so I don't want to hold XP numbers down for long.  On the other hand, having played in a campaign that started at 4th level, it felt too powerful in the beginning.  Two webs and two sleeps a day is great, and then you pull fireball soon after (with a little luck or a scroll).  I'm sort of thinking something like 7500 XP; close enough to 4th that folks will level into it after a decent treasure haul (or already be there for thieves and clerics), but with a gap before they'll probably want to go deep into the jungles.  Good level range to hop between frontier settlements for a while.

High-3rd also seems a reasonable fit for the degree of difficulty that has been baked into this fully-operational battlesta deathtrap dungeon.  When I first ran Sandygates, I was slightly concerned about lethality.  This one doesn't exactly make Sand look like a cakewalk (there are fewer morelocks and less green slime, for starters), but the things in here are nasty in different and exciting ways.  I think the Old Crew could probably handle it OK at this point, but I'm not sure about random FLGS players...  ("It's no Tomb of Horrors, but I'm not as verbose as Gygax anyhow.")

Fortunate side effect of 7500 XP: 6000 GP to spend on important low-level adventuring gear like Reserve XP and Restore Life and Limb castings.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

On the Application of Phonemes to NPC Naming

Disclaimer: I Am Not A Linguist, and the following should not be construed as linguistic advice applicable to your particular campaign.

But I did take linguistics 101 once and now I know just enough to be dangerous.

Recently on the way back from lunch on a workday, I somehow ended up with both "Krishna" and "Grishnakh" in working memory at once, and went "Tolkein, you clever bugger, taking proper names from other languages and performing slight shifts on them to distinctly change their tone!"  In this case the shift from 'k' to 'g' is voicing a velar plosive that was previously unvoiced (and then appending a k, but that's more of a phonotactical move).  The k->g voicing is similar to the devoicing of 'd' in the High German consonant shift (ex: door vs tür in German).

The question, of course, is "How can I apply this to the Scaled Continent?"

Let's start with snakes.  They hiss.  A snake-language should have lots of unvoiced fricatives.  If we take a base of say, Aztec names and convert z -> s (which is actually proper pronunciation in Nahuatl, but reversed elsewhere for flavor), ch -> sh (and x -> sh for ease of reading and in keeping with the Nahuatl pronunciation), we get something slightly different.  If we figure crocodiles might favor nasal (crocodiles have long heads, probably sizable nasal cavities) and gutteral sounds, and we convert say co/a to go/a (voicing) and say l to n (alveolar nasalization?) and apply it to the same set of names, we start to get different accents.  Chichimecatecle (good lord that's a long name) becomes Shishimecatecle in snake, but Chichimegatecne in crocodile.  Lizardman probably falls somewhere in between, with some fricative devoicing and some nasalization (or just use base Aztec names for them).  Beetlemen have a buzzing language, converting sh -> j, s -> z, and f -> v.  I have no idea what sea turtles sound like; I guess clicks, nasals, and vowels probably carry best underwater, though, if dolphins and whales are any indication.  Tricky.  Frogmen might have l -> r and p -> b (I foresee Zorton the Frogman being a party favorite; it's fun to say).

And I haven't even touched vowels yet, but that's because standard english transcription does a horrible job with those and getting vowel pronunciations right is hard.

So if we apply the accent filters and then feed the results into the Markovinator...  I should have sufficient names of reasonable variety but shared roots and flavor.

For now.

(Though players, being players, will of course mangle Shishimecatecle into "Sheesh" and Chichimegatecne into "Megatech".  *sigh*  At least I know what I'm in for)

(Also, apologies to any actual linguists reading this.  I know converting sounds using regular expressions on text is a travesty, but computer voice processing is complicated and sort of a hard problem to be tackling as a hobby project due next week at first game)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Broker of Consequences

Parenting advice from one of my coworkers:
"I tell my children that I don't deal in reward or punishment; I only deal in consequences.  Reward and punishment are matters of opinion; the edict 'If you eat everything on your plate, I will give you a bowl of peas and you will have to eat them all' is a reward if you like peas, and 'If you eat everything on your plate, I will give you a bowl of ice cream and you will have to eat it all' is a punishment if you're too full to eat any more.  Consequences, on the other hand, are a matter of fact, and I make it clear to them that I am a broker of consequences.  If you do X, I will do Y; whether or not you choose to interpret Y as punishment is up to you."
I'm not sure if it's particularly good parenting advice; upon further examination, I'm left a little unsure of the intent in that arena.  It certainly seems reasonable DMing advice, though, where the source of punitive intent (say, a king who has been offended) is (or should be) divorced from the agent responsible for enforcing consequence (the DM).  The DM does not punish; the DM administers the logical consequences an action within the world.  And hey, if you needed to end up in the royal dungeons to ask a political prisoner some questions about where you can meet his conspirators to bring his plot to fruition and you have a good escape plan, it might not be a punishment.  But save versus death to avoid contracting some unpleasant malady from the filthy dungeon bedding...  (consequences!)

Anyway, I thought "broker of consequences" was a wonderful turn of phrase for describing the role of a sandbox DM.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Free the OGREs!

I am sad that I missed the OGRE 6e kickstarter, but SJG has been so kind as to release the rulebook and everything else except for the counters and maps to the internets.  Mighty nice of them to finally give me a chance to read the rules, which I found interesting.  Coming from the Domains at War and Stargrunt tradition, the thing that struck me as I was reading was "Where are the morale rules?"  Which, naturally, would be a poor fit for the sort of 'humanity's last stand against their own best weapon' engagements that the game models.  Other than that, though, the rules seem pretty reasonable; ranges in particular are plausible given the 1.5km hexes (one of the things that grinds my gears about BattleTech).  I also like how tread damage is handled as gradual attrition and a cost for ramming.  Could use some air support rules too.  The rulebook gives enough detail of the OGRE map for me to probably set it up on my hex mat, so that might be a fun solo game this weekend...  I'll probably also pick up the pocket edition when it comes out, because for that price, why the heck not. 

It might be fun to write a program to run the OGRE while I play humans...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Settlements of the Scaled Continent

In ACKS' default 'borderlands' setup, it is assumed that there is a region of human civilization on one map edge, with forbidding wilderness on the other side and a sparse line of frontier towns down the middle.  The Scaled Continent has a very conveniently navigable dividing line, namely coastline.  And so, a list, named in my typical town-naming style:
  • Notable non-border settlements:
    • Salvation - The largest settlement on the Islands of Voltager, so named due to its position as a source of fresh water in the middle of an otherwise massively empty ocean.  Once occupied by the lizardmen, fell to a short Auran siege due to Voltari complicity and poor fortress design.
    • The Forks - Once-capital of the Thrassian Empire, located at the massive fork in the Serpent's Tongue from which that river derives its name.  A multiracial city, hosting large resident populations of lizardmen and vipermen along with representatives and slaves of a hundred jungle races, along with man, dwarf, and elf.  The Citadel, a massive castle once home to the dragon-king Itzcoatl, rises eighty feet from an island at the center of the city.
    • The Pit - An immense sinkhole deep in the jungle whose walls the vipermen have riddled with burrows.  Known for its market, where it is said to be possible to buy any poison known to man, and many more exotic.
  • First, towns that are where they are for a good reason:
    • Stillwater (town) - A trading port at the mouth of the River Langour.  Primary port for man-crocodileman interactions, and a designated Human Preserve / slave-trading area.  Named for the speed of the aptly-named river on which is sits.
    • Haven (village) - a good natural harbor located midway between the mouths of the Langour and the Serpent's Tongue.  Old lizardman ruins on the promontory overshadow the town.
    • Unity (village/hamlet) - Settled by a passing ship's crew due to generosity of friendly natives.  Good relations persist to this day.
    • Port Maw (town) - Positioned at the mouth of the Serpent's Tongue river, a major trading port with the lizardmen and vipermen of the upcountry.  Once a major slave port, less so now.  Named for the impression of early sailors that the overhanging canopy resembled a toothed mouth.
    • Mission (hamlet) - An Auran religious / military outpost some ways south of Port Maw.
    • Guano Cave (town) - Midway between the Serpent's Tongue and the Islands Innumerable.  Primary natural resource and export is guano from the extensive nearby cave complexes, contested by cave inhabitants.
    • Liberty (village) - Carved into the cliffs of the Turtle's Beak by escaped dwarven slaves.  Remains a dangerous place for slavers to put ashore.
    • Scurvy's End (village) - Among the northwestern Islands Innumerable, and home to extensive fruit trees and abundant fresh water.  A favorite stop of sailors.
  • And of course, those settlements with less fortunate origins (mostly villages / hamlets)...
    • Mire - A hellhole in the Crocodile Fens founded by poor benighted (and beknighted) fools in search of a city of gold.  Enjoys regular visits from hungry crocodileman raiders.
    • Miasma - A barrier island off the coast of the Fens settled by sailors who ran ashore during a storm.  The whole place stinks of rot from the salt marshes, and malaria is its primary product.  The soil is good for growing rice in the marshes, but mortality is atrocious.
    • Rat's Nest - North of Port Maw, a ship washed ashore during a tremendous storm was caught in the canopy of the jungle.  Most of the original sailors have left, but the elves enjoy the humor of the place and congregate here.
    • Splinter - A treacherous reef in the Islands Innumerable, inhabited by sharkmen.  Their religion prohibits them from eating anyone who makes it to shore, and a small colony of survivors has sprung up on the nearby atoll as a result.  They trade crude alcohol, crafts, and stories to the sharkmen for fish, but are always careful to stay out of the water...
    • Mutiny - Beyond the Islands Innumerable lies the Bay of Black Sand, abutting the Desert of Black Sands.  A fool captain once attempted to chart the coast of that miserable place.  When he came upon a river running north into the desert, and a merciful source of fresh water, he let it be known to his crew that he intended to continue east along the coast after only a day to gather provisions.  His mistake in henchman morale management cost him his life, and a town sprang up at the river's mouth.  These days it caters to fools seeking to explore the desert's interior, and is inhabited by the desperate, the wanted, and the slightly-unhinged.
Of course, there are a number of abandoned, destroyed, and forgotten settlements littering the coast as well, but those are adventure locales and must be found!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Scaled Tongues

Setting work on Scaled Continent continues.  Start date of campaign at FLGS is set for 3 November, so I have just over two more weeks.  Running a game for a group of complete strangers will be...  interesting (provided I can get any to sign up).  If not, well, I've heard good things about Roll20...

Been working on mapping, custom treasure, and custom spells.  Not Joe Orcs these beastmen - Player's Companion and custom spells for their witch doctors and shamans.  Got to thinking about language and the importance thereof in dealing with natives recently.  I like the assumption that the various beast species have their own languages (crocodileman, viperman, toadman,...), along with a general 'Thrassian' pidgin from the Imperial days and a religious / court / high language, probably Draconic.  Common is the language of slaves and former slave races, who also have their own racial languages (Elven, Dwarven, Auran).

The plethora of languages suggests some fun complications to me which are typically glossed over.  First off, how many languages do beastmen speak?  Off-the-cuff heuristic says that the higher up the chain of command they are, the smarter and better travelled they are.  Normal beastmen speak only their tribal language, while champions speak two languages (tribal + pidgin or rival tribal), subchiefs three (tribal + two pidgins or rival tribals), and chieftains, shamans, and witch-doctors four or five (tribal + two pidgins or rival tribals + Draconic, typically).

Entertainingly, this means that the guys you're most likely to capture to interrogate for intelligence (the grunts) are the least likely to be able to communicate with you.  Hi-larious!  Also, the Comprehend / Read Languages / Tongues / Telepathy / ESP spells are much more useful when language barriers crop up reliably than in a game where you occasionally meet a dead script in some guy's tomb but all the beastmen speak Common.  As are the Thief ability to read languages and the late-binding +Int language slots.  ACKS provides plenty of ways to work around this problem, but it could still get in the way occasionally and entertainingly.

The other side of the coin is that the language you're speaking may effect your reaction rolls.  Choose wisely; an armed band of demihumans addressing a lizardman in Common comes off as a slave revolt, while the same armed band of demihumans speaking Thrassian is more likely to be perceived as Voltari mercenaries.  Speaking the tribal tongue of those you are addressing is liable to get a bonus, while speaking the tribal tongue of an enemy group may net a penalty.  Common sense applies, but a plus or minus one bonus to reaction rolls from language might be utilized to good effect by canny PCs.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hijinks Again Follow-Up

After consultation about this prosposal with my former spymasters and the internet at large, comments were as follows:

  • Additional complexity is annoying
  • Reduction of thief income might have unclear ramifications for the domain ecology
    • On the other hand, our thieves were generating operating revenues far in excess of that intended by the system's designers.  Scaling a cash-generating Fraud hijink to intended levels might solve this problem, with extra cash from stealing and selling cargos of treasure mapping being a bonus for work done
  • Agreement that reduction of timescales down to weeks is a nice idea, but punishment remains problematic
  • Realization of incompatibility between the mid-level wilderness exploration style of play and thief hijinks being town-centric
    • The immediate nominal counter is that magic research is also town-centric, but the counter to that is that wizards can be gathering monster parts and unknown spells while wilderness adventuring, whereas the thief can't really use wilderness adventuring as leverage for hijinks
    • Treasure hunting and stealing are both enablers for the wilderness game, but there is nothing in the wilderness that compels a gold-desiring mid-level thief out into it except want of magic items.
      • Upon further reflection, Witness' comment on previous post solves this to some degree.  The thing in the wilderness for thieves is not being in town while law enforcement are investigating the case.  Hate to use the term, but an 'aggro'-like mechanic might serve.  Multiple hijinks in rapid succession boost probability of being caught, lying low reduces probability of being caught, and being out of town reduces it even further (but sometimes they figure it out anyway, the wanted posters go up, and the bounty hunters come out...).
And if resolving lots of hijinks and investigations for a pile of thieves sounds like paperwork...  well, guess I might have to write a script.  Feed it a list of thieves, their levels and proficiencies, what hijink they're attempting, and it spits out results.  Good way to run lots of tests of a new hijinks system, too.

Speaking of scripts, been thinking about the Mother of All Scripts again.  Some stuff from work has me thinking about ncurses and XML (both sort of groty technologies, but serviceable).  In particular, XML seems like it might be somewhat useful for encoding deep structures in text; all the contents of a 24-mile hex, subdivided by 6- and 1.5-mile hex, including NPC and monster stats down to treasure, spells known, and Markov-generated names is not an easy thing to put into a text file in an organized and reloadable fashion (see: the Art of Unix Programming).  XML could do it, but it would be verbose about it.  I guess that's the tradeoff.  The other option is to handle depth via directory structures in the filesystem, and then put hundreds of small text files all over the places throughout that directory tree.  They're sort of equivalent; seek a way to handle a gross use case, end up with gross alternatives.  As for ncurses, the problem there is one of displaying deep data in a useful way, as well as handling hex-mapping (and zooming in multiple layers of hexes) in a way that doesn't involve actual graphics...

So yeah...  cue the A(CKS|X)ML jokes...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kushan Battlefleet

While working on my test ships for Colonial Battlefleet the other day, I found myself upon the Homeworld wiki.  There I espied the claim that Homeworld had been intended as a videogame adaptation of Battlestar Galactica.  That Colonial Battlefleet was Galactica-inspired got the gears turning, and correlations starting to be made.  I'm not familiar with BSG, but the no-shields rules in Man vs Machine ought to serve might fine for modelling Homeworld...

So some conversion notes and thoughts (not going to spring into building ships, as CBF's shipbuilder spreadsheet makes my Open Source Excel Clone Of Choice segfault, which makes me bloody nervous...  besides, I want to do things it probably wouldn't let me)
  • Motherships.  Proposed new role: Fleet Carrier, providing some combination of Carrier, Flagship, and Fleet Support functions.
  • Tech lets us do most of the equipment manipulation.  Since it was a mighty symmetrical game, tech levels are pretty much universal.
    • Antimatter somewhere around 2, for the torpedos (as used on Assault Frigates).  Homeworld capital ships are not particularly maneuverable.
    • Conventional Weaponry at least 3.  We know the Taiidan possess strategic bombardment weapons, as employed against Kharak.  Optional rule that Max P.Def is equal to Conventional Weapons is in effect.
    • Fighters 4-5 all round.  The upper levels of the fighter tech tree will probably need replaced.
    • Lasers 1 for screen role, but no shields.
    • Orbital Construction...  peculiar.  Haven't decided how I'm handling tonnage yet.  Nominally 4, since there are some damn big ships.
    • Quantum Manipulation 2 for Taiidan, 3-4 for Kushan / Hiigaran.  Ion Beams are modelled as disruptors, and are available to both sides.  Stealth ships are the Kushan 'special' counter to the Taiidan defense frigate.
  • Tonnage is complicated by the fact that Homeworld's ship naming conventions are mixed.  Two ways to play this one:
    • Corvettes translate to destroyers, frigates translate to cruisers, destroyers to heavy cruiers, carriers, shipyards and battle/heavy cruisers translate to battlecruisers, and motherships and dreadnaughts translate to battleships, or
      • Problem - unfaithful conversion of corvettes as fuel-constrained small craft, further mangling of the fleet construction system to accomodate large number of corvette / destroyers
    • Corvettes are gunships per MvM, frigates are destroyers, destroyers to light cruisers, heavy cruisers to heavy cruisers, battlecruisers and carriers to BC, and motherships and dreadnoughts to battleship.
      • Problem - modelling multi-gun, salvage, repair, and minelayer corvettes as gunships
  • I lack a good way to model the Taiidan defense frigate's ability to shoot bullets out of space.  Screen is great and all, but that's not what it does.  Providing something like L1 shields to a nearby ship would actually sort of work, with the caveat that shields are ignored by missiles, fighters, and disruptors.  Taiidan defense fighters should probably work the same way.
  • Gravwell and stealth generators likewise problematic.  Stealth generator is just not going to happen under CBF's stealth rules.  Gravwell might be workable as something like a spatial disruption torp.
  • Missile destroyers fire cluster missiles since they're good against fighters
  • The sensor arrays and probes are probably doable as a cross between Screen and Scout, with the +1 to hit nearby ships and the no-cloak within a certain distance, but without cloaking and +point defense.  Call it a Sensor role.
  • Lots of unarmed support ships in Homeworld.  Not sure how well that's gonna work out...  Might need to change things up a little and have say Assault Frigate hulls with different roles representing point defense, sensor, or other gear.  The other option is to make stuff special equipment that uses lots of space, and then assign role Fleet Support to unarmed ships.  That seems a bit silly, though.
  • FTL travel is somewhat contentious within the Homeworld universe; HW1 permitted capital ships to perform tactical hyperdrive sort of maneuvers.  Might be something to steal from MvM's Raider rules.
In unrelated news, it turns out Sierra released the Homeworld Source back in 2003, and one can still find it online.  The internet never forgets...

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Unique and Special Snowflake

As I was making dinner, I got to thinking about Aristocratic games and, in particular, the notion that PCs are supposed to be unique and special.  Being a math nerd, it got me wondering, "What is the probability that, rolling on 3d6 in order, you will roll a set of stats that you have rolled before?  How many ACKS PCs do you need to roll (in expectation) before you will get one which is not unique-from-your-perspective in terms of ability scores?"

This, it turns out, is not immediately obvious to me.  It looks like a variation on the coupon-collector's problem, except that the coupons have varying base probability, which is not really something accounted for in the typical formulation of the problem.

This is going to be fun!  But I should perhaps leave solving it for another night, ideally one where I do not need to work the next morning.

(And if someone finds a known general form, don't tell me.  Well, maybe tell me that one exists, but no spoilers.  And if I solve this one, I may move on to 'functionally unique', in terms of ability score modifier bands.  Actually that might be a simpler form to solve first...)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Today in Herpetology...

I learned that komodo dragons have only cones in their eyes (no rods), which means their night vision is terrible.  Suddenly, the fact that lizardfolk are one of the only three races in 3.x lacking low-light or darkvision makes way more sense (the other two were halflings and humans), and I no longer feel bad at all for removing Thrassian class darkvision.  Komodos also have only a single earbone per ear, which results in a much-reduced range of hearing compared to humans.  The implications for lizardman language are interesting.

On the flip side, they can smell carrion from 2.5-6 miles away, which means that hauling the bodies of your fallen comrades back with you permits monitor-lizard-men to pursue you on wilderness-map scales...

("Thanks wikipedia!" - my players, being pursued by lizardmen)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Darkest Dungeon

This looks like fun... (possibly !!!FUN!!!).  The OSR megadungeon-crawling experience comes to video games.  And they're planning to have a linux version, too.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Colonial Battlefleet - First Game

Played a game of CBF against Matt yesterday evening, and it went fairly well.  We rolled 2d10 for tech points, receiving 13 each (not very many), then decided to play an Unprepared Defense scenario, as was suitable for our actual unpreparedness.  Fleets were constructed, point values were misunderstood, and we ended up with two fleets of three ships each.  I sort of won, by taking out his two escorts and reducing his battleship to half hull while he had only inflicted 1/3 damage on each of my escorts and none on my battleship, so we called it because it was getting late.  Observations:
  • This system loves big, fat battleships.  The fleet composition rules favor them, the caps on defensive systems and weapons per battery favor them, and the weapon availability table favor them.  An armor-10 battleship with heavy railguns and some sort of shield-stripper weapon (phasers, heavy phasers, torps) is nigh-invulnerable to the fire of light ships and can destroy them with impunity.  It fears only other battleships (and possibly things carrying lots of anti-ship missiles or heavy torps).  Matt commented at one point that this was "OGRE in space."
  • I am not yet sure what the proper function of light ships is.  Filling out extra tonnage available after buying a battleship is good, but having two smaller battleships instead is probably better.  The light ship roles (scout, screen) seem like useful support functions but I'm also sort of dubious of light ships' ability to survive near battleships.  They are also good, however, for jumping in front of missiles to protect your battleship (unless destroyed by enemy fire first).  I guess "cloak in, launch ASGMs at close range, run away" might work.
  • Missiles are sort of scary because they ignore shields, come in packs, are hard to shoot down, and penetrate armor well, but can also only move in a fairly restricted lattice pattern (think bishops in chess).  Humans are liable to make mistakes and move ships into missile-threatenable areas, but I suspect an optimalish computer player could avoid them most of the time.
  • Max shields + Defender is pretty good.  I had a pair of cruisers constructed in this fashion, and each was capable of surviving about three turns of close-range fire from Matt's battleship.
  • Maneuver is tricky; I went fast, Matt went slow, and I ended up making two passes through his line.  Movement seems much more important than in Starmada (despite wider firing arcs), and the trick I think is keeping one's own concentration of force tighter than that of one's enemy.  This permits you to focus the fire of multiple ships on a single shield facing of a single target, while causing the enemy to split his fire across multiple of your shield facings (though this can also be bad if those are the weaker rear facings).  Their inertial system, while unrealistic for space, played pretty well (except when we forgot to write down new velocities) and added a nice wrinkle.
  • Initiative and the tactical vs aggressive decision is really important.  Matt had a flagship for +init, but my d10s were hot and I won init for three decisive turns in a row (wherein I did most of my damage).  And then he started winning init again and I started running away from his battleship that I could barely hurt.
  • Fighters are more annoying than lethal, but can serve to knock down shields and let punchy weapons through.  I could see a carriers+railguns fleet working pretty well.  I also want to try a quantum+laser fleet with phasers for breaking shields and disruptors for hull, with ASGMs for punching through on heavily-armored targets like BBs.
  • I think spacial disruption torps, grapeshot, and missiles all sort of serve the aim of breaking up enemy concentrations so you can achieve superior densities of fire.
In any case - an interesting and fun game.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

RennFest, Colonial Battlefleet, and Setting Work

Just what it says on the tin:

Had a good time at the Maryland Renaissance Fair(e) this weekend.  Rediscovered mead; much like honeyed whiskey, but with strong overtones of water.  The jousting at German renn faires was better, but this one had elephants and pythons and a cursing well which I am stealing for my upcoming campaign, so hey.

Also picked up a copy of Colonial Battlefleet from the wargame vault today.  Interesting system.  Their initiative mechanic and the roles mechanism are both interesting changes from Starmada, and the fact that they provide a Big List of Weapons should prevent some of the guncheese we had in Starmada: Admiralty. I don't like how they laid out said table (by weapon tonnage, rather than alphabetically by weapon name or weapon 'family'), but that is at least a useful ordering during ship contruction.  Their shields are also very different from S:AE shields (would be interested in seeing some non-forward-focused shields, but I'm happy enough as-is without the extra complexity).  I like the way they handled tech levels, mostly, except for Laser Weaponry, which I think they screwed up with regards to Screen role availability.  One thing that does torque me off a little is some of the really implausible faux science used to justify mechanics that are in place for game balance reasons - things like "When you teleport something, all inorganic chemical reactions in it cease.  As a result, you can only teleport marines, not bombs."  That grinds my gears a bit; you could've just said "You can't teleport bombs because the yield isn't sufficient for a man-sized bomb to damage a starship" (since scale is intentionally vague), or built a bomb-teleporter weapon, or left the players to not think of it like we didn't in six months of Starmada games with teleporter-marines, but no.  Instead you had to make something ridiculous up and call attention to it, which might produce a counter like "OK, that's cool, we're the Tyranids and we're going to build living bomb-marines with organic detonators.  Wheee-BOOM."  That said, upon running a test game against myself with some converted Homeworld ships, it was quick, bloody, reasonable simple, and overall satisfactory.  So if any of the old Starmada Crew is reading this, I'm down for some games over internet (it's hex-based, so should work fine with VTTs).  Fair warning, though - I have been growing out my beard since the weather cooled off... (for those unfamiliar, we observed that gamers with beards were significantly more likely to win at Starmada than were clean-shaven gamers.  The prevailing hypothesis is that this was due to the increase in planning efficiency acquired by stroking one's beard)

Oh yeah.  The editing is not fantastic, and some areas are lacking examples, but the intent of the rules is generally clear, so it's just sort of annoying rather than obstructionary.

Finally, ACKS setting.  Contemplated Wilderlands of High Fantasy, Northern Reaches (Western Marches into mythic Scandinavia), and Midnight in the Late 3rd Age.  Am currently settled on "The Scaled Continent".  The pitch:

In elder days, the children of squamous gods ruled the world, and man, elf, and dwarf suffered beneath their forked and envenomed lash.  But now their empire has fallen to ruin under rebellion and internal strife, and the men of Aura seek the reclaim the treasures that were once stolen from them and taken across the Sea of Tears, to line the jungled halls of the serpent-kings.  From the Isle of Voltager, their settlers and adventurers struggle against the environment, the natives, and sometimes each other for the riches of... the Scaled Continent.

Thematic elements:
  • Settings: 
    • heavily-trapped temples to bloodthirsty gods
    • overgrown and ruined cities of the Old Masters
    • human frontier settlements (incl. abandoned and overtaken)
    • the Serpent's Tongue (major river)
    • sailing ships anchored off the coast
    • volcanoes
  • Opposition: 
    • Lizardmen, frogmen, toadmen, turtlemen, crocodilemen, &c
      • With accompanying witch-doctors and guardbeasts
    • Prehistoric and/or gigantic beasts 
      • yes dinosaurs 
      • also giant cockroaches 
      • and dire armadillos carrying dire leprosy
    • Monsters from South American and/or African myth and ecology
      • (some research required, void where inaccurate)
    • Dragons 
    • Pirates
    • Dragon-pirates
    • Screaming river-eels
    • Wereleopards (forvalaka)
    • Anything with scales that didn't fall into the above categories
    • Ambulatory plant life
    • Dysentery and worse jungle diseases
    • Monsoon season
  • Resources:
    • Local guides
    • Mules
    • Dugout canoes
    • Treasure maps of dubious veracity
    • Steel and alcohol (as trade goods with the natives)
    • Gullible henchmen (but when aren't those a resource?)
  • Treasure:
    • Golden idols
    • Crystal skulls
    • Rubies the size of a man's fist
    • Holy grails?
    • Spellbooks containing forgotten and forbidden spells of the reptile mages, written on halfling-skin vellum (demium?)
    • Exotic spices and hardwoods
    • Rescued slaves
    • Cities of gold
    • Fountains of youth
    • Possible untimely death
  • Modules:
  • Thematic fiction:
    • "Lost World" stories
    • Heart of Darkness
    • Pulp portrayals of the tropics (eg, King Kong)
 So!  Time to map!  Oh wait, I can just write "JUNGLE" in great big capital letters on a hexmap and be mostly good to go.  Just have to draw a coastline, some islands, a river, and a distant mountain range...

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hijinks Again

Been thinking about hijinks again.  This time about sort of the core mechanisms of it, rather than the ecosystem surrounding it.

One thing that bugs me is that most domain activities are measured in increments down towards weeks, while thief hijinks are in solid-month blocks.  This somewhat hampers the utility of PC thief hijinks at the mid-levels.  Consider the case where a mid-level party decides to take two or three weeks of downtime.  The fighter can recruit mercs in that time, and he gets to exercise his +morale modifier.  The wizard and cleric can each attempt to make a potion or scroll or two.  And the thief... can't do his thing because he's a week or two short.  Now, I get that setting up a good heist takes time and planning.  But it doesn't necessarily need to be a contiguous month's planning.

Another thing that somewhat bothers me is the perhaps-unnecessary complexity involved in having many different hijinks, each with different rates of return, different rates of success, and different possible punishments, all of which ultimately serve to just generate gold at different rates.  When combined with proficiency selection (stacking, for example, Skulking and Lip Reading for +3 to spying), the system gets to be a bit complex mathematically, and the consequences for choices become...  not opaque, but somewhat obfuscated, for effects which are (except for stealing) largely identical.  Consider by comparison the spell research system - you get a target number based on your level, stats, and one proficiency that applies across the board, and then you apply situational modifiers based on the thing you're attempting.  One mechanic with a bunch of functionally-different and interesting applications to a wide variety of ends, rather than many mechanics which all lead to the same end.

Both of these lead me to a proposal inspired by Iron Heroes' token mechanics.  The gist is as follows:
  • Single hijink throw number as a function of level and Dex, much as with magic research.  There's an argument to be made that in a multi-part operation of reasonable duration, aggregate skills and ability to perform consistently (level) matter more than any one single skill.  Some of the hijink-skill mappings, like Treasure Hunting for maps to Find Traps and Stealing bulk cargo to Pick Pockets seemed sort of forced anyway.
  • Thieves can generate 'intel points'.  Intel points are attached to a particular settlement and represent the groundwork, rumor gathering, and connections the thief has made in that community.  Intel points expire at some uniform rate as operational intelligence goes stale - sometimes the guard you bribed retires, they sold the piece of artwork you were after, and the plumbers' guild changed their uniforms.
    • Intel points are gathered by spending time performing a carousing-like hijink in town and making a hijinks throw.  Taking more time than the baseline provides a bonus, while taking less time provides a penalty.  Every n points of success beyond your target number generates an extra intel point.
      • Possibility of bonus to intel-gathering attempts for spending gold?  For bribing guards and buying drinks.  Requires some math to get right, probably.
  • Actual hijinks can be attempted with an expenditure of intel points, a small amount of time (somewhere between a day and a week - most of the groundwork has already been done), and a hijink throw.  Intel points may be spent to lower the target number or boost the payout (to a cap based on performer's level and market class - payouts now a function of intel points spent, rather than per-class-level).  Higher payout levels increase risk of being auto-caught (as with experimentation in ACKSPC magic research) and penalize sentencing roll.
    • Ex: Assassination: per intel point allocated to payout, +1 to victim max HD, -1 to hijink throw.  At 5 HD, auto-fail on 1 or 2, -1 on sentencing.  At 9 HD, auto-fail on 1-3, -2 to sentencing.  Per 'ease of use' intel point, +1 to hijink throw.  XP on success: per target's hit dice.
    • Hijinks should serve distinct purposes - assassination is for killing a guy (I'm OK with this; high-power opponents rarely stay dead anyway, they just come back madder and uglier than before.  Might warrant a save vs death anyway).  Spying is for learning a secret (possibility of secrets as a second, higher-tier type of intel point?  "The only way you're going to pull that off is if you blackmail the prince...").  Stealing is for acquiring commodity cargoes.  Treasure hunting is for getting maps.  Smuggling is for avoiding tariffs.  The Domains at War: Campaigns hijinks already fit into this mould.  Some means to find stuff on the black market would be a neat one (or maybe a class prof - spend an intel point to reroll an availability roll, but also increases price if available), as would fomenting rebellion to penalize domain morale.  Conflicted on having one to just generate gold (fraud?), and if it does exist, should have low RoI relative to treasure hunting, smuggling, and stealing, due to necessity of follow-up effort (ie, interesting play) on those.  
    • Thief hijinks as urban toolbox, rather than thief hijinks as slot machine.
  • Thieves may pool or transfer their intel points.  Carousers now useful to a guild in that they gather intelligence that higher-level thieves can act upon.
    • Some math would need to be done here to re-figure simplified guild incomes.
Is this proposal actually simpler?  I dunno.  But it does seem a bit thiefier than "I'm going to sit in town for a month and then hope I don't roll a 1."  There's an element of resource management present here which is not present in the main system, as well as ideally an increase in thief versatility at the cost of gold-generation capabilities.  Thoughts on this structure?  Any glaring holes before I try to start filling in specifics?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Leisure Reading and Domains at War

Finally got around to reading more of the Black Company series; previous attempts at the Books of Murgen left me cold due to perspective shifts, but making good progress this time.  Read Bleak Season last friday night and then She is the Darkness on sunday (aside: the kindle as a device is terrifying in its ability to enable bibliophilia).  Have postponed starting Water Sleeps until I have recovered from the late nights resulting from the last two bouts of bookserking.

Having run ACKS, however, puts a slightly different light on them.  The line "Combat is mostly fear and fear management" stuck out at me in particular following our Domains at War: Battles playtesting, where morale is how battles are won and lost.  Which has got me thinking...  how hard would it be to set up some of the battles from the books as DaW scenarios?  Two troubles, naturally, are the near-omnipresence of powerful spellcasters who operate outside the Vancian paradigm and copyright complications.  The caster problem is probably surmountable, but I haven't looked too deeply at it yet.  That the BCCS' casters are so damn durable further irritates the problem, though I suppose most of their durability is on the strategic scale (in that the Taken can be killed, but it's hard to keep them dead).  Finally, it might be easiest just to seek out battles where caster presence on either side was fairly minimal; the siege of Dejagore, which got me thinking along these lines in the first place, seems a prime candidate.

I suppose it also might be worthwhile to just model them as high-HD casters / monsters with casting abilities and give that a shot as a "good enough first stab".  The main thing is that when we were playing DaW:B, we lacked enthusiasm due to lack of context within a setting.  Stealing battles from an existing setting might remedy this (and also might provide some good 'sample' DaW:C scenarios too).  Granted, most fantasy literature does not provide good estimates of troop strength or even good maps, which makes this something of a matter of interpretation.

In unrelated news, setting creation progresses.  More to follow.