Friday, October 28, 2016

Domains at War: Dwarf Units

In which I procrastinate on prep for the game I'm actually running.

I really like the idea of Domains at War as a fleshed-out wargame, with army lists and suchlike.  Currently the dwarves have a bit of a unit shortage, with heavy infantry, crossbowmen, and crossbowmen mounted on mules :| .  Here are a few more.

Dwarven Furies A (two axes): 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 2, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +4, 4 axe at 9+
Dwarven Furies B (axe and shield): 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 3, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +4, 4 axe at 10+
Dwarven Furies C (great axe): 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 2, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +4, 5 great axe at 10+
Furies can also be armed with throwing axes, granting 4 attacks at 10+
Furies are immune to fear and cannot retreat once they have engaged.  As irregular units, they must advance into gaps that they create.  They have a 1 in 4 chance to ignore any wound inflicted on them by a unit with 5 or fewer HD (due to their flesh-rune DR), and after a battle, only a quarter of their casualties are found slain, while three-quarters are recovered lightly injured (due to savage resilience).

Furies are classed, so normally they'd be a small fraction of the already-small set of veterans, but because all dwarves count as veterans, instead they're not that uncommon.  At a wag, 1 in 4 dwarven melee units for hire is a unit of furies (the rest leveled into Vaultguard).  While they demand 15gp/mo each in wages (curiously, all dwarven units underpaid compared to similar human veterans), they're mostly motivated by their death-quest, grand crusade of atonement, or similar.

I think there are a couple of good places to use furies.  If deployed offensively at the beginning of the battle, they can run down enemy light infantry trying to harass with ranged fire, disrupt shield walls effectively, and then hold their own in the middle of the melee hairball (you also don't have to leave them a line of retreat through your units, which is nice).  If deployed offensively later in the game, they should have the striking power and mobility to turn flanks, sort of like slow cavalry.  Defensively, if they're deployed on the ends of the melee line their immunity to shock makes the flanks less likely to collapse and could delay the line being rolled up.

Dwarven Musketeers (flintlock musket, axe, plate): 1/2/3 Drilled Foot, AC 6, HD 1, UHP 8, ML +0, 3 axe 10+ or 1 musket 10+ (reload 1).  Wages 23gp/mo

If anyone should have guns, it is dwarves.  Turns out Guns of War had stats for dwarven musketeers already (and I don't feel too bad about posting them without explanation of the firearms rules, which you kind of need to use them).

The main advantages of guns are that they ignore armor, force shock rolls when they hit, and can't be withdrawn from to reduce damage.  Musketeers are probably most useful in the early-game before melee is joined, because causing a shock-retreat on an advancing full-strength heavy unit is pretty great.  Once the lines clash they probably won't have time to reload, but because they're dwarves in plate they do OK in melee.  You probably don't want to advance them ahead of the line to disrupt the enemy like you would with most light infantry - because they're slow, have low rate of fire, can't move before firing, and have mediocre range, I feel like they'd probably be outmaneuvered and outdisrupted by enemy light infantry if deployed in front rather than as part of the line.  Moving them out front also exposes them to cavalry, which as Drilled Foot they are weak against.  If you think of them as a ranged unit, they're pretty meh, but if you think of them as a melee unit, then they've traded away a little AC and the Defend action for the ability to shock a closing unit at range, the ability to retreat from missile fire, and a weakness to cavalry.  Pretty reasonable tradeoff.

Dwarven Cannons: It turns out that cannons aren't great against field units, but they're in Guns of War and dwarves should have them.

War Machines: I really wanted the classic Hammerer to work out for dwarves, but under the Machinist rules building massed automata is prohibitively expensive (and also they're just not very good).  I dunno.  A 2HD AC6 killbot can get a single attack for 1d6 damage, costs 14000 GP to build, and requires a handler to direct it.  If you're willing to drop that kind of money on constructs, magical constructs are a much better deal (gargoyles, at 13kgp each, are immune to nonmagical weapons and can fly).  On the upper end of the scale superheavy constructs are not as bad, though; a max-level Machinist can build 20HD automaton with AC6 and 10d6 damage per round for 50kgp.  A tyrannosaur war mount also costs about 50kgp and has 20HD and AC6, but only does 6d6 damage per round.  A rather maxed-out dwarven steampanzer, with 20HD, 1 attack per round for 10d6 damage (range 600') (1 special ability), 240' speed (2 special abilities), an armored crew compartment for its single operator (1 special ability), and AC 14 (6 special abilities) would cost 90kgp to construct (before special materials to actually make the construction roll).  It would also weigh 4000 stone, or about 20 tons (approximately twice as heavy as a tyrannosaur).  It would probably cost on the order of 2500gp/mo to employ and maintain (comparable to other ~100kgp priced monstrous units), and have the following DaW stats:

Dwarf OGRE: 4/8/12 War Machine, AC 14, HD 20, UHP 1, ML ???, 4 laser -3+ (range 10 hexes)

This machine fries most units at long range, and since I can't find anything in the rules about natural 20s auto-hitting in DaW, the only way to kill it with normalish units (say, orcs at THAC0 10+) is to stack up on charge, flank/rear attack, and disordered bonuses.  Even then you'll need some luck.  On the other hand, dragonfire and mages are pretty bad for it.

In conclusion: I now believe there is a use for Machinists.  Granted, actually making the rolls to design and build such a machine is highly unlikely, but I'm willing to consider the possibility that the dwarves have ancient superweapons of glorious days past hidden deep in their bunkers.  Good quest for a party of adventurers looking for a portable army, no?

Dwarf Heroes

I also like the idea of having some hero stats on hand for use as lieutenants and commanders at company scale.  These dwarves may be familiar to some of my players...

Barholt Sledgefist
Dwarf Fury 5 (Dwarven Retaliator), Str 17 Int 9 Wis 6 Dex 9 Con 9 Cha 14 
Class proficiencies: Alertness, Command
General proficiencies: Perform (Bagpipes), Signaling
Equipment: warhammer +1, spare warhammer, throwing axes, potion of gaseous form, bagpipes
Derived stats:
HP 30, AC 2, DR 1/die, THAC0 4+ for 1d8+5 (7 when furious)
Leadership 5, ZOC 2, Strategic Ability -1, Morale Modifier +4 (Furies are supposed to get the fighter-type +1 morale at 5th level, right?)
2/4/6 Loose Foot, 1 warhammer 4+ (he needs to use it two-handed to get unit-scale damage)

Barholt does not qualify as a captain at company-scale, but he makes a fantastic lieutenant due to his high morale modifier.  Probably wants to take Leadership as his 7th-level general proficiency, which would bring his LD up to 6 and his ZOC up to 3.  Pity about that Strategic Ability, though.

Kroner Ironblood
Dwarven Craftpriest 7 (Dwarven Prelate), Str 12 Int 15 Wis 16 Dex 15 Con 16 Cha 12
Class proficiencies: Magical Engineering, Command
General proficiencies: Healing 2, Craft (Smithing), Military Strategy, Leadership
Equipment: warhammer +2, plate armor +1, shield, potion of invisibility, scroll of ward against magic
Derived stats:
HP 33, AC 9, THAC0 5+ for 1d6+2
Leadership 5, ZOC 2, Strategic Ability +3, Morale Modifier +2
1/2/3 Formed Foot, warhammer damage is sub-unitscale
Relevant spells:
1/day Flame Strike or Insect Plague
1/day Dispel Magic
2/day Continual Light
2/day Bless or Bane

For a more focused set of leadership abilities, consider swapping Leadership for Military Strategy 2 (for Strategic Ability +4 and greater choice in when your spells go off).

Jhames Clearwater
Dwarven Vaultguard 7 (Dwarven Champion), Str 18 Int 9 Wis 12 Dex 6 Con 16 Cha 12
Class proficiencies: Fighting Style Shield, Command
General proficiencies: Animal Training, Diplomacy, Engineering
Equipment: sword +2 of charm person, plate +1, shield +1, potion of invulnerability
Derived stats:
HP 51, AC 9, THAC0 1+ for 1d6+8
Leadership 4, ZOC 2, Strategic Ability +0, Morale Modifier +3
MV 1/2/3 Formed Foot, 1 sword 1+

A pretty melee-oriented captain.  Can also supervise siege-mining, stronghold construction, and fieldworks.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Reflections on a Session: 22 October 2016

  • Time spent: 5 hours
    • DMing: 3 hours
    • Presession, including food: 2 hours
  • No new areas mapped
  • Two rooms restocked / reorganized
  • Dungeon areas explored:
    • Pox's Camp, now Scabies' Camp - friendly, traded
    • Two new weak / vermin lairs, cleared
      • Giant mosquitos
      • Giant mosquito larvae
    • One monster room (giant beetles)
    • Re-explored three rooms in the Spider Zone
  • Game-time elapsed in dungeon: ~3 hours over two expeditions
    • Lost count of random encounters checked
      • I rolled like two random encounters during negotiations with ratmen in a fairly safe place, wasn't sure how to play those out so I skipped them
      • One random encounter that did fire was with the Seven Dwarves (NPC adventuring party of dwarves), right as the players were re-entering the dungeon on the second expedition
  • Party composition:
    • Scarth, MU 2 (leveled to 3rd)
      • Slagathor, Chaotic Cleric 2
      • Rheingold, Cleric 1
      • Thancharat, L0 man (leveld into Elven Enchanter - secretly an elf all along?)
    • ??? the Lizardman, Thrassian Gladiator 2
      • Ascila, L0 man (leveled into Bard)
      • Wardok, War Dog
      • Dogeater, 1HD ratman hero with good stats, hired at Scabies' Camp.  Not allowed out of the dungeon, so stays at Scabies' Camp between adventures.  Relationship with Wardok: tense (it'd be a pretty even fight).
  • Mortal wounds taken: 0
    • I think I only did 3HD of damage the entire session :\
  • Loot recovered:
    • Traded a light ballista to Scabies for a ratman potion of healing, which they then sold to the Five-Finger Discount (NPC party of 5 sneaky-classed characters)
      • Nothing bad could come of this
    • Recovered around 2700gp in gems from the vermin lairs
    • Identified Pox's potion as a Potion of Poison
  • Traps triggered: 0
  • XP from monsters: 382
    • Waaay over the 4:1 ratio here
  • Help I can't delete this bullet point
Other notes:

Very short-handed today, but both players were old stalwarts.  They recruited a bunch of expendable henches and did a good job of picking low-risk fights and fleeing from high-risk lairs.

We played initiative correctly today, to devastating effect for the mosquitos.
We did allow leveling of L0 mans into very non-standard classes, but that was by design (those statblocks were not meant for fighters).

Between elaboration on the Machine In the Black Sky above the rat-dimension, and meeting the same crusaders that they killed during the first session (who wanted the +3 sword back), the party is starting to get concerned about the nature of the dungeon.  Excellent.

Matt's lizardman is a killing machine.  18 Str, 13 Dex, a +3 sword, and 3 points of natural armor...  AC10, THAC0 ~4+, and 1d10+7 damage at 2nd level.  At least his Con isn't great and his HP are around expected value...  Still, he is going to be a hard guy to kill.  Between Inhumanity, the party's reputation in town for high henchman mortality, and a Slander result while trying to hire a guy, I suspect Dogeater is not the last beastman henchman he's going to have.

Speaking of which, I am pleased with the party's entrance into ratman politics.  If Against the Wicked City's party is underworld conquistadores, mine was more like Englishmen selling rifles to the natives this session.  The Brittonian South Ratistan Trading Company, or maybe Underworld Armament Imports, Incorporated.

I am a little concerned that my players did basically what I had hoped they would do this session.  I do not know if this is because they did a good job of reading me in play, or because I did a good job of modeling them beforehand.  Something to think about.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

AI War 2 Kickstarter

This post has nothing to do with RPGs, except inasmuch as people who like ACKS sometimes like the sort of niche videogames that I like (Dwarf Fortress, Crusader Kings / EU4, Mount and Blade...).

AI War: Fleet Command is one of those niche games that I think ACKS people might like.  It's a campaign-scale, highly asymmetric real-time strategy game.  It is always played as a human (or cooperating human team) against two AIs.  The AIs start with control of most of the map, and a very strong numerical advantage that only increases over time.  The humans control the tempo of the game, and do a lot of scouting and raiding for capturable resources.  They must achieve superior local concentrations of force in offensive operations, which must be quick enough that the AI's reserves cannot arrive before the objective is accomplished.  On defense, human players often rely heavily on traps / static defenses.

The human win condition is the destruction of both AI homeworlds, while the AI wins if the human's home command center is destroyed.  A typical map is 60-80 star systems, one of which is the human homeworld and the rest of which begin under AI control, and a typical game lasts 8+ hours.  Taking worlds from the AI increases the AI's perception of human threat, which increases its tech level and available reinforcements, so it is critical to take only the worlds that you really need while bypassing the rest (or destroying their fortifications to make them reasonably safe to travel through).

This is very much a game about picking your battles, both tactically (pulling the fleet out if too much heat starts to arrive) and strategically (only taking the planets that are worth the increase in AI tech).  Of all the games I've played that were billed as "real-time strategy", this one has the greatest strategy component.  And the AI design is notably distributed and devious.

Unfortunately, the graphics are terrible, and over the seven years since its release there have been a bunch of expansions, which present a dizzying array of configuration options and units if not disabled.

But recently there is a kickstarter for AI War 2, with 3d graphics (actually for performance reasons - turns out modern graphics cards like rendering 3d objects in realtime better than they like rendering sprites in realtime) and a return to the roots.  It may or may not make the funding goal; it's looking like a close thing.  So maybe go take a look.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

On Running the Megadungeon: Monstrous NPCs

A long time ago, I started a series of posts intended to distill down OSR hearsay wisdom while linking OSR newbies to stuff that might want to read.  The first two posts went well!  But I got stuck on "advice for actually running an old-school dungeoncrawl."  I did not find much advice on this, and I suspect much of it was contradictory (or already covered in the first post, on general OSR advice).  Moreover, I was lacking in recent experience - at that time I hadn't run a game in a year, and certainly not a dungeoncrawling game.

While I have had some recent experience running dungeons, I still don't feel ready to write that post.  But this is a start in that direction.

Looking back on my past experiences running ACKS dungeons in contrast with RatHell, I recognize a critical mistake.  My previous dungeons were very undead-and-vermin heavy.  Of my six previous ACKS dungeons and ~50? sessions of ACKS, I recall about 15 dungeon encounters with sentients, most of which led to immediate violence and extermination.  I think only about three of the sentient groups encountered ever mattered in a later session.  A far cry from the "factions in the dungeon" that I mentioned in my previous post, but apparently failed to use in practice.

Relatedly, I also realized that my NPC game in ACKS has, historically, been extremely weak.  I'd create a couple town NPCs, and they'd mostly be ignored or killed.  The most mileage I got out of a townie NPC was that time an assassin guildmaster got out of Dodge before the party could catch him.  They sent spies after him and lived in fear of his return and it was great.  But ultimately my primary source of interesting NPCs was actually henchmen who defected - the party had an emotional investment and interest in them, and were on neutral footing; not out to kill 'em, but not friendly and downright helpful either.  This is where interesting "let's make a deal" interactions happen.  Also a good place for mutual suspicion and sudden but inevitable betrayal.

I think these things, lack of recurring intelligent monsters and lack of good NPCs, are very much related.

When the majority of the party's time and attention is in the dungeon, the dungeon is the correct place to find and create NPCs, and for the DM to spend effort on fleshing out NPCs.  And by NPCs, I mean "people the party wants to talk to rather than stab on sight," using "people" loosely.  Intelligent monsters who aren't necessarily immediately hostile and who survive multiple sessions are A+ NPCs.

Named NPCs in RatHell that the party knows about:
  • Duke Kasimir: He's in charge of town.
  • Seljuk the Tatar: He runs an institution where townsfolk can bet on which adventurers will survive dungeon expeditions.
  • Pox the Piper: Late ratman chieftain, RIP.
  • Scarface: Ratman taken prisoner and interrogated, named for "gruesome scarring" mortal wounds result from the fight where the party captured him.
  • Scabies: Ratman distiller, location noted on Scarface's map.  Party has heard that he is a very reasonable businessrat, and they want to visit him.
  • Limper: Ratman who fled after the party shot him in the leg with a crossbow.
  • Dogeater: Ratman hero who killed the party's dog and their cleric and escaped to tell about it.  I think he deserves a bigger hat and another hit die.
Are any of these ratman NPCs going to be really friendly toward the party?  Probably not.  They have some grudges against the party, and the party has some grudges against them.  But there's another ratman lair to the north of the late Chieftain Pox's realm, and that clan is just itching to expand south...  and they're more than willing to feed Pox's kin to the Marrow Gnawer.  So maybe it's time to cut some deals.

At this point, my tentative rule is that any intelligent monster who escapes an encounter with the party gets a name until I've filled out a reasonable roster of dungeon NPCs.  They are a form of emergent campaign capital.  The joy of emergent ratman names is that I can use the sort of thing my players would've nicknamed them anyway...

This shift of the focus of NPC-creation to the dungeon mirrors the "the game is in the wilderness/dungeon, not in town" philosophy of the Western Marches.  Town is boring.  Townsfolk are boring.  They don't have anything you want that you can take without getting in deep trouble with the law.  Dungeon NPCs, on the other hand, have treasure and information and strength that can be applied to other critters in the dungeon, and you can kill 'em and take their stuff.  So much potential!

Another benefit of making heavier use of intelligent foes is that it is entertaining and intellectually stimulating for the DM, much more so than running stupid monsters.  Even with the orcs in Midnight, I felt constrained by the orc-nature, and my players' expectations of orcs as not very clever.  But ratmen are an unknown quantity, which leaves me free to make them reasonably devious.  It's a much nicer way to run intelligent foes than having to deal with classed/demihuman NPC stats.  I have been enjoying the counter-for-counter with my players, and being a ratman-bastard DM in general.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Reflections on a Session: 9 October 2016

  • Time spent: ~6 hours
    • DMing: ~4.5 hours
    • Presession, Ethan chargen: ~1 hour (I missed Drew's message that he couldn't make it)
    • NPC Plotting: ~0.25 hours
    • Writing cryptic messages to players: ~0.25 hours
  • No new areas mapped
  • No rooms restocked (but some monsters reorganized on the fly)
  • Dungeon areas explored in 4.5 hours of play:
    • 1 lair cleared
    • 1 monster
  • Game-time elapsed in dungeon: ~2 hours in two expeditions
    • Random encounters checked: 3 
    • Random encounters missed: 3
  • Party composition:
    • Beardwin the Optimist, Craftpriest 2 (KIA)
      • Clever Paul, Dwarven Delver 1 (mortally wounded)
      • Kendra, Spellsword 1? (very KIA)
    • Dora, Explorer 3
      • Gertrude, War Dog (KIA)
      • ???, Fighter 2?
    • Brynja, Bladedancer 3
      • Crapahildis, L0 torchbearer hired for her amusing name and total lack of standards in employers.  Likes to roll poorly on morale.
      • Spike, War Dog
    • Clarence of the Stone, Craftpriest 2
  • Mortal wounds taken: 4
    • First expedition:
      • Clever Paul opened the door to a room full of ready ratmen, who charged him with spears.  He was hit once, and I rolled max damage which was doubled for spearcharge.  Party cleared the room he had fallen in, took an injured ratman prisoner, and got out.  Blinded, subsequently RL&L'd but needs a month of bedrest.  In addition to his imp, he is now at -10% XP until he levels.
      • Following PC attack on the ratman village, the ratmen executed Binhildis the Paladin, whom they had captured during the previous session.
    • Second expedition:
      • Kendra advanced too far ahead of the rest of the party in pursuit of fleeing opponents, spearcharged for max damage.  Killed instantly and messily, some of the lowest mortal wounds modifiers we've ever seen.
      • Gertrude moved to cover the party's flank / rear and was spearcharged for almost max-damage, slain (we didn't actually roll dog mortal wounds...  maybe we should next time)
      • Beardwin also moved to cover the party's flank and was behind Gertrude, caught a max-damage spear charge cleave on a natural 20.  Fell onto a torch as his last action, which ignited the oil in his pack, blocking the ratmen's advance against the party's ballistae (yes plural, and yes in the dungeon).
    • In conclusion: charging with spears is very dangerous, especially when I am rolling high.
  • Loot recovered:
    • Ratman throne of beaten copper worth ~1kgp
    • 4 gems worth 150 gp total
    • Ice Sword, Boots of Elvenkind, and Potion of Heroism lost on 17 September were recovered
    • One unidentified potion
  • Traps triggered: 0
  • XP from monsters: ~270
    • Loot pretty close to the 4:1 intended ratio
Other notes:

The wizard couldn't make it today, which was not really ideal timing for assaulting the ratman lair.  Especially irritating because I used the severed head of his late favorite henchman as a message-delivery mechanism before the session; I'd've chosen someone else's dead henchman if I knew he wouldn't be there.  All about that emotional investment, you know.

The players did a number of clever things.  The Darkness spell was used to great effect to limit the ratmen's ability to observe the party's actions and fire on them from the rooves of buildings.  A prisoner was taken, interrogated, and eliminated from consideration for the assault ("Friendly advice, make sure you and your gang are out hunting tomorrow afternoon, instead of at the lair.").  He provided a rough map of some areas the party hasn't explored yet.  Military oil was employed to good effect, to close some ratman avenues of attack.  The party brought two light ballistae (one repeating) into the dungeon on mules, and set them up to cover their ingress into the lair (using Darkness to conceal this preparation from the ratmen, during which the thus-alerted ratmen readied their troops).  They also had a plan to destroy the ballistae if they had to retreat, to deny them to the ratmen.

Nevertheless, the ratmen mounted a fairly effective elastic defense, spearcharging advance elements of the party (door-openers) and then retreating, and circling around to attack the party's middle.  Most ratman casualties were to ranged firepower (the Explorer and the ballistae), including the chieftain.  I'm not totally happy with my ratman tactics - I failed to develop an effective counter to the Explorer (who was previously marked as "priority one in future engagements") or to the Darkness, failed to utilize military oil obtained from the slain and captured party members last session, and did not take advantage of the roof of the portal building to ambush the PCs.

The party also made a few mistakes, all of which were basically overextensions.  Clever Paul and Kendra both advanced too far too fast, and got stabbed.  The melee elements of the party also separated from the ranged elements during the second expedition, and the ratmen tried to get into that gap (but then it was full of dwarven fire, and they were badly shot-up during their retreat).  Kendra's loss was particularly bad because she had an uncast sleep that could've prevented the two casualties from that central counterattack.  Live by the spellsword, die by the spellsword.

I did a good job rolling morale and asking for henchman morale rolls where appropriate.

Rules mistakes: we almost certainly mis-played the ballista attacks; I wasn't expecting siege weapons and didn't prepare for this at all (frankly, even after re-reading all three of ACKS Core's, DaW:Battles', and DaW:Campaigns' sections on artillery, I'm still not clear on how ballistae are supposed to work against creatures).  I expect they'll see use again.  Likewise ballista setup time (though given that they're light ballistae, I think one turn to setup is probably more reasonable than whatever DaW's guidelines would be) and light ballista ammunition costs.  I wasn't totally clear on the "closing hit" rule for spears and kind of winged it to give Kendra a dying shot, but it looks like I was pretty close.  While re-reading the init section to discover this, though, I realized that we've been doing ready/delay wrong (there is an option for it, when we thought there wasn't).  I also winged Fighting Retreat when those came up on ratman morale.  I doubled the treasure ad-hoc (in accordance with my old resolution), which turned out to be the right thing to bring it closer into balance with monster XP, so I feel good about that. Winged the rules for splash-hits with military oil, did less damage than it should've, and couldn't remember the burn duration for areas covered in oil.

Social/soft issues: we ordered food and it took forever to arrive.  People were getting tired and hungry around the middle of hour three, as the assault on the lair was in progress, and then we broke to eat in the middle of that action as things were looking grim.  Not ideal.  As usual, the mapper took charge of planning; efforts were made to involve other players with some success, but they were hungry.  I took a long damn time to produce the sub-map that their prisoner drew for the party, which depending on how you look at it either destroyed pacing or provided a nice lull between the reconnaissance raid of the first expedition and the ballista-supported assault of the second.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

D&D, Vietnam, and the Dungeon

Seeing Like a State's mention of compulsory village formation / sedentarization in precolonial Thailand reminded me of a similar phenomenon during the Vietnam War: the relocation of peasants into "Strategic Hamlets", where they could be monitored, in order to keep them from providing assistance to Viet Cong guerillas, which I had read about in War of the Flea I think.  This, combined with the savage beating my players took last session, brought to mind a blog post I once read by an old D&D player who played with his father, who was a Vietnam veteran and relentlessly paranoid in the dungeon.  Despite my best efforts at googling, I have failed to find that post (edit: thanks DHBoggs for finding the post I was talking about!).  Instead, I found this, which was pretty interesting, but left me with some unvoiced questions.

Whither dungeons?  Moria's all well and good, but as movie adaptations have shown, it's easily distilled down to a Five Room Dungeon.  I suppose there was some dungeoneering in the old Conan stories, though I've not read them.  But the campaign-tentpole megadungeon full of traps, and the style of exploration and dirty fighting that surrounded it, is not a thing I recall seeing much in fantasy (even post-D&D fantasy).

And then today, I stumbled on this excellent thread on that finest of subreddits, /r/AskHistorians, and via it the Cu Chi Tunnel Complex.  It's 75 miles long - the original megadungeon, the real deal.  Way too big to clear, and full of traps.

My contention, in extension of MacDougall's idea that D&D came out of the culture war in the Vietnam era, is that old-school megadungeoncrawling came specifically out of the American experience in tunnel-fighting in Vietnam.  Why else the great concern with light and darkness and air currents?  Why else the absurdly slow exploration movement speed, the concern with getting lost, the trap paranoia?  Somebody had been there, or read the reports.

It nicely explains the division between henchmen and mercenaries - henchmen and PCs are tunnel rats, crazy enough to go into an infinite hole full of traps.

Tucker's Kobolds are a profoundly guerilla war experience, a gamerculture memory of the Viet Cong.  The article is also interesting historically.  We observe that by 1987 (when Dragon #127 was published), 16 years after the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, this style of playing the opposition was atypical (the publication of OD&D in 1974 was just after the withdrawal of troops).  We also observe that the author was at the time in the Army.  Makes you wonder if the emergence of the New School was correlated with the dilution of the 'Nam vets in the gamer community.

The ecology of the Cu Chi Original Megadungeon, meanwhile, was supported by a combination of imports from the Ho Chi Minh Trail and rice grown on the surface by cooperative peasants.  This works somewhat less well in a fantasy setting where you can ethically exterminate the beastman villages responsible for growing food on the surface (although at low levels when dungeoneering is usually happening, PCs may not be powerful enough to attack surface villages).  But putting some fraction of beastman wilderness lairs underground (instead of aboveground villages) does solve some of my wilderness-level problems (including "let's throw mercenaries at this problem" and "let's just light it on fire from the air", which are perfectly valid strategies but sort of repetitive after a while).  It all goes very nicely with the notion of nonstate spaces, too.  The domain game is fundamentally about creating bubbles of order and safety, "pacified regions", and maps nicely to the poor counter-insurgency war conducted in Vietnam.

I wonder to what degree the "PCs are always foreigners" trope (as in Tekumel, among other places) was a product of necessity (in terms of DM bandwidth and player attention limits) and laziness, and how much it was a product of, again, the American military experience in Vietnam...  We also see Occupied Territory scenarios not that infrequently, including in Morrowind and Skyrim on the videogame side, and inverted in Midnight (with the PCs as rebels rather than occupiers).  Come to think of it, I don't recall the last time I saw a scenario that cast the PCs in with the occupiers; culture shift I guess (not that it stopped us from doing it again 30 years later...).