Friday, December 22, 2017


In the ACKS repo, I'm working on a branch to change the way downtime works.  One of my issues with ACKS is that it doesn't really support open-table play well outside of low levels.  Domain XP slows down (or stops) level convergence within the party, and characters with domains tend to monopolize out-of-adventuring time and DM attention.  My intentions with these changes include:

  • Give everyone across the level range useful things to do during downtime.
  • Reduce overhead / level of detail / granularity in tracking downtime (two-week "downtime turns")
  • Create a structure / cycle of play around downtime, such that it happens in regular, predictable chunks alternating with adventures rather than "OK, Mr. Mage needs three months to make his item and we dare not go adventuring without him, so we're all gonna sit on our butts for three months."
    • As a side effect, reduce the variance of magic research by cutting it into multiple downtime actions and allowing partial progress
      • TODO: standardize monetary outlay between spell research and magic item creation
  • Add some mechanics which accelerate the convergence of low-level characters to the party mean (mentorship bonus)
  • Throw some bones to players who miss sessions (extra downtime actions)
  • Mix up the general proficiencies metagame.  Currently, a handful of general proficiencies (Healing, Alchemy, Bargaining, and Diplomacy/Intimidation initially, then Navigation and Riding in wilderness, then Military Strategy and Leadership when mass combat starts happening) typically dominate discourse and use in play in my groups.  Unsurprisingly, these are the general proficiencies that actually do useful things.  The trick, then, is adding really utile uses to some of the job-type general proficiencies.  So far, this has mostly been by increasing effective market class for goods related to the proficiency practiced, or by adding ability to find henchmen of certain classes (and possibly outside the typical henchman recruiting level range).
    • Relatedly, reduce the pain of operating in small markets and deprecate/distribute the Venturer / Varangian's core ability.
    • TODO Art - ???
    • TODO Labor, especially Mining - bonus to detect traps underground (probably only +2, smaller than dwarf bonus or Alertness), high-risk-high-reward downtime activity, ability to recruit dwarf henchmen.
    • TODO Profession, especially Lawyer - bonus to rolls on sentencing table
  • TODO: make sufficient quantities of carousing a downtime action, make the carousing table canon (that table was a regular source of fun in the first campaign)
  • TODO: rework mercenary hiring, rather like this.  Mercenary wages, henchman wages, and cost of living need some thought in open-table mode.
  • TODO: integration with Apocalypse World-style clock system, for easy running of living worlds.  I don't need to know a whole lot of details, just that this disgruntled NPC is going to try to come after the PCs in N sessions.  I'll fill in the rest when things get closer.
  • TODO: fix / redesign hijinks to provide adventure hooks and intel on running clocks.  Spying actually makes sense when people worth spying on are doing secret things in the background.
  • TODO: simplify domains.  Starting for now by taking this and working it into the Campaigns chapter, and by removing domain XP (mass combat XP can stay - that's combat.  XP from sacking domains can stay - that's treasure earned adventuring).  I have some vague notions for some Lords of Waterdeep-style mechanics, where domains and guilds provide you with anonymous, disposable "adventurer" resources that you can send on quests to delay clocks, but I'm not sure how to make it mesh with ACKS-as-it-is, nor how I really want it to look at the end of the day, so I'm going to put that one off.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

ACKS SRD forked on github

Once upon a time, I wrote a post about all the things I'd want to change in Traveller if I were to run it again.  The other day (...  or month), I started to draft a similar post for ACKS, in part in response to the ACKS 2e proposal that was floated on the Patreon.  In general, I dislike the direction ACKS seems to be headed; as I said a year and a half ago - "ACKS' continued development seems to be away from its slick, usably-abstracted B/X roots and off into what the forums jokingly call Advanced Adventurer Conqueror King, with more detail and more rules.".  The 2e draft reinforces that perception.

I considered digging through the pile of retroclones to find something that better suits my desires, but I find my patience for reading rulebooks has fallen over time, particularly with all the duplication that you tend to see in retroclones.  I found myself wishing that retroclones were just published as changelogs, as patchnotes, or in proper version control systems.

And then I remembered caphiend's ACKS SRD on github, and went "what the hell, somebody has to start this."  So here we are - a version of the ACKS SRD with a growing selection of our group's conventions, houserules (or proposed houserules), and clarifications integrated into it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Viking Midnight Redux - After Ragnarok

I was reflecting on one of the better campaigns I've run in the past couple of years, the Bjornaborg "Midnight but with vikings" game.  I think if I were to do it again, I'd go further from the Midnight source.  I've been reading the Eddas lately, and there're some interesting bits in the Voluspa and Vafthruthnismol about what happens after Ragnarok - Thor's sons and Odin's brothers survive and rebuild the realm of the gods, and the dragon Nidhogg rises against them, but the poem is cut short before that matter is concluded.

But it got me thinking - there's room after Ragnarok.  Taking Norse mythology as a loose base and playing Ragnarok as even less of a victory for the Aesir, you end up in more typical OSR post-apocalypse territory.  The giants set themselves up as petty kings over men, the dark elves of Niflheim gather slaves, the scaled spawn of Jormungandr and Nidhogg exact tribute, and the dead of Hel feast on the living.  Where men gather, they are preyed upon.  The old gods are dead, but in the hills their children hide among mortals, gathering worshipers and strength, prophecies and artifacts in preparation for a second day of reckoning.  And unlike in Midnight proper, here such a thing is plausible, and perhaps foretold.

Upsides over Midnight: hope, no wizard-hunters, no orcs.
Downsides against Midnight: what do you fight at low levels if not orcs?, subtler pitch than "Tolkien but Sauron won".

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Pareto Principle and the OSR

I've been spending a lot of time on wikipedia recently.  The other day I was reading about power laws, allometry, and the Pareto Principle, and it struck me as both a useful rule of thumb for the lazy simulationist and a convenient explanatory factor for some pieces of OSR weirdness.  Phrased simply, the Pareto Principle states that in general, 20% of causes account for / lead to 80% of effects.  Typical examples include aggregation of wealth / property (where in most countries, 20% of the population controls 80% of the land / wealth) and software bugs (where 80% of bugs spring from 20% of root causes, such that if you fix the most-common 20% of bugs, you also resolve roughly the next 60% incidentally).

One OSR peculiarity made believable by this observation is the lair / nonlair distinction.  Roughly 20% of encounters (lairs) have the vast majority of the treasure (certainly treasure-from-monsters) in any given dungeon level.  From the perspective of even, predictable progression this is a dubious choice, but from a simulation perspective, with monsters aggregating treasure or paying tribute off-screen, it seems solidly justifiable.

The Pareto Principle may also have applications in constructing believable causal / narrative structures from randomness.  You roll a result on a random table, and you're not sure why it's true.  Pareto suggests that there's an 80% chance it follows from one of the Big Causes of your world.  Roll a d10, on 3+ link it back to something already known, on 1-2 add a new minor causal agent unfamiliar to your players.  You could go even further with self-similarity on that 80% and balancing the sizes of your sets of big and small causes, but for a first cut that minimizes effort, tends to conserve campaign capital, and introduces occasional surprises, this is probably a reasonable solution.

If I were feeling extremely motivated, it might be interesting to look at Pareto as it applies to ACKS' economics / XP model.  But I am not; they're probably already reasonable consistent, given Autarch's economics background.

Other plausible correlates in gaming, absolutely unsupported by data but plausible to my eye - 20% of the bloggers get 80% of the pageviews, 20% of the systems get 80% of the playtime, 20% of the campaigns get 80% of the sessions, 20% of the gamers run 80% of the games.