Sunday, October 21, 2018

Figuring out Morrowind

When I was a kid playing Morrowind, I thought its leveling system was horribly slow and convoluted.  So I downloaded mods that changed how it worked and it was fine.

Returning to Morrowind via OpenMW as an adult, I re-downloaded and re-created a couple of simple mods that I had used, and played through the game.  When I finished, I was way overpowered and had a tremendous amount of cash.

I went and did other things for a month and came back to it.  I started a new game and one of the first things the first questgiver in the game does is give you some cash and tell you to get some training or gear.  I stopped and thought about that for a moment, and everything kind of clicked.

Training was the missing mechanic.

When I was a kid, coming from a 3rd Edition D&D background, Morrowind's economy made no sense.  There's hardly anything worth buying in terms of equipment - there are a few vendors in out-of-the-way places that carry high-quality items (the glass armor guy, the grandmaster alchemist), but all the good weapons can only be found by adventuring.  Spending money on leveling was immersion-breaking, incompatible with my 3E-flavored understanding of fantasy worlds.  So I just accumulated money and ground out levels.

Having seen the OSR, this "money for XP" thing now makes total sense.  Morrowind's development began in the mid-90s, and its descent from AD&D is apparent in its training mechanics and the relationship between wilderness and city.  Go to wilderness, get money and magic items, return to city, spend money on training.

And the heavy use of training changes the way the whole rest of the game works.  It tames the worst parts of Morrowind's leveling system, where you can raise ability scores based on what skills you raised during the level.  If you're not using training, you really have to grind skill uses to get good ability score boosts, and you're likely to incidentally raise some skills and waste some multipliers.  But if most of your skill points are coming from training rather than skill use, you eliminate the grind, and reduce the window for uncontrolled skill increases to mess up your ability score increase plan.  If a couple of skills rise while you're out on an adventure, you have to take them into account when you're spending your money on post-adventure training, but it's pretty manageable.

Heavy use of training also changes the utility of guilds.  Guild rank increases how much guild members like you, and if they're trainers that means they charge you less.  Getting about halfway up the ranks in guilds also opens up a second set of trainers, who usually have higher skills (and can train you to higher levels) than the first tier of guild trainers.  So heavy use of trainers increases the utility of guilds, because they make trainers more available and doing quests makes training less expensive.  This is nice, because a lot of the guild quest rewards in Morrowind are rather lackluster.

Heavy use of training also changes the player's feeling about the Blades (imperial intelligence service) dramatically.  The Blades give out the first half of the quests in the main questline.  Without training, your interaction with the Blades is pretty much restricted to that one questgiver.  The Blades also have about six NPCs who are pretty decent early-game trainers (better than the entry-tier guild trainers, but worse than the second-tier guild trainers).  These trainers cover a wide range of skills, but not such a wide range that you can rely on them alone unless you have a pretty weird build.  Stealth is covered for thieves, but not short blades or marksmanship.  Long blades and shield use are covered for fighters, but not heavy armor.  Most of the magic skills are covered, but not alchemy, and the mage trainer who covers destruction magic is a bit out of the way.  It's really beautifully done; you can go a long way with the Blades trainers, but you're still probably going to have to join a guild to cover the gaps.  And when you seek these people out for training, and ask them about local rumors, they have unique (and interesting) responses because they're in the intelligence service.  It makes the Blades feel a lot more like an actual faction, rather than one inebriate spymaster with his one lonely operative.

At a certain point though, probably in the 60s-70s for your top skills, you're going to cap out on training from the guilds.  To make those last couple of ranks, you need to get a skill up to 80 or 90, which means finding the master trainers.  For each skill (except one), there is a master trainer who can raise it to the highest possible level.  They're mostly not in guilds; instead they're scattered over the continent.  Some of them are in ruins and you find them by adventuring; some of them are in taverns and you find them by frickin' roleplaying like you're some kind of human who occasionally unwinds by talking to people at the local watering hole instead of an unstoppable adventuring machine who only sleeps one hour a week when it's time to level.  I had no idea the utility of bars in Morrowind before, but it turns out they're full of trainers, most of whom are mediocre but some of whom are the best.

So if at low levels, the training system encouraged you to cycle quickly between local guild quests and training, at mid levels it sends you on the wanderjahr to find the trainers to raise your skills to their peak for guildmastery.  It's an interesting commentary on organizations, that you need insight from outside in order to rise to the top.  And when you do find a master trainer, they're about the biggest cash sink in the game besides the rare high-grade armor vendor.  If you have similar charisma and mercantile skills, it's plausible to drop 14000 gp to raise a skill from 60 to 80, and then another 18000 to go from 80 to 100.  For comparison, other big-ticket items in guild advancement are a stronghold and a wizard's staff, both of which are around 5000 gold.  This is a decent solution to the lategame problem of accumulating too much money, if you decide to master multiple skills.  Like all of Morrowind, it isn't too hard to break this (by boosting your charisma and mercantile skills), but you kind of have to try.

In conclusion: as with the OSR, the solutions to (some of) the game's problems are often already in the game.  It's the culture around playing the game that has forgotten about them, and subsequently mods its way to solutions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Domains at War: Lizardmen

Someone in the ACKS discord was asking about expanded units for beastman races, most of which only have light and heavy infantry.  The mental image that got me interested was lizardmen with lizard chariots.  I've done this sort of thing before, so here we go again.

Lizardmen Overview

Lizardmen are right bastards in melee, with 2+1 HD, THAC0 8+, three natural attacks,  a +1 damage bonus, three points of natural armor, and +2 morale.  A company of 120 lizardmen is about a match for a dense phalanx of 240 human heavy infantry; the lizardmen have lower AC, but one and a half times as many HP, and a similar number of attacks with better to-hit.  So lizardman infantry is pretty great in a straight-up fight.

One curious bonus lizardmen have is their 120' swim speed, which is crazy fast.  The rules for lakes, rivers, and mud in Domains at War: Battles don't mention how amphibious infantry with swim speeds interact with these terrain features, but it seems totally reasonable to me for lizardmen to move through them without penalty.  Lizardmen also make fantastic marines - they're faster in the water than most ships, and can probably just jump off, chase them down, and climb the sides (like a cat climbing a tree with their claws).  Sailing ships only have 45' or 60' base speed; wind modifiers can double that, but that still only brings them up to parity.  Warships can mostly manage 120' to 150' under oars, so your lizardman galleys may still want to maneuver close before deploying the boarding parties into the water.

On the downside, on land, lizardman infantry is dog slow, at 60'.  They're beastmen, so all of their units are irregular.  They also have crappy low-tech equipment (javelins, spiked clubs, shields, and leather armor).  All of this combines to mean that their skirmishers / light infantry are pretty crap at actually skirmishing, and lizardman armies probably do badly against fast units with ranged attacks.
I feel like stone axes, maybe spears and shortbows or atlatls ought to be in scope too.
Finally, to top it all off, their extra lair stuff pretty lousy - they get no warbeasts or allied races, and their witchdoctors are only level 1d4, so no fireball.  At least their champions, subchieftains, and chieftains are pretty strong.  One lair of lizardmen is right about one company of lizardman infantry; at platoon-scale, would be easy to split it up into four or five platoons, one of champions led by the chieftain, three of heavy infantry, one of light infantry (Campaigns helpfully informs us that 75% of lizardmen quality for heavy infantry), with a subchieftain lieutenant per platoon.

Lizardman Champion Maneaters: 1/2/3 Irregular Foot, AC 5, HD 3+1, UHP 26, ML +3?, 6 claw/claw/bite 7+ or 4 dart 7+, BR ~11, TCO ~6.5kgp/mo

Lizardman Champion Immortals: 1/2/3 Irregular Foot, AC 8, HD 3+1, UHP 26, ML +3?, 5 club and shield 7+ or 5 javelin 7+, BR ~16 (club, shield, leather armor, 3 javelins), TCO ~11.75kgp/mo

(I figured these wages based on the doubling curves for henchman wages - just increasing wages by 12gp/mo for an extra hit die seemed wrong)

With stats like those, who needs post-Neolithic tech anyway?  Hell, with wages like that (veteran lizardman heavy infantry mercs estimated around 100gp/mo just in wages), maybe you just hire out as mercenaries.  A coastal, mercantile city state could tap into the local lizard tribes, drill and equip them, and integrate them as a warrior caste.  The humans work the contracting and logistics angles, and the lizards are the muscle.  As long as the lizardmen don't get too numerous, nothing could possibly go wrong...

There's even canonical art in the ACKS book for this

Lizardman Ironscale Pikes: 1/2/3 Formed Foot, AC 9, HD 2+1, UHP 18, ML +2, 5 polearm 8+ or 3 javelin 8+, BR ~23 (plate, polearm, 3 javelins), TCO ~6kgp/mo? (not taking training costs into account, just lizardman heavy infantry plus extra equipment cost)

But that's not what we're here for.  We're here for lizard-chariots.  Unfortunately, all the options under Lizard, Giant kind of suck - they're not very fast, and they don't have much carrying capacity.  Crocodiles have the carrying capacity, but they're even slower (except in water - canoe-chariots with lizardman archers, pulled by crocodiles in naval combat?).  I also considered crab chariots, because giant crabs have amazing carrying capacity, great AC and attacks, and fit the marsh aesthetic, but they are also quite slow.

Asking the hard questions

Fortunately, we lately have a new source for dinosaur stats, which I picked up through kickstarter but hadn't actually opened until just now.  In proper ACKS fashion, it includes carrying capacities, sizes, and trainability for a wide variety of dinosaurs.  I was hoping for deinonychus-chariots, but their carrying capacity is really low.  It looks like our best bet is the timurlengia, an aggressive theropod about the size of a horse that I had never heard of until just now (the more you know).  We're still going to have to bend the rules a little though - timurlengia's carrying capacity is only 12 stone, and we need 40 stone of capacity to pull a light chariot, but we're only supposed to have two steeds per light chariot.  Instead, we're going to have four timurlengia per light chariot and assume they've done something clever with the reins.  To make up for it, we'll only have 15 chariots per unit, as if they were heavy chariots (figuring the steeds take up most of the space in the formation).  We're also going to give our lizard-charioteers shortbows, lances, and leather armor because they've clearly had some technological development over the usual rocks-and-sticks.

Lizardman Raptor Chariots: 3/6/9 Irregular Mounted, AC 5, HD 24+2, UHP 26, 1 lance 8+ or 1 shortbow 8+, charge 7 bites 6+ and bonus lance damage, ML +2 Unpredictable, BR ~17, TCO ~12.5kgp/mo

This isn't really a unit of cavalry.  This is a device for delivering horse-sized raptors to the enemy flank in a semi-controlled fashion.  The fact that there are some lizardman archers clinging to these contraptions is just a bonus.

I considered building a unit of lizardman charioteers herding a pack of dienonychuses, but building mixed units of cavalry and infantry is haram, and it sounded complicated to fudge something together.  Such a unit would cover up the weakness of the raptor chariots post-charge, but would almost certainly lose the ranged attack.

So what else can we do with lizardman cavalry?  Maybe something that can still fight after the charge is done?

Lizardman Edmontosaurus Cavalry: 3/6/9 Irregular Mounted, AC 5, HD 8+2, UHP 11, 3 lance 8+ or 2 shortbow 8+, charge 1 trample 7+ and bonus lance damage, ML +1 Unpredictable, BR 4.5, TCO ~6.75 kgp/mo

Edmontosaurs are huge herbivores, and this unit is 20 of them, each with leather barding and two lizardmen in a war howdah on their back.  As lizardmen go, this is not a very impressive unit, because there are not very many lizardmen in it and the mounts are not very ferocious.  Squeezing four lizardmen into each war howdah might be a better move:

Packed Edmontosaurus Cavalry: 3/6/9 Irregular Mounted, AC 5, HD 13, UHP 17, 6 lance 12+ or 4 shortbow 12+, charge 1 trample 7+ and bonus lance damage, ML +1 Unpredictable, BR 12.25, TCO ~10.75 kgp/mo

That's starting to look more like typical lizardman performance - comparable to two or three units of human cavalry all stacked into one hex.  I like how their good THAC0 helps cancel out the packing penalty and puts them at about par with human THAC0.

Doing titanosaur behemoth cavalry would also be interesting, but as the monster description notes, they're not very good warbeasts.  A more interesting take, maybe, would be a whole lizardman village spread out across the backs of a herd of titanosaurs in yurt-howdahs.  At that point we're doing worldbuilding rather than unit design, though.

Well that's probably enough dinosaur cavalry.  What else would make sense?

Ah, here's a solution to the skirmisher problem.  For some reason I thought troglodytes were 3HD and slow.  Not so!  2HD, AC4, 120' speed, 5st carrying capacity, the chameleon surprise bonus, and "great barbed darts (treat as javelins with +3 to attack throws)".  Holy crap.

They're also stinky, which is alright I guess.

Troglodyte Skirmishers: 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 4, HD 2, UHP 16, 4 bite and claw 9+, 2 great barbed darts 6+, ML +1, BR ~4 (before surprise and stink), TCO ~2.75 kgp/mo

Troglodytes can deploy in cover and remain hidden until an opposing unit either moves into contact or they are activated.  A unit engaged with a troglodyte unit in melee must save vs poison or take a -2 penalty to melee attacks against the trogs for as long as they remain engaged.

Trogs have carrying capacity of 5 stone, so we could even up-armor them and give them two-handed clubs.

Troglodyte Heavy Infantry: 2/4/6 Irregular Foot, AC 6, HD 2, UHP 16, 4 greatclub 9+, 2 great barbed darts 6+, ML +1, BR ~6, TCO~3kgp/mo

In conclusion, trogs are great.  But if I thought lizardman spellcasters were bad, trogs are even worse.

How can we get good spellcasters?  I was really hoping kobolds would have them, in the usual pattern of "weaker beastmen -> stronger spellcasters", but kobold spellcasters look on par with lizardman spellcasters.  We could still mount kobolds on pterodactyls, but I already did that with goblins and kobolds are just straight worse.

I guess the new Thrassian class from the Heroic Fantasy book would work (d8 HD, fighter attack progression, and spellsinging), but that would require me to figure out how spellsinging works.

I think we're just going to stick to Player's Companion shamans for now, half-assedly grafted onto a lizardman chassis.

Sslokas the Prehistoric, Lizardman Shaman
Lizardman Shaman 6, Str 9, Int 15, Wis 13, Dex 7, Con 9, Cha 14
Class proficiencies: Prophecy, Laying on Hands (Python totem)
General proficiencies: Naturalism, Healing, Military Strategy
Equipment: 3 javelins, potion of human control, Cloak of Protection +1, Leather Armor +3 (...  my frickin' dice, can't roll up one NPC without getting +3 armor)
Derived stats:
21 HP, 4+1 HD, AC11, init -1, THAC0 6+ for 1d3+2/1d3+2/1d8+2, or javelins 7+ for 1d6+3
Leadership 4, ZOC 2, Strategic Ability +1?, ML +1
1/2/3 Foot Hero,
Company scale: no attacks, not qualified
Platoon scale: 2 claw and bite 6+, qualified as commander or hero
1/day: Dispel Magic, Skinchange
1/day: Call Lightning, Winged Flight, Growth of Animals
2/day: Obscuring Cloud, Bless
2/day: Cure Light Wounds, Pass Without Trace

Sslokas has been around for a long time, due in large part to his suit of fine elvish leather armor.  Which is not to say that the armor was created by elves.  He's a reasonably well-rounded leader without any glaring weaknesses but with no real strengths either. He is competent to serve as an independent hero or commander on platoon scale.  Not amazing in a straight-up fight, but he has enough escape magic and AC that he might actually get out alive if his unit crumples.

Rushas the Repugnant, Lizardman Chieftain
Str 14, Int 11, Wis 10, Dex 10, Con 13, Cha 17
Class proficiencies: Combat Reflexes, Command, Fighting Style (bonus to hit)
General proficiencies: Leadership, Endurance
Equipment: Ring of Spell Turning (4 spell remaining), Hide Armor +2 (goddamnit), 3 javelins
Derived stats:
36 HP, 6+2 HD, AC 11, surprise and init +1, THAC0 2+ for 1d3+4/1d3+4/1d8+4 or javelins 4+ for 1d6+3
Leadership 6, ZOC 3, Strategic Ability -1, ML +5
1/2/3 Foot Hero
Company scale: 1 claw and bite 2+, qualified as commander
Platoon scale: 3 claw and bite, 2 javelin 4+, qualified as commander or hero

Rushas is renowned and beloved by his warriors for never declining a single combat, and also for horribly mutilating his challengers (and then eating them).  His tactics in mass combat are unsubtle and predictable, relying on brute force, but his followers are fanatical.  He qualifies as a commander at both company and platoon scales.  Technically he doesn't qualify as an independent hero at platoon scales (6+2 HD instead of 7HD), but I'd allow it.

Krrk Cold-Blooded, Lizardman Witch-Doctor
Lizardman witch-doctor 4, Str 14, Int 13, Wis 11, Dex 13, Con 12, Cha 16
Class proficiencies: Battle Magic
General proficiencies: Alchemy, Leadership
Equipment: Boots of Traveling and Springing, Leather Armor, 3 poisoned javelins (hellebore)
Derived stats:
17 HP, 3+1 HD, AC8, init +1 (+2 when casting), THAC0 6+ claw/claw/bite for 1d3+2/1d3+2/1d8+2, 6+ javelin 1d6+3
Leadership 6, ZOC3, Strategic Ability +0, ML +2
1/2/3 Foot Hero
Company scale: no attacks, not qualified
Platoon scale: 2 claw/bite 6+, lieutenant or hero
2/day: Stinking Cloud, Invisibility, Hypnotic Pattern
2/day: Sleep, Chameleon, Summon (Scaly) Berserkers

I was kinda hoping for Shield, Sharpness, and Ogre Power, but I am OK with these sneaky spell rolls.  Krrk qualifies as both a lieutenant and an independent hero at platoon scale, and does not qualify as anything at company scale.  His morale modifier makes him a pretty decent lieutenant, and if the division commander bites it, that high LD could come in handy.  He has ambitions to unseat Rushas as chieftain, but recognizes that he'll have to do it covertly and he'll lack legitimacy.  If only Rushas were to meet with some sort of unfortunate accident, at the hands of an adventuring party, perhaps...

I really, really wanted to do a hero with Beast Friendship riding a t-rex.  This is close enough I guess:

His Scaliness Ssrethen Dragon-spawned, Chieftain Among Chieftains, Bearer of the Black Spear, Lizard-Lord of the Marshes
52 HP, HD 11, AC12, init +0, speed 60', swim 120', fly 120'
THAC0 2+, claw/claw/bite 1d3x2+6/1d3x2+6/1d8x2+6
OR spear -1+, 1d8x2+10 and three negative levels if target is a mammal
Special attacks: breath weapon 1/day, 11d6 fire in 60' cone, save vs blast for half, throw boulders (200' range, 3d6 damage)
Special defenses: fire resistance x2 (+4 to save, -2 damage per die), potion of gaseous form, regeneration 3/day
SV F11 + Divine Blessing, ML +2

Potion of Gaseous Form
Ring of Fire Resistance
Girdle of Giant Strength
Spear +3 sentient, Hirkas the Death of Mammals -
Int 12, 3 detection powers, 1 spell-like ability, speech, read languages
Chaotic, 4 languages - Lizardman, Draconic, Elvish, Infernal
Ego 12, Willpower 25, Purpose: Destroy Mammals
Inflicts 3 levels of energy drain per hit on mammals
Detection, 3/day each: Evil, Good, Metals
Spell-like ability: Regeneration (3/day, healing effect, 1 HP/round for 15 rounds)

Mount: Hunger, Carnotaurus - 150' speed, AC 8, HD 7+1, HP 39, THAC0 3+, bite 2d10, huge scale barding and huge war howdah (+3 AC and +3 save vs blast to occupants), ML +0

Mass combat stuff:
LD 6, ZOC 3, Strat +2 (spear gives advice), ML +3
1/2/3 Foot Hero or 2/4/6 Flying Hero or 2/5/8 Mounted Hero
Qualifies as a commander on all scales, Hero on Battalion scale and lower
Platoon: 7 claw/bite 2+ or 9 spear -1+ (and energy drain for 3 points of bonus damage against mammals), on charge while mounted 3 bites 3+ and bonus spear damage, 5 thrown boulder ranged 2+
Company: 2 claw/bite 2+ or 2 spear -1+ (and energy drain for 3 points against mammals), on charge while mounted 1 bite 3+ and bonus spear damage, 1 thrown boulder ranged 2+
Battalion: 1 spear -1+ (and energy drain) by the narrowest of margins

Ssrethen is leading the Scaly Crusade, to exterminate all the mammals and reclaim the rightful realm of his ancestors.  He has the blessing of the lizard deities, reflected in his superior saving throws.  His master plan, revealed to him in a dream, is to use ritual magic to melt the ice caps, flood the human cities, and expand the marshes, and he is gathering troops, spellcasters, and artifacts before embarking by ship for the far north to put this plan into effect.

(Too soon?)

If you wanted to run him on clocks as a campaign villain, you could certainly do it in phases - he's doing his thing in the swamp, and at some point a series of clocks start:
  • Fever-dreaming
  • Quest for the Black Spear
  • Taming Hunger
  • Learning the rituals from a dragongeist in the dragon boneyard
    • I really considered giving him arcane spellcasting, but that was gonna get complicated.  Feel free to add it here if you like.
  • Uniting the tribes
  • Building the great fleet
    • Add some "get the Toenail of Eternal Flame" quests concurrently maybe
  • Journey to the North
  • Melting the ice-cap
  • Journey home
  • Invasion