Saturday, March 23, 2019

Wilderness as Dungeon Revisited

A lot of this is probably obvious; circling back around to typical ways of running the wilderness, but through the lens of dungeoneering.  Less a post about rules than about how to organize information.

Previously, I was thinking about 6-mile hexes as being like rooms in a dungeon.  Now I think maybe they're supposed to be more like a 10' square.  Hexes and squares are both the smallest unit of organization in mapping on their respective scales.  You can traverse multiple per unit-time (turn in dungeon, day in wilderness), but it takes a unit-time to search either.  They're also a unit of organization in your notes - you probably wouldn't have multiple encounters or multiple traps in a single 10' square in a dungeon, and you probably shouldn't in the wilderness either.  I think the difficulty of book-keeping involved in trying to cram multiple lairs into each hex is a big gripe of mine with ACKS' assumptions about wilderness density.  Yes, it makes sense in-the-world.  But it's bad UX.

So if a hex is like a 10' square, what implications does this have?

"Rooms" / "biomes" / "zones" / micro-regions of multiple 6-mi hexes sharing common terrain, common opposition, and isolated by surrounding hexes ("walls").  Possibly a single key entry in DM's notes - "Cradle Wood, hexes 0601, 0602, 0501, 0503, 0504.  Lush valley full of tall pine trees, ferns, stinging nettles, and moss.  Abundant small creeks with crayfish.  Three goblin villages (7, 5, 4 warbands) with wargs.  Chiefs Ugbu, Ordo, and Glum are all brothers."  And then you can vary random encounter tables by room - all demihuman encounters in Cradle Wood are goblins, or someaught.  Weather might also be particular to a particular "room" ("Ironvale, hexes ...  Valley in the hills where it rains most of the time.  Oak trees and mud.  Abundant iron and coal beneath the surface.  Dwarven vault built into the hillside has flooding problems.").  If naming "rooms" is too much hassle at scale, just number them like rooms on dungeon maps.

Vision - in the dungeon, the limit of your vision is by torchlight and measured in tens of feet.  In the wilderness, it's by height and blocking terrain, and measured in 6-mile hexes, with a default of two hexes on flat plains.  See also also Trilemma.

The function of walls in the dungeon, to block both movement and vision, is softened from boolean in the wilderness.  Most terrain that slows movement also blocks vision (hills, forests), but some doesn't (open water, tundra).  "Walls" in the wilderness are more like ridgelines.  They're probably their own "rooms", since you can enter them - it'll just be slow going.

Does it make sense to have "unroomed" hexes?  Sort of like hallways in dungeons, which are often unkeyed?  Unroomed / unkeyed hexes might work well for "walls" too.  Use default terrain random encounter tables to place dynamic lairs, assume low land-value relative to named and detailed areas.  Sort of like leaving parts of your megadungeon to be filled procedurally during play.

Random encounter distance is one place where the analogy breaks down a bit.  In the dungeon, a random encounter at book distances is unlikely to engage you for a turn or two.  In the wilderness, by-the-book distances put them on top of you in minutes, definitely not days.  I think it might be worthwhile to change random encounters to the "wandering monster / lurking threat" model, much like dungeon encounters - wargs picked up your trail and have been eating your leavings, elvish scouts have noticed your tree-cutting and are displeased, and so forth.  So extend the random encounter distance to 1d3-1 hexes or so; sometimes you do stumble right on top of them, and for some random encounters that's the only time they make sense (skeletons aren't going to follow you, probably).  My players have long complained about a lack of control over engagement in the wilderness, and having a little more advance warning might help.  Might also be worth stealing a page from DaW's book and having an opposed Strategic Ability roll to see which side gets advantageous terrain before a wilderness fight, and then use the book values for random encounter distance to figure out how far apart the forces are at the beginning of the fight.

If a hex is like a 10' square, then microsandboxes need to be reconsidered.  A 10 hex by 10 hex map is going to be very dense, without much room for rooms, much like a dungeon in a 10x10 grid, and my experiment with building such a tiny sandbox bears this impression out.  So the howling emptiness of early D&D follows naturally from this metaphor - empty hexes are OK-to-necessary when hexes are considered primarily in clusters rather than individually.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Simple Domains: Trade Routes and Tributaries

Central thrust: link wilderness-level travel and trade to domain trade income by establishing "routes", allowing some improvement to one's domain under Simple Domains without having to track population

One of the annoying things with Simple Domains is the urban population.  I'm also more interested in settings where city-states and tribes are the norm, rather than feudalism.  Consequently, different rules for and assumptions about organizing realms seem appropriate.

I don't really like ACKS' default population growth as a domain "advancement" mechanic because 1) it's boring (spend money or wait time, counter ticks up, spreadsheet recalculates), and 2) it's unreasonably fast (yeah, there's some justification about "time of upheavals and migrations", but that's not always reasonable).

It occurs to me that domain "advancement" might still be doable with static population numbers via mutable trade routes.  Opening a new trade route between two domains entails clearing it to some reasonable degree, and then leading a ship or caravan along it.   I've been thinking about "threat" primarily affecting edges of the trade graph; a threat closes the edge, then if left unaddressed might spread to more edges, and if it holds all the routes in to or out of a particular town, the town comes under its thumb as well.  So I'm not really talking clearing all the hexes on the route, just dealing with things big enough to threaten a caravan (bandits, orcs, griffons, dragons).  Once a route is cleared, maybe a seasonal encounter roll can bring monsters back to it.

Once the route between two settlements is safe and you demonstrate this by leading a ship or caravan across it, imitators follow and trade along the route becomes regular, allowing the rulers of each end to gather additional market taxes.  If the additional market revenue from trade get high enough, the market class improves.  This lets the trade mechanic fill in for the "extra urban families from vassals" problem that Simple Domains had before.  On the downside, allowing market classes to change like this opens up all sorts of weirdness if you use market class for anything (like trade range, or calculating how much trade income is generated), and could lead to undesirable positive feedback loops.

What I like about this idea is that it links the wilderness game to the domain game with travel.  Your players get to go see the rest of the campaign world in order to make their domain stronger, rather than grinding through hex-clearing.  My players often seem to want caravans and ships in the mid-levels anyway.  At low levels you play "caravan guards", at mid-levels "caravan leaders", and at high levels "that guy who sponsors caravans led by henchmen".  It also opens up structured interactions with diplomacy.  Going to war with a domain generally means closing of routes between the combatants, and you may attack trade routes they have with other domains as well to reduce their trade income.  This might anger their trade partners, leading to embargo or entering the fight against you.  Conversely, a small domain coerced by a larger one might not be willing to trade with their overseer's rivals due to the sword looming over their heads, unless you can make them assurances of protection.  A domain defeated in war might become a tributary state as a term of surrender, sending its trade income to the domain the subdued it.

The tricky part is getting the numbers right - big enough to be worth bothering with, small enough to not spiral out of control, consistent with ACKS' existing trade rules, and simple enough to not be a huge hassle (ie, "just treat it as a network of sources and sinks for various goods, and you're adding a new link, which changes traffic patterns and directs trade through certain nodes which changes the tax income for those nodes"...  like yeah, I could do that, programmatically, but I don't want to need a computer).

Another interesting question is interaction with all the other parts of ACKS.  Does trade with settlements of different culture, terrain, "tech level", etc generate more income?  Interaction with monopoly?  Thieves' guilds?  Our favorite class, the venturer?  Seasonal variation in trade income (less in winter, more in summer)?  How do trade volumes or revenues relate to infrastructure like roads?  (Can we spin this into a reason for players to build and maintain roads, which they also seem to often want to do?)

I don't know if this would actually be simpler in practice than population growth.  But I do think it might be more fun.

A third approach to "domain advancement", and one which players seem to for push historically, is building up local industries and institutions.  I think this is actually fairly easy to adjudicate under ACKS' core rules, but it's not very profitable, and it could stand to be quantized, Kingmaker or Fields of Blood style - drop 10kgp plus some monthly maintenance on a Shipyard, and now you can buy ships as if your market were one class bigger.  Domains have a limited number of Industry slots based on size.  This would certainly be philosophically consistent with Simple Domains, so maybe it warrants further development.