Sunday, April 28, 2019

A/X: Continuity and Design Decisions

I've run into a bit of a design problem in A/X.

To what extent should I assume and support campaign versus episodic play?

ACKS is, by default, the ne plus ultra of high-consistency, high-continuity campaign play, starting in the mid-levels.  But in the low levels, ACKS works pretty well for low-continuity open table sorts of games.  That's part of what I like so much about low-level ACKS.  So I want to extend that support for low-continuity episodic games into the mid-levels as part of A/X.

But this complicates an already complicated problem.

Supporting lower-continuity play in the wilderness means being able to handle a wilderness adventure in a single session of say four hours.  The whole process: packing in gear and rations and mercenaries, getting where you're going, exploring a site, getting home, and divvying up the treasure, with a random encounter or three on the way.

This will/would require lower-fidelity systems and more abstraction.  I've been on about these two things for a while (2015, apparently), but never quite realized why I cared about them.  I think it really does come back around to enabling episodic play while also preserving resource management.

 But what do I simplify to speed up wilderness play?

The Arnesonian rule that terrain doesn't change travel speed would certainly speed up pathfinding.  Even reducing terrain movement speeds down to three categories (fast on roads or plains, normal in forests and hills, slow in mountains and swamps) and renormalizing it around hills would help, rather than having to multiply stuff out for each hex.

Making it easier to restock on mercenaries and livestock at the beginning of sessions would help a lot too.  In an episodic game, maybe you just don't worry too much about how long actually passed between sessions; if you need to sit in town for a while to gather mercs and horses, or travel to a big city through civilized lands, you can handwave that, or increase the prices a bit to account for having the things you need imported by other people.  This question of resource replenishment between adventures plays into mid-level mechanics for eg the Fighter - if you can replenish mercs between adventures with little difficulty, then an ability to help them replenish their mercs isn't gonna be very useful.  Maybe Fighters can do it for cheaper, if there's a cash cost associated with it?

Removing randomness from markets might help with speed too.  If it's always 1 crossbowman instead of 1d3, that's one less thing I have to roll at the beginning of a session.

Bed-rest for party members is also something that could be elided or abstracted ("they're out for one adventure").

Tracking rations in man-weeks, each of one stone, and only marking them off at the end of the week on the rest day rather than daily would parallel torches nicely and might speed things up a little.  Probably want to stop worrying about rations spoiling, not worth the hassle.

For any reasonably-sized party, the question with foraging and hunting isn't "will you find food?", but "how much food do you find?"  Maybe abstracting away the survival roll per character would be reasonable (especially in the presence of mercenaries inflating party size).

Are "getting lost" rolls important?  Is there a better way to handle wilderness navigation, parallel to mapping and the destruction of the map in the dungeon?

How do you speed up wilderness fights, in the presence of mercenaries?

I've been thinking about explicit party roles like the old Caller lately.  Necrocarcerus had several such roles that players assumed.  I wonder if having such party leadership structure (ie, someone to resolve disputes, some to map, someone to handle logistics) would help speed things up (especially for large parties).

Saturday, April 13, 2019

ACKS: Stat Mulligans and Swaps

Something I've been kicking around in response to The Ability Score Are Too Damn High.

In most of our ACKS games, we have had players roll five sets of stats, choose one to play and hold two as replacement characters.  This tends to lead them to having the best of five.

An alternative I've been considering: roll a set of stats, 3d6 in order.  Accept it as your character or reject it and reroll up to (say) four times.  If your next set is better than what you rejected, too bad, and if you run out of mulligans, you play the last of the five.

I like this idea because it changes the problem from optimization (pick the best set of stats from the five) to satisficing (is this set of stats good enough?).  It introduces an element of gambling, that OSR pillar risk and reward, that self-determination of "what is your ambition?", and of incomplete information.  In the average case, I expect it would also accelerate the character-generation process; you probably aren't going to roll all five sets, and at while there are more decision-points, each decision is boolean (keep or reject).  Characters will also in expectation have somewhat lower stats, which is also an outcome that I am OK with.

In order to preserve some amount of choice of class, and as a replacement for offstat-drops, I think allowing a player to swap any two scores in the set is probably reasonable.  This preserves some input from the dice (for eg multi-primereq classes), but if you just want to play a wizard, fine, swap your highest into Int.  And if you already rolled something high in your main stat, then you can shuffle around two of your offstats to your preference.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Notes from a Hiking Seminar

Some of which are relevant to wilderness adventuring.

(But first - deep apologies for not replying to comments on my last post; I was offline for most of a week, and now it seems like something's going wrong with google accounts and I can't post comments anywhere, including here.  So...  everything I would comment is now going into posts, I guess.  Thank you DHBoggs for relaying some history on the development of the hex - I found it very interesting and am happy to hear that the day was originally a clear parallel time quantum to the turn in dungeoneering exploration)

Prep questions:
  • Where are you going?
  • Who are you going with?
    • Who's the least able?  Can they make it to where you're going?
  • What season is it?
  • What's the weather going to be like?
  • What passes or permits from governments do you need to go there?
  • When do you expect to be back?  Who are you going to tell that to so they can send rescue?
 Ten Essentials:
  • Extra clothing, layers for variations in weather and climate across trip
  • Extra water (or means to procure it, like LifeStraws, water filters, dowsing, and high-level clerics)
  • Extra food
  • First aid kit
  • Knife or multitool
  • Means of producing fire
  • Map and compass
  • Headlamp / hands-free light source
  • Sun protection
  • Emergency shelter (down to and including just a blanket or tarp)
As a rule of thumb, most packs can carry weight in pounds equal to their capacity in liters minus ten.  Not a problem if you're using stone as a combined unit.

If you find a leaf with a face chewed into it, you shouldn't take it home with you.  (This was actually the comment that led to this whole post - intended as a silly example of leave no trace, but my brain went "that would be wonderfully creepy in-game")

Place campfires in established rings, or else.

Avalanche and river-crossing dangers depend less on the weather right now than on the weather from the previous week or so.  Probably also true of trail conditions.  On the one hand, this complicates the problem of making weather systems for the wilderness game, because if you want high-fidelity simulation you have to track past state.  On the other hand, this also pushes towards other potential solution-spaces, which isn't a bad thing (maybe something like the Oriental Adventures events tables - you roll a big trend for this month's weather, which sets the trail, river, and avalanche conditions, and then roll daily weather within that big weather pattern's subtable).

Animals in popular hiking destinations steal enough food from peoples' bags to get enormous.

Black bears are basically just large housecats for morale purposes, unless cubs are involved.

Mountain lions are also basically large housecats for morale purposes, except they think you are a toy.

Local outfitter offers appointments to get your gear in order for a particular trip.  Quartermaster NPCs!  I'm pretty sure I've written a post about having a NPCs to organize mules and rations and all that stuff (as a script, of course), but I'll be arsed if I can find it.

Some good place-names.  "Ranger Station" is a phrase that translates wonderfully into D&D.