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).


  1. Maybe have a skill check (or none skill but rolled check) to replace mercs. Fighters get a better roll? (each merc is replaced on a 4+, fighters get +1 or +2 bonus).
    2d20 system has a mob system for mooks where you pool their dice to get success. (5 mooks roll 5 dice looking for successes). When you kill a member of the mob the excess damage hits the next guy so there is a detriment there. Also, the mob gets one action. Maybe cluster up the mercs in a similar way? 5 archers roll 5 dice. You get a +1 damage for each success beyond the first?

    1. I apologize for the delay; apparently I can post comments again! I'm not big on adding skill checks, or on rolling bunches of d20s. Lately I've been thinking about somewhat more abstract mercenary combat systems based on Grossman's work, where merc units mostly just "pin" beastman gangs unless actively led by a PC or henchman (and likewise, gangs without a champion stall out and "pin" mercenaries, but don't inflict casualties). I haven't really developed it yet though.

  2. Arneson also advocated for a 6 month strategic turn when the characters were doing things like going to school or guarding a caravan or brewing potions. You will need a game calendar for that sort of thing though.

    1. I apologize for the delay; that's a really interesting development, and I could definitely see that helping get through time, especially in ACKS. Previously I've sort of organized my games in "seasons", but my PCs have never really taken one off of adventuring except in winter, when conditions for wilderness adventuring were very bad. I think ACKS makes it hard to take time off without a domain to cover your mercenary and henchman expenses; not sure what ought to be done about this. I look forward to further revelations from Arneson's way of playing!

  3. When you are referring to ACKS rules, just the basic or are you looking at the ACKS: Domains at War rules too? The Campaign manual seems to treat your concerns, although perhaps still not as abstractly as you're looking go.

    1. I have Domains at War, yeah, but "not as abstractly as I'm looking for" is absolutely right. Their rules for raising troops are also more aimed at domain rules, rather than mid-level adventurers trying to sustain/replenish casualties in their handful of mercenary units. Might bear a re-reading, though, and a simpler abstraction derived from their high-detail simulationist system would, I think, be the best of both worlds.