Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hike Notes: Mount Fuji, Part 2: Gaming Reflections

Last post, I talked about climbing Mount Fuji.  Today, applying that experience to OSR D&D.

Time and distance: In nine hours, we covered a total of six miles of trail (plus ~8600 feet of total elevation delta).  We were barely encumbered, pessimistically two stone.  ACKS' rules would put us at 120' exploration movement speed, or 24 miles per day, times 1/2 for mountains.  So the rules would overestimate our speed by a factor of two, about.  It's possible that we're just that out of shape (though I suspect we're in as good a shape as your average L0 henchman; by 3rd Edition's strength standards, my mediocre deadlifts put me at about Str 9).  Certainly naive application of Naismith's rule would argue that we should've taken closer to six hours (but there are a bunch of proposed corrections to Naismith's rule for a reason; notably, we were on roughly 15 degree slopes, which some of the corrections penalize further).  It's also possible that the rules are for overland travel, rather than summiting a mountain, and that if we were just trying to cross a mountain hex to get to the other side, we'd've done a lot less climbing, and consequently our speed would've been a lot higher.  This introduces some weird questions about moving around within hexes versus entering and leaving hexes.  If I'm already thinking about hexes as being like 10' squares, and groups of hexes as being like rooms, that probably isn't something I want to worry about (and instead I might just increase the penalty on mountain movement).  But if you're like the typical hard-simulationist ACKS hexcrawl DM, maybe that is something you do want to think about, especially if interesting things tend to be located at the summits of mountains (and of course they do).

One thought I had, reflecting on our covering four miles of distance in a full day, was having irregularly-sized hexes instead of changing multipliers, making the hex a unit of time rather than a unit of distance.  So a mountain hex is actually smaller than a plains hex in space, but both take a day to cross.  The problem is tessellation; maybe irregular, Voronoi-style maps would support this better (I guess there might also be problems in economics, if you care about population density per hex for taxation purposes).  Or maybe, like Arneson, who also did "one day, one hex", you just don't worry about it.

Encounter Distance: I think the 2d6x10 yards encounter distance for Badlands would've been more appropriate than the 4d6x10 yards typical for mountains, given the mists and the steepness and general difficulty of seeing even building-sized objects at 200-300 meters.  Having weather be a bigger determiner of encounter distance than terrain would be interesting, especially if you have typical / unusual weather for certain hexes or "rooms".

Foraging: There wasn't anything even plausibly worth eating above 2500m of altitude, except for one bird.  Foraging penalty in high mountain hexes seems appropriate.  The yamabushi allegedly developed systems of diet and cuisine for high mountains, as did the Taoists in China, but...  I'm betting they foraged a little further down.

Hypoxia: -1 to surprise (loss of color vision, difficulty paying attention), initiative, attack and damage throws, proficiency rolls...  morale?  spell failure?  Some people get incoherent and start repeating themselves, that could be bad if you say Hastur one extra time...  And sure, you can get acclimated, but it takes a week or two.  That would actually be kind of a neat mechanic, if I'm treating the day as the unit of wilderness time, that you can get acclimated within the timespan of a single adventure (and then get de-acclimated when you go back down to civilization for a month).  And then if you have a mechanical reason to linger partway up the mountain for a week, you're really going to want to find or build a refuge there...

Combat: Seems like it would be really difficult for anyone coming up to fight someone higher up, especially with premodern weapons.  At the very least there's an ample supply of rocks to drop or roll down on people, and the height advantage in melee on a 1:4 slope also means that if you're five feet away, you're at a foot and a quarter of elevation difference, which might mean that you can hit them in the head really easily but also means that you're going to have to defend your legs differently or have them cut from under you.  Melee generally would be made difficult by the bad footing (gravel, irregularly-shaped rocks).  Charging uphill seems impossible, and charging downhill seems foolhardy.  Single-file-width trails limit the number of fighters who could be concurrently engaged without risking slipping and rolling down the mountain.  Firing arrows up, you end up converting some of that kinetic energy into potential energy, much like firing up at the defenders on walls during sieges; the -4 "volley overhead" penalty seems like too much, but -2 might be right (this is also interesting more generally for firing ranged weapons at flying opponents with an altitude advantage).  I could also see fireball and other big magic setting off rockslides.

Mounts: I'm not sure how viable riding a horse up would be.  I didn't see any evidence of horses being used on Fujinomiya (though apparently they are used on the shallower-and-less-rocky Yoshida trail), and for the Himalayas local human porters seem to be preferred.  If horses are supposed to be one of those pieces of kit that really changes the wilderness exploration game by increasing the speed of small, elite adventurer groups relative to mobs of infantry like most beastmen, I'm not sure what the implications of this are.

Wilderness Damage: This is something Tao of D&D was kicking around a few years back, and I think that it's a solid model of the realities.  If hit points are an abstraction for your luck and vigor and ability to turn dangerous situations into no serious bodily harm, that's exactly what gets ground down by exposure and hunger and being altitude drunk, and then when you hit zero from these 1-2 points of chip damage you roll a (probably) not-very-serious wound from the Death and Dismemberment table, like falling over and knocking your teeth out on a rock in the trail or losing a couple fingers to frostbite.  Doing something like this opens up some interesting design space.  Weather obviously plays a part in determining how fatigued you get.  You could even make the wilderness damage roll determine the weather - if you're in mountains in winter, the daily wilderness damage roll is 1d4 or something.  4 means it's a blizzard today, 1 means it's just cold.  In the summer, it's 1d4-2 instead, maybe, so most days just being in the mountains is OK but sometimes you get rained on and you get cold.  Forced march and night march (I recall from von Schnell's book an aside about making a night march and it being very lucky that they didn't lose anyone) give you a choice not just about rest, but about damage.  Abilities like Endurance and Survival might reduce the amount of wilderness damage that you take by 1 per die, as might equipment, and being in a sanctuary reduces it a lot (say 3 points, in our mountain blizzard example - it's still going to be cold, you're still going to want a fur cloak, but you can get by if you stay inside).  There are a couple of annoyances here, of course - building coherent systems is hard, hit points in OSR games are very low-resolution, I don't want to track HP for a bunch of mercenaries, and handling a die roll for damage every day (er, wilderness turn) sounds like a hassle (especially when you start considering crossing multiple hexes per day and changing terrain types and whether marching inflicts damage, which it seems like it should, you're less likely to twist an ankle if you're sitting around all day).

Equipment Loss: My father almost broke his glasses.  I destroyed the heel of my boot.  A couple of times we got our poles stuck in rocks and could've broken them if we were clumsier.  Obviously these are recoverable once you get back to civilization, but out there these could be quite bad.  I feel like destruction of mundane equipment is a totally reasonable effect for a wilderness trap or mishap, and one which (particularly if aimed at rations or water) might really be felt.  Some items of equipment, like optics, might be fragile by nature and "first to fall" to such mishaps.  This might also be true of horses, which are notoriously fragile among work-beasts and easy to lame.

The Weight of Wealth: A 100-yen coin is five grams, about an inch across with a little hole in the center, and made of something probably less dense than gold (copper, the primary component, is about half as dense as gold, it turns out).  But 1000 5g coins is 5kg, which is a bit shy of the British definition of stone but pretty close.  So if you're running ACKS and coins are 1000 to the stone, gold pieces are probably about half an inch in diameter, maybe 3/4 of an inch with a hole in the middle.

Pilgrimage: An obvious use for mountains, and one used by both Morrowind (pilgrimage up Mount Kand) and Skyrim (to High Hrothgar).  Turns out Fuji used to have quite a widespread cult in Japan, with over 1300 shrines built out of rocks from the mountain.  Next time you want to make religion in your campaign less boring, consider the Good News of Volcano-Gods.

Volcanic Craters: They're big!  And totally hidden from view until you reach the summit (unless, like St. Helens, the whole side of the crater blew out during an eruption).  I think Fuji's was about a quarter mile across.  You could hide a lot of stuff in there - goatman village, volcano cult temple, tarrasque...

Torii Gates: They mark the boundary of sacred ground.  You're supposed to take off your hat and bow when you pass through them.  It would be interesting to use a similar mechanism to provide information to players, of symbolic gates to mark the boundaries of civilization and peace (separating the temple at the summit of the volcano from the mountain wilderness, say) or to invert them and have them mark the boundaries of the otherworld, the supernatural wilderness, where spirits and demons are active.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Hike Notes: Mount Fuji, Part 1: Climb Report

This post: long-form report of observations.
Next post: D&D-relevant distillation.

About a week ago, my father and I summited Mount Fuji via the Fujinomiya Trail.  The distance as the crow flies from our starting point to the summit was about 2 miles and 4330 feet of elevation gain, but with switchbacks the length of the trail was around 3 miles.  The climb up took us about five hours, we spent half an hour or so at the summit, and then the descent took us three and a half hours.

We were only lightly encumbered, with a single pack between us, which we took turns carrying.  The pack was 3lb empty, and contained three liters of water (~6lb), rain gear and layers, snacks (I estimate around 2lb), about 20 100-yen coins for toilet fees (5 grams each, so 100 grams, or a quarter pound of currency), cell phones, and a few contingency items like flashlights.  I think in total it was probably around 20 lbs.  It definitely made itself felt; the pack carrier had to maintain a slower pace on both ascent and descent.  The one time I fell over, on the descent, was while carrying the pack (fortunately I fell backwards and it cushioned my fall).  Some climbers brought helmets - initially we thought for falling rocks (which were a risk, as regularly noted by signs), but now I think for falling over too.

Despite a few wipeouts and near-wipeouts, we were fortunate to avoid any serious injuries or destruction of equipment.  Some old injuries that we thought healed (damaged hip adductor attachment point, injured knee) started hurting on the way up and continued on the way down, but they didn't increase in severity.  Had a couple hot spots on my feet that were on the way to blistering, but nipped in the bud by tightening the laces of my boots.  My father did drop his glasses at one point and was concerned that they would be damaged but they were fine.  Towards the very end of the descent, I caught the heel of my boot and started tearing the sole off, but it was still usable and we made it down.

We were also lucky with the weather.  Forecast showed a 50% chance of a thunderstorm, but it only drizzled a little.  There wasn't that much direct sun either (a little on the way down); instead there was a lot of mist and low clouds, which wafted up the mountain.  Supposedly when it rains, it often rains upwards in a similar way, making ponchos insufficient rain gear.  If we had gotten soaked, there would've been a small risk of hypothermia, as temperatures at the summit were in the 40s, even at midafternoon in early August.  There was still some ice in ravines and runnels that don't get direct sunlight, but for the most part we were comfortably warm in technical fabrics, plus lightweight jackets near the top.

The view down - mists blowing up the slope, bit of "moon rock" on the right
We purchased a small (~300 mL) canister of oxygen at the Sixth Station, and carried it up with us.  It was really only enough for five or six deep breaths (which is the best way to use it - take a deep breath from it, hold it for a bit, and then exhale).  I'm not sure we really needed it; I didn't use it, and we had some extra to share with another family of Americans on the way down.  I did notice some dizziness, some clumsiness, a little tinnitus, and a headache which got worse as we went on.  It was a bit like being drunk, but I am a reasonably happy drunk so it was alright once I got used to it and determined that I wasn't going to start vomiting immediately.  I did feel pretty bad around the Old 7th Station but it turned out I was mostly hungry.  Colors also faded a bit, but it was a gradual enough process that it wasn't very noticeable to my father until he tried the oxygen.  Part of the reason that we did not do the overnight hike (climb most of the way up, sleep in huts on the mountain, summit before dawn, watch the sunrise, descend) was that altitude sickness seems to sneak up on many people during the night, so by doing it in a single day we narrowed our window at risk.

In terms of terrain, the lower elevations had small plant-life growing off the trail and a little inside the trail, and the surface tended more towards dirt and gravel with some hand-sized rocks mixed in (just enough to roll an ankle on, or to hit your head on if you fell).  This makes sense, since dirt is a fluid and will gradually flow down hill (particularly when driven by the boots of tens of thousands of climbers per year).  Above that, it turned into bigger rocks, head-sized to torso-sized, with intermittent "moon rock" - big solid pieces of porous igneous rock in irregular shapes, speculatively hardened frothy lava from a previous eruption.  It often jutted out in concave formations, like whatever surface had been beneath it had eroded out from under it.  Towards the top the fraction of "moon rock" increased, and there were also rocks with yellow and green colors, perhaps indicative of sulfur.  The "moon rock" was hard going, especially on the way down, where its steep drops and concavities made finding places to step tricky without looking out over its edges.  We had collapsible hiking poles with tungsten carbide tips and these were a great help.  Many climbers had octagonal wooden poles, which could be branded for a small fee at the various stations, and so were both practical implements and souvenirs, but the tungsten bit better than I imagine the unshod wood would've (and they folded down to fit in a checked bag better, too).

The views were mostly down into mists, with occasional glimpses of the secondary peak of Mount Hoei, or the forests at the foot of the mountain.  Often we could not see either the station above us or the station below us, between the mist and the irregularities of the slope, even though we were probably only a couple of hundred meters from them in Euclidean distance.  The views across the side of the mountain were sometimes quite good, with ridges and overhangs and a rock formation that looked almost like a whale.  It was hard to see much of anything looking up, between mists and neck-angle and switchbacks.  Several time we thought we saw the summit and turned out to be mistaken.  It was steep; with 4300 feet of climb over a three mile trail, it's about 1:4, 25% average grade, or a 15 degree average slope, and that was up the switchbacks, rather than directly up the mountain.  Some of the views were rather precipitous; one of the stations had a metal grating out over the slope, and when we arrived on the way up, I wanted nothing to do with it.  Coming back down I waltzed right up to the edge.  Morale is a funny thing.

This is also a view down - the white thing on the left is the roof of (I think) New 7th Station below us, and the building on the right in the distance I think was the 6th Station, lower still.
There's a shrine at the top, dedicated to the kami of the mountain, and the whole area above the 8th Station is sacred ground, as delimited by a torii gate with many coins embedded in it.  We even encountered one old woman in traditional pilgrim's garb who was on her way up as we were going down.  I speculate that hypoxia may have an entheogenic effect, much like alcohol, which contributes to the phenomenon of mountaintops as holy places.  There were many Japanese families with children (often just dad and son, though most of the sons were much younger than I), a decent number of groups of male Japanese teenagers who kept similar paces to ours and with whom we interacted repeatedly, a few American families, and a few European solo climbers.  Most impressive were the runners - we saw several Japanese men, mostly in their late thirties or older, in the sort of kit you'd expect of marathoners, just running up and then back down the mountain.  In many places the trail was only one person wide, so when we met someone headed the opposite direction from us, one party had to yield.  Often this was a welcome break, but we got a bit antsy on the way down, as large groups of climbers were ascending for the overnight.

Looking down into the crater from the summit, there was more ice and sulfurous rock than we had seen on the way up.  We made an attempt for the Kengamine Peak, which used to be a radar weather station, but abandoned it; the slope from the shrine at the summit to the top of the peak was all steep gravel which slid beneath us, and it was a trudge.  In retrospect this was the correct decision; we needed what energy we had for the descent, and we only made it to the bottom fifteen minutes before the last bus off the mountain, so if we had spent twenty minutes up to Kengamine and then fifteen back down to the shrine, we'd've missed our bus.  On the way down, the terrain which had been easiest on the way up (moon-rock) was hardest, and the terrain which had been hardest on the way up (gravel) was the easiest.

We observed very little animal life; some sweat-bees even towards the top, one small brown bird around the 8th or 9th station, some flies around the stations where human waste accumulates.  There were a number of bright butterflies down in the green parts of the slope.  Supposedly there are bears on some of the lower trails, but being Japanese I imagine that they are very polite bears.  There were a few statues of tanuki at one of the stations but we did not observe any on the mountain.

The next day we were decently sore; I felt it in my calves and hip, and I think my father did in much of his lower body but especially his quads.  My quads were a little sore the day after that.  I was pretty happy with the results of my training program of weighted barbell squats plus stationary bike cardio (obviously training at altitude would've been better, but shikata ga nai).  We came off the mountain hungry but still more thirsty; we had drank a total of four liters of water between the two of us (some of it enhanced with Pocari Sweat powder), and eaten less than half of our snacks.  Towards the bottom my headache stopped pounding, but persisted; I think this was the hypoxia component resolving itself and being replaced by a dehydration headache.  I think we might've been better off with less snacks and layers and more water, but it all worked out (and water is damn heavy).

Next post: on climbing mountains in D&D.