Sunday, November 17, 2019

ACKS Morrowind: Silt Striders

Why walk when you can ride?

Silt striders are the first means of fast travel most Morrowind players encounter, and also the one that is the most iconic.  They're giant bugs whose shells are partly hollowed out, their nerves poked to make them move on command, and used as buses.

Elf on the dock for scale

Silt striders pose a couple of interesting questions.  What do their young look like?  Do they lay eggs?  How big an egg?  Where do they fit ecologically?  What do they eat?  Some folks advance theories that they're primarily aquatic, but since there are silt striders in Ald'ruhn and Maar Gan, both unreachable by water, and plenty of silt strider husks in the Ashlands, I don't like this theory.  One proposal is that they're like salmon, with adults migrating in from the sea to lay eggs in the Ashlands, where they then die.  Their mouths are so high that they probably need to bring food up, but their pointy front legs aren't clawed.  Maybe they're filter feeders who sift the dust?  But the head and mouth don't look built for that.  Likewise, any herbivorous explanation doesn't make sense with the height; there aren't any trees that tall in the Ashlands, or even in most of the West Gash.  Maybe they eat that persistent pest, the cliff racer.  Maybe when Saint Jiub hunted the cliff racer to extinction, he also doomed the silt striders to extinction.  If they eat cliff racers in the wild, what do they eat in captivity?  How much meat does a house-sized carnivorous insect need per day?

The common cliff racer.  Somewhat larger than man-sized.  Note the keeled breastbone and lack of feet.
Cliff racers are sort of like wyverns, but smaller, faster, without the venom, and much more numerous.

This seems like a fine time to break out the Lairs and Encounters rules for building monsters.

Silt striders are fantastic vermin, saving as a fighter of HD/2 and with probably 0 special abilities.  Their body form is...  maybe Beetle is the closest?  With a body mass exponent of 1.63 and a carrying capacity factor of 0.43.  Silt striders are...  big.  Even excluding the height from the spindly legs, the main body is about 10 feet tall and as broad.  Measuring some pixels on screenshots, I think they're around 25-30 feet long, or towards the upper end of ACKS' Gigantic size category.  Call it 26,000 pounds (about two elephants by mass).  Some math gives us...  53 HD.  That's a lot.  Two elephants is only 18 HD.  Leeet's go with 36 HD.

As for carrying capacity, doing some jiggery-pokery with the cube-square law, I get around 2750 stone.  I think, if I'm reading this right.  2750 pounds seems too low (since a man-sized Giant Tiger Beetle can carry almost that much), but 2750 stone is more than the silt strider itself weighs.  That is more than the cargo capacity of a 60' longship.  An elephant can carry 180 stone.  So it weighs twice as much as an elephant, and can carry almost 15 times as much.

Beetles, man.

I think we're going to need broader, flatter feet to distribute all that load and not sink into the ground, especially in silt.  Also howdah-like cargo platforms, because they've only got a horizontal profile of about 250 square feet.

I guess ridiculous carrying capacity is a really good reason to bother "domesticating" these huge dangerous bugs and using them to transport cargo though.

Speaking of dangerous:

% in lair: 40%
Dungeon enc: N/A
Wilderness enc: Solitary (1) / Solitary (1)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 150' (50')
Armor class: 6
Hit dice: 36 (THAC0 -4+)
Attacks: 3 (claw, claw, bite) or 1 (trample at +4)
Damage: 4d10/4d10/8d6 or 16d8
Save: F18
ML: 0
Treasure: P+M
XP: 6750

Trainable at a -2 modifier with a training period of 5 months.  Natural lifespan of 55 years, reach adulthood at 5 and a half.  The value of a "trained" silt strider is around 224,000 GP by the formula in Lairs and Encounters.  Which, I suppose, does explain why there are only 9 of them on the whole island.  This same formula also puts a medium horse at almost 600gp, where a medium warhorse is less than half of that, and a medium riding horse is only 40gp.  So I imagine it might be appropriate to apply a substantial discount for "this is the beast of burden of our people".

Taking that price at face value though, an untrained silt strider is worth 2/3 (~150kgp), a young one 50% (112kgp), and a baby or egg 25% (~56kgp).  So that would be a pretty funny mid-level ashlands adventure, to secure a 5' diameter silt strider egg and roll it back to civilization.

For Domains at War, five silt striders make up a company-scale unit.  With their ridiculous carrying capacity, it makes a lot of sense to put artillery on top of them.  Lamellar barding (3600gp, +4 AC, 48st), gigantic war howdah (240gp, 18st), 6 dudes in lamellar with bows and short swords (96st, AC5), a light catapult (100gp, 120st), and 20 rounds (6st) uses like...  15% of the carrying capacity.  Sadly there are no numbers for the weight of siege towers.

Siege Striders
MV 2/5/8 FM?.  Tall spindly legs allow them to walk over obstacles 10' tall or less.
AC 9
HD 40+2
UHP 14
Melee: Only the striders can attack, the riders are too high up.  10 melee at -4+.  On charge, 10 trample at -8+.  As gigantic creatures, their melee attacks deal 50 SHP to wood and 5 SHP to stone structures.
Ranged: 2 shortbow 13+.
Siege: 1 light catapult 13+, range 5-10, reload 5.  Deals 50 SHP to wood and 5 SHP to stone structures.
ML: +1

I dunno.  Maybe this is too big and too expensive.  Maybe I should work up reasonable beasts of burden for a horseless continent.  Horse-sized beetles pulling wagons, pack guars, riding wasps, etc.

Rollie the Pack-Guar and his elf

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