Monday, September 28, 2020

Everybody is Cultists

I've been revisiting Renegade Crowns recently, to recapture that low-fantasy crapsack world vibe that inspired the first ACKS campaign.  One of the things I like about Warhammer is that just about anybody could secretly be a Chaos cultist.  But B/X-y systems don't do that well.  I think I've found a way to do it with ACKS, though, hijacking the witchdoctor and shaman rules for beastmen from Axioms and combining them with the Cultist class from Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu.

Any willing character can become a cultist of the chaos gods; they sense your desire and speak to you in dreams.  Chaos cultists gain a second XP progression independent of their main class.  When they gain XP, they must spend at least half of it into the cultist progression; once the road is embarked on, there is no turning back.  They gain a bonus to XP earned on the cultist progression for having poor Wisdom scores:

Wis 3-5: +10%
Wis 6-8: +5%
Wis 9-12: +0%
Wis 13-15: -5%
Wis 16-18: -10%

Being a cultist isn't great for you.  Depending on your campaign, a couple of options seem reasonable:
  • Softball: Whenever you gain a level of cultist, save vs spells or your alignment shifts one step towards Chaotic.
    • Surely you, oh wise and virtuous hero, can resist the taint of chaos and turn its power to good ends?  cackling
  • Hardball, with Heroic Fantasy Handbook's Corruption rules in play: Whenever you cast a cultist spell, gain a point of Corruption.
  • Middle of the road, with Corruption: Whenever you cast a cultist spell, save vs spells or gain a point of Corruption.

The ruinous powers have hungry eyes on the souls of their cultists; cultists suffer a penalty to Tampering with Mortality rolls equal to their level on the cultist progression.

Cultists cast divine spells from BCK's cultist spell list.

Cultists gain additional abilities based on their patron chaos god:

  • The Blood God
    • Abilities: Berserkergang, Illusion Resistance
    • Code of conduct:
      • Foil the plans of the Prince of Pleasure and slay his minions when you find them
      • No quarter asked or granted
  • The Plague Father
    • Abilities: Divine Health (asymptomatic carrier), Savage Resilience
    • Code of conduct:
      • Foil the plans of the Changer of Ways and slay his minions when you find them
      • Never cure a disease, nor allow your henchmen or hirelings to do so
  • The Prince of Pleasure
    • Abilities: Seduction, Alertness
    • Code of conduct:
      • Foil the plans of the Blood God and slay his minions when you find them
      • Before other expenses, always spend 20% of your earnings on debauchery (reserve XP)
  • The Changer of Ways
    • Abilities: Soothsaying, Transmogrification
    • Code of conduct:
      • Foil the plans of the Plague Father and slay his minions when you find them
      • ???
And some other non-Warhammer patrons:
  • The Howler
    • Abilities: Tracking, reduce damage from nonmagical and unsilvered weapons by 1 per die (increases to 2 at 7th and 3 at 13th)
    • Code of Conduct:
      • Foil the plans of the Spider Queen and the Bronze Devourer and slay their minions when you find them
      • Never abandon the pursuit of a wounded living creature.
  • The Spider Queen
    • Abilities: Trapping, Ambushing (if character already has Backstab or Ambushing, replace with Acrobatics)
    • Code of Conduct:
      • Foil the plans of the Lord of Locusts and the Howler and slay their minions when you find them
      • If your inaction would certainly cause an elf to perish, then you must not act.
  • The Lord of Locusts
    • Abilities: Survival, Vomit Locusts (once per day, summon one HD of insect swarm per cultist level.  Swarms remain within 30' of the caster for 12 turns and cannot be dismissed.  Locusts do not harm caster)
    • Code of Conduct:
      • Foil the plans of the Hopping Prophet and the Spider Queen and slay their minions when you find them
      • Eat twice as much rations as a normal human would.  It is bad for your health to let the locusts get hungry.
  • The Hopping Prophet
    • Abilities: Poison Use (can extract poisons from monsters and plants as Naturalism, +2 to saves vs poison), Kin-slaying
    • Code of Conduct:
      • Foil the plans of the Deep One and the Lord of Locusts and slay their minions when you find them
      • No demihuman henchmen or hirelings; if a henchman, will not serve a demihuman master
  • The Deep One
    • Abilities: Swim speed of 60', hold breath for 2 minutes
    • Code of Conduct:
      • Foil the plans of the Hopping Prophet and the Bronze Devourer and slay their minions when you find them
      • Never eat fish or other seafood.
      • Never rescue, or allow your henchmen or hirelings to rescue, a drowning character.
  • The Bronze Devourer
    • Abilities: Bargaining, Bribery
    • Code of Conduct:
      • Foil the plans of the Howler and the Deep One and slay their minions when you find them
      • Never help someone for free, nor allow your henchmen or hirelings to do so.
Violating the code of conduct doesn't result in loss of powers, but instead a curse, an appropriate result from the Tampering with Mortality or Magical Mutations tables, or similar.

At 5th level, cultists may begin gathering divine power for their god, performing spell research, and creating expendable magic items.

At 9th level, cultists may begin creating permanent magic items.

At 11th level, cultists may begin creating crossbreeds, divine ritual spells, and constructs.  They may also bind daemons to mortals or transcend into daemons themselves using the rules for undead transformations.  Cultists who transcend keep their cultist abilities and their abilities from their main class, and may continue to progress in them, as the Zaharan After the Flesh ability.  A transcended cultist becomes irrevocably and intrinsically chaotic.

01Shadowed Soul, After the Flesh, by diety-----
40005Minor magic research22---
600009Permanent magic items33322
16000011Major magic research44433

Ask your DM if the Ruinous Powers are right for you.  Privately - don't tell the other players, they might be cultists of a rival god who would kill you if they knew.  Or, gods forbid, paladins.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

ACKS Morrowind: Guar

Rollie the guar and his elf

% in lair: None
Dungeon encounter: None
Wilderness encounter: Herd (2d6)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor class: Desc 7, Asc 13, ACKS 3, as Ring Mail
Hit dice: 3
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d8
Save: F1
Morale: 0
Treasure: None
XP: 50

These bipedal lizards measure 10 to 12' from nose to tail and weigh around 650 lbs.  They are omnivorous, eating roots, fungus, rats, and scrib with equal relish.  Wild guar have been known to attack and eat humanoids during particularly lean years.  Their ungainly heads contain fat and water reserves like the hump of a camel, over a thick skull containing a brain the size of a man's fist.  During competition for mates, guar headbutt each other; these impacts resemble the initial collision in a sumo match.  The guar's tail serves as an essential counterbalance to its front-heavy mass distribution; hence the Ashlander expression, "to be the tail of the guar", meaning to do a task which is important but unpleasant, unglamorous, or smelly.  Domesticated guar express their affection by licking.

A herd of wild guar is often led by an huge old guar (or "old chonker") of 4HD and AC4 weighing 1100 lbs, whose bite deals 2d6 damage.

Both the Ashlanders and civilized dunmer raise guar for meat and as pack animals.  As pack animals, a typical guar can carry 12 stone at 120' speed or up to 25 stone at 60' speed.  Racing on guar-back is a popular sport among Ashlander children.  Very large guar can carry 22 stone at 120' speed or 44 stone at 60' speed, but they are rarely used as battle mounts because they aren't very smart and tend to like to stop and eat things on the battlefield.  Rumor has it that the Redorans are working on selectively breeding guar for carrying capacity and trainability as cavalry.  When butchered for meat, a guar yields 25 stone, and a very large guar yields 44 stone.

The hide of a guar is a common ingredient in alchemical recipes, and the hides of very large guars are worth 100XP towards magical research dealing with Fellowship, Sanctuary, Vigor, Charm Animal, Summon Animal, and Predict Weather effects.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

ACKS Class: Warrior-Poet

 Each word led me on | to another word, 

 Each deed to another deed. 

- Odin, the Hovamol, Stanza 142 

I was thinking the other day about how Inspire Courage is a great ability, and that despite that bard just doesn't see that much play, probably in part because the bard just has a long-running frivolous reputation.  It occurred to me to give Inspire Courage the Varangian treatment - stealing it and putting it on top of a fighter with d6 HD.  Working in the Varangian vein, I originally was going to call it Skald.  But I was reminded of Morrowind and its Buoyant Armigers, and figured maybe I would generalize it a bit.


Prime requisites: Strength and Charisma

HD: d6

Maximum level: 14

Warrior-poets cut their enemies with both word and sword.  They are able fighters, advancing in attack throws and saves at a rate of 2 points per 3 levels.  They gain a +1 bonus to damage at 1st level, and every third level.  They save as fighters of their level and may use magic items usable by fighters.

Warrior-poets train broadly with weapons and armor, but their training is not as complete as that of fighters.  Warrior-poets may use all weapons and armor, and fight with a weapon in both hands, a weapon in each hand, or a shield, except as restricted by their chosen style / cultural background:

  • Skald: Not trained with armor heavier than chain.
  • Zen Swordsman: Not trained with shields.
  • Minstrel-Knight: Not trained with bows and crossbows.
Regardless of culture, warrior-poets are able composers and reciters of poetry (as the Performance proficiency), and often practice other arts as well.  They are well-versed in protocol and courtesy (as the Diplomacy proficiency), and their exhortations can Inspire Courage in their companions and followers (as the bard ability).  Finally, as allegory and allusion are their stock in trade, each warrior-poet accumulates an armory of legends and lore (as the Loremastery proficiency), to which he can refer on a throw of 18+, improving by 1 point per level after 1st.

By 5th level, the warrior-poet's presence and prowess inspire his followers without needing to speak.  Troops and henchmen whom he personally leads gain a +1 bonus to morale throws.

By 9th level, the warrior-poet's hospitality and courtly manners are widely known.  Should he construct or otherwise come into possession of a fortress, mead hall, monastery, or other property, 1d4+1 x 10 0th-level mercenaries and 1d6 warrior-poets of 1st-3rd level will soon arrive seeking to enter his service.

XPLevelHit DiceTHAC0Damage bonus

Sorry, generating level titles that made sense across all three of Skald, Zen Swordsman, and Mistrel-Knight didn't seem reasonable.

Class proficiencies (28):
  1. Alertness
  2. Art
  3. Bargaining
  4. Berserkergang
  5. Blind Fighting
  6. Combat Reflexes
  7. Combat Trickery
  8. Command
  9. Disguise
  10. Dungeon Bashing
  11. Endurance
  12. Fighting Style
  13. Gambling
  14. Healing
  15. Intimidation
  16. Leadership
  17. Manual of Arms
  18. Military Strategy
  19. Performance
  20. Precise Shooting
  21. Prophecy
  22. Riding
  23. Running
  24. Seduction
  25. Skirmishing
  26. Swashbuckling
  27. Weapon Finesse
  28. Weapon Focus
Notes: This class makes me feel sort of bad about Fighting 2 / HD 1 / Thief 1 class builds.  For an extra 450 XP to 2nd level over bard, it gets better saves, better THAC0, fighting damage bonus, and almost full weapon and armor proficiencies.  And if it didn't have Performance (which is sort of a dead-weight proficiency), it wouldn't have to make a fighting value tradeoff, and then it would only be at 300XP over bard to 2nd.  Meanwhile it gets two of the bard's main abilities (though it loses out in the mid-levels, but by that point the save and damage bonuses are bigger).

I considered differentiating skald, zen swordsman, and minstrel-knight further, adding a second restriction to each and having them provide a second proficiency (probably berserkergang or fighting style: shield, alertness or combat reflexes, and riding), but couldn't figure out what else to remove from each.  That would've put the XP up to 2k to 2nd anyway, which didn't seem worth it.

Monday, September 14, 2020

A/X: Refactoring Mercenary Hiring

Way back in 2016, I wrote this post about hiring mercenaries as (small) units.  I still think that a focus on units from squad to company-scale is appropriate for wilderness play in ACKS - at the low end, a beastman warband can be modeled as about five gangs, each the equal of a squad of mercenaries.  In the middle, a village is ~5-6 warbands, each on average 30 strong, so a small platoon-scale battle or good-sized squad-scale battle.  On the high end, a village is about one or two companies, so a confederation of villages is a small company-scale battle or large platoon-scale battle.

A simplification of that hiring process struck me recently, though.  Tracking how long a particular unit has been in production is a lot of state, and rolling for each type of mercenary randomly each month will lead to swingy results, where sometimes there is a drought and sometimes there is an overabundance of mercenaries.  This is reasonable and realistic, but if one of my goals is to make preparing an expedition quicker, and if downtime spent hiring mercs is somewhat abstracted, then this approach is less than ideal.

We can preserve the expected value and distribution of available mercenaries by changing the order of operations.

Available mercenaries per month by market class:

VI: 20% chance of one platoon (or 1 squad)

V: 60% chance of one platoon (or 3 squads)

IV: 1 platoon, with 25% chance of a second platoon (or 6 squads)

III: 3 platoons, with 20% chance of a fourth platoon

II: 1 company, 2 platoons

I: 6 companies

Mercenary unit type (1d20):

1-4: Light infantry

5-10: Archers or crossbows

11-12: Heavy infantry

13: Longbows

14-16: Light cavalry

17: Horse archers

18: Heavy cavalry

19: Cataphract cavalry

20: Exotic (dwarves, elves, elephants, beastmen, or roll again if nothing springs to mind)

(This isn't perfect - it slightly underweights light infantry, light cavalry, and horse archers, and slightly overweights longbows and cataphracts.  But it's a reasonable starting point that avoids using d%s)

Independent of the roll for type, 25% of mercenary units are veterans.

Not sure about hiring search cost yet.  It probably isn't unreasonable to say that you're searching for all available mercenary types, so about 8 or 10 times the cost to search for a single type under the core rules.  The standard "half in the first week, a quarter in the second week, and the last quarter in the third week" schedule for finding units still applies if you're using it with high-fidelity timekeeping instead of "in some market in the nebulous time between open-table adventures" (in which case the gp cost becomes the more limiting factor).

I think this approach might have a couple of nice properties.

Using this to generate available mercenaries is almost certainly faster than the core system.  The number of rolls required, even in large markets, remains quite small, especially if you roll the d20 for type and the d4 for veterancy at the same time (if you have a couple of matched pairs of d20s and d4s, this parallelizes even better).  Since mercenaries are found and hired as units, the reaction roll to hire rule might actually be used rather than ignored.  Additionally, I like that there are no or almost no "dead rolls", where you're just rolling 0 mercs / unavailability of a type.

I think it would be easy to create culture-specific mercenary type tables; chaotic domains get their own table, dwarven settlements get their own table, desert settlements with camels and elephants, western european troop mix without cataphracts and horse archers, norse unit comp, etc.  This is somewhat dangerous though, because the average value of those troops might be higher or lower than baseline, and then the economy gets a little out of wack.  If you replace the 20th entry with an Exotic Mercenary Type subtable, and then customize that by culture, it could get even wilder.

I think this system would also help address one of the problems that we had in the early mid-levels in ACKS, where we would travel between settlements and pick up tiny piddling numbers of different types of mercenaries and not have enough of any one type to constitute a unit.  This system always gives you a unit.  It might not be a good unit, and it might not be the type that you wanted, but it moves the problem of assembling units up one layer (you might still need to build a platoon out of squads, but at least you don't have to build squads out of individuals), and combining squads into mixed platoons (of eg bows+longbows, light cav+horse archers, and heavy cav+cataphracts) or platoons into mixed companies may be easier when you're already starting with nice round unit numbers.  If certain combinations in certain ratios are expected to occur often, it would even be easy to have those mixed-unit stats on hand.

There is probably room here for also randomly generating mercenary officers attached to / in charge of each unit.  Might slow things down a lot though.

One weakness here is that this abstraction leaks - when it comes time for a hired mercenary unit to "heal" in town, replacing losses with fresh troops, the number of individual troops of a particular type matters.  So we can't jettison the old tables entirely (but we might be able to reframe them as "healing rate of unit by type and market class", and then take averages rather than ever having to roll).  But then you also don't want to have both healing and hiring in the same market in the same month.  So that gets kind of gnarly.

In retrospect, rolling slingers into archers instead of into light infantry may have been a mistake, as archers come out really heavy in this table.  But this is easy to correct here - changing light infantry to 1-6 and archers to 7-10 would get pretty close (or light infantry 1-4, slingers 5-6, archers 7-10, if I wanted to add slingers back).  Likewise, maybe I should've split medium cav half-and-half between light and heavy instead of all into light.  It's possible that there are other artifacts in total available troop numbers or the type distribution as a result of basing it on my previous work, which was already an approximation.  So this might benefit from going back to the core numbers and starting over with this approach in mnd.

I wonder if a similar approach would work for magic items; currently I have a script to roll the number available for each magic item, which results in scrolls being really quite common.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Wildfires and Wilderness Adventures

We have some smoke blowing in north from California, east over the mountains, and even a little generated locally, and as usual any change in visibility brings me back to thoughts on wilderness adventuring [1][2][3].

Two days ago it wasn't too bad, large buildings about six miles away were visible as grey outlines in the haze, and objects two miles away were fairly visible.  Yesterday things were much worse, with buildings two miles away pretty much indistinguishable from the trees, and the trees mostly visible as shadows only where they grow along the top of a ridgeline, and they are lit from behind.  Today visibility is absolutely garbage, maybe a mile tops, and the light has a strong yellow tint to it (it was very orange when I woke up but had faded by the time I was done with morning chores).  Haven't seen the mountains about sixty miles away since last weekend, but even the little smoke that was there before the bulk of it blew in on monday made it easier to see the depth between the various ridgelines, which I did not expect.

As for fires themselves as a wilderness hazard, several of the fires in Washington are between 100,000 and 170,000 acres.  At 640 acres per square mile, and about 30 square miles per six-mile hex, that's between 5 and 9 6-mile hexes each.  This is, conveniently, right around the size I've been thinking about for "rooms" in the wilderness-as-dungeon.  I could definitely see throwing some pine barrens into a wilderness sandbox and having them catch fire occasionally (and then smoke up big parts of the map).  I have never had a player complain about having too many things to light on fire in the play environment.

In conclusion: pine forests are to wilderness adventures as big red barrels are to first-person shooters.  Also, maybe not the best places to build domains.