Tuesday, March 30, 2021

BH2 and Lost Secrets of the Old Hexmappers

Having read the Boot Hill rules, I decided to pick up a couple of the old modules too, because hey, you can get the whole line for less than a single expensive system.  I read BH5: Range War first and it was fine (sadly it did not have the "how much does having a farm or ranch earn you, the owner?" questions I had from the core rules), but BH2: Lost Conquistador Mine (by no less a pair than Cook and Moldvay) has some interesting stuff going on.

In particular, there's a hex map of a region of wilderness and they do some things with it that I've never seen on a hex map for an RPG before. 

The two biggest and most obviously novel things are that some hex-sides are marked as impassable, and the visibility distances of some features are marked on the map itself.

Impassable hex-sides occur along ridge-lines through high mountains.  On reflection this seems like sort of an obvious thing to do, coming from the wargaming tradition - there are impassable hex-sides on the OGRE map, if I recollect rightly.  But I've never seen it on an RPG wilderness map before!  The best you ever get is that rivers are sometimes impassable except at certain points.  But making hex-sides impassable for other reasons is an interesting tool for the Wilderness as Dungeon toolbox - sometimes the rooms really do have hard walls!  And it gives Climb Sheer Surfaces a use in wilderness play too.  This might be an interesting way to represent the fact that many mountains can only be summited by a few routes (four trails up Fuji, fewer up Everest and Rainier if I recollect rightly).

Mountain peaks are also marked with a pair of numbers, the first representing the number of hexes away from which they can be seen with the naked eye, and the second representing the distance at which they can be seen with a telescope.  I don't know how they determined these numbers; it seems like taking prominence above surrounding terrain into account could be tricky.  But they look mostly pretty reasonable, if you're willing to accept the abstraction that they're visible at the same distance in all directions.  Anyway, I'm just thrilled to see spotting distance for mountain peaks on a hex-map at all.  The Old Masters were worrying about the same things that Trilemma and I do.  Maybe we're on the right track.

Visible from 2 5-mile hexes with the naked eye, or 6 hexes with a telescope

On a similar "on the right track" note, the module comes with a hex-map for the players to fill in as they explore, with just a small section around the starting town filled in.  Cook and Moldvay knew: Never show them the map!

And the treasure map that is given to players is a stained, torn, creased, hand-drawn mess, and the text on it is in German (back in a pre-smartphone pre-machine translation age).  German is a great choice really, since it's sort of close to English, enough that you can probably draw some conclusions in combination with the drawings, but not high-confidence ones.  Some of the landmarks on it are also no longer accurate within the game-world, or not quite as unique as the map's author thought.  It's a wonderful "give them some hints but don't just tell them where it is" treasure map.

A curiosity that I hadn't seen on a hex map before is that there's a dry riverbed, which can only be entered and exited in certain directions in certain hexes.  Naturally, it can also flash-flood.  Sort of a variation on blocked hex-sides.

One other odd property of this map is its sparseness.  I haven't done a precise count of its rows and columns, but I reckon it about 20 hexes tall and 50 or 60 wide.  In those thousand hexes, there are about 15 named and described features (which have visibility numbers in the map's key) only a couple of which have people, plus about ten mountain peaks.  It's very sparse.  And only about ten wilderness encounters are described (one of which can only take place in a particular region).  So I'm not sure what to make of this.  I'm a big believer that putting something in every hex is an unreasonable amount of work, but having one feature per 40 hexes (counting the peaks) is lower than even I would expect.  It's an interesting reference point I suppose.  Maybe this is partly because it was intended as a tournament module and only needed to fill a single-digit number of hours; there was no need to fill a hex map to the same degree that you would if you were to run a sustained campaign on it?

In any case, a very interesting hex-map.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Playing with AD&D's Weapon-vs-Armor Table

Delta had a good post the other day about what he believes to be a big error in the weapon-vs-armor table present in the 1e DMG (and as far as I can tell, identical to the one in Supplement 1, Greyhawk, which I noted in passing).

I think Delta is correct, that the modifiers were just taken by looking at the difference between 8+ and the target number for each entry, which means that (for example) maces aren't particularly good against heavy armor, and that in general you get very un-Chainmail-like outcomes for a table nominally derived from Chainmail.

But Delta doesn't quite follow through to publishing a revised table.  He asks at the end if that's something that people would like to see.  And I was curious so I decided to have a stab at it myself.

First I converted each of the target numbers on 2d6 into a probability and then into a target number on d20.


TN 2d6 % hit % miss TN d20
5 83.33 16.67 4
6 72.22 27.78 6
7 58.33 41.67 9
8 41.67 58.33 12
9 27.78 72.22 15
10 16.67 83.33 17
11 8.33 91.67 19
12 2.78 97.22 20


Then I filled those d20 target numbers in for each weapon:

d20 target numbers No armor Leather Shield only Leather
Chain Chain
Plate Plate
Dagger 6 9 12 12 15 17 20 20
Hand Axe 9 9 12 15 17 17 19 20
Mace 12 12 12 15 12 12 9 12
Sword 9 12 12 15 12 15 17 19
Battle Axe 12 12 12 12 9 9 15 17
Morningstar 6 6 9 9 6 9 12 12
Flail 9 9 9 9 6 9 6 9
Spear 12 12 15 15 17 17 19 20
Pole arm 6 6 6 9 9 12 15 17
Halberd 12 12 12 9 6 6 9 12
2H Sword 6 6 6 6 4 4 6 9
Mounted Lance 4 4 4 4 6 9 12 15
Pike 12 12 12 12 12 12 15 17

Finally, I converted those target numbers into modifiers relative to the baseline target number to hit that type of armor in Supplement 1 (10+ for No Armor, 12+ for Shield Only, 17+ for Plate+shield, etc)

No armor Leather Shield only Leather
Chain Chain
Plate Plate
Base to-hit: 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
Dagger +4 +2
+1 -1 -2 -4 -3
Hand Axe +1 +2
-2 -3 -2 -3 -3
Mace -2 -1
-2 +2 +3 +7 +5
Sword +1 -1
-2 +2
-1 -2
Battle Axe -2 -1
+1 +5 +6 +1
Morningstar +4 +5 +3 +4 +8 +6 +4 +5
Flail +1 +2 +3 +4 +8 +6 +10 +8
Spear -2 -1 -3 -2 -3 -2 -3 -3
Pole arm +4 +5 +6 +4 +5 +3 +1
Halberd -2 -1
+4 +8 +9 +7 +5
2H Sword +4 +5 +6 +7 +10 +11 +10 +8
Mounted Lance +6 +7 +8 +9 +8 +6 +4 +2
Pike -2 -1
+1 +2 +3 +1

This seems somewhat unnecessarily complicated, though, since you have to check both a modifier for the armor and then a modifier for the weapon.  I rather like the big table of d20 target numbers - sum your adjustment from Str, magic weapons, and level, subtract for defender's magic armor and rings of protection, roll your d20, add your bonus, and look up in the table what you need to hit.

I don't know that these direct conversions by probability are actually reasonable within the context of balancing weapon choices for AD&D.  The heavy weapons get some really big bonuses to hit, and they don't have the counterbalancing factors that they did in Chainmail's man-to-man combat system, where opponents using lighter weapons could parry or attack multiple times in a round against opponents using heavier weapons.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Truer Combat as War

Was thinking more about Chocolate Hammer's Boot Hill campaign, and I had the realization:

This is much more Combat as War than any OSR game I've run.

We may like to talk about how B/X or ACKS or whatever is combat as war because poison is save-or-die and you have to actually prepare when you go to fight vampires, but ultimately I am forced to the conclusion that it's still basically combat as sport.  It's a much rougher sport than newer editions of D&D.  It's more like baseball, if you were sometimes the Yankees and sometimes the Pittsburgh Pirates, depending on the situation, and yeah sometimes you lose hard and and people get cut from your roster; unfair/asymmetric sport with permanent consequences.  But it's not no holds barred, please enjoy your complimentary assassins combat as war.

And this sort of settles a conflict I've had.  I've had this gut feeling that if I were to run a B/X-y type game again, I'd kind of want to run it fairly clean; here's a big dungeon to explore at your own pace, your various classes have tools for dealing with particular kinds of threats, you don't really need to cheese because you have the agency to go where you want and avoid hard fights until you feel like you're ready, and in exchange I would like you to, you know, not cheese too hard.  Because presumably if your crazy plan to research broken-ass spells or flood the dungeon worked, every other wizard would've already done it, so there must be an in-world reason that they haven't, but coming up with reasons the game world isn't totally broken every week is a lot of work that I'm not spending on forward prep.  It's fire that prevents me from motion.  And being Basic-lineage D&D, the system wasn't written with rules lawyers in mind anyhow - and that's part of what's attractive about it in the first place!

Maybe the argument I want to be making here is that while any single combat in B/X might be won in a single round by a single character, possibly cheekily / by CaW means, when you zoom out and look at the expedition as a whole, it looks a lot sportier - each class does have a role to fill, each class has some combats that are theirs to carry.  I'm not sure about this thesis and maybe it warrants further thought and elaboration.

In any case, this desire for a nice clean game of pure, fundamental, elemental Basic D&D is in tension with combat as war, because combat as war says "if you're not cheating, you're not playing."

Maybe the right metaphor here is limited war vs total war.  Keegan would argue that just about every society that has warfare has invented limited war.  If goblins and adventurers come into regular conflict with each other, there will probably be some informal conventions that emerge.

Maybe my conclusion is that "having seen what combat as total war looks like in an RPG when you really commit to it, maybe I'm more OK with taking a sportier position for (Basic) D&D."

Which isn't to say that I don't also want to run a maximalist combat-as-war game - I just don't think it should be (Basic) D&D!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Stat Generation and First-Generation Supremacy: A Correction

Once upon a time I wrote a post about unintended consequences of ACKS' stat generation system.  One of those consequences is that replacement characters will tend to be less-good than first generation characters.  The logic goes something like this:

When everyone is first rolling characters, you have a total of 5 stat-lines per player, and the best wizard will be the stat line with the best Int of 20-25 3d6 rolls, which for 4 players tends to be around 16.

When that wizard bites it, you go to roll a new PC but you have a wizard-shaped hole in the party and a desperate need for some sleep support.  But you roll five sets and your best Int will be the best of 5 3d6 rolls, which is only about 14.  So sure, you can bring in another wizard, but he will probably be worse than the wizard you lost, beyond just lower XP.

I mentioned this in discord and someone pointed out that when PCs get killed, often it is several PCs at once.  If a bunch of PCs die at once, then you might be rolling 10 or 15 sets instead of just 5, as each of the other players with a dead PC rolls up a new one too.  If you do this, then the gap between first-generation PCs and later-generation PCs should be much smaller.  If you lost a fighter, a wizard, and a thief, you no longer have the constraint that the player who was playing the wizard has to be the new wizard, so you're free to take the best wizard statblock from among those 15 sets, which should be much closer to the best wizard statblock from among 20 sets.

So then the question became, how often do PCs die in groups in practice?  So I looked back over my notes from the first summer of my first ACKS campaign and found 7 "PC death events", 5 in which only 1 PC died, 1 in which 2 PCs died, and 1 in which (all) 3 PCs died.  So half of PCs who died didn't die alone.  The other fellow I was discussing this with in discord went and checked his session logs and found an even heavier-tailed distribution, something closer to 60% of PCs dying at the same time as at least one other PC.

So if this is true, then we should expect first-generation supremacy to not be as serious a problem in practice as I had thought it was theoretically.  And I suppose the correct advice for players who are worried about first-generation characters being better is "you can solve this problem by TPKing more often.  Leave no-one behind, make valiant last stands, play heroically and all die together."  Which is weird, counter-intuitive advice, but heroic last stands are one of the finest parts of D&D in any case.

(Another objection worth noting to the theory is that first-generation supremacy problems probably apply under almost any random ability score generation scheme, not just ACKS')

Monday, March 22, 2021

Boot Hill 2e Notes

Following reading Chocolate Hammer's post about his Boot Hill campaign, I felt compelled to go take a look at the Boot Hill ruleset.  Thanks, Wizards, for putting it up on DriveThruRPG as a pdf.

No scale on the big hexmap?  It's a nice looking map, though there are only two settlements on it.  They've left a lot of empty for users to fill on, which was nice of them.  No scale on the map, unfortunate.

These rules are aimed at enjoyment on a plane unusual to wargaming, the individual and personal. Rather than commanding hordes of troops, players typically have but a single figure, their "character".

A rather luminary list of playtesters.

Wow there was an ad for GenCon in here.  In unrelated news, I just realized the Gen in GenCon is probably from Lake Geneva.

The discussion of campaigns emphasizes both having players "on both sides of the law" and that one advantage of having a referee is that players can make secret plans without each others' knowledge.

A single player running multiple characters in a single campaign is permissible as long as they "have little cause to cooperate or conflict with each other".

10 second rounds, 6 foot squares (on the town map).  Hexes on the hex map are 2 miles. The week is suggested as the best unit for campaign timekeeping.

In most instances. players will not find their characters involved in every tabletop action that results in a campaign. This allows non-involved players to assume one-time roles as participant characters in the action being played out, while the involved players take their own character's role - for better or worse.

Stats: speed, shooting accuracy, throwing accuracy, strength, bravery, and experience

Some weird breakpoints in stat generation in the way player characters get bonuses - if you roll a 69 (nice) you get a +10 for being in the 50-70 range and end up with a 79, but if you roll a 71 you only get +5 for being in the 71-90 range and end up with 76.

This experience system is really interesting.  Your experience stat is tracked in terms of the number of gunfights you have participated in (with some reasonable chance of death for yourself) and survived.  When you're rolling a new character, you roll a d% and index it into a table and most starting characters will have been in 0-2 fights before, which probably gives you a small penalty to hit.  But as you participate in gunfights during play, you can move up this table.  It's a very...  tied-to-the-world experience system (diegetic, as the kids would say).  You get better at shooting at people while in danger yourself by...  shooting at people who are shooting at you.

There's also a separate progression system that increases your speed and bravery percentile stats very slightly for each gunfight survived.  The lower they are, the faster they rise, but never more than 3% per combat, and this can never bring a stat above 96%, which is a separate regime for bonuses.  So you can get pretty fast by experience, but the savants are born that way.

You can never actually increase shooting accuracy or strength (toughness).  Maybe the right way to think of the shooting accuracy stat is depth perception and manual dexterity, things that you can't really improve with experience, versus experience and bravery.

Derived stats: first shot determination (sum up the various speed scores and weapon speed factors and see who gets to attack first in the attack phase of the combat round) and hit determination (what you need to roll to hit with a particular weapon, determined by a combination of skill, bravery, and experience)

Movement rules look pretty reasonable.

Facing!  But it's mostly for observation, not for arcs of fire or hit determination I think.

Shotguns and scatterguns seem to affect biiig areas.  "All possible targets in the field of fire will be individually checked to determine whether or not they are hit".  I could see this slowing things down a bit...  but they also fire pretty late in the round, so by that point it might just be mop-up.

OK wow this melee system.  Two tables (punching and grappling) that interact in weird ways.  Each melee round you choose either punch or grapple.  Generally rolling high is good, because it lets you hit, deal damage, and inflict a penalty to the other guy's next action.  Rolling high on grapple lets you put the other guy in a lock and restricts his ability to punch a lot.  Rolling low on grapple gets you kneed in the face for some damage and a bonus on your opponent's next melee roll, on either table.  But if you're in a lock, there are two ways to escape: rolling pretty high on the grappling table, or very low on the grappling table, and it's 2d10 so it's bell-curved.  So if you have a big penalty from getting hit hard last round, that can help you escape a grapple.  Meanwhile on the punching table, rolling low gives your opponent a bonus to their next action but not as big a one as a low roll to initiate a grapple (you've left yourself open, but not put your face right where they can knee you), so if you're burdened with penalties and not grappled, punching is probably a better plan than initiating grapple, because the worst possible outcome is less bad.

Attacking with a melee weapon uses the punching table, except on a hit instead of inflicting small damage and a penalty, you do a wound just like hitting with a gunshot would.  Hits from weapons get assigned randomly to body parts and are either light, serious, or mortal.  Leg injuries slow your movement, arm injuries penalize your shooting aim (but not melee I think?  RAW anyway, it would be a reasonable house rule), head injuries have a 60% chance of being immediately fatal, injuries of most any kind reduce your speed in combat and may make you shoot later in the turn which can mean getting shot again in the interim.

Other things that affect your to-hit target number for shooting: whether you moved (and how fast), whether your target moved (and how fast), multiple shots this turn, shooting from the hip (but this gives you a speed bonus), shooting with a pistol in each hand or with your off-hand, ...  It's a lot of potential modifiers.  They're almost all multiples of 5% though, which...  makes converting this to d20s kind of tempting.

There are also a bunch of modifiers to shooting speed, for things like "you already drew and are aiming at them", "fired at them last round", surprise, drawing multiple weapons, and giving your opponent the first move.  Some of these aren't multiples of 5%, but most of them are.

One thing I'm less clear on is how picking up weapons and other sorts of non-attacking non-movement actions work.  The melee example has a character pick up a chair to use as a weapon and I guess he just...  did it for free?

At this point we've cleared all the Basic Rules and are now on page 12 of 44, Advanced Rules.  Secret and simultaneous movement (I love this), firing in the middle of a move, firing from a moving stagecoach, shooting at targets who are on horseback and maybe hitting the horse, arcing arrows over cover, and morale. 

Optional rules begin on page 13, things like called shots, interleaving shots rather than "first person to shoot shoots three times before anyone else can", stunning, drunkenness, gambling, dynamite (can self-detonate, very exciting), gatling guns, grapeshot cannons, stray bullets hitting bystanders, more campaign rules.  Tracking, how long does it take to assemble a posse, overland speed as a function of horse quality (why wouldn't horses have quality ratings?), aging, healing, cost of living and salaries for doing various jobs.  

Ah, the good old days when you could live on $25 a month, and whiskey was $2 a bottle. 

The tracking table is interesting, it seems like your two options for effectively escaping pursuit are to get into hard / rocky terrain or to get into a large town and blend in.  Makes sense.

The table of NPC stats by job type that Chocolate Hammer programmed a generator for.  Five pages of stats for various historical outlaws, including their bounties and whether they were ambidextrous.

Two tactical scenarios, one a straightforward 4v4 at the OK Corral, the other a double bank robbery pitting prepared robbers against some randomly-generated townsfolk using whatever armament they happen to have on them at the time.

Two campaign scenarios, one more concrete (with a big list of NPCs) and the second more "here are some suggestions for where to set the hex map within the Territories, some ideas for other stuff to put on the hex map, some ideas for stuff to happen, good luck have fun", including this great piece of structure:

The players should be divided into two basic groups - lawmen and out-
laws. There can also be an assortment of prominent citizens - ranchers,
businessmen, and so on...

Players opting to be outlaws start their own gangs by hiring non-player characters and/ or by joining with other player characters of similar bent. None of the player outlaws are wanted by the law at the start of the game. so they are free to travel and act as they please until such time as they break the law...

The objective of outlaw players is to be the first to accumulate $I00,000
and safely escape from the area. The objective of the lawmen players is to be the one who garners the most reward money for capturing outlaws without being killed (all player outlaws must be captured for any lawman to win).

It's a little unclear to me how player outlaws are supposed to afford hiring NPC gang members, given that "Hired Gunfighter" salary is $5/day.  I wonder if you can offer shares instead.

Finally at the very end we have some rules for "how much money is in the safe you just blew up with dynamite" (or was in that stagecoach you robbed, or that train, or that guy's pockets, or so forth) and some terrible looking rules for interoperating with other TSR games including AD&D.

A couple of maps of building interiors and then a reference section of tables and character sheets.

I suppose one other thing that puzzles me here is that they mention even bigger-scale games: "A typical campaign of the designers has each player starting as a property owner and ends with each player trying to gain complete economic and political control of the county."  But I don't see a good way to adjudicate that.  Maybe it's in the supplements?  Or maybe they just had some reference works they liked on the period at their local library and went with numbers from those?

Friday, March 19, 2021

Chocolate Hammer's Boot Hill Campaign

This is a heck of a post.

So I created a town.

When GMs say this, they usually mean they created the narrative of a town: a pencil map, a few key buildings, a dozen significant NPCs. But my hyperefficient tool lent itself to a more extreme approach. My goal became to marry the organic, procedurally-generated detail of a videogame like Dwarf Fortress with the human consciousness and genuine reactivity of a tabletop game. My town would have hundreds of named characters—and nearly as many grudges...

Everywhere in town, I stretched tensions as thin as they’d go. Here, a deeply crooked and vicious campaign for sheriff. There, “respectable” business owners versus “rowdy” roughnecks. In the boonies, robbers versus marshals, marshals versus deputies, robber gangs versus robber gangs, a gangs robbers versus its robbersA powder keg of a county, always ready to blow.

Then I dropped the players into it.

It may seem like my goal was to create as many combats as possible, but that’s not true at all. I knew that if PCs died every few minutes and there was no continuity of story, even gory Boot Hill combat would grow boring. Instead I designed my setting to offer the constant threat of violence: the tension of knowing that a sudden and fatal battle might result from any misstep.

After all, a powder keg’s more thrilling when it hasn’t blown up yet.

Not many games discourage players from pissing off NPCs. The worst thing an aggrieved character can do is fight you, and that’s just where most RPG characters are built to succeed. I know from personal experience that, roleplaying aside, it’s tempting to conclude: “I’m going to fight this douchebag eventually. Why not get it over with now?”

Played ruthlessly, Boot Hill‘s mechanics and milieu produce very different expectations. That any character can die easily in a fair fight is almost a moot point; if you provoke a cattle baron or a slimy industrialist or a crooked sheriff, he’s not going to get his henchmen and fight you fairly. He’s going to pay someone to shoot you in the back with a shotgun, and if you’re not ready for it, that’s not much better than a death sentence. The only reason the streets aren’t awash with blood at all times is that the NPCs are also hapless mortals that have to watch where they step. That’s another reason to fill the setting with conflicts rather than prebuilt adversaries: the PCs stand to live longer if there’s a balance everyone else fears upsetting. 

Faithfully roleplaying the game’s emergent “villains,” or the characters willing to risk death and murder to get their ends, comes with a set of broadly-applicable rules. Don’t fight unless the rewards or risks are too great to avoid it. If you’ve got power or money, abuse it to keep yourself safe and your interests protected. Confront enemies directly only when you’ve got the force to bully them into backing down or surrendering; otherwise, strike from ambush. Use the extent of your cunning or guile. Be wary of crossing other powerful interests, like the law or organized crime; strike surgically whenever possible. Wait for the right moment.

Very naturally, the players found themselves observing the same rules...

I wouldn’t normally end a player character like that, let alone two at once. In most games it would be an ignominious and frustrating end to a story. But for this story, for this campaign, it worked. It was the ending that was earned: the ultimate escalation of a war between bitter and heartless people. It was thrilling, tense, and an epic finale that did justice to the danger both characters had been in the entire time.

Sounds like one for the Inspirational Campaigns file, next to West Marches.

The bit about having a concrete cast of a few hundred reminded me of Ker's remark on Icelandic literature - "All history in Iceland shaped itself as biography, or as drama, and there was no large crowd at the back of the stage."

And it seems like precisely the vicious, Renegade Crownsy sort of campaign that I have tried to get at with ACKS (particularly the first summer of the Shieldlands campaign) and never quite succeeded at, perhaps, as the author points out, because PCs even in OSR D&D have a tendency to solve their problems directly.  Because they can (eventually).  Another part of it might be that managing a big stable of NPCs, even with characters as simple as OSR D&D characters, is still a fair bit of mechanical complexity.  My henchman generator is pretty good but it still doesn't do class proficiencies, and magic items and spells lists introduce a lot of variance in capabilities.

So this is really something to think about.  Maybe I need to get even simpler and even deadlier.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Still Dwarfhackin'

This is a bit of an unusual post for me.  Usually I post rules proposals, but this is more of a log of stuff I've been working on.  Sort of funny - blog was short for web log.  Maybe I haven't been properly blogging since the last time I ran a game and was posting session logs.

Work on Dwarfhack continues.  Had a crisis of faith, an "is this really worth working on" this week, but then I decided that it would be sort of neat to actually finish something for once.


  • Men: low levels are finished, need to fill in the mid-to-high levels still (and decide whether I want to be giving out free mercs)
  • Vaultguard: needs flavor text and mid-to-high levels
  • Fury: have a lot of ideas here but nothing concrete for changes; wrote up a Slaying ability like Favored Enemy crossed with Backstab, thinking about giving them something sort of similar to Diehard.  Still not sure whether I want to give them Leather+Swashbuckling to make the low levels more survivable vs the current double-Swashbuckling where their low-level AC is worse but high-level AC is better.
  • Delver: Haven't started
  • Runesmith:  Haven't started building the class, just the spell list
  • Wizard: Haven't started really writing stuff down, but I think something like Turning plus cleric spell progression should work as the core
  • Elf: Haven't started really writing stuff down, but I'm thinking Magical Music / ability to calm beasts as their first-level "solve a limited set of encounters" ability parallel to Turning, and then cleric spell progression after that
  • Hobbit: Haven't started
  • Considering using Iron Heroes style HD - d4+1 instead of d6, d4+2 instead of d8.  Less swingy.

Proficiencies: I think I'm just...  not going to use them.  Classes get what they get, the rest of your stuff comes from hirelings and magic items.  Considering giving classes slightly more stuff as a result; sort of like getting the same number of profs but they're pre-picked.


  • General rules of magic: slightly-tweaked Fibonacci spell points, spell point recharge rate (slow), spend half the spell's cost on declaration before initiative is rolled and the other half on successful completion, no casting the same spell more than once in a given day
    • Considering a mechanic where you have to roll to cast in combat, and on a failure you complete the spell next round.  But I'm already sort of worried about casters having a hard time solving problems during combat.
  • Rune magic: Have some general ideas for the rules of rune magic and have a bunch of spell ideas.  I can't tell if they're too weak or too strong for the levels that I want to put them at, in part because they work weirdly - paint runes on weapons, discharged on first hit or after a duration, or paint protective runes on people and they discharge when they protect you from the thing that they work against.  So the action economy / burst potential for a prepared party is really high - paint everybody's gear before battle and then all your fighters and your caster can go hit people with spell effects.  But the ability to save the party's bacon during a combat that is going badly isn't there, because you need to spend at least two rounds, one to cast (potentially two with the roll-to-cast) and then one to hit people, and it could take a while for someone to hit with the runed weapon.  So I dunno.  Maybe it's OK to incentivize preparation?  Is it boring to play a "wizard" who does most of his work up front?
  • Elf magic: Flavortext is lacking, but I have a provisional spell list for 1st-2nd and some bits for 3rd.  3rd is where I really need to make a decision about whether I want to start introducing spells that solve wilderness-level problems.
  • Wizard magic: I'm happy with the flavor text and the 1st-2nd level spell list.


  • Healing: boosting natural healing rate a bunch because magical healing is much more scarce (only elves have it, so a Proper Dwarf Party won't have any at all but still needs to be able to survive). 
    • Speeding up natural healing and slowing down spell point recovery puts fighters and MUs on similar footing in terms of "time to total refill" of their relevant resources (HP for fighters, spells for MUs) at low levels, but spell point cap grows faster than HP; an empty high-level MU will end up spending more time to recover to full than their fighter buddies.  Magic is something to use sparingly.
    • Should still work OK for the low-level dungeoneering case where you go in, burn all your resources, go home, and rest for a week or two.  The place where it will matter most is in the wilderness, where MUs can't just drop their entire spell load every day.  Remains to be seen whether conserving resources on a wilderness trek out to a dungeon is now too challenging.
  • Death and dying: at 0HP, choose to either go down (and maybe survive) or die fighting (get an extra round or two but then definitely die).  I think I want to handle the "going down" case with "save vs death with a couple circumstance modifiers, on a success you get a minor maiming, else you die"; with the minor maimings being similar to 11-20 results on ACKS' Mortal Wounds table.  With saves improving with level, it might work out that the main way high-level characters end up dying is making voluntary last stands; an acceptable outcome.
  • Tracking: set some stuff up to make it interact with the Wilderness Evasion / chases rules.
  • Rations: switching over to one stone per week like in Simpler Logistics.  Changed foraging to require staying still in a hex but increased its yield.  Parties relying solely on foraging end up treading water / breaking just even in expectation if they don't have anyone with bonuses to it.  So then the tradeoff with hunting is better odds of food in exchange for random encounter chance.
  • Random encounters: considering a rule where it's a 1-in-12 chance of a random encounter each turn (or each day in the wilderness).  This prevents you from banking on "no encounter" on even turns or days.  On the other hand, this means rolling more often, maybe the forced gaps between encounters exist for a good reason, and you will occasionally get two encounters back-to-back which could be very bad news.  So I'm not sure about this.

I am also running into some issues resolving divergences between source material - do elves eat the flesh of sentients like in Dwarf Fortress?  Is the balrog a Forgotten Beast or a demon?  Do I need corruption mechanics like for the ring, or should I just not worry about that?

Monday, March 8, 2021

Call Horde

Status: speculative proposal partly worked out, dissatisfied with results

What if we went ham and extended Call Allies up to a conqueror-to-king tier ability, to let you call up a big scary army of barbarians like a Prepared Invasion in Crusader Kings?

The rules in the Player's Companion for spell-like proficiencies cap out at 6th level, with a 1 turn casting time once per month.  That's more frequent than I really want, but let's see what we can do with that.

The scaling on "summons creatures totaling X times caster's HD" seems linear, at 75 spell points times X.  We get about 60 spell points to work with.  Duration of "Until one specific task is completed" sounds like a perfect fit, with x2 cost, where that task is "the conquest and looting of Place Y".  "Comes by own locomotion from nearest lair" still works and gives us x0.66.  I'm OK with restricting this further than the general "humans and demihumans" class of monsters from last time; this just calls a subset of Men (Bandits and Nomads), so we might be able to justify the x0.7 "specific monster" modifier for that.  The 1HD max remains in effect for x0.15, and no modifier for special abilities.  If we wanted to do cheese, we could take the "spell takes 1 turn to cast" and "can only be cast once per week" modifiers, but that seems against the spirit of things.  It would get us almost 50% more barbarians though.

Ignoring the potential cheese modifiers, we get 75 * X = 60 / (0.15 * 0.66 * 2 * 0.7), which yields X = 5.77.  So we can get almost 6 barbarians per level, which is...  somewhat unimpressive.  If you're a 10th level barbarian chieftain, 58 dudes is not enough to pose a credible threat to civilization.  Even if you're a 14th level barbarian, you only get 81 dudes.  The scale of the battles that you're fighting has probably quadrupled, but your horde only scales linearly.

(On the other hand, we might also consider a brigand camp leader who has about 200 total followers on average.  In his case, an extra 60 men is pretty darn good!  So we're running into the divergence between what ACKS expects of high-level characters vs what B/X expects of high-level characters)

Heck, 6 dudes per HD is the same effective multiplier that we got out of Call Allies as a spell like ability (which we could cast more often because it was lower level).  The big difference here (and the one that we're paying out the nose for) is the semi-indefinite duration.  Looking at Prepared Invasion in Crusader Kings again, it lets you build up troops for two years.  If you cast Call Horde every month, building up troops who will hang around until it's go-time, for 24 months, we're talking about around 1400 men (48 platoons or 12 companies).  Those are "taking a borderlands county" numbers.  Of course, in the two years that you've been announcing your intent to invade to your fellow barbarians, the count has probably gotten wind of it, made some allies, and hired up to his ability to support troops.  Still, it's a good start.  These are also very much not "conquering the Kingdom of Scotland" numbers, like one of my past Prepared Invasions in CK2, so that's still a bit of a letdown.  Maybe it needs to scale up exponentially, like troop numbers do in ACKS, doubling the men per month for every level after 9th, so that a 13th level barbarian massing troops on the border is something that worries domain rulers of a comparable level?

Having to build up troops for two years after you hit domain level is kind of lousy.  My campaigns almost never make it to domain level, and they certainly don't make it another two years of game-time after that.  Even if they did, is the target of the prepared invasion that you declared two years ago still going to be relevant, or will you have outleveled it?

There are plenty of other wrinkles here too.  Do you have to pay the horde while they sit around?  Do they just expect a bigger share of loot?  How does supply work?  Will they fight in your defense if you're attacked while they're mustered but before you launch the invasion?  Why don't 11th level wizards research this spell and cast it every day, outclassing barbarian chieftains in their ability to muster troops by a factor of 30?  Can you run out of recruitable barbarians in your nearby wilderness?  Do multiple chieftains each working on a prepared invasion compete for available barbarians?  How does this stack up against just using the domain-wide mercenary recruitment rules in Campaigns?  If you call nomads, do they bring their horses for free, or do the horses count against your summoning HD limit (this is also a problem for Call Allies)?

Maybe Prepared Invasion is the wrong model?  Maybe I should be thinking of building up hordes more like the CK2 Subjugation CB?

So anyway, I'm not totally satisfied with this.  I do think something like this is important to making "domains are treasure that you take from other people" work for characters who are uncivilized / have poor access to markets, but I also think that at some point I will probably break with ACKS' assumptions around what peak population density / civilization looks like (in favor of less / smaller civilization, with probably duchies as the largest political unit), which would help here.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Call Allies

I was fiddling with spells for wizard for Dwarfhack and got to thinking - you know what would be a good spell?  Call Demihumans, where you get a group of friendly humans, elves, or dwarves from the nearest settlement to come help you.  That would be very on-theme for wizards; "a group of friendly rangers happens by and Gandalf happens to know their leader; they're hunting the same orcs that you are.  What a fortunate coincidence!"

When the wizard does his job right, people won't be sure he's done anything at all.

Under ACKS' spell-building guidelines, we get something like this:

Call Allies
Arcane or Eldritch 2
Duration: 1 day
This spell calls two 1HD humans or demihumans (elves, dwarves, hobbits, gnomes, ...) per caster level to aid the caster.  When called, they travel dismounted from their lair to the caster's location at their wilderness movement rate.  If this spell is cast in a wilderness hex which is native terrain for them, they arrive in 1d6 turns.  If this spell is cast in a hex to which they're not native, the time to arrive is increased for each hex that they have to traverse in order to reach the caster's location from the nearest hex of native terrain.
Speed -> Turns per hex:
60' -> 24
90' -> 18
120' -> 12
If called while the caster is unreachable (in a dungeon, for example), they will travel as close as possible and then wait in the vicinity.  For the duration of the spell, the demihumans will serve as the caster's loyal companions and friends.  The spell ends when they are slain, the spell is dispelled, or one day passes, at which time they depart.  If the spell is cast again when they are about to depart, they will remain for another day.

Spellcasting math: 2HD per caster level is 150 points (per HFH), 1HD limit is x0.15, general class of monsters is x1, 1 day duration is x1.25, calling delay is x0.66

It's really interesting that this works out as a 2nd level spell, because you could make it a special power comparable to a proficiency and make it usable once per 8 hours with a casting time of 1 round, which would let you maintain 6x your HD in 1HD followers, wage-free!  This seems like a promising angle for retinue-calling abilities like Call the Cousins; if you make it available at 5th level, then it's a perfect "welcome to the wilderness levels, laddie" ability giving you a platoon.  Give a second copy of it around 9th or 10th and then you have four platoons for a company.