Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Gisli's Saga and Boot Hill

I read Gisli's Saga the other day and something about it reminded me of Chocolate Hammer's Boot Hill campaign.  It got me thinking about how one could set up a powderkeg for a saga quite similar to that, but perhaps smaller in number of characters.

Thorkel and Gisli are brothers from Norway who settle in Hawkdale in Iceland, and marry into Hawkdale families.  Gisli marries Auda, the sister of a man named Vestein, while Thorkel marries Asgerda.  It comes out that Asgerda fancied Vestein, leading to suspicions of infidelity and eventually the deaths of about a dozen men.

Asgerda's interest in (already-married) Vestein is a pre-existing fault line in the micro-setting that the player-character-like outsiders Thorkel and Gisli stumble (and then marry) into.  It doesn't seem like it would be too much of a stretch to build a tiny setting of 5-10 extended families with a bunch of such fault lines:

  • a long-simmering dispute over grazing-land or property lines
  • a contentious dividing of property among a man's heirs
  • a father who mislikes his daughter's favored suitor
  • a bastard child whose step-mother hates it
  • a badly-treated thrall
  • a wheel of cheese stolen in a hard winter
  • a good sword borrowed and never returned
  • a badly-given gift
  • a lad whose father was slain, who wants eventual revenge on his killer but can't get it yet
  • an insult in one's cups at the Althing some years back; cooler heads prevented bloodshed then but still it rankles
  • weregeld accepted for a relative slain but some family members still think the slayer should've been made an outlaw instead
  • a suspected cheater at sports or horse-fighting
  • a man envious of another's wealth, desirous of the priesthood / chieftainship
  • a rich man who is miserly to guests and alters deals, gets away with it because he has several strong brothers
  • a skilled duelist who runs roughshod and takes what he pleases, challenges those who object (returns from sea-roving mid-campaign to shake things up, presumably)
  • a suspected sorcerer feared by those outside his family
  • three town gossips poking their noses in everything and spreading news of dubious veracity
  • a skolding wife who urges her husband to unwise deeds
  • a husband who mistreated his wife, causing her to return to her family's house; a dispute over the dowry
  • a hot-headed young man, yet unproven in battle and eager for it (probably about ten of these, really)
  • a cool-headed young man, goaded by his father as unmanly for preferring words to violence
  • a wise man's foreboding prediction
  • an ominous dream

And then let some player characters loose into it to get into trouble over the course of a few years of game-time.

I don't know what system you'd use for such a game - Pendragon, Mythras, and Wolves of God all spring to mind, but they're not quite Boot Hill.  But it's an interesting thought.

... I suppose it would be amusing to hack up Boot Hill's ranged combat system to instead do high-detail, few-combatant, armorless melees of axes, bill-hooks, spears, swords, and shields...  "Grim cut off Skiolld's foot at the ankle-joint, but Helgi thrust him through with his spear, and he got his death there and then" seems like the sort of thing a derivative of Boot Hill's combat system would do well.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Tooling for 1:1 Timescale Games

I've had boring, practical questions about how to run 1:1 timescale games rolling around in the back of my head for I guess a couple months now.

  • World-design considerations.
    • Many of the games of that era seemed centered around a single city and/or megadungeon (Blackmoor, Castle Greyhawk, and the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, for example), and Jeff's Trollopulous seems to have followed a somewhat-similar pattern.  How important is having a central locus like this?
    • Is the right way to lay out a region for this style of play more radial, with wilderness increasing out away from The City, rather than a linear civilization->borderlands->wilderness gradient from a large, civilized heartland?
    • What's the right scale, so that travel is long enough to be a meaningful allocation of time-resources, but not so long that the game grinds to a halt as everyone is traveling?
  • Session structure.
    • BDubs' game seems to have a core community of players who play adventuring PCs and have a regular session, often dungeoneering, every week, plus some set of patron players doing their own thing in the background.  This seems like it doesn't scale up arbitrarily (but what does, really?).
    • Jeffro's adventurer-level players seem to play more like patrons, doing their own thing, maybe jumping an injured patron and taking his stuff, rather than partying up and having regular sessions where they go into dungeons.  
    • And then there's Gygax's example, where (purportedly) people would show up at his house unannounced and he'd run a session.
    • Under what circumstances do which of these different approaches to sessions (or lack thereof) work well?
  • Keeping the information organized.  What's the right (or at least adequate) way to keep the information about who is doing what when where (and when they'll be finished) organized?  And how do you keep (at least some of) that information secret, to let the interesting behavior emerge from patron interactions under fog of war?
    • Index cards?
    • Spreadsheets?
    • Shared google calendar?
    • Paper calendar that only the DM has access to?
    • Gantt charts (lol)?
    • Database?
  • How do you make such a style of play amenable / accessible to more casual players rather than just "elite auditor mindset" players?  (I'm bummed that I can't find either BDubs' or Jeffro's post where that phrase was invoked)

I think I have an angle of attack on one of the information organization question, at least.

The answer is databases.

This post brought to you by my assignment at work this week, auditing code that interacts heavily with databases

Why?  Because you can automate around them.

The barest, crudest sketch goes like this: have a table of ongoing operations with start dates, end dates, and descriptions.  When someone starts something, add it to the table.  Have a table of players, including their discord IDs, and a table containing (operation ID, player) pairs of "players who should be notified when this operation finishes".  Have a discord bot that runs every night at midnight, checks to see if any operations have finished on day rollover, marks them complete, and notifies players (and probably DM) by PM.

Ha, maybe run the bot at 5PM instead, right as people are getting off of work - a character's work for the day is done at that time too.  And any "orders" gotten in before 9AM the next day are completed by 5PM the next day.

But this doesn't really let you answer the question of "what is any particular character doing at the moment?"; there's no notion of character there.  So maybe we also want a table of characters (including an "owning player" column), and then a table with (operation ID, character ID) pairs indicating "this character is currently unavailable for play because they're busy with this long-running thing".

Of course, once you have a table for characters, it's very tempting to throw their stats and XP in there too...  and a table for all the unidentified magic items they're hauling around, with both the in-world description you've given and the actual identity of the item.  And how many charges that wand that they figured out the command-word for but never really properly identified has left.

It would be kinda nice to put wilderness expedition logistics information in there too and update it on nightly rollover...  but that gets a bit thorny because then we need a notion of a party, which presumably can have a set of characters (as well as a count of NPCs like mercenaries and shared equipment like wagons), and which might be busy with an ongoing operation (like overland travel).  So then we run into this: do we have a table of party/operation pairs, for parties that are busy?  Do we then query party membership to determine which characters are busy, or also still have a character/operation table and have to check both it and party membership?  Or do we just have a party/operation table, and have parties of only one character sometimes?  That might be kind of nice, for the case where you pick up friends along the way (or lose friends along the way and a party goes down to just one member).

Do we want some notion of location?  Of grid coordinates?  (I really hate programming against hex grids)  Parties having a location which is updated overnight based on their overland speed?  (But then I would need to encode their paths too, which sounds painful...  maybe this is a good argument for Arnesonian "12 miles a day regardless of terrain")  But it would be neat that if there are multiple parties in the same location in the wilderness, they might have a chance meeting.  Automatic random encounter determination, putting a pause on the travel operation until resolved?

If we're already considering notifying players in response to stuff in the world, we could extend that for information flow and intelligence.  Maybe having a spy in a location adds you to the notification list for start and completion of operations in that location.  Maybe operations should have secret vs common-knowledge descriptions, with spies having some chance to uncover the secret descriptions and town gossips yielding the common-knowledge ones.  Spies might dispatch messengers in response to some operations beginning or ending, creating operations in their turn for the messengers to travel to their destination.  Some notion of queuing news at a place (to be received on your return) might be necessary.  Automatic weekly collation of common-knowledge events in (say) a central city into a "News in Kezmarok" style digest sent to all players could be neat, and a good way for players to advertise "looking for group" or patrons to advertise "looking for temporary, deniable help".

Finally, NPC actions.  If you have all this tooling for keeping track of what PCs are up to, it seems natural to extend it to also keeping track of what NPCs are up to.  Clocks on steroids; give "orcish warlord gathers horde" a concrete end-date and set it up to notify just you, the DM, when it finishes.  And if players interfere, move the end date around accordingly.  Likewise, if you want to send an NPC party on a wilderness/trade expedition, make a series of operations, one to travel there, one to buy and sell goods for a week or two, and one to travel back.  NPC party raids a dungeon?  Make a single die roll to see how they did, make an operation where they take a week of bedrest and recruiting, and then put them out of your mind.  They're in motion, you don't need to worry about them for a week.  But your players might hear about them automatically.

This starts to look a lot more like a living world.   And the table of operations starts to look like a log of all the stuff that happened outside of combat, which would be a pretty neat artifact of a campaign (much like player-produced maps are a neat artifact). 

It also seems like it would be pretty easy to keep it game-system-agnostic.  Character stats seem like the most likely place to break this, and I'm not even sure I really want them.