Sunday, January 16, 2022

Week as Wilderness Turn

Last post, I noted that the distances and times involved in wilderness travel in The Hobbit were so great that a game in that style might want to use 24-mile hexes as its smallest unit, and a week as its "turn" of wilderness travel.  What does it look like if you take B/X's or ACKS' rules for wilderness travel and rescale them this way?  What would you probably have to change and what could you leave alone?

If you're taking a week as your base unit of time, then you no longer have to worry about taking a rest day per week, and can just bake it in.  So you're scaling up your movement or actions per "turn" by a factor of 6, since you get six working days.  Using 24 mile hexes vs 6 mile, you're scaling up your unit of distance by a factor of 4.  So movement will be ~1.5x more hexes per turn.

Exploration movement speed : 24 mile hexes / week

  • 30' : 1.5
  • 60' : 3
  • 90' : 4.5
  • 120' : 6
  • 180' : 9
  • 240' : 12

So that's rather inconvenient, having to reckon in half-hexes.  I suppose we could do something like this, taking woods or hills as the default and multiplying everything by 2/3, so we get 1 24-mile hex per week per 30' of speed.  Which would be pretty clean, until you're on plains or road.

Nautical and aerial distances covered get quite large when you look at them on per-week timescales.  The lowly rowed canoe makes 4 hexes per week, while sailing ships with good winds might make nearly 8 hexes per day, or north of 50 hexes per week (assuming no weekly day of rest under sail).  Aerial travel gets pretty nuts when you multiply it all by 1.5 as well.  These modes of transport are fast enough that you probably don't want to track them hex-by-hex on a map on weekly timescales. You use sailing ships to move between maps.  You fly Eagle Airways for a couple of hours, not for a solid week (and still might get to move a hex or two).  Getting a personal, permanent flying mount is a phase-change event where you have outgrown thinking much about wilderness travel.

Since forced march is only one day of extra speed, followed by a day of rest and no speed, if we're dealing purely in weeks you might be able to just remove the option.  On the other hand, I like leaving this sort of option available to players; trading off now vs later is always interesting.  Maybe the right way to handle forced march on this scale is through something like strategic initiative in mass combat, where when you have a wilderness encounter, you can choose to forced-march to maybe gain a terrain advantage, bonus to escape roll, or surprise bonus at the expense of fatigue if brought to battle.

The right way to handle getting lost / failed navigation rolls is probably that they reduce your movement for the turn.  Maybe halve it; you spend a couple days wandering around within hexes that you were traversing, but going 24 miles out of your way is hard.  Could do hunting the same way; spend the whole week hunting, don't move at all, and get two rolls, or spend half the week hunting, get one roll, and half movement (and then if you also get lost that week, you end up still in the hex you started in).

Rations might actually get simpler, at a stone per man per "turn".  And fresh ration decay could be simplified too; you could just have all uneaten fresh rations go bad every turn.  Then hunting and foraging can work entirely within a single week; if you find a week's worth of fresh rations, that's a stone of iron rations that you can skip eating and carry over into next week.  So then you only need to track one number: the stone of iron rations you're carrying, which might also be thought of as your buffer against foraging failures.

As far as combat resources go...  for a Hobbity feel, you really want some refuges in the wilderness where you can recover hit points.  I still think recovering spells there too (not every night in the wilderness) makes sense, provided some reworking of mid- and high-level spells.  But I could see going the other way with it too, where you're pretty much always going to have full spells for any encounter.  This lends itself to very large encounters where you need lots of spellpower to bail the party out.

Wilderness encounter frequency definitely gets weird.  You probably don't want to have to roll a pile of d6s every "turn", and having multiple encounters per unit time is awkward.  I could see having one encounter per week, with the difference between terrain types being "roll n encounters and pick the scariest / biggest one".  Or just a quantity multiplier like dungeon level, where if you're in mountains you get 3x as many goblins as if you were in plains.  But this also doesn't quite square with the frequency of wilderness encounters in The Hobbit, where they can go a couple weeks without an encounter.  I could see having some <100% chance per week of an encounter, but when there's an encounter, it's always a lair - a kingdom of elves, a whole cave system of goblins, a big honkin' pack of wargs, a gang of trolls with accompanying cave full of magic swords of elven make.  On the time-and-space scales you're dealing with here, you might encounter a warband from a lair initially, but within a week they'll report back (or be noticed missing) and you'll be dealing with the whole village shortly.  Maybe winning surprise lets you only deal with one warband initially.

Domains get...  maybe a little messy.  Clearing a 24-mile hex is a lot of work.  You could do something like wilderness lords, where every wilderness hex already has a "lord" of a sort, and if you can knock him and all his monsters over that's good enough, the rest migrate or fall into line.  This is particularly plausible in a setting where everything talks, but might feel a bit strained after the third or fourth time, and maintaining relationships between all the "lords" of neighboring hexes is a lot of work.  Another approach might be clearing to capacity; if you want to build a village, you have to displace a number of HD of monsters comparable to a village of goblins.  This is what you might expect in a wilderness that is at capacity, saturated.  But this isn't the wilderness we see in The Hobbit, which is as post-apocalyptically empty of monsters as it is of men.

Maybe that's an answer - "clearing" a wilderness hex just means dealing with any already-known lairs in it, and then the real game is dealing with wilderness random encounters, which could have wandered in from nearby hexes, or could be from unknown lairs in the hex.  Taking land is easy; holding it is the hard part.  This creates a sort of "the dungeon is too big to be cleared" feeling, and is also consistent with the incomplete clearing of eg Mirkwood by the elves.  It pushes domain rulers into the same sort of reactive posture of incomplete control in game that they held in the fiction.

Switching to 24-mile hexes changes visibility somewhat, in that the edge of the hex is over the horizon.  You could spend a week exploring within a single hex, easily, and unless the next hex over is elevated, you might not know what terrain type it is until you enter it.  Finding a dungeon within a hex might take a while, but that's consistent with the fiction too, where they can't find the back door into the mountain.  They have trouble finding Rivendell too.

This mode of play doesn't seem terribly well-suited to 1:1 timescales, if most weeks you don't have an encounter.  I could see doing two turns per week of real time though, to make sure there's time to resolve wilderness encounters without too many more piling up.

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