Saturday, January 28, 2023

Getting a Sense for 24-Mile Hexes

I'm considering doing some mapping on 24-mile hex scales, and wanted to get a sense of just how big that was.  Previously I had imposed a ~24-mile hex grid over parts of France, but that doesn't really tell me much.  But the same technique was easy to apply to more familiar country:

One could reach most of these same conclusions from just looking at numbers - distances between cities, areas of states.  But it's still interesting.

Pennsylvania is something like 85 or 90 24-mile hexes - enough area to be a Kingdom by ACKS' standards.

Massachusetts is maybe 16 hexes, somewhere in the large duchy to small principality range.  The projection might be messing with this a bit, I think taking MA's land area and dividing it by the area of a 24-mile hex I get closer to 20 hexes.

Lake Erie is something like 16 24-mile hexes - enough area to be a merfolk duchy.

Even Rhode Island is good hex or two (or three by the numbers).

It's only about four hexes from DC to Richmond - about a week encumbered on foot at 60' speed or with a cart with plenty of draft animals.

Megacity Ruin Hexes

New York City proper basically occupies a whole 24-mile hex; it's 32 miles from Yonkers to the southwestern tip of Staten Island, 25 miles from that tip of Staten Island to JFK airport, and 18 miles from JFK to Yonkers.  And that's ignoring Newark and most of Long Island.  Washington DC proper is 70 square miles (about two full 6-mile hexes) and is maybe a 6th of the DC metro area.  The DC beltway and the ring-road around Boston both have radii of about 10 miles, and there's plenty of 'burbs outside those rings.  In a post-apocalyptic setting, one could readily fill an entire 24-mile hex with terrain type "ruined city" and it wouldn't be crazy.

Culture Distances

New York City is 13 hexes by land to Richmond or 14 by sea to Norfolk, and 14 hexes by sea or 8 by land to Boston - and those were distances great enough for significantly different cultures, accents, and modes of life to emerge and persist for a long time, even starting from a shared language.  This checks out if you look at France too - Paris to the middle of Brittany (which was unified with the French crown in 1532 but where only half of the population spoke French in 1900) is about 10 hexes, and Paris to Zurich is about 12 hexes.  From the southwestern tip of Flanders to the northeastern end of the Netherlands, the whole region where Dutch is the primary language, is only about 240 miles - 10 hexes.

Philadelphia to Pittsburgh is 11 hexes across a mountain range, well up into that "cultural divergence" distance.  Hence the Westsylvania movement.  Pittsburgh to Chicago is another 19 hexes - enough distance for at least one complete divergent regional culture (and likely a dialect if not a whole new language) in between them.

This 10-hex cultural divergence distance is also interesting from the perspective of kings of people, not of places - if every 10 hexes or so of forest and hills you have a culture shift, then the natural size for a kingdom of a people, of a culture, is about 10 hexes by 10 hexes of such terrain.  Which is on the low side for a kingdom in ACKS, but it's in the right range.  It's possible I've accidentally picked odd boundary situations (though I'm not aware of a big natural barrier between Brittany and Paris...).  At this size, you can march your army from one side of the kingdom to the other and back in about two months.  "Two weeks from the center to the border" might be a reasonable heuristic.  Beyond that you start getting into empire - you can conquer them and extract tribute, but they'll retain their own culture for a long time (longer than the campaign will run, in any case).

These numbers are also kind of in the right ballpark for a couple of other thing sin ACKS.  A kingdom in ACKS tends to have a single Class II market city, which has a trade range by road of 144 miles (6 24-mile hexes), which is a little short but means that the whole trade range (by road) is probably within the kingdom if the city is centrally located.  These sort of 10-hex distances are also towards the outer limit for supplying your army from a centrally-located capital city in Domains at War: Campaigns without having forward supply bases, too - the base range is 96 miles (4 24-mile hexes), but this is multiplied by 4 on roads or by 3 through "settled" territory.  Assuming a ring of settlement around the central market and then diminishing population density and road construction at the frontiers, we might reasonably expect to get x3 supply chain length for a good portion of the way but then logistics break down at the edge and we end up a little short of x3 overall.  So it's the area you can definitely project power into with no prep.

...  it's about 290 miles from London to Dublin as the crow flies and that's sure a culture-border that has persisted over centuries.  London to the south edge of Scotland is about 275 miles by land, 11 hexes.  London to the edge of Cornwall is only about 7 hexes and the Cornovii have mostly lost their own language (though it took a thousand years from when the Saxons arrived) and have a dialect of English, while London to the edge of Wales is a mere 6 hexes - but there's some rough country in Wales, and the English language didn't start making inroads into Wales until the Industrial Revolution, which is well after the period we're interested in modeling cultural dynamics for.

(I eagerly await corrections from my readers in the UK)

I don't really have a good theory of these sort of culture-distances along nautical routes yet.

Nautical Matters

At 72 miles per day (three hexes), it would be four days by sail from NYC to either Norfolk or Boston with favorable winds.  Those numbers don't seem totally crazy - the Everglades Challenge is a motorless small craft race from Tampa to Key Largo, which is 275 or 300 miles (11-12 hexes) or so, and the winning time in 2013 (which mostly had a favorable wind out of the north) was around two days of near-constant sail with very little sleep.

The continental shelf is also interesting, 2-4 hexes of shallow ocean off of the coast before the bottom drops off and it gets deeeep.  It might be merciful to have separate encounter tables for littoral vs pelagic ocean with different weights for dragon turtles.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

AD&D 1e's Time Sinks

I've been working my way through the 1e DMG and translating/summarizing the DMing advice out of Gygaxian into plain english for my own use.  I'm not that far through it yet but one thing that is constantly sticking out at me is that there are many time sinks.  For example:

  • Every time you go digging through a pile of rotting crap or spend time holed up in unsanitary conditions you might catch a disease, which may cost you 2-4 weeks of downtime (and possibly ability score damage, death, blindness...).  You can also catch parasites from drinking bad water, with similar effects.
    • As an aside, the paladin's disease immunity sounds amazing if the disease rules are played straight
    • I'm probably going to end up writing another post about this at some point.  I think there's a good disease system waiting to be derived from this system - one not as crushingly awful as LotFP's corruptions and not as "all-or-nothing" as B/X's save-or-die diseases.
  • When a paladin hits 4th level, he gets a vision of a horse.  Not a horse, just a vision.  And then he gets to go on a ~2 week quest to get his special mount.
  • Thieves and assassins can go spying and infiltrate organizations.  Simple missions take up to a week, complex missions take multiple weeks.
  • High-level assassins can study poisons, which takes many many weeks (and costs lots and lots of gold).  Once they've done their course they can create pretty arbitrary poisons, which takes a week or two.
  • If you miss your initial window for Cure Disease after contracting lycanthropy, one of your options to remove it is to spend a month or so in an abbey drinking holy water infused with wolfsbane out of a silver chalice (for a considerable donation to the monks hosting you, of course).

That's all in the first 23 pages.  It's not like there's a big list of "campaign activities that take time", it's all mixed in with everything else, and if I didn't have time on my mind I probably wouldn't see it.  But it's there.  Lots of ways for time to get spent.

Maybe it would be fun to compile that list of all the ways to spend downtime (or to have downtime inflicted on you) in 1e.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Surviving First Level: The Heist Hypothesis

I'm still trying to figure out what a reliable or intended strategy for surviving 1st level is supposed to look like.  In part so that I can design a dungeon that supports it, or at worst not design a dungeon that accidentally hard-counters it.

Assume for the sake of argument a Big Four party of fighter, MU, cleric, thief.  Total XP required to get them all to 2nd is 7200.  Assuming stats roughly typical for 3d6, with +5% prime reqs all around and not much else, bringing us down to about 6850 XP.  Assume also that we're following Moldvay's advice to not let new players lean on hirelings as they learn the game.

A single dungeon encounter of 2d4 (average 5) goblins is a pretty fair match outside of the party's one sleep per day.  3d4 (average 7.5) skeletons are liable to get messy if the cleric fails the turning roll.  And those are both bite-sized random encounters with pocket change at best for treasure.  Lairs are much bigger, and dividing and conquering them requires shared languages, decent luck with reaction rolls, and ideally multiple humanoid lairs to pit against each other - but we can't count on getting that from the stocking tables.

Fighting monsters for their treasure seems like a pretty bad idea at 1st level.  You don't have any healing resources and your one sleep might be best used to survive a fight that you didn't want to be in, rather than offensively to win a fight that probably won't have treasure.  Oil and war-dogs are great and all, but...  is that really the intended solution?

Is it possible that you're meant to spend first level skulking about, looking for trapped or unguarded treasure and avoiding almost all encounters?

Well...  I'm not sure the math works out.  In ACKS, the expected value of an unguarded treasure on the first level of a dungeon is 870 GP, so you'd need about 8 unguarded treasures to get everyone to 2nd, for that cure light and extra sleep per day (the thief, incidentally, will level after only about four such treasures).  Buuut between trap rooms and empty rooms, about 9% of rooms (1 in 11) have treasure but no monsters.  So on average you'd need to explore 88 rooms on the first level of the dungeon to level by unguarded+trapped treasure, and that's assuming no casualties to traps, random encounters, stumbling into lairs, etc (granted, also assuming no monster XP - but if you're avoiding lairs and start heading for the exit when you've burnt your one sleep on a random encounter, you're talking maybe 25-50 monster XP per expedition). 88 rooms is huge for the first level of a dungeon - when I'm building standalone non-mega dungeons, I often have about that many rooms across three levels.  But it's sort of plausible that one could build a ruin that large, all of dungeon level 1.  88 rooms is also going to take quite a lot of play time to get through - my players in Rat-hell were exploring maybe 10 rooms per session, so we're looking at 9 sessions without any resets from casualties.  That seems like a long time to spend at 1st level.

The situation is much worse in OSE.  It's still 9% of rooms with treasure but no monsters, but the expected value of that treasure on the first level of the dungeon is a paltry 160gp - about a fifth of what it is in ACKS.  So you'd need to explore over 400 first-level dungeon rooms to level everyone off of unguarded treasure in OSE.

Is the answer to go deeper?  If you're already adopting a Robinsonian posture towards monsters, and the unguarded loot is better at lower levels, maybe this isn't crazy.  And traps don't necessarily scale up when you go down; ACKS' list of traps is the same for 1st-3rd dungeon levels, and OSE doesn't specify.  2nd level unguarded treasure in OSE has an expected value of 492 gp (about triple), while in ACKS it's 1491 gp (almost double).  And many of the random encounters on the 2nd level dungeon table are still susceptible to sleep - 5 2HD lizardmen vs 9 HD affected on average by sleep, for example.  So a 2nd level random encounter isn't necessarily any more of a game-ender than a 1st-level one is...

With ACKS' treasure numbers, I could see a dungeon with 30 rooms in the first level and 30 rooms in the second level yielding enough unguarded/trapped treasure to get a party to 2nd.  'course, in those 60 rooms you've got about 20 monster rooms, of which probably 2 are lairs...

There is also the question of surviving the traps.  In 60 rooms, we're talking about 20 traps (of which 6-7 have treasure).  Most of the "treasure traps" are threats only to whoever interacts with the treasure, but some of the "room traps" are threats to the whole party at once.  In 20 trapped rooms, we'll probably pull the "room fills with poison gas" one at least once, and it could easily happen twice.  Saves at 1st are pretty bad (we should expect ~1.5 survivors based on saves).  Finding and Removing Traps at 1st is also pretty terrible.  The Trapfinding proficiency in ACKS is actually a huge boost at this point in the game, almost doubling the thief's chances of successfully finding or removing a trap (granted, it's 15% chance of success to 25%, which is still not great).  ACKS also removes the poison gas room trap, though the falling bricks from the ceiling for 2d6 is arguably worse at this point since Petrification and Paralysis saves are slightly worse than Poison and Death, and its average damage is still going to be enough for the vast majority of 1st-level characters.

On the other hand, when you frame Finding Traps as "15% chance to detect non-monster TPKs before they fire", thieves start to sound pretty good.  It's not a high chance, but it's better than nothing.

Thursday, January 19, 2023


So I've been thinking about running a game at the office in the spring.  And I'm contemplating starting it at 1st level.

I have never run a game starting at 1st level, in any edition, that I can recall.  And I'm worried about the wild fragility of 1st level characters, and that 2000 XP is a lot if you're taking regular casualties.  You could easily end up having to earn something like 5k XP each before getting any particular character to 2nd level, losing it all over and over again.  I don't know that I want to spend that much time running super-low-level dungeons, never mind trying to retain players during massive attrition of PCs.

Reserve XP is, of course, an option, particularly with the interpretation where it isn't spent when you bring in a new character.

But another thought that occurred to me was that we could instead make 1st level more granular.  The big difference between 1st and 2nd is that your HP doubles, in expectation.  And you'll always gain at least 1 HP.  What if, at XP halfway between 1st and 2nd, you gained 1HP?  And then when you hit 2nd, you lose that 1 bonus HP but instead gain a rolled hit die?

1HP doesn't sound like much.  Even for a fighter it's 20-odd percent on average.  And for a 1st-level wizard, it's a 40% increase in HP, on average.

So it's kinda like 1.5th level.  And then Arbrethil on discord pointed out that going from 2nd to 3rd is also a really big power bump, between 2nd level spells and a further 50% increase in HP (even without ACKS' fighter damage bonus increase).  So maybe we need a 2.5th level too...

(If we did Iron Heroes-style hit dice, where d6 got turned into d4+1 and d8 into d4+2, we could be even more granular - could cut 1st level for fighters into four segments, one with d4+2 HP, then d4+3, d4+4, d4+5, and then finally 2d4+4 at 2nd level)

It also occurs to me that, in light of the big increases in survivability already taking place from 1st to 3rd level, maybe it's actually OK to delay improvements in saves and to-hit until 4th like B/X does.  I don't know that continuing to do big jumps in to-hit and saves every couple of levels makes sense after that point, but at the very beginning it almost seems defensible.

But I'll probably chicken out and start them at 2500 or 3000 XP like I usually do.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Reading Holmes Basic

No standardized ability score modifiers like in B/X.

Trading down ability scores to boost prime reqs sounds like it's literally trading down here, not just "counting as" (vs the ambiguous "use" language in OD&D)

No explicit mechanical modifiers from Charisma are evident, either in the section on ability scores or in the section on reaction rolls (DM's discretion to give a bonus for a high Cha).

Thieves are not truly good and are usually referred to as neutral or evil, so that other members of an expedition should never completely trust them and they are quite as likely to steal from their own party as from the Dungeon Master's monsters.

How's that for setting expectations?

At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak and build on their experience.

Looks like balrog's back on the playable menu, boys!

If a character is killed, then for the next game the player rolls a new character. The new character, of course, starts with no experience. A character may be allowed to designate a "relative" who will inherit his wealth and possessions (after paying a 10% tax) on his death or disappearance.

So there's none of the "once per player" inheritance business here that we see in B/X.  Having to wait until next session to bring in a replacement character is rough though!

Retirement of a successful character is explicitly called out as a reasonable thing to do.

Hiring mercenaries and henchmen is brought up quite early, just as it was in OD&D.  Searching for candidates seems quite expensive but the minimum cost to hire is quite low.

Monsters can be hired as henchmen if they're of the same "basic alignment."

Subdued monsters are "salable."

Two-axis alignment, law/chaos and good/evil.

Players may choose any alignment they want and need not reveal it to others. Note that the code of lawful good characters insures that they would tell everyone that they are lawful.

Do they have to tell everyone they're good, though?

One free language per point of Int over 10.  Wizards are all massive polyglots I guess.

Movement rates in the dungeon seem unusually high - an unarmored and unencumbered man can move 240' per turn rather than usual 120, with armored characters moving 120'.  In OD&D you might manage 120' in armor, but there's nothing pointing to 240' while unarmored and unencumbered.  Looking at 1e, we have 120' for light armor down to 60' in plate.  This would help address the complaint that dungeon movement rates are unreasonably slow...  Ahhh, but in OD&D you could make two moves per exploration turn (according to my notes anyway).  So this is about the same total as OD&D's movement rates, just as a single move per turn.

There's a note about reducing the chance to find secret doors on lower levels of dungeons.  Don't think I've seen that before.

Still has the "drop stuff when surprised" rule from OD&D, but now it's only 1-in-6 instead of 1-in-4.

Wandering monster check every three turns rather than every two.  This also lines up a wandering monster check with the rest turn.  Not sure how I feel about this.

The number of wandering monsters appearing should be roughly equal to the strength of the party encountering them. First level adventurers encountering monsters typically found on the first level of a dungeon should be faced with roughly equal numbers, i.e. a party of three would encounter 2-6 orcs, 3 - 1 2 giant rats, etc. However, if the party were second level, or the first level monsters were encountered on the second level of the dungeon, the number of wandering monsters encountered should be doubled. In a like manner, the number of monsters should be tripled for third level adventures or in the third level of the dungeon if the monsters appearing are first level. If justification is needed, simply consider that a small party is relatively quiet, thus attracting less attention than a large group, and powerful characters will similarly bring more numbers of monsters.

Emphasis mine.  Whaaaat. Scaling number of monsters appearing by party level independent of dungeon level.  Wild.  How do the monsters know that there are powerful characters about and to gather up more guys?  I don't know.

Treasure is usually divided equally among members of the party and therefore the experience is also. If, for some reason, one character gets more of the loot, such as a thief stealing gems from the saddle bags on the way home, then he should get the additional experience points.

Dohohoho.  Emphasis mine.  Again, further precedent for giving players control over how XP from treasure is allocated.

"Using or hurling missiles" is called out as a special ability for monster XP calculation purposes.  That's...  kinda reasonable, really.

XP from monsters can be reduced if they're killed by a character of higher level than their HD.  Presumably this happens before XP is totaled and allocated?  Are you supposed to track who struck the killing blow against each monster?  But it's not lossy if you just soften 'em up and then let your 1st-level henchman finish the job?  No wonder this rule fell by the wayside.

Wait dwarves don't cost any more XP to level than regular fighters, and since the level cap is only 3 that doesn't matter either.  Dwarves OP, plz nerf.

The second roll in turning is to determine number of undead turned, not number of HD of undead turned.  I kinda like that, since the target number already scales with HD.

It's really funny that they don't get around to explaining the different flavors of "level" (character level, dungeon level, spell level...) until we're already quite a ways in, after random encounter tables for different dungeon levels and a discussion of leveling characters.

MUs require "at least 1 day" to prepare spells, and can't bring their books into the dungeon.

BUT MUs can make scrolls, starting at first level.  So that's interesting; I had heard that Holmes had this rule about early scroll creation, but it makes more sense in the context of needing "at least" a full day to re-memorize spells.  And also notably, none of this is aimed at mid-level wilderness play, since Holmes only goes up to 3rd level.

There is a reading of this text (at least up to this point) indicating that fighters can't use potions - in the class description it says they can use magical arms and armor but do no other kind of magic, and then there's this list of magic items that MUs can use which includes potions right in among wands and staves.

Spell research success chance is a brutal 20%.  But again, that might not be intended to remain true for levels out of scope for Basic.

He gets to choose the spell he will memorize from his books and he does this before the expedition starts off

(emph mine) Yeah now we're thinking in expeditions.

% chance to know and min and max number of spells known by Int are much more AD&D than B/X. Makes Int a lot more important for MUs than in B/X, but also gives them probably more options at low levels (when a B/X MU might only know 1-2 spells, as many as he can memorize), but those options are likely to be worse, since your DM is like 90% likely to pick sleep for you in B/X.  This is an interesting change; I don't recall seeing anything like this in OD&D.

God I don't want to read all these spell descriptions.

No clause in Light about using it for blinding.

Have to roll to hit with Magic Missile I think?

Explicitly no save on Sleep.

Huh, Ray of Enfeeblement.  And it's a bit jank, in a system where monsters don't actually have Str scores.  Amusingly, no such clause for what happens if you cast the Strength spell on a monster.

Wow Web is 10x10x20 feet, instead of a 10' cube.

Good lord do we really need all three of Ventriloquism, Magic Mouth, and Audible Glamer?

Third level spells are listed but not described, so I don't get to see if Fireball expands to volume.

It sounds like clerics don't need to spend time "studying" to prepare their spells (eg the full day to recover), but also don't get the ability to make scrolls at 1st.

Nothing in Cure Light Wounds about removing paralysis.

Bless could be read to be single-target.

Putting melee attack resolution before the combat sequence, it almost sounds like in melee you get an automatic counterattack against anything that attacks you (but after their attack has resolved).

Ouch, direct hits from burning oil are 1d8 on the first round and then 2d8 on the second round, rather than 1d8 each of the two rounds in eg B/X.  50% more total damage!  On the other hand, it is also made clearer that igniting thrown oil is a separate attack, so the action economy is actually worse than igniting and then throwing in B/X - twice the actions for 1.5x the damage.

Also, unless in a very high roofed area, all slinging, as well as long range fire, is not possible

...  what?  Slings are the thing that you're gonna penalize indoors, not archery?  I get that clerics are supposed to have weak offense but this is just silly.

Whoa, slow combat movement speeds - "an unarmored man can move 20 feet per melee round, a fully armored man only 10 feet".

Light weapons such as the dagger allow two blows per round

But...  if all hits do 1d6 damage, why wouldn't you use a dagger?

Ooookay yeah this combat sequence is much Chainmail-ier (but using d20s for to-hit), very different from the initiative-by-side that is stock in both B/X and 1e.  Initiative is just straight Dex, and DM rolls it for monsters on the spot, but if your Dex is close enough to that of your opponent, then you both roll d6s for it.  There's an option to forego an attack in order to parry, but your weapon can break if you do.  It isn't really clear when characters not engaged in melee, making ranged attacks, or casting get to act.

No mention of morale.

6-12 adventures to gain a level of experience is given as guidance.

Skimming monster entries.

Why do dwarves and elves in the monster entries do 1d8 and 1d10 damage, but 1st-level dwarf and elf PCs don't?  Strength doesn't even modify damage here!  ...  I'm not sure it even modifies to-hit, come to think of it.

Gelatinous cube doesn't actually paralyze, just anesthetizes on a failed save vs paralysis.  So you could get eaten without realizing it, rather than freezing up.  Kinda interesting twist.

The only indication that ghouls are undead is that they're on the cleric's turning table.  The description just calls them humanoids, and doesn't note that they're immune to anything unusual!

Several monsters mention Cure Disease in their descriptions, but that's the only place it's mentioned!

Purple worms swallow whole if they beat your AC by a mere two points!  Brutal!

The description of the effects of magic weapons on wights is very strange; magic arrows do double damage, neat.  Magic weapons do "full" damage and add their bonus to damage.  Does that mean max damage on the die, which is similar to double damage in expectation?  Are wights just especially vulnerable to magic arrows for some reason?  We'll never know.

I still don't think I've seen a to-hit table by HD for monsters.

10% of magic swords are cursed.

Randomly-rolled scrolls can be of the effect of a random wand, potion, or ring (with some exclusions like three wishes).  That's actually pretty neat.  I don't know what the duration of a scroll of, say, water walking or fire resistance is, when it would normally last as long as you kept the ring on.

Magic armor is actually quite rare, and it's on the same table as misc weapons.  Armor +1, shield +1, and armor -2 are each 2% of magic item rolls.

No mention of sentient swords or artifacts ):

One player should map the dungeon from the Dungeon Master's descriptions as the game progresses. This is easiest done if he uses a piece of graph paper marked North, East, South, West with the entrance to the dungeon level drawn in near the center. One of the players should keep a "Chronicle" of the monsters killed, treasure obtained, etc. Another should act as "caller" and announce to the Dungeon Master what action the group is taking. Both mapper and caller must be in the front rank of the party.

Emphasis mine.  I've been thinking for a while that it probably makes sense to make treasurer or quartermaster an official party role, nice to see precedent.  Putting the mapper up front is a rule I haven't seen before!

You are sure to encounter situations not covered by these rules. Improvise. Agree on a probability that an event will occur and convert it into a die roll — roll the number and see what happens!

(emph mine)  You're alright, Holmes.  You got a hard job, to be a bridge between OD&D and AD&D, and you really tried to make the first three levels of OD&D a little more accessible.  And the results have some rough edges, but you have the right spirit to the end.  You're still thinking of the game like a gamer, rather than in Moldvay's literary terms.

I'm not reading this whole sample dungeon right at this moment but the map is nicely jayquayed!  Honestly much of the art in this book has been quite good.  The inner cover with the wizard, fighter, and pig-faced orcs.  The lizardman riding the giant lizard.  The beefy minotaur vs the fighter with the curved sword.  There's a cartoony streak in here but it's kind of endearing.  I think the only pieces I really don't like are the grey ooze and this tiny, mostly-empty picture of what I guess is supposed to be treasure on page 33?

Oho, here's the monster to-hit table, at the very end!

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Goblins and Digging

Thinking back to tribal goblins, I still like the idea of having goblins operate primarily in the Morlock Model, hiding in underground dens during the day and then emerging to pillage the countryside at night.  This makes rooting out goblins clearly an adventurer activity rather than a problem you can throw mercenaries at - you can fight them in their holes or you can fight them at night, but either way you're gonna be fighting them in the dark.


But something I'm still fiddling with is how viable it is for goblins to get established.  Say you've got a warband of 30 goblins and you're sent by your chief to go start digging a warren near a human town.  How do the numbers work out in ACKS?  I'm not aiming for perfectly ACKS RAW-compliant here so much as plausibility-checking.

Per Domains at War: Campaigns page 81, digging 20 cubic feet of slapdash unpaved underground tunnel costs 1 gp in labor.  Depending on whether you factor in their poor encumbrance, goblins might have either 0 labor rate or 1sp/day, so optimistically with your 30 goblins and appropriate tools you can dig 3gp/day, or 60 cubic feet.  A 10' cube is 1000 cubic feet, so 16 days to dig one of those.  If you go with 5' ceilings instead and assume a sleeping goblin takes 12 square feet of floor space at a bare minimum, you need 360 square feet of floorspace, 1800 cubic feet, 90gp, 30 days to house just your lads very uncomfortably.  That's a long time to be sleeping in tents on the surface where random encounters can eat you, or where a nearby domain's garrison might discover you by reconnaissance rolls if you're in the same 24-mile hex.

We might consider the possibility that goblins are good at digging, or at least goblin pioneers are selected for their digging ability, and give them the Labor proficiency, bringing their individual construction rate up to 2sp/day or 6gp/day for the warband as a whole.  (If we give goblins Labor as stock, this also explains why orcs and hobgoblins like dragooning them into doing grunt work)  So then we're back down to about two weeks to dig a reasonable shelter.

What else could we do to bring the digging rate up?  The answer, naturally, is workbeasts.  The rules on using non-sentient workbeasts for construction projects in Domains at War aren't entirely clear.  One optimistic interpretation would let you use a workbeast as a number of unskilled laborers equal to its encumbrance over 5st, maybe with a handler.  So for example a mule is worth about four guys, which seems plausible if part of your work is hauling rocks and pieces of wood to use as supports.

But you know what has more carrying capacity than a mule, is more tolerant of low ceilings, fits goblin aesthetic, and eats garbage?  Giant beetles.  A giant fire beetle has 30 stone of encumbrance, so it's worth about six guys.  And adding some fire beetles to a goblin warband is not massively more terrifying for low-level PCs, like adding wargs, giant shrews, or ankhegs would be, if you want to use a goblin outpost under construction as an adventure site for 1st-2nd level characters.  Plus, having some beasts of burden to carry supplies from your point of departure makes a lot of sense; assuming goblins eat as much as a man, you're looking at 30 stone of supplies per week, which is conveniently the carrying capacity of a single beetle.  And it isn't totally implausible that you could train the beetles to do the actual digging, versus hauling dirt like you'd get with mules.

So let's say we add five fire beetles to our warband; a large encounter or a small lair, depending on how you look at it.  A trained fire beetle has a labor rate of 6sp/day based on its carrying capacity, so the five of them are another 3gp/day.  Even if we have to allocate a gobbo or two to supervise them, we have about doubled our digging power for a relatively small increase in required footprint (the beetles are only 2.5 feet long and being bugs may be able to rest in weird spots like on walls and ceilings.  Being 2.5 feet long, I imagine the pack saddles for carrying 300lb must be quite silly-looking, which, again, is pretty goblin).  With trained diggers and some beetles, we can get up around 9gp/day, which lets us dig a 10' cube every 5-6 days, and get a minimal shelter up in a similar timeframe.  In a second week, you could have cramped room enough for a second warband, and then they start digging too...  If you have a 6-warband village, you could have space for all your soldiers in a couple weeks, and then space enough for your noncombatants in a couple months.

Another interesting question, I suppose, is about linear distance.  If you wanted a long tunnel you could move 3 1/2'-tall troops through single-file, maybe you go down to 4' ceiling and 3' wide, so 12 cubic feet per foot of linear distance, or 0.6gp of labor.  Assuming you let that parallelize so they can bring their full power to bear on that 12 square foot surface, your digging crew with 9gp/day could dig about 15 feet of tunnel per day, or a 1-mile tunnel in a year.  So inter-hex tunnels probably aren't constructible in the timeframes of a typical campaign, even under the most charitable assumptions.  Maybe for a project like that, linking up to a well-established "city" type lair, you bring out the giant tiger beetles, with 250st carrying capacity and so 5 gp/day construction rate each.

In any case, I feel pretty OK with having goblins digging burrows and tunnels during the course of a campaign provided they have some helpful arthropods along.