Thursday, February 29, 2024

[Obscure Games] DragonQuest

There were quite a few attempts to break the near-monopoly that D&D held on the early fantasy adventure gaming industry. A couple have withstood the ravages of time and have editions even to the present—here I'm mostly thinking of RuneQuest, The Fantasy Trip, and Tunnels & Trolls, but there are probably a few others. Many more lie by the wayside, though, and deserve to be examined for what they can tell us about their design and the interests of their designers.

DragonQuest was an entry from wargaming company SPI. Ironically, TSR would eventually buy out SPI and spend a short time publishing both games in competition with each other. Obviously, DragonQuest never presented a real challenge to the dominance of D&D, but it's a strange circumstance that it should have shared catalog space with the 800-lb. gorilla, however briefly.

The most immediately apparent difference in style between D&D and DQ lies in an artifact of SPI's design philosophy. In their search for exacting specificity in rules presentation, developed so that wargamers would always be operating from the same interpretation of rules with as little ambiguity as possible, SPI had adopted the "case system" for laying out the rules of the game. In this system, a main rule category would get a high-level denomination, say "1.". Then, specific subcategories would get their own denominative level, such as "1.1", and those could be broken into further levels, as for instance "1.1.A.". DQ mostly stuck to just two levels, with a few exceptions, with 87 numbered rules cases in the basic game book, most divided into multiple sub-cases. The book is also divided into 9 broader sections numbered with Roman numerals, but those did not break up the basic run of 87 numbered rules. Even the sample adventure, "The Camp of Alla-Akabar", uses this structure, with 17 numbered sections divided among 9 sections designated with Roman numerals. This layout philosophy makes the game easier for some people to learn, while obscuring the game for others. In the end, I'd say that it tends to make the game seem more closed to outsiders.

Characters in DQ are designed by a point system, but the number of points is random. A roll on a table gives between 81 and 99 attribute points to the player to divide among the 9 attributes, with results of lower amounts of total points giving higher maximum attribute ratings. So, a result of 81 points would allow the character to have attributes rated as high as 25, while the other extreme of 99 total attribute points would limit any one attribute to being no higher than 19. The average result is 90 attribute points, with no attribute higher than 22. Players then select the sex/gender of the character, with female characters losing 2 points of Physical Strength, but gaining them back as a point each to Dexterity and Fatigue ratings. A quick dice roll determines the handedness of the character, then the player gets to attempt to make the character a nonhuman if desired. A character can always be a human, so if that is selected, it is the case and things move on. Otherwise, the player can attempt up to three different "race" types with a percentage chance of successfully having a character of that type. The options are: dwarf, elf, giant, halfling, orc, or shape-changer. The percent chances for the nonhumans are fairly low, so there is a 30% chance of being an elf if that is desired, 6% of being a giant, down to 4% for being a shape-changer. Then, if the character is successfully a nonhuman type, they receive a multiplier for experience points, changing the number needed to buy various skills. Elves require 1.2 times as many XP, while orcs are allowed to buy skills for only 0.9 times the normal cost. Giants and shape-changers need to make another roll to find out which exact sort they are: giants can be of fire, frost, cloud, or stone varieties, while shape-changers can change form into a wolf, tiger, bear, or boar. I imagine that some GMs are likely to just allow players to select their character's "race" and leave the experience point multiple as the balancing factor that limits the desire to play a character of that type. After that, determine the character's astrological aspect, their family status, and starting money and experience. Like the attributes, more money means less starting experience and vice versa. After spending those and choosing elements like name and so on, the character is ready to play.

Combat is nominally a board game, with turns of 5 game seconds (called "pulses") and hexes of 5 scale feet regulating movement and position. It is derived from a melee skirmish game SPI had published called Arena of Death. The whole combat system takes up a bit less than 17 pages and has no surprises. It's well-designed, but brings no real innovations to the table.

Magic is a major portion of the game, and the designers even forgot to give any benefit to characters for choosing not to learn magic. This is remedied by a suggestion in Dragon magazine issue 86 in an article titled "The Warrior Alternative". As written, a player selects one of 12 magical "colleges" for their character to specialize in, or a couple more that were presented in an unpublished product that can be found out in the wild these days, which determines which spells the character can learn. Spells are cast by spending fatigue points and taking a minute outside of combat or one pulse when in combat. Why the difference in times? Because! You will get no further explanation. One college, the College of Greater Summonings, allows the character to call up a variety of demons. The demons are given names taken from the various spirit catalogues of the medieval and early modern periods, such as Gaap, Vassago, or Balam, though I don't think they owe much more than that to those real-world magical books.

As noted previously, skills are acquired by spending experience points, and can be raised in level by spending more experience points. The list in the rules includes: Spoken and Written Languages, Alchemist, Assassin, Astrologer, Beast Master, Courtesan, Healer, Mechanician, Merchant, Military Scientist, Navigator, Ranger, Spy/Thief, and Troubador in addition to various weapon skills, magic skills, Stealth, and Horsemanship. The more expansive a skill is, the more it will cost at each Rank. Skills are rated, generally, from Rank 0 to Rank 10 and can cost anywhere from 25 (e.g. Dagger) to 1000 (e.g. Healer) experience points for Rank 0. In addition, experience points can be spent to increase attribute ratings. Ranks are used to figure out the percent chance of success for an action using the skill.

In general, it's a solid game. The main complaint I'd have is that I can't see the point. It doesn't do anything particularly innovative, other than providing a very structured presentation of the rules. That said, its presentation can be a very useful matter, and certain elements like spending fatigue for spells cast and the tactical game are certainly solid ones. But it doesn't seem to have much that isn't already found elsewhere, such as The Fantasy Trip, RuneQuest, or even Chivalry & Sorcery. Plus, of course, there were numerous later games that did everything it did but better, such as GURPS, Fantasy Wargaming, or such modern games as Worlds Without Number. Still, it's not bad, just insufficiently ambitious, both for its own era and for posterity.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

[The Domain Game] part 4: Raising Armies

This is the 1 2 3 4th part of this ongoing series, and it is time to discuss the wargamer's favorite part: how to get an army to send against your foes.

In AD&D, the subject is treated in the simplest way possible—just hire mercenaries, mostly. There are a few other options available, such as loyal followers or recruiting tribal bands, demihumans, or humanoids, but none are as generally useful as the mercenary option, and tribal bands and even demihumans are only treated cursorily. But the thing is, in history there were several options available, some used in some cultures and not others, and others that were almost universal. For this post, it's time to get out "Armies from the Ground Up", found in Dragon magazine issue 125.

The most universal method of raising an army is to put out a call to the people to send their sons out to die fight for their noble leader. In some places, this might be an explicitly guaranteed right for the nobility to call upon, while in others it might be a cultural prerogative, and in still others the noble sovereign might have to convince the people that it is in their best interest to bleed serve on the battlefield. "Armies from the Ground Up" chooses to call these the "fyrd", choosing a term used by the Anglo-Saxons before the Norman Conquest. The fyrd consists of about 30% of the population, or every male of reasonably sound body aged from 18 to 45 years old. The article provides the option to expand this fighting force by increasing the age of the fyrd by one or more years down and three or more up, so from 17-48, 16-51, and so on all the way to the maximum of every reasonably sound male from ages 13 to 60. Each unit of increase bumps up the potential size of the fyrd by 2% of the total population, so a maximum of 40%. The article makes the categories rigid, so that for every one year down the high end must be increased by three years and the total size of the fyrd increases by 2% for each such increase, but the DM might consider being more flexible and increase it by 1% for each year down and perhaps ⅓% for each year up. Or something like that, it's just an idea running through my head as I type this. The DM might also work out some factor to cover conscripting female population as well, but there should also be some kind of penalty for all of these, such as reducing the overall effectiveness of the fyrd when recruiting younger and older population, reducing the overall happiness of the population and showing that by reduced morale or loyalty numbers for the population, and so on, especially if the battle for which these citizens are being called up doesn't go well. Anyway, this is the ideal, potential size of the peasant army. In the event only a certain percentage will show up in time to march out, which "Armies from the Ground Up" figures by rolling 5d6, adding 55, modifying the number by a few factors such as tax rate, the leader's general domestic and foreign policies, and such and then using that as a percentage of the potential army. So, the base size of the army will be 72% or 73% of the potential army on average and ranging from 60% to 85%, with various modifiers bringing the final total from 45% to 100%. Keep in mind, though, that by default these are untrained peasants carrying what amount to slightly modified farming tools. It might be possible for the players to issue their peasants more dedicated weapons to use in these times, but that can get pretty expensive, especially if they are given armor.

Another sort of non-mercenary soldier discussed in the article that might be available is the militia. This is a group of people given time off from working in the fields or whatever and provided with basic military training and equipment. As before, the "Armies from the Ground Up" article provides some details on setting up a militia and the effects of calling them up for military service.

The third sort of troops that might be available in a domain are what the article we're referencing calls the yeomanry. This starts to verge on feudalism, so it might be limited to regions using that sort of organizational model. Yeomanry are relatively wealthy population who have been given special privileges such as lower taxes, the right to own and carry weapons and armor, and so on in exchange for the responsibility of providing their own weapons, armor, and training and responding to calls to arms. They also might bring along a few companions such as their sons (or daughters), apprentices, and similar members of their extended household, providing those with equipment and training as well. This is slightly risky, as it creates a portion of the population who are capable of rising against the lord if things go poorly, but they can usually be pacified by providing many nice benefits and entertainments. That's mostly up to the DM to work out based on how the players choose to approach the matter, and is one of those places where Charisma again proves that it had better not be the dump stat. It's also worth noting that citizen-soldiers of this sort are how Athens and other Greek city-states organized their armies.

There are other possibilities, not laid out in the "Armies from the Ground Up" article, such as the Roman practice of conscription, but for the most part these comprise the majority of troops that aren't mercenaries or similar professional armies. It might be worth a DM's time to work out how many population would want to join a volunteer standing army that is treated like mercenaries in terms of how much they are paid, or for simplicity just stick to the methods of hiring mercenaries that AD&D already provides. Certainly, the article from Dragon magazine issue 109, "Fighters for a Price", can expand the mercenary tables in ways that the DM will find very helpful.

Since mercenaries can also include marines, or troops accustomed to sailing and fighting on or from ships, it's also worth it for the DM to familiarize themself with the ship rules and perhaps consider using expanded rules such as the article "High Seas" and possibly its follow-up "The Oriental Sea" found in Dragon magazine issues 116 and 130, respectively. One advantage to those articles is that they include specifications for a ship's cargo capacity, something that the DMG unfortunately neglected, but which is important for both using ships for mercantile trade and determining the number of troops they can transport.

Anyway, this is as far as I planned out in advance for this series, though I hope to continue it anyway. I will try to think of subjects that need to be covered, or you can suggest things you would like some treatment of. I also want to work out a more systematized procedure for handling domain level events and so forth, but I'm still thinking about the details of that (for the most part, it would just be a formalized description of what's already in these articles). I might also discuss the implications of the entries in the Monster Manual and similar sources for settings, along with suggestions on how to vary them to more accurately reflect a particular setting. Would a post that provided an overview of some of the other articles I referenced ("In a Cavern, In a Canyon", "A Capital Idea", "The Thief Who Came in from the Cold", or whatever) be worthwhile, or is it just easier to point you to those articles (and do you need to be told where to look on the internet to find PDF copies of old Dragon magazines)? Do you want a similar summary for the Cleric, Magic-User, and Thief domain-game articles mentioned? Let me know!

Sunday, February 25, 2024

[The Domain Game] part 3: Keeping Player Interest

"The Anointing of Solomon" by Cornelis De Vos

Now the players have a domain and they are being kept busy by the random encounters that lead to classic adventures like "find the lycanthrope", "protect the farms", and others that monsters and the like exist to enable. But that isn't everything that can happen.

 Oriental Adventures had its share of problems, from unbalanced character classes (an issue it shared with Unearthed Arcana, but that's a matter for another time) to a vaguely racist orientalism (though that was probably less of an issue than some make it out to be, it was and is still an issue). But, those matters aside, it presented a couple of truly great elements and one of those was the tables for yearly and monthly events. (Another was the fairy-tale atmosphere that it tended to bring to play, including some truly innovative creatures like the Ikiryo. Someday, I might like to completely redesign the fairy creatures from the Monster Manual such as the brownie, leprechaun, sprite, pixie, and so on in the same sort of style. It would be a big undertaking, though, and they do already have some of that going on, so I dunno.)

The basic concept was that the DM would roll on the yearly event table at the start of each year to sort of establish a tone for the coming 12 months. This would result in any of a number of major events, from the death or assassination of a lord in the region to the appearance of a new religious movement all the way to a rebellion or war. The specific time of year would be fixed by a roll of a d12 to figure out the month, and perhaps a d30 to figure out the exact day of the month if relevant. Then, depending on the exact type of yearly event, there would be monthly rolls on a set of monthly event tables. These would be generally related to the tone set by the yearly event, so that in a year with a natural disaster as the dominating event, the players are more likely to see hauntings, bandits, or minor natural disasters, while in a year of assassination, incursion, political plots, rebellion, or war there are likely to be incursions, battles, and troop movements. And then there's a column for "other" events, which are any event other than the sort listed in those first two columns, and tend to lead to more normal sorts of events like births, marriages, injustices, or the appearance of a Maiden of Virtue who sets off a competition among the unmarried lords to woo her for her virtuous character, the prestige marriage to such a person brings, and such. Those things are tuned specifically to the sort of cultural model implied by even the title of that book, but they should prove inspirational for setting up similar tables for your own setting.

We also have help in this regard, because the article from Dragon magazine issue 125 that we have already referenced a couple of times, "Meanwhile, Back at the Fief…", brings a more generic-fantasy oriented table of annual events. In this method, the DM will roll for 1d4-2 (to a minimum of zero, of course) events for the upcoming year, placing them by rolls of d12 and d30 as before. The article was short, though, and had no room to present monthly events in the same manner, but it shouldn't be hard to come up with a set of tables for those for your own setting, or to expand the fairly brief tables in the Dragon magazine article. It's worth noting, too, that the events related to natural disasters in the article rely on the suggestions in an earlier article, "The Role of Nature", found in issue 108, but due to some editing or layout errors they are somewhat confusingly described in "Meanwhile…" so it is probably best to have a copy of the earlier article available as well.

In addition, in Dragon magazine issue 145, in an article titled "Holding Down the Fort", there is a table for weekly event checks for a castle or other stronghold, with a 50/50 chance each week of rolling on the table presented. This gives a mix of good, bad, and ambiguous events such as rotten or excellent food stores, magical or non-magical duels, the appearance or leaving of various figures, and so on. These might be just minor color, or they might be the start of an adventure of their own. The DM might roll a d7, or d8 re-rolling 8s, to determine which day of the week the event occurs on.

Finally, there is the matter of DM-incited adventures. This includes, but is far from limited to, the sorts of intrigues that occur around the neighboring lords maneuvering for advantage and to take over the resources available to the players, the appearance of heroic or legendary figures with their own agendas, the really large sorts of incursions such as those inspired by the Mongol invasions of Europe in the 13th century or European crusaders invading the Middle East, and so on. That is, the sorts of things that are not really applicable to random event tables for generating them, the sorts of things that mark turning points in history or that are so omnipresent and tied to the personalities of non-player characters that they need to be specifically guided by the DM's discretion. Further, this category can include all sorts of "side quests", as it were, small-scale adventures unrelated to the larger forces in motion in your setting. There are plenty of examples to be found in sources like Dungeon magazine (though as Bryce points out repeatedly, many of those are really terrible design). I'd also recommend Pendragon for many useful examples in this regard.

Updating my thinking on the last entry, I wanted to point out that there are disadvantages to underground lairs of the sort that Rogahn and Zelligar built. In addition to the enormous expense such a massive excavation requires, a big one is that while a castle serves as a present and visual reminder to the people that someone is looking out for their safety, that does not apply nearly as much to a hole in a cliff side. It seems that the doughty adventurers who set up Quasqueton were going to fix this by building a tower to mark their territory, but they never completed it. Perhaps your players might, should they claim the place for themselves. They should certainly keep that issue in mind if they instead excavate an underground lair of their own design.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

[The Domain Game] part 2: Setting Up a Domain

Reconstruction of an early stage of Kidwelly Castle

 Now that you've convinced your players that having a base of operations is a good idea, they have to actually get one. While there are certain benefits that accrue to characters of a certain level upon acquiring such a base, it is not necessary that they are at that level before they can try. They can simply buy a building, of course, or pay to have one built, but other options exist. They might take over an existing castle or fort by replacing its current owners through proper application of force, which was mentioned in the comments to the previous post in this series. This is probably the most attractive option, especially if the players want to have an unusual and difficult to construct base of operations such as Quasqueton, the underground fortress built and then abandoned for unknown reasons by Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown, presented in B1 In Search of the Unknown. But players of a certain bent—I am certainly of this mind—will want to create their castle or whatever entirely from scratch. It's a similar sort of joy to that of playing a tower defense game, watching the defenses you designed operate to repel attackers, as well as being much like designing imaginary home floor plans. You can put in a library of the sort you would like to see, secret passages, and other objects of your home-owning fantasies.

Either way, the base of operations is going to cost the players money, and getting them to spend money is always a good thing. See page 25 of the DMG for the cost of maintenance, but the upshot is that it will cost 1% of the cost of the stronghold each month to keep it from starting to decay. There's no exact method listed for adjudicating what happens if that amount isn't paid, but any DM/GM is perfectly capable of introducing leaking roofs, cracks in the walls, and other home maintenance inconveniences based on their assessment of how much the players are underpaying. But how much did the place cost, since you need to know that to assess the maintenance cost? It's really a simple matter to just add up the elements, as listed in the DMG, again, this time on pages 106-108. It's perhaps a little more effort to figure out how many person-days of mining it took for excavated strongholds like Quasqueton in order to price how much the tunnels cost, but the information is there to do it. As an aside, if you can get them to do it, stone giants make the best miners, but dwarfs are not far behind and are much more hireable for the purpose.

While this is fine for the purposes of having a place to stash their stuff, players at lower levels will lack an important legal right: the right to tax the population. This only comes, for Fighters and Clerics, at 9th level, or 12th level for Magic-Users. Thieves don't worry about legalities, of course, but nobody takes a Thief seriously as head of a Thieves' Guild until they reach 10th level. This makes getting that maintenance cost much easier, though of course lower level characters can always go off adventuring to find treasure to pay for their home bases.

There are some other options, such as setting up a business (Dragon magazine issue 113 "A Capital Idea") or a mine (Dragon magazine issue 152 "In a Cavern, in a Canyon…"), or finding a similar business opportunity. Thieves can always set up a protection racket, run numbers, traffic in illegal items, or whatever, as long as they have the blessing of the local Thieves' Guild and pay their dues. Yay, sandbox play!

In any case, the players will be acquiring money and spending it. This is part of the reason that I usually suggest that the DM award XP for money spent (on most things; training is an example of a cost where I'd not award XP for the monetary outlay) rather than money acquired, and to go ahead and give players XP regardless of the source of the money. This encourages the players to, potentially at least, do more than just rob tombs all day erryday, and leads to more social roleplaying than murderhoboing.

Now, when they do get to the point of being able to legally tax their citizenry, that can end up being potentially very lucrative. A Fighter, in the Players Handbook, is able to get 7 silver pieces per month per inhabitant, on average. The article "Armies from the Ground Up" in Dragon magazine issue 125 offers guidelines on allowing the ruler to vary this rate from 5 silver pieces to 9 silver pieces, with rewards and consequences for the variations. If that particular system doesn't appeal to you, there's a similar but different system for setting different tax rates in "Meanwhile, Back at the Fief…", found in the same issue. But at the basic rate, with a modest population of only 10,000 scattered across the fairly large domain that AD&D assumes (for Fighters, a region ranging from 40 to 100 miles across, which is bigger than Luxembourg or Rhode Island; a 40 mile diameter circle is over 1250 square miles, compared to the roughly 1000 square miles of each of those two examples), gives 70,000 silver pieces per month. That is 3500 gold pieces per month, kids, or 42,000 gold pieces per year. It may take some time to build up to that level of population, of course, if the new domain is being carved out of the howling wilderness, but an active campaign of inviting settlers and accepting the wandering bands that show up will have the population getting up there.

The suggestion in the DMG (pages 93-94) is to start with campaign hexes of 30 miles across, divide them up into 1 mile hexes, then divide those up into hexes of around 200 yards across in the direct region of the place the players intend to build their fortress. These hex sheets, Trevor's Hex Grids, will come in handy for these suggestions, including a large hex divided into 30 hexes across, as well as a hex divided into 10 hexes across (a 1 mile hex divided into 10 across will have 176-yard smaller hexes, close enough to the DMG recommendation of ~200 yards). There's also a large hex divided into 24 across, in case you prefer a 24-mile campaign hex, or for that matter one that is 12 miles across such as I've seen used in one case for a hex map of North America. The players will then spend some time exploring and clearing these hexes of monstrous denizens, using the normal wilderness adventuring rules, to make them safe for the settlers to come. After clearing them, the players should set up patrols of mercenary or loyal soldiers to keep them cleared of intruders. At this time, the encounter checks are modified so that the whole domain experiences one check per day to see if some encounter has appeared on the perimeter, and another check per week to see if a monster or group has shown up in the interior of the domain.

If those encounters are with friendly types, such as "men", "elves", or the like, it is possible that they will settle down and join the growing population of the domain. If a monster or other hostile, then the players will need to deal with them as appropriate. A lycanthrope, for example, might require figuring out who, exactly, is transforming and ravaging the people, while an ankheg needs to be tracked down and destroyed before it tears up too many farms. But does the lycanthrope really need to be destroyed? Maybe it can be recruited to aid the players' growing army, if they're willing to take on that risk. A wandering tribe of orcs or goblinoids might be defeated in open battle and run out of the domain, or they might be induced to settle down and ally themselves with the players. How will they react to being forced to pay taxes or to being called up for military service (see pages 105-106 of the DMG for one set of guidelines)? How will their proximity affect the human population of the region? And so on. So-called "wandering" encounters should be seen by the DM/GM as scenario, or at least scenario idea, generators. These adventuring possibilities, alone, will keep the players busy, but there's still more that can happen.

Friday, February 23, 2024

[The Domain Game] part 1: Getting Players to Buy Into the Idea


Amberley Castle and environs, from here  

I want to set down an outline of how to play the Domain Game, which is to say that stage of the game in which the players have taken their characters and started to advance them into movers and shakers among your setting's powerful members. Rubbing shoulders with kings and princes, or at least barons and counts, they move beyond simply robbing tombs and ruins and into intrigue and similar opportunities to roleplay without constantly fighting. The characters have acquired enough wealth and material goods that it is physically difficult for them to move around, but also difficult to keep enterprising thieves from finding and taking it for themselves. I also want to discuss how to encourage the players to move into this phase of play instead of just becoming more efficient murderhobos. Now, that's a lot to take on, and frankly I haven't had any opportunity to test these ideas out in actual play so a lot of it will just be theoretical musings about a framework for this sort of campaign play, but it has to start somewhere, so I'll start it there. Obviously, there are some DMs/GMs who aren't interested in this sort of play, and so this series of posts won't be for them.

I want to minimize looking to outside sources or complicated procedures, too, so a lot of this will just be summarizing the Domain Game as it was presented in the Dungeon Masters Guide from 1979 and related materials. For this approach, the DM (or GM/Referee adapting these ideas to another game) will need at least the following: the aforementioned DMG, the Players Handbook, the Monster Manual, Oriental Adventures, and Dragon Magazine issues 108 ("The Role of Nature") and 125 ("Meanwhile, Back at the Fief…", "Armies from the Ground Up"). Optionally, any of the following can expand on the experience, depending on your setting and the characters looking to start playing the game of power: the Fiend Folio, Monster Manual II, other monster collections, and Dragon Magazine issues 80 ("Who Lives in that Castle?"), 94 ("An Army Travels on its Stomach"), 99 ("Tables and Tables of Troops"), 109 ("Fighters for a Price"), 113 ("A Capital Idea"), 115 ("Lords of the Night", "A Den of Thieves"), 123 ("Mystic College"), 127 ("Fighting for Keeps"), 142 ("Made-to-Order Clerical Orders"), 145 ("Holding Down the Fort", other articles in this issue may also prove useful), 152 ("In a Cavern, in a Canyon…"), 165 ("Anchors & Arrows"), 184 ("Courts & Courtiers"), and 231 ("The Thief Who Came in from the Cold", "The Spying Game") may all be of interest for the articles listed in relation to the Domain Game. I especially recommend issue 115 to expand on Thieves' Guilds, 123 to give Magic-Users more options than just a tower, 142 to flesh out a Cleric's holdings a bit, and 231 to give a look at Thieves as an intelligence service instead of or in addition to organized crime.

As an aside, I'd suggest giving XP to characters for spending money rather than acquiring it. Perhaps also use the special class bonuses to XP found in the 2E DMG for inspiration. The relevance of this will be more apparent in a later entry.

All of that preliminary finished, let's get into the meat of the matter. First off, we want to encourage our players to build a castle or whatever, to set up a domain and a home base. The first step toward that is going to be to get rid of some of the things we have done in the past as a convenience for us as the DM, or at least make them more inconvenient for the players' characters. Most importantly, there shouldn't be any banks, or rather they shouldn't be invisible. Characters collect money, but carting it around shouldn't be easy (it is 10 or 50 or however many coins per pound), and leaving it somewhere should make it vulnerable. Obviously, they can't just leave it in the inn, especially if the amount is considerably more than the innkeeper normally makes in a year. If there is some kind of a bank vault, it should be expensive in order to cover the costs of protecting large amounts of coin. If the bank charged 1% of the value each month, that's probably pretty cheap, actually. Going up to 4% per month (48% per year!) is maybe too expensive. I imagine that the average relatively secure bank vault would charge around 2% per month, 24% per year, in advance. Banks that charge a discounted rate would see correspondingly more heists, as they can't afford proper security, and there's no such thing as financial insurance. And if the client left the money there without paying for storing it, it can be legally confiscated by the bank.

Okay, now either the players are spending money like there's no tomorrow or they're existing in a state where their money, beyond what they can carry, is at risk. Time to start hinting that maybe they should consider finding a safe place to store it. Like a house with a locked treasury room and guards or something. A big stone house with walls and gates to keep out unwanted thieves. And wouldn't a home base be nice to operate from? It's a good place to rest up and heal from injuries, research new spells, and all that jazz. After all, healing up in that inn is nice, but remember when that assassin broke in so easily and it was all your characters could do to defeat her? Hey, there's a small mansion in the rich quarter of the city up for sale and it's in your price range. Those mercenaries are still hanging around the tavern looking for work, too, and you do need someone to guard the place.

And so on. The point is that players play murderhobos because being a murderhobo is easy. Make it hard and they'll start acting like they live in the setting, not like they're just passing through.

There was a small rule in City-State of the Invincible Overlord that I think got overlooked all too often. It seems that there was a monopoly, in the City-State, on moneychanging. This meant that those who weren't moneychangers weren't allowed to make change between types of coin. If something cost a silver piece and all your character had was gold, you either went without or handed over the whole gold piece for a measly silver piece worth of whatever. Trying to get change would make the merchant angry that the character would try to get them to break the law like that. Things work a lot more smoothly when you're getting supplies for a castle than when you're having to deal with nuisance laws like that which make life a bit more expensive. Remember, the game is rigged against the small guy because the small guy is small. You don't become big until you have an army. And an army needs a castle to stay at. It might be cheap to sleep in the park, but the park is where sneak thieves pilfer everything that isn't nailed down. Let the Magic-User contemplate that when looking at their spellbook, and consider where they'd be without it.

The solution, your players should come to understand, is to have a base of operations. And a base of operations, they should be taught, requires money to maintain, hired personnel to keep running, and at a certain point soldiers. Mercenary soldiers. Adventurers should be spending money, and they should be needing a solid infrastructure to keep that money safe until they need to spend it, and then they should need to spend it to keep it safe, and so on. But it becomes a little bit cheaper per gold piece to protect it the more gold pieces they have.

Then they'll need a steady source of money to maintain their castles, and that's to be found in the domain. 7 silver pieces per month per person in the domain, on average, the Players Handbook tells us, at least for Fighters. As we will see, that's just the beginning and we can make things more interesting by giving players decisions to make, but for now we've laid out a plan of attack to get the players interested in the idea. Just keep pushing it, though we don't have to be overbearing about it. "Wouldn't it have been nice to have a place to put your money that those thieves couldn't have just climbed into the inn window while you were off at the dungeon? What plan do you want to make for this money you've just carted out from the eighth level of Castle Braufenlurg? You're going to bury it by the third tree in the Hidden Meadow? How are you going to be sure nobody sees you digging?" Just keep pointing out the consequences of their intentions.

Eventually, they'll see that the best plan for a rich person in a world where law is the prerogative of the powerful is to have the power to hold onto their money, and the best source of power is an army. Even if you eventually have to send an army after them to teach them that lesson. A 10th level Fighter might be able to kill as many as 10 Normal Men in a melee round, but when there are 600 or 1000 Normal Men knocking on the door, that's still just a drop in the bucket. Having some Normal Men of their own to guard their flanks and rear might come in handy. How do they get 600 or 1000 Normal Men to even up the odds? That's something we'll get to in an upcoming post.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Mass Combat in AD&D 1st Edition, a New Approach

I've been thinking about "domain-level" play in AD&D 1E lately, going through old Dragon magazine articles on the topic and picking out the best ideas. For those interested in that broader topic, I'd suggest that two issues are especially relevant to that matter: 125 and 108 (the latter because one of the articles in 125 made use of ideas found in "The Role of Nature", an article in that issue, but poor editing scrambled them somewhat). Issue 125 has articles titled "Meanwhile, Back at the Fief" and "Armies from the Ground Up" that cover some of the most important concepts relevant to domain-level play. However, that digression is not what this article is about. Mostly, this article is me thinking through an idea and playing with it to see if it's useful.

Here, I want to consider how to use AD&D to play out mass combat without going far outside of the rules in the Dungeon Masters Guide. I realize that sounds like a tall order, but bear with me.

A couple of attempts have been made over the years to make mass combat wargames for AD&D, most notably Battlesystem. In its first edition, the author created a somewhat abstracted method of discovering how many general "hit dice" of damage a unit, stand, or figure dealt in a combat turn. The second edition abstracted things further, reducing a set of attacks to a roll on one of the various polyhedral dice. Those are very convenient, but aren't mathematically stringent. This is, of course, not really a concern for most players and DMs, but other options do exist.

Recently, Daniel Collins of Delta's D&D Hotspot used large-scale simulations of the sort only possible in the modern computing era to develop a set of miniatures rules called Original Edition Delta: Book of War. This is mathematically stringent (Collins is a college lecturer in mathematics in real life), but is mostly set up for Delta's particular house rules of original D&D. On the other hand, it bears some resemblance to 2nd edition Battlesystem, for those who like that game, and those house rules are sufficiently similar to other D&D editions as to be close enough for most purposes.

That said, I wanted to just find a way to get through all of the hundreds of rolls required in a large-scale AD&D combat as quickly as possible. That led me to an article published in Dragon magazine issue 113 titled "One Roll, to Go". This article used statistics and probability to reduce 5, 10, or 20 rolls of a d20 to one simple percent roll, with the roll on the d% cross-referenced to a binomial table to determine how many of the rolls would be successful. Using this table with an average result for damage (count each d4 of damage as 2.5 points, each d6 as 3.5, each d8 as 4.5, and so on), as well as for hit points for each member of a unit (a "normal man", with 1d6+1 hit points but a minimum of 4, the normal amount for a soldier would have 5.5 hit points, for example, since that is equivalent to 1d4+3). The main issue is working out how many soldiers can attack at any given time, and spreading those attacks out across a unit randomly as per the DMG.

My suggestion would be to use the figure scales from Battlesystem 1st edition, where a unit with so many hit dice per individual is at a 10:1 scale, with more hit dice being at 5:1, 2:1, or individual figures depending on the exact hit dice amount. The front rank of such figures would be the ones able to attack, with ranks further back being able to bring longer weapons to bear. So, a 10:1 figure might bring 5 individuals to bear in melee, or all 10 if the second rank is equipped with spears (for example), a 5:1 would bring 2.5 (I'd allow it to round up, but just counting 5 individuals for every two figures is easy enough, too), while 2:1 and 1:1 figures would allow all of the individuals so represented to attack normally when in contact with the enemy.

There's a lot still to work out, of course. As melees go on, the ranks of each unit start to interpenetrate in melee circumstances, for example, maybe bringing one more rank to bear each melee round until reaching the back rank of one or the other unit. But beyond that, morale rules already exist in AD&D, so that is handled. I'm well aware that this system would not be as quick-playing as those more abstracted and streamlined systems, but my intention isn't to make it into that, only to offer an option for just using AD&D with minimal additions. I also fully realize that most people won't want to use this method. But it's something to consider, anyway (chances are, I'd just use Battlesystem, 1st edition, myself; it doesn't beef up individual heroes in the same way 2nd edition does, and the results are close enough to AD&D results to keep me happy).

Perhaps this method is best used for mid-scale battles, where there are maybe 50-100 goblins fighting the PCs and their retinue of henchmen and maybe a couple dozen mercenary soldiers or whatever. That is, battles that are barely worth breaking out Battlesystem or Book of War for. After all, 5 or 10 figures of goblins on the battlefield might not be worth the time, but on the other hand that many are very unwieldy when every one has to be rolled for individually.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Fifty Years of Adventure Gaming

Though the exact date isn't known, it was in late January 1974 that Gary Gygax and friends put copies of the original woodgrain boxed set of Dungeons & Dragons out for sale. Jon Peterson of Playing at the World has proposed that the last Sunday of January makes a suitable date to celebrate. So today, 28 January 2024, marks 50 years since the release of the first adventure (or "roleplaying" if you prefer) game, sparking a revolution that irrevocably changed the course of the culture, and of other cultures around the world as well.

Surprisingly, perhaps, certainly dismayingly, the official website maintained by Wizards of the Coast, the current caretakers of the brand, has had no mention of the event even though they have planned to take some advantage of it by releasing a new edition, or at least a new revision, later in the year. Sadly, given the events of the last year, this seems to be par for the course for an impersonal corporation that no longer has any noticeable concern for the game beyond how it can benefit its shareholders' bottom lines. Since I am writing this in advance, perhaps they have put some mention there, and if so I apologize for that portion of this statement in which I say that they have not. The rest of it stands, though, as they have done only little to redress their mismanagement of the brand over the last year and earlier.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Magical Powers for a Low-Powered GURPS Campaign

I've been working on a GURPS Fantasy campaign set in a world of my own creation. One of the characteristics of the setting is that magic is very low-key, subtle, and like in this world many people don't believe it is real. Spirits are very important to this magic system, and I am eagerly awaiting Template Toolkit: Spirits to add to it.

Books needed beyond Basic Set:

  • GURPS Fantasy-Tech 1: The Edge of Reality
  • GURPS Horror
  • GURPS Low-Tech Companion 1: Philosophers and Kings
  • GURPS Powers
  • GURPS Power-Ups 1: Imbuements
  • GURPS Thaumatology
  • GURPS Thaumatology: Urban Magics

(Thamatology and Thaumatology: Urban Magics might not be included in the final campaign setup, while Fantasy might be considered more or less useful for aspects unrelated to this magic system.)

Astrology and Esoteric Medicine from GURPS Fantasy-Tech 1: The Edge of Reality.

Alchemy in this system should just be Chemistry/TL with Disciplines of Faith and possibly Erotic Art (per Technicians of the Sacred), plus an appropriate Philosophy type.

Sacred Architecture from GURPS Thaumatology: Urban Magics. Allow the results to be in regard to areas of activity, especially but not limited to the magic-related Skills listed below, rather than Spells particularly (since Spells as such do not exist in the setting). This is something I am going back and forth on, and it may or may not appear in the final campaign.

Technicians of the Sacred from GURPS Low-Tech Companion 1: Philosophers and Kings; may use Hypnotism Skill to induce a deep trance in someone else instead of relying on the trance candidate's Meditation Skill. See especially the expanded uses of the Dreaming Skill here; the GM should be generous in allowing a deep trance to have the effects of a Dreaming success.

Abilities (All other than Autotrance, Blessed, the Empathy variations, Higher Purpose, Illuminated, or Imbuement should take Magic -10%)
  • Animal Empathy [5], May take Specialized (var.) or Remote (+50%)
  • Autotrance [1]
  • Blessed (if more than one type, each Blessing after the first costs 1 point less, as all include Licensed Exorcist)
    • Blessed (Armor of Faith) [12]
    • Blessed (Divine Guidance) [10]/Very Blessed (Divine Guidance) [20]
    • Blessed (Heroic Feats: ST, DX, or HT) [10 for ST or HT, 15 for DX] (DX only increases DX-based Skills and DX rolls, not Basic Speed or other characteristics)
    • Licensed Exorcist [1]
    • True Faith [15], May take Chosen (+0%) or Turning (+65%)
  • Channeling [10], May take Aware (+50%) or Preparation Required (var.)
  • Danger Sense [15]
  • Daredevil [15]
  • Detect (Spirits) [10], (Magic) [10], or (Magicians) [10], May take Vague (-50%), Precise (+100%), or Analyzing (+100%)
    • Spirits: Any entity with a Spirit Template.
    • Magic: Any use of these listed Abilities other than Autotrance, Blessed, Higher Purpose, Illuminated, or Imbuement, or of Spirit Abilities that seem appropriate.
    • Magicians: Any entity with any of these listed Abilities other than Autotrance, Blessed, Higher Purpose, Illuminated, or Imbuement and without a Spirit Template.
  • Empathy/Sensitive [15] or [5], May take Remote (+50%)
  • Higher Purpose [5]
  • Illuminated [15]
  • Imbuement 1 (Ghostly Weapon only -80%) [2]
  • Intuition [15], May take Inspired (+100%)
  • Luck/Extraordinary Luck/Ridiculous Luck [15/30/60], May take Wishing (+100%), Active (-40%), Aspected (-20%), or Defensive (-20%)
  • Medium [10], May take Manifestation (+100%), Universal (+50%), Visual (+50%), or Preparation Required (var.)
  • Oracle [15], May take Inspired (+100%)
  • Plant Empathy [5], May take Specialized (var.) or Remote (+50%)
  • Psychometry (Hypersensory -50%) [10]
  • Racial Memory [15] or [40], May take Immersive (+50%)
  • Serendipity [15/lvl], May take Wishing (+0% or +100%)
  • Special Rapport [5], May take One-Way (+20%) or Transferable (var.)
  • Spirit Empathy [10]
  • Visualization [10], May take Blessing (+0% or +100%) or Cursing (+100%)
  • Wild Talent [20/lvl], May take Retention (+25%), Emergencies Only (-30%), or Focused (-20%)

Skills associated with magic
  • Autohypnosis¹ Will/H (Meditation-4)
  • Body Language Per/A (Detect Lies-4 or Psychology-4)
  • Detect Lies Per/H (Per-6, Body Language-4, or Psychology-4)
  • Dreaming² Will/H (Will-6)
  • Esoteric Medicine Per/H (Per-6)
  • Exorcism³ Will/H (Will-6, Religious Ritual-3, Ritual Magic-3, or Theology-3)
  • Fortune-Telling IQ/A (IQ-5, Fast-Talk-3, or Occultism-3)
  • Ghostly Weapon IQ/VH (Prerequisite: Imbuement 1; None)
  • Hidden Lore IQ/A (None)
  • Hypnotism IQ/H (None)
  • Meditation Will/H (Will-6 or Autohypnosis-4)
  • Meteorology/TL (Weather Sense) IQ/A (IQ-5)
  • Naturalist IQ/H (IQ-6 or Biology-3)
  • Observation Per/A (Per-5 or Shadowing-5)
  • Occultism IQ/A (IQ-5 or Ritual Magic (any)-4)
  • Pharmacy/TL (Herbal) IQ/H (Prerequisite: Naturalist; IQ-6, Biology-5, or Naturalist-5)
  • Philosophy IQ/H (IQ-6)
  • Poisons/TL IQ/H (IQ-6, Chemistry-5, Pharmacy-3, or Physician-3)
  • Psychology IQ/H (IQ-6 or Sociology-4)
  • Religious Ritual IQ/H (Ritual Magic (same)-6 or Theology (same)-4)
  • Ritual Magic⁴ IQ/VH (Occultism-6 or Religious Ritual (same)-6)
  • Symbol Drawing⁵ IQ/H (Occultism-6 or Ritual Magic (same)-4)
  • Theology IQ/H (IQ-6 or Religious Ritual (same)-4)
Note that a few of these skills have had their defaults adjusted slightly.

¹May be used to initiate an attempt at using the Dreaming Skill without going to sleep.

²May be used to communicate with Spirits, requiring Dreaming and IQ or Fortune Telling (Dreaming) rolls as normal to interpret the Spirit's intended meaning, and Dreaming rolls to impart a message to the Spirit. May also be used to visit a collective Dreamland as per GURPS Horror, p. 114. Make Dreaming and IQ or Fortune Telling (Dreaming) rolls as normal to interpret any communications via the Dreamland. Does this require both Dreamers to be asleep at the same time, or is the message held waiting until the second Dreamer sleeps? Up to the GM. Perhaps the first Dreamer must leave a message with a Spirit of Dreams who then awaits the second Dreamer, possibly impersonating the first Dreamer. Certainly, two-way real-time communication requires both Dreamers to be Dreaming at the same time and making successful Dreaming rolls.

³May be used as an Influence Skill with Spirits even without Spirit Empathy, treat as Intimidation. Affected by Holy status (Blessed (Any), Licensed Exorcist Perk, or True Faith) as usual.

⁴May be used in place of an IQ roll for any use of Channeling, Detect, Intuition, Medium, Oracle, Psychometry, Racial Memory, or Visualization. Requires 1 minute preparation time. May take Extra Time or Haste (p. 346).

⁵May be used to assist Autohypnosis, Dreaming, Exorcism, Hypnotism, Meditation, or Ritual Magic. May not be used to benefit raw IQ rolls or rolls from default. Requires 5 minutes preparation time. May take Extra Time or Haste (p. 346).

The GM may choose to allow modifiers from GURPS Thaumatology for Correspondences, significant times, sacrifices, and so on to apply to uses of Ritual Magic. These may be subject to the particular sort of Ritual Magic Skill involved.

Spirit Templates, generally, start with one of the Spirit Meta-Traits found in GURPS Horror, though other Spirit-related Meta-Traits may also be useful, such as those in GURPS Fantasy or the Basic Set.

Spirits should have Visualization (Blessing +0% or +100%) or Visualization (Cursing +100%), usually costing FP, if they can affect the world at all. Very rarely they may also have Telekinesis, almost never greater than ST 1, but occasionally as high as ST 3 or even more. Spirit Telekinesis should always cost FP to use. Most Spirits will only be able to observe the world and communicate with those characters with appropriate Advantages or Skills. All Spirit Templates should have Walk on Air if they don't have Flight. Possession is not uncommon, but not universal, among Spirits, and they should have Permeation (Flesh) to stay in contact with a target that does not have Channeling.

Spirits might occasionally have Afflictions, Innate Attacks, and so on, but these should always cost FP to use. They shouldn't have abilities like Mind Control or Mind Reading, outside of Possession. Perhaps a Spirit that is Possessing a target could have Mind Control (Suggestion only) that they can only use on the Possessed target. Again, this should cost FP to use.

Note that a group of Spirits with Telekinesis can combine their Basic Lifts to lift heavier objects.

Many magicians in the setting will have "stage magic" skills like Escape, Filch, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, and so on in order to be able to put on a show for clients.