Thursday, 23 February 2017

Quantum Difficulty and fudge in the sandbox

I like Dreams in the Lich House, I read and re-read it on a regular basis.But, I already have a work email and a university email and a personal email and a gaming email... I'm not going to start another email addy to comment on it and oher G+ forums. So I don't, I occasionally comment here instead.

There has been much discussion lately on DitLH about quantum difficulty and whether this negates player agency. It seems to me that that John Arendt is absolutely right and quantum difficulty is an utterly reasonable way to deal with time in games.

Surely, no-one is claiming that only players have agency in an invented world? If not, then why can't monsters increase in levels over time?

The players, when they're Level 1, hear about some 'vicious' bandits in the locality. How vicious? Vicious enough to be told that they're vicious, that's for sure. Maybe there's 8 NMs, a couple each of Lvl 1 Thieves and Fighters, and a Lvl 2 Cleric. So what's vicious about them? Perhaps the PCs were told the bandits are vicious by a local tax collector - the bandits target tax collectors and string them up while giving the loot to local poor, which is why the locals love the bandits and hate the Sheriff's men sent to round them up; or perhaps the bandits only attack caravans with only a few guards and murder all their captives but one who is released back to civilisation to spread the word. They don't actually have to be 'hard' to be 'vicious'. They just have to get a reputation for being brutal to those in their power. Level 0-1 NPCs can be vicious. Most Orcs are 'vicious' and they're the equivalent of Lvl 1. I'm sure the Sheriff of Nottingham and the Abbess of Kirklees thought the Merry Men were 'vicious', even at the start, though we might think of them as the good guys. They're still basically bandits, and being 'vicious' is a question of perception of action, not necessarily an accurate reflection of power to carry out that action.

Maybe then our gang should be: one L2 Cleric; two L1 Fighters; two L1 Thieves; 8 NM - not an insurmountable obstacle at all for a Level 1 party, and coming in at 14 levels in total. So anyway, the PCs ignore the bandits and go exploring other parts of the sandbox. 6 months or 2 years later, what are the bandits doing?

It seems to me that the only thing you can guarantee that the bandits aren't doing is behaving exactly as they were 6 months or 2 years ago. One of the things that is regarded as disconcerting in Kafka's books is that time passes strangely. A man torturing a second man in a particular room is still there, possibly months later, still torturing the same second man. Is this really how dungeons or sandboxes should operate? Should those Orcs still be fighting the same Goblins in the same room if you go back 2 years later? Likewise, should the bandits not have either been caught, or alternatively attracted more followers or otherwise increased their fighting ability? I'd think change would be inevitable; the local law-enforcement might have sent patrols (allowing the bandits the opportunity to ambush them and get better kit and maybe a few new recruits from the underpaid men-at-arms who didn't want the job anyway, for example), The bandits may have upped their raids on local caravans, settlements, temples, wherever they can get loot, and attracted more recruits through their fame. Other outlaws may have come to join them, desperate landless men might journey into the forests/badlands to seek them out.

So 6 months or 2 years later, the party is say L3 and the bandits might number one L4 Cleric (she's been levelling up in the meantime), three L2 Fighters, four L2 Thieves, six L1 Fighters, 8 L1 Thieves, two L1 Clerics, and a L1 Magic User, as well as 20 NMs. That's 45 levels and a much more serious proposition, though of course the party should still be aboe to take them. Effectively, the bandits have levelled up at the same rate as the party.

The key to maintaining player agency I think is information. For this tripling of the bandit threat, the players should be told that the bandits are gaining more strength, hitting bigger targets, doing more audacious raids, ranging further afield, or whatever (maybe all of these). If the rumours about the bandits keep coming, the reminders that they're there still keep coming up, and the players ignore them, then when the PCs finally do get there, they can expect different conditions than there would have been if they'd taken on the bandits before clearing the Hobgoblins out of the Old Tower and then going after the Kobolds in the Endless Swamp and the cultists in the Forbidden Temple and whatever else the party has been up to in the meantime. As long as the PCs keep hearing about the changed conditions (and if the bandits are attacking either mobile of fixed targets in the area, why wouldn't the PCs hear about what's happening?), then what's the problem? The bandits want to become more powerful, they have a drive and dynamic to do that I think, and in game terms, it's up to the players to stop them. If they're not stopped, then the bandits should become more powerful.

Though this example uses bandits it holds good for anything. Successful Orc tribe breeds more warriors or attracts another tribe as allies; dragon matures a bit and is a bit tougher two years down the line; middling wizard has the time to complete his researches and is really nifty with his new death-spell; gelatinous cube spawns loads of copies of itself if it's left undisturbed o replicate, or whatever else.

To me then the notion of 'quantum difficulty' isn't a problem, it's an essential recognition of the passage of time, a way of imparting a dynamic structure to fixed encounters and a way of making choices have consequences (concentrating on this threat now leaving that threat for later gives the latter a chance to thrive). Much more of a problem would be to eternally peg encounters to the levels as first heard about, as if only the PCs can learn by experience. Pretty sure 'monsters' can do that too.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

One more for the Observer's Book of Monsters


The Fossegrim ('Waterfall-spirit') is as its name suggests a spirit that lives in a waterfall. They are always male and mostly found in Scandinavia. In Sweden they are sometimes called 'Stromkarl' ('River-man'). They are very talented musicians apparently, and can with gifts of food sometimes be tempted to teach their skill with fiddling and harping to mortals. They also mate with females who go bathing at the waterfalls; if the offspring of this union is male, it will on reaching adulthood reveal its Fossegrim nature and find a waterfall to inhabit.

Distribution based on approximate usage of the term 'foss' (Norwegian, Icelandic) or 'fors' (Swedish, I kinda guessed about distributions); in Northern England, especially in North Yorkshire and Cumbria, there are many waterfalls called either 'Foss' or 'Force', so it seems reasonable that Fossegrimen live in them.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Hurrah for Christmas

Well, it's certainly that time even if there's no snow here... and I thought I would post with the gamiest thing I received as a Christmas present this year, from my lovely brother and sister-in-law; Diana Wynne Jones's "The Tough Guide to Fantasyland".

Written somewhat like a "Rough Guide", it is based on the principle that Fantasyland is a real place (with Embroidery, Rabbits and Dark Lords and other such arcane subjects) and the important information about the place is included in the book. It's a little bit like early Pratchett in some ways; a good-humoured and affectionate piss-take of fantasy tropes.

It is a) very funny (it's funny because it's True - Diana Wynne Jones knows her stuff of course), and b) very sobering (because one recognises many of the clichés that one liberally sprinkles over any fantasy gaming/fiction endeavour), and c) very enlightening (because by analysing the clichés and pulling them apart it's sometimes possible to find the bits that work while discarding the bits that are overused). It goes as much for fantasy gaming as for fantasy writing I think, and will I hope allow me to either a) avoid or b) play up the clichéd elements as appropriate (because sometimes, it is appropriate).

It has also left me wanting to write two things: first, a fantasy series that uses (literally) every cliché in the book, and second, a fantasy series that subverts every cliché in the book. Can we imagine a fantasy world where witches don't attempt to seduce unkempt strangers who are not lost heirs, while hordes of Barbary Vikings don't drink ale and have good-natured fights using battle-axes, and avoid sacking nunneries from which there won't be one survivor? I'm not sure but I'm suspecting I'll have a lot of fun trying.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

More Thyato-centric world-mapping

Following on from a post some months ago about re-mapping Mystara as if the main map is like Ptolemy's and drawn from the point of Thyatis, I've started pulling it apart.




The top is what Thyatians imagine the world is like. The bottom is what they actually know fairly well, with the disconnected bits that they know about existing in an existential quantum void-soup somewhere beyond what is 'known'.

They know the sea-lanes around their kingdoms but not much land (except the areas where, in my version of history, the ancient human Empire united what is now the Grand Duchy, Thyatis, Ylaruam and the Soderfjord Jarldoms).

This dislocation actually helps with things on the map that don't make sense. For example, how does the 3,000 mile Streel River rise in hills maybe only a few hundred feet tall near the NE coast, then flow through the Broken Lands? It doesn't have to now, it might rise in the mountains of Glantri, but the rivers in the Ethengar Khanate can now flow west from the Broken Lands to the east coast, exiting via the NE fjordlands if that makes more sense.

But, perhaps, I'm looking at this all wrong. Maybe, it's simplest if the top map is 'real', and I now mess around with the bottom map to produce the map of the world as seen from Thyatis. That doesn't solve the problem of stupid geography ... but perhaps we can live with it.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A new world... and a new campaign

Some colleagues and I are starting a  gaming group - we played our first game on Saturday gone and are planning to get together perhaps on a weekend every month or so. I won't be running this game, as someone else has volunteered to be DM, so for the first time in ages, I'm actually playing a PC!

My character is Sir Darlan of the House of Vong, a minor noble who is also a Paladin. I've never played a Paladin before, and I've never played 5th Ed either, so it's all new to me. There will be a report at some point soonish.

Meanwhile, I'd done a bit of work on a setting for a game if I ended up running an old-school game (we only worked out who was DMing about 9 days ago). As it won't see action in its current form in either of my other campaigns, I thought I might post it up here. This was the basis for a campaign I was planning...

Iriond 1411336555

http://donjon.bin.sh/fantasy/world/

The plan was to start simple - a location, with a few encounters round it, possibly with a vaguely oriental feel - somewhere with plains-nomads and ancient and empires. Something away from my normal generic western/northern Europe setting anyway. Perhaps I can utilise some means of generating adventures from the pdf I just downloaded - the Swords and Wizardry scenario generator pdf, which though its more geared to a faux-Japanese setting is close enough to what I'm after I think.

I rolled 4 4 8 4 9 10

So the party meets in a Tavern
with a Sensei (Senior cleric?)
They hear of a Kidnap
by a Ninja (thief/assassin?)
Which they can foil by going to a Dark fortress
and Winning a contest.

I could have just taken it from there, though of course the players might not.

Except that I got a bit carried away with a hex-mapping technique from http://www.welshpiper.com/hex-based-campaign-design-part-1/ - though in line with the hex-maps of the Known World from BECMI, I'm not using the very sensible 1-5-25 mile hex-progression suggested, but the slightly-more-difficult 1-6-24 mile progression.

Anyway this is the 6/24 map I came up with, based on a small area of the far north-west of the Iriond map, in the area between the Bladegrass Plains, Tumunzar Spires mountain range, and Forest of Thorns, all of which seem like excellent adventuring locales to me (I started making icons for the hexes, but then decided on colour-coding instead):




The marker is for settlement for the PCs to begin in; the area is mostly mixed plain and forest, with some hills and a few little bits of other odd terrain thrown in - a few lakes (one of which is large enough to make it onto the Iriond map if you look really hard), some hills and swamps, and some odd bits of desert, which I'm thinking are more like dust-bowl type areas than proper desert.

I've subsequently started keying in the hexes with encounters (a few individual hexes have changed since I started so this doesn't quite represent an accurate map), and pretty rapidly populated the area, as least in outline. I also spent far too long playing with the random generators at Chaotic Shiny...

The hex with the settlement and the six surrounding large hexes are done - at least in terms of keyed encounters. That's pretty much an area with a radius of 36 miles around the town. There are 49 keyed encounters in that zone including a dozen settlements of different types, a few monster lairs, 6 different terrain types and some locations where frankly weird stuff is going on.

I also had a blast thinking of various themes and stuff that I wanted to include. Not sure where it's all going in the end, perhaps it'll be used somewhere!





Thursday, 11 August 2016

Oldhammer Giaks

Every so often, something floats across my consciousness that isn't to do with D&D. Sometimes, it has to do with another facet of my nostalgia for fantasy gaming in the 1980s - Oldhammer.

Some time ago I was talking about Giaks in Warhammer/Oldhammer. That post included a link to a Giak Army ('Orgar') list of 9 units that goes something like this:

Orgar Rekenar (Rekenar = 'Scouts')

Name of Regiment    Colour    Regiment Symbol    Special Notes

Gorakim                          Red           Fanged Jawbone          Gourgaz leader
('The Animals')

Konkorim                       Yellow      Bow crossed by            All armed with
('The Hunters')                                 3 arrows                       short bows

Kaggazheg                    Orange       Flaming                        Leader wears
('Fire-Dogs')                                      Dog's Head                 a Doomwolf Pelt

Moggador                      Dark           Crossed                        No Edged Weapons
('The Hammerers')         Blue           Warhammers

Nadul-Nak                     Black         Black Flag                    Dressed in Black
('Nightfighters')

Lajakann                        Grey          Grey Heart &                Gourgaz leader    
('The Stonehearts')                           Scimitar

Ogshashez                     Purple         Serrated Dagger          No Blunt Weapons
('The Throat-                                                                         No Pole-arms
Slitters')

Nanenrakim                    Light            Black Arrows             All armed with
('The Life-stealers')       Blue                                                 short bows

Orgadak-Taagim            Dull             Human Head            All armed with
('The Humankillers')      Red              on a pole                   Pole-arms

There are no Gourgaz (Giant Troglodytes) in other games, but perhaps were I ever to field a 'proper' Giak Army, for WH 2nd Ed using these rules, I could get something to stand in for them (using Heroquest Fimir perhaps).

Gourgaz
From http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2014/03/interview-gary-chalk-fantasy-artist-author-games-designer/





Fimir
From http://www.sodemons.com/rhfimir/03heroquest/L07A5292-130725-01.htm

Merely using this as a template for organisation however, I've decided that (at least for the moment) 'Giak' isn't a particular kind of Goblin; I'm going to assume that any kind of O&G type can be slotted into this list. A concession to later editions? Probably. However, I'll still play by the stipulations of the list - no more than 25% of troops may be archers, and they can only use short-bows. This means, in effect, that I have to use Goblins or Night Goblins as archers. Obviously, the plan is to eventually do these units as armoured Goblins, but in the meantime, I think I can be a bit more flexible (while I work out what would be a decent source for 'Oldhammer' style Goblins with different weapons, as there are only really two Goblin foot units, Common Goblins with spears or bows, and Night Goblins with spears, bows or slashing weapons - now all called 'Grots' apparently).

So - how best to field these units as an O&G army?

Gorakim                      Red         Fanged Jawbone        Gourgaz leader
('The Animals')

I think their 'animal' nature is probably a reference to their ferocity. So, they're likely a close-combat unit. Probably Orcs then, let's say with axes or other slashing weapons. Maybe they could have two hand weapons, as opposed to the more usual slashing weapon/shield combo.

Konkorim                    Yellow    Bow crossed by          All armed with
('The Hunters')                            3 arrows                     short bows

This unit could be Night Goblins or Common Goblins, as both can use shortbows. Night Goblins are cheaper (points-wise) in later editions, so maybe they're the way to go here. But given that the ultimate aim is to field (Common) Goblin units corresponding to the units on this list, maybe I should go straight for that and cut out the middle stage.  As the point of this unit is to stay out of the way and just shoot, having slightly better fighters makes no real sense from a points-based point of view, but it does in terms of eventual development of the list.

Kaggazheg                  Orange    Flaming                      Leader wears
('Fire-Dogs')                                Dog's Head                a Doomwolf Pelt

This is best as a close-combat unit, and in general that would mean an Orc unit I think - again axes seems appropriate.

Moggador                   Dark         Crossed                      No Edged Weapons
('The Hammerers')      Blue         Warhammers

Orcs with bludgeoning weapons is I think the best way to go here. Of course, bludgeoning or slashing weapons have the same profiles in 2nd Ed, they're all 'hand weapons'. But there are 3rd Ed (? I think) plastic Orc minis with mace-type weapons. However, I also have a bunch of Dwarf hammer-heads (alternate weapons from the old 60-to-a-box white plastic figures) so if I can get some Goblins with weapon-grips maybe I can add the hammer-heads myself.

Nadul-Nak                  Black        Black Flag                 Dressed in Black
('Nightfighters')

This is almost designed for Night Goblins I think, with hand-weapons or spears, it matters not.

Lajakann                     Grey         Grey Heart &            Gourgaz leader  
('The Stonehearts')                       Scimitar

I have a few small 'Goblin' shields with a heart & sword motif. Perhaps, if I can get about 30 more of them, they can be the shields for a unit of Night Goblins, who at least can have hand weapons.

Ogshashez                   Purple       Serrated Dagger        No Blunt Weapons
('The Throat-                                                                   No Pole-arms
Slitters')

I think, a unit of Orcs armed with slashing weapons. Or possibly Night Goblins again with slashing weapons, but Night Goblins are nothing like as good at fighting.

Nanenrakim                Light           Black Arrows           All armed with
('The Life-stealers')     Blue                                             short bows

As with the other bow-unit, the choice is between getting a Night Goblin unit and eventually replacing it or going for a Goblin unit from the start.

Orgadak-Taagim         Dull           Human Head            All armed with
('The Humankillers')   Red            on a pole                  Pole-arms

Well, this is a bit tricky as 'pole arms' per se aren't a viable option but two-handed axes might be. I'd settle for that as an alternative - I think this was an option for some Orcs back in the day. Otherwise, Goblins with spears might be a basis for some conversions using large blades attached to the spear-shafts.

That would get me my 9 units. Whether this actually gets anywhere as a project is a bit more difficult to tell at the moment though...

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Ruins by the Lake Part III, being the 9th report from the Tower of Zelligar campaign...

It's been a long time in the gestation this post; even  longer than it took the boys to arrange another session of their campaign. Yes, they finally ventured back into the catacombs under the ruins, in October last year.

The previous session - back in May 2015 - saw Josef the Thief sliced up by a scything blade trap. So we rolled up another character, and waited for an opportunity to introduce him.

The rest of the party made their way into the room with the trapped door, mostly by trusting their insanely high Armour Classes to keep them safe from the blade. Inside was a small Kobold guard-post. The two Dwarves speak Kobold of course, so a very shouty fight developed with a mixture of threats and psychological warfare.

After a messy bloodbath, the two surviving Kobolds surrendered. Once again the Chaotic Dwarves decided to torture the prisoners in order to get 'information' (though what they think they're going to learn, I'm not so sure), so this time, I had the Kobolds realise what was going on and take up the fight again, but to no avail. The party butchered them and searched the bodies. Some small treasure here, but the party is failing to get anywhere because they're not necessarily using their heads. They still haven't searched the Goblins properly that they encountered a few rooms ago.

Frustrated by the lack of progress they search again wherever they've already been - and hey presto, in the room where the Goblin-corpses are they find the key to the stone door they couldn't smash down.

Venturing through that door, they come into a room that seems to have been some sort of Goblin headquarters: and here was one of the few times I've seen the guys in real fear for the mayhem that might be about to break loose. Rising from the jumble of furs in the middle of the room was a figure. Not a Wraith or a Vampire or even an Ogre, no, but something that, even on its lonesome, was enough to put the frighteners on these burly lads (four of them, anyway, Josef's player hadn't managed to get his new character introduced yet). The figure that arose, sleepily burping and scratching itself, was an Orc.

OK, we're Old School, and we've all read all the monster stats a gazillion times. We know that in practical terms the difference between an Orc and a Goblin is not much. And four Goblins are certainly more troublesome than one Orc. But the players genuinely seemed nervous and tense.

The combat was brutal and swift. The PCs took the Orc apart in pretty short order, and seemed mightily relieved at how lucky they'd been when they did. I mean, really, maybe they just don't know. It seems that they think Orcs are much tougher than they actually are.

A bit of looting followed, part of which involved finding a chest containing four clay figurines in the shape of dragons. Around this time, as (former) Josef's player had been hanging around a while, and the party showed no signs of moving on, I told them that an Elf (for that is what Josef's player had rolled up, an Elf called Ronoc - he's been separated from the rest of his party) had approached them down the corridor on the other side of the room to the door they'd entered..

Bromeen's player decided that he was going to be a dick. "I attack him!" he shouted; a look of dismay passed across Ronoc's player's face. So Bromeen rolled to attack (it took Ronoc by surprise - hell it took everyone by surprise) and the result was that Ronoc took a battle-axe (or was it a longsword?) to the face. Cue, collapsing and having to make a CON roll to survive as the rest of the party tried to staunch his wounds...

Players can be massive twerps on occasion.

Deciding that they'd fortify the room and wait it out for a while led to them to start examining the clay dragons more closely. This included Bromeen taking one and smashing it into the floor. Not throwing it at the wall, mind, but taking it and pounding it into the floor without letting go.

The dragons should perhaps have given them a clue. These figurines are actually vessels for an alchemical concoction that resembles dragon-fire. Cue Bromeen bursting into flames (his hand anyway) and losing the majority of his hit-points...

That's where they left matters when they packed up to go. They may soon organise another evening as exams have finished and I've finished work on my thesis for the moment. So we will see ...