Monday, 16 March 2015

Giaks and Warhammer

It's a bit of a rarity at the moment to post about Warhammer, even though that was why I started this blog. I've been posting much more about D&D in recent months because that's what I've been doing most often, due to the campaign I'm running with my son's mates. I've not played any Warhammer or even Kings of War (which has actually been my default fantasy battlegame over the last couple of years) in ages.

Though I have an 'Oldhammer' logo on this page, I feel like a bit of an outsider on the Oldhammer forums sometimes - because the 'Oldhammer' that gets talked about mostly is 3rd Ed, and the Oldhammer I know is 2nd Ed. I know that Skaven are Ratmen, for instance, but I don't know why. I don't know when the Empire got so good at shooting, because according to the version I have it's the southern city-states (what would become Estalia and Tilea) that are the advanced human cultures in the NW of the Old World, and only they use black-powder weapons. Maybe I don't play 'Oldhammer' at all. Maybe it's 'Archaeohammer' (in which case, I guess 1st Ed would be 'Palaeohammer').

Anyway, one of the things I've been interested in since about 1985 is the possibility of fielding an army of Giaks in Warhammer. For those who don't know, Giaks were a goblinoid race from the Lone Wolf books. They're described as greyish, militaristic (which I think means organised as well as nasty) and a bit bigger than the Common Goblins of Warhammer. GW had the licence to produce minis for them, and released a boxed-set and a few blisters in the mid-'80s. All told there were 7 Giak models, including a banner-bearer, none of which I own. They also printed two pages of rules in the Citadel Journal (1 & 2). The pages include enough rules for 2nd Ed to make an army of 324 Giaks, arranged in 9 infantry regiments of 36 each. There are also notes about support troops such as wolf-riders. For anyone interested in further research on the Giaks, there's also Project Aon here where among other things there's loads of information on the Giak language.

There's no way I'll ever get the Giak minis to make up this army, because apart from anything else there are several units for whom no Giak minis exist. The Giaks in the list are armed with a variety of weapons - two regiments with bows, one with slashing weapons, one with pole arms and one with bludgeoning weapons. The weapons of the other four units are not listed but cannot include bows (no more than 25% of Giak armies may be armed with bows). The breakdown of the existing models is one banner-bearer, 3 with sword & shield, 1 with a sword only, 1 with spear and shield, 1 with a bow.

Unfortunately, given that the current 'Goblin Regiment' from Citadel only comes with options for bow or spear/shield, that means that a load of the weapons options will be unavailable even if one uses Goblin minis instead of Giaks. No hand weapons for Goblins? C'mon Citadel, what do you think you're doing? Even taking spear as being an acceptable substitute for pole-arm, I'd still need (at the very least) to find enough Goblin-arms for a regiment of swords (or other slashing weapons), and a regiment of club- or mace-wielding Goblins too. That's assuming that I make an army in which 2 regiments have bows, 1 has spears instead of pole-arms, and every regiment not listed as having a particular weapon has spears. So 5 spear-armed regiments out of 9. That really isn't what I want to do.

I fear it will be a long and slow slog before I get to the 360-or-so Goblins I will need for this project, and how I get at least 160 of them with weapons that Goblins 'can't have' I'm really not sure. Ah well, we'll see...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

On Treasure

I'm a big fan of not just giving the party sacks of gold. It seems a bit silly to be honest. Why would Orcs collect bags of gold, that are fairly useless to them and are an attractor of looters (ie, PCs)? OK, so in checking the archives at The Dragon's Flagon here in the article on 'Orconomics' there is the suggestion that the Orcs pay for things in coin to local bandits - and by extension, though this isn't mentioned in the post, barbarians, evil temples, anyone not that bothered about the existence of Orcs or too concerned to follow 'the Law'. It may be that the Temple in the Caves of Chaos is actually laundering money that the humanoids are taking from passing caravans, while at the same time supplying the humanoid tribes with some necessities that the priests are buying in the Keep. But even so, large chests of cash should I think be exceptional rather than the rule.

On the other hand, I'm a bit lazy about converting the gold into other things. There's a great article from an old WD about economics in RuneQuest that suggests that the majority of treasure should be made up of tapestries, goblets, necklaces, silks, spices, and other small and large tradeable goods. Seems like a great idea. Over at Land of Nod last year, John Matthew Stater was examining the question of treasure hordes in this post but no real conclusions were reached I don't think - other than that bags of gold are unrealistic but coming up with viable alternatives is hard. Though the 'bags of gold' idea is unsatisfactory, it beats thinking about every treasure you roll up and trying to make it interesting and different, if we just take the 'bag of gold' as being 'miscellaneous treasure'.

Another post on the Dragon's Flagon from quite a while ago is also looking at the same question. It seems it bothers a lot of us at some time or another - where does all this gold come from, why, and what are the implications and alternatives? This questioning - which leads to examining 'Storage Wars' as an inspiration - does produce a potential answer however, in the form of a link to the Hack & Slash blog which hosts something that might be considered a treasure in itself: this post links to a pdf entitled 'Treasure'. I haven't seen this before. I have now of course downloaded it and will be poring over its contents with great interest.

How easy it will be to use these treasure tables in practice I don't know - but another shot in the arm of 'trying to find alternatives to bags of coin' is most welcome to be sure.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Not quite Fantasy, not quite Adventuring...

... but not entirely unrelated.

Some time ago, I started a project to design a boardgame. It was based on a specific historical setting and period - the Anglo-Scottish Border around 1500 - and would basically be a territory-conquest game. Somewhat like Risk, but with simpler rules for conquest and more resource management (and, at least in my head, a lot faster because the setup is simpler and the procurement stage is easier).

Like many such projects I guess, it started well. In a few days I had the basic concept down, and wrote a fairly simple ruleset. I had a look around to find places where I might be able to get some pieces. I thought about how the board- and card-design would work and worked on some simple artwork for playing pieces. I had a plan to source some temporary pieces for playtesting. I even had some thoughts about expansions, and ways to reskin the game for different periods (even a space-version). The background work was all done really.

Then... nothing. I think it's been ages now, and I haven't even playtested it.

Pretty sure that the mechanics are sound. Pretty sure that the gameplay will be relatively smooth, and that the concept is interesting enough that people will want to play it. And yet, development has stalled at a not-very-great hurdle. Basically, I need to put in a bit of effort to make the necessary bits for the playtesting stage.

Why can't I even take this to a simple round of playtesting? Is there something wrong with me?

Sunday, 8 March 2015

My one-time 'Dark Age' campaign...

Jens D over at the Disoriented Ranger has been asking me about my Arthurian campaign that I never really ran but did a lot of work preparing. This is mostly because Jens is working on his 'Lost Songs of the Nibelungs' project, and his AD550 setting is conceptually pretty similar to my AD500 setting... his is focussed more on Germanic Europe (though not exclusively) and mine was focussed more on the ex-provinces of the Western Empire (particularly Britain, but extending into other areas, both in and without the Empire); but neither of these settings is considered to be exclusive an anyway, they're only 50 years and a few hundred miles apart - practically identical in gaming terms, no?

So what is there to say about my Arthurian setting that I haven't said already?

Well, first it's so old-school it barely exists electronically at all. I 'wrote' it - what I wrote at all, and didn't just imagine - using a curious system called 'pencil and paper'. I have some things, written and overwritten and scribbled out and recopied and changed on other bits of paper. That's going to make it difficult to actually stick up here.

Secondly, I never really ran it as such. It was just a structure to hold things together. The players would be operating in this world with big plots going on around them that they could interact with but the basic nitty-gritty of being murder-hobos would be... well, pretty much the same as most other D&D games. They'd still be going round taking rewards from villagers who needed saving from the Orcs who'd taken up residence in the caves north of town, or tracking down rumours as to where the Wizard Valerian had his tower so they could loot it. That sort of stuff. Only, conceptually, the Tower of Valerian might be an old Roman watch-tower, and the silver coins that the party got as a reward for killing the Orcs would be sesterces.

I started with a bunch of assumptions. Some were about the 'story' aspects and some were about gaming, how the rules would work. The two aren't separate of course, but teasing out the different aspects is probably easier if one assumes that they were. So I'm going to to describe the assumptions about the game-world first, and then specific rule-tweaks or interpretations that flow from that.

Firstly, that the earliest legendary or pseudo-historical sources for 'King Arthur' and the history of Britain were more-or-less accurate. So, in this conception, Arthur was a warleader who fought against both 'Saxons' and other British leaders, fighting a series of battles in various parts of Britain. These battles are numbered; these numbers would provide an approximate framework for the passage of 'campaign time' over several years (it became 9 years in the end). The locations would also pattern the geographical space of the campaign as well as the time. I fixed the locations and used these as the regions of Britain that the adventurers would be adventuring in. The assumption would be that the results of the PCs adventures would somehow affect the overall structure of the story in the campaign-world. For example, if the PCs were successful in disrupting the humanoids' plans in 'The Keep on the Borderlands' (in this instance, relocated to the East Midlands of England, near Peterborough if I recall correctly) then this would mean that at the subsequent 'Arthurian' battle in space & time (at the ford of the river Dubglas in Linnius, which I took as being in Lincolnshire), the humanoid enemies would not be able to send their full contingent to the battle. Of course, if the PCs failed to significantly disrupt the humanoids'/evil priests' plans, then the humanoids would march off to battle undisturbed, making the eventual victory of Arthur's forces less likely. In this way, the PCs would be acting as commandos or partisans, disrupting the enemy's supply lines and infrastructure, in order to make it more difficult for the forces of chaos to wage war.

For reasons already explained elsewhere, I identified the Angles with Orcs, and played many of the invasions of the lands of the Empire, and sometimes the races inhabiting it, as being by 'monsters' or demi-humans - apart from Angles = Orcs (also, Orkney ie the Orcades would be Orc-islands - it was much later and mainly for a joke that I decided that most of Northern Englland should be 'Orkshire'), Goths/Jutes = 'Giant races', Franks = werewolves, Irish (Gaels) = Ghouls, Greeks (Hellenes) = Elves and the Langobardi (Longbeards, Lombards) = Dwarves. Later I decided to assimilate the Burgundians to the Nebelungs and make them Dwarves too, and the Danes (and any other Dan- or Tan- names) Elves of the 'Tuatha De Danaan'. Mostly I was assuming that things would be set in Europe but I was also working on other areas being visited - in which case Uruk in Mesopotamia would be an Orc-city, the former kingdom of Elam would be a land of Elves and Judea, much like the land of the Eoten in Scandinavia, an abode of Giants. This is what is currently what is feeding into the idea behind the 'Observer's Book of Monsters' - monsters have particular distributions based on their legendary distributions.

Second, I assumed that some of the really fantastical sources had some validity in terms of quests and whatnot; the Quest for the Holy Grail, which in some ways is a retelling of a story about sailing (possibly to Ireland?) to find a magic cauldron (itself a theme of other Celtic legends) can be part of the overarching plot too. So, I knew I wanted a plot about a quest for a cauldron. Swords, too - the Sword in the Stone and Excalibur (AKA Caliburn or Caladvwlch), the finding and getting and losing of which play an important part in the stories of Arthur would be important. Celtic legends mention swords as well as cauldrons. In fact there is a quartet of treasures from Irish legend made up of a sword, cauldron, spear and stone. These are the four treasures that appear in Alan Garner's Elidor; and I wanted to take the idea from Elidor and such works as Song of the Dwarves (by Thorarinn Gunnarson, who it seems also wrote some Mystara-based fiction) the idea of linked adventuring worlds too.

The Four Treasures - two of which had become the direct objects of mythic quests already - would each be linked to an element in the classical system of elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water). Each element would also be linked to a race. This goes back to a very early stratum of my campaign-design, the first campaign notes I ever wrote in about 1981. Back then, I assigned the elements on the following basis: Dwarves - Fire; Elves - Air; Halflings - Earth; Humans - Water. This time, I assigned them as Dwarves - Earth; Elves - Air; Humans - Water; Orcs - Fire. The four races in turn would each be properly linked to a home-world that the players would journey to. This world-element-treasure-race linking would then determine the character of that homeworld/adventure zone.

So, I had four linked worlds, each with its own special treasure, each the home-world of a particular race, and some idea that the point was that the players adventure through these worlds as part of their mystical questing. The overarching quest-thing (following the years of fighting in Britain with odd side quests) would be a sort of restoration - the idea would be to get rid of a treasure that didn't belong, and restore it to its rightful world. The first of these quests would be to take Arthur's air-sword (by a process of assimilation this I considered to be the Sword of Nuada Argetlam, AKA Nodens, AKA Ludd Ereint Llaw, formerly worshipped at Lydney in Gloustershire) to where it belonged - the next world along, which would be the world of Air/Elves.

This was going to be the world of Warhammer. Yes, each world would have its own rule-set. The world of the Elves would be governed by the rules of WHFRP, and completing quests there would lead to the next world; the world of Orcs. This would be accessed from Warhammer World by finding the Fire-Spear, would be governed by a mish-mash of the Runequest and Stormbringer rules, and would feature a geography that was substantially the Young Kingdoms with as much of Glorantha as I knew about mushed into it, up in the north-east corner. Restoring the Fire-spear to the Kingdom of Org (a realm of degenerate ab-humans in the Young Kingdoms, located in the Forest of Troos, which with the addition of Trolls from the Runequest setting became an ancient Orkish kingdom in my conception), the next bit of the journey through the worlds would see the PCs finding the Earth-stone and taking it to the next world, that of the Dwarves, where they would find that they were in Middle-Earth.

Now, I know the Tolkien's Middle-Earth is also our Middle-Earth. But then, the world of the Young Kingdoms is also our Earth, as Elric proves when he summons the soul of Roland. It doesn't matter. In this campaign, they're all linked parallel worlds. Anyway, in Middle-Earth, the PCs would restore the Stone (of Destiny) to the Dwarves, and then find the final treasure, the Cauldron that they were after all along, and return to our world with it, thus restoring the cosmic balance and all that jazz.

That then was the overarching conceit of it all. Pretty much every bit of D&D stuff I owned, as well as all the Warhammer, MERP and RQ/Stormbringer stuff I had, was going to be shoe-horned in somehow. There would be about 9 years of battles and adventuring in our world - which I more or less assume would mean that in the first year, they'd be First Level, and in the ninth year, they'd be Ninth Level - and then instead of settling down to build a lordship and a dynasty, I thought I'd send them on a weird dimension-spanning quest. In each world they visited, they'd have to translate that character into a functional equivalent in the new system. It never reached that point, but I'd have been perfectly OK with them leaving that character in that campaign world and bringing another character along to the next world, should they decide to do that (or you know, if someone died).

As for assumptions about rules, the most important was that - as I outlined in a post the other day - what was in the books was assumed to map onto reality as it was perceived by the people involved. Armour, for instance. I assumed that 'plate mail' in the rules meant 'the best armour you could get'. Therefore, the best armour in the late C5th arguably being old Roman armour, I reasoned that this must be functionally equivalent to plate. Everyone wearing 'plate mail' in the sources I had must logically have been wearing lorica segmentata, as there was no such thing as 'plate mail' in AD495. I did wonder about cross-bows - as far as I knew at the time (pre-internet days!), though the Romans had ballistae, they didn't have personal hand-held cross-bows. But for the most part, I used the weapon- and armour-lists as written.

One major change that I decided on was to scrap the Experience rules. Character advancement is painfully slow in OD&D, as John Arendt points out in this very cromulent post from Dreams in the Lich House. If it takes a First Level Fighter the same amount of combat as embodied in 200 Orcs to reach Second Level, whereas in modern games it takes the combat necessary to defeat 3 Orcs, this explains two things: why my current party spends so much time complaining that they're never going to reach Second Level and if this were Skyrim they'd all be 3rd Level by now (they've defeated 3 Fire Beetles, 3 Robber Flies, 1 Giant Centipede, 4 Acolytes and a L3 Cleric), and also, why I never managed as a player to take a character past 3rd Level. My revised conception (as these events were all going to take a long time, ie several years) would be that each year would constitute a Level. The first year of the campaign would be AD487; this would be the year of a lot of First Level adventuring round the East Midlands and the Battle of the River Glein (the Lincolnshire Glen); the second year of the campaign and Second Level aventuring would also mostly happen in the East Midlands, culminating in the battles of the River Dubglas in Linnuis (also Lincolnshire - I don't want to get into arguments about 'actual' sites, I picked some that made some sense to me). Eventually, after 9 years of adventuring, the last battle would be Badon Hill in AD495. Jens D is currently examining some other aspects of the question of time over at Disorientated Ranger in this post.

Otherwise, everything was pretty much as written, I didn't have to change very much. I wasn't overly concerned about the vast amount of gold in D&D for example, I really don't care if the economy is inflationary, though at various times I've tinkered with reforming the coinage. But it isn't all that important in the scheme of things.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

How do you run your cults?

So, there you are, the party needs to go to a temple to get some healing or consult the High Priest about some legend or whatever...

Who is the god(dess) of the temple? I've had different approaches to this over the years. I've invented religions, I've adopted religions from history, I've used religions from literature, and I've used religions from the D&D universe (specifically, the 'Nonhuman Mythos' from the old Deities and Demigods - the one that claims to have the Melnibonean and Cthulhu Mythos in, but doesn't. There weren't really any other 'D&D' deities back then, and even now alongside Pelor and Fharlanghn or whatever, they've used Loviatar and St Cuthbert - taking real myths and projecting them into the D&D world, though in St Cuthbert's case, any resemblance to the historical St Cuthbert is minimal). I've adopted religions from history and changed the names so that they don't seem to be the cults that they are. I've also assigned generic names to deities ('The Sky God', 'The Moon Goddess' etc) to convey a flavour without specifics.

I still don't know what the best way to play this is. Do the players really care about the cults I've invented? Who but me cares if my Sky-God is called Vondar, if he's just the same as Zeus? Same with using Manwë or Mörnir. What if my players aren't as nerdy as I am? What if they don't know who Mörnir is? What if they don't even know who Manwë is? Isn't it better that they just know that the Sky God is a sky-god? If that's the case, why not call him Zeus? The players have some idea who Zeus is, and their characters would know something about the Sky God, even if they're not followers of his cult.

But I'm not sure. It sort of seems like cheating somehow, to have Loki and Isis and Nuada as part of the mythology of the current campaign, without at least changing the names (currently, they exist with more-or-less subtle pseudonyms, mostly anagrammatic). I'm not setting the campaign in 5th century BC Egypt, or 2nd century AD Ireland, or 10th century AD Norway. So why the gods from those times and places?

The monster lists include mythological monsters (like Sphinxes), monsters from literature (like Orcs and Hobbits, sorry I mean 'Halflings'), and made-up monsters (like Owlbears). So maybe, the lists of gods should include gods from mythology, gods from literature, and made-up gods.

In fact, this is how my religions currently work. There are many gods from real-world religions - Egyptian, Greek, Babylonian, 'Central American', Japanese... culled from DDG. They're not quite as in our own history however, as I've not used entire pantheons. I've randomly determined gods from the pantheons, and sometimes combined pantheons - so what are the religions of two cultures in Earth history are combined into the multi-layered myths of single cultures. But then, Gygax had 'Gorgons' and 'Medusae' as two different monsters, while there are no Satyrs in Basic - that's kinda the same thing isn't it?

I also use one particular set of fictional deities. The reprints of DDG still included the Nehwon Mythos, so I use them. Why not? No-one in a polytheistic society would know all the gods that they might come across, especially if they travelled around. I can't imagine that someone from Lydia, for example, if they travelled to the Rhineland in the 3rd century AD, would know who all the gods were, though they would surely know many of them. If they went to Persepolis, they might have very little idea at all. So I don't mind some ignorance on the part of my players (who don't know the Lankhmar books at all).

I also use some made-up D&D 'official' gods. The nonhuman deities are the basis for the pantheons of my non-humans, though (in line with the charts in the back of DDG) some of the human-culture deities can have non-human clerics.

So is that the right balance? I still don't know. I don't think it is. I'm considering dropping the names of my disguised 'real' gods. Isis, Bast, Horus and Set or Isi, Tas, Rosh and Ets? Or, even the Mother Goddess, the Cat Goddess, the God of Vengeance and the Snake God? It's likely to become a situation that I need to resolve in the next few days - the party could do with some healing, and anyway, they've killed some Snake-Cultists. The Mother Goddess, the Cat Goddess, and the God of Vengeance all really hate the Snake God and would probably be happy to help out a party that had broken up a secret Snake-Cult cabal.

So where is the optimum split/point on the spectrum or even answer? I'm thinking I may as well just call Isis Isis, if she's Isis. It may just be easier. At the same time, I think I'm going to include more literary pantheons - I don't actually have either Manwë or Mörnir in my current campaign world, maybe I should have some Elves who venerate the Valar, some Celto-Nordic types who venerate Mörnir and Galadan, barbarians who follow Crom as well as both Kos and Tyr (or, 'Yrt').

That might be fun...

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Taking D&D into different eras

There is a very interesting discussion going on over at Dreams in the Lich House, which I'm unable to join in on because I don't do the Google+ thing. It's a shame, it's not the first discussion over there I've wanted to get involved in, it is a very fine blog, but having to set up yet another profile for something is at the moment a step too far for me (I have dozens already and resent the fact I have so many).

It relates to something I've encountered before, most acutely when trying to create a viable Early- (as opposed to High-)Medieval background for my 'Dark Age' campaign, and therefore I think it will impact on Jens D's 'Lost Songs of the Nibelungs' project. It was a very early set of things I was playing with back in the day, maybe around 1983, because it was covered in an article in an early White Dwarf, called 'Dungeons and ... Dragoons?', which provided some troop-types for non-European and non-Medieval troops - Ancient Greeks and Assyrians, Han Chinese, Aztecs etc. Also, as the proud possessor of Deities and Demigods, I wanted to use Achilles in my games as much as King Arthur and The Grey Mouser.

To what extent is 'plate mail' a synonym for 'the best armour you can get'? That is the question, really. If, like 'Dungeons & ... Dragoons?' you assume that medieval plate co-exists with Hoplite armour and lorica segmentata, then it seems pretty obvious that these forms of armour are not as good as full plate. But what if, as in an Early Medieval setting, some old Roman armour is probably the best you can get? Is this not then the functional equivalent of plate? John at Dreams in the Lich House poses this as the difference between an 'absolute' and a 'relative' scale of armour - absolute plate is 'plate mail is the best, lorica segmentata is not as good as plate, lorica segmentata is not as good as the best', relative plate is 'plate mail is the best, lorica segmentata is the best, lorica segmentata is as good as plate mail'.

My fix was to assume that in the equipment list and for the sake of calculating AC, 'plate mail' meant 'the best Roman armour'. Sure, there were a few weapons that didn't quite fit, but so what? It's a fantasy game. Why shouldn't my players decide they wanted rather a-historic massively-long swords if they wanted (most didn't, not liking giving up shields to wield them)?

For a game that has a fixed and fairly coherent background this makes sense I think - for my Arthurian campaign, for Jens's Siegfried-era campaign, for John's Heroic/Classical Greek campaign. There are no outside influences, no Richard IIIs popping up in C15th plate armour to fight Achilles. So there's no reason not to assume that 'plate mail' stands for 'the best you can get'. But if better armour becomes available (maybe someone in the C5th makes some field-plate? Maybe a portal to another world brings metal-sheathed behemoths into the field?) then the definitions need to change. Lorica segmentata then becomes 'better than chain, not as good as plate' and I'd assign it to an AC of 4 (because I'm old-school), and probably the breastplates of Greek warriors I'd call 'equivalent to chain' (ie, AC5).

But it is a tricky business taking the implied background away and trying to do something else.