Archive for September, 2011



05
Sep
11

Saltbox Report

I was able to wrangle some of the NYRB faithful into another saltbox this session this weekend.  Because I am either ambitious or masochistic, I also began trying to run the saltbox sessions under the ACKS ruleset.

The latter provided some utterly predictable pain as we shifted from a just-ended B/X session, but I want to soldier on there.  The actual session:  The players collected around Poseidon (a player) and the Venerable Brude (likewise), as they have a small ship.  They set out from the port town of Nantaticut with the intention of finding the lair of a sea hydra killed by the players in the last saltbox session, hoping to scoop up a treasure protected only by li’l baby hydras.

I’ve been running these sessions more-or-less like a hex crawl: Stocked with a fistful of undiscovered islets, kelp forests, and random encounter tables, I let the players put out to sea and look for trouble.  In general, I think this would have a lot to commend it in a more regular game, but it’s a little slow to start with an irregularly attended one.  This sense of slowness is compounded by the mechanics of sea voyages:  Every day begins with a flurry of DM dice-rolling (Wind direction! Weather! Random encounters! Other events!), most of which boil down to a fairly trim description.  This is the area I think the most about improving: How to make the daily rolls more compact.  It’s effectively like randomly generating a dungeon with very similar-looking rooms as it’s explored.  Until the players have a thread to pursue, it can feel a bit like you’re waiting for a fight to happen.

Of course, once those fights start happening, things change in a hurry.  “Fight” #1: Nixies.  I had included them on my encounter tables in place of some shark entries, and am reconsidering that decision.  On the open seas, a passle of nixies is basically a save-or-die trap.  Retrieving a character lost that way is a deep-water affair.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means I need to have thought through that scenario better.  Fortunately, the players bailed me out with some snappy initiative and attack rolls, and the captain of the ship made a difficult seafaring proficiency throw to evade the pursuing nixies.  Thanks, dice!

Fight 2: Cockatrice.  This is an entry from the Flyer subtable that I’ve also thought about removing, but for different reasons: It sounds ridiculous when you start describing it to the players.  “From the crow’s nest, you see a dark shape approaching.  It appears to be a seagull or small albatross, but as it approaches it seems to be struggling to carry a snake. It flaps awkwardly towards you, and you see that in fact the bird has a snake-like neck and tail…”  What the hell is that cockatrice doing out over the ocean?  Did it get lost in a storm?  With most of the flyers, it’s not difficult to imagine them ranging out over the water from an island, but this thing is an even less aerodynamic rooster.  Roasted by a fireball, dead.

Now, that fireball: One of the things I’ve been dissatisfied with in the saltbox sessions is the resource management of spells.  A norm of a single combat per day allows your wizards to just unload in every fight.  This session I began using a “Blood in the Water” rule to address that: When the crew draws blood in a fight, I immediately make another random encounter check. In this case, it meant that  they were beset by Giant Carnivorous Flies later that night.  While not especially difficult, this is a fun encounter on a ship at night.  The flying beasties are able to position themselves over the water (to their detriment at times), and having them pursue the light sources under which the players are defending themselves is entertaining.

The last phase of the evening was the delve into the hydra lair, where the party killed a couple of small hydra spawn and found an enormous treasure guarded by the mate (or parent?) of the previous session’s hydra: An 11HD regenerating hydra.  This was a wall for the party, but they did seem to hit on a strategy for dealing with the thing next time.

Thoughts for next time:

  1. Instead of stat blocks for pregens, I should have brought character sheets to ease the B/X-ACKS transition.
  2. I need to come up with a way to determine the various characteristics of a day at sea faster: As it was, I found myself “cheating” a few days ahead when the players made plans.
  3. With the melee bells and whistles ACKS has, I wish we would have run into a naval encounter.  Maybe my North Seas tables need to be adjusted a bit to reflect more maritime traffic.
There’s a chance I get to run another session this coming weekend: If so, it’ll be a bit more of a scenario for lower level characters.  If it’s successful, I’ll try to run it again at third-annual Arneson Game Day in NY.
02
Sep
11

Hexomancy: Making the perfect maps for Adventurer Conqueror King

Using the ACKS hexmap format for my personal campaign mapping. If you can squint, you can notice the random village names from Judges Guild tables like Duck Oracle and Concealed Van.

More so than most other tabletop rpgs, “wilderness travel” and hex mapping of the sandbox world is integral to the resurgent old school style of play. In a game where the players can possibly take off in whatever direction they desire, geography holds an even footing with elements like story threads as drivers of fun at the table. Having an easy and logical way to record that visual geography is a key to verisimilitude in ongoing play.

Having been tasked with cartography work for Autarch’s new Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS), I found myself in the delightful position of organizing the game’s hex mapping format that we would use in published material. On one hand, I knew that I would use a type of hex-map among the many used by sandboxing players out there, but I also felt that my method should lend itself to play as best as possible. In short, I wanted to make the type of map sheets I would want to fill up and detail myself if all I had was just a pencil and an eraser and not the crazy gadzooks of watercolor, scanning and photoshopping that I sometimes overdo maps in (see above).

Another concern that I had was with ACKS’ increased emphasis on the middle and high end of play for an OSR fantasy game, the need to “zoom” from local geography to regional and continent geography was self-evident. The higher the character levels that the PCs achieve, the more of the surface of their world becomes their concern. The high end campaign would begin to rely on hex maps as much as the low end adventures would rely on graph paper for dungeon mapping.

So knowing that campaign-usability weighed heavily on my shoulders and also reminding myself of the fact that I was sweating over dinky hexagons of elven glades, I lifted design heavily from previously published campaign maps (Traveler, D&D Gazetteer, Judges Guild) and set about making three different hex maps for use in a campaign that featured three different levels of play.


The first type of map would be the smallest “local” scale containing a grid of hexes that are the traditional six mile size in diameter. This scale would be familiar to most people playing OSR games as the standard wilderness travel hexes that you could get lost in while navigating and encounter nasty wandering monsters in. I wanted these hexes to fit on a letter size page for publishing and also be used by GMs to print and use in their own campaign so I went with a map that was 25 hexes wide and 16 hexes tall. This would make hexes that were roughly half an inch across on the printed page and allow players and GMs to draw their own details in as well as give some room for some pretty map art to be published in any future ACKS campaign or adventure books. Readable details at the local level is what is needed. I also added a larger 24 mile hex-grid over the top to provide an easy way of zooming in and out of the larger map scales shown below. I put coordinate numbering on the small hexes similar to the Judges Guild/Traveler sector maps so any text reference could point to an exact 6 mile hex in the game-world. This resulting “local” size map is roughly 90 miles tall and 150 wide, giving a surface area that can encompass of a couple US counties.


The next standard map would be the “regional” map comprised of four of the smaller “local” maps at. This size map gives a good feel for the DM planning of the relationship between local areas and for mid-level journeys by player characters. The 48 x 32 hex-grid fits precisely into the suggested “starting” sandbox area that many DMs create at the outset of a sandbox campaign. The GM just has to provide the rough geography or fill the hexes with quick icons reminiscent of the old Basic D&D Gazetteer and then pick out one of the quadrants for mapping out the level 1 character’s home base and dungeons at the local scale. This regional map is 192 miles tall and 280 miles wide, giving the total surface area of a typical US state.


The last and grandest map is the “continent” hex-map made up from 24 mile hexes in a 48 x 32 grid. This map is It is roughly 768 miles tall and 1152 miles wide and has the surface area of roughly half of the continental United States. It contains 16 of the region size maps and 64 of the small local maps. It features a coordinate grid so you can effectively specify any small 6 mile hex location on your continent by listing the coordinates of the local map and then the numeric hex coordinates. For example:
Dungeon of Pain – C7-0535
Very nice in a Traveler UPP sort of a way.

In the end, It is all a very modest organization on a simple convention used by players over the last 30+ years but the little extras made a tight system for zooming in and out of the campaign world and it also gave the the right hex sizes for drawing pretty maps for both publication and the play table. It all might be a bit too obsessive by some player’s tastes but we all know in the OSR that rules and standards are there to help player and not hinder fun. So please use and abuse them hexes as you will, they are free to download from Autarch’s website here.




Past Adventures of the Mule

September 2011
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