Archive for the 'Adventurer Conqueror King' Category



19
Jul
12

Wilderness Encounters with the Adventure Cartography Society

Members of the Adventure Cartography Society seek to deepen their understanding of imagined events in RPGs by mapping and measuring similar phenomena in the real world. A few weeks ago I interacted with some animals while hiking along Norway’s Naerøyfjord, and in support of the Society’s mission I recorded data on the encounters. Here I report these findings and see how well they correspond with the guidelines for wilderness encounters in the Adventurer Conqueror King System (and, likely, B/X D&D which I don’t have handy).

Encounter: The path was passing through a forested area on the slope of the mountain above the fjord. I heard a noise, likely from a fallen rock – there was lots of scree on the slope. I looked around and didn’t see anything, but a moment later an ewe strolled onto the path and stopped to regard me. Two lambs hot on her heels rushed in to suckle as soon as she stopped moving. I started pacing the distance between my position and the point where we’d sighted one another, and about halfway there – nine out of eighteen paces – she trotted away, with the lambs still trying to get in there for some more milk.

In ACKS terms: This would be an encounter in which neither side achieved surprise and the reaction roll was “neutral”. ACKS notes that “wilderness encounters can take place in a variety of terrain types with greatly varying line of sight.” The actual encounter distance in this case – about 15 yards – is roughly average for the 5d4 that ACKS specifies for “Forest, Heavy or Jungle.” It’s also within the lower end of the range of 5d8 for “Forest, Light,” which might be more appopriate given that I was walking along a clear five-foot-wide trail and only spotted the sheep once they crossed this path. We might well expect me to achieve a below-average spotting distance, since a blogger on a solo hike is likely less alert to wildlife than an adventurer who tends to travel in groups and can expect spotting other creatures to be a matter of life or death.

However, my 15 yard encounter distance was well outside the possible results for the 4d6 x 10 yards ACKS specifies for mountain terrain. This is problematic because if I was making a hex map of the region I’d definitely enter Naerøyfjord as a string of mountain hexes. Here’s a picture SF author Rudy Rucker took on a similar trip in 2009:

Does Google also give you Rudy’s blog as the top search result for Naerøyfjord, or does it somehow know he officiated at my wedding in 2001 and thus directs me to his site?

Seen from the perspective of a real-world visitor rather than a hex map, of course, many wilderness areas are a mix of terrain types which can alternate quite quickly. Rudy writes: “In most spots the fjord walls are at least partially wooded. Up above them is an undulating highland of gray-brown mountains, patchy with snow even now in midsummer. It’s like Norway has only two elevations: sea level and 1 km high, with a labyrinth of steep cliffs connecting the two.”

Suggested House Rule: The Judge should consider the micro-scale terrain an encounter will take place in and use that, rather than the macro-scale contents of the hex, to guide the determination of spotting distance. When I roll a random encounter, sometimes the kind of monster tells me right away what kind of landscape it’ll be in, especially since I know the details of how the party is traveling. In the White Sandbox, a mounted contingent of the Grey Company once encountered giant weasels while traveling through a plain hex; I immediately decided that the weasels had dug tunnels in an area of low hills and sandy soil, with the attendant risk of a horse’s leg breaking when it steps into one of the tunnels.

The choice of local terrain may be guided by considerations of what would make for an interesting combat encounter – if it had been giant apes, I might have had the party riding through a rock formation and used the mountain spotting distance as the apes rose up from among the boulders. Since reaction rolls and player choice mean many wilderness encounters won’t actually be combat, scenery chewing is another important consideration. If a low-level party encounters a roc while traveling through a forest, I am likely to decide that they spot it while cresting a ridge or entering a large clearing – in part so that the spotting distance won’t put them abruptly face-to-face with such a fearsome beast, and in part so that I can describe more of the majesty of the landscape as long as the possibility of death has focussed the player’s attention.

In terms of prep rather than improv, Judges who prepare random encounters ahead of time (e.g. ACKS’ dynamic lairs) will likely want to specify the local terrain and use its spotting distance, rather than that of the hex in which this terrain/encounter package might appear. In preparing a wilderness map, it might also make sense to draw up a chart of sub-terrains within each grouping of hexes. The Dark Woods and the Barrens might both be made up of forest hexes, but the d6 chart for the dark woods might be 1-5 heavy forest, 6 light forest, while the Barrens might be 1-2 heavy forest, 3-4 light forest, 5 hills, 6 plains. Adventuring in the Dark Woods will thus be more like a horror movie with creatures almost always popping out of the thick bushes right in your face; travel through the Barrens will tend to be more suspenseful, as the scragglier trees allow foes to be seen and evaded or approached at greater distances.

11
Jul
12

Hoping to See You at Gen Con

In hopes of getting together with Mule readers at Gen Con 2012, here is a rundown of stuff I’ll be doing at the convention:

  • I’ll be running an Adventurer Conqueror King mini-campaign Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening after the exhibit hall closes, going as long into the night as our stamina permits. It’ll be a casual, open-table affair, with easy drop-in/drop-out. I’ll have pre-generated characters at all three levels, or you can bring your own Adventurers, Conquerors, or Kings rolled up using the rules for starting characters at higher level. For that matter, you can bring characters from whatever other RPG you may have, subject to the usual “your ring of wishes doesn’t work on this plane” revision. Folks are welcome to play for one or multiple nights. Location TBD; leave a comment if you’re interested, and I’ll keep you up to date on where we’ll wind up.
  • During the exhibit hall hours, I will typically be at the Old-School Renaissance Group booth, #1359. I’ll be glad to sell you a copy of ACKS, answer questions about upcoming projects, and share enthusiasm for all manner of cool gaming stuff.

The major exception to my general plan to be at OSRG booth while it’s open will be the seminars and panels I’ll be doing as part of the Industry Insider track. Here are a rundown of the ones I’m part of, presented chronologically & with links to their info:

Can’t make Gen Con this year? CONcurrent will be running during the Best Four Days in Gaming to provide a host of gaming sessions and related discussions using G+; register here if that looks like fun. I won’t be taking part myself, but I will be doing another panel via G+ hangout about Kickstarter and Indie Game Development between now and then. You can watch it live this Thursday at 7 pm EDT, and the video of the session will also be posted on YouTube.

06
Jul
12

The Insane and Ambitious LotFP Campaign and I

Folks who have been following the LotFP Grand Adventure crowdfunding campaign closely will have noticed that, at one point, the Mule’s own Charlatan and I were slated to do one of the 19 adventures it will be funding, with illustrations by Ryan Browning. This post is to explain why I withdrew our project with the greatest regrets. In tomorrow’s post I’ll suggest some reasons why everyone who cares about the stuff we care about should indeed be following the Grand Adventure campaign closely.

The way that this all got started is that, back in March, James Raggi posted on G+:

My brain is exploding. ToC’s Bookhounds of London + ACKS mercantile system + XRP’s Silk Road detail + Warhammer’s Death on the Reik = Something, yes?

Like a mad scientist, Raggi seems to be perpetually fizzing over with the ferment of mash-ups like this. Note that he is unafraid to throw volatile elements in the mix. Expeditious Retreat Press (XRP)’s A Magical Medieval Society: Silk Road, although eminently useful for all fantasy and historical gaming, is a d20 supplement from the era when 3E was “The Edition That Shall Not Be Named” among the dfootians. And Trail of Cthulu (ToC) is a big favorite of the story-gamers I know in the nerdNYC community. But of course James scoffs at the idea that the OSR should be a firewall that protects us from contamination by TESTSNBN or Forge swine; he takes things that are awesome as he finds ’em. His getting Bookhounds of London author Ken Hite to do a LotFP adventure is a supremely awesome achievement that, for me, is one of the fruits of the OSR having won and a demonstration of what you can make happen with an insanely ambitious crowdfunding campaign.

So when I emailed Raggi with a vague affirmation of his G+ post – “yeah let’s make that mash-up happen!” – he came back with both a crazy way to achieve that, involving nineteen simulaneous IndieGoGo campaigns, and a tasty proposal for what it should look like:

You do a supplement updating the economics stuff from ACKS into the Early Modern Age – taking into account regular sea lane shipping, trading companies and the monopolies they secure (and the piracy they attract), the great risk/reward of exploration, colonies, realms that are ruled by parliaments or noble lineage but the age of small-time conquest/rulership is over, etc.

He gave me the go-ahead to add Charlatan as a collaborator, since I would never venture into the sea-lanes without his Saltbox expertise, and Ryan as artist because he can draw the inside of my mind better than I can see it. We started talking it over, and all manner of ideas started to flow. Some of the concrete results were the title “Register of the Deeps” and a concept for the cover:

Original sketch for the Register of the Deeps cover, by Ryan Browning.

Unfortunately, in the middle of this creative ferment, a development in my personal life arose that forced me to re-evaluate my ability to deliver “Register of the Deeps” by the deadline I’d agreed to. It’s nothing worthy of a Lifetime special, or even an after-school one. It won’t mean my departure from gaming, or even prevent me from working with Charlatan and Ryan to finish Register and release it via a different route at some future date, but it did make me feel I couldn’t promise to have it in time for the LotFP campaign backers with the right degree of certainty.

Lots of people are saying that crowd-funding is changing the face of the gaming industry for the better. If you’ll be at Gen Con on Friday at 3pm, you’ll see me among ’em. The key ingredient here is trust. When people back a project, they’re expressing their faith that it will come to pass. For the Kickstarter miracle to work, this faith has to be well-placed. I thought it better to withdraw from the LotFP adventures campaign than to run the risk of breaking faith with people who’d put up money expecting to have “Register of the Deeps” when I said they would.

Kickstarter may be a new thing under the sun, but gaming history offers plenty of tragic examples of what can go wrong with taking money now for a product later, whether via pre-orders (the Wormy compilation, Sinister Adventures) or a subscription model (Adventure Games Publications). To his great credit, James Raggi was totally understanding about my situation & the reasoning behind my (difficult) decision. He made good on his promise to find replacements who were bigger stars than the originally booked talent, and seeing the quality of the people who are filling the void makes me feel a little better. Nevertheless I’ll always regret having gotten folks, especially Charlatan and Ryan, excited and then yanking the football; also having come this close to saying I shared a stage with the lead singer from GWAR, metaphorically at least.

Next to come: why the LotFP Grand Adventure crowd-funding campaign matters.

 

07
May
12

Dungeon! and the Invention of Old-School Play

In Eric’s original post about the original Dungeon! boardgame, he writes “It’s amazing how well the gameplay lines up with the OSR playstyle.” I’m going to go out on a limb and argue that this is because Dungeon! is where the original assumptions of play were first codified.

Level 6 of Dave Megarry’s original prototype for the Dungeon! boardgame

In my first post about Dungeon!, I talked about how the Blackmoor session in which referee Dave Arneson introduced roleplaying’s first dungeon inspired player Dave Megarry to create a boardgame which would systematize the idea of the dungeon as flowchart.

At Gary Con IV, Megarry said that he created the prototype of the Dungeon! boardgame shown at right over the course of about 72 hours in October of 1973. Most of this time was spent working out the right ratio of monster difficulty to treasure payoff.

The Dungeon! board is grouped into six levels, with stairs indicating a change between levels. Each level has its own set of monster and treasure cards. On the sixth level, you may loot the the King’s riches, but fantastic wealth is guarded by equally potent monsters.

Working out the appropriate ratio of risk to reward by level was clearly a priority for Megarry. Given that the law & economics of reward incentives is a major focus for Adventurer Conqueror King, causing me to put a ridiculous amount of effort into determining how much treasure different kinds of monsters should have, I feel a great debt to the first person to come to grips with these issues.

Playing Dungeon! feels like old-school dungeon crawling because you’re weighing the same risk-reward decisions. For my first character, I played an elf whose ability to move through secret doors would let me quickly zip down to the sixth level, where I hoped to score some game-winning phat loot. Unfortunately I soon found that I needed some magical help to take on the guardians on that level, and was on my way to find some on a more shallow level when I died. For my second character, I wanted to choose a more conservative approach but all the easily-reached low level treasures had been snarfed up by other starting characters, so I couldn’t engage in what players of roguelike games (another branch of Dungeon!’s heritage) call scumming and instead had to dive a little deeper than I might have liked. This kind of thinking was totally natural from playing in the Glantri campaign and elsewhere; it’s one of many ways that Dungeon! crystallizes the experience I know from old-school D&D into a fast-acting nugget of crack.

In my next post I’ll talk about another old-school mechanic whose genome I think can be seen in Dungeon! – requiring variable amounts of XP for different classes to advance.

EDIT: As shown in the letter below, Gygax and others added a number of monsters and treasures to each level of the boardgame when it was published by TSR. Doing so would have given him some hands-on experience achieving monster/treasure ratios by level as well. Letters I didn’t take photos of might confirm that this development process began before D&D went to press, in the period when Gygax was shopping the game to Guidon and other publishers.

Letter from Gary Gygax to Dave Megarry, dated April 18, 1975

28
Apr
12

To Hell with ACKS, Let’s Play Scout Destroyer Unfathomable

Over at the Autarch forums there’s been some discussion of taking the Adventurer Conqueror King System past its current 14th level cap. There are many subtle design and setting-economy challenges involved, which pale before the question so what  comes after King then, huh, smart guy?Fortunately I have a ten year old supply of child labor around the house, which can be usefully put to work on thorny issues like these. As it happens, Javi already solved this one over a year ago. Hearing me talk about names for this thing I was working on, he was like “yeah that’s a pretty good system but it doesn’t go far enough.” Here are the expanded titles he rattled off :

  • -1: Egg
  • 0: Chip
  • 1: Scout
  • 2-3: Wanderer
  • 4: Adventurer
  • 5: Leader
  • 6: Commander
  • 7: Overtaker
  • 8-10: Conqueror
  • 11 – King
  • 12-13: Overlord
  • 14: Destroyer
  • 15: Legend
  • 16: Legend-King
  • 17: God
  • 18-21: Alpha God
  • 22: Controller
  • 23-24: Unfathomable

The first two things written here are eggs and chips, but I think that’s because I recorded this on the leftover Gary Con event ticket I was using for a grocery list.  I can see Eggs as a level title for a zero level character, but leveling up to Chips is harder to explain.

EDIT:

added my guess at their ACKS equivalents, and Egg and Chip 

11
Apr
12

Memorizing Spells with Assistance

'Conjure Maitz', 30" x 30", Oil on Masonite, ©1987 Don Maitz

Untested house rule for the White Sandbox:

If you can cast spells, you can prepare extra spells when you have assistance throughout the process of memorization.

One assistant of your own level can help you memorize an extra spell of the highest level you can cast. It is common for adventuring parties to help each other in this way.

You need an additional assistant for each level of spell below that. These old magics aren’t as interesting to you, you need more people involved to get excited about these lesser levels of mastery. In the picture to right we see a third-level magic-user who has recruited a dancing twin and an old carpet-scriber to inspire her to focus on charm person when she’d really rather fool around with knock. When she reaches fifth level, she will require one assistant to memorize an extra fireball, two to memorize an extra knock, and three to memorize an extra charm person.

Assistants must be compensated beforehand. At least one of your assistants must be a spellcaster of a level equal to the level of the spell you are trying to memorize. Zero level assistants will help for nothing beyond the services listed below; higher level assistants may be hirelings paid as per the Adventurer Conqueror King System rules, but will also require these services.

Lawful types traditionally cast a spell that serves the assistant’s goals. This must be done within a day and a night before the memorization takes place.

Neutral types traditionally give the assistant a page from a book which they have written or annotated. If the assistant is not happy with the page offered, they have the right to take a page at random from any of the spellcaster’s books; it is thus standard to negotiate carefully beforehand.

Chaotic types traditionally provide the assistant with a helpless living creature of hit dice equal to the assistant’s, and allow the assistant to do with this creature as they wish.

Other forms of recompense are possible, but these are known to satisfy the requirements of the ways of spellcasting.

The goal of these house rules is to further encourage characters to travel with an entourage, like how Gene Wolfe’s wizard-knight Abel accumulates squires and servants, and provide a way for the entourage to be doing interesting things in the preparing-to-go-into-a-dungeon phase of play. Note that if, as in ACKS, memorizing a spell means having it available to cast spontaneously, allowing these extra spells increases the caster’s flexibility but not their overall power level.

Next up: assistance for fighting men to increase their hit dice on similar principles.

10
Apr
12

Mike Mearls’ Magnificient Encomium

Recently noisms of the superlative Monsters & Manuals called The Mule Abides “the most consistently high-quality blog out there, in terms of theory and gaming history, probably.” I should thus be ashamed to use it as the ashbin for stuff I write that didn’t make it elsewhere, but one of the benefits of being a blog-collective is that no doubt one of the other contributors will come up with something brilliant to keep up our quality average.

A while back Ed Healy contacted me for some quotes for the RPG Countdown Best of 2011 show. I wound up quipping about a number of things I didn’t work on, but one that I did – Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium – caught the attention of the guys at EN World, who wanted me to expand on the quote for their D&D Next page.

I think – but am not sure – that it didn’t ever appear there. As was the case in 2008, being a playtester means that visiting sites where fans are talking about a new edition is as madness-inducing as wearing just one of the eye-cusps that lets you perceive the Vancian over-world. If y’all have already read this at EN World, I apologize for the repost and the out-of-context community in-jokes like the link at the end. Just in case this is its last chance to avoid obscurity, though, here’s me looking back on Mordenkainen’s:

As a lifelong Gygax fan, I was honored to be chosen as one of the designers of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium; how cool is it to be hired in real life to make magic items for Gary’s PC? And as a Dungeons & Dragons fan, I was thrilled to learn that Mike Mearls would be the lead on the project. At every step in my professional involvement as a gamer, Mike has been participating in the same communities I’m fascinated by and showing me the next step forward.

When I was at the Forge in ’04 learning how to start Behemoth3 to publish Masters and Minions, Mike was there sharing the design chops and OGL mastery that he’d soon demonstrate in Iron Heroes, and also proving that it was OK to be open to indie insights and still love D&D with all your heart.

When I was at the OD&D boards in ’08 discovering all the things the old-school renaissance could reveal about the game I thought I already knew, Mike was there posting session reports from his Kardallin’s Palace campaign and dropping science like the analogy that OD&D is a jam session while 4e is a symphony.

I haven’t kept up with the combat as sport vs. combat as war thread here at EN World but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Mike posting there too; he is a true member of this community and as appreciative of others’ deep insights bridging the edition gap as he is ready to bust them out himself.

The vision that Mike showed in his leadership of the Mordenkainen’s team is everything that I want from D&D Next. His eagerness to celebrate the game’s rich history meant that no artifact was too obscure or silly for us to find its hidden treasure. I’d done five other 4e projects at that point and never expected I’d get a crack at the iron bands of Bilarro or the bone of bruising. I didn’t have to tell him why it was important to have mundane items like mules in the game, Mike already knew. He pushed me to define caltrops or glass marbles with the same clarity and concision as the best 4e design, and let me write about how players and GMs can work together to adjucate the flexibility and concreteness that lets OD&D characters retrain their mule into a warbearer donkeyhorse or a pitfinder donkeyhorse in the blink of an eye.

The other thing Mike taught me with Mordenkainen’s was how to be honest and direct and still discreet. The book went through a lot of changes – I lucked into being interviewed by the Gamerati because Amazon still has the version of the cover that had my name on it, and for a while it wasn’t going to come out at all. Mike gave me some time at Gen Con, and after I rattled off all my conspiracy theories about what was going on behind the scenes, he kind of sighed a little. “Sometimes we come up with these clever stories that sound good until people start asking questions, and then it all gets complicated,” he said. “I don’t understand why we don’t just tell the truth.”

D&D Next’s promise is as huge as the job it’ll have overcoming the misgivings fans have in trusting a new set of promises. Because I want D&D to grow and thrive, I am overjoyed to see Mike in charge of that job.

When we were doing the Kickstarter for Adventurer Conqueror King, seeing that Mike had become one of our backers was a shining moment that all the great reviews since can’t equal. Autarch is taking up the space that freelancing used to for me – getting to do Dwimmermount with James Maliszewski is also making me feel like the big kids have agreed to let me roll up a character in their game – but I’d gladly put it aside for a second and pitch in to Wizards’ great project to end the edition wars. Send me that contract for the Quintessential Mule, D&D Next is the perfect system for it!




Past Adventures of the Mule

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